The Guest Photographer & Short Story Series is back!
For this project, the guests were asked to submit three sets of photographs, the choice was entirely theirs and were not necessarily confined to a particular genre or theme. The short stories that ensue are based on the set of photos submitted, and the title of the photograph is imbedded in the story. The project has been dormant for a while but it is back with the Class of 2020, as a tribute to the outstanding work of the photographers and a celebration of enduring friendship! The stories will rotate according to photographer, some linked and others as stand-alones.
The photographer: Kevin Haggith is a Toronto-based photographer whose soulful images combine geometry and artistry, showcasing the strength of architecture or magnificence of a city, but always crowned with a gentle sensitivity and imprints of human presence.
For more of his work visit his Instagram pages:
Black & White or Coloured
The white cotton shirt had just dropped over the instruments when the bedroom door burst open. Jan stumbled into the room flushed, out of breath, and eyes blazing with panic. “Herman, please come quickly. Something is wrong with Thilo and we have no clue what to do. We were given extensive instructions by the oncologist on how to handle emergencies, but this is definitely not on the list and is beyond any First Aid training Frank and I have had. You’re a doctor, please come take a look. There’s no signal here to call an ambulance and I’m afraid it would just take too long.”
Herman spun around, pushed the chair back towards the desk to take the attention away from the instruments hidden under the shirt on the bed. “Yes of course. Lead the way.” The two men hurried to the living room where Thilo was spread out on the floor, his head being held in place on Frank’s lap, and his limbs immobile and stiff, and gasping for air. Tears were streaming down Frank’s face, as he kept his left hand on Thilo’s forehead, and held a rosary in his right hand.
“How did you even get permission to take Thilo on a trip like this? You don’t even have a Wheelchair.” Asked Herman, although he knew the answer already.
“Well, as you can imagine,” whispered Jan softly, “Thilo was already in palliative care. There is nothing more than can be done for him at this point, except for pain management. He was released into our custody so we could take him home to die in a safe and familiar environment. But Thilo being Thilo, wanted to go out in style, and do this Ehrenrunde (lap of honour) on Planes, Trains and Automobiles no matter what. We couldn’t deny him this.”
Frank looked up at Herman without moving his hand from Thilo’s head. “We just hoped he could make it through at least half of the trip. We were prepared to take him back immediately if things got complicated.”
“I understand. More than you know.” Replied Herman, as he knelt down to take a closer look at Thilo. “Jan, you said you had morphine with you, we need that now. This is the end of the journey.”
Jan handed over the medical pouch to Herman, who took out two vials of morphine and a syringe. Thilo had stopped hyperventilating and positioned his head in a way that it was cradled by Frank instead of being stopped from spasms. There was something eerily peaceful about his demeanour, a sense of acceptance and surrender. Herman spoke up, “Thilo, are you ready? Blink once for Yes, and twice for No.”
It was barely discernible, but Thilo blinked. “Are you in pain?” Asked Herman. He blinked again.
“Do you want the pain to stop? Are you prepared to travel onwards?” Asked Herman again. “It is very important that you confirm that you want the pain to stop Thilo. I cannot give you the morphine otherwise.” Without turning around Herman could feel the cold stares of Jan and Frank. “Frank, I need you to do whatever you need to do as a priest before I give him the morphine. I usually gave the last rites myself, if requested, but it this case it is not my place, but your honour.”
Frank bent over and whispered into Thilo’s ear, watching with a heavy heart as a single tear ran down Thilo’s cheek, his eyes still closed. Jan moved to kneel opposite Herman, shoulder-to-shoulder with Frank, and held Thilo’s hand tightly. Frank leaned his head into the crook of Jan’s neck, looked up at him and smiled faintly, before taking out a vial of blessed oil to anoint Thilo with the final blessing. He then nodded to Herman.
Herman filled the syringe with the double dose of morphine, sought out the jugular vein and injected the lethal dose of morphine. Thilo stopped breathing in less than two minutes, exhaling gently into Frank’s arm as his head went limp. Jan felt the life leave Thilo’s hand but could not bring himself to let go just yet.
An hour passed before any of them moved or said a word. It was Jan who broke the silence. “I have to make a few calls to have Thilo picked up and transported back to Berlin. How I wish I were calling to make reservations for a flight for the three of us instead. Remember our pact the night we turned 18 Frank? We said we would get drunk in New York City together before we turned 30. Thilo swore he would pull his pants down at the top of the Liberty Statue and scream I love NYC but I love Berlin more!”
Frank kept his head bent in prayer, and did not react to Jan’s words. Herman spoke up instead. “No Jan, I will go and make the arrangements. You stay here with Frank and Thilo. This is your moment, your last good-bye. I just need to get something from my room and I will walk over to the small store we passed on the way here. It should be a quick 15-minute walk, just enough to pick up a mobile signal somewhere. Don’t worry, I know what to do. I may be old, but not senile yet.” With those words he stood up, propping his hand on the chair behind him, and headed back to his room with a smile on his face as soon as he turned his back on the boys.
As soon as he was out of earshot, Jan shook Frank almost violently. “Did you notice that he didn’t even flinch when he killed Thilo? I have heard of mercy killing among some doctors, and military doctors probably bend the rules a lot more than ordinary surgeons, but there was a coldness in this man Frank, something in the way he did it, no remorse whatsoever. Not even an apology. I’m not sure what I was expecting or what he should apologise for, but he could have at least asked us. There is something off about him and I am going to find out.”
Frank looked up sadly, “While you were signing the papers for the rental car at the train station in Dresden, I texted an old friend from the seminary who is also a military chaplain. He is much older than us, probably in his early 50s or so, and I wasn’t sure where he was assigned over the years, but this is a small group so I am sure they eventually get to know one another or about each other. He said the name Herman Schultz rang a bell somehow, but he couldn’t remember why. He would make a few calls and get back to me. I was waiting for the reply but then I realised we have no signal here. I’ll take a walk later to check my messages.”
Herman locked the door behind him, headed straight to the desk, opened the wooden vials that used to be the picture frame, and took out two small needles the size of thumbtacks, carefully placing one in each pocket of his jacket before putting it on. He found Frank and Jan seated side by side at the round dining table. They had covered Thilo’s body with a bedsheet and had taken out a bottle of wine and three glasses. Herman placed his hands in his pockets as he approached the table. “So, I’m off for a little while. Will be back as soon as I can. Save some of that wine for me will you?” And patted their shoulders.
Herman walked to the end of the path and right before reaching the gate he checked his phone. He dialled the familiar number and a heavily accented voice picked up on the other side, answering with a grunt. “It’s me. I know assignment I received yesterday read Girls Two, but I had to act quickly. Tell the Boss that I got Boys Two instead. Trace the GPS on this phone before I dispose of it, and send a car with the usual cleaning crew. I should be finished in two hours or less.”
He walked back to the house, headed over to the three corpses, and checked the pulse of the two slumped bodies just to make sure. Looking around he saw that he would have to work on the floor, since the table was round and far too small. Two hours later the cleaning crew walked in, handed over six small transport boxes with ice and proceeded to dispose of the remains. Herman had already packed his bag, and gathered all the belongings of the boys into a single pile beside the container near the van. He was about to walk out when he heard a muffled ping coming from Frank’s jeans. Pulling out the phone, he squinted and read the message before taking out the SIM card and smashing the phone.
Pity the message would remain unread, thought Hermann with a frown.
“Urgent. Call me as soon as you read this. Stay away from Herman Schultz and do not engage in a conversation with him. He was dismissed dishonourably from the Army some years ago when he was caught harvesting organs illegally. He made a small fortune selling the organs of healthy injured soldiers in the black market, after poisoning them with something that was was completely untraceable. Will send help as soon as I can. Send your address.”