Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Sleeping Beauty Mystery, By Carl Macek

Note: I am a total sucker for a mystery. I can truly say that I thought this story was great fun!

The package was delivered to my office, Charlie Prince Investigations, without a return address. I suppose somebody at the Post Office had finally decided to clean out a couple of their dead letter files and put some effort into delivering the previously undeliverable. But when I saw the ratty condition of the homemade cardboard envelope that was sitting outside my office door, I wasn’t all that eager to open it. I kept thinking about the people that I’d heard of who’d found out the hard way that what they thought was Aunt Agnes’ famous fruitcake turned out to be a letter bomb. The way I figured it, I had a fifty-fifty chance of coming out alive. I just closed my eyes and ripped the cardboard package apart.

What I found inside was an old VHS tape. I hadn’t seen one of those “antique” plastic cassettes for nearly 25 years. There was a piece of white tape along the spine with the words “Please Help” scrawled with a thick black marker pen. It took me almost two weeks to find someone who had an old video tape player that worked so that I could even watch the stupid thing. And by that time my curiosity was sufficiently piqued. But I wasn’t prepared for what I found recorded on that antiquated relic.

Sure the image was fuzzy and the sound was weak – that was to be expected - but there was no mistaking the hoopla and pomp that surrounded a royal christening. One thing was certain; it wasn’t some amateur homemade video. The cutting was too professional – It looked to me like a 3- or 4-camera set-up. I just couldn’t make out what language the crowd was speaking; but it seemed Cyrillic. And judging from the clothes everyone was wearing, I’d say the affair had been recorded at least 40 years ago, if not more. Most of those little Balkan principalities had collapsed when the world economy tanked in the mid 20’s. And this must have been one of the last gasps of glory for a now dead sovereign nation.

I was enjoying a sense of nostalgia when things took a turn for the worst. A bright flash of light near the center of the royal viewing station revealed a wizened old woman. She was dressed like some sideshow gypsy fortuneteller. A couple of guards tried to stop her as she moved toward the bassinette holding the child. She threw them aside like they were rag dolls. She tried to reach down and pull the child out but her hands hit some sort of invisible barrier. She started screaming insults and eventually zeroed in on a couple of well-heeled folks on the dais. I assumed they were the kid’s parents. They started arguing. It got ugly, but it never got physical. Eventually the hag left the way she came. That’s where the first section of the tape stopped.

Following that explosive bit of video there was a series of sloppily edited scenes showing the child growing from a toddler into a fine young woman. The well-heeled couple could always be found in the background. The scenes depicted in these clips should’ve been joyful. Unfortunately, they weren’t; there was an overriding sense of doom or foreboding that surrounded them. However, it wasn’t until the video tape’s last sequence played out that I knew I was going to be spending the rest of my time trying to find out what happened to that beautiful, young woman.

A small crowd had gathered to celebrate the girl’s birthday. It looked like they were having a good time until they started dropping like flies. Soon as the girl’s parents figured out what was happening they wheeled in some kind of hyperbaric chamber. Everything moved like clockwork as if they were following a well-rehearsed fire drill. Unfortunately, once the girl was secured in the chamber both parents succumbed. The last thing I saw before the tape went black was the girl pounding on the glass window of the chamber.

Seeing this last bit of tomfoolery jogged my memory. I remembered that the small sovereign state of Guernica had “gone dark” about 14 years ago. Somebody said it was because of a reactor meltdown like the one at Chernobyl. But nobody knew for sure. They just sealed Guernica off and threw away the key.

I started checking around and was able to put bits and pieces of the story together. The couple “starring” in the video was Duke Thanos of Guernica and his wife Natalia. Both Thanos and Natalia’s families were descendants from a long line of “royals” but Natalia’s sister, Margrit, claimed she was the true ruler of Guernica. Once Natalia’s daughter was born, the people sided with her; and Margrit was booted out. Things seemed to move along without a hitch until the blackout. One day Guernica was a legitimate concern, the next it was as if a dark hole reached out and swallowed everything up. From that day on no one heard a peep out of Guernica. However some controversy about the duchy lingered on to this day – unconfirmed rumors about dark magic and whatnot.

I figured it’d be worthwhile to take a trip to Guernica and check things out. I was stopped at the border by a U.N. peacekeeping force and told that the area had been quarantined. I drove out of sight; then went the rest of the way on foot.

The place looked dead, but my radiation detector showed nothing.

The Duke’s Castle was exactly like it was in the video. Everyone lay on the ground – preserved somehow. I found the chamber where they left it. I shined my pencil-light inside and saw her. She was still alive and as young and beautiful as ever. The hardest part was figuring a way to open the door to let her out. But that is another story. Suffice it to say I did, and it turned out to be the smartest thing I’d ever do.

1 comment:

  1. I really enjoyed this version. I love the tone of the detective and the eerie description of what's on the tape. I really like the fact that it manages to create more questions from what is a very familar story, so I wanted to know who edited the tape, who sent it to him, what happened when he let her out? Since I read it a couple of days ago the story has really stuck in my head and I've enjoyed puzzling these things over, so thank you!
    Claire (ps I'd also like to be entered into the contest - thanks)