Amaranthine and Other Stories

BOOK: Amaranthine and Other Stories
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Amaranthine and Other Stories

Erik Hofstatter

Copyright (C) 2016 Erik Hofstatter

Layout design and Copyright (C) 2016 by Creativia

Published 2016 by Creativia

Cover art by
BetiBup33 (

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the author's permission.


The Birthing Tub

Sean peeled a single strand of stringy, russet hair from his shoulder and caressed it between his wrinkled fingers. The bathroom tiles were decorated with grimy cracks. He stuck the hair on the tile, next to the others. Tilting his head, he studied the tokens with sorrow in his eyes. It seemed like the entwined hairs formed a mysterious map.
A map to a better life
, he wished. The hair did not belong to him, yet they lurked all over the cottage, sometimes in the most unlikely of places. Farewell gifts from Magda. How long has she been gone? Months? Years? Sean could hardly remember. She had robbed him of logic, as well as his heart. Nothing made sense anymore. Her departure created a void. The joy of living evaporated along with her. Time ceased to exist. Sean inhaled and submerged his head, bathing in the serenity of underwater silence. It brought him a temporary peace. He thought about Eli and how he was born in this very tub. Witnessing his birth was one of the happiest days of Sean's life. He had to stay strong, if not for himself then for Eli. As long as he had Eli, he would find the strength to carry on living.

He exited the bath and reached for a stained towel. It smelled of neglect—dirt and mould. Sean could not remember the last time he swapped it. Another one of Magda's hairs was wrapped around his wrist like a constrictor.
You always were a snake,
Sean thought, uncoiling the cruel reminder and flushing it down the toilet—if only he could flush his feelings along with it. He caught a glimpse of his skeletal reflection in the steamed mirror, resisting the urge to wipe it and reveal the full horror of his anorexic body. No, he already accepted his Auschwitz appearance. No need to torment himself further. There was nothing he could do. Sean had a beastly appetite, yet the consumed nutrients simply vanished. Magda used to envy his rapid metabolism. “What's your secret? You can eat anything you like without gaining a pound!” she said.

Body dried, he slipped on his robe. A startled moth flew out of the garment. Sean clapped his hands, annihilating the insect with feline reflexes.
Bastard! I'll teach you to eat material from my robe
! He washed his palms, watching the golden dust dissipate into the sink. Entering the kitchenette, he removed the chicken breasts from the freezer. What day was it? Tuesday. No, Thursday! It did not matter to Sean. His life had become a routine. Routine was important. After Magda's abandonment, routine kept him sane. The microwave broke last month. It dawned on him how much time had passed since he'd last ventured outside.
Shit, has it been that long already?
Sean accepted a voluntary redundancy package the company offered him. He paid the rent several months in advance and stocked up on food. Frozen chicken, rice, beans, spaghetti, tuna, various soups—canned goods mostly. Quitting his job seemed irrelevant. His life had transformed into a game of dominoes since Magda left him.

She was the tip of the iceberg. She was the avalanche that buried his existence. Now he had to dig himself out of the snow. At least he had Eli. The loyal Eli. He would never desert him.

He sliced through the bag. The knife was blunt. Sean realized it would've been easier to rip the bag open with his fingers. Prevailing at last, he removed a piece of chicken. It still felt solid, even after leaving it in the sink to defrost for fifteen minutes.
Oh, well. The damn thing will defrost when it's cooking
, he thought. Soon, the air in the kitchenette carried a smell of frying onions. Sean stirred it and returned his attention to the frozen meat. He reached for a sharper knife and began to cut his dinner into little squares, leaning on the blade with every ounce of his puny weight. The onion made his eyes water. Why was he still bothering with that fucking thing? Did he care about taste? All the accoutrements and exotic spices? No. His life was about survival now. Fuck the spices. But then he remembered why he still fried the onion. Because Magda told him so. “Every delicious dish starts with fried onions. That's the base,” she explained. Her Polish creations often made him salivate. Sean did not argue with her culinary reasoning. Now he felt like tossing the brown mishmash into the bin. The wok trembled in his hands. No, frying the onion was part of the routine. He must stick to the routine.

Since the turbulent separation, Sean devoured an identical meal every night. Chicken breast with brown rice. If he felt brave enough, he hazarded a little honey or mustard to enrich the dish. Not tonight. He stared into the wok, stirring the mixture absentmindedly. How long was the chicken cooking? Five minutes? Ten? Without a clock in the kitchenette, he could not tell. He did not care, either. Food poisoning was the least of his worries. Magda had left him. That's what mattered. Sean poked the chicken with a wooden spoon. The texture seemed rubbery.
Maybe a minute or two longer
, he thought. Drops of burning oil landed on his knuckles, a result of over-vigorous stirring. “Cock!” he shouted out loud, shaking his hand through the air. The rice boiled. He removed the plastic sack with a fork, letting the excess water drip into the sink. Satisfied, he emptied the contents onto his plate. Sean gave the meat a final stir and scraped it on top of his rice.

The chicken was undercooked. Sean chewed the tasteless grub from side to side in his mouth, resisting the urge to spit it out.
You must keep your strength up. It's about survival. The pain will fade. You must eat
, he encouraged himself. Sean split the next piece in half with his fork. The shades of pink were undeniable. He carried on munching. It was all routine, even the undercooked meat. Every night he attempted to prepare the chicken thoroughly, every night he failed. “You're a failure!” Magda said to him. More than once. His reply remained the same. “Only in your eyes.”

“Only in your eyes,” he muttered again. She often smirked. He hated that fucking smirk. It irritated him more than words. The contempt on her lips. The superiority in her eyes. Her slyness had frightened him from the beginning. It also served as a magnet. Magda's intelligence was an attractive quality he could not resist.

“Get out of my fucking head!” he roared.

He needed a distraction. He needed Eli. He could always talk to Eli. Eli possessed the ability to vanquish these unwanted emotions. After dinner, Sean poured himself a generous glass of whiskey and collapsed into his Chesterfield chair. The chair was his throne—his sanctuary. It provided a sense of invincibility.

When he presided in his chair, even Magda could not challenge his authority. He sniffed the leather before leaning towards the aquarium—tapping a nail on the glass and addressing the floating thing within.

“I love you, Eli. You're my last friend on this doomed planet. How would I cope without you?”

The segmented body of the creature appeared lifeless. It nestled at the bottom of the tank, white and flat. He marvelled at the great length. Eli measured at least three and a half meters. Sean read that they developed at a rapid pace. Certain articles even claimed 1cm growth every hour. When Sean gave birth to him in the tub, Eli was already at an impressive size. He saluted his offspring and gulped down the amber liquid. Sean relaxed in his seat and reminisced back to that glorious day. His eyes lingered over the empty spaces she once occupied. Suddenly, he felt dirty. From the angry sex no doubt. Magda suggested it. “Fancy some break up sex? No strings attached?” she said. Always the temptress. She enjoyed torturing him, toying with his feelings until the bitter end. He nodded, intrigued by the lustful proposition.


Sean slipped his pants down, already hard. Magda stepped towards him, raising her skirt. The absence of underwear suggested she planned this in advance—even anticipating his answer. She did not kiss him. Instead, she reached for his cock and impaled herself on his erection. The sudden penetration swept his breath away. He experienced a new feeling there and then—a feeling of violation. Why was she doing this to him? Why the deviant treatment? She rode him with hate pouring out of her eyes. His heart ached with every thrust of her hips. After the farewell coitus, Magda raised herself from his lap and left the room. No words were spoken. No words were needed. She slammed the door behind her, disappearing from his life forever—in search of her own fortunes. What exactly was she searching for? Sean did not know. He only guessed that Magda searched for something more—for something he could not provide.


Sean lay in the bathtub, scrubbing his scrawny body, washing away Magda's scent with unnecessary force. The brush etched into his raw skin, leaving traces of crimson lines. Then it happened. His stomach cramped. The excruciating pain left him paralysed.
That fucking chicken
, he thought, holding his belly. He wanted to jump out of the tub and race to the nearby toilet, but Sean could not straighten his body. Beads of sweat formed on his forehead. Jaw clenched, he fought until the very end. All in vain. He shut his eyes and let go. Sean heard bubbles rising from beneath the water. He felt his stomach deflate. The corner of his mouth twisted into a grimace of relief. It was over.


Then the whiff of faeces polluted the air. It smelled like a corpse left to rot in the Saharan sun. No, it smelled far worse. Sean's eyes snapped wide open. He was bathed in a brown river of diarrhoea. Regurgitating, he pinched his nose. Something else floated in the tub with him. He refocused and locked his eyeballs on the intruder. The thing was wrapped around a solid chunk of shit. Sean hesitated before scooping it up with utter disgust. He separated it from his excrement, the liquid stool trickling down his wrist. The thing was long and thin, like a spaghetti—except the colour. It was pure white. It wiggled and wrapped itself around Sean's index finger. He blinked, turning his hand from side to side, observing the creature that just swam out of his asshole. 


“Aren't you a beauty? I shall call you Eli,” he said to it. 


Sean vacated the aquarium by flushing Magda's goldfish down the toilet. Eli needed a new home. He gently carried the parasite and dropped him in the water. It sank to the bottom. It all seemed like aeons ago.

Sean rubbed the chair, his mind whizzing through memories. He attempted to banish the pain Magda's betrayal created. Past no longer mattered. He had to focus on the moment and live in the present. Focus on Eli. Nourish and look after him. Magda did not deserve his love, but Eli did.


“Do you remember when you were born? What a beautiful day that was. My beloved Magda might be gone, but you'll always be my son. Never forget that.”


A proud grin spread across his features as he gazed at Eli, floating in the water. He produced another life. It
out of him. Eli was so much more than an intestinal worm, he was Sean's son. His stomach cramped again, the pain spreading through his bowels—the tapeworms slowly crippling him. Sean raised himself from the chair, hunched over like a pensioner. He tapped the glass of the aquarium.


“Hope you're ready, Eli. When I come back, I might have a little brother for you,” he said, heading towards the toilet. 

Tristan's Equation

Tristan's eyes snapped shut.

His clammy palms cupped over his ears—slowly anticipating the dreadful announcement. Every three minutes for the last four hours, the transistor radio located on the top shelf (and out of his short reach) would broadcast a sequence of numbers. A sequence that he loathed—a sequence that drove him insane.

The cacophonous speaker rattled and a thunderous voice proclaimed the following digits:

(15,5,8, 9 – 10)

Tristan pressed harder on his ears. Silence dominated all. The broadcast was over for the next three minutes. Eight-year old Tristan paced around the white room.

Why are they repeating these numbers? What do they mean? Why am I here? What do they want me to do?

He approached the mahogany desk, covered with all sorts of mathematical equations and calculations. He picked up one of the papers and looked at it again. It showed the following diagram:

Tristan blinked, attempting to re-focus his eyes. The drawing made no sense no matter how long or hard he stared at it. The strict voice repeated again:

(15,5,8, 9 – 10)

No! Please, no more…

Tristan started to weep.

Where is mom? Where is dad? Why am I all alone here?

He tried to peek into the circular mirror on the east wall but it towered over him and he could not see himself.

Frustrated, he pulled a chair from the desk and climbed on it—gazing upon his own reflection in the mirror. The tips of his fingers traced the elongated scar on the top of his scalp.

I can't remember how I got this…

The tissue of the scar felt callous, an injury sustained quite some time ago. He jumped down from the chair and looked at the bulb, hanging from the ceiling. It shattered violently—the shards missing his left eye by an inch. Tristan was cloaked by darkness.

He crawled under the desk, crying and hugging his knees. The speaker rattled once again, the electromagnetic signals echoing around the room:

(15,5,8, 9 – 10)

Tristan felt consumed by the invisible waves. The sound in the blackness terrified him even more. He repeated the sequence in his head, a feeble attempt at deciphering the hidden meaning of the numbers. He was good with numbers. His parents said so.

“You're a very special boy,” his mother had often reminded him.

Tristan wiped the tears from his eyes and inhaled. No, the sequence was meaningless. But what if it's not about the numbers themselves?

What if there's something else, hidden in the mechanical waves? A code? A signal? Did I hear a trace of beeps behind that voice? It sounded like a Morse code? But from who? Who is transmitting these numbers and why?

All these questions clouded his ability to concentrate and he shuddered with despair. His eyes slowly adjusted to the darkness and he saw a shadow of footsteps in the gap underneath the door.

They swung open. Tristan lifted his arm, shielding his eyes from the cruel light.

“Tristan? Where are you?”

The boy hesitated. He did not recognize the voice. But then, unable to hide in fear any longer—he crawled forward, sobbing and trembling.

“Oh, dear! What are you doing under the table? Why is this not working?” Asked the man, flipping the light switch up and down.

Tristan ran towards him, tears trickling down his cheeks once again. He hugged the man, burying his face in his white coat—not caring that he was a stranger.

“There, there, no need to cry. I see the light bulb exploded,” said Dr. Guttridge, patting Tristan on the head. “I'm so sorry, Tristan. Nurse Patel was meant to check up on you every hour but clearly she's forgotten.”


The broadcast began yet again:

(15,5,8, 9 – 10)

Dr. Guttridge walked over to the small radio, switching it off.

“What do those numbers mean? Who are you? Why am I here?” asked Tristan.

Dr. Guttridge squeezed his shoulder. “I'm ever so sorry, Tristan. As I explained before, nurse Patel was instructed to keep an eye on you every hour or so, to answer any questions you might have and to remind you of your task.”

“My task?”

Dr. Guttridge gestured towards the chair and Tristan sat down.

“Your task, Tristan, was to solve the P versus NP problem—an unsolved problem in computer science. You're a very special boy, Tristan. Your IQ is 138 and you're a brilliant mathematician therefore your parents decided that you should try to resolve it.”


“The unsolved problem carries a price tag of $1,000,000 to whoever cracks it. I'd imagine that motivated your parents,” said Dr. Guttridge.

Tristan did not pick up on the doctor's sarcasm.

“But why don't I remember any of this?”

“Well, you see, you suffered a traumatizing injury as a baby—hence the scar on your head. It's because of this injury, that you lost the ability to create new memories. The condition is called
Anterograde Amnesia

Tristan sat in silence, his mouth partially opened.

“Where are my parents?”

“They're waiting for you in the hallway.”

The boy started walking towards the door and the doctor placed an arm around his shoulder.

“I failed,” Tristan confessed with his head bowed.

Dr. Guttridge smiled in return. “Do not trouble yourself, Tristan. The P versus NP problem is one of
Millennium Prize Problems. There are always the other six.”

Tristan's eyes opened and he examined the wrinkled reflection staring back at him from the mirror. He no longer needed a chair to climb onto.

BOOK: Amaranthine and Other Stories
8.6Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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