This week in our Tuesday Fiction Feature is “Mortal Danger” by Frank Roger, a Belgian short story writer.
by Frank Roger
Sunshine, a swimming pool, an exotic cocktail and a good book. Wasn’t that all they needed right now?
Cindy cast a glance at Ted, her husband, stretched out next to her. He didn’t even need a book and had already dozed off, mere minutes after their arrival at the pool. They were the only ones here at this early hour – no doubt the other hotel guests were still having breakfast or hadn’t even risen from their sleep.
She sipped from her drink, closed her eyes for a few moments and enjoyed the sunlight caressing her skin. They had been looking forward to this holiday and were determined to savour every minute of it.
She opened her eyes again, took her book and started to read.
She had barely read half a page when she heard a loud and angry voice. A man was standing right in front of them. Where had he come from? She hadn’t heard him arrive, and he didn’t look like a hotel guest, nor like someone of the hotel staff.
“I’m in danger,” the man hysterically shouted at her. “Mortal danger perhaps. They’re after me, they can be here in a few seconds. I don’t have much time, lady, so I can’t go into the details, but it was foolish to go back and forth like this, you have no idea what the risks involved are…”
Cindy stared at him, at a loss for words, without a clue as to what he was ranting about.
The man must have seen her expression as he said: “Look, I don’t have the time to explain everything, and I’m sorry for barging in here like this, but…” A beeping signal from his wristwatch made him break off his sentence. He cursed and continued: “Shit, this is worse than I thought, I have to get out of here fast, sorry about all this.”
After his final word the man disappeared, like an image on a TV that was switched off. Cindy looked at Ted, who appeared to be awake.
“What was all that?” he asked. “Where did that man go to? And what was he talking about? And where did he come from?”
“I have no idea,” Cindy replied. “No idea at all. He warned us about a danger.”
“I don’t want to hear about danger,” Ted said. “We’re on holiday. I’m glad he’s gone.”
That seemed to end the discussion. Ted closed his eyes again, and she went back to her book.
Barely five minutes later a second man appeared out of nowhere, noticed them lying poolside and asked: “Excuse me, did you see a man here? Someone who popped up and disappeared again? Someone who gave the impression of being on the run?”
Cindy merely nodded.
“So he’s been here all right. Well, pay no attention to him. Forget everything he said, pretend that incident never happened. It doesn’t concern you. Don’t worry, okay? Thank you.”
The man shot her a smile and disappeared, just like the first guy had done.
“What the hell is going on here?” Ted asked, risen from his nap again. “Who are these people? Hotel staff?”
“I don’t think so,” Cindy answered. “I have no idea what all this is about.”
“They should leave us alone,” Ted complained. “We’re on holiday, remember? We pay hard-earned money to have a good time here.”
Cindy nodded. Her husband had a point. The quiet had now returned and she picked up her book again.
A few minutes later two men appeared at the same place where the other guys had materialised. These two wore uniforms, and were definitely neither hotel guests nor staff. Could they be policemen? Was this something serious?
“Excuse me,” one of them said. “We’re after a dangerous man, and we think he may have been through here. Did you by any chance spot him? Did you engage in conversation with him, was there an exchange of information?”
Cindy nodded. “There was a guy who popped up like you did and disappeared again.”
“That must have been him. We urge you to stay out of this case. We’re supposed to arrest this man. Please, be careful. Thank you for your help.”
The two men winked out of existence.
“This nonsense has got to stop,” Ted complained angrily. “You heard that idiot? We urge you to stay out of this case. They’re the ones who come barging in here and spoil our holiday. To hell with them! I hope that’s where they went off to.”
Cindy had to admit her husband was right. The hotel management should not let this sort of thing happen. It was really irritating and spoiled the holiday atmosphere. She hoped it was over now and picked up her book again.
Five minutes later it became clear it wasn’t quite over yet, as a woman appeared at their side.
“Excuse me,” she said, her voice edged with concern. “I’m looking for my husband, and I hope to find him before the Time Police arrest him. He’s in terrible danger.”
“I think we’ve seen both your husband and those policemen,” Cindy replied. “And there was another guy. What is all this about?”
The woman seemed on the verge of breaking into tears. “My God, they’re closing in on him. Maybe I’ll be too late, and I doubt his lawyer will be of much help. You see, time travelling is against the law. My husband was one of the first travellers, venturing forth before the law was passed. The thing is, that law is retroactive, considering the nature of time travel, but my husband doesn’t accept the validity of that legal provision. The police obviously don’t share that opinion and are after him. My God, I hope I won’t be too late. Thanks.”
She disappeared, probably off to where all the others had gone to.
“Did you hear all that?” Cindy asked. “Do you believe what that woman told us?”
“I think I know what this is,” Ted replied grumpily. “This is a kind of play, it’s all part of the hotel’s guest entertainment programme. I’ll tell the reception to stop bothering us with it.”
“Are you sure? How can hotel staff members pop up and disappear like that? That would be quite an act. And that first guy claimed he was in mortal danger, and then there were these cops and his wife’s explanation…”
“I don’t know. Anyway, I’m happy as long as we’re not in mortal danger. We’re on holiday, remember? We pay lots of money to have a good time. I’ll go and talk to the guys at the reception desk later today. All this nonsense is unacceptable.”
“I suppose you’re right,” Cindy said. She picked up her book again, hoping she would finally get to read it.
“Mortal Danger” (c) Frank Roger 2007. First published in Brilliant Quarterly.