Heart of Winter*

*The fifth and last part of the ED BANNISTER series. Extract from my Photography blog, Through Frog Eyes. Each month a guest photographer is featured and a short story is woven around a set of photographs. This is where photography and creative writing find a common platform. For this month, all the stories were connected in a series that ushered in Thanksgiving and Advent. Please click on the link to read the previous stories and the complete version of the story below with the full set of photographs. 

The silence was deafening in the dark apartment and Alexander felt completely out of place as the shadows of the covered furniture engulfed him. This was her sanctuary, a perfect world only a selected few were ever allowed in, and even then, one had to earn the privilege. In spite of her fame, Stefanie was known for keeping her private life almost hidden from the world, and justified it by her fierce need to create a haven for her soul in order to recover from the horrors she had to cover on assignment. This was the first time, however, that missed an appointment and had gone missing. Her office had no additional information to share, and to confound matters even more, they weren’t even sure where she was supposed to be.

A Perfect World ©Ed Bannister

Working with the last light of the day filtering in through the curtains, Alexander opened all the drawers and filing cabinets he could remember. He wasn’t even sure what he was looking for, but his instinct told him he would find the clues to her whereabouts here. Like him, she accepted the stories nobody else would, because there was no spouse or child to take into consideration like their other colleagues did.

Just when he was about to call it a day and stop his rummaging, Alexander’s eyes fell on an old wooden box in the kitchen that had once contained some traditional Spanish butter cookies, now obscured with age. Her mother had always sent her one each year without fail. After her mother died, Stefanie gave all the boxes away except the last one, claiming it was the Memory Box, her special place to go when everything seemed to be falling apart. His hand reached out towards the box, not really wanting to find what he suspected he would, knowing her. Nevertheless, Alexander held the container firmly with both hands, closed his eyes and took a deep breath before lifting the lid.

At first glance, the only things were symbols of a quiet passion belonging to a woman who had come to terms with her single blessedness. There were mementos of holidays, places where she had left traces of her soul and perhaps even a relationship in some obscure city in a distant country. He stared at the box for ten minutes, hesitating to plough through the items, but then he noticed a crevice in the corner.

Alexander noticed false bottom and tried to open it. After a few failed attempts, he muttered with vexation “Damn! I should have known she would have had a special mechanism built in. It wouldn’t be Stef if it were too easy. Think!” Then it struck him. Remembering the very first assignment they collaborated on in Yucatan that seemed like something straight out of an Indiana Jones movie, Alexander looked at the designs outside the box, found the two items he had a hunch would be the right ones, and simultaneously pushed in with his left thumb, and slid down with his right index.

True enough, he heard a small click and smiled, “Good girl, you remembered the veil inside the secret chamber of the cave!”  But his amusement was short-lived when he peered into the bottom of the box. There were two letters, one addressed to him, and the other to a photographer based in Thailand who was one of Alexander’s best friends.

After reading it, he put down the letter, walked to the window and stared out to the thin ice that had formed over the river that seemed black at this hour. Wiping away a tear, he pulled out his phone and typed two coded messages, one to Brussels and another to Thailand. Darkness had descended in the heart of winter.

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