NaNoWriMo 2020: Episode 11

Join in the fun and help choose the character’s next actions! Read the episode (or the tl;dr at the end), fill in the poll, and read about the results tomorrow. Thanks!

(Read episode 10 here. Or start at the beginning here.)

Helena tosses her empty cup in the trash and heads off. There is only one way to travel into the heart of Amsterdam, and that is by train. It would be ridiculous to go into the city centre by car, and park by the canals. For one thing it would cost a fortune and she doubts the park pays Fred that well. She crosses the street again, dodging the tourists and waving at the coffeeshop owner, and turns decidedly left.

Now, what to look for while she is walking? For a while Helena tries to spy out each and every one of the name signs of the impressive canal houses but this takes a long time and she does not make any progress at all. There are hundreds of houses all standing in a row along the Herengracht, patiently waiting for her to check the names by the doorbell. Sometimes signs are a long way up, sometimes there is a score of bells with matching names. Some buildings seem to have one front door for twelve apartments, and some don’t have any nameplates at all. It is maddening. Even if she were to come pass the right building she could still not recognise anything of interest. After all, she has no idea what exactly she is looking for.

Consequently, Helena scouring of the facades consists of a brief glance and a quick attempt at the name, then a glimpse at the window just in case Fred is inadvertently and completely coincidentally standing in front of it to look out dreamily over the canal and over her head so she would see him and he would not see her. She realises this is more than a little bit of a long shot, though. Then she also runs an eye over the surroundings and the entrance. Many buildings have little entrances under the big entrance, presumably for servants and deliveries in the olden times. Sometimes these have become separate houses and different names are by the doors of these souterrains. 

Flowerpots adorn the stairs and bikes are chained to the fences. Many of the building have been turned into office spaces for corporate organisations, often lawyers and similar trades. Quite a few buildings are non-profit organisations that have had the buildings since the eighties when nobody wanted to live in the centre of Amsterdam anymore and the houses were going cheap. Nowadays they are priceless and ordinary people can hardly ever afford to live there anymore. However, a few remain from the eighties and share the building with other lucky people. In summer they will camp out on their porches with coffee in the morning or wine in the evening and they will watch the tourists walk by as they chat with the neighbours. During the day when they are working or taking care of their homes, the flowerpots and signs are supposed to prevent tourists from treating their porches as resting places.

Helena has walked a long way along the canal when she stops. The light in the sky is already very slowly draining from the sky. It will still be a few months until the shortest day of the year but darkness falls early this time of year already. Helena realises it is time to take a moment to think. What is a likely course of action for the person she is trying to find? She looks around at how far she has come. After all, it would not make sense for Fred to walk along the canal all the way. The canals of Amsterdam are built in a half circle around the area of Dam Square and the oldest part, where the red light district is. She is now on the west side, and should stay on this side of the centre. It makes no senseto go too far because Fred would not have walked this way if it were on the other side of the centre. Right. She takes a deep breath and crosses the bridge to the other side. 

A new row of high facades looks down on her. Her hands dig deep into her pockets and her right hand closes around the ball of felted wool that holds the rock. She and Luc have put it back in its metal casing, in order to prevent her touching it. She still doesn’t know what would happen if she were to touch it directly, and Luc refused to tell her. She has a faint suspicion that he doesn’t know exactly either, but he is not the kind of man who will easily admit to ignorance. He has only told her “everyone who did was dead within 24 hours so do with that knowledge as you will” so she is doing the only thing she can do under the circumstances: choose safety over being sorry. But she has to admit that her hands were itching to feel the surface of the stone, and to feel if it were somehow warm, or vibrating, or anything. In a strange moment she imagines herself as a very old woman on her deathbed, finally deciding she might as well satisfy her curiosity at last, considering she is about to die anyway, and placing her fingertip on the blue stone. What would happen? Would she feel the approaching death? Would she know, then, what was going to happen next? Would she tell anyone?

Another house, another door, another number and another name. Another flowerpot, another ornamental door knocker, another nameplate, another plaque… Helena stands still, abruptly, and turns back. The door knocker she just looked at is nothing special, another lion claw like so many of the others, but there is a little metal shield attached to the door lintel, a little way over the bell. At first glance it appears to be nothing special either, just a plain little shield with a few scratches. But she recognises them instantly: they make out a crow, and they greatly resemble the one etched into the pendant that is currently in her pocket! She stands there for a few moments, breathless and unable to move, then remembers herself and walks on, apparently looking around at all the buildings like she is doing some sightseeing. Her heart is beating like mad and her breath has become shallow. As she passes further down the canal, she casts a quick glance at the windows. They are immense, like those of most canal houses here. Long curtains frame a pair of big Delft blue pots that have been placed on the windowsills. She glances back too, to see if there is a name or plaque she has missed at first, and discovers that there is one! But she has walked on too far by now and doubling back would certainly be suspicious if anyone were to be watching her. 

She decides to cross to the other side of the canal again to take in the whole house and to see if she can spot anything on the upper floors from that side. It is lucky that it is already autumn and that the trees along the canal have already shed most of their leaves. The house itself does not look particularly extraordinary from this side. The windows upstairs are framed the same as other buildings. The facade seems to lean over a little but that is nothing special; it happens with a lot of houses in Amsterdam. The first floor windows show nothing except for one potted plant and a vase of wilting flowers. It is very different on the second floor though. Books and papers are piled high on the windowsills, leaving only a small space between them, presumably so the occupant can sometimes look outside. The light is on inside, like it is on the ground floor but not the first. Helena looks at the window on the second floor studiously, to see if she sees anyone move, but for a long time nothing happens. The sky gets darker and traffic is picking up with cyclists making their way to central station. Helena steps back and leans against the building behind her to watch the windows opposite her.

It does not take very long before someone, or something, moves in the room behind the window. She sees at least one person moving about and approaching the window. Although it would be difficult for anyone there to see her standing here in the shadows, Helena takes a step back anyway. The person she sees is not Fred, she can see that. For one thing, the person is much shorter and stockier than Fred. They are also moving very differently, not the calm movements she knows so well but short bursts of activity. They are moving things around but Helena gets the feeling they are not alone. Rather, they seem to be talking to someone else in the room. Could that be Fred? She squints to see better but it is difficult to see anything specific. Had she only brought her binoculars today! Of all days to not bring them, eh? 

A grim smile appears on her face. Chasing a man in Amsterdam – and here she was thinking she would never do that again! She sighs. It is unlikely she will be make out anything at this distance anyway. She should probably just go over there and inconspicuously peer at the nameplate. But as she steps forward from the shadow to continue her walk towards the bridge to cross again, she stands still again. A man is looking out the window opposite her. It is the same building but not the second floor. She man is standing in front of the huge windows, by the Delft blue vases, and looks out with his hands in his sides. The way Fred always does, Helena remembers, when he is watching something suspicious in the field or woods, like an animal that doesn’t belong there. And right now, Helena realises with a shock, he is looking at her.

tl;dr Helena finds a house along the canal that sports the same crow design as the pendant. As she stands studying the house from afar, a man appears in the window. It is Fred! What to do?

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