About Us

Contact Us


The 21st Century

Hacktreks Travel

Hacktreks 2

First Chapters
Lifestyles 1
Lifestyles 2

The International Writers Magazine

Gretchen, the Queen of Nightmare
Sidi Benzahra

"What are you looking at?"
"A man's brain," she said. "Come take a look."
"A man's brain, how do you know it's human?" He asked.

John had a friend whose name was Mary Miller. She was a first-year dentistry student and he was second-year English. Mary worked with John at Walter Library, one of the oldest libraries of the University of Minnesota. She was a Scandinavian-looking type, even though her name, Miller, sounded more English than Scandinavian. Her hair was blond and curly, and her eyes were sky blue. Her ears were so small that she would hide them behind her curly blond hair afraid people would notice them.

John, on the other hand, was dark skinned. He looked more Mediterranean than Northern European even though his last name was Hanson. His eyes were large and brown, and his hair was also brown. He was tall and sturdy, and his chest was as large as a table and straight, too. His hands were big and flat, and his fingers were long. He was as strong as a buffalo, but his heart was as fragile as the wing of a butterfly.

One day, he was shelving books when he saw Mary Miller sitting at the circulation desk, reading a book. He walked towards her to see what she was reading, and moved closer to her body and looked into her book and saw a picture of a skinless human body and a few paragraphs written underneath. He asked her if she had practiced on cadavers. She said, yes, of course, but he didn't believe her. So to prove that to him, she said, come along tomorrow to see for yourself. He said, sure, why not.

At exactly 9:00 P.M. John and Mary entered the lab. A weird smell hit their nostrils, but after a while, they got accustomed to it and now the air smelled as good as fresh. Nobody was around, except for a custodian. He was an old man with saggy, tattooed arms and a well corded face. He was mopping the floor, scooped up under himself, head down, humming and minding his own business.

They now got deep inside the lab where some cadavers were put down waiting for them. It was very quiet inside, but the sound of the rain was tapping against the window panes. The wind was whooping outside and they could hear it, trying to push against the windows to get in.

Here by the window the cadaver of an old man was lying. The abdomen was cut wide open like that of a sheep. John walked to that old man's corpse and bent over its head closely to look into its eyes. He got so close that he could smell its strong odor. He looked at those eyes to see if they were alive, but they were dead. John questioned himself: "Who is this dead man? Where did he come from? Didn't he used to laugh with his friends? Wasn't he once a baby that crawled on a carpet and took a leak in his diapers and jumped up and down in his crib? Didn't he have beautiful children that waited for him impatiently before he would come from work? Didn't he have friends that went out with him to drink beer in a local bar?"
These questions were going through John's mind when Mary walked to a far wall and looked at jars in a glass cabinet. Beside the cadaver of the old man, a few yards away, a body of a beautiful young woman was laid. Even though she was preserved, and her dry skin was puckered, you could tell she was beautiful. Her face was round. Her nose was medium size with beautifully symmetrical nostrils. Her eyebrows were thin, soft, and carefully, nicely trimmed. She was totally naked and her abdomen was cut wide open just like the old man. There were no guts around. She was emptied and cleaned inside. John felt very bad when he saw that woman naked like that and split wide open in front of him. He gently covered her body with a white sheet, except for her face. He looked sad and withdrawn when his eyes focused on her. He rubbed the top of his forehead and focused on her some more. He now got closer to her face like he did the old man, and stared into her beautiful, dead eyes, hoping to see some life, a glow, or energy of some kind. Surprisingly, he noticed a little glow of "life" in the depth of her eyes. Her eyes weren't dead and cold like the old man's; they were sort of looking back at him. John recoiled swiftly, his heart cuckooing inside of him. Oh, God! He soliloquized. And suddenly gooseflesh crept up on him. He backed off a few feet and called on Mary. Mary, who had no idea what had happened, was busy investigating a foot of another cadaver two stretchers down. She walked to John and stood by him, her eyes asking many questions. John urged her to take a look at those mysterious eyes and she bent over them and stared into them. She stared and stared, and then stood up, and then bent down again to stare some more. But she couldn't see any sign of life or anything out of the ordinary.
"I didn't see anything," Mary said, looking at John.
"Look carefully into her eyes, please."
Mary shook her head in disgust and looked down again, laughing through her nose.
"Look at her eyes like if she was alive, Mary. Pretend you want to tell her something."
"I didn't see anything," Mary said madly. "What do you expect me to see? The woman is dead, for crying out loud!"
John got worried now, because he thought he saw something.
"We got to go, Mary," John said, sweating a little bit on the forehead."
"Sure," said Mary.

As they walked out of the lab, the custodian looked at them and started humming again. They glided by him, head down, moving quietly like two timid, school children. His head turned slowly, following them as they went out the door. They now walked down the steps outside, their heads going down step by step till he couldn't see them anymore. The custodian looked down into his yellow bucket, scrunched the mop in and out of the bucket, rinsed it with the bar of the bucket, and began mopping again and humming.

Mary went home and forgot about the whole thing, but John went to Donna Dohrmann, another friend of his, and told her the whole thing. Donna didn't believe him, but then, stubborn as he was, he asked her if she could come up with him to the lab and see for herself.
"I think you're crazy," Donna said.
"Listen, Donna," John combed his dark hair with his fingers. "I really want you to go with me. You are the only person I can trust. I want you to experience this so I can be sure of myself."
"Okay," Donna said softly and smiled at him.
They both got inside the lab and head straight to the high stretcher where the young woman was. This time, no custodian was around and all the bodies were covered with white sheets. John pulled the cover off the face and saw that it wasn't that of the young woman, but of an old black woman. Students probably shuffled the stretchers around this morning. They kept on looking for the young woman's body when Donna saw something immersed in a jar; she stood there motionless, looking at it, her mouth hanging open.
"What are you looking at?" John asked.
"Huh?" she snapped out and looked at him.
"What are you looking at?"
"A man's brain," she said. "Come take a look."
"A man's brain, how do you know it's human?" He asked.
"Come take a look, you old poop."
John went to the table, but instead of seeing a man's brain, he saw a penis, floating in the liquid of the jar.
"What the--" he said, and quickly got the message.
Donna said, "Men have two brains: one spherical, and one cylindrical, and that's the cylindrical you just saw."
"And how many brains do women have?" John asked.
"One," Donna said and walked away.

Finally they found the body of the young woman. But while Donna was still looking at the young woman's body, somebody entered the lab. They couldn't see who it was directly, because there was a little hallway that you had to walk through to get to the lab. Donna and John quickly ducked behind a stretcher and left the young woman's head uncovered. The person, who came in, was a man. They could tell from the shoes he was wearing and from the way he walked.
He went to the cabinets that stood beside the far wall and picked up two jars and left the room. Donna and John stood up to continue their mission. Donna looked closely into the young woman's eyes. She didn't see any glow. The woman was dead, Donna explained. But John urged her to look again. She did. He became convinced that he experienced a hallucination. He gave up and both left the lab.

John began to dream about the young woman at night time and in the day time. Even if he shut his eyes the young woman’s face still remained in his mind. The dreams were chronologically random, and never meant to connect from one story to the other. He would dream of her in a vast wheat field, chasing him, trying to pull his shirt off. Sometimes she would grab him, sit on him, and make love to him; and other times she would just tease him and let him go—like the cat sometimes does to the mouse. He would dream of her making love to him in a barn with half of her clothes on, breasts jerking up and down, eyes staring at him. She would press against him with her body and he would feel her warm skin as though it was real and alive. Her firm breasts would press against his chest and he would melt with pleasure. He had never experienced that pleasure before even though he had slept with many women before.
He would again dream of her having sex with him, aching and making loud noises like if she was in deep ecstasy, and those noises would be so real and so vibrant, echoing in his room. The dreams had an extraordinary reality. He didn't understand them. They bothered him as much as he enjoyed them, and he couldn't do anything about them. He asked Donna about what to do to stop these dreams.
"Can you control your dreams?" Donna asked.
"I never tried," he replied.
"Well," she said. "Try to understand what she wants. Maybe she was trying to tell you something."
"Tell me something?" he said. "Like what?"
"I don’t know."

That night, in his dream, the young woman appeared again. She was there in his dream world and probably in his real world. He could not afford missing the opportunity to ask for her name. She produced herself in his room, beautiful as ever, ready to hear that question. Her eyes looked cunning. She knew something. She knew his intentions. She knew what he wanted. Now, his mouth wanted to open to ask that same question but the muscles of his face said, no way. He wanted to open his eyes but his eyelids were too heavy. He had to open his mouth now. He had to speak, for she wanted him to. She was waiting.
"What is your name?" He asked. His voice echoed in the darkness of his room. She came closer to him and smiled. She put her warm hand on his heart and he could feel it as though it was a real, warm hand.
"Gretchen Nedermeyer," she said and walked away.
He woke up right after that encounter and immediately jotted down her name on his white pillow case so he wouldn't forget. He sat on the side of his bed, pondering, scared and confused. He tried to go back to sleep but he couldn't. All he could do was think about Gretchen. He begged for the morning to come, but every minute somehow stretched like a rubber band to ten minutes. Time slowed down. He became so exhausted; he couldn't keep his eyes open; he went to sleep.

The next morning, the sun came up, peering through his dorm-room window, scattering light over his white face, and opening up his tired eyes. Without having any breakfast, he went to Donna to tell her the name.
"Wow!" Donna said. "We've got to find out if it matches the name of the woman in the lab."
"What will happen if it does?" John asked.
"That will blow my mind sky high," she said. "I hope the names won’t match."
"I hope so, too, Donna." John said softly.
That same morning, they both ran to the lab. They looked for the person in charge. They didn't care if the university found out, because this became more important than anything in their life.
They reached the office and met the man in charge.
"Sir, we need to find out the name of the dead woman, who is lying on the stretcher," John said.
"Which dead woman you’re talking about?"
"It's a long story, sir. Can you just give us the name, please?"
The young man was hesitant; he knew something was going on. They were anxious and impatient when he looked at them and he had never seen two crazily-nervous people like that before.
"Which woman are you talking about?" the man asked again.
John described all her features, from head to toe.
"Number 16," the man said. "Let check in the book, Let me check something in the book."
He stood up and pulled a thick, white book from a nearby shelf overhead and sat down. They were so many names written on that book. The man was slowly going down the roster with his finger.
"There it is: Gretchen Helga Nedermeyer."
John and Donna looked at each other, astonished. A cloud of darkness descended upon them. The man turned his head and stared at them.
"What's going on?" he asked, one of his eyebrows held up high.
They walked away hurriedly, ignoring him, and the man followed them.
"What's going on, you guys?" He cried, following them.
"What's going on?" he said, speaking to himself when John and Donna left the building.
Donna advocated to John to never roam around that lab again. Thinking about Gretchen like that, she said, might make you crazy.
"What should I do, then?" John asked.
"Very simple," she said. "Forget about Gretchen. Forget about her totally. Delete her from your mind completely."
"I'll try," John said.
"Good," she said.

Weeks passed. John realized he couldn't forget about Gretchen. He couldn't get her off his mind. Or maybe, she couldn't let go off his mind. He found it impossible not to know who Gretchen Nedermeyer was. He had to know her past and see her family. He had to know the truth about her. But the only way for him to do that, he thought, was to go back to the lab and ask the person in charge for the address of her immediate family.

It turned out that Gretchen Nedermeyer had been an orphan. She had been given by the State of Tennessee to a widowed German woman by the name of Helen Buschfeld. Helen was still alive and had been living in Memphis for many years. He did not want to call Helen and inform her of his decision to meet with her in Memphis. He didn't want to let her know ahead of time, because he was afraid she wouldn’t want to meet him. So he packed his necessary belongings in his borrowed jeep-Cherokee and off he went, Tennessee bound. He didn't know how long it had taken him to drive that distance, because most of the time, all he had been pondering about, was Gretchen.

Ms. Buschfeld lived in a big beautiful brown house in the suburb, in a very wealthy neighborhood. As he pulled over in front of the house, he felt a force of some kind, hovering heavily around his mind. He shook his head as though to push it away, but nevertheless, it didn't go away. He had to wait for a large automated iron gate to open, before he could get could get to the house. He waited momentarily before the gate swung open.

As he drove in, he thought of all the wealth spent in maintaining that huge garden and that big brown house in such a good condition. The gigantic front lawn was polished to a hard shine. The bushes around the garden were trimmed as you would trim your hair: clean cut with sharp, clean edges. Flower pots had to be installed everywhere. He wondered why a beautiful, wealthy woman like Gretchen would end up as a sample of dissection in a Midwestern university. Something is wrong, he said to himself. Something has got to be wrong.

Ms. Buschfeld's butler was already standing on a high step by the door, waiting for him. He was tall, stooped man with a chin that looked like a couple of knuckles. His eyes were sort of brown and small like those of a mean cat, and his hair was black and thin, straight too; and carefully combed over his shiny skull.
"I need to speak to Ms. Buschfeld," John said, walking up the stairs, looking at the butler.
The butler gave John the elevator look.
"Who am I speaking to, sir?" The butler said, his head held high like a dog who was about to take a leak.
"John Hanson, sir. I came from Minnesota."
"Mrs. Buschfeld is not expecting anybody by that name, sir."
"I know that. I am a friend of Gretchen Nedermeyer, I came to ask Ms. Buschfeld some questions."
The butler froze in his place when he heard that name. His small eyes stared inside his mind like if he was in a deep, galactic trance. He became scared, withdrawn, and very suspicious and nervous. He said, "Hold on, please," and closed the door and turned the key. John could hear the butler's footsteps, slowly fading away behind the door. He waited awhile, and while waiting he turned around to look down at that immense garden of natural beauty. After a few minutes of wonder and contemplation, the butler's footsteps began to be heard again, approaching the door in a crescendo. The butler finally turned the key back to its original position and opened the door and said, "Come on in, Sir."
"Thank you," John said and nodded his head to show respect.

The inside of the house was even more interesting than the outside. Beautiful, hand-made carpets were covering the floor. Magnificent old paintings were hung on the wall. Well crafted, antique wood was everywhere. Some of it was possibly made by the Shakers of Maine, or maybe the Amish of Pennsylvania, or maybe just imported from Sweden or Canada.

The butler ordered John to follow him to the blue room. The curtains there were light-blue; the carpet was also light-blue, and almost every thing in that room was light-blue, except for the wood. Helen was in the middle of the room, peacefully, cozily sitting in her beautifully carved chair and an old Siamese cat with short pale fur and darker face and ears was lying on Helen's lap and relaxing. The cat looked at John for a moment and blinked and then looked the other way, spoiled as a princess. Mrs. buschfeld was dressed up like the queen of England, but her face was full of dark thoughts. Her hands were tendony and bony, and her gray hair was combed back and shone dimly, reflecting the light of the far-wall window. She looked like a powerful witch. With a very heavy German accent, Helen asked, "What brought you down here, Mr. Hanson?"
"I am a friend of Gretchen Nedermeyer, ma'am." John stood solemnly before her, holding his hands together in front of him.
"Lugner!" she cried. "Do not lie to me! What brings you here, Mr. Hanson?"
John ended up telling her the whole story: the lab, the dream, the barn, and even the jerking breasts. And she knew he was telling her the truth. She somehow knew.
"I want to see her room, Ms. Buschfeld, I want to know if...if you could answer me some questions."
"You can see her room, of course. But no questions! Hadley!" she barked loudly, her voice echoing in the hallway. "Hadley!" she barked again and the butler came walking fast, arms loosely swinging beside him. If it was not for his old age he would be running.
"Take Mr. Hanson to Gretchen's room," she ordered.
"Surely," the butler said.

The two men went upstairs, but on their way to the room, John wanted to ferret out information from him.
"Was Gretchen a nice woman?" He said without looking at the butler.
The butler didn't say a word; he kept on walking straight like an old soldier, and he did not even turn his face.
"Did she have a boyfriend?"
Not one word again. They reached the door now, and the butler pulled out the key from his black-vest pocket. Simultaneously, John pulled out a crisp $100 bill from his faded-jean pocket, and handed it over to the butler. The butler saw the money and recoiled in an air of suppressed anger. He calmly opened the door and stood out in the hallway, waiting for John to enter. John poked his money back into his tight pocket and walked into the room.
"Make sure, you don't touch anything, sir," The butler said.
"I won’t touch anything," John said softly to himself.

As soon as John put his last foot inside the room, chills ran through his body. He sensed the skin of his head crawling, pulling, and squeezing against his forehead. It was a strange feeling. He had never felt like it before. The room was dark and dusty; the air was warm and stagnant. One twin-size bed in the far corner of the room was perfectly made. The curtains were brown and gloomy, and there were no pictures on the walls. He stood next to her desk, which was full of books and candles-many candles- and there he saw a large silver necklace hung on the wall opposite to the desk. John had never seen such a necklace. It had the shape of an equal sized triangle with a solid ring in the middle. The ring was attached to the triangle at the vertices by three small chains, and each chain was attached to each vertex.
As soon as John started to move his right hand to touch the necklace, the butler hollered, "Don't touch anything!"
"Please, don't touch anything!" the butler's eyes were angry.
"Strange," John cried. "You don't answer any questions; you don't let me touch anything."
"Are you done, Sir?"
"Yes, I am done." John said madly.
John slowly came out, and gave a last look to the room that he would never see again. He waited for the butler to lock the door, and then said, "What's going on? Who is she?"
"Let me show you the way out, Sir." And the butler walked down the hallway.
John was angry when he followed him, and his face became red and tense.
"I know my way out, butler," He said madly. "I know my way out."
He now stopped, faced the butler, and said, "What the hell is going on?"
"Have a good night, Sir."
"Who the hell is she, butler?"
"Sir, do you want me to call the police? Do you want me to call 911?"
John didn't want to move.
"Sir, I am going to call the police, now, RIGHT NOW!"
John quickly reached for the door, held the door knob tightly, turned his angry face to look at the butler and shouted, "Who are you, guys? WHO THE FUCK ARE YOU?"
The butler's anger doubled up, but he did not answer. He put his hand on John's shoulder and violently pushed him out the door.
"Goodbye, Sir," he said. "Goodbye and good luck." And he slammed the door and turned the key twice.
John walked down the front stairs, looking back at the house, lips white and tight, eyes fiery with frustration. He now stood beside his car for a moment, playing with his car keys in his hand, giving a last look to the house that he would never come to visit again.

One Sunday afternoon, John planned to visit a friend who lived in a business district north of Minneapolis. John's sister had to go out of town on that day, and wanted to leave her five-year-old daughter with John to baby-sit her. His friend, who also had a young daughter, liked the idea very much. John thought he would strike two birds with one stone, doing this, because he wouldn't have to baby-sit all day by himself and he would be enjoying a good conversation with one of his dearest friends.
On their way back from his friend, John and his niece had to walk quite a distance, because the MTC bus station was way far from his friend's residence. And since it was Sunday afternoon, and the Vikings were playing the Chicago Bears, the streets were empty.
They were now slowly walking, side by side, talking, holding hands, and swinging them.
"Lee, lee, lee, lee, tophead." His niece was saying. "Lee, lee, lee, lee, tophead."
John looked at her and smiled. "The big Dinosaur is sleeping," he said.
"No. No, no, no. Big Dinosaur not sleeping," his niece protested. "Lee, lee, lee, lee, tophead."
"The big Dinosaur is coming to you."
"Stop it, Uncle Johnny, stop it!" She hit him on the leg with her small fist and scowled at him with her small bright eyes.
He stopped, but she kept on saying, "Lee, lee, lee, lee, tophead. Lee, lee, lee, lee, tophead."
Meanwhile, away ahead of them, on the same side of the deserted street, somebody was slowly approaching.
"Lee, lee, lee, lee, tophead." His niece kept on saying.

This person seemed to be wearing black, everything black, and from here, you couldn't tell if it was a female or male. John felt a bit scared as the figure was approaching. He carried his niece on his right hip, and kept on walking, wincing on that figure. But his niece cared less about this and just kept on saying, "Lee, lee, lee, lee, tophead. Lee, lee, lee, lee, tophead." As the person closed in, John, in a way not specified, could tell it was a female. He now relaxed a bit, but kept on walking steadily.
The woman was wearing a black ribbon which was holding back her long blond hair, a long black coat that went halfway her thighs, and black tights that showed all the curves of her lean, muscular calves. She walked like an athlete, and her body moved with such elegance, straight, and firm. She was a creature of unsurpassed beauty.
"Lee, lee, lee, Johnny! Johnny! I dropped my shoe!" His niece cried, looking down behind her at her small shoe.
She had accidentally dropped one of her shoes and, occupied, he didn't notice that; he was busy trying to make out who the woman was.
His niece snapped again, "Johnny! Uncle Johnny! MY SHOE!"

John suddenly stopped. He looked down at his niece's feet and walked a few feet back to pick up the shoe. But as he was trying to clumsily put it back on, the woman's footsteps grew louder. He could hear them getting closer and louder, coming towards him. He swiftly turned and looked up at the woman's face. But as he saw it, his heart shook in a crazy jolt. He felt a cold liquid, flowing through his body like a cold drink of water would flow down your throat on a hot-summer afternoon. The woman's face looked familiar. Looked like that of Gretchen Nedermeyer, and she was wearing the same necklace, John had seen in Gretchen's room in Memphis.

The woman peacefully smiled at him and passed them, walking like a goddess. John couldn't say a word, for his mouth was numb. He tried to put the shoe back on, but his hands were shaking and his heart was pounding. Even though it was a simple operation to put that shoe back on, he realized it would be an impossible task. Finally, giving up, he looked at his niece, carried her on his hip again, and off he went, running behind the young woman. When she reached the corner of a street and before she turned, John cried, "Gretchen!"
The woman didn't look back; she just kept on walking as though she was deaf and couldn't hear him, or probably heard him, but, for some unknown reasons, wanted him to follow her. John didn't give up the chase. He kept on running behind her, shaking, and bumping his niece against his hip. He reached the corner now, but as he turned to see how far the woman had walked down that avenue, she was gone. The woman had disappeared, and all he could see was the blowing wind and the swirling leaves. He looked at his niece in a confused manner. And despite her age, she knew something weird had happened to uncle Johnny.
"What's going on, Johnny?" she asked.
He turned his face to look at his niece, "That was," he hesitated for a while, "that was Gretchen Nedermeyer."
His niece gave him a perplexed look and said, "Lee, lee, lee, lee, tophead."

© Sidi Benzahra Jan 2004

The Woman with Hoofed Feet



© Hackwriters 2000-2004 all rights reserved