Thursday, June 8, 2017

Magna Regina Brunensis, by Kateřina Foltánková

Magna Regina Brunensis
The synophis: The young clerk Tomáš Pongrác received a shoulder blade in the parcel and someone wanted to meet him at the cemetery in Brno.

„There is your mail,“ said a receptionist to Tomáš Pongrác.
„Thank you, Ms. Suchá,“ said a twenty-five years old man and assumed the small parcel.
Tomáš was quite new at Brno City Municipality. He took up as an officer for inner agenda two weeks ago.
His office was in a part of a city hall which was only rarely used. There was a storage of some documents and Tomáš's office.
His predecessor died in a car accident so they had been looking for a new clerk. At the job interview, they said he would do some paperwork. But reality had been different. Nobody did really know what Tomáš should do.
It was great for him. He had been sitting in the office, doing nothing and being paid for it. He had enough time to prepare for a repeated entrance exam. Although he had been a great student, he failed the entrance exam for postgraduate studies at Masaryk University.
He entered his office and opened the parcel. At first, he was very surprised. What a bad joke! There was a shoulder blade in the parcel.
He sat down, took the shoulder blade with a tissue and looked at it carefully. Suddenly he foud out that there was some text on it. It was a message for him!
„Come to the central cemetery tomorrow. Be in section 18 at 17.45.“
„What is it?“ Tomáš didn't understand.
It was probably a bad joke from Jarek, he thought. Jarek was his friend and a former flatmate. Jarek was an amateur actor and a big fan of LARP - live action role play. He loved when he could wear a costume and pretend he was a warrior, a beggar or a king. He was also a specialist for practical jokes and played a big joke on Tomáš last year. Jarek and his companions kidnapped Tomáš and pretended they want to surgically remove his kidney.
Tomáš decided to stay home tomorrow at first. But then he changed his mind. He knew how much Jarek loved these jokes. He had prepared it for a long time probably. Tomáš was going to the cemetery. But in his own way. Jarek would be surprised!
Tomáš had been hiding near the place of meeting. He was wearing a long black coat because of cold weather in March.
„The cemetery is going to close in fifteen minutes,“ said a voice from a speaker. It was the time of the meeting. The sun went down already and the whole area was being in dark now.
Tomáš turned around and he saw a person sitting on a bench. He saw only a back of the person, but he recognized Jarek well. His figure was short and a bit fat.
Tomáš put his coat off and put on an eye mask. Then he started to sneak up to the bench.
„Hey,“ Tomáš shouted and he was looking forward to Jarek's surprised face when he would see a skeleton. Tomáš was wearing a black costume with white bones. 
The figure turned back slowly. It was a woman! She raised her eyebrows and said: „Tomáš Pongrác?“
„Who are you? And where is Jarek?“ said Tomáš and hid the eye mask into a pocket.
„I don't know that man.“
„Is it another joke like the letter written on the shoulder blade?“
„No, Mr. Pongrác. I am the author of that letter. Please sit down on the bench.“
„You? I don't believe you.“
Tomáš put on his coat and took a look at her again. She was about sixty and her face was gray.
„My name is Klementýna Fišerová. I am your predecessor. I had been working as an office worker for inner agenda for thirty-two years.“
„But my predecessor is dead.“
„You have correct information, Mr. Pongrác. I see you don't understand. But we have an appointment in the crematorium soon. Come with me and I will explain it to you.“
They were walking through the closed cemetery.
„Ordinary people don't know that some creatures normally live among them,“ said Klementýna.
„What creatures?“
„Pixies, fairies, water goblins, ghosts, and others.“
„Hm… I understand,“ said Tomáš and stifled his smile unseen. Jarek had come up with really interesting LARP.
„People thought supernatural creatures are like wild animals. But it isn't true. They are quite civilized. The laws must be obeyed by them because they are citizens of the Czech Republic. So they need a permanence resident permit or a building permit as ordinary people. And it is your job because you are the clerk for inner agenda.“
„It is very interesting. But nobody told me about it.“
„Naturally. Because other clerks don't know about it. People aren't able to keep a secret. When the original officer for inner agenda retires, he breaks a new one in. But I died unexpectedly, so you don't know a thing.“
„You are very open. But I can tell the secret to everybody,“ said Tomáš.
„No, you can't. You signed an employment contract. There is a clause that citizens with special status – it is a name for the supernatural creature in official language – can do everything with you if you give the secret away. So be careful. The creatures killed a clerk very awfully in 1923.“
Tomáš saw a dark skyline of the crematorium in a distance.
„Whom should we meet?“ asked Tomáš.
„The ruler of the cemeteries in Brno. She is very powerful. Do you know that the area of this cemetery is the largest in the Czech Republic? She also rules the dead men in the ossuary underneath the Church of St. James. The ossuary is the second biggest in Europe after the catacombs in Paris.“
„I know the facts, I had been studying history.“
„The ruler is a very important person and she had condescended to give you an audience. It would be very useful if you established a good relationship with her.“
They were close to the crematorium. They ascended a staircase and stayed in front of the main entrance. The silence of the cemetery was interrupted only by the noise made by cars going along Jihlavská street in a neighbourhood.
„Are you ready?“ asked Klementýna.
„Yes,“ replied Tomáš and he hoped for a quick end of this masquerade.
They entered a dark main hall. Nobody was there. Only one candelabrum was illuminating the space and a decorated armchair which was placed on a platform where the coffin was normally standing.
„Where are they?“ ask Tomáš.
„Be patient,“ said the woman.
They had been waiting for ten minutes, so Tomáš took out his smartphone and started to play a game.
Then they heard a sound of bells.
„She is coming, put the phone into your pocket!“ said Klementýna.
A side door was opened and a skeleton with a ceremonial wooden stick in its hand entered. Tomáš thought: It had a similar costume as he did.
The skeleton tapped with the stick on the floor. „Magna regina brunensis, the ruler of all cemeteries in Brno, Žofie Chobarová.“
A lady wearing long, low-cut dress entered the side door. Her skin was pale and her hair was combed up. She had little bells sewn onto the hem of her skirt.
„They are death bells. Some old people hear them as ringing in their ears,“ whispered Klementýna.
The ruler stayed at the platform. A man wearing a hat and another skeleton stood beside the platform.
„Come closer,“ the ruler commanded.
They went to the middle of the hall.
„Let me introduce my successor Tomáš Pongrác. If you need to deal with Brno City Municipality on something, you could contact Mr. Pongrác,“ said Klementýna.
„Nice to meet you,“ said the ruler and came down from the platform. Bells were ringing with every of her steps. She came in front of Tomáš.
He realized she was very pretty. He didn't know what to say. He was a bad partner in small talk with women so he said the first thing which comes to his mind: „You have really nice bells.“
„Thank you,“ the lady smiled. „These bells are very old and they are the insignia of my role.“
Tomáš was so relieved that she reacted normally. He took the smartphone out of his pocket, stayed next to Žofie and said: „Let's take a selfie – just in memory of this LARP.“ He pressed a button and a photoflash lit up the whole hall.
She was very surprised and couldn't say a word. Tomáš checked the photo quickly. But it was very strange. He could only see himself with a stupid smile. There were neither the women nor the skeletons in the background.
„What are you doing?!“ the ruler shouted and knocked the phone out of his hand. The phone fell down and broke.
„Arrest this rude guy!“ she commanded.
Two skeletons caught Tomáš. He felt their bony hands. It was real! They didn't have any costumes! He was trembling with fear.
„He is only impolite, but he isn't dangerous. Could you release him, please?“ Klementýna begged.
„No!“ replied the man wearing the hat. Klementýna knew him. His name was Bedřich Ochstein and he was an advisor of the ruler. He was slimy and Klementýna didn't like him.
„Go back to your grave,“ he said and Klementýna rose in the air and disappeared. Tomáš stared at the scene but then the skeletons dragged him off to a corridor and then into a room and locked the door.
He looked around. Some bereaved said their last goodbyes to their dead relative in this room before a funeral probably.
Tomáš tried to open the door but it was locked.  He banged on the door but it didn't help him.
„Shut up!“ said the skeleton who guarded him. „Be quiet or we will do something much worse with you. For example, we can bury you alive!“
He was really shocked. He was sitting on the cold floor and was close to tears. Damn it with his troubled life! He had disabled his older brother by mischance, he wasn't accepted for his doctoral study and finally he was arrested by supernatural creatures.
When he calmed down, he started thinking. He had to escape from this prison. He checked the windows but they were too small. So what to do?
Tomáš had an idea. He undressed his skeleton overalls so he was wearing only his underwear and the long coat. He found a chair in a corner and arranged the overalls on it. Then he propped a broom against the chair and tied the eye mask to the broom.
He started to make a noise to caught the guard's attention. Then he talked in the empty room and pretended to plan an escape.
„Aren't you a companion of the skeletons who guard me? Where is the secret tunnel you are talking about?“
The guards had heard it.
„We have to stop him! Open the door quickly!“ said one of them.
They entered the room and run to the chair with the costume. „How did you get here?“ the skeletons shouted at the costume.
Tomáš had been hiding behind the door. When the guards were in the middle of the room, he escaped and locked the door. He was free!
He had to go away quickly. He found a side door to a terrace but the door was locked. The only exit through in the main hall. If he was lucky, the hall would be empty already.
But he heard a quarrel from the hall. He started to listen carefully.
„I will do as I said, Bedřich. I am going to release him tomorrow,“ Žofie said.
„No! We must use the opportunity. We should take control of Brno. Nobody stops us. The clerk for inner agenda is a beginner and he is in our prison,“ Bedřich said.
Tomáš peeked inside. Both of them were engrossed in the quarrel. He started to walk along a wall inconspicuously.
„I don't break the balance of power! And stop talking! You are only an advisor,“ Žofie said.
„Not anymore! If you are too weak to make strong decisions, you should not be the ruler!“
The man hit the woman. She fell down.
„What are you doing?“ she screamed. „Skeletons, defend me against him!“
But the skeletons didn't come. They had been locked by Tomáš.
„This is your end,“ said Bedřich and tore off the bells. Žofie tried to defend herself, but Bedřich was stronger.
He opened a gate behind the platform. It was the gate leading to furnaces.
„Fire is a final way for every dead man. As well as for you, my lady,“ Bedřich said and dragged her through the gate.
Tomáš's escape was successful. He passed through the main entrance and nobody had stopped him.
He was standing outside the crematorium and breathing cold night air deeply.
He couldn't let Bedřich kill Žofie! Although she arrested Tomáš, he knew she had been a reasonable ruler. But Bedřich was a madman. He turned around and run inside the hall quickly.
He looked for a weapon. He grabbed the ceremonial stick.  Then he entered the gate and he was in the room with furnaces.
Bedřich had been staying near one of the machines and was reading a text on the screen. Tomáš didn't see Žofie.
He had many questions but he wasn't so stupid as the heroes in the books. He knew that speaking to a villain was a bad idea. So he hit him with the stick immediately instead. Bedřich fell down unconscious.
Tomáš searched the whole room but he didn't find the woman. There was only one possibility. One of the furnaces was droning. He opened the stove door. The woman was inside and her body was burning.
Tomáš felt despair. He wasn't able to help her. She died for the second time.
He heard some noise and saw a hand sticking out of the stove door. Žofie was still alive! She crept out of the furnace. Her dress, hair, and skin were burnt awfully.
„How did you survive?“ Tomáš asked.
„The furnace needs twenty minutes for warming up. If the temperature isn't too high, bones don't burn.“
Žofie looked terrible. Tomáš scented a horrible smell of burned meat and he didn't feel well.
„My beauty is gone,“ she said. It was the last what Tomáš heard. He fell unconscious.
He woke up lying on a bench at the cemetery at dawn. Klementýna Fišerová was sitting next to him.
„It was a very good job you did last night,“ she said.
„I have many questions. Can everybody see supernatural creatures? Why some dead men look normally like you do and others are skeletons?“
Klementýna smiled. „It is a good signal. The new clerk for inner agenda wants answers. So listen…“
Trams were passing outside the central cemetery and another ordinary day was beginning in Brno.

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