Barely out of the starting blocks for 2020, and we’re excited to publish all new stories from two very talented Sunday writers:

  • Freedom Tree by Emma Downey
  • Witness by Connie Phlipot (read here)

Both Emma and Connie are regular participants at the Sunday Writers’ Club sessions in Vienna.  And as you’ll discover in their stories, Sunday may be a day of rest for some, but for Sunday writers it’s the perfect day to set the imagination to work!

A big thank you to Emma and Connie for their contributions!


The Freedom Tree

By Emma Downey

Photo by Sinjin Thomas on Unsplash

It’s the tallest tree around here and I can see it from the window in my bedroom. None of us is allowed to go any further than that tree, I think it’s because beyond it are the hills. If you walk over the hills you get to where all the people who are free are.  They can do whatever they want to do and they can go anywhere. Grownups here can do what they want to do because they don’t have to school and no one tells them when they have to go to bed. Except Mother sometimes says that they are not free, not really. I hear her talking at night after I go to bed. Some nights Uncle is there too and he sounds angry because freedom is something people get angry about. Mother isn’t angry but I think she is sad some days. Father says he doesn’t like that kind of talk because it only leads to trouble. Grownups can get into trouble too but it’s different to when children do but I don’t know what happens them.  He says that he is free to love Mother and me and Baby Sister and to stroll in the forest, grow food in the garden and to fish in the rivers to feed us all. That’s all the freedom he needs because after that things get too complicated.

I caught a fish once with my net, but he jumped out of it into the grass, he was angry and he flipped around, it was scary so I threw him back in the water again PLOP! I was sorry for trapping him. Fish are free because the river flows beyond the hills and then can swim in it as far away as they like. Birds are free too because they can fly over everything. Cats aren’t free because they just want to stay at home.

Mother and Father don’t like when I ask about the Freedom Tree too much. Mother says it shouldn’t be called that because it is confusing but that’s what all the other children call it. I asked why is it confusing because it’s just a name? And everything in the world has to have a name so we can talk about it.  She said it was difficult to explain and besides she had enough questions about it and would be happy not hear another word about that tree again. She was cross that day, not like normal.

But they don’t need to worry I don’t want to go over there, past the tree or even as far as the tree. Mother says you never know what might happen around it and besides I have the meadows to play in and the hen’s garden and the chilly woods, they are closer to the house where she can keep an eye me.

I don’t want to be free anyway because I like it here, in my house with Mother and Father and Baby Sister and Uncle and all of my friends.

I wouldn’t want to walk to the place where all the free people are but I want to climb up the freedom tree.  We’ll go there one day, Joey and me when we are bigger and we are allowed to wander farther away from home. Joey is my best friend, he is taller than me and sometimes when we want to climb up something big he gives me a boost but I help him too because I am a champion climber.  It’s an old, big tree with thick, sturdy branches that reach right up into the sky. We will get up to the top of it and we will be able to peek over the hills and we can look down then and see freedom.


Witness

By Connie Phlipot

Photo by David von Diemar on Unsplash

“He was just standing there I tell you.  Standing by that glass display case.  You know the one of clocks, I guess they are.”

“No, he wasn’t.  He was by the map, like he was figuring out what station to go to.”

“No matter.  He was just minding his own business.   Maps, clocks or the travel alerts.”

“OK,” the investigator said. “Could you tell me was the victim alone?  Was he talking to anyone.  Did you notice any interaction with another passenger?”

The first witness, a middle-aged man in a vest, flannel shirt and heavy boots, answered.  “Definitely alone.  Just staring at them clocks or whatever.”

“I think he said something to a woman, an elderly woman who was looking at the map as well,” the second spoke up.  “But I couldn’t hear what he said.”  The witness pulled off her knit cap, sending her silvery hair flying in tufts across her face.

“Come on, there were so many getting off at that stop, how could you tell who was talking to whom?”  said the third witness, a grey-haired man in beret and green woolen coat

“But he was traveling alone?”

All three nodded in agreement.  Then the middle witness, the woman, spoke. “Except for the dog.”

“A dog?” the first witness said.  “I didn’t see no dog.”

“Yes, he had a small dog.  The kind with a beard.”   The other two witnesses shook their heads.  Clearly they had not seen any animals with the victim.

The investigator sighed.  “This is getting us nowhere.  Let’s try a different tack.  Each of you in turn will tell me what you saw of the actual attack.  Don’t interpret and don’t let the others influence your account.”  He regretted the last sentence even before he finished uttering it.  Of course, they’d be influenced.  He should be interviewing them separately.  But he didn’t have time.  The chief was demanding information.  This rash of attacks was dominating the popular media and now even being picked up by the international press.  Threatening to damage this city’s image of safety.

Witness one unzipped his fleece vest.  “As I said, he was looking at the clocks.  Then another train came by from the the opposite direction. Lots of people got out.  Mainly young people I think.”

“No, they were elderly people.  I saw a walker,” the second witness said.

The investigator put his hand on her arm. 

“Sorry, sir.  I’ll be quiet.”

“All right.  What happened next?  The train from Simmering direction came?” 

“Yes, I couldn’t see the man for a moment ‘cuz of all the people getting off.  Next thing I knew the passengers were backing away from the clock cabinet.  And then I saw him laying there on the platform, his head bleeding, his feet hanging off the edge.  Someone must of called the police then.”

“Ma’am, what did you see?”

“Well, let me think.”  She also undid the top buttons of her coat.  It was warm in the police station.  I should get them water, the investigator thought.  He couldn’t leave them, though and the other officers were busy looking into another U-bahn case.

“As I said, he had a little dog.  I saw that the dog had wandered off.  It should have been leashed.  That’s odd, isn’t it?”  She looked at the other witnesses for their confirmation of this social transgression.  They were motionless.  “The dog is wandering around a bit, sniffing shoes, but the man, the victim, is still studying the map.  The the train came in and the dog vanished in the crowd.”

“And what about the man?” Witness number three asked.  “We are talking about an attack on a man, not on a dog.”

“I’m getting to that.”  Another coat button undone. “The man finally stopped looking at the map and saw his dog was gone. He seemed kind of panicky to me and started to move to the left and then the right — almost spinning.  I heard a crash and he was on the ground, bleeding.”

“And did either of you see someone approach the victim before he fell?”

Witness one and two shook their heads no.  “Too many people between me and them,” the woman said.

“Well, I did,” witness number three spoke. 

“Okay, I want to hear that, but first did either of you two have anything to add?”

“It had to be someone from the other train.  Maybe he was meeting them, planning a heist or something and it went wrong.  Rival gangs, even.”

“Oh come on, you must watch too much TV.”

“Well, what do you think happened?” 

The woman shrugged.  “That’s the police’s job to figure out.”

The investigator turned to the third witness,  “What did you see?”

“As I said, he was standing, maybe looking at something, maybe not.  That’s right the Simmering train came.  You can check that for sure with Weiner Linien.” The investigator nodded in agreement. “A young woman in leather pants, I think, or something shiny, got off the train and walked over to him.  Then she bent over as if to pick up something from the ground.  The victim looked surprised.  I couldn’t tell if the victim knew her or not.  Then she walked away.  She had something in her arms.  I didn’t see anything else.  I was checking my i-phone.  When I looked up the crowd had formed around the man.”

“That’s all?”  the female witness spoke.  “Then it’s clear.  It’s all about the dog.”

The other two witnesses groaned.  The investigator wiped sweat from his forehead.  He wanted to run away, out of this police station, never to investigate another crime.

About Connie Phlipot

Connie is a retired U.S. diplomat, who has recently completed a novel based on her grandparents emigration from what is now Belarus.  She is now working on a novel or linked short stories focused on her fascination with Central and Eastern Europe. 

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