The Collaborator’s Ghost (formerly Prior to You) is currently sent off to my publisher (January 2013) and will now go through the last edits. I hope to be able to announce soon when it will be available both in print and as an e-book.
A short intro…
Jenna Kroon de Coligny is the estranged, adopted daughter of the farmer’s couple Theo and Dora Van Son and foster sister to Vincent, who is 6 years her senior. She is of aristocratic birth but knows very little about her background. She has never
known her father and hippy-mother Marcia killed herself when Jenna was 3 years old. Jenna’s maternal grand-parents pay for all her expenses but do not want to acquaint themselves with their “basterd” grand-daughter. Jenna has always suffered from mood swings and has an eating disorder.
From the age of twelve she has lived away from her foster family to follow a special education in dance and secondary education. At the age of 20 (the start of the book) her dance career and her love life have fallen to shambles and she tries to kill herself. She ends up in hospital and to prevent herself from being sent to a psychiatric ward in Amsterdam, she agrees to see her brother Vincent again, who is an apprentice-psychiatrist. They have not seen each other for 7 years and for Jenna this is a forced reunion. They were close in the years after Jenna’s adoption and Vincent was the only one who could “calm” Jenna. Hence, his longing to become a psychiatrist.
The house they rent for Jenna’s recovery and treatment close to the Belgian border appears to be haunted. And there a story develops that will take Jenna to “the underworld”. Will she be strong enough to face it all or will she have to become a cold-blooded killer like her father?
On macro-level, this psychological thriller follows the 20th century development from National-socialism to Neo-Nazism. On micro-level it is a story of redemption and an ode to a love that transcends blood-ties. The filial love of two foster children show to be stronger than the distorted family ties that make up Jenna’s past.
Chapter 1 To silence we return
Oud Land, Zeeland, The Netherlands, August 2000
‘Prior to this, to you, there was silence and to silence we now return’.
Jenna’s eyes took in the familiar view from the window, the grazing cattle, the meadow tucked in between ripe corn fields and the August sun, a brilliant red shine on the rooftops at the end of her estate. She sighed. What a hellish nine months it had been. From his basket in the corner Mauritius replied with an even bigger dog’s sigh. A smile stole over her delicate features. How easily dogs adjust to their new owner.
For a moment, she was sure she saw the silhouette of her grandfather, the way he must have been, a wide-legged, weather-beaten farmer scanning his lands. He turned to face her and waved, cap in hand, his grey hair ruffled by the summer’s breeze. An index finger crooked from arthritis pointed to the V-tailed swallow that skimmed deftly over his head. She nodded, showing she understood. A swallow flying low meant rain tomorrow. She had farmer’s blood too. But when she blinked, Grandpa’s figure was gone. All she had left were her dreams, in which he would always be present. Grandpa Onno had been the reason of her downfall and her resurrection. Grandpa Onno and Jenna were the string to which all the others were attached. History had repeated itself – almost – but she hadn’t killed, at least that’s what she wanted to believe. Anyway, the spell was broken, the sun had pushed the mist aside showing the last murder in the family in full daylight, as a necessary one. She, Jenna, had turned all the stones upside down, pulling the rubble of six decades of troubled family history on top of her. No wonder she had collapsed.
The black Bakelite phone started to ring its old-fashioned, staccato ring in the hallway: pring, pring. Jenna knew it was Vincent. Happy to hear his voice, she quickly got up from the table near the window where she had been writing and ran to the hallway, her bare feet enjoying the cool of the black and white tiles.
“Margot and I are getting married in June,” his elated voice sang in her ears, “as soon as I’ve finished my PhD. And I want my little sister to be my witness.”
“Oh, that’s wonderful news, Vince. Congratulations. Yes, of course, I’d love to be your witness.” A warm gulf of happiness spread through Jenna’s body. So everything was going to be alright?
“And how are you doing, Jen, any progress with the story?”
“Oh, I’m good. Yes, it’s almost done. I’ll be glad when it’s finished. Can’t wait to go back to dancing again.”
“Um… you know what I want to ask, don’t you, but I’m hesitating, after all you’re in control yourself now?” Ha, the shrink’s head popping up again.
“I’m eating, doctor, don’t you worry,” She made it sound light-hearted enough. Through the open door her eyes darted to the apple on her desk, her 3 ‘o clock snack. It was still a battle, always would be, “49.3 this morning.”
“Hallelujah,’ her foster brother cheered, “that’s my girl. Listen I have to get to the hospital now. Marge and I would like to come down next weekend to celebrate the good news. Would that be okay, sis?”
“Sure. Oh, and don’t forget to congratulate Margot from me. Don’t work too hard.”
“Same you there, Jen. Give Mauritius a pat on the head from me.”
Jenna replaced the receiver on its hook and slowly made her way back to the table with her laptop. She felt her mood drop like a pool around her feet; she stood, immobilised, on the worn-out carpet, emptied, not seeing, not knowing. Why was she feeling sad when the news was happy? Everything would be okay. She had promised herself. She simply had to dismiss Vincent and his call for now and concentrate on the story, the hell she was still living through.
1 November 1999
All was still. A low fog was hanging over the meadow, covering the grass and the cream-coloured cows. For brief periods the veil floated upwards and their bulky shapes became visible in the diffuse morning light. They stood in that typical cow mood, impervious to the human mind, just stolid watching. The next moment they were gone again, absorbed by the mist. The grey shards drew closer and enveloped the girl’s thin nightdress, glued strings around her alabaster body, spinning webs around her hair, her arms, her legs. She welcomed them, opened her arms, felt dressed in filigree again. She was back on stage again, finally. Adieu downfall! If only her legs would stop shaking.
Patiently, she waited for the day to break – ready to go – but nothing happened. No sunrise was scheduled for that autumnal Monday. Deep inside she knew the reason but reason escaped in this mist. The dark force was rising, pushing the light away, and it refused to wait in the wings any longer. It was here again, clouding her head as it hovered over the straight row of chorus line dancers, all focused intently on the rising curtain. They knew exactly what to do, the steps, ten-thousand times rehearsed, so intricate, in time, not one step out of line, fast, smooth and wonderful. The trampling feet swayed forwards, backwards, until one stumbled… it had to be her! There was a hissing in her ear, something about a doom-or-glory type of person, expected for 2,000 years, feared, bespoken, that ‘thing’ in our sub-consciousness, sub-human, sub, sub, which we repress, we are so good at repressing, pressing it down to where it is forgotten, until next time. She was holding her breath, can’t say we haven’t been warned and then she fell. Warned? Mozzi made it simple, she was ill, too thin, that was all. It could have happened to anyone. Now, pray it will not come, not now, not again. It may stay away if she prayed loud enough. Father! Jenna!
Before her eyes the filtered scene was changing; the silhouettes of the horned beasts loomed up, moving closer to the fence. They came to rest their dewy eyes on her. A fraction later, the air was split in two by the high shriek of a chainsaw. Abruptly it stopped again. The cows fled, their galloping hooves throwing up sods of wet mud. Jenna was frightened, spied around her and found the fog had become as thick as a towering wall. She had no point of orientation, was lost in time and place. But from the other side of the invisible wall Vincent was calling her name.
‘Jenna, Jennaa…!’ His alarmed voice was overruled by another start of the chainsaw. This time, the machine stopped at nothing. It drew its grinding teeth into the bark of the tree, straight through the rings of years into the soft core. The tree snapped and collapsed with a whisking sigh. Its remains were instantly cursed by a rough voice shouting:
‘Damnit, the bloody thing’s right across the road, you should’ve let it come down the other way, Joe, that fuckin’ tree.’ The dying tree transferred its high-voltage pain to Jenna’s legs; it felt as if they were cut off too. Catch me earth. Vince caught her in a coat that smelled of the old days. Her mind said ‘you’re destroying the webs. Can’t hold me up like this. No legs,’ but she made no sound.
‘Jenna, for heaven’s sake, what are you doing out here? In your nightie? Have you gone completely ……?
He picked her up, his butterfly girl but she fought him with all she had left. Stop caring for me. – until the words blurted out at last:
‘Why don’t you say it, you damned shrink, say it…. berserk…. crazy…. nuts…. out of your mind…? What a lousy coward you are, Vince, afraid to say the word. You know what? You haven’t changed a bit. You’re still the world’s biggest coward.’
Coward or not, Vincent was running away with her in his arms. She hated him ever so much but he was stronger. He had never been such a damn good fighter as she was, just knew to pick his lucky moment.
‘Stop acting tough, Jen, you’ve had your share of that. This is madness. You’re just out of hospital, catching a cold like this, you’re thin as a rake, really weigh noth….’ His sentence was cut short by another start of the chainsaw. The machine was slicing up the last reserves in Jenna’s head, until relief, the next tree gave in. With her frame bobbing against his chest, Vince flashed past curtained pathways, until he kicked open the door to the cottage. He dropped her in an armchair, coat and all, ready to dash out again.
‘Going to see what’s happening. That horrible noise. You stay right there, Jenna, right there.’
She managed to stick out her tongue. If I had two legs and my head was in place, I’d get up and swing an axe myself. I might even chop off your head, Vince. But for the moment she couldn’t move a limb. In fits and starts, the hell-raising noise rattled at the latticed windows. When it stopped, Jenna fell into a trance-like state with blobs of thoughts and figures moving just out of reach. There were footsteps on the tiled floor of the hallway, they brought a draught to her face, followed by a cough that was tapping cold fingers on her forehead. Her eyes opened as mechanical doll eyes, open-shut, open again, she tried to focus on a pair of black-ringed eyes in a mass of dark curls. Why it was Vince again. Her automatic eyes followed him as he slopped down in another armchair.
‘What is it?’ Her voice also sounded metallic but she fought around it and made an attempt to focus on Vincent’s moving lips.
‘Don’t know, very rude sort of guys.’ She watched him get up from the worn-out arm chair and get his rucksack that was lying on the table near the window.
‘I must have a copy of the website where I booked this cottage. Somewhere in Belgium. Ah, here it is Jacklin Fraser, Mechelen…, no phone number, only an email address, strange.’
‘What’s going on, Vince?’ The rust in her voice was settling.
‘Two guys out there, locals, clearly, with those accents. I asked them what they were doing. They refused to answer at first, just kept on sawing. I couldn’t really see them through the mist. When they had chopped down another tree, one of them came in my direction and shouted, “Get the hell out of here!” I asked politely, “Are you the owners?” He shouted, “Nope, but you aren’t supposed to be here.”
‘Did you tell him we rented the place?’ To say the right words was an effort but it would pay off. He needed to believe she was sane enough.
‘I did, but he said, “Couldn’t care less, you’ve no business being here.” Then the other guy got angry; it was quite frightening how he was wielding that saw near me. I was glad his mate told him to stop fooling around.’
‘Why are they here?’
‘Don’t know. The first one, slightly taller, threatened, “We’re taking down all the trees around the house and if that doesn’t make you leave, we’ll use other means.” Vince rubbed his temples with his middle fingers.
‘Do you think we can stay here?’
‘I told him “We won’t just leave, the lady is recovering, so we have to stay here. Could you two get in touch with the owner for us?” When I said that, the guy with the chainsaw got sarcastic, “The owner, my ass, he’s dead and buried right here, and that’s why the two of you have to get the hell out of here. The place is haunted like hell.” Vincent’s voice faltered a moment, ‘It doesn’t sound very agreeable here, Jen, we’ve probably arrived in some sort of stinking feud. Pretty bad luck, considering the circumstances.’
‘They’re silent now.’
Weak rays of light fell through the glass curtains that covered the top half of the windows. The clock on the chimney chimed eight. A heavy diesel engine started outside. It roared like a pack of lions with the tyres bellowing loudly as the truck sped off.
‘They’re gone.’ They said it at the same time. .
‘Let’s hope they stay away until we’ve got hold of the owner. We’ll have to find an Internet café, probably quite a hassle in this godforsaken place.’ Jenna’s hackles were rising fast as Vincent became all business-like again. But she was even angrier with herself for needing him.
‘I’m putting you to bed for a while, Jen, you need to get some sleep. After a nap and a good breakfast, we’ll sort this out.’ Things would only become worse. She would have to kill him in the end.
‘Why, dear god?’ She cried in silence, but she knew she lacked the power to fight Vincent van Son right now. The smug shit-head was right back in her life.
Before she knew it Jenna was sleeping like a baby, to awake a couple of hours later with the smell of toasted bread in her nose.