This story is loosely based on the brief “Czech Crime” tale within Part 2 of The Stranger by Albert Camus. While the story is not unique, the the tale is now refined and laid more bare…
In the picturesque village of Český Sněžný in Czechoslovakia, nestled amidst rolling hills and pristine landscapes, a young man named Jakub worked up the courage to bid farewell to his family and depart in search of a better life. Driven by a hunger for success and adventure, he wanted to embark on a journey that would shape his destiny.
Taking his mother and sister aside while doing their chores outside, Jakob spoke serenely, “Mother and sister, dearests, sadly I must leave our humble village and seek my fortune in the world beyond. I promise, I shall return one day, bearing riches and tales of triumph.” Jakub said resolutely while sitting on the lip of their family well..
“Oh, my dear Jakub, may the winds guide you safely and the stars illuminate your path. Like the life-giving water this well beneath us provides, you too give us life! This well sustains us all. Its water has quenched the thirsts of a score and seven generations of our family. Its water IS your blood. This land and this family is in your blood. Yet, if you must discover the world and navigate other waters, leave this land. But do not forget your family & your roots, my son. We shall await your return eagerly.”
“Farewell, Jakub!” said his sister Klara with tears in her eyes, “May your dreams take flight, and may you find all that your heart desires. Remember us, your family, in your distant wanderings. Return to our well whenever your soul grows parched.”
Jakub traveled to distant lands, toiling tirelessly and honing his skills to earn a livelihood. He faced hardships, experienced triumphs, and gradually amassed a considerable fortune over the course of twenty-five years. However, amid his triumphs, a persistent longing for his roots and his loved ones remained within him.
Having achieving enough financial prosperity sufficient for multiple new generations to enjoy and squander, Jakub decided it was time to return to Český Sněžný. Accompanied by his devoted wife, Anna, and their cherubic daughter, Eliska, he sought to reunite with his family and share his triumphs.
Unbeknownst to Jakub, his mother, Maria, and his sister, Klara, had faced considerable struggles during his absence.
The family inn, once a lively hub of activity, had fallen into disrepair, burdened by financial woes. Maria, a resilient and resourceful woman, fought valiantly to keep the inn afloat, while Klara, burdened with the weight of her responsibilities, yearned for a way to escape the confines of the village. Klara often visited the well her brother and she had played around as tender children. With a tear, she dropped a small coin in one day, whispering as it fell: “Bring my brother home to me and this life-giving well.” She peered deep into the well, but the ripples were hard to perceive.
One particularly dour afternoon, Maria fell to her knees sobbing, “Klara, my dear daughter, the inn is crumbling, and our spirits wane with each passing day. We have suffered greatly in Jakub’s absence, and I fear our dreams have faded into the night!”
“Mother, I cannot bear this existence any longer. The walls of this village suffocate me, and hope seems like a distant memory. If only Jakub were here, he would bring light to our darkness.”
Providentially, Jakub wrote to his family in earnest that same week: “Dearest mother and Klara, it has been years since I left our village, and my heart aches for your presence. Know that I have succeeded beyond my wildest dreams, but without you, the taste of victory feels incomplete. I shall return soon, along with my wife, to share my triumphs and embrace you once more!”
The news of Jakub’s return rippled through the village like a whispered secret. Excitement mingled with trepidation as Maria and Klara prepared for the arrival of their prodigal son and brother.
Jakub, eager to surprise them, devised a playful plan.
Jakub whispered humorously to his wife on the road home, “Anna, my love, let us hide our presence for now. I long to see the astonishment in their eyes when they realize the extent of my success. We shall play the roles of strangers, mysterious and enigmatic.”
Upon their arrival in Český Sněžný, Jakub made arrangements for Anna and Eliska to stay at a nearby inn, their presence hidden from his unsuspecting family. Embracing the role of a mysterious stranger, Jakub set foot in the dilapidated inn, his heart brimming with anticipation.
Approaching the reception area, Jakob reticently extended his hand, speaking to his mother for the first time in over twenty-five years, “Good evening, madam. Might you have a room available for the night?”
Maria smiled warmly. “Why, of course, sir. We have a cozy room awaiting you. Welcome to our humble inn.”
“Thank you, kind lady. Your hospitality is most appreciated.”
Maria’s eyes, once bright with vitality, were now clouded by the passage of time. She couldn’t fathom that the handsome, affluent stranger standing before her was, in fact, her long-lost son!
Maria stopped for a moment at the door, examining Jakub more closely. “There is something familiar about you, sir. Your face, your eyes. As if from a dream…”
Jakub flashed a smile, bemused by his clever ruse. “Ah, madam, you have an observant eye. Perhaps we have crossed paths in another time and place. Fate has a way of weaving connections, wouldn’t you agree?”
“Yes, perhaps. But it is merely a fleeting thought. Now, let me show you to your dinner table…”
Bemused, Jakub sat at the small table and suggested a large room — one he might enjoy for the entire week — to the delight of Maria and Klara, so desperate were they in need of a paying customer. Seizing the opportunity to astound them, he began to showcase his newfound wealth subtly, allowing glimpses of opulence to surface in his mealtime interactions and conversations.
“Your inn has such a quaint charm, madam.” Jakob teased in a playful tone. “I have traveled far and wide, seen opulent palaces and grand cities; but there’s a certain allure to these rustic surroundings. A touch of elegance in simplicity, wouldn’t you say? A certain je ne sais quoi one might say…”
Maria narrowed her eyes. “Ah, sir, simplicity is all we have left. Once long ago … this inn was abuzz with laughter, merriment, and song. Our well was clear and full, and our vineyards plentiful. But life has taken its toll, and now we struggle to keep our heads above water.”
Klara re-entered the dining room to take his bags to his room, and Jakub casually feigned sympathy, “It pains me to hear of your hardships, madam. If only there were some way to restore this place to its former glory…time will tell and I trust fortune favors the noble and patient. It is the motto I live by.”
After Maria and Klara showed their guest to his bed, darkness enveloped the village and the air became heavy with tension. Tip-toeing to the edge of the hallway amidst heated and muffled whispers of an argument, Maria and Klara debated a sinister temptation. The allure of Jakub’s wealth tore their souls and filled them with shame.
“This rich, pompous ass knows nothing of our plight yet boasts of his riches and teases us with feigned pity.” Klara breathed fire. “His every breath mocks us. His words pour hot coals down my throat at the thought of what our dear Jakub will think of us when he sees the state of our once-lovely inn. He will surely consider us as miserable as the ‘wicked and lazy slave’ in the parable of the Talents! We did so little with so much, whereas he did so much with so little. Alas, we are wretched! We should kill this rich man, take his money, and fix our dilapidated ‘charming’ inn before Jakub returns!”
Filled with resentment boiling over into rage, the two women worked themselves into a frenzy of muted passion, and finally resolved to rush into to their guest’s quarters. Flinging open the door, they fell upon the man while he slept, beating him with a hammer until his lifeblood stained the floor.
Fearing the revelation of their crime, they resolved to conceal the man’s lifeless body in the icy embrace of the nearby river, forever erasing the evidence of their heinous act from the world’s gaze. The moon, a silent witness to the tragedy, cast its ethereal light upon the chilling scene as the lifeless body of Jakub disappeared beneath the cold, dark waters.
Small ripples of water — gentle waves — were all that remained of the crime. These ripples on the calm surface seemed vaguely familiar to Klara in some sad, dreamlike way.
The next morning a new day dawned, oblivious to the horrors that had unfolded under the veil of night. Jakub’s beautiful wife, Anna, unaware of the grim events that had transpired, arrived at the inn, her heart brimming with anticipation to reunite with her beloved husband.
As Anna entered the reception area, the air crackled with a heavy silence, and the atmosphere suffocated her with an unspoken heaviness. Maria and Klara, their faces etched with the torment of guilt, struggled to maintain a facade of normalcy as their eyes met Anna’s unsuspecting gaze. In a moment of shattered truth, Anna unknowingly revealed her husband’s identity, the secret inadvertently slipping from her lips like a dagger piercing their souls.
“Oh, you won’t believe the surprise I have for you! Jakub, my love, he’s here! He’s come back! I am your daughter! Ah, ha – you will be much humored to know he is your rich guest from last night!”
Breath escaped lungs in a way that only vaguely resembled a desperate and hopeless wail. Maria’s voice trembled with unknowable despondence, “No… No, it cannot be…
Dear God, Dear God in heaven — No. No no no. No! Jesus, you fiend, You cannot be this cruel!”
Anne became confused at her words. It was so far from what she expected. “What’s the matter? Why do you look so pale, so distraught? Is something amiss?”
Klara caught her mother’s eyes. She was unable to logically perceive what she had heard and instead became convinced their deadly sin had somehow been uncovered; she made ready to attack this new unknown woman speaking to them—as if some prowler or rattlesnake had entered the inn.
“Mother, what is wrong?”
Maria lost the power of thought.
“My boy. Your brother…”
She lost the power of motion. “He … he …”
She lost the power of will.
“He … returned to us last night.”
She lost the power of muscle. Maria’s body collapsed to the floor.
Night fell. Darkness came.
As consciousness very painfully—most wretchedly—regained her body and the shadows descended on their family’s simple inn, the weight of remorse became unbearable. Jakub’s mother opened her eyes and looked over to see the billfold she had forcefully arrested from her dead son. Its bottom left corner was stained in dark crimson, likely just a few drops stolen from the boy she once nursed at her breast.
She briefly thought of his infant eyes looking up at her loving eyes and a small, pink hand touching her face as he fed. The memory submerged her deep into melancholia. Maria wept bitterly. Her moans were like those of a mortally wounded animal.
Overwhelmed by guilt and haunted by the specter of her son’s lifeless body beneath the river’s surface, she succumbed to a profound darkness. Maria chose to end her own suffering, her life extinguished as she hanged herself within the confines of the inn.
The next day, Klara, torn between the unbearable weight of guilt and anguish, found solace deep below Český Sněžný, in the cold depths far beneath her miserable town. Consumed by remorse and driven to escape the torments of her conscience, Klara threw herself down the life-giving family well—her body plunging into the abyss, seeking to snuff out an aimless wish spoken to a now-barren hole in the ground.