Tag Archives: science

The Purpose of Horror

Did you ever wonder why we enjoy reading horror? Why we enjoy being scared through stories and fiction?

Of course fiction entertains. But the real question is why it entertains. Why do we enjoy hearing stories about people that never existed rather than only historical accounts? And why do we enjoy hearing stories at all if reality is far more important? Continue reading

Ötzi’s brother

The director ordered us to be at the mountain at 4am. He said we had to keep it secret. He said we had to pull something out of the ice.

Ours was a strange museum – officially a museum, officially funded from the arts and history fund, but as most things in Austria that wasn’t really the way we worked. We had an alibi exhibition with rather uninteresting items found on the glacier – shoes and ice axes from Roman times were the highlights – but the main purpose of the museum was research. Glacier research to be precise; and climate change monitoring.

The director was a bit ahead of the time; he had specialized on glaciers early in his career and then was one of the first loud proponents of what was back then called ‘climate change theory.’ He was right of course, and the director’s research and stop-the-idiocy campaign was part of what led to the Green renaissance in Europe – the founding of Green parties, the mainstream acceptance of environmental concerns into policy making and so on.

But I don’t want to bore you with the details of all that. When I began to work at the museum climate change was already broadly accepted as a fact.

We, in a way, were the benefactors of climate change. While people like the director were horrified by the fact that glaciers are shrinking year after year, there was also excitement in the air. When glaciers retreat they expose things that haven’t been seen for many years, often hundreds or thousands of years.

That’s where our shoes and ice axes and the many other artifacts came from. They were a side effect of glacier research, a side effect of our regular and systematic trips on top of the frozen crust. Most objects were old trade goods or simply old tools, often made of stone and wood. There were the occasional frozen birds or deer; individuals of extinct species.

And then, of course, there was the find of the century: Ötzi.

You might have heard of him, the man that lived more than 5000 years ago and died on the glacier from an arrow wound in his shoulder.

It was the most exciting discovery ever made in a glacier. A body so well preserved that even his blood cells, cause of death, and last meals could still be identified.

We missed Ötzi. A university was quicker at staking their claim. The director protested, he said that we were the experts, that we should have Ötzi – but there is nothing a small museum can do against a well-funded university’s claims.

That’s why the director demanded secrecy when the second body was found – not even two weeks after Ötzi. While we were hiking up to the glacier – not a safe route during the night – he joked that we had probably found Ötzi’s brother.

No machinery, no helicopter; just five scientists with ice axes, saws and backpacks.

A friend of the director had found the body during a hike. The hiker took a wrong step and slid half-way into a crevasse; nearly he ended as an ice mummy himself. But he managed to get out and right away rushed down the glacier and towards our museum. Down there, while he was inside the crevasse, a leathery brown face had grinned back at him.

I was only one of the safety men. Three of us were on the glacier with their feet dug into the ice and two were dangling down into the crevasse – one to free the body, one to prevent it from sliding further down.

I heard them moaning and cursing occasionally, but I didn’t see anything happening in the crevasse. My legs were shaking under my body from the cold and strain when we finally pulled them out.

I’ve never seen anything like it; I can’t even describe it – the moment when one man in a red jacket pulled himself out of the crevasse. Then a second one, with a brown object on his shoulder, was pulled out of the dark gap in the ice.

If not for the head I could have confused the body with a long and thin leather handbag. The body was bent forward, the arms aligned with the body.

I only saw the back of his head; the dark brown skin and sparse blond hair. And of course the back with the ripped fur coat and the darker areas. Crusted blood, like on Ötzi. Another violent death.

I remember thinking that the director might be right; that it could indeed be Ötzi’s brother.

We were back in town by around 8am. A car was waiting – but not big enough for all of us.

The director and Bennetio went along in the car; the rest of us got the day off. It felt strange to let the mummy out of sight after the whole ordeal. I knew that I was giving up on something important and unique and incredible, but my exhaustion prevented me from being upset. I was looking forward for another few hours of sleep.

I helped pack Ötzi’s brother in the car. That was the only time I ever got to see his face. There was no sign of the grin that the director had talked about. The lips were pulled back and the teeth exposed, but certainly not a grin. If anything, Ötzi’s brother looked angry.

His eye sockets made me uncomfortable; his eyelids were pushed inwards as if the eyeballs had just disappeared. The nose and other areas on the face had small cuts. But the strangest thing was the way his expression and face, even his whole body seemed to be frozen in time. His hands were still clinging to the thin, wooden bow, the fur and leather clothing was still wrapped around his body and his face still seemed as if he wanted to say something.

He looked so normal. Not like a mummy, not like a thousand-year-dad man; he looked like a modern man whose face had from one moment to the next been transformed into leather.

The car began to drive; then the door shut. The remaining three of us hiked into town in silence, but on the other’s faces I saw the same fusion of excitement and exhaustion that I felt myself.

The exhaustion grew with every step. Waiting at the bus stop I fell asleep with my head against the advertisement. The sound of heavy rubber tires on gritty cement woke me up.

On the bus I grabbed one of the hand rails to keep myself from falling; then sank down on one of the empty seats.

The old woman next to me looked concerned.

“Are you okay?” She asked.

“Sure, just tired,” I said. “Long night.”

“I think you cut yourself,” she said.

Her fingers were pointing at a dark red stain on the hand rail.

At home I examined my hands and arms closely. No cuts.

Frozen blood. 5000 year old frozen blood. It must have stuck to my glove when I placed the body in the car.

I slept a deep, dreamless sleep. It was evening when I woke up and turned the radio on. I was expecting to hear news about Ötzi’s brother, but the director had kept it all under wraps. He really wanted to make sure that he would be the first to examine the body; he wanted to make sure that his name would be the one attached to the find.

The next morning I went to work early – only to find the main entrance locked. I had to go all around the building to the staff entrance. A few other people were already standing outside.

“The director said we have to wait here.”

The door opened. I heard my name and went inside. Two others followed me.

“Look,” said the director. “We have to search this place. A mummy doesn’t just get lost.”

“The cold rooms?” I asked.

“All rooms.” The director said.

“You lost the mummy?” Asked one of the other two.

“I think Bennetio stole it,” said the director. “The driver is already on the way to Bennetio’s house; you are the only other ones that know about Ötzi’s brother. We can’t have this leak to the press.”

“What happened?” I asked.

“I examined the mummy during the day,” said the director. “And asked Bennetio to guard the room for the night. I would never have thought he would do such a thing; to take the mummy and run. But there’s nothing on the tapes; he must still be in the building.”

We went as teams of two. I went with the director to check the smaller upper floor; the other two went to check the spacious exhibition areas downstairs. The director and I looked in every possible room, shelf and wardrobe, even under desks and in personal lockers.

“We should call the police,” I said.

“They would close us down,” said the director.

The scream came while the director and I were going through the offices a second time. We ran downstairs to find the two others standing near one of the large windows in the back offices.

Two steps to the right of the window a broken arrow was lying on the floor. The director picked it up.

“This is ancient,” he said. “Bennetio must have lost it.”

The window was pulled shut, but not completely closed.

In six years of working at the museum I only heard the director curse once.

“Shit.”

The director reported the “theft of artifacts” to the police and we searched the rest of the building, but Bennetio as well as Ötzi’s brother were gone.

More than one and a half years after we recovered and lost Ötzi’s brother, deep in a crevasse of the same glacier where Ötzi had been found, they discovered another mummy with leathery skin.

An arrow was stuck deep inside his chest.

Still, the coroner concluded the blood loss was not significant. Bennetio froze to death.


This is my story, originally I published it on Reddit.

Free Hair Loss Therapy

It was just two weeks after Midori’s birth. Natasha and I were happy and exhausted at the same time – Natasha certainly more of each, while for me some element of worry began to creep in. Some worry whether we would be able to protect our little girl, whether we would be able to offer her a good life.

Natasha and Midori were back from the hospital for a bit more than a week when the flyer came.

“Hair loss? – Proven treatment, FREE.”

The flyer had a few before and after pictures and honestly, the results were impressive. I thought they were fake, but Natasha still said I should check it out.

I never really minded my hair loss. Sure, it came far too early; it started in my teens and half-way through my twenties a large part of my head was already smooth enough to reflect sunlight. Still, for me it was a sign of masculinity; I read somewhere that hair loss correlated with a high testosterone level.

But Natasha would have preferred to see more hair on my head. When we still had time to watch TV – before Midori was born – my hand was usually on her pregnant belly, but Natasha’s hand far too often went to my bald spots. I think Natasha didn’t like that people thought we were years apart; in reality it was only a few months, she was 25 and I was 24 when Midori was born.

Still, with my hair loss and her youthful looks and tiny frame it wasn’t surprising that the day I met Natasha’s parents her mother took her aside and told her, point-blank that I was too old for her. That day Natasha laughed, but I think some part of that memory stayed in her mind.

In the end it doesn’t matter. I lost Natasha forever. As a young father that’s something I shouldn’t say – but losing Natasha was even harder on me than losing Midori.

The day the hair loss flyer arrived I didn’t know about any of it. I threw it in the trash; Natasha pulled it back out and placed it on my desk and a glass paperweight on top.

It sat there for a week, until it somehow moved to the sofa table. I finally took the hint and gave the agency a call.

They told me it was for a study. We talked about my family situation and my concerns that I didn’t want any chemicals in my body that could harm Midori or Natasha or me. The lady on the phone said that it would all be okay, that it was all safe and that, if I was just willing to give them some genetic material for their study, everything would be fine and the treatment would be free for me. And all of it would take less than two hours of my time.

Natasha was excited; I wasn’t. I didn’t like the idea of having my DNA in some shady database of a research team that finds their candidates through flyers. Natasha said it was likely just a corporate study; one of those studies that later provide the “100% proven” label on the product bottles.

We booked a slot for Saturday and went over. I told Natasha to stay at home, but she was excited for the opportunity to watch the study and on the phone the researchers had told me that Natasha and Midori were “more than welcome.” They even said that the two could participate; I was sure I wouldn’t let that happen.

We pulled up in front of the old hospital building. The large parking lot was nearly empty and most of the building was dark – for a Saturday in a private research center that wasn’t exactly unexpected. But the condition of the house surprised us – walls looked shabby, some windows were broken, others were barricaded with pieces of wood.

Following the instructions we stepped to the smaller side entrance and a young lady with a clipboard welcomed us. I recognized the lady’s voice from the phone. For a moment I admired her beauty; then I caught myself and pulled my eyes towards her face. I cursed at myself. I thought those urges would die with the long-distance relationship and as a father. Instead, if anything, they seemed to have grown. I reminded myself of the two loves in my life – my wife and daughter. In that moment I felt I should turn to stone. Natasha didn’t notice anything. Midori was sleeping happily in her stroller.

The lady, she introduced herself as Molly, led us through a long, bare and barely lit corridor.

“Sorry,” Molly said. “We had some power cuts. But that really is nothing to worry about.”

“So it will all work?” Natasha asked.

“Definitely.” Molly said. “You all seem like exactly the people we were looking for.”

Natasha was excited; Midori slept; I felt somewhat worried and somewhat regretful. Worried for my manliness; regretful that I had agreed to the procedure.

Molly led us into a small office room. Two older men in white coats sat at a somewhat beaten table. Shelves in the back seemed to be stuffed with documents, but the writing was only numbers.

“So, what’s the procedure?” Molly asked.

That moment I noticed that we really didn’t know much. Molly had told us it was all safe and painless for me, but not much more. “I don’t understand the procedure myself.” Molly said on the phone. “But it will be explained to you and you can still refuse it when you come.”

The two men didn’t look like they were interested in telling us anything.

“Stemcells.” One of them finally snipped.

The second man turned to Molly.

“You have the placenta?” He asked.

Molly glanced first at me, then at Natasha and Midori.

“It’s not one of those cases.” Molly said quietly.

“Oh.” Said the man. “I thought we aren’t doing that anymore?”

“Doing what?” I asked.

“Oh, nothing, nothing.” Said Molly. “It seems the doctor just didn’t read the case sheet properly.”

The building made me uneasy. The room made me feel on edge. But their secretive behavior made me feel downright alarmed.

“I think we’ll be going.” I said. “We can come back when your power is back.”

“Don’t worry about the power.” Said Molly.

“What about it?” Asked one of the men.

“You know,” Molly said. “The power cut.”

“Oh, right.” said the man.

“Right.” Said Molly.

“I really think we need to go.” I said.

“Wait.” Natasha grabbed my arm. “We haven’t heard anything yet. So what’s the procedure?”

“We take stem cells,” said one of the men. “Usually from placentas; but there are some more complicated ways we can use. And we run a metal comb over your skin –“

“What?” I said.

“Don’t worry,” Chimed the second man in. “It really is just a small tickle.”

“It opens the skin.” Said the first man. “And then we can spray stem cells on top.”

He glanced at Midori; Midori was still asleep.

“Like in the baby the stem cells can build any cell in your body. If we spray the right dosage with the right nutritional solution on your scalp the cells will become new hair follicles and they grow new hair.”

“And it doesn’t hurt?” I said.

“It won’t hurt you,” said the man. “We can promise that.”

I had more questions, but I saw Natasha’s pleading eyes.

“Okay.” I said. “I don’t really know anything about these things. But you said it only takes two hours, so why don’t we just get started with the tests or whatever you need to do?”

Natasha smiled and nodded strongly. Midori woke up.

I wanted to stay with Natasha and help her calm Midori down.

“I’m fine.” She said. “You go and get ready.”

I kissed her and Midori goodbye.

Molly and one of the men led me to another room and made me fill out a form and sign a contract. I gave them permission to take stem cells and spray them on my head as well as monitor my reaction.

They made me change clothes and lie on a stretcher.

“We’ll put you to sleep.” Molly said. “So that you don’t feel any pain.”

“I thought there wouldn’t be any pain?” I said.

“Not much.” She said. “But the comb hurts a bit. We’ll just put you out and you will wake up again in a minute or two.”

“No danger?” I asked.

Two nurses stepped into the room.

“No danger.” Molly said.

The man in the white coat nodded.

“Try the size.” He said and pushed a breathing mask on my face.

I remember thinking It fits. I remember that I was wondering what the mask was for.

Then there was just black.

The main thing I remember is the thirst. I think the thirst was what woke me up.

I tried to move my arms, but heavy, leather straps held me onto the stretcher. It was dark. I didn’t recognize the room. And I felt dizzy and incredibly thirsty.

“Help!” I called.

Nothing.

“Hello? Help! I’m in here!” I screamed.

I felt an acidic, sickening smell in my throat and nose.

I kept screaming, but there was no response. I tried to break the straps, but they were too tight.

I looked around the room, in all directions. There was an old fridge or freezer; next to it a table with a bundle of clothes on it.

Midori’s clothes.

“Natasha?” I screamed.

I tried to roll to the side, to rock the stretcher so that maybe something would get lose.

“Natasha?” I screamed even louder; my throat hurt.

I rocked too violently; the stretcher slid to the side; I couldn’t stop the fall.

My whole back exploded in pain when the stretcher hit the floor.

Then I saw her body. Her skin was a gray-yellow color. Her eyes were sunk inwards. There was dried blood all around Natasha’s head.

“Natasha.” I whispered.

I fought against the stretcher and the straps; I even managed to bend the stretcher partly. The tears were streaming over my face; my eyes didn’t move away from Natasha.

I was fighting against the straps and stretcher. I was fighting because I wanted to save her. I didn’t even want to save myself, just her – and Midori.

I called for Midori a few times; but there were no cries. That was the only thing she had learned how to do – to cry. And I couldn’t even hear that.

I was on the floor, next to Natasha’s body, for hours. The image of every single curve of her face and every strand of her hair burned itself in my mind.

When I lie down, at night, I still see Natasha’s face. I still see it that way, in the strange gray-yellowish color.

I was exhausted. I felt like I needed to rest, to sleep a long, deep sleep. My eyes were still on Natasha, but they slowly began to close.

Just in that moment I heard the screeching sound. I called out again:

“Help!”

“Help!”

“Anybody, help!”

There was no response.

Then another screeching sound, louder than before.

“Help!” I screamed.

Voices.

“Help!”

My voice cracked; my throat ached.

“Around here.” Said a male voice from the corridor.

“Help.” I whispered.

Somebody pushed against the heavy metal door.

Another screeching sound; louder than before.

“Oh god.” Said a male voice.

“That’s them.” Said another voice.

“Help.” I whispered.

I remember them walking closer, the blue uniform; then everything was black again.

This time I woke up from a steady beep. I felt the soft blankets and the drip in my arm.

The nurse said “Welcome back to life.” She smiled when she said “We thought you wouldn’t make it.”

The police came only a few minutes later.

They introduced themselves, sat down, asked me to tell them all I knew.

My memory felt hazy.

“Where is Natasha?” I asked. “I saw her on the floor –“

“I’m really sorry.” Said the lady in blue.

It felt like she meant it.

Tears came back in my eyes.

“And my daughter?” My voice was barely audible.

The officer just averted her eyes.

“Sorry.” She finally whispered.

I wanted time alone; they didn’t let me. They said that it was urgent; that they had traces but needed more information.

I told them all I knew.

I asked them again and again what happened to Natasha and what happened to Midori. They sat Natasha had been killed with a dull object to her head. They didn’t want to say anything about Midori.

Only two days later they finally told me about Midori’s death. They said they wanted to make sure I would be able to take it.

They said she was likely stabbed; then cut open. Her blood was drained; her spine was removed.

“The spine and blood,” said one of the officers. “Contain a lot of stem cells.”

I cried.

When the officers left I cried some more.

Another two days later I was discharged; sent to a home that’s not a home anymore.

I had felt the softness earlier; I had already felt it in the hospital and I had already tried to see it in the mirror.

But when I got home I rushed past all the things that belonged to Natasha and Midori and straight to the bathroom.

For the first time I had a mirror with good light. I saw it; no doubt. There was new hair growing on my head.


This is my story, originally I published it on Reddit.