Mystery Historical Fiction

This story contains sensitive content

Click, click, click. He continued taking photos of the lake, despite the strong wind, which at times made him squint. He was underdressed, which made the experience even more freezing, and he managed to click a few more times before going back into his house. 

At least I took these pictures, he thinks to himself. He looks at his camera roll with a smile. As he looked through the window, the house next door caught his attention. 

It was a house that his great grandfather built – also an avid photographer – as was the one he was living in. He only visited that house when he needed an extra table, plate, or a spare tool. 

That house was cluttered beyond any reasonable limit, and was a sort of this storage place, that everyone from his family kept visiting just to take something from it, but never to give it something back.

He thought about giving the house a visit and taking a few photos.

Once he got inside, it was cold and cluttered. Things on top of each other, between each other, behind each other. One example of such randomness were three chairs, on top of which lay a table turned upside down which was half covered by an inflatable pool. 

Every single time that he would come in here, he would think about cleaning it all up. Yet again he wanted to come up with an excuse, but if not now, when? Also, he did not have any plans for this weekend. 

Slowly, one by one, he started categorizing. 

It was no surprise to him, that even after hours of cleaning, he managed to come across more things stuffed in the most unlikely of places. Three generations inhabited this house, and there were enough things to furnish that many houses. Among them, he found a leaf raker. He put it to the side.

After organizing everything into cardboard boxes and black trash bags, he sat down. On one side of the living room lay things for sale, and on the other, lay all the things that will be kept. On the couch that he was sitting on, sat the box with all the cameras, and camera gear that he found. 

 In the few sun rays that were peeking through the windows, he saw dust floating around. 

As soon as the short break was over – which consisted of him proudly gazing around, and calculating how much more work was left – he grabbed the raker and went outside. The yard, and everything around the house, was covered with piles of leaves. 

Raking and raking. At one point he felt the rake grabbing onto something. At first, he ignored it, but then the rake kept getting stuck in the same place. Irritated, he let go of the rake and started digging through the leaf pile that was causing him trouble. Through the leaf pile, he could feel something sturdy. Removing the pile, he came across a sort of plant. Looking at it a bit closer, the plant was neither dead nor alive. Touching around his jacket, in one of his inside pockets, he found a pair of garden gloves, that for some reason he used for everything else other than gardening. 

Without knowing the actual strength of the plant, he pulled with one hand. Nothing. He then used both of his hands. Nothing. Each pull was a bit stronger than the last, but the plant did not move an inch, nor did it break. He started digging around the plant. Pulled yet again, and this time he could feel the plant sliding. There we go, he thought to himself. 

He continued digging around the plant, just to discover ropes. Not any ropes, but sort of metal strings, which obviously went deep into the ground and were attached to something. This piqued his curiosity even more, and using all of his strength, he continued digging and pulling. At one point, he pulled the root out and fell on his butt. But on the place of the root, he could now see an object covered in dirt. He came closer to inspect, but then realized that he could not see anymore as the sun was long gone. He wanted to take the object into the house, but it was still attached to the strings. The strings were buried deep into the ground and were obviously attached to something so heavy that no human could move. He covered the object with leaves and then ran back into the house. He came back with a saw. He freed the thing from the metal strings and picked it up. It was light.

He went back into the house, leaving behind the half-raked yard.

This truly felt like one of those moments when he was a kid and was tasked with searching for the long-lost treasure. In the case of his family, the Franks, the treasure was either a brand new camera or a film tape. 

He put the object for inspection on one of the twenty different tables in the house. He put his camera around his neck, to be ready, just in case. 

Gently, he hit the object a few times against the table, to find out a clink-clink sound.

He started cleaning it with a piece of cloth, and with each swipe, the object was unraveling to be a metal box.  

To his disappointment, he came across a lock, that required a key he probably did not possess. He felt the urge of breaking the box apart, but that was no fun was it? 

He took a step back and started thinking. If there was a key, where could it be? 

Was this box buried by someone from his family, or by a stranger? When was it buried here? 

It seemed a long time ago because, through the remaining dirt, one could notice rust. 

He went to wash his hands, and recollect his thoughts a bit. The house was chilly, and he turned on the old furnace. It was obviously going to be a long night, so why freeze to death? 

He made himself some black coffee, hoping its soothing taste would help him think better, and warm him up.

After a few minutes of trying to retrieve his memory of all the things he came across in the house, along with the seductive smell of coffee, he just realized that that very day, all the keys he had found, were all put in one box.

He started searching among the methodically organized boxes. He grabbed the tiny black box the moment he saw it. He started shaking it, to hear all the sounds that a box full of metal keys would make. 

He opened the box, only to get discouraged once again. The box did not contain five, or ten keys, but rather five hundred. He laughed to himself. He will have to go through each key to find the right one. He also realized that there was a possibility that neither of the keys could work, and it would be time wasted. But was any time wasted if one enjoyed it, along with a tasty cup of black coffee? 

After a few minutes or so, he realized that the lock was tiny and that the majority of the keys he possessed were meant for larger locks. He started categorizing them by size. 

He found ten or so keys that could potentially unlock the box. 

With each key that failed to do the magic, his disappointment grew. 

But the following key glided into the lock. He took a step back as if by opening the box, he might activate a bomb. 

The eureka moment that he waited for over an hour, turned out to be a moment of hesitancy and indecisiveness. 

He stared the box down for a few minutes. He took another sip of coffee, and the key that was already firmly placed in the lock, he turned clockwise. While doing so, he closed his eyes, as if the closed eyes might somehow protect him from the imaginary bomb. The box produced a satisfactory i-am-unlocked sound. He waited for a few seconds for the bomb to go off – with eyes still closed –  but nothing happened. He opened his eyes, and let out a deep sigh. 

He lifted up the lid. 

The box was filled with papers. Well, that is underwhelming. He went through his beard and scratched his hair. He managed to push himself into this corner, which gave him a sense of safety from the uncertainty that the tiny box possessed. 

If he touches it, he cannot go back. 

The papers were put into this sort of glass case. They had acquired the color of a dirty yellow, and the ink was starting to wear off. Additionally, they were so moist, that any rough way of handling them, would result in them effortlessly tearing apart. 

Gently, he took the papers out one by one. 

On the bottom of the box was a broken camera lens, and to it, a tiny piece of paper was taped with the initials W.F. 

As he attempted to read the text, he realized it was in German. He laughed to himself. 

Great, now it will turn out that I am dealing with some Nazi bullshit

Each paper was numbered. The text was organized into paragraphs, and each paragraph contained a sort of title. There were even some bullet points and decent a level of formatting. One could not dispute the organization and the presentation of the text. 

For a few minutes, he was trying to read the typed-out words, but he could not figure out a thing. 

In the top left corner of each page, the date was marked as 8th of August 1952. He immediately wanted to disprove the Nazi theory, but then he thought about all the runaway Nazis, and he felt his potential Nazi heart beating a bit faster. 

With his hands shaking, he took out his phone from his back pocket. He started scanning the papers.

In ten minutes or so – thanks to technology – he had translated everything. 

Not managing to control himself, he turns to the last page, as there was a gut feeling that it was signed by the author. And, indeed it was. By someone under the name of Karl Frentz. He could not think of any major Nazi figure with that surname, and he was too frightened to google. 

Throughout the note, the Karl man is talking to God and asking for repentance. For him and for his family. He talks of this secret room in the basement of the yellow house – his grandfather’s house was painted yellow – and leaves implicit instructions on how to find it. Once one found the room, he/she was to familiarize themselves with the infamous heritage left behind. 

He puts his phone down, as he has to regain balance. He moves the coffee cup aside and goes to get himself a glass of water. From the choice of a seemingly thousand glasses, he manages to pick one and prevail over his crippling indecisiveness. 

He drinks the water and picks up his phone. 

In a few chilling sentences, the Karl man hopes that for what has been left behind, a day will come for it to be uncovered to the public, and hopefully become a part of the museum. 

He ends the note with a prayer to God, to help him and his family to find peace and prosperity in the new land. 

There was something unsettling about the letter. It had a tone of a suicide note. 

With the camera that he had around his neck, he started taking dozens of pictures of the box, and the papers. What else could he do as a Frank, other than document everything with a camera?

He tried to keep his calm. He was terrified to follow these instructions, and go to the basement. 

The man Karl never mentions any other names, just his. Could this man be actually related to him? Was he in some sort of relationship with one of the Franks? He did not know. He took a long breath in. 

He poured more coffee into his cup. Took another look at the instructions. Decided to go downstairs. What else was he supposed to do? Stare at it? 

The instructions explicitly said another door is to be found inside the basement. 

The basement was even more cluttered. Things everywhere. He laughed out loud. 

It felt as if he worked all day to achieve nothing. Every single room, corner, every inch of space in this house was overly utilized. In that moment of uncertainty and fear, the untidy room came as a long-needed break for his mind weary of the puzzling thoughts concerning his family origins. 

He took a look around. The Karl man did not give off anything about where this other door is. He figured the Karl man probably hid some Nazi crap in the secret room. Why else would it be secret?

At one point, he notices a sort of painted rectangle on the left wall. At least it was not painted in red, along with a black swastika.

He approaches it and puts both of his hands on it. He feels the blowing of air. 

He pushes. Nothing, but under his hands, he feels this sort of dent. He found it.

There was no door knob. He pushes a bit harder, to feel the secret door slowly give up, and start to move back. 

He walks into complete darkness. There is an urge to say hello, but he knew anyone who ever knew of this room, was probably dead or hiding in somewhere South America.

If one is to believe the rumor that Nazis were savvy engineers, there must be some sort of switch that turns lights on. He starts touching the walls. His fingers stumble across a switch, and impatiently, he shoves it upwards. The whole room is lit up.

No bulb is broken. Light clear as the sun.

Oh hell! The secret entrance, accompanied by masterful engineering, made everything smell of a Nazi conspiracy!

The newly discovered room smelled of mold and dust. 

In the middle of the room, there was a sort of this cupboard, with drawers on each of its two sides. He approached it. He could lean his hands on it without having to adjust the height, making him think that the person who used this was probably around his height, and was probably blood-related to him. 

He desperately did not want to be related to the Nazis, but every single discovery slowly shaped the paranoid fear into what was about to become reality.

He starts opening the drawers. He finds vintage camera gear: stands, lenses, tapes, cases, camera bags, cables, everything a photographer would want to have. Each tape is marked with a certain date and location. All the location names sounded – yes, you guessed it – German, or places occupied by the Germans.

In the other set of drawers, he comes across files containing photos that both shock and amaze him. All the major faces of the Third Reich and orchestrators of the Holocaust were hiding in a few moldy drawers including: Goebbels, Himmler, Göring, Heydrich, Eichmann, and of course, Hitler. 

All with dates, and notes on them. Photos depicting private moments, with family, with pets, and even never seen before portraits. The person who seemingly took the photos went by the name of Walter Frentz. 

Forgive my brother… He remembers the sentence from the letter. Walter was Karl’s brother. He still could not figure out how were any of these people connected to him.

Then, he comes across two passports. The first was his great-grandfather’s: William Carl Frank. Inner panic, and the beating of his heart level up to fifth gear. 

And another, found in the same file, had the same picture but carried a different name. That of Karl Frentz. 

Upon googling the name, Walter Frentz, the first description that google gives him is Hitler’s cameraman and the eye of the Third Reich. His uncle was a premium Nazi photographer. 

Upon coming to this realization, he feels like burning the whole place down. 

Photography, which moved his soul, and was the source of his inner content, is something he inherited from his Nazi uncle. He enjoyed capturing people in their most ordinary settings, and it seemed that his uncle shared that affinity, but his models were monsters.

He was related to a photographer whose work presented Nazis as almost ordinary people, who were capable of empathy, creating a veil over the atrocities they committed. 

That is from whom he got the taste for photography and the love of film. 

Many times photographers are criticized for not speaking up about the immoral actions of their subjects. 

But, what would the world be without the passive, or better yet, heartless photographers? How else would history be captured? If Walter rebelled, he would be pushed off to the side, and someone else would be brought into his place to do the job that Walter failed to do. Therefore, through rewiring of his heart, he captured humanity in inhumane people, and now his photos will be used to teach the world that our perception of what humanity is can be manipulated through photos. Thankfully, there is some sort of factual history, to weaken the spell of this manipulation. 

Now, as a true Frentz, the only thing that was left to do was to take the most detailed photos of the whole basement.

After he did so, he rang the museum. 

December 10, 2022 01:33

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Wendy Kaminski
14:36 Dec 12, 2022

Great story - very riveting, and I particularly liked the message at the end!


Ksenija Rubež
18:09 Dec 12, 2022

Hi! Thank you so much for your comment, I am glad that you enjoyed reading the story. Before posting it, I was indecisive about putting the part about the heartless photographers, as I thought I would not be able to convey the message in the right way. But, now that you have commented, I realize that I managed to do it successfully! *deep sigh of relief* Once again, thank you so much for your feedback, it means so much to me :)


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