Our Lady of the Burning Heart

Our Lady of the Burning Heart by Cora BuhlertTwo stories of crime, chance and coincidence

Our Lady of the Burning Heart

Liam is a small time criminal in a world of trouble. Cause he owes twenty thousand dollars to local gangster Dan “the Man” O’Brien and if Liam doesn’t pay back him within twenty-four hours, he’s in for a whole world of pain.

Liam does not have twenty thousand dollars. All he has are four dollars and forty-seven cents and a plan. For there is a horse running tonight, a horse sure to win him the missing twenty thousand dollars and more. If Liam only had enough money to bet on it.

So when Liam passes the church of Our Lady of the Burning Heart and finds the door open late at night, he does what a good Catholic boy like him should never even consider. He ventures into the church, intending to rob the collection box.

But a statue of the Virgin Mary with an eerily glowing heart, a forgetful priest and a lost bus ticket conspire to rescue Liam from Dan “the Man” and return him to the path of righteousness…

Bonus story: Lucky Harry

In former East Germany, Dennis has robbed a bank and has found the perfect hiding place for the loot, an old soap factory deserted since the unification. But his plan is thwarted by homeless Harry, a bottle of Soviet era vodka and Lenin’s birthday…

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More information:

  • Our Lady of the Burning Heart is a short story of 2900 words. Lucky Harr is a short story of 2000 words. A version of Lucky Harry appeared in German in the anthology Kurze Geschichten für Zwischendurch. Our Lady of the Burning Heart is a digital premiere and has never been published previously.
  • Both stories were written as part of the July short story challenge. The idea was to write a short story per day in July 2015.
  • Our Lady of the Burning Heart is another story inspired by an object, a writing exercise we sometimes did at university. In this case, the object was a Christmas ornament owned by my parents, a bust of the Virgin Mary made from fine white china. When you put a votive candle into the statue, its chest glows. The effect is quite eerie, especially in a dark room. It’s actually terribly kitschy, but my Mom loves that statue and has had it for almost thirty years now. You can see a photo of the bust here.
  • I’m not a religious person at all and have never been Catholic, therefore it’s quite unusual for me to write a story like Our Lady of the Burning Heart, where religion plays a big role. Though there is a perfectly non-religious explanation for Liam’s conversion experience. Or you can chalk it down to divine intervention, if you wish.
  • It’s not explicitly stated, but Our Lady of the Burning Heart is set in Boston. Though both the church of Our Lady of the Burning Heart and the Saint Nicholas Seminary are fictional.
  • However, Saint Nicholas of Myra really is the patron saint of sailors and reformed thieves, among others. He also delivery presents to children on December 6, i.e. St. Nicholas Day, as well as on Christmas in his americanized form Santa Claus.
  • Lucky Harry is a somewhat expanded English language version of Harry im Glück, a story I wrote for the German language indie anthology Kurze Geschichten für Zwischendurch. This is the first time that story is available in English.
  • The setting for Lucky Harry, the second story in this two-pack, since it is set in the explicitly secular and atheist world of former Communist East Germany. However, I decided to bundle both stories, because the theme – crime thwarted by fate – is quite similar.
  • What is more, Lucky Harry also features an icon, namely Lenin (or rather his birthday). And indeed there was a quasi religious element to the way in which Marx, Lenin (and prior to his death Stalin) were venerated in Communist Eastern Europe. In fact, my grandmother reported having witnessed East German primary school children offering a “prayer” to Papa Stalin back in the early 1950s.
  • Güstrow, the village where Lucky Harry is set, is fictional as is the deserted soap factory. However, former East Germany is still littered with abandoned factories twenty-five years after the unification. Most factories closed soon after the unification, since they were outdated and no longer viable. And several of them were simply abandoned and the premises never redeveloped, because no one knows who the owners are after several rounds of expropriations.
  • The ad slogans on the posters in the abandoned factory are quite typical of East German advertising, which after all came up with the classic “Plaste und Elaste of Schkopau”.
  • The cover is a photo I took of a gothic revival church in Aberdeen in Scotland, turned into a moody black and white shot by the magic of Photoshop. The original photo is here BTW. I initially planned to use a photo of the glowing Madonna for the cover, but every attempt wound up looking like religious non-fiction rather than crime fiction.
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