by Rob van Dijk aka The Crystal Veil Man
A beautiful lady called Claudia is a citizen of the Dutch city of Haarlem, situated some ten miles west of Amsterdam. She sometimes wears glasses to correct her mild myopia.
A few weeks ago, Claudia paid a visit to a nice vintage clothing and lifestyle shop in Haarlem, called "De Stijlloods." She met a stranger who introduced himself as Lentilux. The man had a giant rucksack with him, out of which he took some shoeboxes.
Claudia asked him, "Can I see the shoes?"
The stranger smiled and opened all but one of the boxes. They were filled to the brim, not with shoes but with glasses in every prescription and frame shape. Curiosity overtook Claudia and she asked the stranger,
"Can I try out some of your glasses?"
"Indeed you can. It will be my privilege and honour. Mind you, some of the glasses may be far too strong for you."
"I may get carried away by visions of the distant past when I put on other people's glasses - like in a time machine. Do you mind if that happens?"
Claudia asked: "Not at all, I will enjoy the experience. Did you ever hear about Voice Dialogue? Please share with me what you see in your visions."
Claudia installed herself on a beautiful chaise longue.
The stranger handed her a nice pair of late 1950's cat eyeglasses and said, "These may be around your own prescription."
Claudia put on the glasses and much to her delight, she could see fairly well through the lenses.
"These are nice. A bit too weak. Can I try another pair?"
"What is your prescription, Claudia?"
"Minus two in both eyes, no cylinders."
The stranger dug up a pair with a highly unusual eyebrow line.
"These glasses should give you perfect eyesight. They are called Venus; quite appropriate for a beautiful lady."
He handed the Venus glasses to her and Claudia took another look in the box. She took out a half rim pair.
"What about these?"
"It's up to you. Those glasses are nearly minus two."
Claudia hesitated for a moment. Then she put on the Venus glasses with her left hand, still holding the half rim glasses in her right hand.
The stranger noticed straightaway that something unusual happened. She looked withdrawn.
"You look gorgeous in these glasses, Claudia."
Claudia did not answer. Instead, she shivered and looked around her in a bewildered way.
"Do you have a vision, Claudia?" the stranger asked.
Much to his surprise, Claudia answered in what sounded like a strange dialect.
"Who is Claudia? Are you talking to me? My name is Allegonda."
"Are you in some sort of trouble, Allegonda?"
"Trouble? It's an emergency. In what world are you living? Aren't you aware that the town has been under siege by Spanish troops for months? Our walls are not very strong and we are running out of food. They will butcher us if we surrender."
"Allegonda sounds like a Spanish name, or am I mistaken?"
"I am of Spanish origin but I was born and bred in Haarlem and nobody really cared when I grew up. They called me the Spanish Lady, that's all. It's only because of the recent religious and political troubles that some people think I might be a spy. People who know me well support me. I don't believe in religions, I believe in people. I am worried about this war"*
"Can you see me, Allegonda?"
"No, I can only hear you. There is something the matter with my eyes. When you started speaking to me, all of a sudden there was this strange instrument attached to my face. Like a crystal veil."
"Can you see anything through the veil, Allegonda?"
"At first I could not see well through the veil but now I have perfect eyesight."
"Where in town are you, Allegonda?"
"I'm sitting on a chair in the alley where I live, near a street called Groot Heiligland. Can you see me at all?"
"No, but I can hear you well. By the way, my name is Lentilux."
"That's a funny name, what does it mean?"
"Have you ever seen someone wearing spectacles, Allegonda?"
"Only a few times. The Lord Mayor has a pair, and some of the clergy too. But they only use them for reading and they have to use one hand to keep them in front of their eyes. I am told that spectacles are very expensive. Only the rich can afford them."
"I am an inventor, Allegonda. I own some magic spectacles that may protect the person who is wearing them. The stronger the lenses, the more protection."
"Could you protect me when I'm in real danger, Lord Lentilux?"
"I will see what I can do for you next time we hear each other."
"Thank you, Sir. Are you a magician?"
"Perhaps I am, but I don't yet understand how it works."
"Can I keep wearing the veil? It's very comfortable because it's tied around my ears. Does it belong to you?"
"Yes it's mine but you can wear it if it's of any use to you."
"It certainly is. Thank you. Your voice is fading now. Goodbye, and think of me!"
"I will, Allegonda. All the best and perhaps till next time."
The stranger noticed that Claudia seemed to return from wherever she had been. She looked at her right hand. Much to her surprise, it was empty.
"I'm afraid I dropped the half rim glasses but I don't see them. Did you take them?"
"No, I did not," the stranger replied. "They seem to have gone up in smoke."
"I am very sorry about that. Did I have a vision?"
"Indeed you had, and it was highly interesting. Do you want me to tell what happened?"
Claudia took off the Venus glasses and she put them back in the box.
"I'm afraid it's but a dim memory in my mind," she said.
"Shall we stop?" the stranger asked.
"No, I would like to try some more of your glasses. Can you tell me later what happened?"
"Of course, Claudia, we will do as you suggest."
Claudia took another look in the box and she made a discovery.
"Are these glasses antique?"
"Indeed they are. They are steel glasses, made over a century ago. The lenses are a bit stronger."
Claudia took up the glasses and she held them in her right hand. Then she looked at the glasses in the next shoebox. They looked as if the lenses were much stronger.
"Can I try one of those?"
Claudia picked out a nice blue pair with her left hand.
"Be careful," the stranger said. "These are Luxotica glasses and the lenses are minus nine, so you will see everything in a blur."
"I am kind of curious about these blue glasses. Will you tell me how I look in them?"
As soon as Claudia put up the blue glasses with her left hand, her face changed, much the same way as it did when she tried the Venus glasses.
"Do you have another vision, Claudia? Please tell me what you see," the stranger asked.
Claudia seemed withdrawn for a few moments. Then all of a sudden, she spoke in the same strange dialect, which the stranger now presumed to be medieval Dutch:
"Is that you, Lord Lentilux?"
"Yes, it's me again, Allegonda."
"Who is this Claudia you were talking to?"
"She is connecting us, I believe. She is trying out some of my spectacles, or crystal veils as you call them. Where are you now?"
"Our Lord Mayor wished to see me as I am among the very few people in town who speak Spanish. He wants me to negotiate with the commander of the Spanish troops."
"Please, tell me about the situation in town if you can."
"It's getting more and more desperate. People are starving. We are eating all the rats we can catch."
"Do you still wear your crystal veil, Allegonda?"
"Of course, I wear it. All the time. I could not catch a rat without it now. Everyone is very curious about my crystal veil. No one has ever seen anything like it. They all want to try it but I tell them that I need it badly and then they leave me in peace. Besides, we have better things to do than talk about my veil. We are starving."
"I am sorry to hear that, Allegonda."
"Hold on.... Something weird just happened. It's as if my crystal veil has been replaced by a much smaller veil."
"Can you see well through the new veil?"
"This is amazing.... My eyes seem to change and now I can see very well through the new veil. But when I look past the veil everything is in a blur, worse than before."
"Did you agree to do the negotiations, Allegonda?"
"Yes, I did. Our Lord Mayor is a very brave man and I don't want to let him down. But I am nervous about what may happen. Can you help me in any way?"
"Some of my veils have magic powers. This new veil is a bit stronger."
"There were some problems with my previous crystal veil. The Lord Mayor thinks I should do the negotiations unveiled. He fears that the Spanish soldiers will think that I am a witch. But I am rather helpless without the veil now. It was beautiful but it did not match with my dress either."
"I expect that your new veil is a better match with your dress."
"Dear Lord Lentilux, I am most grateful to you. Do you think I will be safe wearing this veil when I negotiate with the commander of the Spanish army?"
"I expect that you will not be taken for a witch if you wear this new veil."
"Do you think that this veil will protect me when I am in life danger?"
"If that happens, do contact me straightaway and I will do my best to help you, dear Allegonda. I could send you an even stronger veil. For now, take care."
"Thank you. Your voice is fading again. I will have to let you go …"
The stranger noticed that Claudia regained consciousness and realized where she was, in the blurry but pleasant surroundings of "De Stijlloods."
"Hi Claudia, it's great that you are back," the stranger said.
"I think I had another vision."
"So it seems. Do you remember anything of what happened?"
"Only snippets and snatches. It's all very confusing. But first let me take off these glasses."
Claudia put off the Luxotica glasses with her left hand and she put them back in the box.
"That's better," she said.
The stranger looked at the glasses that Claudia held in her right hand.
"It looks as if the half rim glasses are back, but now the antique steel glasses have disappeared," he calmly remarked.
"That's weird. I am glad that your half rim glasses are back. I will put them back in the first box. I am sorry for the loss of your antique glasses."
"Don't worry. I have a feeling that they may emerge in time, just like the half rim glasses."
Claudia looked again at the box with the stronger glasses.
"Can I try another pair from this box?"
"Of course you can," the stranger replied.
Claudia searched in the box and she made another discovery.
"What is this? It has no arms. Do you have to hold it in your hand?"
"Yes. It's called a face ŕ main, or lorgnette. Same age as the steel glasses. The lenses are minus seven."
"I have never seen anything like it. It does not look very practical."
"It's not practical for us nowadays but you may be able to help someone else if you keep it within reach," the stranger said.
"Sure, I will do that," Claudia answered. She laid down the face ŕ main on the chaise longue, next to her right hand. Then she looked again in the box with the stronger glasses and she picked out a fine pair of red metal glasses.
"These are varifocal glasses, minus ten, by Augusto Valenti," the stranger said. "I got this pair from a very special lady. She is my life partner and this is another pair that she no longer needed after an increase. She also gave me the blue Luxotica."
As soon as Claudia put on the Augusto Valenti glasses, she looked withdrawn for a few moments. Then all of a sudden, panic was in her eyes.
"What are you afraid of, Claudia? Do the glasses make you uncomfortable?" the stranger asked.
Then Claudia cried out in medieval Dutch:
"Help me! The Spanish soldiers are going to kill me!"
This time, the stranger heard not only her voice but also a loud clatter and cries in Spanish.
"Is that you, Allegonda? Here is your new crystal veil. Keep it in your right hand, in front of your eyes and I hope it will protect you."
Quick as lightning, the stranger grabbed the antique face ŕ main and he put it firmly into Claudia's hand.
"Thank you. They are going to stab me..."
The stranger heard a lot of weird noises and then the medieval voice returned:
"They stabbed me in the head, even through the head, over and over again, but all I have is a minor headache and some scratches."
"What is the situation now?"
"They have given up, I think. Their commander promised me that no one would get hurt if we surrender and become devout Catholics again. They now allow me to return into town."
"That is good news, dear Allegonda."
"What happened to my previous crystal veil? It seems as if I have lost it."
"You can only use one veil at the time, so this one will have to do for now."
"I need one of my hands to keep it in position, just like our Lord Mayor and the monks. But I will get used to it. The lenses are much stronger but my eyes seem to have adapted to them. Do you expect that it will give me protection again in the future?"
"It can't get any worse than being stabbed, can it?"
"I suppose it can't.... I am still shivering. But I am very grateful to you for saving my life, dear Sir."
"My pleasure. Dear Allegonda, you are a brave lady indeed. I'm glad that I could be of some assistance."
"Your voice is fading again and I have to report to our Lord Mayor. Goodbye!"
Again, Claudia seemed to surface and when she looked calmed down, the stranger said: "You'd better take off those glasses, Claudia."
"Can you do that for me, please? I'm a bit shaken and there is something in my right hand, but I can't see what it is."
The stranger removed the Augusto Valenti glasses and carefully put them back in the box.
"Thank you, that's better," Claudia said with a sigh of relief. Then she looked at her right hand. "This is amazing. The antique steel glasses are back. But where is the face ŕ main?"
"It seems to have disappeared."
"I am so sorry. It must have cost you a fortune. But why did you ask me to put it next to my right hand?"
"I had the feeling that it might come handy at some stage. Don't worry about it. I have a hunch that it's in the right hands."
"Did I have another vision?"
"Indeed you had. You look tired, Claudia."
"Absolutely. I have a headache coming up and my head is itching. I also have a dry throat."
"May I invite you for a coffee on one of the terraces at the foot of St. Bavo Church? A bit of fresh air will do you good."
"Thank you. Just a second, I have to put on my own glasses."
When Claudia put on her own glasses, she looked around and said: "Excuse me ... I see a gorgeous vintage dress over there. Funny, I'm sure it was not there when I came into the shop."
Claudia stood up, took the dress and held it in front of her.
"It's quite an old-fashioned dress but I feel that there is something special about it. Can you wait a few minutes? I really have to try this dress before we go for that coffee. Besides, I came here to do some shopping in the first place."
"Of course. Women and shopping.... No problem. The dress may be the right size for you. You will be the belle of the ball. Meanwhile, I will pack my rucksack."
A couple of minutes later, Claudia appeared again, wearing the vintage dress.
"What do you think?" she asked.
"Claudia, you look stunning in that dress. You could easily go for a movie star, a photo model, or some other celebrity," the stranger said.
"You are right. I never saw such a beautiful dress. I will buy it and I will keep it on for the rest of the day."
De Stijlloods is an excellent place for beautiful clothes and their prices are quite reasonable so Claudia was a happy lady when she paid for the dress.
The stranger lifted his giant rucksack and together they walked towards the St. Bavo church. They passed the History Museum and Claudia said that she once heard that it was definitely worth a visit. Unfortunately, the museum had not opened its doors yet. A couple of blocks further, Claudia stopped and stared into an alley on the left.
"I have the strange feeling that I have been there before."
"In one of your visions?"
"Perhaps. It's all so confusing. Right now, I'd rather not think about it. I am dying for a cup of coffee."
Claudia and the stranger continued their way through the picturesque ancient part of Haarlem and within ten minutes they were at the foot of the medieval St. Bavo Church. They found a quiet terrace in the shade. The stranger ordered coffee for Claudia and a glass of dry white wine for himself. They toasted and enjoyed the view of St. Bavo Church, towering above them.
"There was one box that you did not open when we were in the shop. Do you keep that a secret?" Claudia asked.
"I have no secrets for you. This box..." The stranger dug it up and opened it for her. The box was filled with modern prescription glasses and also a couple of extremely strong glasses.
"Most of these glasses look brand new," Claudia remarked.
"They are new. Indeed they are."
"My headache is gone now that I had that walk and the cup of coffee. Some of those new glasses are beautiful indeed. Do you mind if I try them on?" Claudia asked.
"Not at all. I am curious which pairs suit you," the stranger said. "How about another cup of coffee? I am in no hurry."
"Neither, am I. Shall we proceed?"
The stranger produced a hand mirror so that Claudia could get an impression of how she looked in the new glasses.
"You will get some idea of your looks in these new glasses, but the lenses are minus eight and some glasses are even much stronger. Shall I tell you whether they suit you or not?" the stranger asked.
"Please do. I need some advice here. But tell me, why do all these new glasses have such strong lenses?"
"I think that strong glasses are beautiful and that's why I ordered them that way," he said. "When I was young, there were no contact lenses and the streets were full of wonderful ladies in strong glasses. Times were when..."
Claudia selected a dozen pairs from the box and one by one, she put them up. The stranger told her how she looked in each and every one of them. The atmosphere was relaxed and their memories of her strange visions were no part of their conversation.
"If you have one or two favourite pairs, I can order them for you in your own prescription and you will have a nice memento of our pleasant afternoon in your beautiful city," the stranger said.
"That will cost you a fortune. There is no way I can accept that."
"Don't worry about the cost. I order them straight from a factory in the Far East so they are much cheaper than in the shops."
A lady walked past the terrace, then stopped and she paid Claudia a compliment about her beautiful dress and glasses. The lady asked Claudia if it was all right if she made one picture of her in the dress. Claudia smiled and obligingly posed for the lady.
"You were right," Claudia said to the stranger with a twinkle in her eye, "I am the belle of the ball."
The lady thanked Claudia and left. Claudia liked several of the new glasses but she hesitated when the stranger invited her to mention her favourite pair.
"What are these two glasses on the bottom of the box? The lenses look funny. They must be awful strong."
"They are mighty strong but there's nothing awful about them," the stranger replied. "Do you want to give them a try?"
Claudia took one of the glasses from the box. The lenses were not entirely clean but that did not bother her. She was fascinated by the peculiar shape of the lenses.
"That's a pair of Nigura glasses. The lenses are called blended Myodiscs," the stranger said, "the central part of these lenses minifies everything but the surrounding part folds back. It's made that way to keep the lenses thin. The lenses are 18 and 19 diopters strong."
Claudia hesitated for a moment. Then she put the glasses on...
"Oh no." she faintly whispered. Then all of a sudden, her panic was back, much worse than before. She stood up, looking bewildered in all directions.
"Are you all right, Claudia? Perhaps it's better to put off these glasses," the stranger said, a bit worried.
Then Claudia exclaimed in medieval Dutch, her face all in horror: "Oh no! The Spanish soldiers just beheaded our poor Lord Mayor!"
"Is that you, Allegonda?" the stranger asked.
"Yes, it's me. We surrendered to the Spanish army and they are now executing our leaders."
Then she cried out: "COWARDS!! You betrayed us with your false promises!"
"Please be careful, Allegonda, with what you are saying."
A loud order in Spanish was heard, followed by a scream: "Oh no! I dropped my crystal veil.... Help! Help me!"
"I will send you another veil straightaway, dear Allegonda," the stranger replied.
"Hurry! They are going to shoot me through the head!" she screamed in despair.
The stranger heard a lot of noise, followed by the echoes of several shots, then finally some confused voices in Spanish.
"Are you alive, dear Allegonda?" he asked.
He heard a loud sigh and then her voice came back: "Yes, I'm alive and well, still a bit deaf in one ear because of the gun shots. You sent me the new veil just in time."
"Yes, it was a close call. The new veil I sent you is by far the strongest. You will be really dependent on it from now on, but it will protect you."
"My God, the lenses are mighty strong.... but my eyes are now adjusting to them. Hold on a second.... Yes, I can see clearly now, but only if I look straight ahead of me. Everything looks much smaller than through my previous crystal veils."
"Did the soldiers let you go, Allegonda?"
"They did not understand that they could not kill me. There was confusion. Now they are taking our soldiers out of town and I'm afraid that they will kill them all. But there is no way I can help them."
"Where are you now?"
"Still where I was, at the place in front of St. Bavo Church. People are staring at me as if I'm a ghost. Maybe it has to do with my new veil as well."
"The name of this veil is Lentilux," he replied, "You will be used to it within a week or two."
"I hope so. I am feeling rather dizzy but that's not important. I was already helpless without the previous veil and it was tiring to keep my hand raised all the time. This new veil seems firmly tied to my ears, it's quite stable. You saved my life again. How can I ever thank you?"
"There is no need to thank me, dear Allegonda, you are a courageous lady."
"And you are a generous man, Lord Lentilux."
"What are you going to do now, Allegonda?"
"I'm going home, to the alley, and lit a candle for our victims."
"That's a good idea. Take care."
"I will.... Your voice has become very faint..."
Then silence. The stranger noticed that Claudia was staring at him with a rather amused, beautiful look in her eyes, as if she just came back from a long, interesting journey. The blended myodiscs were gone, but the antique face ŕ main laid on the floor, next to her feet. He picked it up and much to his delight; the lenses and the frame were undamaged.
"Welcome back in the land of the living, dear Claudia," the stranger said.
"My God, I just had another vision. Do you know what happened?"
"Yes, I think so. Will you sit down and hear about your four visions?"
"In a minute or so. Meanwhile, can I have another coffee?"
"Of course you can. I will have another white wine myself."
When Claudia was sipping her fresh coffee, she noticed the only pair of glasses that had remained untouched.
"These glasses look even stronger than the blended myodiscs. But the frame is really beautiful. Quite modern," she said.
"They are ordinary myodiscs with high index lenses," the stranger replied, "They are close to minus twenty."
"I feel that these glasses have something to tell us," Claudia said in a dreamy voice. "Can I try them on?"
"If you feel up to it after all you have gone through," the stranger said.
Claudia put on the myodisc glasses and gazed around her. She then seemed to concentrate on something invisible but this time there was no strain, let alone panic. The stranger watched her intensely but he did not dare to speak to her.
"Is that you, Allegonda?" Claudia asked in a low voice. "Yes, I understand.... I will ask him."
"Allegonda says that she is alive and well, except for her dizziness because of the lenses in her crystal veil. She asks if you can send her a different pair in the same strength."
"No problem," the stranger said, "Within a few seconds she will wear the same glasses as your good self. The same frame, the same lenses. Tell her that she can wear them as long as she lives. She will never need a new veil again."
He produced another pair of myodisc glasses, identical to the pair on her nose and he put them into her right hand.
"Did you hear that, Allegonda?" Claudia asked. After half a minute, she turned her head towards the stranger. He noticed that the myodisc glasses in her right hand were gone.
"Allegonda said that her new crystal veil is great. She can see perfectly through it and she is very grateful. She will keep a low profile for a while until the situation in town is safe. She asked me to say adieu to you. She will be leaving Holland soon. Her husband is back from a long journey. They may sail to Ireland and settle there. I am happy that I don't need such strong glasses."
Claudia put off the myodisc glasses and handed them over to the stranger.
"Can you hand me my own glasses? Thank you, that's better."
The stranger looked at her feet. The blended myodiscs were on the floor, apparently undamaged. He picked them up with great care.
"Do you want to hear about your visions now, Claudia?" the stranger asked.
Claudia smiled and said, "No, I would rather read your story on the Internet soon."
"I am a photographer, but I clean forgot to make pictures of you in all those glasses."
"I might be persuaded to pose for you some day."
"That would be grand. A pity that I can't take pictures of your visions."
Claudia and the stranger shared a final coffee and white wine, discussing the merits of the dozen modern glasses with minus eight lenses. Claudia never had another vision after reading the story. Researchers so far have failed to discover the identity of the mysterious Allegonda who tried to save her beloved Haarlem in 1573.
Claudia may soon decide which of the new glasses is her favourite, but that is no part of this story which now has come to an end.