In the citadel lepers stand crowded like convicts in a clammy cell. Bemoaning the shortage of cotton bandages, vainly applying salves for the blistering rashes. One shifty-eyed subverter II. waits in a corner– then with a skeleton key, unlocks the door III. and absconds. Below, IV. villagers hustle through the town bazaar Aware of universal catastrophe, yet striving to be in good spirits, they don’t see a scepter-wielding lunatic who prances about, Pompously pronouncing his alleged prophethood. Children crowd before vendors’ booths, coveting fanciful whirligigs; some sit at a performance of a Punch and Judy puppet show- Wide-eyed and immobile, a rich tableau.
Outside a gypsy caravan, a charlatan advertises charms, nostrums, elixirs – fixers for every imaginable affliction. Beckons to a street urchin in the front row, who had lost a hand in an accident involving shrapnel- From the stump he made it mysteriously grow.
Rubbernecking queues watch as he cleaves a off a hen’s head. Plays a few notes on a flute, flourishes a wand, and pulls away a purple curtain- reveals it rendered complete again. Awed, the crowds applaud. He knew he had them sold as his performance they extolled: Smirks inwardly as he introduces his new invention- Believing his professions, they bought it without question.
But the tincture soon proved to have some adverse effects- Some grew horns, some suffered bleeding sores, some could only speak in grunts. They searched him out, determined to lynch him. Almost catching him unawares, he sweats as the crowds approach him with threats- But with a flick of his wand he transforms his caravan into a mechanical elephant. Maneuvers the controls with one hand, waves an impertinent goodbye with the other as the angry mob grows distant.
In the countryside’s province away from the angry mobs, cicadas drone, crickets intone vespers, flowers confer in whispers. A poisonous breeze – the collective ghosts of starved civilians, diseased children, tortured prisoners, the neglected cats – weaves insidiously through the valley, and the dandelions shuddered tremulously as it wafts bitterly by. Poppies gazed above to behold the livid night sky: A cauldron of churning celestial chaos prescribes portentous prophecies, broadcasts mankind’s monstrosities, translates wrath of vengeful deities from its empyrean sphere. The crimson moon spotlights curious affairs below- On a spinster Spider, whose needle-legs spin silver skeins with remnants of feckless victims.
And in a sheltered glade around a dim glow, an ant brigade mills,
piercing a firefly’s abdomen, from which liquid fire spills. Over a pyre the Queen turns a skewered ant, Warns, Let this remind all what befalls recreants. Morbidly curious, the victim’s comrades espy from nearby hedges, while a subservient ant dredges each contorted appendage. Carcass revolves, face twisted in a last macabre grin, the pyre crackles of exoskeleton; The ants heartily regale, sequestered from bloodbath and travail; In Sighişoara’s tucked away, well-governed microcosmic enclave.
I really want to get back into LJ again. I miss people that I've talked to on here.
If anyone's reading this...could you let me know?
I still <3 the Legendary Pink Dots and their lyrics so much... (love how they manage to be so whimsical yet melancholy and macabre); here's another favorite for now that's replaying itself a lot in my head:
"REGRESSION:" Go back eight years; you're sixteen... What do you see? What do you feel? A classroom..Yes..and what are they whispering? They're whispering about you! Why? Laughing, no, no, go back eight years- You're eight, where are you? In your bedroom? Yes, in your bedroom. Shadows? Shadows touching you, your head forced to one side. Tell me about the black dog and tell me ... no, no, go back eight years. What do you see? What do you feel? And you don't want the white light, why? Why? No, no, go back a hundred, two hundred... FIVE hundred years! What do you see? What do you feel? Your hands are tied, yes, and they're throwing things! Fire - you're burning, you're burning! No, go back a thousand...A million years! What do you see? What do you feel? Nothing...nothing at all. Tell me.. is it better that way?"
....but here's just something for now; I'll post an actual update when I have more time...
Leave a comment and:
1. I'll tell you something I like about you 2. I'll tell you something I don't like about you 3. I'll tell you where we would go on a trip together 4. I'll tell you something you don't know about me 5. I'll tell you my best memory of you 6. I'll tell you what food you remind me of. 7. I'll ask you something I've always wanted to ask you but have always been too scared to.
According to this enneagram test, I'm a 4w5:
Hmm. (wow.. am I that stuck on myself? ;D) On the website it calls a 4w5 "the Bohemian."
I also took the four humours temperament test a while back - I scored Phlegmatic-Melancholic).
Time alone is vital for this reflective, introspective temperament. A perfectionist at home and on the job, the melancholic is likely the one with the perfectly organized closet and kitchen, the tidy desk-top, and the painstaking attention to religious observances, sometimes to the point of scrupulosity. A melancholic longs for a deep soul mate, yet when he is around people, he often finds himself mistrustful and disappointed. Sensing this criticism, others will keep their distance—thus further entrenching the melancholic in his solitary life. In relationships, the melancholic tends to be slow to initiate, cautious, hyper-critical, and pessimistic--yet, once committed, they are unwaveringly loyal and self-sacrificing.
The doctor called Astrid's name and she went inside his office and sat down across from him.
There's a link here…there's something about that girl that I saw yesterday that… triggers something, she mused. The doctor helped hook up the electrodes from the kinetoscope to the top of her head.
"Do you ever forget what day of the week or year it is?" "Well, I remember the day of the week because each day has its own menial tasks…today's July 21st, I think."
"And the year?"
"Okay. Now, this therapy that you've spoken of…what did it do? Did you experience any…other side effects from it? Or anything psychoactive?"
Astrid pondered for a moment then nodded slowly, then relayed her thoughts: "I've been thinking about it…about what first happened approximately a week after he began treating me with it…at first I didn't think that there was a correlation between the two…"
"Where does he get it, first of all?"
"He just says he knows that it's a natural remedy that he knows where to find out in the woods. I just didn't pay much attention to it; he's the one who's studied this sort of thing."
"And what happened?"
"I remember it was sometime in early September – I was taking a night walk around town, and…suddenly I started feeling disoriented."
Astrid lapsed into memory…strange, she thought, it's as if I'd buried that memory in my subconscious, as if it had just been a dream.
She first remembered walking along a moonlit cobblestone street on a humid night in late May in downtown Rosenheim – the closest thing to a town in the rural town. Suddenly, a wave of disorientation washed over her; and in the next few moments her vision became more tunnel-like. Hues were more vivid and saturated and everything seemed animated, yet her mind still felt disconnected; like dreaming or in a deep trance. And then it was if her senses had blurred together - that faint jazz music, for example, had its own kaleidoscopic pattern of colors that hovered in the night air and looked tangible… her right hand reached out slowly, and her fingers felt the collection of jagged mosaic fragments that floated about and vibrated in the humid summer night air to the cadence of the horn music.
While walking down the moonlit street, the sense of freefalling hit her unexpectedly, followed by dissociation that engulfed her. She looked around her surroundings for any stores, any restaurants in case she felt herself about to collapse – but then she could make out a place on the corner of the next street block which teemed with liveliness. She tried her best to run, feeling as if she wasn't really running as it felt as if she lost function in her motor skills, but she knew she had to be moving fast somehow because she managed to make her way to the entrance. She stood at the front of the door between the two flickering gas lamps. She felt the vibration of the music in her body, and the laughter and din inside – yet the laughter didn't seem human, the way it resonated sounded like cosmic laughter emanating from something more arcane...
Fortunately, the first door she had come to inside the place was a restroom. She noticed the mirror and slowly approached it. The first thing she glimpsed of the reflection was her eyes – the pupils eclipsed the iris to the point where only the faint rim of blue could be seen. Like black holes... black wells inside which she felt she could see inside her soul…she had thought at the time. She had no idea how long she was there.
A man's voice was penetrating the trance-like state, seeming so intrusive and foreign…
Astrid opened her eyes again, feeling dazed. "Just now, I...I recalled the experience so vividly…it's as if I was there again..." She tried to retell what she had remembered as best she could.
"Some of what you described sounds like synaesthesia...and did you lose consciousness in that place?
"I don't think so…I just went in looking for the restroom so that I could look at my appearance. She shuddered upon recalling how the reflection in the mirror looked like her – and at the same time she didn't recognize the figure.
"Did anyone see that you needed help?"
"No…and I didn't try to find any…. I've never experienced anything like it. Yet there was a strong sense of…psychic discomfort, as if my identity was lost and I was merging and disappearing with everything around me. It was dissociating, most of all…"
"What you speak of is not like delirium that other patients here experience, Astrid. I'm not discounting what you saw, at all… it seems you entered an altered state of consciousness… characteristic of some sort of entheogenic substance. And I find it interesting that you too see a correlation here between this experience and the fact that your husband made this tincture from some kind of plant.
"Maybe you could learn more from these visions – even just a fragment of one could help you recall something. Also pay close attention to anyone else in them. If you were supposed to be stupefied at the time, whoever's involved may leave about some evidence that they're not as careful to conceal.
"Try to bring back more repressed memories. This may result in you loosing consciousness more, Astrid. You may notice arbitrary things or situations triggering."
Like collecting the fragments of a broken mirror, Astrid mused. Does she reflect components of me?
Elke discreetly withdrew her small pocket watch to check the time for what seemed like the hundredth time or so this evening. Almost a quarter of now. He usually goes to bed any time between ten and …he should really be going soon. Should I go back to my room so that he doesn't think I'm staying up for him? I think I ought to. Elke slowly got up from her chair to make her way back to her bedroom, but her brother called her name when she was halfway from her chair to the corridor.
"What is it?"
"I just want to talk with you a moment."
"All right." She waited.
"Let's sit out on the porch swing a minute, how about that? It is very nice out there and all that."
"Willem…I'm sorry for not telling you what happened; I just got it back yesterday, in fact, and I was in disbelief at first anyway."
He didn't respond for a few moments – then, "Do you ever feel like time and place are just suspended out here sometimes, Elke?"
"Hm? Oh…I don't know. Haven't really thought like that." She reflected a moment. "Actually…maybe it's because I keep myself busy enough that I don't really feel that way as much."
Elke was already out the next morning when the ground was still dewy and the morning air thick with warm fog that hovered just over the ground.Although at first glance Elke mistook the device for a stag or other ruminant beast resting on the ground, she saw that it was in fact the kinetoscope – immobile, but still with the legs of the stand bent like an animal’s.She placed an eye against the periscope to see Astrid’s willowy white figure to the left of the first frame still: she was sitting at a dining table and as the picture moved, Klaus moved about the kitchen in the background with a flask, an eyedropper, and a small glass.
Astrid didn’t seem to be paying any mind to Klaus as he prepared some sort of tincture.With the eyedropper he extracted five drops of a reddish-brown fluid from the flask into the glass.As he was walking over to the table Astrid pushed her chair back to pull the edge of her skirt out from underneath one of the chair legs, but backed sharply into Klaus who was approaching the table with the glass and - he let out a string of curses as he stumbled and crashed into the table. The tincture splashed all over Astrid and the wooden cast of a deer.
“Oh no…oh no,” she heard him muttering.
“What, Klaus? Can’t you get more of it?” But Klaus’s face troubled her; he looked frightened, disbelieving.
“It’s not supposed to… come in contact with anything…” he trailed off, staring avidly at the cast that was stained with the tincture, as if expecting it to come alive and attack him.
And then the woodcarving started creaking.
The picture ended and only a black screen showed afterwards.
“Elke, why did you go back and meddle with that kinetoscope and that woman again? Do you think I would tell you not to unless I thought it was a bad idea?”
“I think he’s drugging her with something…but what?” she stared abstractly through the window.
Willem stared at her, as though he debating whether or not to impart something important. He sighed and then spoke:
“I’ll tell you a little more – about what else I discovered before the kinetoscope disappeared from the basement. After the war ended in 1918, many had what they call shell-shock. When this woman Astrid lost her whole family in Germany before emigrating here she was afflicted with it, too. She wouldn’t speak at all – at first her husband thought maybe she was becoming ill from the poison gas that was used so much in warfare. Then, apparently he met a shaman who used to live in those woods out there – a man who concocted something that could help her forget easier, made from some endangered insect in the woods. But the tincture proved to have some dangerous side effects: the hallucinations, delusions, different states of consciousness...”
“So it’s not her fault, then.”
“Well – I suspect, due to her dementia and how she’s written to her husband about where she’s living now, she may believe herself to be trapped in, for instance, a prisoner-of-war camp.And so – finding that you can talk to her – she probably thinks she can escape from there.”
“This shaman you mentioned… is he the one who enchanted all those things out there - the kinetoscope too? Is he still alive?”
“I don’t know if he’s still around. I imagine so. I’ve actually never seen him, so for all I know he’s not even real.”
“How did you find out about all this…?”
“Just as you did, for the most part,” he answered vaguely. He began to occupy himself again by carrying armfuls of kindling from outside into the woodstove. “Does that satisfy your curiosity, then?”
“Well…it clears up a few things, I suppose.”
The next morning, when Elke went out early to look for the coppice she had heard about, as dubious as it all sounded (even in light of other extraordinary occurrences); from the prospect of “entheogenic insects” to a shaman that concocted medicinal remedies. Elke still felt dubious about coming across this coppice where these entheogenic insects were supposed to be. Every time she heard the humming of a cluster of bees or a swarm of beetles she thought she was close to finding the elusive insects.
If all those other charmed creatures and objects came from there, then something like this should be there in that clearing where the kinetoscope was, if it’s anywhere at all, she decided. But after an hour or so of searching she gave up. Without knowing where it was before, it seemed futile to look so hard without having a general idea of where it was.
After arriving back at the cottage, Elke found her brother on the veranda. She walked up to him before he noticed her return and asked, “Willem…would you come with me to come look for it?”
He seemed surprised at her asking for his company. “Elke, I don’t know-” she noticed a subtle change in his visage, as he was reflecting on something -“All right, I’ll go with you. I suppose it’s safer than you going alone.”
“You don’t expect to find anything, do you?”
Elke looked up quickly; she had found it a bit surprising that he’d agreed to accompany her without dismissing the idea at first – even if his constant concern with her safety in any circumstance was exasperating.
“I’ve been doing some research. Those insects – they truly do exist, after all, from what I’ve found. It’s not some myth after all. That doesn’t mean any still do exist, or that there’s any to be found there, however,” Willem said.
The two of them left the cottage and made their way toward the woods.She let him lead, and she followed him deep into the bosom of the forest. A dazed feeling came over her suddenly, and she felt as if the ground slipped out from beneath her. It happened again, but like a feeling of loosing her ground, or a freefalling. Blinking, her field of vision swirled and blurred faintly.
“What’s wrong?” Willem asked, when he realized she stopped following and was standing still.
“Nothing…just felt a bit dizzy for a second.” her voice sounding distorted. She looked at him closely. Something was changing. He didn’t look familiar to her anymore, and his face looked like it was changing.
Her vision became tunnel-like, and then she felt the velvety blackness of unconsciousness enclosing in.
Elke followed the dirt road lined with cypress and willow trees, winding behind the cottage toward the charnel house. She had to continuously swat sweat-thirsty gnats and fruit flies off wherever there was bare skin with the hand that wasn’t holding the lantern. Whatever time of day it was seemed stuck in a perpetual limbo; the sun wasn’t in view and it could have been either dawn or dusk.
Garter snakes slithered in and out of the concrete ruins and limestone debris at the entrance of the charnel house. The heavy alabaster door was lichen-stained and ornamented with dried poppy bouquets and funeral boughs. Elke gingerly opened the door to the crypt and the space inside was redolent of oak moss, frankincense, and embalming herbs.
Fifty burnished skulls were aligned on the shelf on the left wall – five ledges with ten on each row. Each had a pair of stones in the eye sockets that coruscated in the lantern’s light.Elke walked slowly over to them and picked up one on the second shelf – as if with a clairvoyant eye she knew this is the one she was supposed to find. She smoothed her thumb over its surface and the sutures, and the eye stones swiveled around to the back of the head. On the back, embossed in each stone, were the initials A.M.Caught off guard by the motion of the eye sockets, Elke backed away nervously.
Something in the air was creating more haze and thickness, and a hissing sound was issuing from somewhere. She found the source: a white effluvium was emitting from the skull she had just picked up off the shelf. Like a djinni rising from the vapors of a receptacle, the room was enveloped in the smoky substance and the ominous hissing increased in pitch.The room started swirling as the smoke intoxicated her like a narcotic, sedating her into a warm, soporific hypnosis. As the smoke was starting to overwhelm her senses, out of the skull’s eye socket a giant insect slowly squirmed out, as if in peristaltic motion.
Then, like an ectoplasmic mass festering in the hibernation of the cranium’s chamber, its writhing form fully emerged. Sliding down the ledges, it elongated itself and resembled a type of arthropod; its carapace was shiny, metallic, and variegated like a hologram.
Kill it now-
The voice was not audible, but Elke heard the words in her mind louder and more distinctively… but where had they come from? Something then caught her attention: a long, thin object which gleamed white on the cold concrete floor.
A sharp bone of some sort – perhaps a human femur? Elke surmised when she picked up the limb. The end of it was needle-sharp, as if it had in fact been sharpened that way; in any case, it was out of place among the collection of skulls. Elke gripped the bone and when the insect loomed closer, she instinctively shoved the sharpened point through the shell, somewhere between the creature’s head and body. It screeched and shrank closer to the floor; she thrust it again in its left eye socket and the creature recoiled and hissed from the lacerations of the weapon. Elke dealt a final slash to its thorax and the insect began to die, twitching sporadically.
Makeshift weapon still in hand, Elke backed out of the charnel house and ran blindly back toward the direction of the cottage, not daring to look behind her the entire way.
She felt herself coming to her senses as the sharp scent of cedar brought her back to consciousness. The wainscoting of the sod shanty absorbed most of the light that was infiltrating the room.As her eyes adjusted to the darker light, she observed the walls which were bedighted with elk molars, longhorn cattle antlers, various charms; many things fetishized and sylvan-inspired and rustic. Around his neck he wore a leather cord with an amber amulet. He shuffled slowly, slightly hunched over.
“…So there’s no way to stop it until we kill it,” a voice said softly. She stared at the figure and his silhouette turned to her.
“What happened to me just now?” she demanded.
“What do you mean?” said the voice. Her brother’s voice sounded distorted, for some reason, and something about hers did as well.
“How did we get here?”
“What? Astrid, do you feel all right? You look really dazed.” The figure turned to the cloaked man. “Can that… still be affecting her?”
“It could – side effects can last for a good five hours…” the man said.
“All I remember is that you and I were walking out in the deep heart of the woods when I began feeling lightheaded and then blacked out – I just came to when I heard you talking about killing something! And…you called me Astrid just now,” she added. She tried to study him in the wan light.
Her brother was staring intently at her, looking noticeably concerned. “Astrid… are you ok? Do you feel sick?” The figure had stopped shuffling about and was watching her, too. “If you need to lie down, I’m sure there’s a place somewhere in here where you can if -“
“No, no…never mind,” she murmured.
She felt his eyes on her again, feeling uncomfortable by his stare and she continued to inspect the floor, until he sighed and resumed talking. “In any case, we were talking about this creature that we think is causing your problems.”
But she was too perturbed by this to engage in conversation. She tried to rationalize what was happening; how, if anything, she could remember what was happening so that it could connect to the other pieces of the mystery later.
As the figure stood, she squinted through the dimly lit room and realized it wasn’t her brother at all: and then she noticed her clothes, and saw the raven locks of hair. This was compounded with the realization that, from seeing the figure through the kinetoscope before, who she thought was her brother was in fact Astrid’s husband, Klaus; and she, in turn, now had Astrid’s form.
The shaman shuffled over to the table on which a mason jar holding black beetles, a kerosene lamp, and a metal skewer. He opened the jar and pointed the skewer over the jar. He deftly speared one of the insects onto the skewer, and the metal barely pierced through as it crunched through the armored carapace and into its viscera. As he held the insect, angrily wiggling its spindle-legs, over the lamp he spoke, “I’ve been studying these insects for a long time. They are simply a marvel, and so exotic that even many entomologists are ignorant of its mystical properties. Not only do they possess this entheogen, but, if they bite – they can capture one’s memories. One could tell if this happens because it will physically manifest itself in the color of the shell - it will turn more holographic. Essentially, pieces of one’s psyche can be trapped in them, mimicking those symptoms of amnesia. It’s simply remarkable that it can affect brain chemistry in this two-fold manner.”
In her mind’s eye, the recollection of that insect with the variegated shell rising from the skull resurfaced briefly. She watched the flames licked up the sides of its body, but didn’t catch fire. As the shell heated it glowed phosphorescent, turning from jet-black and glossy to white and slightly transparent.
“The psychoactive ingredient needs to be heated to become active,” he added as an aside. A reddish-brown fluid came from the punctured beetle’s underside and he held it over the flask so that the liquid dripped into it. He did this until no more came out, and then he dropped the empty white shell in a dish on the table.
"That’s one, four left..." he mumbled, as he walked back over to the jar and re-opened the jar with the four beetles, seemingly aware of what was going on as they were now huddled together inside.
“Anyway - you wanted to know a bit about that kinetoscope over there?I bought it at an antique place that used to be around here ten years ago - it's not in business anymore. It was essentially useless - but one day, I was reading in this book - He picked up a book that rested on the table. The book had red binding and on the cover in gold-gilded typescript read “Para-relations and Kinetic Exploitation.”
“I found this book at that store also; purchased it on a whim. Anyway, while perusing it one day I found a page that specifically said how to enchant mechanical devices such as this one. I tried a few things on it, and through serendipity it worked: this machine has all kinds of interesting functions its capable of now – it can read brainwaves, and will show the pictures on the screen.”
He opened to the page where the bookmarker ribbon was, which showed a black and white diagrammed illustration of a device similar in make-up to the kinetoscope.
“In fact, there’s an institution that used to use this – they’d manufacture them from other similar mechanisms to measure the brain activity which would project on the screen – there were only four others made. If I remember correctly, the other four included a Cinematograph, a Phonoscope, a Magniscope and a Thaumatographe.
“But when the Bavarian parliament found out about these clandestine practices, they threatened to shut the place down for good and prosecute all the doctors if they didn’t cease these practices and give up these devices for confiscation. They really are more of a research institution, but call themselves a psychiatric hospital so as to avoid too much curiosity from the public. Anyway, this is the last one around that I know of; I don’t know what happened to the rest. But this one – this is the only one enchanted in such a way.”
Elke’s eye then caught the figurine in the corner of the shanty. The shaman followed her gaze and asked Klaus to bring it over. "Is that supposed to represent my totem animal or something, that 'elk'?" She said lightheartedly, but as soon as she uttered the words she inwardly chastened herself for forgetting whose body she was in, now uneasy about arousing suspicion. She covered it up by complimenting him on the workmanship of it.
"Oh, do you like it? You can take it back with you. I haven't the space to keep it here anyhow."
She laughed nervously; its beady eyes and the lifelike expression made her uneasy. "It's all right, I don't think I could offer it a good home; our place is rather cluttered -"
"Go ahead and take it if you like it, Astrid," Klaus said. "There's plenty of room for it that I can think of. It's a rather elegant piece of work."
"Oh…well, ok. Thank you," she told the shaman feebly.
“Now, we’ll use that object to focus on – not so much the object itself, as something inanimate while you concentrate on trying astral projection for the first time.”
Elke felt the pit of uneasiness growing in her stomach, apprehensive of what would happen if she took the tincture. She wondered - could she be stuck in this body forever? That possibility of that was something she couldn’t begin to fathom right now.
After a few moments of silence in which their eyes were on her, and she stood motionless, she said slowly, “I don’t feel ready just yet….I’m…having a bad headache right now,” she finished lamely. She looked furtively about the room. “Mind if I look at the kinetoscope over there?”
Inside the peephole Elke saw Astrid projected on the screen – but is that me or is that really Astrid? Elke wondered. This opened the door to many philosophical questions that Elke didn’t have the time to ponder the implications of.
The woman was kneeling on the floor of a room – an elegant room decked with gold-gilded furniture and crimson rugs and falls of matching crushed velvet curtains. Elke surmised it was Astrid’s house. On the plush rugs laid two objects which Elke squinted hard to see: a skull, and a transparent phial which was half-filled with a prismatic fluid.
Klaus entered the room and handed her an ornamented wooden coffer. “Make sure that box is put somewhere where it can never be found by anyone, Astrid,” he said gravely.
“I know, Klaus…” she mumbled, as she carefully placed both of the objects inside.
“Don’t forget, there’s the last one that needs to go in there,” Klaus said. Astrid nodded, and rose from the floor to follow Klaus out of the room and downstairs. On the kitchen table was the woodcarving of the deer, with a saw beside it. Klaus hewed into the left front leg and severed it at the joint.. He handed her the deer cloven-hoofed extremity to her and she placed it inside the reliquary.
“Because if she finds it… she can turn the tables and destroy you. Those are vestiges of you, Astrid. She’s the one who is going to be, well, departing soon. She can’t find out anything,” he repeated.
“What an intriguing device,” Elke ventured to say as nonchalant as possible as she forced herself to pull away, realizing she had probably been looking inside of it too long when the shaman had said there was no pictures in there to see. But as she took her eyes away from the screen and turned from the kinetoscope, she saw that, although she was still in the shanty – the room was empty.
She walked through the small house, but could find no trace of anyone. And yet, everything was in place as it had been, but Klaus and the shaman were nowhere to be seen.Thinking that the kinetoscope could offer some explanation, some clue, she placed her eye against the viewer again, waiting for a picture to show up.
This time, the first frame showed a barren, dismal landscape that looked like a farmstead. After a few slides she could make out a small goat moving slowly through a field. At closer look, Elke saw that the animal was emaciated and dismembered, hobbling along and foaming at the mouth. Two condors kept descending in on the poor wretched creature as it ambled helplessly in the direction of an old barn. The next frame sequence showed two repulsive-looking insects copulating in another dilapidated setting of some sort. In another, a butcher hacked into a calf with a cleaver, the blood spatter contrasting gruesomely with his white apron. Several of the severed pieces quivered and slid off the table, making their way for the door; the butcher grunted with vexation and chased their slippery path to collect whatever he could get a hold of.
She found herself unable to endure watching any more any more of the monstrous images and turned away from the kinetoscope. “Who put these here instead…” she muttered out loud, her voice wavering with fright.
“Quite a whimsy, isn’t it - what’s happened to my head since I’ve been “treated” with this miraculous medicine?” the mordant female voice dripping with venom laughed mirthlessly, seeming to issue from a specific source in the room.
Elke, whose visage was so pallid she looked drained of blood, searched desperately around the room looking for an exit, or for one of them to come back, or the source of that voice – in the next room she saw the barred door that led to outside, and as she unlatched it she heard a clacking on the wooden floors from the room she’d came from. It occurred to her the sound mimicked that of cloven hooves; what that signified she didn’t stop to ponder. But the door seemed stuck – and something was coming toward her…
Finally the door opened as Elke pressed all of her weight against it. She didn’t even turn around to look behind her again as she blindly stumbled out of the hovel, running as fast as she could.
Fronds of ghostly Spanish moss billowed in her path as Elke sprinted through the forest. The familiar sensation of dissociation began creeping upon her against as she ran through the woods. She finally stopped running and held on the limb of a tree, breathing raggedly; as she tried to ward off that force that was causing her to enter a swoon again…
When Elke awoke for the second time, at first completely disoriented and with no idea of how long she’d been lying there, she felt her brother shaking her gently. When she was cognizant again, she recalled everything in a flash and immediately examined herself, discovering with immense relief to find herself in her own body again.
“What happened to me, Willem?” she asked, brushing off the leaves and rising to her feet.
“You passed out while we were walking through here. Are you feeling okay now?”
“How long was I passed out for?”
“Roughly five minutes, I’d say.”
“I have to tell you everything I saw…we need to go back.” They walked back to the cottage and arrived as dusk was approaching.
Elke sat and told her brother everything she’d felt and witnessed in the shaman’s hovel.
“This is what happens when you meddle with mysterious forces such as these…I’m not surprised that there’s witchcraft involved in all this,” he answered stoically.
“Willem – she is trying to communicate with me, and I think she does have ulterior motives of some sort…but I still think she’s been brainwashed, or possessed, or something. What I saw in the kinetoscope again – before all this happened, she had to find someone to “trade places” with, if you will. I think this was accidental – I think she forgot what she tried to accomplish then, and now just seeks help from something, anything that can help her.”
“From what you’ve told me – what it comes down to is either you or her.”
Elke had rather hoped he wouldn’t say those last words, but she wasn’t exactly surprised that he did, either – it affirmed what had been brewing in her mind after ruminating on everything that had happened hitherto - from the wooden deer to the dreamlike state she’d entered earlier that day.
“I really don’t want to do this…” Elke said sadly.
“It’s you or her, there’s no other way to look at it. I can’t fathom why you have so much compassion for someone you don’t even know; someone who hardly exists in the world… She’s like a crafty Svengali, Elke, and you’ve come close enough to letting her puppet your mind – didn’t I tell you not to trust her?”
Elke didn’t find any comfort in her brother’s words at all; his apathy was typical and just exasperating.
“But it’s my fault…not hers. I’m the one who, in her mind, made that decision. Unknowingly, of course, but nonetheless it’s still because of me. But…when it comes down to it… I didn’t choose to have a part in this; I did what I thought would help…” she realized she was speaking more to herself than to him; she didn’t expect him to be understanding, only rational and indifferent to anyone who didn’t involve them.
“You might as well do what you have to do tonight,” he said softly. And with that, he handed her the reliquary and disappeared back inside the cottage.
Elke walked slowly down the steps of the veranda. A pair of eyes glowed neon-green down the path; as the moon was unveiled by clouds she saw a fox dash away into the woods to the right of the dirt path. She looked and contemplated the night sky: the steely sickle moon glistened in the sky, looming low as if heralding the harvesting season of autumn, and she envisioned it swooping down and reaping the fields of corn and wheat with its honed cusps. The night air was hushed save for the symphony of nocturnal creatures.
The charnel house shone in the moonlight. Elke hands shook as she unfolded the last letter she’d received from her. Scrawled in a few lines on the middle of the page read simply:
Thank you for helping me. I owe you so much but I can’t think of how to repay you. Maybe fate will have us cross paths one day, somehow.
I should at least hurry up and do it as quickly as possible… she thought sorrowfully.She opened the reliquary one more time, beholding each item in it. Then, with an unwilling heart, she began walking in the direction of the charnel house.
She opened the door, and placed the box on the floor while she collected some kindling outside the charnel house.Carrying an armful back inside, she laid the bark in a circle so that it formed a pit. She took the matchbook from her pocket and lit the woodpile. Nervousness consumed her as with shaking hands, she placed the reliquary over the flames and watched as the woodwork of the box catch fire. On a whim, she quickly withdrew the folded note to burn along with the coffer. It was as if the ghostly presences were watching her with omnipresent eyes. The crackling flames rose higher and danced about like an angry afreet.After a few minutes the charred box popped open suddenly, and the flames grew and became a spectrum of colors. The objects inside caught fire; the phial broke and the liquid bubbled in the pit. The skull turned black, and steam rose from the top of it.
Elke intently watched the blazing pyre and the radiant display of colors. The heat was getting to her; she backed away a bit. There was something tranquil about watching it, too, she felt. The light reflected brilliantly in her half-mast eyes until they shut completely. She didn’t even feel it happening, but she opened them slightly once more to catch the sight of the blackened skull – she imagined it was just her imagination, but it really looked like an apparition resembling her rising from the steam.
As the flames were beginning to die down, the door to the charnel house flew open and a bedraggled woman in a white dress stood in the entrance, her wide dark eyes sharply contrasting her sallow appearance.She beheld the girl lying in a sprawl on the floor, her form somewhat transparent now; the charred pit, and the embers smoldering the final remnants of the relics. She held onto the door, grief-stricken by the spectacle and the realization that she had been too late…
Astrid walked the familiar path to the ossuary – it had been nearly a year since she’d been there. The last time was when she had brought the deer sculpture and placed it beside the young girl’s crypt – since her physical form had disappeared, the crypt was actually empty, but Astrid felt that the woodcarving had had some sort of significance to her. She had also placed her quiver bow and set of arrows inside the crypt; the only sign that she’d been there when she found her.
Opening the door to the crypt, she saw the charred spot on the ground, one of the only other affirmations that she hadn’t just been a figment of her imagination. However, Astrid noticed with disappointment that the woodcarving was gone. She was angry that someone must have come in and stolen it, but then the charnel house door was never barred or kept locked.
Astrid contemplated the crypt once more, placing a small wreath of poppies on the marble surface and left. Klaus thought it was silly and overly sentimental of her; he still didn’t consider her “any more real than a fairy-tale character” to begin with, and he remarked that the “in the end the impudent girl tried to escape with her own life, anyway,” but inwardly Astrid knew the girl couldn’t really be blamed for that. She gave up on trying to have him understand that the girl had essentially sacrificed her life, knowingly or not, and that she had tried to help her when Astrid hadn’t even been aware of what was going on because of the treatment she had been receiving.
On the way back, passing the ivy-clad arcades that aligned each side of the road, Astrid thought she saw a pair of antlers in her peripheral vision on the other side of the colonnade. She looked up momentarily but saw nothing, not sure why she found anything out of the ordinary about it anyway. Moments later she heard twigs snapping and a rustling in the trees that sounded like it came from the hilltop. Astrid glanced up again, and saw a pair of obsidian eyes meet hers fleetingly before it disappeared into the undergrowth.
If you pick up those chords tied to the back, we can communicate through telekinesis, theshort scrawled note said.
“What did he do to make you begin feeling this way?” Elke asked Astrid.They were now communicating through telekinesis; the electrodes truly worked and they could both transmit thoughts effortlessly.
“There’s an elixir I was taking for a while for the laryngeal problems I was having, for just over six months – it changed me, I felt something happening to me, but I couldn’t know what it was. I would envision extraordinary things – nightmarish things –happening to me. Every time it would get worse, and the hallucinations more vivid, but I didn’t believe it was hallucinations, but rather that my husband was doing this to me. I’m trying to send him letters through this receptacle, but I think I see why he’s not responding – the receptacle was moved.
“But this medicine he was giving me – I remember him telling me he got the main ingredient from this coppice out in the woods, from a certain insect that bred in that particular grove of trees. I found the notion a little off-putting, but I trusted he knew what he was doing – at first. Then I noticed that something was going very wrong. The visions; and this recurring dream of a giant insect that hovers over me while I’m sleeping and like an incubus sapping my strength. I believe it’s this creature that somehow removed my voice box from me. I ---“
“Wait – does this creature have anything to do with the other odd creatures around here – the machines and other things?”
“I think that there are the same forces working behind it, yes…”
“Does this mean that my muteness stems from the same forces…?”
Astrid was silent as well. “I think a correlation is quite possible… if that’s the case, I feel beyond sorry that you are somehow involved in this.”
Elke sighed. “My God, I’m still trying to take all this in. I-- ”She stopped as she
heard that familiar male voice, though still distant, coming toward their direction. “No,
my brother’s coming right now; I can’t let him know anything just yet.”
That night, when she was lying down for bed, her brother knocked on the door.
"Elke…open the door, please." There was an edge to her brother's voice.
She got up slowly and walked across the room to unlock the door.
The shadows obscured his face as he entered. "I've discovered what you've been doing, and who you've been talking to. You don't realize this woman is trying to manipulate you – you don't see it at all. And where have you been receiving these letters from?"
"How do you know who she is?" Elke asked quietly.
Willem's eyes widened, and he suddenly took hold of both her shoulders. "Since when have you starting talking again!"
Elke shrugged him off in annoyance; her eyes flashed.
"You try to confine me here! Something crystallized for a second…Just like.. just like how her husband confined her. "It's none of your business!"
"Elke, I'm your guardian…you're all I have in the world – how can you think I have no right to know?"
"It's not normal the way you watch over me, Willem! You're…overprotective and possessive! I feel as if you need my presence around all the time.”
Willem was silent for a few moments. Then his visage was veiled once again with that look of passivity and blankness.
"Just go and do whatever you will," he answered with an air of resignation. He held her gaze for a moment, then slowly walked out the door and slammed it behind him.
Elke watched until the shadows under the door went away.
Pale morning light filtered through the gossamer curtains, stirring Astrid from her sleep. Just as she turned over to try to doze back off, someone rapped at the door.She slowly got up and begrudgingly unlocked it. It was one of the doctors, judging by the uniform.
“Come with us, Astrid,” the doctor said plainly.
Astrid followed the doctor to a room where a large mechanical device conspicuously stood in one of the corners.
“What’s that?” she asked, gesturing to the mechanism.
“It’s a machine that may be able to completely solve your problem. This is a very experimental practice we’ve been doing, but so far the success rates have been 100% – albeit there haven’t been many patients to undergo the practice because of its covertness and novelty.”
The doctor then went on to explain how the machine could enable her to establish a telekinetic link with someone who would then be the carrier of her affliction. The exchange, however, usually worked because one would try to find someone at least five years in the past, so the affliction became dormant in that dimension in time.The experiment was also not entirely without certain risks, the doctor had noted. For example, practicing the trancelike state was usually encouraged so that the individual did not accidentally lose any significant memories in the teleportage process.
“How is that possible, to find someone from five years from now?” she asked in puzzlement.
“The machine, fortunately, does that for you. Essentially, what it does is create a being readily equipped with already-formed memories. This carrier in most aspects resembles a normal human being - except that they truly lack an anima. And this being will expire, if you will, after the affliction is buried deep enough in their psyche that it will die – or fade, to be more euphemistic – along with them. Any memory one has of this individual will also fade; it will not cause any complications in the surrounding environment in that sense.”
“Will the “carrier” have any idea…?”
“The carrier should be completely unconscious of it. So far, in the few experiments we have done, none have found out about it.”
“What about the “raw materials” for this being? Where do they come from, then?” Astrid inquired.
The doctor laughed, then hesitated a moment. “Those kinds of technicalities really aren’t that important – and many of this is still vague to us,” he added quickly. His expression grew serious. “Now, do you think you’d be interested in trying this method? You can take some time to think about it first, of course.”
Elke realized when she woke up that it was too late to try to abscond into the forest again before her brother awoke – surely enough, when she opened the door slightly she could hear the hammering keys of the typewriter from the hallway.
She looked into the kitchen to see if he had made enough coffee for some to be left over - there wasn't. She debated whether she should say something to him or not about last night, and finally sat down in one of the kitchen chairs.
"I'm…sorry for being so short with you last night, Willem." She wasn't really that remorseful, but still preferred for him not to go about with a dejected air all day.
She heard him ask from the living room without looking up, "Did you ever see that machine in the basement? I’ve been working with it and I noticed it was gone this morning.”
Elke stopped short, but tried not to appear disconcerted by the question. “No, I don’t really know what this machine is you speak of.”
Willem searched her face. He sighed with an air of exasperation and said, “Elke…don’t put on any airs, okay? I know that you know about it, because it's mentioned in one of the letters you received. It’s a kinetoscope, by the way, and I need to know where it is."
Deciding that his interrogation wouldn’t stop until she imparted something of what she knew to him, she replied casually, "Oh…that thing? It's in the woods out there; I honestly never saw it in the basement. I saw it when I had walked about a mile or so out there yesterday.
“I know you think I’m hiding a lot from you,” she added quickly when she still saw a trace of suspicion in his face, “but really, this really has all starting happening more recently than you think. It wasn't until the beginning of this week that I saw it. And why are you so suspicious of her and saying she's harmful? She's confined in an institution all day, and has been trying to correspond with her husband but you and I have both been intercepting the letters.”
"Because you don't know what she is, or what her intentions are. And when I realized that your loss of voice and hers corresponded in a way – it – never mind, it's a bit too convoluted to explain right now…"
"No - I want to know; it’s important that I do,” she responded.
He stopped typing but still didn't look up at her.
"Well, of course she wants to get out of that place. And she's found a sort of loophole by finding this machine that's been charmed somehow, allowing her to communicate with the outside world. She was trying to talk you into helping her, wasn't she? Don't believe anything she says; either she's misguided or deceitful, but in any
"Willem…you're not explaining anything. How is it fair for you to come in and confront me as you did like I'm hiding something from you, when you're so cryptic about the whole thing yourself?"
"Elke…I'm your guardian and I know that it may be best to wait to inform you a bit more – don't you find it coincidental that neither you nor her could speak, but you mysteriously got your voice back after your first encounter with her? It's miraculous, to be sure, and I'm grateful just as you are, I’m sure, but don't feel indebted to her for it.”
"I don't even think she did anything to affect it –"
"Not to mention I still can't believe you haven't told me how or when this happened to you," he interjected. He continued, "You might not think so, but that's because there's things you don't know about her – if you just cut off whatever contact you have now, you won't have to worry about that possibility. If not, who knows what she might decide to do? She's looking for any way to get out of there, I'm sure, and I wouldn't think anything she does is necessarily in your best of interests. I just want to tell you that it's safer not to meddle with it. I can understand your intrigue, sure, but I want you to be safe." As neither of them had much else to say afterwards, Willem soon departed and she mulled over their conversation. The most baffling to her was the idea of her being Astrid's counterpart. She wanted to know what that signified in his mind; it had a portentous ring to it when he said it. And her brother's change in demeanor last night still surprised her; it was unusual that he was so adamant about anything, and he actually seemed intimidating to her – for a change. Not that she truly minded it – his forlornness and codependence was what she found most difficult about him to deal with.
Elke knew that she wouldn't be able to heed her brother's warning about avoiding all contact with Astrid for very long. She instead made up her mind to leave as soon as he went to bed – he had no reason to suspect she'd leave in the middle of the night.
The young girl drew her crossbow and squinted to see through the glaring light of the setting sun. This along with the shade from the canopy of the tree casting shadowy, spectral patterns that flickered along the forest floor became slight distractions, but she ignored them and held the bow as still as possible, aiming at the makeshift target on the tree trunk. Her eyes followed the arrow’s trajectory as it landed dead center on the target.
She adjusted the quiver on her left shoulder, withdrew a second arrow and aimed at an elm tree about ten yards farther away. Elke took out her small silver pocket watch to check the time – almost . About a half an hour from now it would be dark, and she knew her older brother would grow anxious if she didn’t return then.
Elke picked a third target that was more distant and in a heavily shaded area, a tree over one hundred yards farther than the others had been. The target area was obscured by the shade of the tree. She carefully aimed and released the arrow which cut through the air with a whizzing sound just as something in the leaves rustled. Almost immediately a heavy crash followed, seemingly in the path of her arrow. She strained her eyes, but she couldn’t see more than about twenty feet; everything else was swallowed up in the dense tenebrous forest. Laying the quiver belt and arrows on the ground, Elke slowly wandered into the obscured area from where the crash had reverberated.
She looked ahead for the tree where the arrow should have hit. A sharp pain shot up her leg as it collided with something jagged and rigid. Elke knelt on the carpet of leaves and pine needles; she felt the thing that she must have tripped on, something branched out - remembering the book of matches she brought with her, she lit one and peered closer - what she’d fell over was a stag with massive forked antlers, and Elke’s arrow projecting from its abdomen. Rigor mortis appeared to have already set in – how can its limbs already be stiff? she thought, perplexed. Discomfited, she took note of the protruding, glassy eyes with their empty yet avid look about them.
In fact, it was more than just the eyes that were odd. Tentatively, she reached down and rested her hand on its body. Instead of feeling the soft coat of a mammal, her hand touched a wooden cast, painted over in the effigy of a deer. This doesn’t make any sense – I heard something running across the path and the fall that followed when the arrow pierced it...but what is this doing in its place?
Before she could further inspect the object, she heard the faint echo of her name being called from the edge of the forest of the Bavarian hillside.Willem was of course worrying by now because she was almost always back before night.Trudging her way out of the woods, she saw him holding an oil lantern and waiting for her. He gripped her arm and they quickly walked toward the house.
“I really wish you’d come back before dark from now on,” he said. They both knew that she regarded his admonishing words as bothersome and never very effective.He looked about warily; thinking how being out in the countryside at night, especially on a moonless one, was dangerous for her.
“You’re not planning on going out again all day tomorrow, are you?” He was answered with silence; but then, the question had been rhetorical, for he knew she wouldn’t respond.
In the headmaster’s office at the Zumwald Manor, the young women Astrid sat quietly while her husband Klaus talked about her in third-person, probably assuming her mental absence.
“I find her standing still like a statue outside the bedroom almost every night. I try to help her recover from this stupor, and she mutters about things like horsemen running through the lawn. She fancies they are cadaverous horsemen, no less.” Astrid shuddered. “Aside from that, she hardly even speaks anymore.”
The headmaster glanced over at the mute woman, her passive yet haunted visage, wondering whether she was actually ruminating over their discussion or if she was really as lost in her own thoughts as she appeared. “May I ask her to step outside the office for a few minutes?” Klaus assented and took the woman’s arm to lead her to a chair outside the office.
Astrid tried to barricade her thoughts, but the memory of that many-legged creature was crawling around the periphery of her mind’s eye again – soon it made its way to the forefront of her thoughts. Subsequently she felt her skin crawl and prickle; she felt the sensation of the phantom insects’ hundreds of legs on her flesh. Nothing struck her as more repulsive than those demoniac creatures with the hundreds of spiny legs, that ugly shade of brown with their armored shells. She had awoke a fortnight ago to feel the crawling sensation on her arm, and upon realizing it was a centipede, flung the insect against the wall where it thwacked in a rather grotesque manner. Klaus look and her and grinned madly, then smashed it with his fist so that insect penetralia splattered the wall.
Her husband’s voice echoed in her head; mockingly… “Oh, don’t worry about the viscera on the walls, I’ll wipe it off. It’s my fault, I know – I shouldn’t have done that to you my dear, bringing that disgusting creature in here like that. You know I enjoy hearing your screams sometimes, but I can be intolerable, I know. I’ll wipe away the stains now and then we’ll go back to bed, don’t worry about it anymore.” And as if caught in replaying the moment of its final twitch, the pieces of insect pulp staining the white-washed walls quivered, seemingly in cadence with the cracked, sprightly melody of the Argentinean tango music that issued from the phonograph in the corner of the room.
“Other things she accuses me of – well, another occurrence, in a similar manner of her other episodes: after I handed her her breakfast the other morning, I hear a shriek a few moments later.I turn around to see her looking at the eggs in horror, and when I asked her ‘what’s wrong, I cooked the yoke hard the way you like it,’ she left the kitchen and dashed back upstairs.”
Astrid recalled the last unsettling episode; it had been just the previous morning. She’d been sitting at the kitchen table, and then he came over with the breakfast he’d just made. She’d taken one of the hard-boiled eggs and cracked it on one on the side of the porcelain bowl.
Upon seeing that something besides ordinary yoke was inside the egg, Astrid at first thought that what she beheld was a heavily deformed bird, already full-grown like some anomaly of nature. But as she prodded it with her fork, her thoughts reeled; her mind juxtaposed the pulpy object in the dish with the image of the anatomical drawing when she went to the doctor for the problem three years ago: this is part of a human larynx – a voice box…the doctor had said.
My voice box…?
She could not settle on morbid excitement or horror. And of course, as had been the case in all these other incidents, her husband acted as if he really did not understand what was amiss, or was decidedly nonchalant about it.It was all so uncanny; here was a voice box and even the vocal cords were visible; it was too coincidental considering her laryngeal symptoms that the doctors couldn’t help her with; it was as if her vocal cords had deteriorated.
“Admit her to us for a while,” said the headmaster, “our treatment will give her a strictly structured life, to keep her occupied physically, in hopes that her mind isn’t given free reign for wild imaginings, and when she is released she will be skilled in whatever occupation we have instilled in her – in hopes that she can return to being a productive member of society.”
“What kind of positions are you preparing them for, may I –“
The headmaster interjected, “You know, living so close to that charnel house might contribute to the anxiety and the visions she’s having, I suspect…”
So he’s planning on sending me away for a while...Astrid found herself regarding the whole thing with ambivalence. She wanted a break from these bizarre games he was playing with her; she felt all the clues from these surreal incidents would eventually reveal something highly significant if she could put it all together – but if she was indeed some sort of pawn, or if he got some sadistic satisfaction from it, she felt she needed a well-deserved hiatus.When did this all begin, again?
She inclined her head toward the muffled voices in the office, only able to catch Klaus saying, “I admit – even more than her reticence, it tortures me that she now seems to regard me as something threatening or malevolent, like some kind of monster… to be frank, it’s as though we’re strangers living in the same house these days.”
“Elke, I wish you would stay around here today,” Willem told Elke at the table the following morning.
She looked up briefly from the breakfast of oatmeal he’d made for her.
“I get bored just working on this article,” he said, glancing over at the typewriter on the desk in the living room – the only object in the room besides the furniture. “You should keep me company more often; I get lonely when you’re gone all day.”
A few minutes of silence transpired.
“Would you pass the maple syrup, please,” he said in a low, dejected tone.
Her brother was gloomily hammering away on the typewriter when she left the house. As engaged as he was on his study about all the types of animals in the Ruminatia family, she noticed he saw her gathering her archery equipment to leave.
Even if she had wanted to stay home for a change, she mused about the strange happenings out in the woods that she felt compelled to investigate further. Elke lifted her cotton dress to step over the thicket of brambles that bordered the woods.
Furtively watching from the window as the girl’s blonde head disappeared through the trees, he let go of the parted curtain. He withdrew a note folded many times from his shirt pocket, skimming it again carefully, though he had memorized it after the first few times he’d read it.
A carrier has been found. Young, female, about 16 or 17 years of age ( in her time, that is, which is approx. 1925)
This means that the procedures can begin soon.
Just thought you’d want to know.
Willem re-folded the note and put it away. He then left through the back door and walked around the side of the house to the cellar. After unlocking the door and gingerly descending the stairs, he felt around in the pitch dark for the light switch. In the now dimly-lit basement, he looked around for the old kinetoscope, anticipating the arrival of another letter through a partition in the cabinet.But to his confusion, he found that the kinetoscope which had been there yesterdayhad vanished.
“You’re looking sickly – pale and anemic,” the headmaster said to the young woman as he scanned her up and down. The woman listened passively but, as usual, gave no sign that she heard him.She idly smoothed the back of her hair and pinned up a raven lock that had come loose. She cast her dark eyes down to avoid his inspecting gaze.I’m going to have to keep a closer eye on her, maybe give her twice the amount of food as everyone else at meal times, he mused. “I don’t know why you’re looking so peaked these days, Astrid, but at this rate you’re going to wither away...” he told her, then shook his head and began walking away, muttering, “this regimen shouldn’t have allowed this to happen....no, not if everything is structured the same for everyone…”
The woman waited for him to leave by picking at her cuticles until the headmaster left the room.Then she returned to her writing desk. One of the headmaster’s assistants came in five minutes later to play a shellac record on the gramophone, filling the lecture hall with ragtime music.
She picked up the fine ball-point and continued writing her letter. Pieces of lank hair were coming loose from her hairnet and hung over her face as she leaned close to the paper; eyebrows furrowed as she tried to remember how she was finishing the line before being interrupted.
The master’s approaching footsteps echoed through the hall, causing everyone to stop writing and wait for him to speak. His voice resounded through the chamber as it always did at exactly four in the afternoon; the patients rose simultaneously to stand beside their desks; everyone’s heels hit the wooden floor in unison. The headmaster began by discussing the menial lesson of the afternoon. “For this afternoon’s lesson, each of you will be taught how to clean classrooms – that includes leaving the chalkboard in immaculate condition, sanitizing the desks, collecting dust from the corners with a dust rag …”
Elke stopped when she arrived at the clearing she had left last night. These are the same trees I had used for target practice, I’m sure of that, but the deer – the sculpture of the deer, or effigy; whatever that was, it’s no longer here, she noted. Elke explored the surrounding area more closely, but found no trace of that wooden cast. She pondered on who and why someone would go through the trouble of all this…
Though she hadn’t been out for long, she felt herself growing bored – there was the disappointment of finding that the thing she’d hit with the arrow was gone, but the idea of practicing more archery had also lost its luster for the day. She finally settled on walking a bit in the direction where she’d been practicing before the intercepted arrow got her off track. The ambiance of the denser, darker part of the forest felt remarkably different compared to the languid feel of the open, sunlight region; more alive, it had an otherworldly quality to it, as if an aura of animism emanated from everything in it, from the trees to the forest denizens.
As the path forked to the left and the trees grew sparser and more illuminated by the aureate rays of the morning sunlight. Déjà vu accompanied her as another large object in the distance - she slowed her pace,as if the object in question might prove to be a mirage, or might vanish if she approached it too quickly.
A hundred yards further, she discerned that the outward appearance was of something mechanical rather than bestial. The stand on which it was placed on gave it makeshift legs to work with, like that of a chair. She had seen one of those before; the name was vaguely familiar - a kinetoscope, that’s what it was. And the most bewildering of all was how the legs of the object appeared to move of their own accord.
Surely enough, the kinetoscope ambled about on four legs, its gait exaggerated by the stagger of its immalleable limbs. And now, in her peripheral vision she saw other objects emerging; she had missed them while fixating on the kinetoscope, which was now standing amidst a band of anthropomorphic antique instruments and mechanisms, moving about jerkily in staccato motion.
Transfixed though she was by this spectacle unfolding before her, Elke walked in the direction of the kinetoscope. The machine stopped moving altogether as she approached it.
Cautiously, she leaned closer and peered through the viewing lens at the top of the cabinet. Inside there were a series of moving pictures; a frame-by-frame film sequence. As the pictures reeled, Elke watched the sequence of a woman wearing anoff-white linen dress and sitting at a desk writing a letter. After about half a minute the woman got up and folded the letter, and placed it in a receptacle. The film strip ended on this frame.
Elke saw a white envelope emerge from the bottom of the cabinet - The front of which was addressed to a “K. Mendelssohn.”She opened the envelope and saw that it was signed by an “A.M.” She read the letter slowly, concluding that it must have been addressed to the woman’s husband:
I don’t know if you received my last letter, but I’m going to start experiencing treatment soon. They found one a few weeks ago. I shouldn’t disclose anything else; this method is still abstruse and supposed to be kept top-secret and I could get in a lot of trouble.
I still want to apologize for what I put you through when I was ill. I really fancied that these phantasmagorias, as they’ve called them, were real.
I hope this procedure can be finished in the next few months and I’ll be ready to live back at home then.
Afterward, Elke thought she heard murmurings issuing from the box. She put her eye against the viewer again, hoping the woman was there so that she might possibly communicate with her somehow. The woman on the screen did in fact reappear, but this time she just sat placidly. Elke folded the note away.
In the citadel lepers stand crowded like convicts in a clammy cell. Bemoan the shortage of cotton bandages, vainly apply ineffective salves for the blistering rashes. One sits shifty-eyed in a corner, waiting– then with a skeleton key, unlocks the dungeon door and absconds.
Below, villagers hustle through the town bazaar Aware of universal catastrophe, yet striving to be in good spirits, they don’t see a scepter-wielding lunatic who prances about, pompously pronouncing his alleged prophethood. Children crowd before vendors’ booths, coveting fanciful whirligigs; some sit at a performance of a Punch and Judy puppet show- Wide-eyed and immobile, a rich tableau.
Outside a gypsy caravan, a charlatan advertises charms, nostrums, elixirs – fixers for every imaginable affliction. Beckons to a street urchin in the front row, who had lost a hand in an accident involving shrapnel- From the stump he made it mysteriously grow.
Rubbernecking queues watch as he cleaves a off a hen’s head. Plays a few notes on a flute, flourishes a wand, and pulls away a purple curtain- reveals it rendered complete again. Awed, the crowds applaud. He knew he had them sold as his performance they extolled: Smirks inwardly as he introduces his new invention- Believing his professions, they bought it without question.
But the tincture soon proved to have some adverse effects- Some grew horns, some suffered bleeding sores, some could only speak in grunts. They searched him out, determined to lynch him. Almost catching him unawares, he sweats as the crowds approach him with threats- But with a flick of his wand he transforms his caravan into a mechanical elephant. Maneuvers the controls with one hand, waves an insolent goodbye with the other until the angry mob grows distant.
In the countryside’s province away from the angry mobs, cicadas drone, crickets intone vespers, flowers confer in whispers. A poisonous breeze – the collective ghosts of starved civilians, diseased children, tortured prisoners, the neglected cats – weaves insidiously through the valley, and the dandelions shuddered tremulously as it wafted bitterly by. Poppies gazed above to behold the livid night sky: A cauldron of churning celestial chaos prescribes portentous prophecies, broadcasts mankind’s monstrosities, translates wrath of exasperated deities from an empyrean sphere. Florid heads furtively cowered thus back into their pods. The crimson moon, uneasy in its constrained orbit, spotlights curious affairs below- On a spinster Spider, whose needle-legs spin silver skeins with remnants of hapless victims.
And in a sheltered sylvan clearing around a dim glow ant workers mill, piercing a firefly’s abdomen, from which liquid fire spills. Over a pyre the Queen turns a skewered ant, Warns, Let this remind all what befalls recreants. Morbidly curious, the victim’s comrades espy from nearby hedges, while a subservient ant dredges each contorted appendage. Carcass revolves, face twisted in a last macabre grin; from the pyre sounds crackling of exoskeleton. The ants feast heartily. A microcosmic kingdom that manages quite nicely in Sighişoara, tucked well enough away from supernatural wrath, calamitous weather, and human bloodbath.
August 19th - I can recall, quite lucidly, the day before it began– a seemingly typical, lazy summer day. I lounged on the porch swing, watching Cinnamon the Cat clean her matted orange fur, while eyeing a spider who danced around the sun-scorched deck. Lashing out a paw, Cinnamon played nicely - skillfully pulling off eight legs one by one; now Spider only flipped like an acrobat. I couldn’t help but laugh!
In the afternoon I strolled among the hazy kaleidoscope of flowers, saw a mosquito pierce poppy pods with a needled proboscis, toking on opium. Beetles hovered over tulip clusters, sucking sweet pollen. Falling drunkenly, the guileful blossoms gulped them.
For dessert that day Mother baked a pie, filling the house with a sweet, pungent aroma– she didn’t tell me what kind, but when I stuck my fork in it quivered slightly; something inside gave a shrill cry, then leapt out and bounded away – I shrugged it off, I didn’t usually eat dessert anyway and it if valued its freedom that much I didn’t particularly care to stand in its way. But when Mother asked later, a covert gleam in her eyes, I still responded it was quite savory. (Because I knew she worked hard, although her secretiveness often confounded me).
Just a few quaint vignettes that stick in my mind from that day- Before the swarming helicopters, the raining needles, the leprous pandemics and cryptic cosmological catastrophes. When mirrors showed truth- not sinister doppelgangers contortedly grinning, cavorting about in a distorted reality. Before plants became carnivorous, spouting teeth; and I could walk through alleys and archways without feeling my skin crawl – for now shadows slither to hear my steps fall, then swoop up and terrify me, casting frightening shadow puppets on the wall.
Before, the night sky was a wishing well strewn with floating iridescent jewels, not a brewing maelstrom, stars that parade riotously, heralding angry condemning messages… Before, drifting off to sleep, I’d sometimes catch one’s coy wink.
* Make a list of 15 statements about yourself. * 5 of the 15 statements must be LIES * Post your list and have people guess which five are lies!
1)I am more logical than emotional. 2)I'm very timid and shy, and consider myself socially inept. 3)I've become very erotophobic as a result of a past bad relationship. 4)I really enjoy horror movies. 5)I believe in the afterlife. 6)My favourite kind of flowers are roses. 7)I have more pleasant dreams than disturbing ones. 8)My favourite pastime is hanging out at the mall. 9)I don't plan on having children. 10)I have very long hair that goes past my hips. 11)I want to get a tattoo. 12)If I could choose to live anywhere, it would be New Orleans. 13)I'm very afraid of needles. 14)My feelings are easily hurt. 15)I like to collect antiques.