I scarcely dared to breathe, because I felt Jonas Barg next to me, and just then, as Dittrich crouched down for a short rest in the middle of the rope, he said into my ear:

“You are too cautious, my dear friend, to be a member of the club of reckless and daring. Do you expect me to believe that you have wounded your foot, as well?”

He knew it . . . he knew it, that I was playing a comedy, by God, a miserable, pitiful comedy, in order not to go up on the tight rope, that I had left my friend in the lurch like a coward, because I was afraid of death, because I was afraid of him, Jonas Barg. He laughed right next to me, and then, without even looking back, I believed I could feel that he was gone. Stretched out next to the fawning Fatme, I sought to support my friend high above us with my eyes, and involuntarily moved my feet with his.

Suddenly I saw a shadow, a long stretched out shadow with angular movements, with an inorganic agility, that was climbing up the suspended rope ladder. This shadow . . . this ghastly spidery shadow—it was him. No one saw him. No one screamed. I didn’t scream either. I could only beat with my arms around me and jump up, during which I saw, that the shadow had reached the rope, stood upright and in the brightness of the electrical light looked exactly like a pillar of fog as it slid forward.

Dittrich was almost at the end of the rope and preparing to turn around when the shadow reached him. I still see it before me, how the end of the balance beam began to swing wildly, how Dittrich stood still, trying to regain his equilibrium. At that moment the shadow sprang onto the back of my friend, and as Dittrich’s pale face suddenly turned around towards us, I believed for the space of a heart beat that I could see the grin of Jonas Barg. Dittrich cried out, entirely different from before, not in jubilation, but in deathly fear. He let the balancing beam fall and brought both hands to his throat, as if he wanted to become free of choking fists. The battle above was very short, a wrestling with the relentless power of the earth, which pulled his body out and threw it down with tangled limbs. He fell down so close to the feet of Miss Ellida, that her glittering, snake like body recoiled backwards.

I did not press through to the shattered body. I had no other thought during this incident than to seek out Jonas Barg. As I turned around, he stood next to me, and his eyes, which lay like glowing irons in dark caves, held me, even though I wanted to throw myself at him. I still had no power over him; still had to find the words that would free me from him.

The silence after the death of Dittrich was more unbearable than a bodily pain, and most unbearable for me, because I thought I had seen something so strange, that I almost violated the strict protocols. It urged me to break the laws of the club, and often, in the dusk of evenings, when our tiresome jocularity lost its glow; I was almost ready to speak out about it, what everyone was thinking about. The dislike of the club members against Jonas Barg had grown even greater and become entirely obvious, as if they suspected the same thing that made me uneasy, without being able to put a name to it.

Only Jonas Barg himself appeared to notice nothing. He came and went like before, without any of us being able to discover the mystery of his regular life. Despite my efforts, I discovered nothing either. Only one thing was very clear to me, he did not live in the city. He was absolutely immaterial, like a force of nature.

We wanted to tear down the old performance room and begin our new games that first week. Professor Hannak, who in the breaks between our escapades pursued historical studies, brought up the idea of an historical masquerade, in which we would distance ourselves from the present, and give ourselves over to the spirits of a forgotten time. In our efforts to quickly seize upon something new, and to completely forget our two friends, in whose silent memories two empty glasses were set; we turned to anything at that time, whose merriment was whipped to a fever pitch, until it became a fearful whirlwind.

The wantonness with which we celebrated our orgies in the style of the Persian kings, the time of decadent Rome, and the French Rococo period almost achieved on a small scale the luxuries of those times themselves. In the entire city, whose murmur we in our strongly closed company had learned to despise, they spoke of our impulses. They regarded us as lost, and the more they pressed us, the louder we laughed and our greatest lunatic escapades became increasingly intemperate.

Something drove us onward, something that we were trying to escape, because we hated it, and it appeared to me, as if there was some connection between this impulse and Jonas Barg, who always participated unmoving as a post. It was no longer an escalating quest for life, but something else, perhaps its exact opposite; as I admitted in the gray days after our raging nights. It was not recklessness any more, but lunacy, that tore us through all the labyrinths of pleasure, and none of us were for a moment in doubt, that it was only a coincidence that the police had not yet turned against us.

One day Jonas bark stood up in our midst and his eyes stared straight at me, as he invited us to a feast with him.

“I see you are very surprised, gentlemen,” he said, “that I invite you to me, because until now I have not led any of you to my place. But my often very troublesome restraint has always been stronger than my desire to invite you over. But now, because your interests touch my own, I dare to invite you to come. Namely, I am also a historian, self understandably an amateur, and for years have lived for several weeks during these beautiful autumn days in the ruins of castle Neufels.”

“Neufels is in ruin,” cried the lieutenant.

“That is precisely why I love the castle so much, because as you know, I search out decay. By the way, I can reassure you that, with me you will be able to find your old, strong instinct for life.”—the empty eyes burned—commanded.

“Let it be my concern to make your visit with me so entertaining, that all of your desires will die away, to receive from out of my pockets. You shall be in need of nothing, or better said, shall desire nothing, which you now consider indispensable.”

Despite Jonas Barg’s attempt to transform his creaking and screeching voice into a cordial hiss, I sensed a hidden threat, a sense of secret malice in his words. And it was that way for the others as well, as their consent barely concealed a boundless hatred against this man, who seemed to force out our own decision according to his own will. We all growled like wild beasts against the tamer, and I strove in vain to free myself from out of the commotion, in order to win back any safety; because Jonas Barg had made a strong and certain victory against me. It was a struggle for my “I”, whose better part, whose courage and confidence seemed to have been banished through an enchantment.

It was in such a condition that the most important transformations were nursed in an almost imperceptible way, moving forward without conscious control.

Some imperceptible reason; the color of the air, a lost and again found word, the fragment of a melody from afar, the cry of a bird, the chortling of the waves on the edge of the beach, worked like a heavy blow, and released an entire multitude of connections; a sudden frenzy tore down all the laws of psychology and logic, swung out over all possibilities and worked the most miraculous transformations within me. Of the strange things that I still have to tell, this is the strangest, which I experienced the evening before the feast. I stood on the bridge over the river, looked at the dirty water, in which the pollution of the factories floated and felt, as if I was gently sliding against the current. The whistles and foghorns of the surrounding factories howled out the end of the work day. Two girls went behind me laughing on the other side. Someone pushed me. On the other side a policeman stood next to a man with Turkish honey and sugar figs, spinning the threads of a peaceful conversation.

In that moment I spoke entirely calmly and softly to myself.

“If you reverse the name Barg it reads . . . G . . .r . . .a . .b. . .  or said out loud “Grab” [translator’s note: grab means grave in the German language].

I was frightened and trembled over my entire body, so that I had to hold onto the hand railing of the bridge. But then with the return of my strength I felt an immense joy, because I knew, that I had found the word of power over my enemy.

According to the proposal of professor Hannak we had conjured up the time of Velasquez in Spain for the banquet and in a little railway station the next evening transformed ourselves into Spanish Grandees, monks, painters and soldiers; and then went up to the ruins on foot. Our procession surprised and astonished several farmers that we encountered on the steep path coming down from the ruins,  because we maintained an apprehensive seriousness that kept all thoughts of a masquerade away from us. I was the last one of all, with a full consciousness of the fearful experience that awaited, and was determined to defend us with all means possible.

In the courtyard, between dilapidated stairs, Jonas Barg crouched on a stone in the garments of a fool and after a short greeting, skipped on ahead as our leader. The cracked walls closed in on us from all sides and pressed us into a tiny passage, whose walls bore acetylene lamps at certain intervals. They jumped out of the damp walls like blooming tulips and illuminated the path, upon which Jonas Barg, with the strangest contortions, skipped ahead. From time to time he turned his pale face toward us, in order to convince himself that we were all following him. The passage was endless and from whose brightness side passages crawled off into darkness; and it seemed to me, as if Barg was intentionally leading us in a circle. The gigantic pharmacist was undaunted enough to dare tell jokes, even here, while the others had all been overwhelmed by paralysis. His laborious encouragements were not heeded by anyone, and only when they stood in the great vaulted banquet hall did the others find the courage to speak. Here the host had happily created the sense of a fanatical and closeted time. One such luxury this banquet appeared to have established, as an example, was cruelty which served also as a duty, a piety that bound itself to lechery without shame.

In this vault under the rubble of an old castle all the treasures of an Indian princely court were showcased and arranged with a gloomy ostentation, as if they could incite the aroma and spirit of religious ecstasy even more than the refinement of Spain.

Nearby the banquet table was set with various things, from the most out of the way places that with shameless skill held their indecencies. There stood drinking cups that in their masterful craftsmanship rendered nothing less than the suffering of Christ. The bread lay on the plate with despicable scorn, and imprinted as if consecrated with the holy letters, I. N. R. I. and the napkins of the finest fabric were replicas of the sweat cloth of Veronica.

[Translator’s note: the sixth station of the cross in the passion play of Christ where Veronica wipes the sweat from the face of Jesus]

The pelts of silver gray rabbits were used as coasters, but with these animals, the pelts had been pulled off their living bodies and they lay covered with blood and still twitching under a glass dome in front of the plate of every participant at this meal. In the middle of the table rose a cross with a life sized marble Christ, whose eyes were lit from the inside and glowed out so that the entire table was illuminated.  Besides this light, every guest also had special little lamps at each place, in which strange candles burned. They looked like dried flesh and smelled of spices and resin.

We did not ask about it, because it was the highest law of the Club of the Reckless and Daring, to not speak of death or of the dead. When one of us died from within our circle, it was to us, as if he was simply gone, and no word of sympathy was permitted to follow his memory. Only a glass stood at his place for one year. That was all that our Constitution permitted to be placed in silent memory.

It was hard for me to cope with my pain and my terror. Often I was almost overwhelmed with horror about my friend, but it was all so vague, so full of suspected hideousness, that I scarcely dared think about it clearly.

At that moment it had seemed to me, as if Jonas Barg had reached up and miraculously pulled down that giant white grave of plunging snow next to him; as if the movement of his arm was still descending after giving a command, and a bestial smile had been pasted on his cruel, narrow lips.   As soon as this thought occurred to me, a labyrinth of questions confronted me. What if I had gone in Munk’s place? Would I have been killed by the avalanche? Is that why he had offered me his arm?

I had no doubts that my friends also suffered under similar thoughts, but we said nothing to each other, and repressed our fears in heroic battles. We held to our fixed principles, and as often happens; it incited us to even more mad escapades of spontaneous hilarity; to wild dances far beyond the standards of our club.

I must confess that the maddest escapades came from me, and that it was also I that instigated the incident with the acrobatics. From an inextinguishable thirst after the tantalizing bizarre, the thought occurred to me, to transform our entire club into a band of performers; to turn all quiet, common pleasures upside down and through the introduction of obstacles include the new sensations of danger and difficulty into our old desires. Our statutes obliged us to physical fitness, and most of us were exquisite acrobats, many were also swimmers, rowers, fencers and riders. We soon succeeded in performing such simple tricks as jumping through hoops, balancing, and the free fall of the trapeze.

To the extent, that we progressed from easier to more difficult exercises, our pleasure grew in these things, and we were scarcely in a position to take our meals, with our heads hanging down from swings, twirling our plates on a fork, or squatting down on the tight rope to cut our meat. Yes, we had even included a tight rope in our program, and my dear friend Dittrich, who had moved into Munk’s place, distinguished himself in the field as well as myself. We could do it just as well as many of the neighboring acrobats, who astounded the farmers with their performances. And it speaks well of our strong wills, that we were able to achieve what professional artists only achieved after years of practice. Our club base transformed itself into a circus. It’s over refined perfumes gave way to the smell of sweat and the odor of overheated bodies.

In this tension of all forces, we felt comfortable and forgot that which we were obliged to be quiet about. Only Jonas Barg did not seem to agree with this transformation. He, who seemed to blossom in our crashes and likewise withered in our convulsive gaiety, seemed to find our new pursuits uncomfortable and shriveled up, so that he became more boney and scornful. When we invited him to participate in our performances, he could do as well as the best of us, even though we never saw him seriously practice. But his manner had a spidery angularity, an agility without joints that was extremely unpleasant to watch, like something that was not human.

But the craziest idea in this part of the life of our club did not come from me.

“Now children,” said my friend, Dittrich, one evening. “Do you know that tomorrow the first performance of the Barnum Circus begins?”

He sat at his meal on the tightrope with crossed legs, tipped his head back and took a drink out of a champagne bottle, as we laughed up at him.

“Naturally, naturally! Well, what about it?”

“What about it? Gentlemen! Children! The most self-evident can never be discovered. We will go to the show and greet the performers as colleagues.”

The proposal was just strange enough, for us to agree to it. I was one of the most enthusiastic supporters of this idea, until Jonas Barg’s warm interest began to make me suspicious.

He came up to me with his repulsive friendliness, which he incessantly pursued and said, “This idea is so good that it could have even been yours.”

“Thank you.”

“Now we can demonstrate our skills before an audience that can appreciate them. Only those who know the exact details of a skill can truly appreciate its mastery in the performance of others.”

“Certainly, certainly!”

I left him standing, because I could not bear the staring of his eyes. But I felt their gaze at my back.

Barnum brought its immense equipment into our city the next day, pitched its tent in a couple of hours, and was prepared to give its first performance that evening. We viewed its hideous abnormalities and then tracked the work of the performers with knowledgeable criticism in the great ring.

The attendants prepared our tunics in the dressing rooms. After the performance, the Ringmaster agreed with our plan, through the prospect of a fun and exuberant night. We finally convinced him to keep it a secret from the other circus performers. A strange meeting awaited us as we entered the arena again a short time later after our transformation. At first they looked at us as if we were a hostile army, but then accepted us as tables were quickly set up and heavily laden with food.

The suspicious Ringmaster had at first only sacrificed the narrow light of his gasoline burner so that a sinister high wall of darkness surrounded our group in the immense space. After the first course of the best food in the city, provided by the city board, the voices rose, and the Ringmaster stood up, and in broken German, praised the unexpected hospitality of us amateurs. One of us replied in even more broken English, and then the arc lamps flickered on to solidly illuminate the area.

We found ourselves mixed together according to the dictates of a grotesque humor. The moss girl sat on the lap of the finance counselor; the giant lady held a Lieutenant in her arms like a baby, laying him across her ample breasts; and the monkey woman let a textile manufacturer crawl into the furs with her. Two legal secretaries and a professor studied a map of Borneo on the tattooed body of a Malayan. The freaks had also found their friends. The skeleton man conversed with a doctor over medical questions; the largest man in the world, perhaps attracted by the strange sympathy of opposites, sat next to the petite attorney; and the smallest man in the world, like the dwarf king in the fairy tales, had his tall chair snuggled up next to the gigantic pharmacist, whom, rumor had it, could crush a porcelain goblet with one hand in a fit of anger. The other club comrades were shyer and the performers, the acrobats, Japanese jugglers and the clown pulled them into their colorful array. My friend Dittrich stretched out like a large ostrich next to the beautiful tight rope walker, Miss Ellida, who glittered like a snake and enthralled him with her stupendous scientific knowledge of tightrope walking. I saw him puffed up with pleasure; while I myself was engaged in a confidential conversation with the Arabian animal tamer Fatme in a comfortable Viennese dialect over the training of wild animals.

I insisted, and Fatme had the kindness to show me the crude grips of her profession on my own body.

Our happiness was so loud and noisy that bestial answering bellows came from out of the cages of the menagerie surrounding us, and it seemed as if we sat in a circle of howling demons. The demonstrations of our new friendship became even more ardent, and those caresses, which in our remote corner were heating up to the point of an explosion. I felt that something was about to happen, something that compelled me to apply all caution in resisting the ardent whispers of Fatme, who was even then showing me another grip with her solid fists. Suddenly I heard the voice of Jonas Barg, who sat there in the middle of our collective brotherhood, unmoving as a post.

“We sit here, celebrating us and you, as colleagues, but except for our outfits, we have still not given any legitimate demonstration. We should show you what we can do.”

The others did not reflect long, jumped into the sand of the arena and began to show their skills; which Barnum’s performers watched in amazement at so much unexpected dexterity. But Jonas Barg did not appear to be satisfied with this triumph and proposed that Dittrich and I should go up onto the tightrope.

“Only being up there decides whether we possess power, courage and perseverance,” and he pointed to the top of the tented roof at the tightrope that Miss Ellida walked upon during her performance.

I consider it my duty, to confess here, that I felt such a terror at that moment, was seized by such a deathly fear, that it was as if I had stepped upon the edge of an abyss and an inevitable judgment was pronounced. But Dittrich looked into the beautiful mocking eyes of Ellida and agreed, so impassioned by her glittering snake like body, so much so, that I scarcely dared to refuse. All the objections of the Ringmaster were struck down, and several of the assistants were already holding the rope ladder which we were supposed to climb up to get to the high wire. My mind raced for an immeasurably short time, trying to find any possibility of salvation, impassioned by a fear, that it could only all end in madness. I found nothing. I found nothing . . .

I could only shout out, “But the net, there is no net . . .”

“With the net it is not reckless and daring,” said Jonas Barg like an executioner.

“With the net it’s common labor,” said the beautiful Ellida and laughed.

“Come on,” cried Dietrich and seized the low hanging rope ladder.

I saw his arm muscles swell up under his tunic and would have liked to tear him away from there, when I saw the eyes of Jonas Barg glowing like hot irons in a cave. I was given no choice then, but to follow him. Hesitantly, I took two steps and then stumbled over a half buried bottle in the sand of the arena — it stung me. I screamed out and folded together. They sprang to me and lifted me up, found out that I had injured my foot, and set me down onto a chair. Now the demonstration of my skills had passed, and my soft whimpering aroused the beautiful Fatme to such compassion that her rough fists became entirely soft and tender.

But Dittrich grabbed angrily and climbed high up the rope ladder without any concern for me; pulled himself higher and then clambered over our heads again, while the tears came so hot and heavy out of my eyes that Fatme, who had been made weak by my pain, softly sobbed too.

Then Dittrich appeared in the region of the roof, grabbed the rope and began the quick retracing of his passage with the balancing beam. He carefully set one foot before the other, until he found a solid stance, and let out a piercing yell that echoed back even more quickly.

Around us answered the bellows, grunts and howls of the animals and the loud shouting came together and swelled across the floor to us and seemed to oppress my lungs like steam.

My Adventure with Jonas Barg

“Gentlemen,” I began. “Life! Life! The poet says that life is not the highest good, but he is wrong. It is not only the highest, it is the only good. What we experience of happiness, of joy, of Dionysian frenzy, what we experience of the quiet comforts, are projections of life onto our souls. And our souls? What are they other than vibrations of the one infinite life, points of intersection of the two major possibilities of being; of time and space, spiraling consciousness, and above all else, life itself. Gentlemen, hooray!”

I had continued on in this manner for a long time under the approving murmurs and the encouraging shouts of my club comrades, fired up by the excellent punch, and would have continued on, if the hated voice had not called out and interrupted me. I continued on with a few more sentences trying to drown it out, until I noticed that my opponent’s words were attracting more attention than my own. My sermon collapsed right in the middle.

“See, dear friends,” he said, “you are all seized by a chemically induced megalomania. The animated compounds; which you gentlemen see as bringing forth creation, are nothing more than the green scum over a swamp full of rot and decay. Life is a process of combustion, an oxidation, or if you will; an exchange of materials, if you believe that idols are material beings. Life is a dark process in the ganglionic system of an immense monster, whose name I would rather conceal from you; flatulent gas in its intestines, and its light, gentlemen, is simply the glow of mold.”

Depending upon the state of our intoxication these words had a varying effect; the generally sober became more serious and glum, looking into their glasses and casting angry glances at this enemy of life. The strongly tipsy ones began to resist him noisily with weakening resolve. Those that were entirely drunk fell all over him; weeping around his neck, that life was such a great an evil.

Jonas Barg stood in their midst unmoving, like a post, and looked at me with eyes like burning watch fires, as if  he expected my answer.

“Children,” I said, “children, what use is all reasoning. Life has us and holds us; every day it gives us new miracles and unceasingly defeats every adversary from morning until evening.”

I believed that I had said something quite trivial, a subterfuge, and nonsense, but Jonas Barg screamed as if scorched by a red hot iron; hurled his glass away from himself and fell off his chair. The drunks sobbed around him, supporting each other and thoroughly soaking the shoulders of their jackets; while the others, disturbed over his tactless blazing mood, withdrew from him and gathered around me.

“Let him be,” said the engineer Munk, “he will calm down again.”

When I moved to this city from my earlier place of employment, I had made connections here with this “Club of the Reckless and Daring” and found like-minded companions. We all went devoutly through the Temple of life, celebrating the small, hidden mysteries of this Temple as well as the celebration of wild, intoxicating orgies.

The supervisor of my previous place of employment had distanced himself because of my mad pranks. Although it helped me to be in such a company, for which I was more suited, they made even more crazy proposals than my own. I felt complete in this club of the reckless and daring, but I knew from the first moment on, that a hatred radiated out at me, a power worked against me, that strove to destroy me.

The odd, empty eyes of my club comrade, Jonas Barg, looked fixedly at me as if through the end of a long tunnel, and they seemed somehow threatening and dangerous. The friendliness, with which he sought to become closer to me, made me all the more suspicious; so that I often quickly and openly sensed my own inclinations, my emerging thoughts and cautions against him. My club companions felt the same way, but far less clearly.

When I asked them to clarify for me how this strange, reserved and sinister man; of whose private life no one knew anything at all, had come to be included in their company; they all became silent with dismay. Apparently nobody had ever asked the question before. In a heavy drunkenness, at the end of a long and exuberantly passionate celebration, they had promised to invite him into the club, because of those sympathies of intoxication, which even now so strangely attracted the drunks to him. On the next day when they had to decide upon his admission, nobody wanted to be against it. An unacknowledged fear held all of their objections back. So he became a club member, even though the others feared and hated him.

Everything that had been hidden, as if through secret agreement, had now been freed through my questions. For the first time they began to wonder how they always allowed the most beautiful celebrations to be disturbed, and considered every possible way of removing him from our circle. But in the meantime they all crowded tighter around me as if seeking protection from some unknown opposition.

That evening, on which Jonas Barg so rudely interrupted my sermon with his hatred against life, was when this relationship took shape most perfectly, but Jonas Barg freed himself from his weeping friends and came up to me. He reached to shake my hand. It was a hand, who skin appeared cold and lifeless as leather, and whose fingers snapped shut around mine like a lock.

“Opposing principles,” he said, “should not divide us. You are a friend of life. I find it neither great nor beautiful, nor good. But under these opposing views, our personal relationship should not suffer.”

“Listen,” said the engineer Munk, “it is not the sense, but the tone” . . . (my nearness allowed his courage to grow) “You have not spoken like an opponent in this
matter of debate, but like one who is crazy with wrath.”

It was not possible to continue this conversation any further, because the irresistible noise of the carousing had returned, pushing with all its resistance against it. Barg sat down beside me and flung a cold kindness over me, which I felt like a cobweb on my face and around my throat. From out of our drunkenness bloomed large, red, fantastic flowers; the sight of which made us even crazier and awoke all the lower instincts to destruction.

All our jewelry was placed in a pile and pounded to a metallic powder in the mortar. Everyone took some bits in their glass, sprinkled some on the laurel wreaths that hung on the wall, and then drank the gold at the same time with the champagne and cream. Several took needles and stabbed through the flesh of their bare arms and legs, others burned their bodies with candles and in their heavy intoxication did not appear to feel the torments of the flames; the walls began to slowly turn in circles, then finally sloped sharply into each other, and all the corners leveled out at the same time to form a dome that arched over our heads, which whirled in a frantic race around some obliquely placed axis.

The club members became even friendlier toward Jonas Barg as the night progressed because of drunkenness. He sat in our midst unmoving like a post. He drank immeasurable quantities of wine out of the large vessels which we had filled with champagne and passed around. The engineer Munk sat down on the other side of him and became even more tender and urgent in his friendship. That seemed very strange to me and suddenly I saw with unpleasant clarity that we were all sitting around Barg and had accepted him as the center of our interest. I stood up and went outside in order to splash some cold water over myself. A wide stream of water gushed over my head from out of a large lion’s head and into a black marble basin. It strengthened my will power by restoring a sobriety that was entirely resistant to suggestion. As I straightened up, I felt Jonas Barg behind me.

He looked at me with his empty eyes as if from far away, and the hatred darkened his voice as he said, “You are a poor club member. Is this the promised recklessness and daring? Do you want to interrupt the momentum of our festivities with a water cure?”

I pulled myself together as if in the ring with a strong opponent.

“Life demands limits to madness. And moreover, where is the recklessness and daring that you praise as well as a club mate. I’ve never seen you in a frenzy of joy.”

His head dropped between his shoulders as if struck by a blow and he let me pass back into the hall. Most of the intoxicated noise of my companions had faded away. They sat there lifeless and insensible in all kinds of positions; with foaming mouths and drooled confused words.

“The banquet of Plato by Sophocles,” cried the engineer Munk.

But when morning came and the others lay under the tables, they still sat there.

“My Plato,” he spoke weeping into the tangled beard of Jonas Barg and sobbed with emotion.

“Let’s go,” said Barg and offered me his arm. “Take it. We will be able to return home with united forces.”

“I thank you, but my own power will suffice. If you would like to be of service, support your friend Munk.”

There was nothing more terrible to me about this strange man than his eyes, which had the ability to bind with his dangerous will far more than his mouth did. He silently took the heavily drunken man under his arm; and as we took our coats from the equally drunken servants and got dressed; followed us down the steps, from whose walls scornful masks grinned down.

The morning was damp and foggy, and in the early dawn the shops began their food preparations. During the night immense masses of snow had fallen, piled up on all the roofs and forced the street sweepers into strenuous labor to clear the way. We had scarcely gone more than a few steps, when there was a strong gust behind us, and at the same moment a driving snow swirled around us and tore at us. There stood Jonas Barg next to a pile of snow, unmoving as a post, and his eyes glowed in the dim light of early dawn.

“Where is Munk? Munk!”

Barg pointed at the still slightly moving pile of snow, which quietly settled down to rest like an animal after a successful leap. We threw ourselves at the mountain of snow which filled half the street, and began to dig with hands and sticks. The street sweepers joined in after careful consideration in the hopes of rescuing some unfortunate. Several bakers’ boys set down their bread baskets and helped dig until half of a body was uncovered in the snow. The early pedestrians on the street, half frozen drunkards, gathered around us to gawk at the amusing scene until they were sent away grinning by several watchmen who eagerly investigated the cause of the accident and wrote down the number of the house, from whose steep roof the avalanche had slipped, in their little books.

After half an hour we had freed our friend. He lay there dead before us, with a broken neck, or suffocated or from a heart attack. I don’t know which.

Eleagabal’s hand, which held the pocket knife, that fearful withered hand, between whose sinews narrow grooves of shadows began to show, slid in a playful manner back and forth on the edge of the gondola.

“We must seize all that is before our eyes with certainty, as long as our will is living within us, as well as the lunacy which is just as near. This is according to the law of the relationship between power and repulsion. We do not dare judge this spiritual balance in the terms of physical formulas. Inside us lies the legacy of many ancestors that have returned to the Spirit. I will tell you of one of them, which you might gain some illumination from.

It was in one of the rich art galleries in Holland. From out of my tiredness and disgust at the neglect of humanity arose within me the desire to view those treasures, which in a boiling of greed I considered as my property; to enjoy them in an undisturbed solitude so that their finest, most secret voices might speak to me.

As the pompous watchmen, in the darkness of their misunderstanding, strode around through the halls announcing the close of the business day to the visitors, I hid right behind one of them in the darkest corner of a janitor’s closet that was closed off from the public. It was filled with brushes, brooms and buckets. From between the red dust fringes I saw a tall fellow with a sailor’s beard enter the hall and go straight across to where the last exhibit stood on its altar, the “Night Watch” of Rembrandt. He jingled his key ring in front of him, urging the last visitors out, indifferently rubbing his arm sleeve against the works of a rich and harmless time and spit into every second bowl which he found on his way, as if it was one of his duties. He went past my hiding place with his pointed mouth. Then I heard other watchmen coming from other directions, heard them speaking in the front hall and finally the clatter of keys sounded three times as the main entrance was locked up in a repulsive chain of noise.

I was alone and stepped out of my hiding spot onto the shore of a sea of silence which stretched forth from my feet into an infinity of directions. I went humbly among these choice spirits, conscious of my own baseness, and yet taken up in their soaring life. The pompous and popular pieces of the public hours lost their overwhelming majesty, and the unnoticed smaller masters, upon which the mark of neglect appeared, spoke in the relative twilight. I remained standing in front of an uncommonly charming little picture, which depicted the sunken Netherlands of the artist’s life. Nothing in the Holland of today appeared to be saved from those times, other than the lust for eating and drinking. It was a painting, which portrayed the inventory of an art gallery, whose walls were hung with paintings, whose easels carried important canvases and there was an intentional chaotic, kaleidoscopic charm combined with a unity and accord that bound it all together. At the time they loved to show off their riches, and assembled together in this painting appeared miniature copies of all the famous works of contemporaries or predecessors, so that it looked like an illustrated handbook of Dutch art history. The small master of this work included a selection of various favorites that were considered the most popular and precious in their time, and between the paintings stood groups of people. The paintings were so loyally depicted, so free of affectation and also from critical consideration, that we of today would scarcely be in a position to compare their characteristics to the originals. The people chatted, laughed, and all the gestures and gazes appeared to be focused on those images or looking out from the painting itself. It was just light enough to see that the Master who had painted this painting, the one in front of me, had played a little joke.

Among the famous paintings on the main wall in the uncommonly colorful art gallery, between Rabens, Rembrandt, Van de Velde, Vermeer van Delft, Frans Hals and Jan Steen hung this very same painting as well. All the ladies and gentlemen, all the Rubens, Rembrandts and all the others, and itself, were repeated once more in miniature. I wanted to laugh, but the twilight seemed so oppressive and heavy, that my laugh vanished noiselessly and suddenly it seemed as if folds of darkness began moving to allow someone through.

A voice spoke next to me, “The joke of the master appeals to you mine Herr?  Oh, at that time they loved their jokes and placed them alongside the deepest seriousness.”

A short, fat man stood next to me with his arms laid behind his back and a considerable protruding belly. His red, healthy face seemed incredibly happy to see the works of Frans Hals in this Harlem gallery. He was colorfully outfitted in a black jacket with a white collar and his nose glowed with the noble patina of Lucas Bols, founded in 1575. I was surprised at the foot stool that he so casually stepped upon with such certainty. He pointed at the painting and laid his finger on the spot where the painting of the gallery appeared for the third time.

“This appears to be the end of the series through the impossibility of further miniaturization. I tell you, mine Herr, you are wrong. There was nothing, at that time, which they would not dare to do. Through your boldness in allowing yourself to be locked in here, you have proven your zeal and love. I would like to lead you on a bit farther.”

Then he pulled a magnifying glass out of a pocket of his jacket, breathed on it and polished it with a silk cloth. As all the narrow bands of scattered light in the wide hall seemed to concentrate themselves into this glass and the sinking night was interrupted by a bright shimmering light, I called upon all the prudence I could muster. I knew that I was trying to cling to an unshakable pillar, one that was anchored in the deepest logic. In quick, circular sequences I built it up. There are technical limits to painting beyond which it is simply impossible to go any further. The finest strokes of the most undaunted brush could not be more delicate than Canaletto’s smallest ornamentation, the embroidery on the vestments of priests or the engraving of the gems on their monstrance.

And with a certain confidence in the decision of my will, to not let myself be fooled, I took the magnifying glass. At first I saw nothing other than huge blobs, mountains of color that adhered to the wide ditches of the canvas, swirls of red and blue in an insane rotation which suddenly resembled the spiral nebula of the hunting dog, Sirius. The drilling, sweeping forces of incalculable coincidences tore clouds of color apart from each other, threw them down onto to rough reefs and left them there to sink into the abyss of the mesh grid. But then I saw, from the summit of a high mountain, the flat surface of an image in front of me. And I knew, that it was the same repetition of the art gallery, which at this magnification appeared just as the original one did to the normal eye.

Then I lowered the hood: enough! This was a small miracle, one of those things that is not understandable, which the ancient times so dearly like to surprise us with, when we try to show ourselves as above them. But a curiosity, almost a physical compulsion, which I felt as a pressure in my neck, pulled the hood back off. I had to look inside – and was terrified.

My terror was something like the way it disturbs us, when we see a piece of our skin under strong magnification. This wrinkled, soft, jellylike substance cut with deep furrows, with the openings of the pores and the fat glands and the excretions of the shiny sweat glands with the smooth, blond, slimy hairs that looks like the image of a landscape on a planet whose ruler is disgust. Every sinking beneath the boundaries of the microscopic appears to excite nausea, which is the opposite of the upswing, which one receives when gazing on high. We measure the oversized things and are paralyzed with fear at those things smaller than the null point of our established proportions.

As I felt these chains of knowledge rattle through me, I grabbed swaying after that anchored column of my will, in order cling to it. But then something terrible happened. The column, which I grabbed for, pushed me back, or it was as if my hands were torn loose from its smoothness – I don’t know, it was the sensation of a purely physical blow or push, that threw me down an inclined plane. And sliding downward I saw the ever smaller becoming images of the gallery one after the other. They followed closely behind each other like the scenes of a theater, in which the figures of an evil dream performed a ghastly comedy of fear. The entire world was nothing more than an ever tighter becoming rectangular tunnel in which there was no going backwards, only forwards. They had pushed me into it and now I waited to take on the form of a pyramid. Paintings hung on the walls of this prison, paintings, paintings, paintings, in an endless succession, becoming smaller and smaller, until they sank into mathematical infinity. And despite that, they even still, in some inexplicable way, made the impression, that the images shown were always exact copies of the original painting repeated over and over again. The smiling Cavaliers, the curtseying Ladies, the groups in happy contemplation returned again in the same sequence in almost imperceptible reductions. It was always the same smile and the same curtsy on into infinity. The madness, the complete senselessness of this at the time caused all spatial notions of these incessant repetitions to flicker like a Jack-o-lantern of fear in front of me. I felt all regularities and harmonies collapse together, and while there was a whistling in my ears, my body was crushed into that horrible tunnel. My head came to a point and bored into the darkness of unconsciousness.  The watchman, that found me lying on the floor of the gallery, was surprised and indignant and brought me in front of the director. After I succeeded with great difficulty in describing my strange adventures to him, he shook his head and coined the term, ‘gallery illness’. Three Dutch professors of the best reputation were given the opportunity to study this unprecedented phenomenon with scientific thoroughness.”

During this explanation it had become entirely light. The sun bloomed forth from between two clouds. Our friend’s face was like an antique comedy mass; between the toothless jaws the dark hole of the mouth gaped with the tusks protruding far over the great patriarch’s beard. I once saw the image of a French guardsman in an illustrated war history. He was sitting down and putting a drinking mug to his mouth when his head was torn off by a shell. In its complete paralysis, which interrupted all life functions; in that moment, Richard Lionheart resembled that dead soldier. And then I saw something in the young, faded, and pale as if drained of blood, sunlight of the overflowing morning.

The hand with the pocket knife; that fearful hand, which had been playing some apparently harmless game around the edge of the gondola, during the capture of our attention, had almost completely cut through the rope which held our balloon to the earth. One strand of hemp after another released itself from its bondage with a soft snap, and only a thin strand still led to the safety of the ground. Richard Lionheart must have noticed the danger at the same time, because his paralysis was broken in a sudden explosion. He lunged at Kuperus and tried to seize him by the throat. But Eleagabal threw him back into his place with a short hand movement and then with barred fangs, gave a soundless laugh, as he pushed the electric button to signal the drawing in of the balloon.

The slow ride down happened in complete silence. The tension was at a high point where the peace of calmness had turned into a grimace. We had to expect that the rope would tear apart and the sudden jerk of the balloon would launch us into the unthinkable adventure of a death plunge. For a year we sank into the void, and the only thing that happened during this time, was the slow and inexorable rubbing of the rope on the edge of the gondola. When the spire of a tower top protruded into the solitude of our fear, we trembled. The tower point widened, then leapt into the roundness of a cupola beneath it and slid into a slender shaft across from us.

Gothic floral patterns went past . . . another tower. Then the glass roofs of the displayed palaces and finally, the entire ghost of one in the cold morning light, frozen dreams of lush splendor. We trembled more violently, and as the tree tops swam near us, Richard Lionheart tried to jump out of the gondola. Our wrestling with him sent a lurching through the gondola. Then we felt the delicious roughness of the earth. We climbed down among the workers and authorities, who forgot their grumpy sleepiness in astonishment over our bewilderment. How we came down from outer space, almost crying in amazement at our salvation, and greeted the precious feeling of solidity. Richard Lionheart took a deep breath, and his dead eyes came alive in a fire of hatred.

But Eleagabal Kuperus laughed silently, and his tusks hung over his gray patriarch’s beard.

“Prudence, my friend, prudence! Did you believe then, that this highest, most honorable and cautious company with limited liability, would rely on a simple hemp rope to ensure the integrity of this balloon? We have not yet been Americanized that much, and this old company is also happily, in possession of a security policy. Do you see this thick wire cable beneath the rolled ends of hemp? They know how to disguise complete safety with piquant charm, so that honorable family fathers can tell how they have participated in a dangerous balloon ride. Eleagabal Kuperus loved such jokes.

The Repulsion of the Will

By Karl Strobl

Translated by Joe Bandel

The thing that was venerable about our friend Eleagabal Kuperus was his full, long gray beard. It flowed from his face like the wrath from the countenance of Jehovah. Two triangular, pointed, yellow ivory tusks in the corners of his mouth were what was unusual about him. When he smiled they crept over his gray patriarch’s beard like dragons over the forest underbrush. And when he laughed, you could see that he had no other teeth at all in his entire mouth, other than those two upper canine teeth, which sat in his bulging red jaw.

But the venerable and the unusual met in his eyes and mixed in an iridescent greenish gray; the way water shimmers when it stands for a long time and whose clear natural purity is free of the dirty factory waste that pollutes in the honor of some indispensable industry; or the color of the sky, over whose happy expanse suddenly glides mysterious shadows and lights.

To be alone with Eleagabal Kuperus was joy and terror. We were alone with him, very much alone, at least 1000 meters above all other solitary things.

Fireworks exploded near us and Kuperus reached out into the small rain of artificial lightning that snaked like fire around his withered hand. Then everything was dark again; only a faint bubbling glow cooked out of the deep, above which the gondola appeared to be lightly swimming.

Above us swelled the immense body of a balloon, like the belly of a giant soaring animal. We stood in the night, fixed in space, in a condition of complete equilibrium between the pull from above, and the gravitational force of the earth.

“This is the place to talk of things that we cannot understand down below,” said Kuperus as he whittled with his knife at his bluish black fingernails, through which white, half-moons showed at the roots of the nails. They lay like protective steely capsules over especially fine, sensitive nerve endings in need of protection.

– “Do you mean to say that this few hundred meters height has the capacity to change our spirits that much?” asked Richard Lionheart.

Our courageous friend asked this question defensively, but I was resolute, to grasp the strangeness of this hour and felt ashamed, that he wanted to save himself. Kuperus looked at him and then smiled, in such a way that the ends of his teeth showed like the curious and dangerous tips of curving daggers.

“Young man, you carry the honorable name of Lionheart with good reason. Down there alone, when confronted with mouth and claws, with brass or explosives you keep your composure. You are a worthy hold over from the great century of enlightenment; one who has purified his soul several times in the fire of materialism. It has often appeared to me, as if you at times sit at the table with a hollow belly or at least are immune to the articles in Diderot’s Encyclopedia. But now, that we are suspended between heaven and earth, you should not forget that ‘there gives more things’ . . .”

“I don’t believe in them,” said Lionheart curtly, as if with that clubbing blow he wanted to destroy that which he did not dare to look at any closer.

“Belief is a crutch, for whose use we must have a solid ground beneath us. It is one of the products of the earth and lays down there between those displays of wood and stucco palaces, which we have so happily escaped. The laws of the Spirit change quickly, the more distant we are from there, where they codify them in order to believe in them, more distant — in a relationship, whose graphic portrayal I leave for psychophysics to contemplate.”

“What do you want to say about it?”

“Nothing more, other than that up here we are more sensitive despite all of its power, which down below compels consciousness to flow under a cover of ice. Perhaps we will be shown entirely extraordinary phenomena, when we succeed in transplanting ourselves into this empty air space, something different, like the light of the Geissler tubes, that emits its wonderful blossoms in a vacuum.”

[Translator’s note: Geissler tubes were the precursors to neon lights.]

“You compare physical experiments with those of the spirit.”

Kuperus let his hand with the pocket knife hang over the edge of the gondola, so that the shimmer of the lighted city below glinted on the blade. The large yellow canines crawled out of the gaping mouth in a silent laugh.

“Now you try saving yourself in duality and might as well become a Monist and convince yourself of the agreement between the laws of physicality and those of the soul. I don’t want to confuse you and only ask you to take the Geissler tubes as an image.”

The Italian festival in the wooden city down there below us, over which our captive balloon hung in the night, set off two fiery suns at the same time, which began their rotations not far beneath us. They whirled and rattled around an uncertain axis, and a reflection of their sparkling life appeared in the venerable and strange eyes of our friend Kuperus. The blade of the pocket knife glimmered red like the tip of a glowing iron.

“I want to show you a small thing, an easily achieved experiment. In this condition of equilibrium, in which we now find ourselves, every bodily movement produces a rocking of this gondola, although, naturally, you do not want this, because it is not comfortable to establish the condition of a sea storm way up here. Really think about it, how painful it would be if the gondola turned into a pendulum, and you attempted to keep it as quiet as possible.”

Richard Lionheart was silent under the eyes of our friend and I looked at him. That was what he was really doing, trying to keep the gondola from rocking. The wicker basket swam lightly on a sea of silence between heaven and earth, and only the suns rattled slowly and tiredly as they turned beneath us, so that the solitude became heavier and more immense. It was like the bleakness of a locked room that is filled with the humming of dying flies; that, through some coincidence wandered into their grave and vainly pushed themselves to death against the dusty window glass.

Suddenly I understood why we sat up there; why Eleagabal took us on this nightly climb using all his persuasive skills on us; and the intentional bribes, which he had to use on the English authorities to purchase this balloon ride. I could hear all of their objections.

“Herr, no, no, that is against our policy. It is also forbidden by the police. And something really could happen.”

Our friend’s response, at the last one, as he regarded the gentlemen with a smile, “I was there, when the first airship crashed, and nothing happened to me, other than getting my front teeth knocked out.”

And with that I felt the sky above me, like a soft wave, and the light of the Milky Way, which flowed down upon me like a veil.

Suddenly, Richard Lionheart cried, “Watch out, do you feel that! Do you feel that?”

His hands gripped at the edges of the gondola and his fear contorted fingers dug into the wicker basket. His face was distorted by terror and an inability to breathe; his bloodshot eyes stared straight out, like those of someone being whipped. The twin points of Eleagabal’s patriarch beard trembled.

“It will pass.”

“Magician, conjurer,” said Richard Lionheart, and his exhaustion made him entirely limp, like a collapsing children’s balloon.

He leaned back and breathed heavily.

“You have experienced the storm and the rocking entirely by yourself, the two of us have remained solidly in the gondola, do you understand this?”

“You can see this trick in any of the better market places.”

“You are wrong if you take this for some type of suggestion. I have been entirely passive and let it work all by itself. Here you have a beautiful little experiment in the repulsion of the will.”

“You are not going to confuse me anymore with your mystical words.”

“I cannot do anymore then give you the needed explanation. For centuries we have found in our so called superior Western civilization, a gruesome confusion that exists through all of its dimensions, the belief that the will is a blessing for the bringing of power. Having no will is thought of as unlucky, the one afflicted with a sick will is called a criminal in the language of our culture. Will is the same as power, and all dramatists of all times have glorified nothing else other than the will in their works. In doing this they overlook the fact that any working power creates a reaction.

In the physical world they recognize this and have calculated the recoil of the powder and of the rocket. But because of a loud pride they have not noticed the more remote working of the will, and the devastation which is caused in its proximity. That means they don’t notice that both originate out of one and the same cause. The dramatist consoles himself over this incalculable reaction with the construction of a mystical destiny, and the metaphysicians, blind moles in the ground of reality, grope around in torturous tunnels after knowledge.

Your applied will has entirely counterbalanced your equilibrium and quiet and has placed the gondola in motion for you. There is only one thing lacking, that my friend and I do not have the same directed will as yours, have not enveloped and helped strengthen it so as to bring the storm you experience into reality. The will of the masses and its repulsion frustrates each power individually and collectively creates world history.”

“You are witty Eleagabal Kuperus, but the sun will set, and your words freeze into clinging ice.”

The illuminated city became quiet and its lights were extinguished. The stars hung in the pale night, with the melancholy brilliance of their isolation. The shadow of Eleagabal’s head was separated from the rest of his body by the high edge of the gondola and cast its shadow against the green damask of the balloon, like the head of John the Baptist on a dark platter.

“Would you like some more examples, so you can understand me more clearly? Do you know the secret of the unending melody? I don’t mean the musical principle of happiness, as Wagner calls it, the one that states that the movement of the melody overcomes all natural attempts at completion, so that its horizon continues to expand infinitely.

Instead, I mean any small sequences of a few beats, which are so downright complete, are so enclosed within themselves, that they can be repeated endlessly. A chord of notes, that circles repeatedly and in every repetition simply repeats itself over again. Mozart brought such melodies out of himself in his sunny hours and the completion of creation itself comes out of the various lower octaves.

When our ear understands this melody for the first time, the will then responds with every possible attempt to escape from it, only to generate a new impetus in a resounding repetition at a new octave. The normal human can easily determine that the power of repulsion is small, as is the positive power of the will. The artist carries the synthesis of both forces within himself and becomes suspended like we are, fixed solidly between heaven and earth. Lunacy enters in, when the greatness of the repulsion overcomes the forward impulse.”

Ivan has spoken. I know what the katechana is. I have torn it out of him. I saw it in his eyes, in his insidious gaze with which he observed my wounds, appeared to count them and appraise them. He knew what they were. I had seen this testing, appraising look before in the boxing ring when both battered and bloody opponents paused before going in for the knock out punch.

Once it was entirely clear to me that Ivan knew what they were, what the katechana was, I moved toward him. I still see how he backed away from me, how he pressed himself into a corner, how I seized him by the throat. I stood in front of him.

“Who is the katechana,” I asked.

That’s when I saw his fear return despite the scornful cheekiness he had treated me with for so long. He blinked at me insidiously, but now I knew that he was going to tell the truth.

“That’s what she called herself,” he rattled.


“She learned it in Crete. For a half a year she lived at the abyss of Lenka Vrune and I had to bring her sheep which she mutilated.”

“What does katechana mean?”

“It means the same as … In Albania it is called Wurwolak, in Bulgaria, Lipir. The Chezch call it Mura, the Greeks in the ruins of Sparta call it Bourkolak and the Portuguese call it Bruxa. It has been known by all these people.”

“These are just names, you miserable… What does it mean? I want to know…”

“It means one that can never have enough of blood and the sacrifice of manhood. One that lives beyond death…”

I let go of him. I knew enough. I was being fattened inside this marble prison—I was being fattened for a vampire… My flabby, distended body was only a container for its blood. My blood vessels had to become distended so the juice could be taken out of them, for the vampire that came every night and drank till it was sated.

And in some mysterious way my manhood is stirred up and torn out by these criminally spiced meals. She drinks away my strength. She sucks my life in and the more I give her the stronger and more real the skin of this vampire becomes. The shape that in the beginning appeared as light and playful as a cloud in the last few nights has become a heavy body weight upon me…

Her breath penetrates through the stone and envelops me in a green glow. It disintegrates the marble… or it could be that the marble only appears to transform. Maybe it is only because my entire body is so drunk from her breath, because my muscles, nerves, senses and my brain are so fully saturated with this glowing poison of decay…

*                    *


Now that I know everything I am once more completely at peace. Now I know at last why I have not been completely myself and why I have been staggering around in a drugged condition.  But now I have my courage once again. I am resolved not to yield now that I know the enemy I must be prepared for. I am resolved to win my two hundred Francs, to win against the katechana and all the terrors of the grave… If she is able to have a physical body it must also fall under physical laws. If she can win to life she can still die a second time…

I will tear up this cocoon that has been spun around me. Yes, a cocoon, in the literal sense of the word. When I was down and vulnerable she wove a net around me that made me want to stay here in order to win my two hundred thousand Francs, that made me a prisoner in this marble house. She has most certainly spun a web around me because I can’t go out any more.

My legs are hindered at every movement. With every step I push against an elastic thread that only slowly gives way with a resounding clang. Every movement of my hands is difficult when I try to raise these threads and push them to the side… They give way only to a hard pull… They scurry incessantly over my face like the fabric of a spider web, like when you walk on some wooded path in the summer time. Only these threads are of an invisible metal. I hear them clang. The sound of them always rings in my ears when they finally snap. Oh, I will tear this web apart… before it becomes too solid… Tonight? It is time. I will be free. The katechana will not torment me any more. I will get my two hundred thousand Francs from her. I will be the winner.

Tonight I lie in wait, alert like I have never been before in my life. The buzz of the city down below becomes fainter. I have left the door open despite the autumn chill in order to hear this buzz. It tells me of life, of the life I will plunge back into with my two hundred thousand Francs. The reflections of many lights shine from the night clouds. They blink back and forth brightly in a regular pattern. They are the flashes of an electric billboard that advertises a bathtub, a theater performance or a pleasure cruise… I wait patiently.

Around midnight the green glow in my prison becomes stronger. I look across at the bronze plaque with the name Anna Feodorowna Wassilska… But I breathe peacefully as if I am asleep… Now the bronze plaque is slowly dissolving in the green glow. It becomes thinner, as billows of faint red mist appear here and there in the green light. Now the last of it fades, disappears leaving a gaping four cornered black hole in the marble.

Then a breeze presses out of it once more, a mist like breath on cold winter days. It forms itself into a ball, becomes thicker, takes on form and once more someone is standing beside my bed…

I see the eyes of Madame Wassilska, her coarse nose, her full mouth and blood red lips that slowly give way to strong, white, pointed teeth… I recognize every feature from the portrait that I have been shown.

She bends over me, kisses me… I wrap my hands around her throat, feel my nails press into her flesh. It is flesh that I feel… She gasps, beats at me and pushes with her arms against my chest… but I hold onto her and don’t let go. I fall from my bed and we roll onto the floor… always with my hands on her throat. I sense the convulsions of her body. Oh, it is a body built out of my blood, but it is like the body of a living person… I hang onto her like a hound, my teeth seize her throat… her movements become weaker… lessen…finally she offers no more resistance… But I want to be certain that I have really won. Blood fills my mouth. Ah, yes, it is only my own blood that I am drinking back.

She lies for a long time entirely still. I get up… A sweet taste fills my mouth, my lips stick lightly together, my hands are covered with blood, my own blood that I have won back. She lays stretched out on the floor—the katechana, and now my marble house is dark. The breath of the katechana is gone. I sit through the
entire night without making a light. But inside myself there is a light, I am free.

The late autumn morning dawns gray and gloomy. The katechana lies stretched out on the floor with her throat bitten through. She is dead a second time, this Madame Wassilska. I look at her face. I pull back. Oh, she wanted to give me one last fright before she yielded to me. She has taken on the features of Margaret. She wants me to believe that I have killed Margaret… I push the shell away from me with my foot. Ivan will be surprised.

The day breaks.

I am free…

Today I have overslept for the first time. I wanted to begin work yesterday evening like always but my thoughts were confused and entangled more than ever. Yesterday was All Soul’s Day. An immense crowd of people filled the cemetery from the first morning hours until dusk. Paris had burst open and people were everywhere seeking out the graves of their departed and praying for their dead. Wreathes, flowers and candles were everywhere. The buzz of all the people lay like a murmuring cloud over the graves.

Almost all day long groups of people stood in front of my marble house. The first visitors were two women clothed in black that led a little girl between them. Perhaps they were wife and mother of one of the deceased. The child looked at me with large fearful eyes.

“Mama,” she said. “Is that the man that must stay in there for a year?”

The women pulled the little one away. They felt it was intrusive to be staring at me. After fifteen steps the little girl had forgotten me and everything else in the cemetery. She was hanging on the arms of the women, pulling her legs up and allowing herself to be suspended and carried like a little angel for a ways.

Not all the visitors were as considerate as these women were. Several of them made attempts to draw me into conversation. The sky alternated between rain clouds and sunshine. I only have a general impression of the day, groups of people now in the light, now in the shadows. At last I finally turned my back to the entrance of the tomb.

Toward evening it was very quiet. Ivan brought me the evening meal and while I sat there slinging it down someone else stepped into the door slit.

“Mein Herr,” he said. “Excuse me!”

It was a young man with a fresh face. He appeared to be a craftsman, salesman or something similar.

“Mein Herr,” he repeated. “Don’t stay here any longer… I advise you to leave the money, she bit me twice in the throat…”

At that Ivan leapt forward like a wild animal. I have never seen him like that. The unkempt mustache hairs appeared to stand on end. He raised his fist and shook it at the young man who ducked his head down between his shoulders, mumbled something and moved off into the dusk frightened away. It became quiet once more in the cemetery.

“Who was that?” I asked.

Ivan grinned.

“I don’t know,” he said in his wearisome, rattling voice.

But I knew—It was the baker’s apprentice, Madame Wassilska’s apprentice baker that she had bitten in the throat…I was tired from the constant exertion of will that it took to put up with the gaping crowd all day long and slept like a dead man.

I awoke in suspense with a feeling of uneasiness inside… I felt something on my right lower arm and on my throat. My glance fell on a little dried crust of blood above my left wrist. It sat on the edge of a little wound. There were a series of them. It looked as if I had been bitten there. Bitten… I can find no better word for this type of wound and the skin surrounding it was white colored and flabby, a saucer sized bloodless spot that looked as if it had been covered over night with a poultice. I grabbed at my throat and found a similar wound there.

I try not to think about whom could have inflicted these wounds on me. Could it have been a Sergeant Bertrand imitator? Could there really be such people with such bestial lusts, which they can not repress? Do they go wandering around cemeteries at night mangling corpses and perhaps falling onto sleeping victims?

The nights have become very cool. From now on I will solidly shut the door of my dwelling. Soon I will need to bring a stove in here if I don’t want to become ill in this marble prison. I asked Ivan what precautions he had in mind for the winter. He looked at me as if he didn’t understand me.

Some dark voice told me to hide my wounds from him so I wore a high collar and pulled the cuff of my sleeve down over my wrist. The gaze of the Russian was embarrassing. It seemed as if he was painstakingly examining every part of my body. I felt as if I had a secret infirmity.

“I need a stove,” I said furiously. “A stove. Do you understand me?”

He nodded.

Suddenly something occurred to me.

“Listen Ivan,” I said. “Why haven’t you tried to earn these two hundred thousand Francs? You could have. It was open to anyone. Why didn’t you apply?”

Then for the first time I saw this taciturn, grouchy person, this machine, seized by some inner force. His features contorted themselves into a grimace of horror. His crippled hands with their bent fingers stretched out in front of him and like a scared parrot he shrieked, he rattled, “No…no!”. I don’t know why I was likewise gripped with terror at this “No”, why I suddenly trembled, why such fear fell over me as if I had been drenched with boiling hot and ice cold water at the same time.

I grabbed at a wineglass in order to get control over this panic. My cuff raised, pulled itself up and Ivan’s glance fell on the wound above my wrist. The horror yielded and then melted away from his face making room for a grin that stuck there between the pussy pimples.

*                    *


Margaret was there. She stood between the marble walls of the entrance. Her large hat with the yellow roses appeared to tower over the barren treetops. Her eyes were full of tears that slid down over her pale cheeks. She stood there like an envoy of the living, of temptation. It was as if Paris, the city whose sounds I constantly heard, had sent her to me and I had to obey. This battle of love lasted almost an hour.

“Ernest,” she said. “I beg you… Come out of there. Don’t you love me any more? I’ve let you have your way… I wanted you to believe that I was as strong as you were but I can’t stand your being here any more. Let me take you away from here… Oh, Ernest, look at you! What nonsense to sacrifice your health and your life just for some money.

Weren’t we happier, both of us, when we didn’t know how we were going to pay for the next meal? Remember that evening in my room and our stroll in Fontainbleau, the large bill we had and how we sneaked out without paying? How we didn’t have five Sous… If you love me, come out here.”

I stood three steps away, held myself back with both hands gripping the edge of the table. A thousand words of love lay on my lips. A thousand affirmations of my yearning and tenderness forced their way out of my heart. But I was not permitted to speak if I wanted to win my prize honestly. I could only allow my eyes to speak.

But how could my eyes say what was really important, why I couldn’t leave, that I did not want my time here to be in vain, that I was absolutely resolved to win the money, that the real reason I couldn’t go out was because I was a prisoner of my own body. Most of all, that I was determined to unravel the mystery of this tomb and the breath of the katechana! It was very difficult.

Margaret cried, “Oh, you don’t know what the newspapers write about you… What your friends say…You sent a short report about your observations to the university… ”

So, they speak and write about the preliminary report that I sent regarding the mysterious light I have seen during my imprisonment. Now, they would like to say, what they want to say, is that I have gone crazy… As if I cared.

“Is that what you want? Do you want what the people are saying to become real? Oh how I love you Ernest. How I love you… I can not bear it any longer.”

I felt that I would become weak and waved her away with both hands. I turned my back on her and stood that way until her shadow was gone from the marble floor, until her sobs receded among the graves.

But she, the faithful, the good, the best love a man ever had, came again in the night. She braved the terror of the graveyard from which she had formerly trembled like a little child. Who else could it have been other than Margaret?

I awoke that night out of the dull sleep into which I now always fell, and felt that I was not alone. Someone was with me, had thrown themselves on top of me and kissed me so painfully that it was like a bite. In the green glow I saw a woman. I felt her… I returned her kisses without speaking a word… I was not permitted to speak and Margaret pressed herself against me with all the force of yearning and despair.

Margaret, who else could it have been? My entire body is covered with wounds… with bite wounds, the traces of her wild kisses. I stagger around powerless. My flesh seems bloodless… my muscles are asleep and spongy under the withered skin. And the wounds don’t heal… They have become atrociously scarred, become pussy pimples. And Margaret comes every night… every night.

*                    *



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