Outside, it was deserted.
All the streets, all the alleys, all the buildings, as empty as a Petr Grenzic movie.
Sila walked the streets he vaguely remembered from years ago, his eyes pointing down. It was November so there was lots of snow on the ground and to pass the time he kicked the snow nearby onto other snow, smiled, bent down, took off a glove, picked up some dirty snow from a pile of cleaner snow, shivered, dropped the snow, turned a corner, saw more snow, disliked the snow so kicked the snow and grabbed some other snow, greyish snow, and threw that snow at the actress from Milla Feeling For Snow then stopped dead in the street and tried to remember his old job.
It was only three years ago…three and a half…before the Professor, before the green knife, before the green mist demon came. Before that, what?
He couldn’t remember any of it, only his childhood, events before 18.
Was he a teacher?
Something that may have been wind ambushed him from a side alley and ripped off a flyer on a lamppost nearby. He bent down, studying it. The Cabinert of Dr Caligari. A Metelkova production.
Ah, that’s right. He was a cultural theorist.
not a theorist, a cultural theory student
with one dissertation, two pamphlets and
so always in the shadow of that great big moon man Žižek
his fucking beard
all that Die Hard bullshit.
the ok to murder xmas film
did it really mean all he said it meant?
Couldn’t you twist anything if you looked at it long enough?
Probably, ja, sure,
if you saw McClane as a man’s man and Holly as a housewife who had no business
being out of the kitchen
with an office desk
and shoulder pads, even though she had decent sized shoulders and
her office probably had a kitchen too.
Did they show that in the film?
Sila blinked and saw the path leading up to the castle, the castle with souvenirs and clean toilets and a souvenir shop with souvenirs, fucking souvenirs, in a castle, and no sign of Hans Gruber or Žižek or any other cultural thingy-ists but hey this was the top of the city after all, that was normal, and what the hell, it wasn’t that shit here, not as shit as Belgrade.
Ljubljana, city of Metelkova. City with the only castle not owned by Nicholas Cage.
That was something.
He started up, not able to see a thing, only in his mind, and his mind told him there were either wolves or muggers up this path, but that was okay cos he had a knife, he could defend himself, and his mind was probably lying to him anyway.
He kept moving
and sliding back down.
The castle was invisible, the path was an ice slick, things were tougher than they should’ve been, but at least he was the only one out there.
At least he wasn’t at home doing something normal
laying newspaper on stairs
mumbling about fibreglass
Forty minutes later he made it to the top of the path and without warning there was red light shining on the side of one of the walls, and wall in Romanian was actually perete so he should use that if he really wanted to get anywhere with the language,
so he did, and
because it was bathed in horror-red and attached to a castle he remembered it, and past the red light was a plank leading to a slope leading to a camera sitting on the ground pointing at a creepy-looking tree in the distance and picking up the camera was a woman,
a Chinese woman,
who didn’t seem to know he was there even though she should’ve done, she should’ve been hyper alert being up on a hill, next to a castle at half four in the morning when there was no one else around except maybe wolves or muggers or the dead girl from Vampire Grad, if they had that film in China which they probably didn’t as,
if he remembered right,
it came out in 1972, before China opened up, and it was a Yugoslav film so they wouldn’t have taken it anyway, unless Tito had gone to Beijing with the film reel and complimented Mao’s hair, telling him it was a film about vampires and China had vampires too so people would go and, hey, did you know Chinese vampires jump a lot, yeah, you probably do, everyone knows that…
‘…don’t they?’ asked Sila, pushing the plate across the table to the Chinese woman, who, in the fierce light of 6:10am, looked kind of like Asaji from Throne of Blood.
‘The jumping ones?’
‘Those vampires come from the Ming Dynasty.’
‘Ah, Ming. 1500’s. I vaguely know it. Do they bite people?’
She took a bite of the bun, ignoring the pig’s feet and the question.
‘I remember they do. Granted, I don’t know much about Chinese culture, but I saw it in that film, the monkey king. You know it?’
‘I am from Hong Kong.’
‘That means you know it?’
‘Okay. So you remember the vampire part then?’
The woman didn’t answer. Instead, she took out her camera and played back the video she’d taken the night before.
Apparently she’d been doing the same thing for the last four weeks, on and off.
Each night she would walk up the path to the castle on the hill and point the camera at the creepy-looking tree.
Each night she’d look at the camera and see nothing.
‘It’s pretty weird, being up there so late at night. No the safest thing to do. Why are you doing it again?’
‘The camera thing, taking videos.’
‘I told you before, I will not tell you.’
‘It doesn’t matter. I am firm on not telling you.’
‘Okay. Fine.’ Sila looked out the window, saw nothing but old men and came back to the Chinese stone. ‘Why not?’
‘… … … … … … …’
‘I said some things should be secret.’
‘You will not understand.’
‘I think I might.’
‘You will not.’
‘Ne, I really think I might. Fuck it, I do. I mean, you weren’t the only one on that hill last night. You ever wonder what I was doing up there?’
The woman went back to her camera.
‘Fine, look at your pics, I wouldn’t tell you anyway.’
The woman looked at her pics. Sila looked at her looking at her pics, got bored, half went for his jacket pocket then vetoed and placed his fingers on the edge of the table as if he were hanging over an abyss.
‘It’s too weird for regular people like you to understand, or almost regular people like you. Too much at stake. There’s danger and lots of digging into dark places and…other things I can’t say. Ja, it’s pretty fucking crucial though, the thing I’m doing. More crucial than filming a tree, no offence.’
‘Your mission is mo liu.’
‘I don’t have time for this. I need to leave, prepare for tonight.’
‘What’s mo liu?’
The woman opened her mouth then closed it and stared at his face. She stared at it for so long he was forced to look out the window again and ask her reflection if she was angry.
‘Are you Slovene?’
‘It doesn’t matter, I think.’
‘I’m half British, half Slovene. Why?’
‘You can join me, if you have nothing else to do.’
‘For your secret mission?’
‘Yes, come. You may watch.’
‘I thought I wouldn’t understand.’
‘You will not. But you may still play your part.’
Must be a rich kid, Sila thought, finally eating the Slovene pig feet on his plate and drinking something that tasted like flavoured mud. Only rich kids had time for weirdness like this.
Except him, he wasn’t rich
but that was different, he was Slovene, she wasn’t. Ah, naturalised, maybe, but pretty unlikely.
Wasn’t there some Chinese near Maribor?
But they were nurses and there weren’t many of them, fifty, sixty max, all holed up in the same complex.
Nah, she couldn’t be Slovene, she hadn’t said any of the language, not to him or the waitress
which meant she was rich
cos what else could she do here to make cash?
It’s not like she could get a job in Ljubljana. Not unless it involved hanging around parks or hawking baking powder.
‘… … … … … …’
‘And I don’t hang around parks, if that’s what you’re thinking.’
‘Ha, you read my mind.’
‘Yeah, obviously, that’s impossible, but you read some of it. Or one part of it. The part of my brain that stores thoughts from a minute back.’
‘That’s what they all say.’
‘Who are they?’
‘Slovenes. Mostly. Some other kinds too.’
‘You’re not very cryptic, are you? [In Slovene] That could get annoying after a day or two. If we make it that far.’
‘What is cryptic?’
‘[More Slovene] We might though. You wouldn’t be sitting here with me if you weren’t even a little bit interested. [Pause] Unless you’re fucking the guy who gave you that camera.’
The woman didn’t ask him what he was saying, she just put the camera back in her bag and said, ‘it’s time to go.’
‘Now? But it’s not even afternoon.’
‘We can walk slowly.’
‘Maybe we should go back to my place, rest for a while.’
Sadly his place was seven streets away and that would take too long, said his new Chinese accomplice, an accomplice in idea only as he’d yet to explain properly about the cabinet thing and the dark light professors, and, she said, it would be much faster if they took this knife and stabbed themselves in the arm and let the grey vasic she would dip on the edge run into their bodies.
‘Into our blood?’
‘Just stab it in, it’s blood-seeking, it will get there all on its own.’
‘This is a drug?’
‘Your questions are mundane.’
‘You’re talking about stabbing each other in the arm. That’s mundane? I don’t even know if you’ve cleaned your knife.’
‘It’s been sterilised?’
‘I’ve done it many times.’
‘So it has been sterilised?’
‘I’m stabbing, are you?’
‘Has it been sterilised?’
‘I don’t know what that means.’
‘Is the knife clean?’
He stared at the tip of the blade. It wasn’t as long as his, but it could still stab. ‘Okay. You go first.’
‘… … …’
‘Did you just call me a coward?’
‘What did you say then?’
She pulled out a small vial with misted glass out of her jacket pocket, the same place she’d kept her knife, but when she opened it up and tried to drip some grey vase thingy out, nothing happened.
‘… … … … …’
‘We have to go back to the commune, get some more.’
‘Metelkova.’ She looked at him with a cryptic face. ‘You are not from here?’
‘Yeah, Metelkova. I know it, of course. I just didn’t know if you did.’
‘I stay near there sometimes. It is a good place.’
‘Sure, if you like American tourists…’
‘We will go there.’
‘…or pretend artists who walk around in Yukatas.’
‘I have not seen that.’
‘Ah, that guy may have left. I think he was Swedish. Yeah, he’s probably gone. People usually do when they realise it’s pretty much the same as that place in Zagreb.’
‘I didn’t know that,’ she said, then turned and started walking towards another street, dodging a local wide-spinning a yoyo on the way.
‘Know what?’ Sila asked, catching up.
‘That there is a similar place in Zagreb.’
‘Yeah, kind of, bit more dangerous though. Bit more of an actual commune too. I think it was an old paint factory claimed by squatters. Then they added the alternative lifestyle part. You really wanna hear all this?’
‘If it passes the time.’
‘Silence is okay too, I don’t really care.’
Almost on cue, a man with poor technique rode through the middle of them on his bike, pushing them to opposite edges of the pavement. Sila raised his voice to compensate.
‘Actually, Dibreska…the Zagreb place…it had a lot of cabinets. Some guy was making them, had a whole shop full. Took me two afternoons to get through them all without drawing any attention to myself.’
‘Ne vem. Pozabi. Just a hobby of mine, it’s not that interesting.’
‘It reminds me of a play they’re showing now at Metelkova. Something about a cabinet and a doctor…I forget the right name.’
‘A play about a cabinet?’
‘I don’t know. I will show you the poster,’ she said, turning the corner onto another deserted, snowy road, and thirty minutes later, she stopped in front of a shack in Metelkova and pointed. ‘This one.’
The poster had an old German expressionist style room on it, with a heavily eye-shadowed man and the words, ‘The Cabinert of Dr. Caligari’ taking up the rest of the space.
‘Ah this one,’ said Sila, remembering the flyer from the night before.
‘You know it?’
‘An amateur production. Probably not good. Lazy marketing skills too. See, they spelt cabinet wrong.’
‘I thought that was Slovene,’ said the woman, pointing at the door to the shack which was also a theatre and telling him they were probably inside rehearsing if he wanted to go in and investigate.
‘I might do that.’
‘I’m going to that building.’ She pointed at another shack with a gremlin above the entrance then turned and looked at him as if his resume was printed on his face. ‘Maybe it’s best if you do not come tonight.’
‘Where? The castle?’
‘It is very boring for others.’
‘Ne, I’ll come.’
‘And very late at night.’
‘If it’s really that boring then we can just entertain each other. Tell stories or something. Or do other things. Maybe there’s a way into the castle.’
She looked at the poster behind Sila and said, ‘okay, I’ll be back in ten minutes.’
‘I’ll be here.’
‘… … … … … … … …’
‘Is that Chinese?’
‘Care to translate?’
‘So it was something bad?’
The woman didn’t bother to answer, she just turned and walked over to the other shack, nodding at a woman with green hair walking the other way.
Sila waited until she’d entered the gremlin building then examined the poster again. There was definitely a cabinet in the title, but no picture, which meant it could be a figurative cabinet. That would be a waste of time, but as he was waiting anyway and had nothing better to do he might as well get in there and check.
If it’s real, great.
If it’s figurative, no problem, just come back out here and see what this grey thingy is all about.