Hoped to god it was cheap plastic
but that was forlorn
as soon as I saw the glint on the edge of the blade
then a second glint
and a third
as the pendulum cut through the air above me, dropping an inch with each swing.
‘The rope?’ I asked
tilting my neck as far left as it would go without snapping
but Kurzsan shushed me
and continued with his recital.
‘…the wound seventeen degrees to the arch of Saturn, count to nine in the old tongue, insert the blade and call out, ‘I know of Oizys, their follies’.’
I tried to catch Kurzsan’s eye
but the only thing looking back was that fucking book
The Hocken Manual
as the pendulum kept slicing down an inch
and down an inch
and down an inch
and then suspense was eliminated completely when
the cable snapped and
the blade fell
onto my chest, and through it, without even the slightest hint of
Stone was definitely beneath him.
And no mattress he’d ever known was made of that.
Eyes opened, legs kicked out, hands flew out to defend against imaginary daggers.
Not Veronika’s bed.
Not the hostel dorm.
It took a moment to get his bearings – for some reason, he expected to be floating in a pool of his own blood – but when he did, he saw he was in the same room as the night before.
Only he wasn’t in the bath anymore, he was laid out next to it, with a giant animal fur draped over three quarters of his body.
Sila padded himself down, checking for wounds, wincing a little at the twinge in his lower back.
Wah, someone had tried to dress him. His trousers were on, unzipped at the waist, and his shirt was rolled up around his chest and
Demonic eyes, Kurzsan double, sliding out of the skin of
He spun his eyes left, then right, then up at the ceiling he’d never bothered looking at before, searching for signs of yellow-eyed doppelgangers.
There was nothing.
The whole room was vacant, the bath waterless.
I hallucinated it? Sila asked himself as he snuck out of the bathing chamber and descended the stairs into the painting hall, rubbing his back as he went.
It must’ve been early as there were no staff, though he could hear engine noises outside so they were probably coming.
The curtain drops.
Second day in a row.
He stopped by the wolfman painting and asked himself again, did I imagine the whole thing?
Not the sex, not the past five nights, the doppelganger, the demon twin of Kurzsan peeling itself out of his skin, was that part real?
Moving onto the next painting, he checked off the conflicting variants.
A yellow-eyed demon would’ve killed me.
Kurzsan may have killed me, with the dagger.
It felt malevolent.
It looked malevolent.
I was scared.
Owls aren’t malevolent, they have yellow eyes.
It was drifting over to me, absorbing my consciousness.
I could’ve just passed out.
Kurzsan won back control and took care of me, stopped me from drowning, put my clothes back on, draped a giant fur over my naked body.
Kurzsan won back control and fucked me. The ghost of Petr or Veronika came and played nurse afterwards.
A door opened in a nearby corridor, pushing him back to the painting hung on the wall to the side.
Ah, poor Veronika.
With the exact same expression she had in the bedroom pic. Not a smile, definitely not contentment.
Kurzsan standing behind the painter with a mace?
Or maybe she had been contented, inside. Genuinely contented. At least for a little while.
Until the rack sessions started up.
Grinding knuckles into the lower part of his back and rotating the stiffness out of his shoulders, Sila found a quiet exit from the castle and
continuing with the rehab exercises
made his way through the morning city and back to the hostel, where a different receptionist welcomed him in by staring at the computer screen and sipping loudly from a cup of coffee.
The clock and his phone told him it was seven twenty, which explained why the Chinese murderer wasn’t sitting on the common room beanbags with her Austrian Demonology book, so he could sit in peace for a while and think about things.
Kurzsan does not liked to be fucked
or lose control in any way
was about as far as he got before more guests came down and started chatting about how trashed they’d got the previous night.
Room is better, he thought, lifting himself up and feeling another twinge in his lower back. Wah, he may not have been raped, or beaten, but that yellow-eyed thing had definitely put him in some awkward positions for a decent amount of time cos his spine was killing him
or irritating him
given how close he’d come to Kurzsan’s dagger.
Perspective, he warned himself.
Lying with a slightly arched back on his bunk, Sila once again went through what had happened the previous night, trying to fill in the missing gap, wondering if Kurzsan had nearly raped him or he’d nearly raped the Count or it was all just normal sex play when one of you was medieval and you both had knives.
There was and could not be an answer.
He closed his eyes and attempted sleep
but the other people in the room woke up and got dressed as loudly as possible – one of the girls used a hairdryer, for over fifteen minutes – and somehow
that hairdryer sound attached itself to Kurzsan’s face, his eyes as he’d held the dagger the night before.
A man who would’ve taken you to the rack eventually, Sila thought, digging his knuckles into his lower back.
Not a lover.
Reliant on his castle spell to reel you in, semi sorry for his crimes, but only temporarily.
Sila felt for his phone and lifted it up towards the ceiling.
The Slovene to Romanian dictionary tab was still open, as it always was, so he typed out some sentences and hit translate.
Ne, too easy.
He thought out some sentences and tried to translate them himself. Things related to his mission, the Professor, places he could go to next that might have cabinets.
The Professor is waiting for you at the train station.
Profesorul vă așteaptă la gară.
He is disappointed that you are late.
Este dezamăgit că late.
He killed his wife in the bath and doesn’t feel guilty about it at all, in fact, he still keeps her paintings up as a form of control.
An hour of Romanian, map study, Slovene news and two episodes of Catdog got him to a point where he could sleep, if the curtains weren’t wide open and a hundred thousand ray of sunlight weren’t pouring in.
Forcing himself off the bunk, he worked on stretching his lower back for a few minutes, then put on his jacket, grabbed his bag and headed out.
There were faces and bodies in the common area, most of them reading Innsbruck guides and ignoring each other.
No sign of Joann-…the Chinese devil.
Sila walked over to the desk with all the literature laid out and picked up one with an old church on the cover. Flipping straight to the index, he found two references to cabinet, nodded at the text and walked to the front desk.
The receptionist was different again, and actually smiled at him as he approached.
‘Are these two places far from here?’ he asked, pointing at the cabinet locations in his leaflet.
‘About two minutes down the road.’
‘We’re in a very convenient location. Right in the middle of everything.’
‘If you want to go somewhere more remote, you could try Castle Ambras…it’s maybe two kilometre on foot.’
His reply was a bit sharper than intended, and pushed the receptionist into pretending she had work to do, which suited Sila anyway as he didn’t have any more questions.
And didn’t want to talk to anyone either.
‘Built by an 18th century master of cabinet making, the Wrangel schrank junior is notable for its…’
Sila stopped reading the plaque and yawned.
Then checked his phone.
Kurzsan popped into his head, holding a tray of poorly made sandwiches, telling him there was nothing to be sorry for.
The fuck there wasn’t.
Sila took another look at the cabinet, decided it was far too tiny for the Professor to lurk in and walked out.
Forget cabinets, he told himself in the winter sunshine outside, just fucking walk.
Different tones, added rage, indifference, it didn’t matter, he was still fixated on the lunatic Count.
Walking didn’t help either
cos he was still in his city, circling his castle, and
it was only cos it was the last five days
that’s why it had a grip on him.
If he just got on the train and left, walked around a different city, watched some gentle porn, looked at pics of old boyfriends, old girlfriends
ja, girlfriends would be better
then things would go back to normal.
You can’t love a man after only five days, he told himself, walking the same line along the river that he’d walked with Kurzsan the day before.
He can only love you
and then hide from it by vanishing all the fucking time.
Slashing at your neck with a dagger.
He picked up a twig and threw it at the river, his back twinging a bit.
Seventeen different ways of phrasing ‘staying in a castle with medieval ghost Kurzsan Innsbruck Castle Ambras’ and the only result he unearthed that was even the smallest bit relevant was a WordPress blog from a Swedish guy, who claimed he too had spent the night in the castle with a ghost man, and after chatting by the fire for a while, the ghost had asked him to wear a medieval peasant costume and respond to the name Petr.
The Swedish guy did as he was told and was prepared to suck off the Count when he pulled off his robes, but then the ghost got up and vanished, and the rest of the night, after searching every room, including a surprisingly well-kept dungeon, he gave up and moved on to Salzburg.
Sila re-read the account three times, even though the text was white on black, and when he was done, muttered to himself, ‘not even one night.’
The sky behind the bench he was slouched on responded by fading to purple.
All the cars were gone, and the lights in the windows were off.
No groundskeeper to worry about.
Sila avoided the crunchier parts of the snow, moving his way around the garden and towards the door at the back of the castle.
Unlike the last few times, it was locked.
He tried pushing it, and then knocking with gradually increasing volume, but nothing happened.
Not really a shock.
Kurzsan had never opened it for him before, and he wouldn’t start now.
He was probably sulking by the fire.
Fiddling with the handle one more time, and failing to achieve anything, Sila walked the perimeter of the castle, looking for an open window or unlatched door, or an uneven-looking chunk of wall that could be the beginning of a secret passage inside.
Twice around and he found nothing.
You’re really making it this hard, he thought, noticing a particularly large rock half buried in the snow and picking it up.
The window in front was a highly breakable target and, if his internal map was correct, would take him into a room next to the armoury hall.
He tossed the rock up in the air, testing its weight, then pushed it gently against the ersatz, antique glass,
but he didn’t throw.
Instead, he studied the pattern, a knight fighting another knight with the head of a bear.
Which one was the enemy?
Either of them?
He let the rock fall out of his hand and walked another lap around the castle, but it was a lethargic effort – he didn’t even look up at the first floor windows – as his mind was shifting
showing him the Professor of Dark Light
a demon who could lurk anywhere
no recorded baggage
at least not in the historical logs.
Sila wandered onto the deeper snow, heading on an erratic curve back towards the main gate.
The monster killed his wife in a bath.
In a fucking bath.
Cos she asked him to wash her back.
It was too early to go back to the hostel, so he walked around the streets of Innsbruck, shunning the busier ones in the centre.
There were a few oddballs,
old men talking to lamp posts
middle-aged men talking to lamp posts
a young woman painting a giant dick on a washing machine
but none of them paid Sila any attention.
He was a ghost.
No, worse, a tourist.
And his thoughts were turning again, encouraging him to go back to the castle, explaining the differences between myth and actuality, killing a woman trying to kill you in the bath vs killing a woman regularly in the bath
so he bent down to the ground, barely registering the ache in his back
and buried his hands in the snow
keeping them there even when two Canadians walked past
then got back up
and started walking again, thinking resolutely, who killed who in the bath? Ghosts. Gone people.
Not the Professor.
Around eleven, he decided it was late enough to go back.
The sullen receptionist was on duty again, this time staring up from his computer when Sila entered.
‘Guest?’ he asked, monotone.
That seemed to be the extent of the security check as he returned to the computer screen and left Sila free to roam around the common area.
It was a short roam as
sitting alone on a beanbag, reading her Austrian Demonology book, was Joanna, who looked up when he walked past and asked how his day was.
She turned a page, reading another few lines.
‘No Ljubljana pleas?’ Sila asked, watching her eyes and matching them to the demon on the cover of her book.
‘Not right now,’ she replied, looking up. ‘But I was going to ask how much longer we would be staying here.’
‘We…’ said Sila, digging nails into his palm and laughing.
‘One more day?’
‘The close-knit pair.’
He dropped the laugh, and the nails, and walked off towards the stairs, pulling the hood of his jacket up as he went.