For people with occult missions, the peak of mourning was well known to last only four days, so, despite the vague what the fuck am I doing aura floating about, Sila still managed to pick up the map and plot the next cabinet ambush, which turned out to be back in Salzburg, only two hours away by train, two and a half by bus.
‘Ljubljana is four and a half,’ said Joanna, leaning forward from the seat behind, the Austrian Demonology book in her right hand.
‘I thought I lost you in the station.’
‘It’s not too late. We could change tickets and be there by mid-afternoon.’
‘Early evening at the latest. Yes, we.’
‘I’m not going back to Ljubljana.’
‘We could be at the castle by six.’
‘It’s not that far.’ She took out the vial then the blade and mimed a slicing action on her arm. ‘Not that far at all.’
‘Just a drop.’
‘I’m going back to Salzburg then on to Czech land. After that…ne vem. I don’t know.’
‘Those places are okay, but Ljubljana is better.’
‘Why am I even telling you? You go where you want, I’ll go where I want. Okay?’
‘… … … … … … … … …’
According to the guide book he’d picked up in Innsbruck, not only was Salzburg the hometown of Mozart, which was pretty well known, it was also the home town of Ron Silver
the guy who played the evil senator in Timecop.
‘Who’s Ron Silver?’ asked the stalker, her head popping up behind his shoulder.
‘You know, I remember when I looked over your shoulder and asked about the camera…’
‘And you ignored me. No, wait, you told me to shut up. Remember that?’
‘On the hill?’
‘Yeah. The hill.’
‘I remember.’ She walked round the front of him, looked at the apartment where Ron Silver was born despite not having a clue who he was, pretended to consider the concepts of home and belonging then turned back and said, ‘the parts after that are a bit foggy though.’
‘Ha, of course you know the word foggy.’
‘Maybe they’re not so foggy for you.’
Sila walked on, turning left towards the market and then, forty minutes later, the castle.
He stopped at the bottom of the slope leading up to the main gate. There was an elderly man with a cane, standing with one degloved hand against the cold stone wall. Looked like he’d been there for centuries. Complete ossification of his boots on that ground, his brain in some past event seven hundred times better than the bottom of this slope.
Sila stared at a crop of weeds half a metre to the man’s left, trying not to hop on the same train.
Dozens of tourists passed him, heading up the slope, chatting in Chinese, German, English, Spanish, Cambodian, Swahili.
The castle above was vibrating.
With forensic activity.
Mundane staring at chainmail and saying, ‘wah, they really wore that? Looks heavy.’
No allusions to Veronika, or Petr.
Or longing for the rack.
A cold wind swiped at him from the side, forcing him to squint and look at his own hand, clamped to the wall. He pulled it away fast, muttering at the old man who was attempting a slow wink at him.
‘What are we waiting for?’ Joanna asked, already two steps ahead of him.
‘I’ve changed my mind.’
‘We’re not going up?’
‘And don’t say we’re. I’m not stopping you from going.’
‘I thought we could go together. Take some photos. Then have dinner and walk back to the hostel. You must be tired.’
‘I’m going alone.’
‘I will meet you at the hostel then.’
Sila let out a burst of barely held-in breath, plus a few specks of spit. ‘I still don’t know how you did that.’
‘Booked the same hostel as me. Here and Innsbruck.’
‘It’s a small city. Could even be a town. I’m not sure about the classification.’
‘Not that small.’
‘Then call it fate.’
‘Right,’ said Sila, walking away and looking back after fifty yards to check she wasn’t following him.
But the old man was, his stick the wrong way round, his eyes lit up with historicity.
Back at the hostel, Sila lay diagonal on his bottom bunk and tried to stop his thoughts sliding back to Innsbruck.
It was the residue stage, where he’d dwell on the library chats, the green cream, fucking for the first time in a semi-romantic way, or semi-Byronic way if he were honest.
But that way lay inertia
An old man glued to a tourist castle gate
And that wasn’t him.
Would not be him
Patching into his phone, he tried a new search.
Demon sightings in Salzburg.
Two thousand, three hundred and twenty results, none on the first page related to Salzburg.
The door opened and the Pakistani girl he’d met earlier walked in, alone, quite pretty, smiling at him.
Not a medieval psychopath, he thought, clicking onto a supposedly haunted house in Cesky Krumlov.
And Urdu was an elegant language, from what he’d heard
And she really was quite pretty.
On her own bunk, Joanna lay on her side, ostensibly reading the Spectral farmer chapter of Austrian Demonology, but actually just painting her thoughts onto the white bits between the words.
Salzburg the sute gwai
That’s what she’d called it the first time she’d come.
And Yute Long had put his even colder hands on her cheeks and said, ‘you underdressed, idiot.’
Didn’t even offer me his jacket.
Although if he had, I would’ve refused.
But he should’ve offered it.
That was basic psychological etiquette. You make the offer, they reject. You make the offer, they accept, that’s the end of the line. You don’t make the offer, even worse.
He didn’t make the offer.
But now that he wasn’t there to make excuses for it…
The door opened and a Japanese guy walked in. She rotated out of habit, and he smiled at her and said, ‘hi,’ in Mandarin.
You can do many things with a mushroom.
The other Japanese guy, in Kyoto, talking to her for four hours straight about his plans for a herbal cuisine restaurant stroke bar.
the Yukio Mishima biography by his bed.
She rotated back to the wall, picked up Austrian Demonology and continued with the account of all the asparagus possessing an ethereal green glow.
The colour of the lunatic.
Who she was chained to indefinitely now.
Had chained herself to
For a memory
A guy who didn’t even offer his jacket.
Sitting on the back seat of the car taking him across the border into Czech land, with fifty seven thousand Vietnamese clothing outlets cropped along the side of the road almost all the way to Cesky Krumlov,
how is it possible for this woman to be sitting next to me
in the same car
that I booked alone
without her seeing the website I used
or even being in the same room as me?
Was it magic?
Was she even human?
He didn’t know, but he wasn’t surprised anymore, and when they got to Cesky Krumlov and he checked into the hotel he’d booked two days earlier, he couldn’t help but laugh when she appeared next to him at the reception desk.
‘Just tell me we’re not in the same room.’
‘That’s very unlikely.’
‘Hope you’re right.’
It was weird
Cesky Krumlov was officially a Czech town, but if an alien came down and landed in the main square and looked around at the crowds of mainland Chinese faces [and Joanna] then they would probably think they were in Sichuan not Europe.
Okay, they wouldn’t think that
unless they’d done extensive reconnaissance beforehand like season 4 episode 15 or season 3 episode 2 of TNG,
but if they hadn’t
they’d probably think it was just a bunch of humans
slightly different looking humans
some with cameras
some with scowls
but basically the same,
all meandering around the town like mixed race cattle.
Standing by a market stall, taking a photo for a Chinese couple who’d spoken to him in what he guessed was basic Czech, Sila couldn’t help but isolate and develop the thought he’d just had, adding to it the image of Chinese faces bobbing around a typically mid-European town and his friend back in Liverpool, Alan Wong, the guy who told everyone he was British, not Chinese, even though he’d had a pretty shit time growing up, and
was that the fate of every world,
of every planet?
Would aliens understand the concept of race?
The concept of nationalism?
It was hard to know
but they probably wouldn’t
not from a human perspective at least.
In fact, Sila had written about it once, five years earlier, when he was merged with the machine of regular Slovene society, a 24 page theory on the idea of nationalism in science fiction.
Theory = if aliens are like humans then they must have schisms and divisions, but such splits would be unrecognisable to humans as facially all aliens would look the same and, unless the aliens had printed an English to Alien dictionary, or any human language to Alien dictionary, no one would be able to understand a word they were saying. If they had words. They may not. And if they did, would they really have a common tongue that all of their species spoke? Wouldn’t there be a bunch of alien villagers in all alien countries who only spoke the village dialect? The answer had to be yes as, if it wasn’t then they wouldn’t be aliens, they’d be archetypes, utopians, a whole planet of Eugene Debs and Elvira Dolinars. No culture could eradicate its core rottenness, even if they did have faster than light ships.
his theory wasn’t published cos he’d written it on a lilac Gummi Bears notepad with gummi bear icons at the head of each page, but, according to a drunk voluntarist outside one of the bars in Metelkova, it was a good one.
Sila walked around the centre of Cesky Krumlov, alone, which didn’t take long as it was a small place. The church was where he really wanted to go, but he knew Joanna was following him and he didn’t want her to be there again when he opened a cabinet.
She was a bad luck charm,
the last one they’d opened had a tape recorder and led to temporary heartbreak, she couldn’t be allowed to infect him again.
He stopped at the bottom of a slope leading to yet another castle and looked at the street behind.
There were lots of Chinese people, but they were all in groups, chatting to each other.
Only one of them was alone, pretending to look at a map.
Jezus, how long was this gonna last?
Sila looked at the main gate, and started walking, deciding to erase her from his mind and enjoy the castle, but when he stopped at another slope, this one inside the castle with huge windows on the wall breaking in sunlight, she caught up with him and smiled.
‘You’re too serious,’ she replied, putting away the map.
‘Serious? You’ve only just seen my face.’
‘You need to relax more, do silly things.’
‘I’m not a child.’
She patted him awkwardly on both shoulders and looked up at the gothic window.
‘Did you pay to come in here?’ he asked, harsher than intended. ‘Do you know anything about this place?’
She raised her arms as if blocking the sunlight and pulled a pretty impressive burning vampire face.
‘You do one too,’ she said, returning to normal.
‘Why not? It was your idea.’
‘You did it before.’
‘I didn’t do anything. What are you talking about?’
She blinked and looked at him like he’d just appeared from another dimension. ‘Mistake,’ she said quietly.
After getting through series 3 episode 2 of Blake’s 7, Sila ignored the urge to search for ‘Paul Darrow sex scenes’ and went instead to his hotel room window.
Outside was the river and above the river was the castle. There was a blue light shining against the wall facing the town, making it seem like there was some kind of event taking place, a ball, or satanic comic con, but there was nothing, just a deceptive blue light. That’s probably where she was now, back up there with the camera and some poor Czech guy, looking for her precious Krsnik.
He lit one of the cigarettes he’d bought in Salzburg and looked out of the other window onto the side street.
There was nothing to see
no bars to stumble home from
except for the one just off the main square, but that closed at 10pm.
If she’s not up at the castle, she must be asleep, he thought, taking in smoke and not letting it back out again. Or reading that fucking Demonology book.
Sila finished the cigarette, cursed himself for smoking it, put on his jacket, slipped the green knife in the inside pocket and left.
Twenty minutes later he was outside the church, trying to find the lock on the front door.
There didn’t seem to be one, but there was a balcony about three storeys up, so he climbed onto the wall then across to a pipe and edged his way up using the strength in his arms more than his legs.
The balcony led to a roof which led to a skylight that was half open, the priest clearly not afraid of the one or two thieves probably operating in Cesky Krumlov. It was understandable. They were more likely to target the groups of Chinese tourists in the main square, not places of worship at one in the morning.
Would they even be awake at this time?
Sila pulled the skylight up and looked down into the room below. There was a desk, a jug and a cabinet against the far wall.
There she blows, he thought, climbing through and hanging by his fingertips until he was sure the five foot drop wouldn’t break his ankles.
‘… … … … …’
He took out his green knife and walked over to the cabinet, checking the skylight once to make sure she hadn’t followed him.
It was clear, mostly, just a three quarter moon and two clouds, no voices or chatter from the street below and
as he put his non-stabbing hand on the cabinet handle
and heard silence from inside
this is it
a nothing town in Czech land
a deserted church
it has to be.
He pulled the door open fast and did one third of a stabbing motion, stopping when he saw there was something in there, which was weird as that’s what he was hoping for, but this something was not a person or a professor, it was
it was a dummy
a poorly made, life-sized dummy of a
‘… … … …’
He pricked the skin of the dummy with his knife, to confirm its fakeness.
No whelps of pain or backhand slaps.
He put the knife back into the tiny wound and expanded it, pulling out cotton wool.
He picked up some of the cotton wool and rubbed it between his fingers.
‘What the hell are you doing here?’ he asked, Picard-like.
It was a good question but there was no one in the room to answer it and if he stayed until the morning then the Czech priest would come in, have a panic attack, call the police, and not answer the question either.
‘… … … …’
Sila moved the desk beneath the skylight, pulled himself back up onto the roof, slid back down the pipe against the wall, crossed over to the other wall then jumped down onto the street where a voice said softly,
He spun round with the knife, praying for the professor, or Paul Darrow, anyone except her, but who else could it be, at this time of the night, in this tiny Czech town, asking something as specific as find anything?
‘You seem jumpy.’
‘I thought you were asleep,’ he said, keeping the knife raised, trying to dilute the warm colour of her shape and form against the bleak street backdrop.
‘Not tired yet.’
‘I went to the castle, got bored then came here.’
She looked at the knife hanging in the air. ‘I assume it was empty.’
‘Don’t be dense.’
‘It’s none of your business.’ Sila put the knife back in his jacket pocket and started walking.
‘Are we going back to the hotel?’
‘You don’t seem tired. Would you like a quick drink in my room?’
He stopped but didn’t turn. If he turned, he knew he’d go back with her, whereas if he didn’t, he could keep pretending she looked like Gowron from DS9.
‘I have wine.’
‘You can tell me about the next cabinet on your list. Or previous cabinets. I don’t mind.’
He carried on walking.
‘… … … … … … … …’ she said, turning to face the church. ‘… … … … … … …’
‘I don’t care.’