There was no answer
so he tried it again and this time it was a woman’s voice, first in German then in English. ‘Hello, Meine Augen book shop, can I help?’
He hung up, annoyed the guy had given him the wrong number then relieved cos it would’ve been a distraction and he wasn’t going back there even though it was pretty decent and the darts bar was cool and
‘You’re not talking into the phone, so…’
Joanna went back to her Gum Yong book, for about four seconds, then looked up again. ‘Was it the man or the woman?’
‘On the phone. Were you trying to call the man or the woman?’
‘I don’t know his name. You disappeared with him for a long time. At the darts bar.’
‘Ah, that guy. We went outside to smoke. I told you that last night.’
‘I can’t remember.’
‘You say that a lot.’
She muttered something in Cantonese straight down at her book, pretended to read another page, gave up the act, spoke at Sila’s neck. ‘Did you not like that guy?’
‘To smoke with?’
‘… … … … … … … … … … … … … … … …’
‘I said you don’t have to worry. My ex flatmate is gay, I don’t care.’
Sila spun his phone and dropped it on the second loop. ‘I’m not worried.’
‘You don’t have to hide it.’
‘Okay what? I’m not hiding anything.’ He dusted the carpet fluff off his screen and swiped back onto the article he’d been reading two days ago – 12 Most Terrifying Danish Mythological Creatures And How To Appease Them. ‘I like some women and I like some men. What part of that is hiding?’
‘You are bi?’
‘If that’s what you wanna name it.’
‘I don’t, but it is called bi.’
‘Anyway, the point is, I didn’t do anything with that guy. Or the woman. We went to smoke, we came back, that’s it. And now we’re moving on.’
Joanna closed her book, putting her palm flat on the cover. ‘I’m sorry.’
‘I know you like it here, it’s a nice place. The darts bar was nice too.’
‘I don’t really care, to be honest.’
‘But it’s okay, Innsbruck has better mountains. I climbed one of them last time, when you were spending time with that guy in the castle.’
Sila gave up on the article and looked at the hostel walls, settling on a retro poster of Holy Mountain above the leaflet desk. The film that everyone knew but no one could make it through fifteen minutes of. Cos it was vague, elliptical shit. Pretending to be something behind other doors but really just wearing the skin of the thing, with generic yellow eyes and
cream that must’ve died in the enlightenment
Cos he couldn’t find it anywhere
not even online
if he could just get a smear of it
dip it on
find a more reliable medieval tyrant who didn’t vanish at the first sign of
whatever it was
his dick’s turn at the wheel
Sila blinked his way out of the Kurzsan loop, focusing on the ugly yellow of the next poster along. Blow Out. Then the blank face of Joanna opposite, telepathically following his journey. Or that’s what it seemed like.
‘You’ve crashed,’ he said, waving a hand in front of her face.
Out of the hostel and Munich and onto a train that, despite faux intentions, was taking them down to Innsbruck.
Not gonna go back
not gonna go back
run to the castle door and jump on his demon-assisted dick the second I step out the station.
He closed his eyes.
Then opened them straight away and tried reading the Slovene-Romanian dictionary. When that didn’t work, he attempted Joanna’s Gum Yong book. A little better, the story ran smooth and fast, had the heroes stabbing drugged guards, but it wasn’t Kurzsan.
Finally, he put the book down and picked up the dictionary again.
‘Are you reflecting on Munich?’ Joanna asked, looking up from the German thing she occasionally pretended to read.
‘The ping pong guy?’
‘Thinking ahead to Innsbruck?’
‘Please stop guessing.’
Joanna nodded and watched Sila fake-read the dictionary. After tolerating two minutes of him flicking through pages and muttering random Romanian, she asked him if he would be staying at the castle in Innsbruck or the hostel with her?
‘Obviously, the hostel.’
‘What about the mountain?’
‘The one you said you wanted to climb. It’s next to the castle.’
‘I don’t care.’
‘You don’t want to climb it now?’
‘Or you don’t want to go to the castle?’
‘If it’s the Kurtain guy you’re worried about, it’s okay. There are other mountains in other cities. Other castles too. We can just follow the Alps down, cross the border into-…’
‘We’re not going to Ljubljana.’
‘You always say that, but every train we take is heading south.’
‘Doesn’t mean a thing. Italy’s south, Greece is south.’
‘Slovenia is south.’
‘Jesus of a fucking-…’ Sila leaned back in the train seat and faced the window. ‘I don’t have the energy to go through this conversation again. I’m taking a nap.’
‘Don’t try and make me miss the station.’
‘Innsbruck is the final stop.’
‘Then don’t pick me up and put us on a different train. To any place beginning with Lj.’
‘Are you still taking a nap?’
She leaned across, patting him on the knee. ‘Have a nice dream of Munich.’
‘I don’t dream.’
‘Okay, then have a nice black square.
‘Or blank square…I don’t know which is better. Black is a horror movie colour, blank is existentially bleak.’
Sila closed his eyes and straight away saw the interior of a Roger Corman castle imprinted on the back of his eyelids, the walls and fireplace in glorious technicolour.
It didn’t matter that they weren’t in Munich anymore, the ping pong guy was a sleaze, so was the girl, no, he was just happy to be on the way to Austria, a country with castles and cabinets and
Yes, he may have been there only a few weeks earlier, with her, but that was a brief trip, cut short by medieval trickery and then self-trickery
his brain telling him this whole cabinet thing was fucking nonsense, a self-constructed ruse to distract him from something vague or normal or the world around him, perhaps, maybe, he didn’t know, never found out, but four days of that, of immersion haze that had taken him into Czech land, land of Vietnamese markets and shit from China and almost no cabinets, unlike Austria which had about fifty thousand castles, each one possibly, potentially, almost definitely having at least one cabinet or two
protected by a fucking beautiful count
with magical cream and
if he could just
There was a castle on top of the hill, just five seconds earlier, it looked like a ruin, but somehow Joanna had conspired to miss it.
‘The bus can’t turn back.’
‘We’ll wait till it stops then return.’
‘Or we can walk. Can’t be that far.’
‘We’ll be over the border when the bus stops.’ She checked the map on her phone. ‘See, this town here. I can’t pronounce the name.’
‘Gelden something…doesn’t matter. We can get a taxi, it’ll be fun.’
‘In what way?’
‘It’s not a tourist castle. It’ll be just us.’
‘You don’t even know if there’s a cabinet.’
‘There will be.’
Innsbruck was a city with a piece carved out
a castle-shaped void he brought back in slashes
there for him alone
He walked close
a road two short roads away
saw the sign suggesting it
heard fragments of wind whistling his name
but on closer listening
Kurzsan’s been sleeping on the rack the last two months
digging nails into his own dick
A floating jar of sapient green slime
tried to pull him in
but she was there
in her bubble jacket
tunnelling under and
He pulled her hair, or tao fah as she’d called it, back past the side of her head and played with her sidey
her wispy, ghost-like sidey
the same sidey she’d had when she told him to stand still and wait while she vanished round the side of the castle
the same sidey she’d had for the 22 others
the same sidey she’d
‘I need to sleep.’
He pulled her hair again and ran his hands down her side, all the way to the inside of her thigh.
‘Don’t get cyber.’
‘I’m tired, need to sleep.’
‘What the hell is cyber?’
She rotated and faced the wall and shrugged him off when he tried to put his arm over her side, so he turned to face the rest of the room and told himself
I’m never touching her again
no matter how drunk she gets me
I won’t do it
witch doesn’t like me anyway
she’s just using me the same way the Freddie nurse used Joey in Nightmare on Elm Street 3, the woman’s a sociopath, she doesn’t care, even when we were fucking she looked faintly bored, no clutching, no get it in deeper
didn’t try to look down and see it
witch cold sociopath
won’t do anything with her again, even if there’s drink or vasic or that kind of bleak-erotic atmosphere
I will not touch her.
‘It’s no good.’
‘If you really wanna go there then it’s the fastest way. All the other routes take an extra 6 hours minimum.’
‘I never said I wanted to go there.’
‘Ljubljana. Zagreb. Budapest. Bucharest. Overnight, we’d get there around 5 in the afternoon tomorrow.’
‘You’re not listening. I don’t want to go to Romania and I definitely don’t wanna go there through Slovenia.’
‘Then why are you reading that all the time?’
Sila looked at the Slovene-Romanian dictionary in his hands, open on the S section, and closed it.
‘Closing it won’t hide anything.’
‘I’ve told you a thousand million times, I’m not going back to Ljubljana. You want to find the cave, go yourself, I’m going this way.’
Sila looked at the signs in the station, all of them displaying Austrian names. ‘That way.’
‘Italy then Spain then Portugal.’
Joanna muttered ‘Portugal’ then pulled out the vial and the blade, dangling both in front of him like a Yuki Onna sex video. ‘Are you sure?’
‘What am I doing, what am I doing, what am I doing, what am I doing, what am I doing?’
Sila stared at the face in the mirror, water streaming down from the forehead to the chin, and told himself, whatever happens, don’t get on that train, don’t get on, don’t let her slice you again, don’t let her jump on you, she’s a murderer, a liar, don’t give into her, don’t…
Outside, Joanna waited with the luggage, trying to come up with new ways to get him back to the same place she’d been trying to magnetise him towards for the last month or so.
For some reason, the grey wasn’t working, even if it had gotten him this far, to the Austrian border, but they’d been there for two days and he couldn’t seem to take that final step, there was always an excuse, two days ago it was the weather, yesterday it was a headache, today it’s a worse headache, always a way to block her off which meant
which meant he was
meant he was trying to
trying to what?
What did it mean?
Part of him wanted to go back but part of him didn’t but then
which part was which
what was the psychology behind it
what was the rationalism?
She picked up his rucksack and did a few arm curls as if that would somehow give her a clue.
If he travelled light it meant he always intended to go back home, or it meant he wanted to keep moving, never going back, and if it’s heavy it means
Why did he not want to go back?
And more importantly
how could she force him to?
A stronger dose of vasic?
There was no guarantee that would work, it hadn’t the past two days, even though she’d genuinely believed it could make you do things you didn’t want to do, or on the surface, you didn’t want to do them but deep down you did, the same way men would act like they didn’t want to fuck you on the first date but if encouraged or drunk enough then they would because they were short term creatures, just like right wing politicians and Fire Hand Zhang, but Sila had resisted which meant…which could mean there was a deeper level of need not to go back to Ljubljana, trauma perhaps, the encounter with the Krsnik, that could’ve fucked him up, must’ve fucked him up, at least a little but
even that didn’t make sense as he’d already been away for a long time before that happened, and the whole cabinet thing too, that was the not the action of a man who was happy where he’d been born but
that was okay, she understood that part
she hadn’t been back in years, but, if she had to, she would, if someone really wanted her to go back, she would get on a plane and go direct cos it wasn’t a nightmare for her, it was fine, a bit tedious but
mostly fine and
it wasn’t disgust or terror keeping her away, it wasn’t anything, it was the thing keeping her here, like a spaceship circling a black hole, a spaceship captained by a man with his foot permanently stuck on reverse, a man she’d probably have to drag by the fingernails to the top of that hill, if she had the strength to do it, which she didn’t, unless she paid someone else to do it, or found a stronger drug, or a hypnotist
god, a hypnotist
what was this coming to
couldn’t he just say, okay, I’ll go back up
I’ll show you to the cave
then we’re done
how hard would it be to do that?
The thoughts streamed a little further, going back to core memories of other stubborn people she’d known, how she’d tried to fix them, how she’d been pissed off when they’d called her stubborn too, and annoyingly defensive, even on little things, and
anger started to build, as if her own brain was turning against her, telling her it was wrong to drug a guy and drag him up to the top of a hill, well, yeah, if you put it like that, but that’s not the truth of it, that’s like pointing at Robocop and calling him a murderer without any context at all, and all those men, they didn’t necessarily die, and she didn’t actively kill them and
they were all perverts anyway, she was doing Slovenia a favour, and Poland, that guy was the worst, he probably would have gone back to Warsaw and date-raped hundreds of other women, he’d probably done it already, so really, she was doing them a favour, a wai dai favour that only she would ever know about but
the door opened and Sila came out, still rubbing his face dry, and said, ‘don’t care what you say, I’m going to Italy. If you don’t wanna come, fine. If you do, this way.’
Joanna broke out of her defences and weighed up the options. It was a quick weighing. She could go to Ljubljana now and get nowhere or she could go with him and get nowhere over a longer duration of time.
‘And no more grey valic.’
‘I’m done with that shit. Okay?’
‘Okay. But I’ll keep it on standby, just in case.’
‘No, I’m done with it. No more.’
He picked up his rucksack and went off to the ticket counter without looking back to check if she was following.
She grabbed the handle of her luggage and looked at the platform with Ljubljana written above it.
It may as well have said Neptune
or Alpha Centauri
or the seventh circle of hell
any of which would probably be closer and more appealing than Ljubljana
to that Slovene pokkai.