Being low on cash and far from the train station was fact in this realm, but Joanna skewed all that analytical Popper shit and made it, in scattered bursts, to the taxi rank outside the hospital before her legs gave way and the body followed.
‘Stop being sneaky,’ Sila said, lifting her up into a wheelchair and pushing her back inside.
Joanna didn’t answer beyond a guttural wah. If she did, she might elaborate too far. And then they’d ask her what happened in the castle again, and she’d already forgotten her original story.
What had torn her leg up
in that version?
She couldn’t remember.
Out of town bear?
‘You don’t have to say anything, it’s okay,’ said Sila, steering her back into the room with a Vicenza in the 60’s painting on the wall, and laying her on the bed. ‘I’ll do all the talking.’
Joanna muttered raw Cantonese and pulled the blanket over her head.
‘They said we can leave tomorrow. Officially leave, I mean. Your injuries aren’t that bad, mostly just shock, the doctor said, though you’re lucky they didn’t find anything in your blood.’
No movement from the blanket.
Sila picked up a pamphlet, said, ‘ah, this place,’ and pointed at it even though she couldn’t possibly see anything.
‘I figure we can go here next.’
The blanket creased as Joanna shifted onto her side.
‘Genoa. You know where it is? I think it used to be a famous port in medieval times, one of those city states. Can’t find any info on cabinets…yet.’
He placed the pamphlet on the bed, close to where he thought her hand might be.
‘I did some research on trains to Spain though and, apparently, it’s easier to just get the ferry from Genoa. It goes direct to Barcelona, 18 hours, pretty long stretch. I always thought the sea wasn’t so wide over there, but, I don’t know…guess they’re going as fast as they can. Probably. Nah, must be. You pay for you ticket up front so they wouldn’t need to keep it slow on purpose.’
He noticed that her pillow was hanging off the side of the bed, so he reached forward and pushed deeper under her head.
‘I worked out a plan, pending your approval, of course. You wanna hear? Okay, I’ll just say it anyway. It’s not that far, actually. We get the train from here to Milan then change for Genoa. About four hours total. If you’re feeling tired, we can stay here another few nights. Not really a problem, I already paid the hostel guy for tonight, and there’s no one else in the place so…’
There was a knock on the door. Sila didn’t say anything, but a policewoman in a North Face jacket came in anyway and said they’d been up to the castle and found the bloodstains, some marks in the snow, but no sign of the bear Joanna had told them about.
‘I guess it crawled away into the forest,’ said Sila, gently stroking the head shape part of the blanket.
‘Yes, it is likely. We found some evidence of something, some holes in the snow going into the forest. They were not human.’
‘We also found a Roma jacket, near those same holes. Quite large, man-size…ripped, lots of blood, claw marks. We’re still waiting for results, but looks like an animal did this. Probably the same one.’
The lump under the blanket shifted, subtly, the head shape tilting towards the policewoman.
‘Shit. At the castle?’
‘In a field, two miles away. From the blood trail, it looks like the jacket person was attacked near the castle then tried to walk…somewhere…we don’t know. One mile walking, the other mile, they were either pulled or crawled by themselves.’
‘So there was definitely an animal of some kind up there.’
‘Yes, looks like. We think the animal followed the jacket person, attacked again, and pulled the second mile. Actually, if it is a bear, it could explain many things. There are other cases we have in this area.’
‘You mean the missing men?’
‘You know about this?’
‘I read about it, online. They’ve been going missing for the last seven years, right?’
She nodded. ‘But it is strange…fifteen men and only now we have the first evidence of attack.’
Sila thought about saying the bear got sloppy but decided it could make him look like a sociopath and just let out a soft yeah instead.
‘No sightings, no reports, we don’t see a bear here for many years. But if it is not a bear, then what can it be?’
‘I don’t know.’
‘Maybe another animal, a wolf, wild dog, we don’t know.’ The policewoman looked at the shape under the blanket. ‘Is she sleeping?’
‘She wasn’t two minutes ago.’
‘Why is the blanket on her face?’
‘To block out the world, probably. I don’t really know. Ah, she might be asleep. To be honest, she falls asleep pretty fast, even when she’s not injured.’
‘Did she tell you anything more?’
‘No, just some random murmuring in Cantonese.’
‘Did she mention the jacket person? Seeing someone near the castle?’
‘Not that I’m aware of.’
The policewoman looked at the bed. ‘Okay, well when she takes off the blanket, if she remembers anything new, can you ask her to call me?’
The policewoman nodded and left, leaving the door open.
‘Did you get all that?’ Sila asked, shaking the arm area of the blanket.
It didn’t respond.
‘Looks like the Krsnik got someone else too. That makes sixteen in seven years, pretty prolific. Don’t know what that person was doing up there though. Trying to walk to Germany or France? Midnight vlog recording? Or maybe they just started walking from Vicenza and got lost. What do you think? Did you see anyone else up there?’
‘Sorry, I forgot. I do all the talking, right?’
The blanket did a nodding motion, making Sila smirk, though he stopped short of a sound to couple it.
‘Okay, well…Genoa then. Off to Genoa. Stay at this hostel two more nights, if you need, then train it to Genoa. After that, ferry to Barcelona. And no more sneak attempts to get a taxi, okay?’
The blanket was static again.
Sila picked up the pamphlet and re-read it, checking the sailing times for the ferry and noting that Barcelona was only one stop, and the final destination was actually Morocco.
He folded the pamphlet and put it in his pocket.
‘The more I think about it, the luckier I feel about the Krsnik getting away.’ He looked down at the green spiral patterns on the blanket, the edges beginning to fade. ‘Or not lucky, someone still died, but…I don’t know. Would’ve been difficult to explain if there was an actual Krsnik body…like, what it was, what kind of animal, its species, why no one had ever seen one before. Though I guess it wouldn’t have been our problem either way. You said bear and, technically, the thing I saw looked a bit like a bear too…or pretty close to one. And it was dark, so…’
Sila stopped talking for a while and looked at the TV up near the ceiling, rigged onto a nailed in frame. He’d always wondered why they put it up so high and he wondered it again now. Wasn’t it bad for your neck?
Rising off the bed, he haze-walked over to the window and surveyed the forest in the distance. Somewhere in among all that canopy, all those trees, was a creature, crawling back to Slovenia, bleeding out. Or maybe it wasn’t. Maybe she’d killed it, and it was lying in a shallow grave. Or in a shack basement, tied up, waiting to be waterboarded. It wouldn’t be the first time she’d held something back from him
it wouldn’t even be the seventeenth time
she was an expert at not telling him things and
not just him
22 other men also
each one having had no idea they were about to be dead cos she didn’t say a word and
why the fuck should he care at all
about a few cuts and bruises and dizziness?
She’d tried to kill him
He sat back down on the bed and thought of at least three more reasons why he was right and she was wrong before something in his brain, the review trigger, kicked in and told him you can’t make your own barricades, it’s not valid, no, worse, it’s dishonest, disingenuous, dis-…it’s just the same way you always think when you see topics you have no bias in, ahhh, why don’t both sides just switch and argue the other’s position and that way they can understand what the other person is trying to say
even with Nazis?
Did any of this make sense? It didn’t. Or it did and it didn’t. At some point he knew what he’d been trying to express, but now he’d mentioned Nazis and
had she tried to kill him…genuinely tried to do it?
and hadn’t he just done the same thing to her?
His eyes went to the window again, viewing a blurred forest through the condensation.
To move forward, you have to be flexible, a guy in a bar had told him once. Like Jeri Ryan and her volcano nude scene in Magma Carta. Dip in, strip off, restructure your defences, smile.
Was that more valid?
Sila looked up at the TV. There was an Italian drama playing, a police woman hiding in a fountain, watching two men talk about something in hushed tones, crime probably.
She put a phone to her lips and spoke to another guy, her partner. He made a joke, she laughed. Clearly nothing bad had happened to them yet and, judging by the light, jaunty tone, nothing would.
‘It’s weird,’ he said, taking out the pamphlet yet again and pretending to look at the world-famous Genoa Aquarium on the front cover. ‘I really thought it was dead. It looked dead, when I left. Wasn’t moving at all. Not even the eyes.’
He turned a page of the pamphlet.
‘Guess my knife isn’t as sharp as I thought. Or the Krsnik’s got tougher skin. Like chainmail, or a shark.’ He reached over and touched the blanket covering her arm. ‘Next time I’ll go for the throat. I promise. And chain you to the hostel bed.’
He laughed at his joke cos the blanket lump didn’t, then pulled his hand away.
‘I’m gonna get a coffee. They’re a bit bigger here. Not toy town size.’ He stood up, pulling the sleeves of his jacket down. ‘You want one?’
The blanket nodded and a voice broke out. ‘Black, no sugar.’
The next morning, Joanna was released and, though it had only been three days, her leg had recovered to such an extent that she didn’t need to stumble around in a wheelchair anymore, which was convenient as the only way she could’ve taken one out of the hospital would’ve been to pay for it
she was really low on cash.
Sila came early to take her from the hospital back to the hostel, apologising for not being even earlier.
‘I forgive you,’ Joanna said, allowing him to drape her arm over his shoulder.
‘Do you forgive me?’
She paused, giving way to pedestrian noise and traffic until they were in a taxi, then leaned over to his neck and said, ‘Ljubljana.’
‘All the terrible things that happened there.’
Sila stared out the window, cycling through the various phrases that he’d rehearsed ever since they’d slept together back in Innsbruck and then forgetting them completely and just squeezing her hand.
‘My leg hurts,’ she said, resting her chin on his shoulder.
‘Leaning over makes it hurt.’
‘Sit back then.’
She scrunched up her face like a cartoon and pushed herself back to her side of the taxi. Then the window took her, the beautiful architecture of Vicenza, the pillars and balconies and walls that had been there for centuries
and the surveillance cameras
which looked hawk-like
and brand new.
Back at the hostel, Sila told her to lie down and get a few hours rest, but she refused, saying it was better to keep moving forward, like a squid.
‘Like a shark?’
She asked what time the next train was and, as Sila took out his phone to search, started packing her bag. All the important stuff went in first, her Slovene to Chinese dictionary, the German gift, the book on Krsnik, which she looked at for a long, long time.
It was hard to know why, she’d read it so many times, what more was there to learn and, clearly thinking the same thing, Sila stopped scanning the train timetable and asked her direct,
‘you still wanna go down that road?’
‘The Ljubljana brick one.’
She patted her bag and replied, ‘I don’t know, maybe,’ which didn’t mean much cos roads were fairly permanent and Ljubljana wasn’t going anywhere in her lifetime, so a side mission to Genoa or Spain or the Arctic Circle didn’t make that much difference, if any, and her I don’t know, maybe told Sila exactly that, so he skipped a sequitur about cul-de-sacs and focused on packing his own bag, the green knife, the Italian Monogatari book, the new English to Romanian dictionary he’d picked up the day before, and, as he was taking out his wallet, he found a loose vial of grey vasic and, remembering the black hole gaps, the ease of all those half-acted journeys
turned to his sometime Misako and
asked if she needed any.
Joanna stared at the vial as if it were the shadow of Prince Taob, the liquid inside the ID of his brides.
‘It might help,’ Sila said, taking out the stopper.
Giving an answer in sharp Cantonese, she snatched the vial out of his hand and hobbled into the bathroom. Putting one hand on the mirror to steady herself, she poured the vasic down the sink, shook out the last drops then dropped the glass remains in the tiny bin, saying defiant to the ugly tiles,
‘don’t want it,
don’t need it,
don’t ask me again.’