Category Archives: Stories

Lore

The Oberbaumbrucke was quiet, except for the patrols who guarded the bridge. So no-one was there to pay witness as, one by one, they slipped silently over the edge, to drown in the waters of the Spree. One guard turned at a slight sound, but ignored it, assuming it was children singing in Kreuzberg. As a result, he missed the figure that dissolved away, humming, into the night.

***

It had reached that point in time when they no longer knew whether to say yesterday or tomorrow. Somewhere someone played something which sounded vaguely like Can remixed, but no-one really cared anymore. Jens situated himself as close as he could to the new resident in their squat. He traced the outline of the figure – the drapery white hair falling to the kneecaps, holes in import Levi’s showing bruised flesh beneath. The arch of the foot, the cupola of a church. Sacral. He reached out a hand.

– It’s soon, I’m telling you.

– No way, Gere.

– Yeah, for sure. Hungary opened its borders.

– They’ll close them again when they realize what’s coming through.

– That’s our cousins you’re talking about.

– Yeah. Indoctrinated bastards.

– So you want to keep the Wall then?

– Nah. It upsets my aesthetic glands.

– You’re pretentious, Addy, you know that?

The foot. The arch of the foot. Jens touched, not even, merely grazed it with his nail. The body in the Levi’s crooned in response. Jens smiled; most people couldn’t resist his touch.

When Jens woke in the late afternoon he was tangled in sweat-drenched sheets alone, and humming.

***

The club was packed. Jens should have had no chance of getting in, but an opening had appeared in the VIP line, and the bouncer nodded, letting him slip through. He’d been charmed all day – given free food when passing a local cafe and the best booth in the bar. Stein on the house. It was only as the noise in the club began to drown out all other sound that he realized that he’d been humming. Since he’d woken. Alone, like the pickups he escaped from in the early hours of most mornings.

Then there they were – that hair, those feet – and that wasn’t important any more. Barefoot? In here? Bravery, stupidity, indolence, he didn’t know. Compulsively, he reached out.

– I missed you this morning, my…

– Not yours. Never yours.

The words were acid. And the face…

He woke up, later, alone – and profoundly. The news said refugees had stormed the West German Embassy in Prague, and were refusing to leave.

– It’s the beginning, Alex said. His eyes were bright, looking to a new dawn.

It didn’t feel that way to Jens. Later, he threw himself into the Landwehrkanal. He had no family, and was not missed.

***

– Everything feels damp when she’s around.

– What?

Alex was still somewhat bleary from pot. He’d been thinking about Jens, weirdly. It had only just occurred to him that he’d probably been the last of their friends to see him before he’d vanished in the summer. It hadn’t seemed worth worrying about at the time – most of them were drifters and Jens had probably moved on. In any case, calling the police was stupid. Not even members of the Rainbow Factory, caught up as it was in an institutional quagmire, could stand against the officers of Schertz’s Direktion 5, and the radical politics of the early days of the squats had rapidly dissolved into parties and pot. In any case, the disappearance of a squatter would be of no consequence to the authorities – not with all the other rumors spinning around the city that November.

– Are you even listening?

– Sorry.

Addy huffed, puffing out her pale cheeks.

– She creeps me out. Doesn’t she bug you with her humming? And the way she flirts with everyone? Temptress.

– Jealous?

– Fuck off.

Addy huffed again, flicking away a fly.

– OK, so maybe a bit. And she doesn’t flirt. She just…I don’t know, pheromones or something. She plays them. And in all seriousness now, I’m worried about Made. He follows her around like a lovesick puppy, and she seems to have no idea. I don’t even know if she uses it to her advantage. But it bugs me. It’s weird.

***

– You’ve not told us your name. You’ve been here months and I have no idea who you are.

The white-haired figure didn’t answer, and just kept humming, raking through her tresses with uncharacteristically pretty seashell combs. It was as if Made wasn’t there. She never seemed to pay any attention to the people she attracted. Made had never heard her speak, only hum, and purr like a cat when pleased by a touch. He’d heard her hiss, too.

– Can I touch you again?

Drugs and lust made him daring.

– I am not yours.

The voice was harsh and stilted. Made tucked the sheet around himself, and turned towards the wall.

– In this time, I choose. Before, I was not permitted. But now, I have who I want. And I want the divided ones. The broken hearted ones. The ones who have lost. And the ones who have punished and hurt. I will take them, and make them my own, and they will repeat and repeat until I have mine own again.

She moved towards him. Her nails were sharp and wet. He had to wear high collars and long sleeves the next day to avoid questions, but people still looked askance when he flinched from their touch, and turned towards the window, humming. He even brushed Addy off: too absorbed in the tune to notice how her face fell.

Later, he visited the Intershop at Friedrichstraẞe for cheap cigarettes and spirits, and then made his way to the Spree. Having removed his clothes, and folded them neatly in a pile, he smoked the whole packet of Marlboros before downing whatever piss the bottle contained.

Addy watched from the shadows, and never afterwards could she say if it was reverence, the eerie humming which hung in the air, or the fear of the white-blond hair she’d glimpsed in the darkness which prevented her from moving. She just knew that she took snap after snap with her stolen Leica, and was inconsolable for days after Made walked into the Spree.

***

Addy had continued to photograph everything, and Alex had had to remind her that cameras needed film on several occasions. So it was not surprising that when a body was pulled out of the river by a stray dog, who then tried to eat it, she was there with her camera, compulsively clicking and crying.

– Made?

Addy nodded, then ran to the river’s edge to throw up.

– She made him do it. She’s killing us. We’re dying. She smudged her dark eyeliner across her face, hiding under the black hair.

Alex rubbed her back, and shooed the dog from the corpse of his friend. The police would be approaching soon, so he moved Addy from the scene, glancing back at the Wall as he did so. Not long, now, till sunrise.

When they got back to the squat, the telltale smell of damp led to the humming creature. These days she rarely left her room, and when she did she seemed weaker than she had in the summer. Sick. So it was easy for Alex and Addy to strap her wrists behind the back of a chair, and her ankles to its legs. They demanded answers. Physically passive, she answered nothing, and continued humming. She seemed bizarrely serene.

Whilst Alex cajoled and begged, Addy shouted, normally icy cheeks a heightened pink. Eventually, her face hardened.

– I know. There’s only one thing to do. It seems appropriate. But we will have to wait.

***

– It’s coming down! Finally!

After a hesitation of just a moment, Alex and Addy grabbed the figure they’d strapped to the chair.

– Help us carry her Gere – we’re going to the Wall.

Alex heard the creature mutter something. “Three again”.

They ran out of the squat, and into the mass of people running towards the border. By the time they arrived, block after block of the Curtain had been torn away, and the other half of the city was starting to creep through.

They dragged her up to the top of the tallest remaining section of the Wall that they could see. Her hair fell in long waves, matting over her face. They forced her to look down onto the other side, pushing her head and shoulders at right angles. She looked pitiful, all of a sudden.

– My name is Lore. And you are my three knights, come once more to kill me.

Alex’s willpower only just held. She looked just like a child – small and blond, fragile, like a bird. As she turned her head towards him, her eyes were huge, the depths of whirlpools. He hadn’t realized how blue they were.

– I would once more look deep into the Rhine…

Alex’s hand almost lost its grip. He blinked back tears, and tore his face away from her sapphire gaze. Suddenly, Lore seized, and, staring into the crowd, whispered something which might have been “my darling” before launching herself over the side of the wall. Alex lurched forward to catch her, but was pulled back by Addy’s black nails. He fell against Gere, and the large Bavarian gripped him like a bear.

Her body crumpled on the ground. Around her, and the thin, distraught young man who fell to his knees and grasped her body to his, the masses surging over the border parted, running over the Spree and into Kreuzberg. The guards were watching, and the people, finally, sang.

Untitled Letter

I am writing you this letter because, foolishly, I like the permanence it pretends to invoke. Don’t imagine for one minute I think it will find its way to you, there on the outside. They’re too good for that – no hope of even smuggling it out in the toilet waste. They’ve grubby, greedy fingers, and they feed their suspicions on my fleshy words. But still, when I write, when I press the pen to paper (poor surrogate for your skin) I can hope for one tiny moment.

I am writing you this letter because they gave us pens and paper. I don’t know why. Perhaps it is a deliberately exquisite form of torture – to offer the means of creating communication which can never be received. Nothing can leave the Exclusion Zone.

I am writing you this letter because I miss you. I remember running with you along the Prospect of Builders. We were proud to be the young denizens of Atomograd – the truest and most devoted Children of Kurchatov. I held your hand and we laughed – you, with cheeks flushed, in cotton clothes. We laughed, we Seekers of the New Dawn.

I am writing you this letter to tell you that I didn’t die. That I and many others survived the disaster. To tell you that they didn’t just evacuate – they screened – and that there were those of us, too irradiated to live, too stubborn to die, who were kept confined: at best as a safety precaution, at worst, as an experiment. They drop us food. Visit us in Hazmat Suits, as though our very atmosphere is alien. If we ask, they say they will pass on messages and gifts. I know they never do, and what I have I to bribe them with anyway?

I am writing you this letter to say that the Polsie is returning. The trees are very beautiful in autumn, and now they lace their way through the platforms at Yanov Station, where I left you for the last time, when we still had nuclear light in our eyes. They came to regain the place that it rightfully theirs – instead of the Red Army, the Red Forest marches its way across our Boulevards and Streets.

I wish we had made love.

I am writing you this letter because I am the last one left. They come to count us, to call us to register. For the last three times, I have been the only one to report. I am sure there were more, delirious from the power of our small sun. Disfigured and demented. Sometimes, we would commune, at others fight for food and the best wood for primitive fires. In the early days we had raided shops, watched TV with a strange, desperate indolence – a sense of holiday, freedom from the world, tempered by the desire not to be anymore lonesome. Slowly, our signal grew less – I can only assume things have changed, and our technology has been left behind. I do not even know what year it is, or what time – my watch has been stuck at 03.45 for too long now.

I am writing you this letter before I myself succumb – to disease or solitude or my own brain, I am not sure. But I know that I will succumb, and so I write, in the deluded hope that in the ashes of this, the final burnout, my toxic hands will leave something on this earth which expresses to you…which expresses…well.

Maybe you know.

Sad Man of Flowers

Early morning, and the frost glitters on the tarmac. Everything is ice, and quiet, as though sound itself has chosen to freeze, and listen to itself shatter. I came out here for the quiet, and for the sunrise – in the east, the sky is bleeding.

No-one is awake yet, inside. Perhaps they are dreaming of presents. Perhaps they are recovering from last night’s festivities. Perhaps. Everything seemed rather raucous this year. Kids full of sweeties, adults full of brandy and wine. This is the only peace there will be all day. Breathe: it is so cold my breath doesn’t even steam.

Creaking. Water flushing. Someone, groggily, moves downstairs. I watch them, through the window of the living room. There she is, my Enid. She looks better now than she has for years. Her hair is dyed that vibrant red she so likes (and I have to admit, thinking about it, I don’t know why I didn’t like it before), and she is trim, athletic almost. Her pyjamas are new – no wine stains or splodges of pasta sauce. She crouches around the tree, groans slightly with the movement downwards, but manages to creep low enough to make sure that all the presents are there. She pauses over one for a long time, a small box marked, ‘To Enid, with love, from Dai’. Then she puts it down, amongst the others.

Almost immediately, there is a shriek from upstairs. That’d be Deri, our eldest. He’s always been too excitable, and this year he is more so than most. I hear him squealing with delight upstairs, and Enid giggling with him. Then I hear the softer footsteps of my little girl, Gwen. Her full name is Gwenfrewi, but we were always inclined to shorten our kids names. Pryderi and Gwenfrewi. Mouthfuls, but I’m a traditionalist.

I hear Gweni slide down the stairs on her arse. Clearly, she’s not yet mastered the art of walking down. I feel vaguely disappointed in her – otherwise, she’s so bright. She emerges into the living room, tiny and pale with big dark eyes, and she looks out of the window, directly at me. But she doesn’t seem bothered. She turns around, and pokes at the presents, sitting with the bottled up patience needed to wait for her mother and a suitably calmed brother to emerge. She’s always seemed older than Deri. She looks out of the window again, and I think she almost sees me, there against the background of the trees. She narrows her eyes, and is about to say something when Enid comes in and distracts her with a stocking. I never did stockings – this is new, and Gwen jumps up, more the five year old she really is. She never looked like that when she was with me.

I hear other steps. It’s the other man, the man from last night, downstairs with a fighting seven year old in his arms. He puts the flailing child down, and it’s my son, who has never seemed so happy. He pecks Enid on the cheek, then draws her into a long kiss, and I have to turn away because my stomach is doing somersaults.

“I told you,” says Dai, “everything is alright now.”

“I know,” she says. “I don’t miss that man at all.”

My name is Drystan! Say my name!

“I want to give you a special present first. I want this to be our Christmas as a proper family. So kids, can you wait till I give your Mammy something?”

They nod. Little traitors. Kids are so mercurial. Not my fault. Not at all.

He pulls out the little box from the pile, and she opens it, with an expectant, knowing look. I see a blink of diamond and gold under the light from the tree, and I don’t need to look to know it is a ring. Now everything crumbles, and I am going with it. I see you, all together, so happy like we never were. I know you don’t care, you never did. I told you as much whilst you watched me with blackened eyes. All I wanted was for you to see me, but you never did, did you? Not really. You said I wasn’t there anymore, that the drink had taken me, but you just didn’t look hard enough, Eni, just not hard enough. Not even when I hit you to make you pay attention. And now I can see – I can see it all, everything. Everything in your eyes says you are happy. And I am faded…

“Spooky. I could swear someone was watching.”

“Nothing there, Enid cariad. Nothing at all.”