SHORT STORY 19
2018
T H I S - P I L G R I M - D E N I E D

DISCLAIMER:

If I don't believe in anything, then I'm not looking for a fucking thing.

PART 1

BERLIN

SATURDAY 21st JULY 2018

I went to see Marcus this morning, but again there was no answer at the door, as there hadn't been ever since my visit to Telford in Wales. Standing on the other side of the street, in the shadow of the American Church of Berlin, I stared up at the big windows in the old stone building and saw the lights on in the lounge. I then spotted a woman walk into the room joined with Marcus, where she kissed him on the cheek. A moment later, I saw her exit the apartment building. I followed her under the overpass and onto the U-bahn. She never looked back and never noticed me. I trailed her all the way to a cafe in Hackescher Markt, where I sat at the table right next to her and read my book, The Monks Of War.

I made first contact with polite small-talk. Her big smile and average good-looks made my charm flow easily. Her name was Rauna, and had just been visiting her uncle. I had to clench my jaw to contain my deceit at this news. She was the key to Marcus, and in turn, my key to Maier and his secret work.

Flirting with single women in their mid-thirties was a chore, but it worked. I made plans to see her again, but I must be patient and not make her suspicious of my goals.

THURSDAY 2nd AUGUST 2018

I met Rauna this humid evening. Her long blonde hair was looking nice, and she had a desperate glint to her dark eyes. We laughed into the evening, where I mentioned my interest in certain aspects of theology. Specifically. how I wanted to understand the rationalization behind the contradictions. Hinting about a guy in Würzburg, I paused, and Rauna finally suggested asking her uncle – when suddenly my phone rang! It was a doctor from Finland. I had no fucking idea why he was calling me. He explained that my number was found in the possession of an unidentified man who had been hit by a car in the wood in the middle of nowhere. The guy had been in a temporary coma at the hospital in Jyväskylä, but since waking up, he refused to communicate. His condition was made more confounding considering it seemed that he had apparently cut out his own tongue.

After the phone call, Rauna said that she had to get home. It was fine with me, I was now too distracted to continue our conversation. Though, as I watched her walk down the street, I found her dull-figure somewhat fuckable. But turning away, I needed to find out who the fuck I knew in Finland.

PART 2

JYVÄSKYLÄ

SATURDAY 11th AUGUST 2018

I woke up at 3:30am. Flew to Helsinki. Then I caught several trains north for over four hours. The further I went, the thicker the forests and more frequent the lakes appeared. The entire countryside was a woodland below a clear blue sky. Apart from the odd cabin, the landscape was ruled by pine trees.

Suddenly, out of all that green, I arrived at Jyväskylä. It was a small city, and unfortunately, I couldn't check-in to my hotel until 4pm. I walked down to the accompanying lake to enjoy the view, before heading to the hospital.

Once he had a free moment, I finally met Doctor Lundanes. A friendly thirty-year-old guy, already going gray, and wearing frameless glasses. So far, every Fin speaks perfect English. I can't even hear any kind of accent. Bad news however, Osip has disappeared! The doctor said he must have just walked out yesterday. No one noticed his absence until this morning. Great. Thanks for wasting my fucking time!

Backing up, I asked what had happened exactly. Doctor Lundanes informed me that two weeks ago, a Mr. Mattsson was driving home in the evening, when Osip ran out of the woods right in front of him. The impact was unavoidable. Mr. Mattsson then drove Osip straight here, to the nearest hospital. The attending doctors, though, found injuries that weren't consistent with the car accident alone. Older wounds. And of course, his missing tongue, which had been hacked out and left to heal without stitches. Initially, judging from his filthy state, everyone had assumed that Osip was just another homeless psychotic without ID. The only written article found on him was a phone number – mine. I don't know how he even had my number. Haven't seen him in nearly two years, not since our short time on the RV Onbekend. Doctor Lundanes admitted, after waking from his coma, Osip refused to acknowledge anyone, until the day that he wrote his name on a therapist's clipboard. He then broke down and wept in front of the counselor. After that, he refused to respond to anyone or eat another thing. Doctor Lundanes said, once he learned Osip's name, that's when he gave me a second call. And after know who it was, I had immediately booked my flight here.

-

Sitting in my tiny hotel room, I wrote this in my notebook while waiting for Mr. Mattsson to pick me up. Doctor Lundanes gave me his number before I left the hospital. Mr. Mattsson said, he would gladly show me where the accident had happened.

I needed a nap, but I had no time.

We drove out of the center of town and headed in a north-westerly direction. Mr. Mattsson was a decent, clean-cut guy in his forties. Mostly gray, glasses, and neatly dressed in a blue checkered shirt. He still seemed shaken from the accident, and said that he was a proud, responsible driver, but it was impossible to miss Osip that night. He had run directly, almost deliberately in front of his car. There was simply no time to react. When the windscreen shattered, Mr. Mattsson confessed, he was so shocked that just sat in his car in the middle of the road for about five whole minutes before he forced himself out of the vehicle to check on the stranger lying on the asphalt. To his surprise, the bloodied man was actually crawling back toward the forest. Mr. Mattsson said, in hindsight, he should have phoned for an ambulance, but he wasn't thinking at the time, and just dragged the man into the backseat, before speeding to the hospital. During the ride, the stranger passed out, but Mr. Mattsson was sure that he had died. To his extreme relief, however, Osip survived, though was in a critical condition.

While driving past more big blue lakes and deeper into tall green woodlands, Mr. Mattsson asked, “So, how do you know each other?”

“He was an engineer on a research vessel off the coast of Belgium, when I first meet him. That's it. Don't really know him at all.”

“An engineer on a ship?”

“Yeah, so what's he doing in the middle of Finland?”

“Is he from Belgium?”

“No, he's Moldavian. Used to be a priest or a deacon or something.”

After thirty-minutes of driving, we came to the scene of the accident. It was a long stretch of straight road with pine trees down both sides. I hadn't seen a house for the last half of the drive, and the woods looked tightly-knit. Mr. Mattsson stood next to his car, shyly avoiding eye-contact from the rubbery skid-marks still evident in the otherwise spotless road. It took some convincing to get him to elaborate on the accident. While clinging to his driver's side door, he pointed timidly to which side of the road Osip had come from. The east. After a few moments of uncertain recollections, Mr. Mattsson believed that Osip tried crawling back the same way that he had come from.

Stepping over to the edge of the road, the forest looked impenetrable. It seemed like this was as far as I was going to get – until I heard a distant church bell. It was 5pm. The bell was faint but definitely coming from where Osip had supposedly sprung from.

“What do you think you're doing?” Mr. Mattsson gasped. “You can't be serious!”

“Didn't come to Finland for the fucking weather,” I said, lunging across the ditch and into the thick bush, tearing myself through the tangled vines and into the gloom. “Fucking piece of shit!”

“There's nothing out there, you idiot!”

“You don't hear from me by tomorrow, call, I don't know, someone. That's if you really give a shit.”

“How are you going to get back?”

“Walked my way out of worse.” And then I lost sight of the highway, as I squeezed under a fallen tree, before jumping down a shallow embankment. The woods weren't so clustered once I got through the bushes along the side of the road. Hearing the bell toll again, I pushed onward.

I had first thought that Finland was a flat country. It's not! The hills got steep as fuck and my aching legs could testify to the unexpected workout. The terrain also explained why a lot of the Finish girls I'd seen in town had big cheeks, pointy noses, and those chunky, quarterback thighs.

During my outward trek, not once did I worry about getting lost. My sense of direction had adjusted to the northern hemisphere a good decade ago. Besides, it's not like I'm so lucky as to simply die in the woods from exposure in the heat of summer. Indeed, it was a sunny day in Finland. The forest was quiet and the breeze was cool. My only annoyance was that I had accidentally bought a bottle of carbonated water before I had met Mr. Mattsson. I fucking hate that bubbly shit! But hydration was a priority that I couldn't ignore. So, I drank at sparse intervals, enjoyed the peaceful scenery, and then hiked further out into the rolling woods.

As far as I have traveled, as remote as it has seemed, and as isolated as I have felt, I have never gone far enough from mankind. It's always there in the periphery. I wonder where on the planet is the most removed place from other humans – apart from floating in the middle of the fucking ocean. And yet, even if I found the most geographically uncontaminated spot, I would still be standing with my own human fucking self.

Out there, I came across plenty of bugs on the forest floor, but hardly heard any birds. There was a moment that soon came, like when I was roaming though Romania last year, and realized that I had no fucking idea if there were any wild animals around that might pose a serious danger to my person. Glancing around, I saw broken branches coating the ground everywhere, and reassured myself that I could used them as spontaneous weapons if need be. How easily the mind is put at ease.

I had been marching up and down the hills for almost an hour, when I conceded that if I didn't find any sign of Osip soon, then I'd have to turn back. Unfortunately, I hadn't brought my trusty pen-light with me on this trip, as the battery had corroded the inside. I've struggled through the woods in the dark before, and I wasn't interested in repeating that shit anytime soon.

Just before 6pm, I was bouncing down a steep bank made of boulders and littered with pine-cones, when I burst out into a small clearing. The evening was still bright and the long grass here was dotted with white flowers and a sprinkling of butterflies. It was a basin within the woods that might have been a pond after the winter. However, the little stone church on the other side of the clearing dampened the mood. Its gray walls were featureless, though, stained with black streaks from centuries of dead moss. The sharp steeple and tiled roof gave it a Eastern European style, while the slits for windows made it seem more like a stronghold than a holy place. And then the bell tolled! It was dull and sounded like an anvil being struck. The little stone church glared back as I caught a whiff of something rotten. There had to be a dead animal nearby. The bell continued to ring slowly as I walked across the clearing. The stench grew the closer I got to the building. As soon as that monotone bell tower went quiet, the buzz of a hundred thousand flies took its place. My approach disturbed the swarm from the undergrowth and they all took flight! I couldn't see a carcass but the rancid smell was saturating. Maybe Osip had made it all the way back here only to succumb to his injuries. But if so, then who had rung the church bell?

No sun fell on that daunting gabled roof. Near the base of the tower, I found a large Russian Orthodox crucifix wrapped in weeds. The place seemed as if it had been abandoned for at least a fucking century, or maybe two. The main door on the side of the building was trapped behind a massive branch that had fallen from trees hanging over the church from the top of a small cliff directly behind the building. Walking from side to side, I found the structure was built right against the stone cliff, with the forest framing it in constant shadows. Wherever I stepped, more blowflies soared into the air. Standing back and swatting the flies away from my face, I took another look over that medieval architecture. There had to be a way inside.

Climbing onto the heavy branch blocking the door, I reached through the creepers that had laced them together into an immovable obstacle. Grabbing the metal ring on the door, I tried to shake it, even if the door clearly opened outward. Nothing happened. The door was just as unaffected by my presence at the branch that didn't flinch despite my entire weight standing on its back. It was while I was perched on the branch, that I noticed a wooden section of the steeple above which seemed to have collapsed in on itself.

Jumping off the enormous branch, I quickly scaled the staggered cliff face of smooth rock. There was a ledge up there that led around, as if some man-made path so that you could access the roof's gutter. With cautious steps, I glanced across the narrow chasm between the cliff and the hole in the steeple. I wished I had my pen-light on me, but after taking my time, I could see a landing within the opening. So, I stepped inside.

To my absolute irritation, the landing creaked with a straining of ancient floorboards that echoed like a screaming child throughout the entire abyss below. There goes my covert entrance. There was no point in subtly anymore, so I called out, “Osip! You here?! It's Bruce, for fuck's sake!”

Only the whirl of countless flies replied.

“Anybody here?!” I yelled louder.

The moan that weakly reverberated out of the little stone church instantly had me looking for a branch to use as a weapon. However, there was nothing in that staircase but pine-needles, dead leaves, and weeds. Biting the bullet, I figured, fuck it. I'd come this far. Let's find out what the fuck's lurking below.

The stairs went down only one flight, before opening onto a small balcony overlooking that tomb-like nave of the church. It took a while for my eyes to fully adjust from the splendid sunshine to that abysmal darkness. The two-story space was empty. There were no pews, no altar, and not a single icon or painting on the walls. Instead, piles of dirt deformed the interior. The tiny windows hardly lit anything, and the stink was more like a sewer than that of the scent of decomposing flesh outside. Nothing about this place was sacred.

The groan of a human voice whimpered out again. It made my nerves crawl. There was something debased and utterly pitiful about that noise. The cold in there made my skin prick up. I was, after all, only wearing a singlet which was already damp from sweat, especially down my spine where my bottle of water sat in my small backpack. The third moan literally made me shiver.

Contempt, however, quickly replaced my chills and I shouted, “OSIP!”

The following voice of detachment confirmed my expectation, and I stomped down the stairs.

“Where the fuck are you?!” I snarled, scanning the lumpy soil. There wasn't an actual floor. The ground was bare and full of random, muddy pits.

Osip murmured once more, and I focused on a corner of the nave. There he was, huddling fetal with his back against the two walls.

Climbing over piles of rocky dirt, I hesitated once I realized that Osip was smeared in his own shit. I didn't even recognize him at first. My memory of a sturdy guy with a buzz-cut and scruffy jawline, was now irrelevant. His hair was long, he had a full beard and sunken eyes that barely looked up. The guy clearly suffered some kind of psychological infliction. I opened my mouth, but in doing so, remembered that Osip no long had a fucking tongue. There was no way he could speak even if he had any lucid thoughts left in that defeated mind of his.

Slumping onto a rough slab of stone, I stared back at the man I had once respected for his stoic resilience. It was because of Osip that I had gone to Romania and searched through similar woods to these. Again, here, I had found what I was looking for, but was left wanting more. Why had he really sent me to Romania? How had he known the Iranian woman? Why was he now hiding in the middle of Finland? What was he running from when he was hit by Mr. Mattsson's car? Why did he have, of all phone numbers in the world, mine? But most of all, I seriously wanted to know what the fuck had I expected to find here?! Osip now, ultimately, represented everything that I struggled with: a climax without a resolution! All my questions, once again, could not be answered! Another waste of my fucking time!

Then I relaxed. I was in Finland. This was the furthest north I had even ventured. My calm soon shifted though, as I watched Osip's despondent eyes. He was a lost soul. The very definition of broken man. I could see it: THE GROTESQUE SADNESS BEHIND EVERYTHING. It was like an undercoat of paint, inevitably the world wears us down and reveals the vulnerable desperation within us all.

Osip reminded me of a situation from a week ago. An old ex and I were chatting in a playground, when her son came walking back from the sandbox and sat next to me with his head down. Osip had the exact same look in his glazed eyes as that five-year-old kid had had, as he softly said, “No one wants to play with me.”

Every child inevitably comes to comprehend a immutable sense of crushing rejection. Looking down at that little boy, I knew all too well that sensation, so, I joined him in the sand, knowing that his pain would only grow the older he got. Afterwards, as I watched my ex walk away with her kid, I wondered if that's what it means to feel like a father: to warn the young and teach them how to fortify their future self and navigate the hard times when the world comes to grind them down to that defenseless sadness inside the marrow of our bones.

But Osip was already chewed up, broken, and alone. I couldn't help him, I can't fucking comfort anyone! Unless, I need to learn how. While sitting in that ruined church, I was reminded of my neglected plans to join a seminary. Do I really want to learn a limited doctrine, or do I just want a flock to abuse? We are all, regardless of emotional fortitude, just meat eating meat.

I thought back to 2015, when my therapist herself had suggested that I become a counselor. No! I don't fucking want to help anyone! Yet why had I had that unconscious reaction to a five-year-old? What I want and what I think I want, are not the same thing! What I think I want knows me better and appreciated my intolerance and fucking disgust! The primate in my DNA might yearn to improve the lives of those closest to me, but the empirical evidence of experiential understanding says that we are all far beyond saving!

Though, even in hell there are lessons to learn. God knows there are plenty more lessons I honestly should learn. And yet, perhaps there are some lessons even I could teach.

Glaring at Osip, I wondered if this reflection was why I was here. Or was I merely ascribing meaning to the mute voice of a cripple. Maybe in truth, I was afraid of becoming Osip. I saw myself there in that corner, and I saw myself in that five-year-old, smothered in dejection that soaked through to my core. But anger had always come and dragged my ass out of every self-sabotage and despair. Hatred gave me direction, and it had led me here. But for what?! Just to once again wonder if I should go to fucking seminary and become what, a fucking priest?! I don't want to guide others! I want to manipulate their fucking misery for my own ends! Unless, perhaps, I actually wanted both. Aggravated, I was about to leave, when Osip looked straight back at me and said with an almost familiar voice, “Apologies.”

tightening my lips, I leaned in closer and saw that Osip wasn't just curled up in the corner, he was cocooned there. Suddenly I knew where I'd seen this situation before – with Osip, on that fucking sinking ship in the English Chanel! We'd found a sailor glued to the wall of his cabin with bible pages! Twisting away from Osip (the bait), I recalled the beast in the belly of that doomed ship. This Moldavian motherfucker was just like Captain Grant, and I remembered his infernal experiments in his lighthouse basement, like it was only yesterday.

And then those mounds of dirt began to move!

I moved faster!

Fuck Osip!

I left him there without a second thought and ran up the staircase! In seconds, I reached the balcony and heard that trapped man scream! Glancing back down into the nave, I saw blackened shapes rise from the soils! They weren't figures, but large organic forms without feature. Wet and glistening, they appeared to be giant tongues extended from the earth while the church itself was the jaws of this great iniquity. One of those twisting things reached up almost to the arched ceiling, before it slammed down into Osip and his entire body shattered against the wall!

I ran upstairs, leaping from the roof to the cliff. Sliding down to the clearing, I kept sprinting all the way back to the fucking highway! I don't understand these visions, these devils I see. Some of them seem part of me and I don't feel the slightest trepidation. But some, like what was born in that sinking ship, the entity in Grant's lighthouse, and these fucking things in the church, they fucking scare me. They scare the living shit out of me!

By the time I reached the highway, I was fucking done with all of this shit! My legs were exhausted and I had finished off the last of my water, yet I was still in the middle of fuck knows where. Fortunately, however, I only walked along that deserted road for about half an hour, before I came to a bus stop, right as a bus came cruising by. One thing I was sure of, I was fucking glad that I wasn't stuck out in the woods after dark, even if those things couldn't escape the church. Although, once again I was riddled with more fucking questions! Were those things trapped? Why had Osip returned to the church? Or had he nothing to do with the place? Did I overreact? Maybe those fucking things had all the answers I was after? And yet, I had just run the fuck away like a fucking chickenshit! No! None of these fucking devils have any forbidden knowledge that can be verbalized. They're no better than fucking animals, after all. Their kind wisdom can only be passed on through cold, hard experience.

-

As soon as I made it back to my hotel, I passed out to the National Geographic on the HDTV, and dreamed of large carnivores eating and being eaten by other pack hunters.

SUNDAY 12th AUGUST 2018

It was an overcast Sunday, as I stepped out onto the empty streets of central Jyväskylä, finding only a single cafe open.

While sipping my first coffee in twenty-four hours, I phoned Mr. Mattsson. Watching the quiet folk walk by the cafe, I ignored his traumatized tone of voice. He was appalled that I had taken so long to put his mind at ease. When I finally had a chance to speak, I informed him that he had been totally right, I had found nothing in the forest. He laughed at the obvious. I was glad I had left the cunt hanging all night.

After checking-out of my hotel, I had hours to kill before catching my train back to Helsinki, so I headed around the block to a brick church in the middle of the city park. It was still in service, and as I stepped inside, to my surprise, I found a full congregation. This house of god was packed. Leaning against the back wall, I crossed my arms, listening to the Finish gibberish dribbling out of some sleep-inducing, female pastor. It was, however, the two teenage altar girls dressed in long white gowns that drew my attention, especially once they noticed my presence.

Taking a seat on the back pew, I considered the layout of this building in comparison to the little stone church in the woods. Had Osip come to Finland simply to reconnect to his religious past, or was he seeking sanctuary? Though, what did it matter now, he was dead! Captain Grant was dead! The Iranian woman was dead! Smiling to myself, I glanced at a petite, blonde girl sitting in front of me. I'm not dead yet! Have faith not in god (the great indifference of the universe), but in yourself to work it out! You've made it this far, you already know how to survive!

About a dozen more beauty-queen, altar girls slowly moved down the aisles collecting donations, everyone of them eyeballing me as they passed on by. Innocent temptation never looked so sly. When the congregation stood to sing, I remained sitting. Every time I had listened to the hymns in the American Church of Berlin, I was struck with a straining sense of utter fucking tedium, just as there was no passion here. There was no fucking conviction to these mammals going through the fucking motions of mechanical devotion. You call this shit commitment?! I couldn't see myself ever becoming a priest – but if I did, I'd cut out the fucking music, make people fear god again, and when congregation says 'Amen', I'd make sure everyone fucking meant it! Stop putting people to fucking sleep in church! If I became a priest, I would not mother the flock, I'd finally become a father! Mothers offer comfort. Fathers teach vigilance!

As I watched the Fins slowly file out of the church, I was conflicted with lust toward the salacious altar girls, and intrigue toward learning how to preach with dedicated enthusiasm. I could hear the inner voice of John Knox speaking through my name's sake. Perhaps I need to read Catechism. Yet, fuck Jesus, and fuck his bullshit notion that the fucking crowd would ever admit their own fucking guilt! We're all saints, says the ego! Now give me a fucking stone so that I can smash in every last skull of those distracting fucking altar girls! If religion is for fools, then I should feel right at home here. Some say religious practices are flawed, well then, they are accepted because human are fundamentally flawed, and so religious teachings appeal to the our own failures. I want to become a priest purely for the power for power's sake. Like they say, knowledge is power – power corrupts – therefore knowledge is the great corrupter! I am already corrupted, but I want more! More knowledge, more power, more fucking corruption!

Objectively speaking, I see the Christian church is failing to proselytize. That failure to perpetuate their beliefs is leading to its eventual extinction. People aren't attracted to weakness. Islam projects intimidation, and thus it is growing stronger! Christianity is failing to lead from a position of power. It's better to be feared than loved. Love is a capricious cunt! If the church is dying, then what am I but a predator looking to exploit it's vulnerabilities! While at the same time, I cannot deny that part of me which desires to goad the god in the disheartened and say encourage them to say, fuck their own self-pity! You must become the higher-self that will guide your past-self to find that which you seek: self-sustaining purpose. Even if that purpose is to wrestle with Jacob.

PART 3

BERLIN

SUNDAY 19th AUGUST 2018

I woke to a text from Rauna. She wanted to meet at the American Church before service.

After putting on my white shirt with black tie and jacket, I was, like usual, late. Sitting through another sermon led by a female minister, I saw young Pastor Tim, but he never noticed me.

Once it was over, I immediately spotted Rauna walk out. I followed the crowd into the sun, where Rauna headed around the church toward Marcus's building. Catching up, I called out. She turned, confronting me with absolute venom in her voice, stating that her uncle had told her exactly who I really was. She was furious. She couldn't believe that anyone would use her just to contact some guy that her uncle knew. It was unforgivable in her eyes.

I waited until she paused and caught her exasperated breath, before I repeated what I'd heard not five minutes ago, “Forgive us our trespasses.”

“And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil!” she fired back. “Stay the hell away from me and my church! You are not welcome here! Don't you dare come back, don't you fucking dare!”

SATURDAY 1st SEPTEMBER 2018

Mara and I had spent the evening with her good Polish friend, Hannah. We had been attending a birthday bash at a old Rockabilly bar that I hadn't been to in at least seven years. After catching up with lots of the Berlin socialites, I had danced the night away between with the blonde and brunette.

Everything had been going hot and sweaty, until we all got back to Mara's place, where the conversation turned to her difficulty deciding on a new therapist. I lay on the bed, as the two girls got serious, and Hannah shed a few tears while thinking about the inevitable break up with Jan. This was not where my dick was hoping that this evening's conversation would lead. Hannah, however, tried to change the subject back to Mara, but the mood was already ruined. Mara explained her lack of respect for the therapists she's recently interviewed. Foolishly, I opened my mouth, “Thought you were looking for a career counselor, not a psychologist.”

“Been looking for a new psychologist for a long time now.”

“But that's not going to help you change your job.”

“In my first interview, she refused to deal with me until I got psychological help first.”

“That's what I've been saying for years.”

“They're either too friendly or clinical.”

“You're getting off track, fuck therapy, you want a career counselor.”

“And why haven't you found someone to talk to yet?”

Laughing with heavy eyes, I put my feet up and glanced at the two women at the other end of the bed. “Not having this conversation again. We all know, I don't need therapy. This is about the job you hate.”

“You had a good time at Malloy's barbecue, you need more friends like those. I saw you talking for hours with them about your bullshit beliefs.”

“There were some.”

“Did you hear back from anyone when you asked about the masons?”

Closing my eyes, I crossed my arms. “Yep.”

“When?”

“About a week ago. Was in the middle of Deutsch class when I got a text.”

“And?”

“They said, no.”

“Why?”

“Apparently I'm too much of an atheist to join the Masons.”

Hannah was now sitting quietly back in an armchair and clearly enjoying this distraction.

“Shit happens, and I didn't expect anything anyway.”

“Well, why'd you ask to join, then?”

“Was curious, you know, like when I go along to things like a Gnostic mass.”

“Still think you should keep in touch with those guys at the OTO, and with Malloy's friends.”

“Sure.”

“You need more guy friends.”

“Have plenty.”

“No! You have plenty of ex-girlfriends that you hang out with. That's not the same as others you can have serious conversations with.”

“Don't belittle yourself,” I smiled, no longer able to keep my eyes open. “You and I have some of the most engaging conversations I've ever had, that's why I still like you, for your personality.”

“Aww, that's sweet.”

“And you love me for enabling your scat-talk.”

“Hey, you're the only Scat-Perv here!”

“Yeah, yeah. Whatever. Takes two for rape to happen.”

“But you should talk to Malloy directly, ask him if there's another way to join the Masons.”

“What's the big fucking deal with the Masons? You filthy Jews in cahoots with them or something?”

Hannah giggled in the background, and I half cracked open my left eye, remembering her hips on the dance floor.

“Well, I mean, don't take this the wrong way, or anything, Bruce. But when you talk about these things you've seen in your visions, the stuff in your art, and these rituals you perform with sigils and such. I mean, they say, in the Masons you don't have to believe in one specific god, just a higher-power. So, with all these places you've been to and the things you've done, doesn't that qualify you? I mean, what are these things? Aren't you a believer in something out there?”

“None of that matters.”

“What the do you mean? You need to talk to someone about this shit! If not a therapists, then the Masons might help you.”

“You know, despite all the fucking demented shit I've seen, none of it means anything to those with an established perception of who the fuck I'm supposed to be!”

“There you go again, giving up before you've even begun.”

My eyes were still shut, but Mara was trying to piss me off. Shaking my head, I smirked. “I just find it ironic, being called an atheist. After all the insults I've had thrown in my direction. Just because I read some Dawkins, Hitchens, and Harris back in the day, I'm now forevermore labeled the A-word. But refuting the claim isn't an argument worth having. I'm simply whatever anyone thinks I am! And these are my so-called fucking friends! The very same cunts who think they know me best! Fuck off!”

“That's why you need to talk to someone! Talk to them! Tell the what you're really going through!”

“No thanks.”

“Make an effort! Stop being such a fucking defeatist! You'll never get anywhere with this attitude!”

“And what the fuck do you know about my efforts?!” My eyes were now half-open but focused. “Fucking people like you! What the fuck do you think I was doing on my birthday in Wales?! You fucking take it like a personal fucking insult that I don't share my fucking birthday with you, when the truth is I'm off looking for some fucking answers! You know, there are two kinds of occultists out there. The first brags and likes to use his superficial understanding to impress fucking kids at fetish parties! And then there are the kind that keep detailed personal journals about their experimental fucking practices. The ones that go out and tell no one about the fucking insane things they've witnessed first-fucking-hand as a result of their fucking persistence! You know why the fuck they keep it to themselves?! Because it's no one's fucking business! Yet fucking people like you get on your self-obsessed pedestal and bitch and moan because I fucked off to Finland without telling you, because it's somehow all about you and your fucking insecure fucking existence! You know what, every fucking time I've sought out guidance, I've been told to fuck right off! And yet I've looked in other directions and gotten back on that horse. Only to once again be fucking told that they can't be seen associating with my kind! And these are hardened fucking criminals I'm talking about! But you know what, after swallowing down some more fucking rejection, yeah, I got back on that fucking horse, and you guessed it, it threw be the fuck off again! Should I continue getting back on that same old fucking horse or just accept that my own two fucking feet will have to suffice! I'm either too fucking stupid to join anyone, or I'm too fucking stupid to call it quits! But then when fucking people like you come along call me fucking stupid for not even trying, that's just insult to fucking injury!”

“I didn't know that's why you went to Wales. You never tell me these things.”

“Because what the fuck's it got to do with you?!”

“After all we've been through, you should trust me!”

“Yeah, you know what happened the last time I told you a secret! You had me locked in fucking hospital!”

“I was trying to help!”

“Did it fucking help?! Did it?!”

“No.”

“I don't need anyone's fucking guidance! There is no fucking mentor to find! Fuck Telford, Marcus, and Maier! Fuck Osip, Chloe, and the fucking Iranian woman! Fuck the Bismarck, Caviezel, and Schilling! Fuck the Intrepid Supremacy, the ISB, and fuck the Masons! I only have myself! There is no greater good or even a fucking prison gang that I am good enough for! I'll find my own fucking way! If you need to talk to someone to help you deal with your monotonous fucking day job, then good fucking luck with the rest of you fucking mental health! And who the fuck are you to tell me what I fucking need?! I don't need a therapist, a mentor, or any fucking cunt! FUCK YOUR GUIDANCE!”

SUNDAY 2nd SEPTEMBER 2018

The next afternoon, I went to a lunch for a Japanese friend who was dying from an inoperable brain tumor. I had seen him a week earlier for a one on one coffee. His speech was a little slow but might have been from the medication. Apart from that, he seemed to have come to terms with the diagnosis. So, we had joked about his 5cm diameter tumor, before he told me how dying slowly was one thing, but being trapped with his parents in a remote village in the mountains of Japan was worse than the death sentence. He was glad to be back in Berlin, paid for by Malloy, though he didn't elaborate why. It reminded me of something someone had once said, that one day you go from living your life, to struggling just to stay alive.

At the Sunday lunch, I caught up with group of people I hadn't seen in a while. An old English friend who had left Berlin a five years ago was now working in the Foreign Office in London, and I watched Mara and him chatting about old times and current politics. And then Malloy arrived at the restaurant. Sitting next to Mara, he mentioned his upcoming trip to Jordan, and she suggested they meet in Tel Aviv as she would be returning to Israel for Rosh Hashanah. Curious, I asked about Malloy's fascination with Jordan, which led out conversation to his travels through Egypt, where I brought up the topic of the Ethiopian Jews. However, by then, we had neglected the rest of the group and everyone else was ready to leave.

While we were all standing on the curb, saying our long goodbyes, especially to our terminal friend, Malloy asked if I had heard back about my inquiry to joining the Masons. I told him the answer I'd received was a solid, no. Malloy though, was somewhat astonished, but nodded, stating, “That can change.”

Mara and I soon took a stroll toward the Alte Nationalgalerie, I had planned on visiting the Wanderlust exhibition. She brought up her pestering from the last night which I thought I put a fucking end to, but she insisted that I needed to continue talking with Malloy. Even if don't join the Masons, she urged me to seek the company of those we always met at his rooftop barbecues. Casually smiling, I told her that wished to enjoy the romantic paintings of Alexandre Calame, Karl Eduard Biermann, and Caspar David Friedrich without last night's frustration, and asked if I really needed to fucking repeat myself?!

FRIDAY 14th SEPTEMBER 2018

This evening, I went to Mara's flat to check her mailbox and water her plants while she was back in the Holy Land. I ended up sitting on her balcony enjoying the cool air after another hot day. When I looked up at the stars in the sky, all I saw was a puddle of sewage, and we were just the scum floating on another insignificant speck of shit!

It was almost midnight when I was going to leave, but heard the wheels of a suitcase on the footpath below. There, I saw a girl across the street opening the front door directly opposite Mara's building. I waited. A few moments later a light came on in the first floor flat. Leaning forward in the deck chair, I watched on from the dark balcony, as this neighbor arrived home, dumped her suitcase, and proceeded to undress. My only question was, had she locked her door? I watched her strip to her underwear before she disappeared into another room. Immediately, I wanted to cut her head off! I wanted to eat her! I wanted to fucking desecrate her entire meat existence!

But instead, I just got up and walked home.

Once I passed through the courtyard in my building, I glanced in the ground floor windows of a friendly couple. The blonde was currently doing yoga and bent over, presenting her great little ass to my serendipitous eye. Pushing through the door into the stairwell, I clenched my jaw, considering all the neighbors I wanted to fuck.

SATURDAY 15th SEPTEMBER 2018

I had been sitting at a cafe with a headache and reading, when I suddenly remembered that I hadn't actually watered Mara's plants last night.

As soon as I stepped onto Mara's balcony with the watering can, I spotted the girl in her flat across the street. She was cleaning her place. Taking a seat, I watched on. With her own balcony door open, I could see right through her bedroom, a corridor, and into her bathroom. Shifting my focus to the outside of her building, I studied the distance from the pavement to her first floor balcony. I then spent some time applying what I'd recently learned from bouldering with an American rock-climber who I'd become friends with in my Deutsch class. She loved climbing for the problem-solving aspect as much as the physical challenge.

Watching the short-haired neighbor vacuum her floor, I found myself falling in love with her legs. I wanted to cut her in two and take her bottom-half home with me.

The situation soon reminded me of when I'd first seen Rauna through the window. But then her embittered voice from our last interaction made me want to brutalize her with the sharp end of a fucking shovel! Who the fuck was she to banish me from anywhere?! I suddenly planned on returning to her church tomorrow, just to spite her right to her fucking face!

-

Several hours later, around 9:30pm, I was passing Mara's flat and saw the light on in her neighbors.

Keeping Mara's place in the dark, I crept over to her balcony and took a seat. There, I watched the neighbor pulling on her pantyhose under a sparkling, little black dress. She was getting ready to hit the town. Waiting patiently, I saw her move into another room out of sight, most likely to finish her hair or makeup.

It was just after 10pm, when she killed her lights. I watched in which direction she headed once she stepped onto the street, before I hurried down stairs. Pulling my hoody up, I followed her toward Boxi park. She stopped in a kiosk and bought a bottle wine, so I knew she wasn't going to a bar. However, further down by the train tracks, I lost her in the shadows of the trees. In case she had seen me, I continued on over the bridge, and headed all the way to the river.

It had been a long hot summer in Berlin, but finally the night air was getting that old familiar chill to it. With nothing better to do, I turned toward Warschauer bridge when I saw that bleak-faced, old rabbi walking down the riverside! My hands became fists as I marched faster, I wanted to grab his black robes and demand to know once and for all who the fuck this cunt really was! But as we approached one another, he pulled out a curved, golden dagger. I reached for my knife sheathed at the back of my belt, but the old rabbi then stabbed his blade straight through the severed head of a black snake which he held up in his other hand. We slowed down the closer we got. He nodded before throwing the snake's head on the pavement between us. I acknowledged him with a nod as we silently continued on past each other.

SUNDAY 16th SEPTEMBER 2018

While sitting in the back pew of the American Church of Berlin, I didn't see Rauna anywhere, and no one told me to leave.

Pastor Tim walked by at one point and shook my hand like he knew nothing about what was going on.

Halfway through the typical motions of the service, a big guy sat at the end of my pew for a brief time, I'm sure he looked in my direction, but when I glanced over, he stood and left.

The female minister then spoke about how we all have our own reasons for being there in church today. So true. She then said that we have a vocation and we must come to accept it as who we truly are. I looked down and thought of empty glass jars that want more trophies to fill them.

Once I left the service, I saw that same big guy standing outside, watching me go. I was almost outside Marcus's place, when that stranger walked up next to me, saying, “Bruce, the lady asked you nicely.”

“Do I know you?!”

“Maybe,” he smirked. This was Emmanuel, the French guy that Telford had once mentioned carrying out certain 'heavy-lifting'. We talked briefly while standing in the sun as kids rode between us on bikes. He was only there to pass on a friendly warning that I should not to return, or he'd have to take measures. And I don't doubt what kind of grievous-bodily-harm he was capable of. Despite his obligations for making polite threats, he seemed genuinely curious about what I was really doing there.

I kept tight-lipped.

Then, to my cautious surprise, the big Frenchman looked around the streets before saying, “You know what, let's make a deal. I'll let you know where you can find Maier, but first, you prove yourself.”

“How?” I frowned. “Why?”

“Where's Mount Sinai?”

Shrugging, I shook my head. “I don't fucking know.”

Unimpressed, Emmanuel grunted while gradually turning away.

“It's either on the Sinai Peninsular, at Jebel Musa. Or in Saudi Arabia, at Jebel al Lawz. Or is it in Egypt, the actual Great Pyramid of Khufu? I don't fucking know which is more legitimate. You any better fucking suggestions?”

Grinning even more savagely, Emmanuel asked, “So, what do you think Caliph Al-Ma'mun stole from the King's Chamber?”

“You don't really believe it was the Ark of the Covenant, do you?”

Emmanuel slapped my shoulder and laughed hard, “Maier's in Aachen for the next coupe of weeks. Good luck with it!”

“Why are you helping me” I asked, watching the odd Frenchman walk back toward the brick church.

“I'm not!”

PART 4

AACHEN

THURSDAY 20th SEPTEMBER 2018

Due to the fact that two days ago my phone's motherboard died, I found myself without an alarm clock, so barely slept before getting up at 3:45am. My flight left Berlin at 6:45am, just as the sun finally came out. Landing in Köln an hour later, I caught three trains to Aachen on the western border of Germany. It was just after 10am when I arrived in that town surrounded by wooded hills, but check-in at my hotel wasn't until 3pm. Without a phone, I picked up a tourist map at the main station before heading out.

Aachen was bigger than I had anticipated, and on the walk from location to location I confirmed what I had realized on the flight: I had practically nothing to go on. Again, I had rushed off looking for something without knowing exactly how to fucking find it. Maier was here, somewhere. Where exactly was anyone's guess. All I could do was be systematic with my search. Aachen had universities, libraries, and museums. This was an historic site. The former capital of the Holy Roman Empire. There had to be something of relevance that had brought Maier to this city. Something to do with his work.

Once I came to the heart of town, the cathedral, I took a moment to appreciate the place for what it was: a nice piece of restored Gothic architecture. Inside, however, I could see the Roman foundations. The beautiful marble and the intricate mosaics heightened the appeal of the core octagon's symmetrical space. It wasn't huge, but quaint, and left a unique impression.

Continuing, my fatigue was irritated by the rolling hills that didn't make my inquiries any easier. I went to the Rathaus, the RWTH University, and several museums. At one point I walked into a kindergarten, as my map said it was library. There some gay guy thought I was his blind date. I even asked the girl at Starbucks if she had heard of Herr Maier having a presentation in town. Everyone gave me the same peculiar look, like why the fuck would they know anything, they just work here. I explained that my phone had died so I'd lost his contact details. At each location my line of questions got shorter and more to the point as my patience drained. Whenever someone actually recommended I try someplace else, instead of googling what it was, I was limited to the speed of my own weary feet.

Eventually, I got a coffee and came to the understanding that I was never going to find Maier like this. I now knew why Emmanuel smirked after he suggested that I come here. This was the proverbial needle in the fucking haystack! While sitting at the cafe in the sun, watching people stroll along the main-drag, to me the place looked like it could be any fucking town anywhere in the fucking world. There were the same old fashion labels, fast-food chains, and unremarkable pedestrians. This city might have once been the center of great things, but now it was just the epitome of nothing special at all.

While going over the map, trying to think of where else to look, the possibility came to mind that even if I did find where Maier was, that didn't mean I would be granted access to the building or even be given an appointment with him. Not to mention that those with said information might not even be authorized to tell me whether of not they actually knew. And if I did find where he was, what would I do, sit outside all day until I happened to spot him. What if there were multiple exits, or what if he was taking the day off. Even in my half-asleep state, I realized what I had failed to grasp on Sunday: Emmanuel was fucking with me! He'd sent me on a wild-goose chase just so that he could laugh his tits off! Why the fuck did I believe him?! Why didn't I ask more fucking questions?! Why am I such a fucking idiot?!

I'd have been more pissed off if I wasn't so exhausted, but I only have myself to blame. I can't even remember the last time I took a trip where I looked forward to something that didn't disappoint me. I miss feeling excited to see a female, but they're not worth anticipation. Again, I could see myself sitting in the south of France, waiting for Amelia. Only to be let down. I am not part of this world. My disgust has made me bitter. I am the emotionally impoverished.

-

Stumbling to my hotel near the main station at 3pm, I was fuming with resentment toward this fucking place. I wanted to see the whole fucking town burn with all of its tedious little fucking people trapped screaming inside.

As I signed in, the cute blonde at the front desk said I looked terrible. I glared indignantly back at her, waiting for my fucking key-card. She smiled, suggesting that I try the natural springs, it's why the Romans first settled here. I remained silent, and then she awkwardly lead me to my room. While moving upstairs, I watched her ass in those tight jeans right in front of my face. I wanted to grab her ankles and trip her up, before smashing her fucking teeth in with the edge of the steps! Though, images of her bloodied face were suddenly replaced with another realization: I don't even know what Maier looks like. I'm searching for someone I know nothing about. Fuck this illusive cunt!

-

I passed out in my room, and woke up only an hour later to the German news on the HDTV. Feeling a fraction better, I decided to find these hot water springs. After all, I might as well make the most of another wasted trip.

Walking into Mitte, I found the Elisenbrunnen thermal springs right in the center of town, but it wasn't what I thought. I had pictured baths and swimming pools. Instead, there was big round columned space with two small fountains pouring water into two small marble basins. Popping my head through the central door, I found only a park on the other side of the facade. Returning to the nearest basin, I figured that this was as good as any symbolic act, and I washed my hands of these fruitless investigations. The water was pleasantly hot. Definitely the perfect temperature to bath in.

But the blood on my hands was not so easily cleansed. Turning from the fountain, I looked up as man in a stylish three-piece suit rode straight up to me on an old fashioned bicycle. He was in his sixties with a wide mustache and pointy gray beard below flowing locks of silver hair. His round-framed glasses and sharp eyebrows cast an intensity over scowling eyes that condemned my presence as he hit the breaks!

“This is borderline harassment! Who are you?! Are you a scholar, a professor, an expert in some field of theological research?! Or are you just another indiscreet pest, begging your way through an already forgotten life!” the old man cursed, his gaunt face less than a foot from mine. “Where are your loyalties, your qualifications, where's your documented accolades?! Self-entitled whore, that's all I see! Don't waste my time! Crawl back to that disingenuous hovel of Berlin, and know you place and stay where you belong!”

I had nothing to say. He was absolutely correct. I assumed, after all, that this vicious old gentleman was, at last, Herr Maier.

Two cops appeared through the bystanders and asked what the problem was.

Both Maier and I slowly turned out equally jaded eyes away from each other and faced the friendly boys in blue.

Kein Problem!” Maier stated. “Überhaupt kein Problem!”

I nodded.

Maier then rolled off on his bike without another word.

The cops and crowd immediately dispersed.

I too drifted away, through the facade, and crossed the park. While perplexed that it was Maier who had found me in the end, I lingered on his words that had cut to the bone. I found myself as a five-year-old wandering away from rejection. Worst of all, I lacked any way of disputing the situation with him. No argument came to mind. The ego had been knee-capped. Maier's infuriated attack continued repeating through my head. I was an idiot! I had no right! I should have drowned in Loch Ness!

Moving up into the old town, here it felt more like Germany with its A-framed, wattle and daub buildings. This place wasn't so bad. I was the one with the problem.

It was just before 6pm when I found myself sitting in an extreme modern, minimalist church with Roman arches. It was a stark contrast to the ornate classical architecture spread throughout the city, but I liked it. Unlike the tourist traps, it was empty except for two eighty-year-old nuns reciting prayers in Deutsch. While sitting on the last pew, I stared up at a life-sized Jesus on a cross behind a modern-art slab of bare concrete, and then the nuns began to sing. I honestly didn't think they had it in them, but their two decrepit voices were infinitely more admirable than anything I'd heard sung during any other church service.

“What's the devil doing in a place like this?”

I didn't need to look up to recognize Emmanuel's sarcastic whisper coming from behind. “You following me?”

“Of course,” he smiled, taking a seat on my left. “Though, kudos to you for removing your sim-card. Made me work for my supper.”

“Did you tell Maier I was here looking for him?”

“Never seen him spit the dummy like that! I mean, the sanctimonious asshole's gone mental at me before, but that was priceless! Made my fucking year, it did!”

“Isn't he your boss?”

Emmanuel shifted his angle in the pew. The big guy was my height but three times as wide. Quietly clearing his throat, he hissed, “Surely, you're not this narrow minded! This wasn't about Maier! Sent you here, to this city, this place, for a reason! You've been running around with your head off, thinking you'll find him in learned places doing respectable things, but you found nothing! Maier's only here on vacation! You're in the right fucking place, but not looking in the right direction!”

The two nuns then finished their duties and slowly shuffled off, leaving Emmanuel and I alone.

“But that's you're lot, isn't it,” the sour-faced Frenchman muttered, glancing with disdain at the white walls. “Born a peasant, and you'll die a peasant. Destined for the Mourning Fields. Just another wasted life frittered away pursuing the wrong prophets.”

A surge of a hatred filled my brain-stem, and my whole body clenched as I fought the impulse to open my mouth.

“Some say god's the higher-self. The gentle voice that speaks when the thoughts get quiet. But you know why you fail? You don't fucking have a higher-anything! You're a fucking delusional cretin who'll never amount to a fucking thing!”

I snapped and lunged! The Frenchman was stronger. He swung me around and I was slammed against the wall! While both of his huge hands squeezing my throat, I instinctively went for my knife – but of course I couldn't take it on flights, however, my fingers found the city map in my back pocket.

“See, this is exactly why you're denied!” Emmanuel snarled. “No matter what you do, deep down inside, you're nothing more than this squirming little fucking runt! You're feeble hostility's incapable of higher-thinking! Just look at how easily provoked and how quickly you lose your fucking mind! And you know, I'm baffled. What the hell did you do to Telford? Saw him recently and couldn't reconcile the way he's behaving. Nah, you didn't do anything. You act tough, but there's nothing to you. Look at you. Just look at you squirm. But you know, it's not your fault, you're like a dog trying to speak Latin.”

“FUCK LATIN!” I choked, and then stabbed that French fuck right in his fucking jugular with the pointed end of the rolled up map!

Emmanuel lurched away, only to shove me back into the wall!

The impact was like getting hit by a truck, and I dropped to the floor. As soon as I looked up, I was alone in the church. My momentary lapse in spite had been replenished ten-fold. I wanted the fucking moon to plummet from the abandoned heavens and not only eradicate these fucking people and this town, but also obliterate its entire history of hidden manuscripts and holy relics kept in gold boxes in plain sight! Drop the fucking moon on my stupid fucking head! I fucking dare you! But it wouldn't! It never would! I wasn't fucking worth it! I am the impious! I am the unrequited! I am not part of any-fucking-thing! Just ignore me and I'll fucking go away!

PART 5

BERLIN

FRIDAY 21st SEPTEMBER 2018

After another brief night of little to no sleep, I caught the first bus from Aachen at 3am. The train to the airport arrived at 5am and it was still pitch black.

While waiting for my flight and listening to Tom Waits, Buzz Fledderjohn, I questioned what had I seriously expected from Maier. Did I think that he'd openly welcome me, gladly share his secret work on the new Bible, and ask if I'd become his uninitiated apprentices. Or had I had hoped for just another incremental step along this morose path of frustration.

Watching the sky slowly turn dark blue, I knew that I hadn't eaten anything since I'd left Berlin, and I wondered if that was all I really had to look forward to. A warm meal. The warmth of a slaughtered woman. Still warm meat. This is my only vocation. I keep resisting my nature, but look where all this talking has gotten me.

-

It was midday by the time got back to my flat, however, the moment I stepped through the door, I found that every inch of the floor, walls, and ceiling was now made of that pale, porous rock. Even my windows were covered over. Only my framed artwork remained untouched on the walls, and as I stared at the three big pictures of Amaimon, the devil from beneath Captain Grant's lighthouse, and my damned father eating the Iranian woman, I heard a hollow sound coming from the thousands of holes in the walls. There were no oily black serpents lurking in those cavities anymore. Peering inside several holes, I saw that they sunk away into a network of abandoned tunnels. I immediately dropped my shoulder bag, and replaced it with my duffel-bag, making sure I had the black salt and white chalk.

Heading straight to Mara's neighbor, I hit every door bell at the entrance, until someone buzzed me in. I slipped a long, thick wire down the edge of the girl's door, and finally the fates were on my side, for she hadn't locked the deadbolt. Impatiently stepping into her flat, I had to assume that I might find her home, but the place was empty. Whipping the curtains shut, I shoved aside everything in the main room. I needed to clear a space, and even ripped up the filthy rug. Having the entire afternoon to prepare, the first thing I did was draw a big double circle with chalk across the whole wooden floor. Inside the gap between the circles, I wrote a list of malicious sigils, until the sacrificial altar was ready. Standing in the center, I reached to the back of my belt – only to realize that I had fucking forgotten to sheath my fucking knife once I had gotten home! Instantly furious, I yelled, kicked, and smashed furniture into the fucking walls! I'm a complete fucking idiot!

Hunched over and catching my breath, my bloodshot pupils glanced out the parting in the curtains and saw the old rabbi standing on Mara's balcony and watching me!

What the fuck was I doing?! I was sleep-deprived, dehydrated, and breaking my own rules of the systematic-procedure. For fuck's sake, I was still dressed in travel clothes, I hadn't used gloves, and worst of all, I'd forgotten my own fucking knife. My fists then struck the floor as many times as I hit myself, until I heard a wet slithering sound above my head. Looking up, I found the entire ceiling crawling with black serpents and devils! Writhing entangled, they demanded an offering of meat without excuses! Grabbing my big jar of black salt, I poured it into my fucking hand and threw the shit at those wretched motherfuckers! Ignoring their fucking screams, I stormed out and slammed the fucking door behind!

-

I ended up stumbling all the way into the middle of Kreuzberg. A strong wind had built-up in the humid air as I followed the canal, staggering up to the towering block that was the Vivantes general hospital. Inside, I took the elevator to the third floor where I stood outside the locked psychiatric ward. Nurse Shaggy had mentioned, four years ago, that I could return if I ever needed to. Was this where I belonged?

No...

Backing away toward the elevators, I didn't feel like putting up with yet another fucking rejection. No one can help me. Staring out the huge windows, I recalled being escorted into the east-wing by the police, when my only priority was getting the fuck out of there so I could finish the great work. How far had I come since then. How much had I seen. And yet how little had I to show for it all.

Beneath the overcast sky, I drifted across the bridge, and sat on a park bench on the other side of the canal from the hospital. Finding a single piece of chalk in my back pocket, I wrote my favorite sigil on the pavement between my feet. The moment I was done, the wind shifted direction from a warm easterly, to a icy westerly gale. Looking up, a woman appeared out of nowhere and walked up from the edge of the canal. She was a sight for sore eyes. With the face of Nefertiti herself, she wore a blush-colored hijab, with matching blouse and Oscar de la Renta leather handbag. Her black and gold wristwatch and sandals, along with her long black skirt that accentuated her perfect hips, made an impression of nobility. The rain began to fall right as she held out the handle of the very same dagger that the old rabbi had used down by the riverside. Her expression was serious as she slowly approached and spoke in beautiful English, “You look hungry. You should eat someone. And give no quarter.”

Bruce

© 2018 BRUCE STIRLING JOHN KNOX