The Lonesome Death Of Augustus Etzel (Part II)
- NOISES FROM THE BAUMGARTEN
During the night anyone in the Lonely East would be aware of the noises. There were pecks and squeals and grunts and cries, but no one knew exactly where they were coming from. If they were made by animals or the trees, nobody knew, but certainly it was a part of the region that no one disturbed.
The forest in the garden of Augustus Etzel’s house was particularly noisy. Augustus could hear through his window the sounds of a radio with bad signal. The songs playing on it crackled and sometimes it would stop for a few seconds until it was knocked to one side and then it would start playing again. The songs were old songs, maybe from the war or maybe even earlier, just before the conflict started. The noises could be heard from Augustus’ bed at the back of the house every night; everyone knew that the forest did not sleep like man did. The noises did not worry him nor did they conjure up any fear inside him, but he was curious. Augustus had always been a curious man: he liked to know things, whether his business or none of it, he liked to know why, when and where. The old man had heard that curiosity killed the cat, but he also knew that many things killed many people and one must face one’s fears if anything in the world is to be done.
Augustus often lay in his bed facing the ceiling with many a thing travelling through his mind in a semi-conscious state. As he lay there silently he heard the baumgarten the most. It sounded as if it were right beside him, under his covers or resting upon the same pillow. He liked the crackles of the radio and the chatter amongst creatures, whatever they may have been. In the lonely man’s point of view, whatever animal or being was making such peculiar noises at night knew that the garden of trees belonged to Augustus Etzel, the man of the soil, and they would not be out to harm him. In such knowledge, Augustus felt at home in his garden and in his bed day or night, and he did not fear the noises of the baumgarten.
Some nights the noises from the forest would be loud and some lonely men like Augustus would not be able to sleep. The warmer season was often when such sleeplessness occurred. In the mornings after a sleepless night Augustus was rarely happy. He would awake to the sight of warm beer and take it away from the windowsill, although still that would make little difference to the taste of it. He would drink it until he did not feel so tired and then he would play a game that involved very little like Regenspiel or listening to the birds in the forest. It was then that he was a little happier, but for the whole day he would not quite feel like himself.
One particular day in the warm season, long after the war, Augustus was listening to the birds, playing a game that he sometimes referred to as ‘Vögel und Vögel’. The birds were lively as ever and sounded simply beautiful. He was almost falling asleep listening to them sing like a perfectly harmonised choir. He felt their song rush through his veins and then he took a sip of warm beer and his face squashed together. He was very happy but very tired as his night had been disturbed by the crackly noises of the garden again. He knew that whatever living thing was giving him such troubles the previous night would not be so cruel as to do so again, so he felt fine standing up and nodding a pleasant goodbye to the birds. He walked back to where the wood was not so dense and had another sip of his beer, which was not one of his best batches.
He promptly left what remained of his beer by the windowsill to give it air to cool and washed his hands, heeding the scar that remained there from before the war, cleansed his eyes and divest his forehead of its dirt. He then lay in bed, ridden of all things great and wicked, and stared at the ceiling just like the previous night. He could still hear the birds singing but was sure that as the sun grew still darker, the birds would silence and sleep accordingly.
It was a very warm night, but not a greatly loud one. He fiddled with his toes for a small amount of time before letting his feet lie still in bed. Then he rubbed his eyes. And then he laughed thinking about something that had happened in the early hours of morning, whilst his sleep trouble occurred. After that, not very much happened until his tired eyes were collapsing upon his lonely body and all his untouched parts were growing equally weary and he could not think for very much longer.
It was then that the noise of a crackly radio began to play. He awoke again, just like the previous night, and wondered what the forest was up to. Although he knew it was not his business, he was, as ever, a curious man, and so he listened intently, attempting not to make a single noise with his body. He heard a song he did not recognise but understood to be a war song; something from the conflict years. He knew, at least, that the song was not around any longer. It did not worry him much as the noise came from his home.
Augustus raised his head from his bed to gain more of an insight into the conversation he could hear of deep voices and tired throats. The words crackled like the sounds of the radio. They sounded old, like something from the war years. His body was resting on his bent elbows in his bed, still hidden under his sheets like the old family of the farmhouse under their bunker. He could hear the noises quite clearly through the window that was left just open to allow a light breeze in the heat of the morning, but he certainly could not understand them.
Augustus could not understand any language but his own, the dialect of East Germany, the language the men of the soil had developed in their loneliness. It was a language very close to that of mainland Germany, but adjusted to the needs of the Lonely Easterners slightly so as to create a sense of belonging and faithfulness through speaking slightly different languages. Augustus could not understand, therefore, the conversation in his garden or the words of the songs on the radio. So he simply fell asleep. His eyes wearied more than he could cope with and his elbows failed to hold him up and his brain no longer could think or listen or, most certainly, translate.
In the night, Augustus dreamt about wonderful selections of food on a table in the baumgarten on a sunny but cool day. There was a beautiful beer there too which he had made for a very handsome woman. It was made with apples and pears, two of her favourite fruits, and a combination that Augustus had never had the skill nor the confidence to attempt. He also dreamt about owning a brewery and telling many tall, beautiful people how to perfect beer the Lonely Eastern way. They all listened to him and respected his creativity, along with the rest of the Germans who all looked the same and were the same height with the same hair and skin colour, and none of them believed in any god. In fact, they were all just like Augustus.
In the morning Augustus woke up and looked out of his window, but nothing was strange, so he moved his beer away from the windowsill and fetched a cup of water. It was not very cold but it felt quite pleasant as it pulsated through his veins and donated some fulfilment and refreshment to every corner of his body. Then he sat for a while by the window and he watched everything in his sight, from the creatures in the darkest, mistiest parts of the deepest forest to the bugs crawling on the glass of the dirty windowpane in front of his eyes. He felt somewhat like God, like an umpire of the garden, of the world, checking that everything attractive was working correctly.
It was a warm day and there were but a few clouds in the hazy blue sky. Maybe the day was too humid for Augustus’ aged anatomy, but he certainly had grown used to the warmer months, however he felt about them. He liked the heat on his back and his feet, but sometimes it hurt his eyes when he looked too close to the sun, so generally he stood away from it. Generally he faced the forest. That particular day he was facing the forest and the warm sun was on his back, which he was enjoying. His beer was growing warmer every minute in his hand. He took a sip but no longer enjoyed it so he put it back away from the windowsill in the house.
Under the trees it was very gorgeous with all the lone rays of light seeping in past a break between two or three, maybe four, leaves. The lines of sunlight, Augustus often thought, looked like the fingers of the sun reaching into the forest to check that all was well. That day it certainly looked so.
Augustus first listened to the birds and enjoyed their songs, then he found a tree that had been killed. It was lying on the floor, presumably in pain, with green leaves still clinging to its collapsed branches. Augustus knew its death had been recent and it was nothing natural: the tree was young. He counted the rings on the inside of its trunk and he saw what he already knew. The young tree must have been cut by some sort of blade very quickly, not leaving any time for ejaculation of sap. Augustus stroked the trunk of the tree and shook his head from side to side. Such a sight worried him; it was not often that he saw such wounds to the forest, but every time he did there was a sure relation. Every time they were slashed with a blade at a young age, and every time they were deep in the heart of the forest, far deeper than any sunlight could reach. Sometimes around the scene he would find footprints, but from feet he had not seen before. From where they came was another thing that puzzled him.
He took a note of the whereabouts of the tree on his small notepad that he kept inside his chest pocket along with a small pencil. He then walked back to the farmhouse, fingering his forehead in deep confusion. On his pad of paper, on which he had sketched a brief map of the forest, were also pinpointed the locations of the other trees he had found murdered in years recent to those. He tried to spot a pattern between them or a word they spelled out, but nothing seemed apparent. By the time he had reached the farmhouse and pulled his beer from the shade, he had developed no new knowledge concerning the slasher of the trees.
It was sometime in the afternoon when Augustus went back into the forest to walk around his land. He liked the feeling of owning the land on which he stepped, so accordingly he would strut the endless muddy floors of the baumgarten. On the warm day he grew hot walking so he stopped to take a sip of beer somewhere along the way. It was then that he saw a dead tree much like the one he had found previously that day. He examined it with his beer in his hands, and then he checked his map of dead trees and discovered that it was in fact the same tree as he had found only hours beforehand. At that moment he went back to the farmhouse and checked on his brewing beer.
The beer in his kitchen was rather average; for a man with high expectations, Augustus was not impressed by his efforts. Of course, he drank the beer despite its mediocre taste. Whilst drinking it he sat in front of the window and watched the bugs dying at the end of the day, the end of their time in the garden, and the sun lie down to sleep behind the tallest waving trees. It was then that he felt quite comfortable and calm, in fact, at that time so did most of the men of the soil; when everything had been done and the sun was waving a candid farewell and all the forests were becoming dark.
Soon after the dark had come Augustus cleaned his eyes and his hands and his forehead, and then he sat in bed thinking about the beer he had left uncapped on the floor beside his chair as his mind had been suddenly overcome by a thought about the war and so he had forgotten to place it on the windowsill and seal it. The thought worried him and he knew he would regret not going back downstairs and doing what had to be done once that morning came and he craved a sip of cool, carbonated beer. But, as it was, he simply had not the energy to descend from where he lay and then climb the stairs once more, so he left it as a mere worry in his tired head.
The noises of the baumgarten soon distracted him from his worries. He listened to them intently as there was little else to listen to. He heard the sound of the old radio once more as it fizzed through the window and into his fearless ears. The song was an old one that he recognised but did not much care for.
Augustus’ mind was in none but a dilemma: he knew what was right was to go downstairs and recap his fresh beer and place it by the windowsill to keep it cool, but the noises of the garden intrigued him and he found it very hard to force his body to rise against tiresome will. Eventually, once that the crackles of the radio turned to some voice-over in English and Augustus could not understand a word, he pulled his sheets from on top of him and span his body around to be sat up straight on the side of his bed. He then rubbed his eyes and scanned the dark room in a tired confusion.
The stairs creaked as he edged his way down but that did not worry him in the slightest. The beer was as he left it. He sealed the cap to the top and placed it neatly on the ledge by the window.
Downstairs, as Augustus sighed in relief for completing the task that worried him so, the broken sound of the radio seemed to have grown louder and clearer. He peered out of the window into the absolute black of night and saw very little. He could just about make out the mound at the back of the garden, the one that was built for the German family during the war to hide from the Evil British, but it was unclear from where the noise was coming.
Suddenly overcome with curiosity, Augustus opened the door to the garden and poked his head gently into the cold air of night, but still very little was clear at the back of the garden, near the forest. But the night did not give any fear to men of the soil and nor did any dark forest, it was for that reason that he stepped out into the baumgarten with his feet naked and cold. Each step made a soft noise on the wet grass as he edged his way closer to the back of the garden, to where the forest began and did not end for many miles.
Although it was the warm season, it was not often that the nights were also warm, and that particular night certainly was not. Augustus shivered with his arms wrapped around himself and then he coughed. At the back of the garden, slim black lines that erected into the air like pillars guarding the entrance into some other realm began to emerge from the lonely man’s feet, following him like guardians. The lonely man walked slowly through the garden as more and more became clear to his attuned eyes and the crackling sound of a small radio grew louder through the silence of the night.
Augustus soon found himself at the end of his garden, where the forest began, and a man had no place in his forest during the night, which Augustus very well knew. But traditions change with circumstances and rules bend with the times, and such was exactly what happened that night near the end of the warm season in the Lonely East.
Augustus Etzel did not often find himself in fear of anything in particular as his surroundings had been his welcoming home for many years and together they had grown and become almost one. But, whilst being a part of his forest during the day, no man could rule such a mysterious place during the dark hours of night; it simply was not possible. Opposing many of his beliefs and many years of tradition, Augustus stood by the edge of the forest, beside the first tree of the endless rows, and listened without distraction to the noises he heard very close to him. The words were spoken in some foreign tongue and no men of the soil understood anything but the local German dialect, and to that rule Augustus Etzel was no exception. The ill-tuned radio was grunting in the same tongue as the clearer voices, and occasionally it would stop momentarily until nudged by some devoted listener nearby and then again it would crackle away some incomprehensible mumble.
The lonely man at the entry to a dark forest gripped a tree close to him and peered around its trunk as if he were hiding from the darkness itself, or the noises excreting from it. And in many ways he was hiding as the circumstances he had placed himself in were not known to him and, at his age, he knew a man must keep to the things he knows.
Peering deeper into the darkness with squinted eyes and a cold chest was Augustus, who moved one step out in front of the other and killed something beneath him. He heard an unfamiliar crunch at his feet and knew what he was the cause of, so he did not look down, but simply looked over his left shoulder to a light hanging from the kitchen ceiling in his house at the other end of the garden. In the darkness, Augustus’ head was immediately lost turning back to face the baumgarten. Still he could not make out a single figure or understand from where the noises he had grown used to hearing came from.
It was at that moment that he gripped the trunk of the first tree of the forest slightly harder than he had previously, and then, with the weight of his body towards the darkness, he span to the other side of the tree. He himself did not know whether the move was intentional or simply some subconscious side of himself not being able to handle the suspense any longer. But either way, it certainly shocked the old man, who did not from that moment move any distance in any direction. In fact he stayed completely still like a stone memorial of his own living body. And like stone was precisely how Augustus felt in the coldest point of the night in the baumgarten.
Past another few rows of trees and farther into the chill of the darkness were faintly silhouetted figures. The old man in the forest stared upon the silhouettes that moved from side to side and nodded and laughed like a man who is alive would. But surely, the man of the soil thought to himself silently, there is no man in a forest on a cold night talking and laughing and listening to a poor radio. And even if such a man were to have existed and were in fact sat in the baumgarten of humble Augustus Etzel’s house, nobody in the Lonely East spoke a single word of a foreign tongue and certainly tourists did not often pass through, and on the very rare occasions that they did, they did not spend their time deep in the cold, dark forest of another lonely German.
There was a rustle and a crunch below the edging feet of the curious man, who immediately looked down to the floor to check that he had not murdered another of his beautiful creatures, for he loved all the creatures of his baumgarten, which he also loved, as one often finds himself feeling about the place he calls home.
In the forest it was generally warmer than out in the open air as the heat would not be able to rise through the thick flora. At that moment in the forest Augustus did not feel himself growing warmer as he entered deeper and deeper parts of the darkness. It was not long until he could not see the lights of his kitchen but simply the blackness of night all around him; this made him somewhat less comfortable but did not give him the chill of fear one might feel if not accustomed to such a place.
And there in a dark place in the Lonely East, Augustus Etzel froze. His fingers did not quiver in shock and nor did his lips. The thick hairs across his back did not erect in some visceral reaction. His feet did not spring from the ground and his eyes did not peel back upon themselves like a deer confronted with some shocking noise. In fact, very little happened at all in Augustus’ body other than the beat of his heart and the breath of his chest.
On the other side of a tall tree was a small radio with bad signal. The radio was on a picnic bench that was old and weary much like the radio. Sitting on the bench seats of the picnic table were three figures, still silhouetted by some slightly lighter shade of darkness on the far side of them. Augustus stared at the figures from behind a thin tree for some time as he attempted to wake himself from some perverted dream that tore his mind into foolishness, making him believe there were creatures in his humble forest. And with a rub of the eyes and a gentle slap to the tired cheeks, Augustus Etzel saw creatures in his humble forest, and humble no longer it was.
A man of the soil, a man awake far later than he was used to being, a man who had left his beer by his windowsill and unwillingly forced himself into his dark forest through countless nights of built-up curiosity, stepped one foot silently in front of the other with his eyes remaining fixed on the figures at the bench in front of him. The figures did not react to the old man approaching them; it was not likely that, if they could see at all, they had seen him as he was in a thick darkness and he himself could barely see his feet.
The figures at the picnic table gradually became clearer, alike, the sounds of the radio grew louder, still expelling a string of broken noises in the language of some far land unknown to Augustus.
He soon found himself crouched behind a bush that covered the gateway between one tall tree and another. There he listened intently on everything the dark figures were saying, but none of it made sense to his Eastern mind, so he raised his body and peered over the bush with as little of his head showing as possible. There he stayed and watched the things on the table. One figure was talking and the other two sitting still. They were large; much larger than the German himself but smaller than the smallest trees in the forest. They appeared ugly in the limited light, with lumps protruding from odd places across their bodies and no hair upon their heads and what appeared to be leaves obtruding from their elbows and shoulders and some other places. None of the three was wearing any clothing. Augustus, watching from behind a thick bush, could not see the details of their faces but they did not appear to be like the faces of humans he had seen in his life, nor did the faces look like those of any animal the old man had ever seen. If the figures were human, which, at that point, Augustus was thinking very unlikely, they were extremely old; far older than Augustus himself, and they were not from the Lonely East but maybe had descended from it as they were very ugly, not like other beautiful Europeans.
Building closer and closer into the light that surrounded the figures at the table, Augustus found his arms covered in small lumps much like those he remembered getting in the coldest of the winter months. Although he was not particularly cold as he edged his way deeper into the forest. He rubbed his arms and momentarily the lumps were ridden of, but the old man had larger worries occupying his mind. He stood again behind a tall tree somewhere close to the picnic table as he stared without forlornness into the things he had unknowingly heard and thought about for so long. Still, Augustus was not scared as he found it hard to fear something he longed to know so much about, and so he felt simply confused in pondering all his knowledge of what the creatures in his garden possibly could have been, which he was aware was very little other than what he saw in front of his eyes.
One of the figures raised its hands as it spoke and Augustus leant in past the trunk of the tree with the tip of his nose dipping gently into the soft light; nothing that was being said processed in his head and he did not know what language they could have been speaking, unless it was some language of the baumgarten of which Augustus Etzel, in all his years of experience, had no understanding.
It was at that moment that Augustus realised how close he was to the picnic table and promptly swung back to the other side of the trunk as the three figures raised some wooden cup each was holding and knocked them onto the corners of where their elbows may have been, spilling some of what appeared to be their arms, chanting in unison something incomprehensible.
Augustus’ eyes again covered the breaks in the bark of the tree as he heard a silence envelope the table. He was too close now to jump from tree to tree as he would clearly be seen, so he simply watched the figures with his head hidden by the dangling leaves of the tree’s branches. A smell then began to seep into his head as close as he was to the picnic table, a faint smell much like that of the wet forest in winter when the wind would blow toward the house and the old man inside it would feel himself uncontrollably whiffing the air and being quite pleased with the scent of home.
The three things sat at the table arose and bent at the knees before making some clicking noise and bouncing on the dry leaves on which the picnic table had been placed. Augustus saw things changing and stood back behind the bush where he had been. From the bush his eyes did not avert the three figures for one second as he edged back to the kitchen light hanging from the ceiling, dangling in all the silence of the Lonely East where no one noticed a thing. He began to feel the air growing colder as he approached the open garden with his feet skimming the ground as silently as possible. Gradually the figures became less and less clear through the darkness of night and Augustus began to realise more and more the danger in which his curiosity had placed him, but it did not too much worry him.
Once that the old man of the soil, whose lonely race was quickly dying, had reached the last tree again where the air was as cold as any German night, a strange sensation had overcome him and he wondered deeply whether or not he should call the police in Leipzig or Berlin and find out what the figures were and what they were doing in a secluded man’s baumgarten. But, of course, Augustus was a man who loved his forest and loved the animals inside it, or whatever else may have been residing there, and he would never have wanted to capture such beasts for scientific or evolutionary experimentation. Although Augustus did not believe in the Bible and certainly had not read a single word of it, he had always had faith in his rule that one must treat his animals as he himself would want to be treated; and in that knowledge the world was fair. But calling in the Westerners to poison the delightfully mysterious things in the forest with flashing lights and tall buildings and man-made things would surely not have been how the old man would have himself wanted to be treated, and so he had a dilemma in his mind and most of it was due to his humble curious nature that had never before caused him such a nuisance.
And a nuisance certainly the case was to one other man in the Lonely East.
- THE MAN ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE FOREST
The Lonely East was not as large a region as it may have seemed when driving through it. It lay between a triangle of major roads between Berlin, Leipzig and Dresden. The few remaining men were scattered across the baron landscape much unlike moths to a bright bulb in the dark night. Augustus Etzel lived within a few miles of one other man.
The man on the other side of the forest that started, or ended, at Augustus’ back garden was Wolfgang Bauer. Wolfgang was of Polish origin: he moved to the Lonely East long before the war when the farmland thrived with women, children and luscious vegetation. He considered himself a man of the soil much like Augustus; he enjoyed beer like Augustus. He was not such a great brewer but certainly made a unique brew. He too liked the forest in his garden.
Wolfgang liked to drink beer in his garden whilst it was sunny outside and whilst it was raining. Such was what he did every day, and if it was cold but neither sunny nor rainy, he would simply sit inside and drink his beer.
Wolfgang did not live a happy life like Augustus by filling his days with games of running and laughing and chasing beautiful things. Wolfgang had never married; in fact his lips remained virginal and would do until death parted him from his beloved beer. Wolfgang liked to smoke things like he did in Poland, but in the Lonely East men did not often travel to the shop; they lived off of their own backs, so men found it hard to smoke. So Wolfgang would travel annually to Leipzig for a large shopping trip and stock up on cigarettes to last him the rest of the cold season and the warmer one, too. Then he would sit in the sunlit garden or under thick black clouds or in the safe enclosure of his four walls and drink his beer and smoke his cigarettes. And then he would sleep.
Wolfgang’s sleep was not a sleep like men knew sleep. He would not wash his hands and scrub his forehead and renew his eyes, then settle down to a bed of warm covers and a soft pillow to dream of beautiful things that crawled and naked things that did all sorts of unthinkable deeds. In fact, he would sit in his chair at the bottom of the stairs in his house and light another cigarette with a large pack of matches that he kept in the chest pocket of his best shirt, which was chequered and purple. Then he would take another sip of beer and place the glass bottle on the floor beside the right leg of his creaking chair. Then his head would begin to spin and his eyes would begin to dip in and out of sight, and in that trend his mind would follow, in and out of consciousness. The fingers of his hands would feel themselves too weak to grip and uncurl to be dangling like tiny legs toward the cracked wooden floorboards beneath it all. And there at the bottom of the stairs would be sitting an unconscious man. A man with a head full of things that no man of the East would ever dream of knowing. A man with poisoned blood and a bitter heart.
Through the night Wolfgang Bauer would hear noises. He would hear talking and whispering and chanting and then he would hear the whines and crackles of some old, broken radio. He knew the noises were coming from the forest, or the other side of it. A few times in the past, after being awoken by the noises in a furious rage, he had called the police in Leipzig who had arrived to the deserted region the following morning and found nothing unusual but the life of the man who had called for them. But that was none of their business and so they left. It was not more than a month later when he called again. They found nothing unusual in the light of the morning, except the stench of dry urine through every room in the old man’s derelict house beside a dark forest.
It was on the same night that Augustus had been overridden by his curious mind and travelled out alone into the forest to discover the noises of the radio that Wolfgang dropped his beer through his morbid fingers. His thin hands gradually lost grip of the glass bottle like a dark cloud to its heavy rain that it simply cannot hold in any longer. The bottle dropped quickly through the air and hit the butt of a cigarette, which forced it to fall on its weak neck, and subsequently one old, lonely man’s green bottle turned to a thousand. And consequently the old, lonely man awoke in a drunken vehemence. He looked to the dirty floorboards and all the glass strewn across it and he kicked the myriad pieces around his feet. He pushed the chair over on which he had slept every night before, during and after the war. He lit another cigarette and threw the packet to the ground. He stopped then and heard an unclear sound in his ear. Certainly he recognised it immediately as the noise that had caused him endless nights of sleeplessness. And his fury heightened. He became red in the face as his tortured heart beat all the blood it could find around every pale place in his lonely body. His mouth sank to the floor and his head beat like a hammer to a nail. He heard the noise of the poor radio again and the sounds of the things in the forest.
At that moment Wolfgang Bauer knew he had had enough. His pale hands covered in blue veins reached for the phone by the door. He stuck his finger into the hole with a ‘1’ below it. He dragged the circle in which his finger was shoved to the end of the row. He repeated. He shoved his finger into ‘0’ and dragged it over. The phone was silent for a moment until a woman answered with a high tone of voice.
-Yes, sir, I’ll put you right through.
And then there was silence. The police heard of another lonely, drunk Easterner and laughed at him as he screamed. A lonely old man collapsed onto a chair at the bottom of a staircase near a dark, noisy forest, and nothing happened.
In the morning hours a police car arrived at the house on the other side of the forest. They pulled up to a silent house in the building light of the day and knocked cautiously on the door. A small, ugly old man answered and the two policemen were not surprised.
- Sir, we have received complaints that you have been disturbing the peace.
- Me? I have been asleep.
Augustus Etzel was a worried man. He knew suddenly that they were there for the beautiful, mysterious figures he had seen, but he was far too curious to let them be taken. The police walked past the old man in the doorway and checked his home, holding the end of their noses as they gazed into a life they did not understand.
As they made their way to the back of the house, Augustus overtook them and stood in front of the back door. Both men looked out into the garden and saw the forest surrounding the view. They reached for the handle of the back door but Augustus stepped in front of it casually, as if by accident. One man stopped and looked deep into the old man’s eyes with a stern face. The other man in the green suit, the ‘suit of justice’, stared with sincerity covering him at the sun breaking on the baumgarten.
Augustus Etzel remained a still man as the hand of an officer reached past him. It was then that the foreigners became suspicious and pushed the man of the soil to one side and pulled the door toward them. Augustus hit the wall by his side and coughed as the two men walked past him into the garden. There they stood looking as deeply as they could see into the forest, which was not very far. One of the men went to check the shelter at the back of the garden but soon realised what it was that he was examining and walked away quite quickly. The other, the tallest of the pair, stepped a few paces into the thick forest but saw nothing that particularly aroused his suspicion.
Both the men from Leipzig knew that the people of the lonely land were peculiar and knew that they could not have their suspicions brought forward in seeing the same things that might have done so back in the city. And accordingly the two men eyed Augustus up and down; one of them lit a cigarette in the front garden and the other laughed at the miserable life in front of him. They drove together down the long road back to Leipzig and spoke about the man they had seen together. The officer in the passenger seat asked the driver if he recognised the Easterner’s ugly face. The driver put his finger between his lips and thought for a moment. After a few minutes of silence he nodded – Oh yes! I remember that face!
Augustus was in shock in his home as it was not often that visitors came to him and when they did, he did not expect them to push him or examine his things. He was disappointed at how the day had gone thus far as he had scrubbed his forehead so hard the previous night and spent so much time soaking the loads from his hands.
Wolfgang Bauer had not been told what had happened on the other side of the forest. He awoke late in the morning and felt some hard thing pound against the inside of his skull as he pulled from his chest pocket a cigarette. Looking out into the garden in the midday light, Wolfgang knew it was a nice day and so he would sit in the sun, on the grass, with a beer or two and think about all the things he did think about. And there he sat until it was warm under the uncovered sun, and he enjoyed the warmth all over him as the pains inside his head and his chest and in his eyes subsided and became nothing but a faint annoyance.
On the other side of a warm, dark forest in the Lonely East was a man soaked in forlornness from head to toe. He did not drink beer as he did not have the energy to pour it. The previous day’s beer he had finished after returning from a strange trip through the deep parts of the forest.
Augustus was in the garden with his open palms running through the few grey hairs left protruding from his pale head. The sun’s warmth certainly was pleasant on his baldness. But Augustus was not thinking about the sun, nor was he thinking about his beer, but about the figures he had seen in the dark forest. He thought about what they were saying and in what language. He thought about who they were and from where they had come. He thought about what they were doing and why they were in his forest, and, of course, for how long they had been there.
All the things he was thinking about puzzled his aged mind. He rubbed his eyes with the ball of his palms and then pulled at his lower lip, but nothing happened at all and no revelations were come upon. In fact, Augustus found himself to behold less knowledge about the things he had seen than he did the previous night when stood in front of them, as his memory was not what it had once been.
- ANOTHER NIGHT EITHER SIDE OF THE FOREST
It was darker than the previous evening had been. Augustus could not see a thing in his garden once that the sun fell behind the horizon. He had not drunk any beer all day and so in the evening he pulled the last bits of fermented beer out of his kitchen and sipped at them lightly in the late dusk.
He sat on the step that eased the way down from the house to the grass of the garden. The step was a place Augustus had always enjoyed sitting, as it was there that he could be in between his two favourite places on the earth he somewhat objectively resided. There between two worlds he watched the baumgarten and thought about it somewhere very deep and meaningful in his head, a place deeper than those he tended to venture into. He thought about the things he had seen and wondered where they were and if they would be returning to his beautiful, dark forest after all the trauma they had been the cause of.
On the other side of the forest was a tired man who had been drinking his tasteless beer all day and finished another two packets of cigarettes in doing so. Wolfgang had a red face as he had been under the sun drinking his beer for the best part of the day. At evening he sat down by the window in his house, touching untouched parts of himself. With his beer in one hand he would follow a trail down his fat abdomen until he would reach the groin of his trousers. And there he would remove them until a mere groin, a naked groin, lay before him. And then he would do the things that he wished some beautiful stranger would strut in and do to him, but of course no one ever did, not in the Lonely East.
A coarse liquid would cover the old man’s hand whose mind was, by that time of the day, obliterated. He would exhale and wipe his hand onto his trousers, which were then strewn beneath him on the wooden floorboards. It was at that moment Wolfgang lit another cigarette, once that his deeds were done and no one saw a thing. He took a sip of warm beer and sucked on the orange tip of his cigarette as if it were the donor of life itself to his putrid bloodstream.
Wolfgang, much like the man on the other side of the forest, watched the forest as he sat in a draining tiredness. He prayed that the noises from the forest would have been silenced by the police and that the man whom occupied what he considered to be his own forest had been arrested and taken into some city jail where he would be fed dog food for the rest of his short years. Wolfgang prayed to God, but knew that He would not have the bitterness in his heart to carry out such atrocities.
Wolfgang, much unlike the man with whom he shared a large eastern forest, believed in God and the Holy Trinity. He had not read the Bible and did not attend classes of Bible study, nor did he spend his days spreading the word of God or Jesus, but his mother had told him what the truth was and a man with dignity and respect does not go against the word of his mother, as he saw it himself. And so it was God Almighty whom placed the lonely Polish man in such a state of affairs in the darkest, loneliest, and, in many ways, most sinister part of the world. It was the Lord whom gave unto lonely Wolfgang Bauer the powers of masturbation and the guilt that followed it; whom gave the man the knowledge to make beer and a poor beer at that; whom let the criminals of the War escape and hide somewhere dark and secretive and let the communists take over and the Stasi spy on the lives of every German in East Berlin. And that was the world according to Wolfgang Bauer.
In Augustus’ garden the sun had set and everything was dark. Augustus remained on the step leading to his garden with a dirty forehead, unwashed eyes and filthy hands and wrists. He remained in a deep stare at the dark wood as he occasionally sipped at the last drops of beer in his hand. A certain melancholy began to fall over the face of the old man as he sat motionlessly in the darkness. His leather skin sank toward the floor and the deep lines in his forehead and under his eyes felt heavier than they always had. He felt some desperate melancholy try to stop him continuing the actions he planned to continue. He felt his body will against him and push him back to the step upon which he was seated. But a strong body Augustus always beheld, and so he stood to his feet with a proud stare as he breathed in deeply like there was not enough air in the world, and accordingly he exhaled with all the might of a windstorm.
Edging toward the forest with a fearlessness in his eye, Augustus continued his deep breathing. The beer in the lonely hand of the old man was empty but he did not think about that. The first trees of the forest were well within his gaze and so was the bunker from the war, which he stepped lightly around, not looking at it directly. He felt the ground soften underneath the step of his shoes as he walked over a lump in the grass beside the war shelter. He had never enjoyed such a feeling as he knew the reason for its happening.
Nearing the thick blanket of dark surrounding the forest, Augustus wondered again about what he had seen, but this time he almost worried for his fate. But such thoughts were not common for Augustus Etzel. It was true though that his heart was beating quickly, it almost shook the framework of his old chest and his frail ribs. His feet felt jittery as if they were incapable of continuing and his hands felt colder than they had the previous night.
At the first tree of the wood, the lonely Easterner peered around the thin trunk and saw nothing but blackness cover his vision. And accordingly he edged slowly toward the next tree of the thick wood. There he saw little more and so he moved on once more. The darkness gradually surrounded every direction of visibility and soon the lonely corpse of the German was enveloped in a colourless light in which nothing was clearly seen. In that light he felt uncomfortable, but not scared. And so he moved on, farther into the unknown realm of something he had seen and wondered about for so many hours.
Approaching the area he recognised as where he had been the previous night, Augustus stopped and looked over each of his shoulders before standing behind a tree, taking shelter from anything that could see him. And in each direction there was nothing he recognised as something that could see him, so he frowned and scratched the fringe of his hair and then rubbed his eyes. A sureness ran through his blood that he had been in that exact spot recently, where only one day’s sun beforehand lay a picnic bench and on it three figures, slightly silhouetted by an absent light. There simply was nothing; as a forest at night, there were darkness and sleeping birds and small, hungry animals and waving trees, but not a single unknown thing.
Walking to one side in a confused state, Augustus heard a crackle in his ear. The crackle obviously recognisable as a foreign tongue with bad signal. And at that exact moment Augustus Etzel stopped in the middle of a pitch black wood. He looked all around and his ears, if he were a dog or some wild animal, would have stood up and erected like the untouched parts of Wolfgang Bauer’s body. They would have twisted slightly from side to side in a particularly concentrated concentration like a wild cat in the Sahara, searching desperately for living food. And accordingly Augustus’ eyes, like a worried owl in a forest occupied by foreigners, peered in a wide gaze from tree to tree and each slit of light in between. Like a wise owl they scanned the fallen leaves on the muddy floor to the winged creatures asleep in the tallest branches of the tallest trees. And again the crackle burst all the silence in his head and his mind and he snarled vaguely like a panther waiting for the herd to sip at the small pond of water, like, Wolfgang may have believed, God waiting for the snake to ruin everything that ever was good. And then a rustle in a pile of dry leaves. And then the voice of something strange and unknown.
Augustus was scanning the forest earlier than he had been the previous night. The noises were not where they had been before. Augustus’ heart was not as calm as it had been. His hands and his feet were not as warm. Nothing was as it had been. Augustus was surely now worried.
The old man followed the noises he heard in a near distance. He carried his hands out in front of him as if to protect him from something unknown that might suddenly appear in the invisibleness of the German night. But nothing appeared.
The noises grew louder, the crackles of the radio and the foreign talk, as he approached what he knew nothing of. The night seemed darker than it ever had done, although that sensation was likely to merely be his fear overriding his rational mind. And there he walked overridden by a blind darkness, but he continued through it as he remembered the Lonely Eastern tale of the man who gave up. In fact, during the endless search of anonymous noises in the deep forest, Augustus whispered to himself the proverb. Anfangen ist leicht, beharren eine Kunst. And again he repeated the words he knew were the wisdom he must follow. And he knew it was true: he had begun, set upon his feet from his comfortable doorstep, and surely, like the proverb dictated, it was easy, but continuing through the invisibility and unknowingness of what the old man often called home, surely was an art he had achieved.
The noises seemed, at some points during the search, to be coming from inside Augustus’ own head, but at the moment he saw what he had seen the previous night all his worries of misperception disappeared and he knew it was worth fooling the police out of the lonely land they knew nothing of.
Through the darkness three figures began to emerge, silhouetted by an oracular light mist. His heart stopped and all the veins and arteries in his body were put on hold until another order was given. He stopped on the dry leaves and beheld the silence all around him. He saw the figures talking, just like before but in a spot almost a mile from the previous hours of darkness. They sat on what appeared to be the same picnic table, clearing a small area of woodland where trees must have lain. The figures were still tall and moved their arms in large swooping motions just as they did before. Augustus stood some feet from them with his mouth closed in absolute silence and his body inertly aghast. His eyes did not for one second blink and he looked not at a single thing throughout the entire baumgarten but the three figures in mid conversation in front of him. Nothing else in the world mattered and the old German knew of nothing other than that covering his vision, and nor did he care for anything else.
In a house not a long distance from where Augustus stood in a blind stare, Wolfgang Bauer collapsed into the hard entices of his old wooden chair at the bottom of his old staircase. His beer was on the floor and his ashtray was full. His stomach was raging in its poison and his legs beating in restlessness. Everything was as it always had been that side of the forest as the lonely Pole disintegrated further into his grave without heed for the consequences yet one more time.
In the forest close by, three things continued to talk as if everything in the world was perfectly normal and no one was watching. But Augustus Etzel, an ugly Easterner, certainly was watching. He was watching and doing not one other thing. In fact, he was listening so intently and pondering with such concentration that every few seconds he would forget to breathe and then suddenly gasp, filling his weary body with oxygen until again he forgot.
The noise of the woods was one filled with mystery on any night. Locals were said to have heard bears roaring and girls screaming and wolves howling. Although there had not ever been an official sighting of a bear in the Lonely East, wolves were known to roam the area from time to time. Men had seen devoured bodies in the darkest parts of the forest and their guns ripped to shreds by their stunned corpses. The older men often told vivid stories of murders in the forests and huge fires. But, as the hum of cars and the bright lights of the sleepless city conquered more and more of the beautiful things in the world, all the forests, not only of the East, but of the whole Earth, began to lose their mystery and become nothing but an adventure park for teenage children or a cycle route for health-conscience families or a safari ride for city people caring to take a look at an unknown realm where the night is dark and a man alone is never safe.
But a man alone was Augustus Etzel and safe he did always feel in the forest he called home. The mysterious noises were unadulterated by any lights or machines of the modern world and yet no stories told by any old men would change how the old German felt about his home. For home is home, he had been told by his mother many years before the war. And accordingly he peered out from behind the tree by which he stood. A cold breeze hit the end of his nose and the top of his forehead and his eyes began to water slightly, so he squinted and saw the picnic table in front of him. Another of the three was now talking and waving its arms in a lack of accord, which only added to the wildness of its looks. It was not clear whether the figures were arguing or merely speaking with much emotion, but Augustus was not accustomed to such conversation, if any at all.
And there the old man stood for some minutes as very little changed in the surrounding woods but the position of the moon many miles above and the topic of conversation of the figures he saw in front of him. At one moment their voices would be loud and their arms would sway ardently like the branches of the trees above them in the wind and the next they would sit back in their chair and nod silently.
- LOOKING DEEPER INTO DARK CREATURES
Augustus woke up and saw the sun in the position it would normally be at the hour he would be eating his lunch on any other day. But it was no other day. It was not a day of special or universal change; a day on which the sun would fall behind an hour or the moon would pass the sun or anything particularly interesting. It was a day Augustus had missed a large part of for the reason that he fell finally into a deep and sure sleep in the latest hours of darkness, when the first rays of the sun were already visible.
The old man had been awake through every hour of the night and not even grown tired or yawned much for extra breath. He had spent the whole night in the thick darkness of the Eastern forest that separated his own house from that of an unconscious Polish man.
Augustus had at some points of darkness thought about his bed and the pleasure it often brought him, he had also thought about his lack of beer, but nothing bothered him very much as those were things he experienced every day of his life and what he experienced in the forest was certainly far from any such thing.
It had been for some time that he had been sitting watching the figures in the forest before he made a move. He had whispered to himself quietly, silently in fact, Angst verhleiht Flügel. And he knew, although he would not have considered himself to be scared, that fear had indeed given him wings. And accordingly he flew. He flew with his feet, by putting one in front of the other like he always had done and like every human he had ever known also had done (except the brother of his mother who had pushed himself from place to place on wheels and a chair).
Augustus Etzel rose from the leafy ground and brushed the backside of his trousers with the palm of his hand. His body was blocked by two adjacent trees so nothing on the bench could see him. One foot lifted from the soggy ground of the cold night. It was not hard like he had envisaged it being. It landed exactly where he had aimed it to land and the other foot automatically lifted as if the moment were planned and the forest had always known it would happen and there was nothing else that could possibly have happened as such was how it was supposed to be. That foot again landed perfectly. The balance of his old body was fine as he lent on another tree slightly closer to the bench where a small area of trees had been cleared. His eyes peered out from the vines crawling up and down the tree and in front he saw all the things he had seen the previous night.
In that position the Lonely Easterner remained until it suited him well to move on. And another foot moved in front of the place on which his body stood. His fear certainly had given him wings. He stepped over a slightly higher pile of leaves and landed where he did not foresee himself landing. His eyes were as wide as a black hole ready to consume the entire universe. Everything in his body was frozen like the most northern lake of Scotland. His heart was still like a deer by the side of the dark road caught in the headlights of a speeding truck.
Every head on the bench paused. The neck of each figure twisted. The hands of each figure stopped moving and each mouth stopped talking. Nothing happened at all in the forest as everything was still. The bench did not move and nor did anything on it but the direction each head was facing as they span to face behind themselves. And there, facing away from the cleared area of trees, stared each pair of black eyes as an ugly, short creature stepped into their land. The short creature was frozen still and they had not a clue what it wanted. Nothing had ever disturbed their meetings before that moment other than the occasional misdirected bird or curious hedgehog.
The long, thin fingers of each thing on the bench curled back into their thin, colourless hands. Each figure’s hairy, bony knees straightened up and each long, skeletal foot carried all the weight of each tall, curved, slender body. The hair at the end of each figure’s chin blew slightly in the wind, as did the hair above their eyes and around their noses. They stood beside the bench with their backs arched and the black marbles inside their head staring intriguingly unto the short, ugly Easterner in front of them. And Augustus remained perfectly still.
- Is this a man? The taller of the creatures with the lowest voice asked.
- It is an ugly man; an ugly man who looks at us still. Another of the creatures spoke.
The third creature opened its mouth as if to say something but what appeared to be its wooden lips were too dry or firm to say a single word and so nothing came out. Augustus’ eyes were as wide as those of the tall creatures stood before him.
Augustus had never accepted to himself that he had ever been scared of the forest or anything inside it, and indeed that was true, until the exact moment when the tallest of the creatures reached out its huge arm, covered in some disgusting mixture of fur like that of a rabbit, wiry hair like that on Augustus’ chin and leaves like that of a winter tree, and held it pointing directly at the ugly man in front of it. Augustus stood back slightly, as if he could not see the hand at all and in fact was oblivious to the three things watching him.
It certainly was noticeable as a strange moment for all parties involved as nothing at all happened but the howl of the eastern wind, which surely was a cold wind.
The creatures stared and wondered why the small thing in front of them was watching them so intently, as if he had never seen a living thing before. Augustus, as it happened, was wondering the same thing. Neither party dared speak a word as it was not clear who was scared of who until a particularly silent moment took the Lonely Easterner by surprise and forced him to misread his bodyweight so much that he lost balance. His left leg simply could not find the right way up and at the knee it collapsed. The creatures did not move as everything in front of them that had been watching them for nights melted into the piles of leaves.
But of course Augustus did not melt; such was simply how it appeared to the untrained eye of the tall creatures with hairy faces. Augustus was in fact covered in a pile of dirt with a twisted leg in the darkest parts of a German forest. As he fell through the cold air, his back scraped on a tree behind him and he grunted slightly, although he was used to such woodland wounds having spent so much time in that exact forest. Having pulled his body away from the tree to stop the grazing, his body lost furthermore its balance and his head fell unaided onto the bottom of the trunk of a tree.
Thereon Augustus did not remember the night, but the creatures watching him certainly did. They saw everything that happened with his back on the tree and the leaves around his feet, and, despite their fear (or at least unknowingness), helped the old man up from the ground. Holding him up by the shoulders, the tallest of the creatures checked the ugly face of the bearded man but he did not respond and his eyes did not open. One of the creatures began to breathe deeply in the thought that he had just witnessed a murder brought on by the severity of their stares.
Two of the forest creatures tried to beat on the old man’s stomach in an attempt to reawaken him, but nothing seemed to work. There was a dark red fluid excreting from his head and his eyes were still closed. The creature breathing deeply sat back on the bench and ran its long fingers over its eyes as if to check that everything around it was in fact real and it was witnessing a strange creature die.
But dying was one thing Augustus Etzel certainly was not doing. His heart was beating ferociously and his lungs felt particularly weak, but he was not dying.
The tallest of the creatures turned to the one on the bench and watched it with pity, but the creature on the bench did not notice it looking as its fingers were still rubbing its eyes.
- AUGUSTUS ETZEL IN A BIG WORLD
Augustus knew that he was not involved in so many ways in the world he inhabited. That was clear to him from all the lonely things around him. He did not have any contact with Germany, nor any of the beautiful Europeans. He had contact with his forest, with his beer and with himself. Of course, occasionally Wolfgang from the other side of the forest would rear his head into what was none of his business, but Augustus did not like to think that Wolfgang was a part of his world.
Augustus, a man of the soil, always liked adding to his world. When he made beer with apples he had added a new fruit to his world; another fruit that could bring him all the pleasure that sweet beer did in the morning. When he first played Regenspiel on a rainy day in the cold season he had added a new lease of life to his world; a new game to pass the days and make a lonely old man smile. Adding to his own small world made it slightly brighter and more beautiful; two things Augustus very much liked his world to be.
The previous night the old man had not slept, or at least he did not remember sleeping, but he certainly did remember waking up. His eyes blinked once or twice and saw an area he did not ever remember waking up in before then. He felt that his skin was cold, so cold in fact that he was finding it quite hard to breathe as the sharp air hurt his lungs. There were so many things that were confusing the old man that he shut his eyes again and frowned until he could think of what to do next.
It did not take him long to decide that he would stand up, find the sun in the sky and decide how far into the day he had remained asleep and then find his home, and with home, of course, comes beer. But, in opening his eyes and standing up, he discovered that he was in fact only at the mound at the back of his garden, the mound under which the war bunker was bombed. And so Augustus ran his fingers through his grey hair and rubbed the loose skin underneath his eyes. His back door was as he had left it the previous night: wide open. His beer was uncapped and rather warm after being left outside for the day.
It was already afternoon and Augustus had not done anything to rid himself of yesterday’s sins or troubles, so he presumed that the day he had woken up in would not be pleasant.
The old man took an apple from a tree in his garden and ate it. Then he took a sip of beer and rubbed his head again as he could not remember a thing from the previous night. He persisted in trying to recall everything but nothing came to mind. And then on the back of his head he felt something odd. He rubbed it again. It felt like a leaf stuck to his head, so he peeled it off and, indeed, it was a leaf that had been stuck to him with the dry sap of a tree in pain.
Augustus certainly did find it strange that a leaf was stuck to the back of his head and he could not possibly understand why until he felt the back of his head again. On his face he wore a frown. Under his feet was the warm grass of the garden. And at the back of his head was a section missing. It was not large, not like the bite of a large forest animal, but also not small like when his hand would slip in the kitchen and the tip of the knife would pierce the end of his finger. The cut was dry, although warm and fleshy, so he knew it had happened quite recently.
It was when Augustus was stood in his kitchen watching his beer brew, occasionally dipping his finger in and licking it to check that it was good, that he remembered falling over. And indeed Augustus had fallen over.
In fact, what Augustus did not remember was that when he misplaced his feet and he fell onto the trunk of a tree, his brain had not been quite able to deal with the fall and so switched off. He was unconscious. The creatures had picked him up at that point and lain his inert body on the bench at which only moments beforehand they sat talking. The tallest creature, the most confident, had noticed that there was a dark red fluid pouring from the back of the small, ugly man’s head. The creature that Augustus had seen in the baumgarten did not know what to do, so took a leaf from a tree and attempted to stop the damaged area leaking. It worked and the creature decided for itself and the other two that the night had grown out of hand and things were no longer normal, so they carried the short, injured man to the edge of the forest so that he would not disturb them again, and then they left and their bench left with them, but the patch of forest ridden of its trees did not.
- BEGINNING TO LIKE STRANGE THINGS
It was on that exact night that Augustus Etzel sat in his bed, having cleaned and wiped everything he needed to ensure wonderful things occurred the next day. In his bed, quite warm and comfortable, the old man decided that he in fact could not leave his mind to ponder all the mysteries of the forest without knowing for sure, and so he stood up and put something warmer on as it surely was a cold German night.
And a cold night it was for Wolfgang Bauer, who shared a forest with Augustus, although that is not how he would have put it himself. Wolfgang had been drinking for many hours and was finding it hard to stand up or see things from any distance. Wolfgang’s hands were dry as he had cleaned them after pleasing himself in his chair beside the window. His hands always needed to be dry or the end of his cigarette would get wet and he would no longer be able to smoke it.
Wolfgang was smoking a cigarette. He watched the strange bits of blue string emit from the end of it as they faded into the sky, the sky above the forest in which Augustus wandered. And Augustus surely did wander for hours, many times finding the spot he recognised as the place where he had lain the very previous night. But in no hour did he find the creatures again, until a very late one.
Augustus did not know what time it was as it was dark and it had been for hours, and there was no telling from the position of the moon as the forest was far too dense to see anything through.
In a place the man of the soil did not recognise, he heard noises, so he walked towards them. The noises were indeed of a crackly radio, apparent as one with bad signal. Nearing the area through dense bush, Augustus’ heart began to beat quickly like it had many previous nights upon seeing the same sight. But he did not feel scared like he had done before.
Again, there was a circle of trees that had been cleared, and in the circle was a bench, the same one the old man had lain on in unconsciousness the previous night, and around the bench were three figures. The figures saw the ugly man they had healed yesterday and every one of them fell silent; they knew who it was.
- Thank you. The old man spoke rather quietly but the creatures could hear him, although it was clear that they did not understand as they backed away from him, apparently in fear.
The tallest of the creatures looked over its shoulder at the other two as they almost hid in the background. Augustus did not mean any harm and never had done, but indeed to the creatures of the forest it appeared on the contrary. He pondered on how to make it clear that his intentions were in no way to cause destruction, but with a language barrier towering about him, there was little he could do or say.
It was then that Augustus reached out his hand as a welcoming gesture, as, for example, he would do when we he met the man who sold him the house in the Lonely East. But the creatures appeared to be unfamiliar with the gesture and backed away farther.
Augustus then ran out of ideas. He knew that normally his mind was a thriving place of creativity (how else would he have created the fun and original games he played daily?), but at this particular moment he knew not of a single thing he could do. The creatures could see in the old man’s face that he was lost for ideas and so it appeared that their fear disappeared, but, whether it was in defence of their solidarity or simply as the moon was reaching the end of its tour of the sky, the bench beside them began to sink into the ground. The dry leaves at its legs made way for it and the wood transformed. It became long and thin and erected itself straight up into the air, where the top of all the beautiful trees met.
Augustus stared in awe of what was happening. The bench was now a tree in the forest like all the other thousands around it. And then the creatures sank a little way into the ground. Their arms erected and appeared as branches, like those of any of the other trees for miles in all directions. Their two legs seemed to melt together and appeared as the trunk of every tree Augustus had ever seen, and he had seen many trees in his life.
Silence was now all that covered Augustus Etzel, who stood on his own in a forest of trees, a forest that seemed now like any other. And his face remained completely lifeless and still in all the inertness of the fading night around him.
It was not until the sun began to crawl up the horizon that the old Easterner moved at all. But he did not simply walk away as what he had recently seen was not a normal sight, neither for Augustus nor for any other man in East Germany. And so he left his beer at the spot where his feet had remained still for many blows of the wind. This way he would be able to find the same spot the proceeding night.
Walking back through the forest, Augustus, as one would expect, was thinking about all that had happened to him since he came to know the creatures in his forest, and indeed what had happened only that night. Of course it struck the old man as peculiar, all the strange things he never knew existed living within such close quarters of himself, but, at the same time, Augustus Etzel, nor any other man of the Lonely East, was not accustomed to normality in such a way that other Germans and Europeans were. Life in the lonely land was different: a baron landscape of drunken men heaving themselves out of bed each and every lonesome, mundane day simply to drink so much that the truth of it all was never realised was not what a woman in Frankfurt or a child in Düsseldorf would have called normal. But in the Lonely East, such was life.
It was not possible for Augustus to fully realise the extent of the rarity he was involved in nightly as his perception of normality was so distorted, but he liked to think he knew he was the only person on Earth currently meeting the creatures in the forest, in his baumgarten. And indeed he was the only person doing so. And in such knowledge Augustus could accept that he was not fully normal, not even compared to the other lonely men of the East.
Although, Augustus never thought himself very normal anyway as the games he invented were so different to anything he had ever seen any other man playing. In fact, he had never seen any other man playing games at all in the lonely land.
Augustus, a man of the soil, sat on the step that led from the door of his kitchen to his garden. That particular step was one of his favourite places to sit in the world, and indeed at this moment he was enjoying it, but that was not what he was thinking about as the only thought swirling all the emptiness of his head was that of the creatures he had now seen many times in the forest at night. Although, it was this day in particular that Augustus thought about so much, as all the other times he had seen them it had been a complete mystery to him how they came to be in his forest at night and came to have disappeared the following morning; but now Augustus had seen it all. He had seen them disappear into the ground and become the trees themselves.
The moment he saw all the leaves on the ground start to peel away from the feet of the creatures and the legs of the bench and their branches begin to root into the wet mud was played in his mind on repeat, like the times when he was younger and he would watch justice be served in front of him and then think about it all night.
The old man certainly, in between thoughts of the creatures, remembered that he had left his beer in the forest and, indeed, it was a tragedy. But the beer currently brewing was not of a bad standard and made for a fine ponder in the garden, although it was not likely to be good enough to enjoy a game of Sonntagspiel or any such thing, but Augustus was not really in the mood for that anyway: he was very tired.
And so there Augustus sat. He did not feel bad or as if he was wasting a day as he had done many times in the past.
The sun was not warm, in fact, with the chill of the wind, it was rather cold. Of course, how Augustus always saw it, when the weather is cold, beer also is cold, and every decent man of the East knew that a colder beer was a better beer.
- CONFLICTS IN THE EAST OF GERMANY
It was on the same day that Augustus Etzel sat on the step leading to his garden that Wolfgang Bauer woke up with a pounding headache. It felt to him like someone had crawled into his own head and was hitting his skull with a hammer from the inside. He was sober enough still to know that the prospect of someone crawling inside himself was ridiculous, but the thought did conquer his mind for some time.
Wolfgang had not slept well the previous night. He had indeed been drunk and he had knocked his head on something. He beheld a vague memory of attempting to climb the broken staircase in his house but failing as a cause of his poisoned brain. He did not remember anything else.
In fact, Wolfgang had sat at the window that looked out onto his garden and out into the dark forest. He had touched himself where no one else ever had touched him for a few steps of the moon and then he continued drinking. The old Polish man had been drinking for many hours by the time it fell dark, and he knew what fell certainly was a very dark night. It was hard to see through his creaky, old house and, attempting to climb the stairs for reasons no one ever would know, Wolfgang’s mind found itself lost in a realm between the ground and first floors; the realm of course was flooding with alcohol. And an old man’s body tumbled down half a flight of stairs and a scream let out of his putrid body. It was then that unconsciousness set in, and there it remained until the sun was very awake.
Wolfgang was not happy when he woke up on the floor next to the chair he had sat on every night, blindly drunk, for countless dark years. The whole room around him was swirling and everything in his mind and in his brain was a large blur of distorted views and pointless, failed dreams. He even thought about crying for a little while, but that was very much not in character for the old man.
It was, indeed, a cold beer that set the old man’s head straight. But upon finding himself with a straight head, he remembered what had stopped the moment when he was about to finish touching himself, whilst all the muscles in his wrist and arm were working their hardest. It was, as many times in the past, the bastard on the other side of the forest. Wolfgang knew it was him as he had heard his drunken gasps in some sort of wondrous surprise.
- Fucking Germans! Wolfgang shouted, but his dry throat found it very hard to reach high volumes after many years of abuse.
It was then that Wolfgang did something he had not ever done before. The action was a result of built up anger over years and years of hearing voices and strange sounds from the forest in all the silence of the lonely land. It came to the old Pole’s mind that he should finally take action. And so he did.
He poured the last drops of his beer down his awaiting throat like a young child down a water slide. He slammed the cup onto the kitchen counter but it knocked off of the wall and fell to the floor, breaking into many small pieces; Wolfgang did not mind at all though. He then wiped the drops of beer that had missed his mouth and were dribbling down his chin, working their way to the wiry hairs on his throat and chest. He then lit a cigarette and inhaled deeply; and there all the smoke stayed until he was ready to move on once more. Exhaled from his weak lungs was a cloud of blue smoke. He liked to watch it flow from his own mouth. There was always something pleasing in it.
Stampeding up the stairs, he pulled his jacket from the floor and forced his arms into their fitting holes. He then squeezed his dirty feet into his torn shoes. His third cigarette of the cold morning was thrown onto the dirty floor at the bottom of the stairs, and there it would probably remain for ever.
Stepping out into the cold air of a German morning indeed felt strange, as Wolfgang did not often leave his home. But the chill on his red cheeks and the rustle of his beard in the wind certainly lent him a peculiar pleasure. He felt somewhat fresh.
One foot stepped out in front of the other, and then they switched; this carried on for some time until the old man had reached the end of the road that led to his house. At the outskirts of the forest, he kept walking until the smell of his own perspiration ruled his nose and he could not smell anything else at all. It certainly was not pleasant, and nor was the feeling of the warm drops of salted excrement leaking from the hairy places at the top of his arm and his lower back. His lungs also felt under pressure and his legs were tired, but, in coming so far, one must continue, and, although Wolfgang was not aware of the German proverb, ‘To begin is easy; to persist is an art’, he knew that he had to persist.
Augustus Etzel, a man of the soil, was sitting on the step in his garden with quite a cold beer in his hand. He was playing one of his favourite games in the baumgarten, one that involved very little and did not have a real name but was sometimes referred to as “Vögel und Vögel”. He had been sitting and listening to the birds converse for many hours and had not opened his eyes for some time either, but he was still quite awake. Of course, he felt tired after the night he had had, but with so much on his mind and such beautiful sounds in his ears, very little bothered him.
Wolfgang Bauer was feeling weak by the time he reached a private road leading deeper into the forest, where nobody would be able to see him if something were to happen, and certainly nobody would hear. Gradually he walked more and more slowly, but he knew he would get there as the sounds of birds screaming and shouting began piercing his fragile mind.
Working his way into places where the air was colder, where the sun found it hard to shine through the dense foliage, the aged man lit a cigarette and continued. He could smell the revenge over the stench of himself in the air, and surely it was sweet after so many years of suffering and sleeplessness.
Reaching the house he recognised as Augustus Etzel’s, Wolfgang stopped still to catch his breath and let some air into his hot jacket. His breathing pattern slowed and became more normal so that he could speak quite properly in broken German, because for as long as he had lived in the Lonely East, he had never really engaged in conversation and so the only language left in his rotting mind was some odd amalgamation of rural Polish and Eastern German. Although, he spoke well enough to understand as his accent was fine and, anyway, if he ever did speak, he said very little.
The cold fist of a weary man hit the hard wood of Augustus’ front door. The noise was quiet and hardly heard by the man at the door himself, but the first hit hurt his dry, red knuckles so he waited to knock again. The second was louder but also hurt more. Nothing moved inside the house at all. The birds continued wailing and the wind continued blowing, but nothing inside the house changed. Until the third knock, which hurt Wolfgang’s cold knuckles so much that he was inclined to blow on them and rub them on his jacket until some feeling there had returned, and indeed it did return, but an icy feeling it was.
Footsteps started shuffling inside the house, on the other side of the door. Something was moving. Upon hearing the footsteps begin, Wolfgang in retrospect did not know why, but it fancied him to take a few steps away from the door, back up the road he had just walked down. He was now a small distance from the door, away from trouble, but still his heart beat slightly harder than it had before and his throat felt slightly dryer.
The door then moved. It was certain in Wolfgang’s mind that someone was there and the old German bastard who had made so much noise for so long was finally opening the door to reap everything he had ever sewn.
Augustus, in such a dazed state of mind, was bewildered when he heard a knock on his front door. He had not heard a noise from the front side of his house since the police had turned up from the city and laughed at him and pushed him. And, indeed, this time Augustus was not happy about it. All the peace he had lain himself into as the birds sang all morning had been ruined and to reach such a tranquil state again would surely not be possible until the following morning.
Augustus knew quite well that he was so frustrated because he had not slept the previous night and that always played with his mind in strange ways. But the door was certainly being knocked by someone or something and so he stood up and ran his fingers through his hair so he did not look like a sleepless, drunken old man (although, secretly, in some dark, private place in his mind that he did not travel to often, he knew that that was in fact what he was).
Of course the thought crossed his mind that it was the creatures at the door, but thinking too deeply into insignificant situations always played with his mind and troubled him, so he simply did not think. His hand wrapped tightly around the handle of the door and pulled it down towards the floor. The door creaked loudly and made some other noises as it opened.
Wolfgang saw the door finally edge open and took another step back, as if preparing himself for something. The face of the old bastard with whom he shared a forest crept out of the darkness and looked vile. The hairs of his beard were stained with beer and melted together in filthiness. His hair was grey and looked worse than things Wolfgang had seen that had died some time ago. His eyes were sunken into his head and extremely dark, as the eyes of something sleepless and troubled would be. His skin was retched and purple. It somewhat disgusted Wolfgang to keep looking at the thing coming out of the darkness.
- What is it, Sir? The man behind the door asked.
- I am here to complain. I have heard noises many times in the night. I have heard strange things and screams. I am tired and I am not as young as once I was, as I can see is true of both of us.
Then the Polish man with beer in his beard stopped to take a breath.
- I know that you go out into the forest and do strange things, making noises and being a nuisance.
Augustus Etzel paused. He did not know what to say. He was not a liar by nature but certainly could not tell the truth in such a situation, especially after the man stood opposite him had called the police from the city to his house not long beforehand.
- Sir, I do no such thing and never have. I have been sleeping and have just awoken. The goings-on of the forest are not my business. In fact, they are the business of no man, but the business of the forest.
Augustus was pleased with himself for telling such a convincing lie and not giving himself away.
Wolfgang did not believe the man stood opposite him and would not accept that on God’s own Earth there was such a disturbing, loud place into which no man could roam. God would not possibly give such troubles to Wolfgang Bauer the Pole, he thought to himself.
It was after some time arguing that Wolfgang decided that he could not take any more of the lies. And so he walked straight towards Augustus, the man with whom he shared a large forest. And he did not stop when he reached him, but merely kept walking, straight through the door and into the kitchen where Augustus’ beer was brewing. Nothing seemed particularly strange, that was until the beer on the step in the garden was seen, and everything was seen clearly now. How could the man have been asleep if there was a fresh beer, open, in the garden? The man, of course, had just been sitting there.
Wolfgang helped himself to the fresh air of the garden, asking no questions as he raced out of the back door with a frown slung across his forehead. He looked at the step on which he stood and was sure who had just been sitting there, although he had no evidence with which to spite the old man and forever give a quiet, peaceful night to the Lonely East.
At that exact moment, as Wolfgang stood in the garden of a lonely man, his head raised rather quickly to be looking at the bottom end of the garden, where the green grass met with the wet mud of the forest, the baumgarten. And right there in the wet mud were the unmistakable traces of the old man who was by then standing directly behind him, in the kitchen of the house.
Sure enough, when Augustus had been walking back through the forest in a dazed and dreamy state, his feet had sunken into the mud ever so slightly and in that mud, after years of rainfall, was left the mark of Augustus Etzel’s shoe.
Wolfgang had not a single doubt in his mind that the footprint belonged to the noisy, bastard neighbour and, indeed, that it was a fresh footprint from only that very morning, or, at the very latest, the previous night.
Augustus’ face was nothing but embarrassed as he knew very well that his lie had been caught and he was now, officially, a liar. He did not like the tag and would never consider himself inside his heart to be such a thing, but, in some way, he knew he was. Wolfgang also knew that Augustus had lied and was not at all happy about it. For that reason, to make sure that Augustus knew exactly what was going on and that his evil plan had at long last been discovered, he walked out farther into the garden.
Reaching the small mound created by the remains of a World War Two bunker, Wolfgang did not quite realise what it was that he was walking heedlessly over. Augustus was standing in the doorway of his house watching the old, drunken Polish man storm down through the green grass into where the trees started. The lonely man of the soil could not simply stand there in blind stupidity and watch a man do such a thing to everything that Augustus held dear to himself. Moreover, he liked the fact very much that he was the only one who knew about the creatures.
It was then that he stepped down into the garden and began walking as quickly as his aged feet could carry him; his arms also were swinging more wildly than they had in as many years as he could remember. Nothing now could stop the Lonely Easterner. On hitting the mound at the back of the garden with his fast-moving feet, he did not feel the need to stop nor to begin shouting at the man in the forest in front of him, as the ingredient of surprise was elementary to the situation. Although, Augustus did certainly feel a burning sensation all around him, like when Wolfgang would blow smoke near the weak lungs of the old man. It certainly was a forceful burn as he had not walked so quickly nor for so long in many, many seasons and turns of the sun and moon.
Wolfgang, by the time Augustus reached the start of the forest, had not moved far at all as he was unaccustomed to walking on the wet mud: it made his ankles weak and his body feel heavier to his legs. And so his walk was remarkably slow, which left plenty of time for Augustus to walk quickly up behind the Pole, as Augustus had had many years of walking in such conditions.
Right there, at the beginning of the forest and the end of the grass in Augustus’ garden, an old German man saw another man on his land, in his forest where only he himself walked, and such a sight made him angry as he was a man who knew what he liked and what he wanted, and a man invading his land was not what he had ever wanted. And indeed he was a protective man in a burning vehemence, and his fist, which raised through the air as if shining red fury itself, was clenched tightly. The tight fist did not remain so because Augustus’ hands were weak after many years of brewing beer and often burning himself doing so, and so the hand that hit Wolfgang Bauer was flat. The ball of the palm knocked his shoulder and he fell quite easily to the floor, as if he had been waiting for an excuse to lie down on the soft ground.
It was clear that the man on the floor was hurt and in more pain than he certainly had been after walking so quickly for so far. In fact, the only thing more clear in the whole forest was that he was very angry. His face was redder than usual and the veins in his forehead were extremely prominent. Augustus knew very well what a furious man looked like and he saw nothing but exactly that in the face buried in the mud.
And at that moment the man on the floor was no longer such a man. In fact, he was a man standing in a profound vehemence. And in front of him was the man who had caused him to be so. It was then that his fist rose into the cold air of the winter and his teeth ground together and the small veins in his eyes pumped so full that both eyes turned completely red and he began to breathe more deeply than he had been before. Augustus knew it was fury that had overcome the other man, but he could not think of a single thing to do; his body was lifeless, he could feel nothing and do nothing. Maybe it was fear or maybe shock, but his body froze right in that spot. The hand moving quickly through the air, which, unlike Augustus’ only minutes beforehand, remained clenched in a tight fist, had no trouble finding its target. Wolfgang put a lot of the weight of his body into his arm and it began to pick up pace.
But then suddenly it stopped. It had hit what it aimed to hit. And square in the middle of an old, tired man’s face was that exact fist. And Augustus’ body, standing quite merrily in its favourite place on Earth, ceased to be so. It was in fact an unconscious body on the floor, and a wet floor it was on which it lay.
Wolfgang climbed quite happily over the body on the floor and walked to the end of the garden. There he took a sip of the beer on the doorstep and started to walk into the kitchen but then remembered the walk he had ahead of him, so he took the beer from the step and carried it with him through the house, down the small road leading through the outskirts of the trees and back down the long road that led to his house and his house only, occasionally sipping at the delicious beer until there was nothing left in the cup at all but a small drop of his saliva.