The Lonesome Death Of Augustus Etzel (Part III)
- A MOMENT OF PEACE IN A LONELY PLACE
In a large forest in the east of Germany, the Lonely East, there were strange noises and those noises indeed were loud. Many birds sang many songs and many trees creaked in the many winds that blew. Many small animals climbed many trees and many furry things ate many things they desired. And in that forest, under all the swaying branches and shaking leaves, awoke an old, lonely man.
Augustus Etzel, for that was his name, opened his eyes slowly; his eyelids moving like a cautious panther having just spotted dinner in the darkness. His arm shuddered slightly for the temperature or simply the shock of waking up in such a place. His legs moved to one side to allow his neck to rise, his head to spin and his whole body to search the area. The area, indeed one that he recognised, seemed as it always had done, for as long as Augustus could remember at least. Nothing seemed strange.
It was not long until the old man on the floor shifted his elbow to be taking the weight of his upper body and then his hand. He then pushed himself to his knees and some veins in his forehead appeared; ones that had not appeared in many years. Once on his knees it was one mere push he needed to lift his body to where it felt comfortable: on its two standing legs. Once there, he brushed the leaves that had stuck to his knees and behind and then looked around once more, but everything was the same.
On the Lonely Easterner’s mind was one thing and one thing only: beer. He had not had a drink for as many hours as he had lain on the wet mud of the forest. He did not know how long that was, but surely too long not to drink a beer.
Walking back to the house from the back of the garden, he began to get small remembrances of the event that had landed him unconscious on the floor for such a long time. They came in small sections and occasionally he would be sure that the last memory was wrong and was in fact the creation of his own beer-deprived mind. He would then shut his eyes very tightly and think very hard about what truly it was that had happened and then, upon discovering the truth, he would smile.
Upon reaching the doorstep of his house, where he had been sitting only that morning, he was quite a content man in that he had managed to remember so much in such a short walk, but then his smile discontinued suddenly. The beer that he was sure he had left on the doorstep was no longer there. Augustus shut his eyes with some force and ran through the happenings again. He heard a knock on the door. Wolfgang barged through and went to the garden. Wolfgang’s fist placed the weak old man face-first in the mud. The beer was no longer there. Augustus was sure that he was not wrong. He remembered perfectly how it happened. But the beer, he too was sure, was not on the doorstep. Opening his eyes without a smile he presumed his poor mind had become deluded through its sufferings and so he stepped into the house and searched the kitchen with his tired eyes for the cup of beer, but in the kitchen it was not. In the hallway he searched and searched and indeed it was not. On the staircase was nothing and upstairs, well there was no need to check upstairs as a decent man of the soil would never take his beer upstairs, as the highest part of the house was closest to God and there no man was the ruler; indeed, Augustus Etzel did not believe in God, and Augustus was his own ruler, but a tradition was a tradition and no man was to change that.
So then it was a mystery. The beer was nowhere and there was nothing an old man could do but dream and think.
Sitting on the doorstep again, thinking about the possibilities in terms of the whereabouts of the cup and beer, Augustus noticed that the sun was growing tired and weak and settling down to bed. He liked such a time of evening as a calm time it always was, when the birds’ noises grew louder and the grasshoppers began to join in. The time of evening when the sky was a warm colour and things moved a little slower and looked nicer was the time Augustus thought the most, as it put his mind at ease. Although, without beer and with so many questions to answer, there was little he could do but stand upon two feet, walk through the wet grass as if none of it were there to stop him, march past the end of the garden and the old mound beneath which a bunker once lay, and into the darkening forest.
Augustus did all those things and, as he did them, he certainly remembered that he had left a beer by the spot he had stood for the whole of the night some nights ago with the creatures. And so it was that spot that he looked for.
In the forest the light was weaker than out in the garden, but even there the sun was fading, losing its power over everything and turning the northern hemisphere to darkness, the place where dark things roamed.
It was in that forest that Augustus roamed for some time until he came upon a spot he recognised as a clearing for the bench around which he had seen the creatures sitting. But, in checking behind a few of the surrounding trees, he decided to move on through a mysterious dusk as his beer bottle was beside none of them.
It was, again, some time before another clearing of trees was found. This one was larger and more recognisable as a place the old man himself had sat with the creatures he encountered in the forest. The man of the soil peered behind a tree and checked inside some dense bush for the beer he had left. It was then that he walked over to the tree he was sure he recognised as the one by which his beer had been throughout the day, but on his way there, a small mound of dry leaves stopped his feet. The ends of the toes of his shoes hit the raised piece of land and the eyes of the man above them moved slowly towards the ground. Between his eyebrows he wore a frown as he stared at the ground. There, in a worldly realm where Augustus Etzel never knew such things happened, in a world where people were killed daily and huge political schemes destroyed the lives of millions and unnecessary prejudices were practised, the ground began to open. The man standing above that particular piece of land thought himself most deluded. The wet mud covered by dry leaves underneath his own two eyes began to part. In the gap in the ground there was no beaming shine of enlightenment or huge book claiming to know every truth or a sword wedged pointlessly in a cold stone. Not a single thing said a word around the area and, to Augustus, it seemed like the birds and the wind had silenced, but that would have been impossible.
In a growing gap in the ground very little was seen in the darkening forest. The only thing it was possible to see was a layer of wood. Indeed, the wood was a part of something bigger, but it was unclear what, until the first few planks began to poke out of the hole in the ground. The wood, on top, was covered in mud and seemed rather underused or uncared for. It was then that four legs began to emerge beneath the first layer of wood. The four legs were held together by four more planks, which stretched from one leg to the other, all the way around.
The bench, having just emerged from the ground, lay still as if nothing had happened at all and everything Augustus had just witnessed before his eyes were completely normal. The hole in the ground, from which a bench large enough to fit five or six just grew, began to shrink and eventually closed completely and all the wet mud was nothing but a messy nuisance on the forest floor and the dry leaves of the end of the warm season were nothing but irritating rustles in the wind and the mysterious floor was nothing but a means of travelling from one place to another. And Augustus, the man who had seen everything and had not slept, remained inert in all the coldness of an unfolding night in the east of Germany.
The creatures of the forest and Augustus, who had always loved the forest, sat together for many hours. Augustus offered them his beer but they kindly refused. One of the creatures began to stroke the old man’s shoulder at one dark point of night and Augustus enjoyed the sensation; maybe it was that nobody had touched him in many years (apart from Wolfgang Bauer only that day), or maybe it was because nobody had loved him in even longer, but the sensation was remarkable and unmistakable as pleasure.
Augustus stroked the arm of the tallest of the creatures when his beer ran out and he stood up to place the cup on the floor and walk to the edge of the treeless area. There, slightly farther from the creatures than where he was sitting before, he unzipped the front of his trousers and began to empty himself. The creatures did not look as the matter seemed private, but it was clear that they all were interested in what it was that the drunken man was doing on his own.
Returning to where the creatures were sitting at the benches, Augustus became aware that it was extremely difficult to keep his eyes open and his mind in consciousness. His eyes were persisting in their efforts to fall shut and lock themselves that way until morning and then beyond it. And his mind was failing in every thought he attempted to think. Indeed, mental and physical fatigue were taking their toll on the aged man, but he did not often like to give in to himself like a man with no heart at all might do, like Wolfgang Bauer, Augustus thought to himself.
But, alas, the man of the soil decided that it was time to rest all the things he had used constantly for many hours. The creatures saw what was happening as he rubbed around his eyes with the palms of his hands and sighed frequently. They did not seem to mind that he was leaving and their farewell was polite, as one might say goodbye to a relative one has not seen in many years but still feels as if the highest courtesy and politeness are vital.
Augustus walked through the forest, looking back occasionally at the small buzz of light around the area in which the creatures were sitting. It made a smile creep in on his face to see the delightful things sitting around the bench, just like they always were and like Augustus knew somewhere deep inside himself that they always would be.
The darkness of the large forest did not particularly create any irrational fears inside the man who loved his forest, his baumgarten, but he certainly did feel a chill run down his spine, especially when the wind would blow and hit him in his cheeks and at the top of his forehead. Moreover, a pain probably from fatigue was quite prominent in his legs and a strong force pulling his eyes toward the floor also conquered his mind.
Coming out of the darkness that surrounded the forest, his eyes began to blink and shield themselves from the light of the morning. And indeed, it was morning. The old man who had been in the forest all night did not wear a wristwatch and certainly did not keep track of the time, unless it was by examining the position of the sun, moon and stars, but rarely did he have the energy to do so. And so he had simply sat in the darkness of night doing all the things he had recently discovered that he loved to do.
Augustus opened the back door of his house with a push and there he encountered no trace of beer. He looked around, through the draws of the kitchen and the floor of the places where he played Regenspiel. There was no beer brewing inside the pot. There were no spare cups with beer left in the bottom of them. Indeed, it suddenly struck the man of the soil like a fist between the eyes, he had forgotten to brew a new batch. Augustus was ashamed and could not forgive himself. He had never done such a thing in all his years of solitude in the Lonely East.
As he first saw it, something terrible was happening to him. He was becoming clumsy and forgetful. He was spending more time with the creatures in the forest. And he was enjoying the time he spent with them. It was then, in a state of deep thought and enlightenment, that Augustus Etzel sat down on a chair by the window without a beer in his hand. It was not raining outside and so there were no raindrops racing down the windowpane and Augustus was not watching them stop and start in utter unknowingness, but he was looking through the window. He was in fact looking over his whole baumgarten, over everything he loved and everything he liked to think belonged to him. Augustus Etzel of the soil had been the same man for as long as he could remember. He had been an old man with a grey beard and a thin body and a beer in his hands.
The sun outside the window was growing stronger every minute and the day was getting warmer, but Augustus did not feel warm. In fact, he felt very cold indeed. Cold through to his deepest bones.
And so he stood up. He struck a match against the side of the box and a flame was created. He pressed the match up against the gas stove and another was created. On the gas stove, where a flame gently blew, the tired man in the kitchen placed a pan of water. Into the water he placed a potato from the garden. The potato had been on the counter in the kitchen for as long as Augustus could remember but it smelt quite decent and no other animal or creature had attempted to eat it whilst it was there and so it was fine. On top of the potato, which floated lifelessly in the cold water in the pan, he threw some nettles he had collected only days beforehand from the garden. The nettles interested him as every time he brushed past one he would feel a stinging pain run through his arm or leg and then, before the sun had moved at all and nearly no time had passed, white dots would appear on his skin on the part that had rubbed against the nettle. So, as an interested and simultaneously confused man, he picked up the nettle from its stalk and carried it home. The smells it expelled were rather pleasant indeed to the nose of the chef and placed a tender smile just under his nose, breaking the wrinkles of his cheeks.
It was not long until the water in the pan was boiling and the smell of the nettles growing stronger and stronger. The fumes drifted up into the air and fused together with all the fumes of beer that had ever been released in the same room, and together their smell was not as delightful. The concoction of fumes travelled to the other side of the room, into the respiring nostrils of Augustus Etzel, who was chopping tomatoes picked from his garden. The smell felt as if it was poisoning his brain and so he turned around to the pot of boiling water, nettles and potato and stirred everything around together, but the smell did not excuse itself and so Augustus lifted the pan from the stove and blew the flame out, he then placed the pot on a table by the window where he would often play Regenspiel. The plate on which he had just been cutting tomatoes into thin slices was then placed next to the pot and one by one he dropped them into the water, which had simmered but still steamed heavily. The smell, away from stale beer, was now better than anything the Easterner had ever smelt, even in his dreams.
Sitting down on a chair by the window, the same one he sat on most days of the year to watch the garden live, Augustus placed a plain, dirty tea towel in his lap and ran his fingers through his matted grey hair. Watching the sun’s yellow rays highlight every mark and stain on the windowpane, he lifted a dirty metal fork to his mouth, and there his dry lips opened and let everything in. A taste similar to nothing he had ever known surrounded him. He felt the warm mouthful swirl the insides of his red cheeks and then slip easily down his arid throat. Into his stomach he felt the warmth spread and then to every fingertip. From there his kneecaps warmed and his brain, too. Everything relaxed. Everything seemed fine. The light outside was appreciated by the grass and the flowers, and they revelled in it as it was not often that it shined so wonderfully, when the days were short and the winds fierce.
The pan underneath Augustus’ nose was steaming and every strand that escaped sucked up happily into each nostril, and then a man was content. Another mouthful warmed everything inside him. In fact, he had never felt quite so warm, quite so splendid, in all his born days. The sensation brought with it a clear head, free from thumping or stinging or burning. The feeling lent a happiness, a blistering gaiety, never before known to any man in the Lonely East, since the dark days of the war at least. Everything seemed suddenly to be seen in colour, everything moved just as it was supposed to and everything that ever had been beautiful was more so than anyone ever had known it to be.
A third mouthful only enhanced the feeling and what a lonely old man felt was now becoming a certain ecstasy, some sort of euphoric rapture. Indeed, as it seemed to him, everything, for the moment, was fine.
- WOLFGANG BAUER’S LONELY LIFE
Wolfgang Bauer woke up on a sunny morning with his head resting on the first of the steps that led upstairs. His body was spilt across the hallway and may have appeared, from above, much like a puddle across the floor. Next to his head was an empty beer, and a fine beer it had been. Between his fingers was half a cigarette that had lost its flame when the Pole fell from his chair and knocked his head on the first step in one of the darkest points of his sleep. From that moment he had remained there as many peculiar caws and mysterious howls let out in the dark of night. He even remained there as the sun awoke and climbed up the edges of Earth to shine its magnificent rays all over the Lonely East.
It was not until the sun had almost reached its highest point in the sky that Wolfgang’s head began to move from side to side. One hand raised itself from the cold floorboards and ran through a pounding head of hair. One leg began to shiver as the day, surely, was not a warm one.
He attempted to let his feet vibrate freely, along with his hands and chest, in the hope that the coldness he felt all over him would disappear, but it did not. The chill that covered the man on the floor was growing in intensity. It hurt his chest to breathe and it hurt his head to move. He no longer had any feeling in his fingertips and they had turned a rare purple colour. His eyes felt as if they did not fit inside his skull: they were uncomfortable and pounded the coldness all over him, much like his head was doing.
Indeed, his first reaction, after shivering, was to pray. His hands were too numb to be able to lift themselves across his body and place their palms together like his mother had taught him how to pray. The only option was to shout and hope that God would hear him.
- Lord! Oh Lord, I call You in a time of desperation! There is a good man, a man with faith and a man with hope, who lies on a cold floor and feels the cold within him, as if a demon or indeed the Devil Himself has entered!
Wolfgang did not move as he shouted into the air in all the silence of the morning. The sounds of birds arguing seemed to stop and the wind appeared to have ceased in all its fury, and then all that remained was a desperate man’s voice in a lonely land. There he fell silent for some seconds as he remembered the words of the psalm his father would whisper every night before going to bed, once Mother was asleep in bed.
- Hear, O Lord, and answer me, for I am poor and needy.
There, on the broken floorboards of a broken home, lay Wolfgang Bauer, waiting for something to save him. And there, with a piercing coldness intensifying within him, he lay for hours. The sun weakened and the day only grew colder as it faded into night. Nothing in the skies changed but for the sinking of the sun. No omnipotent power appeared from the ceiling and cured all the toil the old man had ever been condemned to. As it was, nothing at all happened out of the ordinary.
The trees then started to sway ferociously in the strong winds of a new evening. The hisses and screams of the wind bouncing off of windows and bricks perforated every piece of life within the man on the floor. He felt a chilly breeze all over him and the coldness of the morning remained. And he still could not bring himself to rise from the cold, cold floor.
As the night set upon the Lonely East, Wolfgang started to think about what he had done in all his time alive. The motionlessness had bored his brain to the point that he could think about beer and cigarettes no longer and simply indulge in a certain nostalgia. He remembered well how sweet his mother was as she prayed for his bruises to fade or his cuts to be healed when the other children at school would push the boy all over the cold concrete floor. They would shout at him, telling him that his mother was a whore and a slut and was bound to burn forever in Hell. They would tell the young boy that God did not love him as his mother was an easy bitch; she wanted sex and money and spat on love. She would tell her husband that she loved him and kiss him on his rosy cheek as he fixed his tie to set off to work on his bicycle. And then the lines under her eyes would darken and all her effeminate innocence bleed away as a man with a beard turned up at the door. To her bedroom she would lead him with a childish smirk wiped across her powdered face. She looked pale and she looked ill, with red blotches appearing on her forehead in the morning. The next man would knock at the door twice, then a third time after a short pause. She would lead the first man back to the door as he tightened his tie and combed his hair. The second would enter. Everything repeated until she would kiss an old man goodbye and then her husband hello. And the next day the children at school would go silent as she dropped young Wolfgang outside the tall gates. They would stand with their hands behind their backs as if nothing was wrong. And then she would walk on, back home, to work.
The children would pick up stones and pencils and throw them at the boy who merely stood there, in the chill of the wind, a pawn in an evil game of lies and deceit. He let the stones hit him in between the eyes as he knew, somewhere deep inside himself, who God loved.
- Your mother is a whore! Your parents are as good as German! Your father is poor!
Indeed life had been hard for the old man on the floor; it had been riddled with hardship and toil. But, indeed, he had done little to help it: living at home with his temperamental, alcoholic mother until he moved to the Lonely East and became a stranger to the world around him, leaving himself no chance of escape.
And such was how a lonely man came to be so, a man who continued to lie on a cold floor through the few hours of good light in the day, and indeed the light was good and rather strong. It may have been for that reason that Wolfgang, at any particular moment, rolled over onto his back. In his mind, in a very dark, deep place, was the image of his mother’s face and the image of six feet of mud crushing her down from above. On top of the mud, Wolfgang pictured, was a large stone reading something sentimental from the Bible or a Horace poem. In the image inside the head of the man who remained on the floor, now staring up at the dirty ceiling, the day was extremely dark, in fact all that could be seen was the gravestone above his mother’s body as there was a weak yellow light shining onto it but the source of the light could not be seen. The gravestone may have been surrounded by others, but it was too dark to tell, all that could be seen was that it was in a field and in the distance was a tree. The tree carried no leaves and thus was lonely; this was clear from just one look.
That image remained in Wolfgang’s head for a very long time as he noticed every mark and stain on his ceiling. The image made him feel as if his eyes should have been emitting some salty liquid, but it did not happen. Everything seemed dark and pointless; having seen the destiny of his only body, he found it hard to see that there was a point to life at all. One must simply be born, find food and money and maybe even attempt to find love, and then die, and, in death, have nothing. It was whilst he was in such a deep thought that a voice suddenly broke all the tranquillity of the silence. At first it seemed to be some sort of livid animal in the forest or up a tree screaming or howling. But then it continued and the wide range of ugly tones could not have been those of a wild animal. The noise seemed to grow louder but appeared to be quite far away.
Wolfgang’s head lifted from the floor for the first time since the previous night and between his eyes formed a frown. His palms hit the floor and his arms accordingly were lifted. His back was no longer touching the floorboards of the stairs. His whole body heaved forwards and from that he came to be sitting up straight with his legs in some twisted pattern. Holding on to the banister, he then pulled himself to his feet and brushed the dust and dirt from his knees and elbows, ran his fingers three or four times through his filthy hair and then rubbed his eyes with his hands.
The strange noises continued and Wolfgang Bauer was growing frustrated with them.
He walked to the back of his house, kicking through the mess on the floor. Reaching the door to the back of his house, the noise grew louder. He looked at the forest and looked intently, but nothing appeared to be making the ugly sounds. And so he stepped out into the garden, and the wails certainly were close. He stood aside the fence that lined his garden and walked the circumference of it. At one side of the garden the noise certainly was louder and so he pulled over a small log that was drying for use on the fire. On the soggy log the old man balanced to peer over his fence and out into the openness of the forest, but an openness it was not. In fact, a little way in the distance, there was another garden, and Wolfgang recognised it. He remembered being there only very recently, maybe only the previous day. And, indeed, the only place he had travelled to since his last shop for cigarettes in Leipzig was Augustus Etzel’s house, and the garden he could see was surely that of the old German bastard.
Without a shadow of a doubt that the putrid whimpers were coming from nowhere but the garden of Augustus Etzel, Wolfgang stood down from the log upon which he perched and stormed back into his house. Inside his house he grabbed a beer from the kitchen counter and let it fill him with the intoxicated vehemence he was so used to. And it felt rather pleasant to be back. And then he stuck a cigarette between his dry lips and burnt it from the other end. Through his veins and through his brain and covering his eyes he felt a lascivious, cancerous smoke inflate him, leaving him ready in a cold house in a lonely land. And such was exactly what he was.
Passing by the hallway where he had spent the whole day and the previous night, and many ones before that too, he looked at the dirty floorboards and the stains he had left whilst unconscious in drunkenness. His mind was suddenly not as sure as it had been. He did not know what was right and what was wrong. He suddenly pictured again all the things he had remembered whilst lying on the floor in a nostalgic soberness and they filled him with a strange feeling. Akin to anger but not quite as simple, the rare sentiment got Wolfgang bending to the floor and picking up a piece of torn paper. He placed the paper on a creaking step on the staircase, and then he picked up a pencil. On the paper he tried with all his useless brain to remember how to write, and he almost did.
- Dear Great God in Heaven, I am Wolfgang Bauer, your humble servant. It appears that I am alive, as my blood is being pumped by my heart and my brain is telling me how to write and think, but I do not feel as if I am alive. O Lord, how long it has been since I felt alive! Jehovah, omnipotent Lord, I am yours, a dead man in a living body; do with me as you will.
And there the note remained, on a cold staircase in a cold house. And Wolfgang Bauer stood up and laid his hand over the doorknob on the front door. His eyes closed briefly and many things entered his mind but did not stay for long. And so he twisted his wrist and the door opened, and through it he walked. Walking into the cold evening of the Lonely East, the wind blew the door shut behind him, but he did not look around.
It was not long until his fingertips were purple and had lost all feeling. His nose was a strange colour and his ears too. He wore a jacket but it was torn and old and did little to keep the chill off of his weak body.
Maybe as a result of his frozen body but maybe simply because he had been thinking so deeply for so long lately, Wolfgang found his mind empty. The feeling was new to the old man and he was unsure whether he enjoyed it or hated it. Absolutely nothing was in his head; he could not think about his note to some overruling power nor about his own head being empty. And Wolfgang Bauer, inside out, was empty.
- WOLFGANG BAUER’S LONELY DEATH
Augustus Etzel, who was almost happy, remained sitting by the window long into the day. His stomach was overwhelmingly joyous and his skin and heart did not feel cold. In fact, throughout his body he felt quite a warmth conquering him. The sun seemed to be shining directly onto him wherever it moved in the sky and the spiders sitting on the windowpane seemed to be staring at the old man and smiling with him. And indeed, across his wrinkled, leathery cheeks were the upturned corners of his dry lips, and his face wore a smile.
Augustus had done the same things every day until he was graced with the acquaintance of the creatures in the forest. He used to wake up when the sun was almost directly above his house and then he would rub his eyes and drink a beer whilst making some cold, tasteless meal and then he would walk around endlessly in the baumgarten or look for small, peculiar animals in the leaves or watch the bugs and rain on the windowpane. He would scrub his forehead and wash his hands and rinse his eyes before sleeping in the hope that not a single day would repeat itself, but every day he ever lived in the Lonely East did exactly that. Nothing changed. Nothing ever happened. A young man moving into his own farm house to make his own living away from the communists who were searching for him became a middle-aged man with no one to love and no one to touch. And then into a drunken old man with no family and no enemies, except one.
But then everything changed. The noises of the crackly radio became too much and Augustus, that one night, was born again. He felt alive like a child, learning new things and being amazed by everything. He no longer washed his forehead or hands and wrists or eyes before sleeping, and he did not sleep at the hours he once did; the darkest point was when everything happened and so when he would remain awake, whereas the light hours of day brought little surprises, but left perfect time to rest.
In an almost rapturous state, in a moment of epiphany, Augustus Etzel, the Lonely Easterner, stood up. With the back of his hand he wiped around his lips and then took a sip of water from a glass on the side. Sweeping his long, wiry hair over to one side of his face, he stepped out into the garden where the day was rather bright and the birds appeared to be singing and all the clouds smiling. The old man, who smiled back at the sky, let out a deep noise and he felt the vibrations run through him. His throat sounded wet as if he were gargling beer in the back of his throat like he used to in order to savour the taste for longer, but dry like the engines of the police cars starting up when they came to search his house. The rest of the world seemed to silence immediately and let the old man in his garden sing. The noise was unpleasant but inside himself, a certain freedom unlike any other he had ever experienced was overcoming him. Screaming into the forest surrounding him without a fear in his whole body, nothing could possibly have stopped him, and it was in that knowledge that he continued walking to the back of his garden where the wet mud became deep and the trees began to block out the light and leave everything in blackness. The noise he was emitting grew louder and the feeling it gave him subsequently stronger.
The mud around Augustus’ feet was now very soft and allowing his feet to fall some inches into it. But, in such an ecstatic place, he did not mind at all if his feet were cold or his fingers shivering, as nothing at all mattered to him.
The leaves of the trees above his head glittered like a diamond in front of the sun, and indeed it was beautiful. In fact, Augustus began thinking to himself that he had never seen such a beautiful day in all the days he had ever been alive. Everything was just as he liked it to be: not so hot that the inside of his head would feel as if it were pounding against his skull and his underarms and lower back were soggy with perspiration; but not so cold that the tips of his fingers would turn purple and his nose and toes would become numb. The temperature was brilliant; and Augustus Etzel was happy.
Wolfgang Bauer stood in front of the door he had stood in front of only a few times in his life, and none of those times had it ended well. His fingertips were rather numb and his hair was swept across his eyes as the wind was blowing between the trees. His fingers hit the hard, cold wood of the door and then there was silence. All he could hear was the wretched scream now louder than it had been before. He was now sure that it was coming from Augustus, the bastard German. And there he listened to the noises with his face wincing, and he simply stood and waited.
Augustus felt all the silence of tranquillity he had been singing into suddenly halt as three hard knocks vibrated through his body. He felt the noise darken everything that seemed so good and in that position he remained, thinking what to do. His eyes rotated slowly to be looking at the back of his house. It seemed in some way that he was miles away from his own home, that he could hardly see it in the distance of all the thoughts raging in his mind, although he was only at the end of his baumgarten. The feeling was peculiar; Augustus felt as if he had never been so far from home. In fact, it felt to him as if the forest in which he was stood was his home and he was merely an onlooker to the rare goings on in the Lonely Land of the East. He felt as though he should have crawled back into the darkness of the forest, where only a misty light lit up the edges, and howl a wild call and climb the trees and live like the wild animals he had known in the forest, the mysterious creatures.
Again he heard the knocks and still there he remained. The sun warmed the top of his back and he enjoyed the sensation as all the ecstasy he had revelled in all morning disappeared and the joyous gaiety he had felt throughout his anatomy perished like the radiant colours of a wet painting left out in the rain.
Of course, through all the swirling thoughts in his mind, Augustus knew who was knocking on his door. He had foreseen the state Wolfgang Bauer would be in and the reason for his actions, but Augustus only imagined Wolfgang’s fury as an ever day, drunken fury felt by many a man of the Lonely East towards the end of the day when all the beer would be swirling through an empty mind; whereas Wolfgang’s rage was of no sorts: it was in fact a blind rage, a vehemence so incredible that he could hardly control his own actions nor think the things he tried to tell himself to think. It seemed as if another person, an anger in itself, had taken control of the lonely Polish man’s body and was leading him merely in antagonism, with no reasoning or sensible logic. It was almost as if Wolfgang knew he was walking towards his own death, banging hard on a cold, wooden door with all his might, behind which he knew was his own end, a hallway he knew he would never return to, a house he knew he would only walk through one more time and never back again. The bitter fury inside him had finally erupted and nothing on Earth could stop it.
Augustus was now walking slowly toward his own house. He, in many ways, was also not in full control of his own body as he was sober. Augustus did not remember how to walk if not intoxicated with an abundance of fermented barley and hops. He did not know what to think if his mind was thinking reasonably clearly. He did not know how to behave if not stumbling from wall to wall in a hidden sadness.
It seemed to take a long time to reach the back door of his house as he watched the trees pass him by and miles of sunlit greenery fade behind his eyes, past his blind spot and to where he could no longer see them. Although, as he came to steadier ground, where the grass was shorter and the trees no longer, he could still remember what all the trees looked like under the burning sun.
With the door creaking open in front of his eyes, Wolfgang erected his back and wore a stern guise on his face. Inside himself he felt a fury begin to rage. The noise that had frustrated him so much had stopped some minutes ago but the vehemence did not simmer in the slightest; it may even have enhanced it as he remembered how beautiful and quiet the songs of the birds and the howls of the wind had been without the wails of a drunken old man churning them into a distorted puddle of ugliness.
Behind the door was not a drunken old man, but a man with an ugly, tired face and a large, dirty beard. That man was not the one Wolfgang was expecting, but any man was enough for him to release his anger onto, and such was what he did.
- You have been making ugly noises all morning! You disturbed my sleep and ruined my morning! Your voice, unmistakably, is ugly!
- My neighbour, calm down. I was merely radiating the gaiety I find myself indulged in.
- My ears are not the place for you to exclaim your gaiety: they are a place for you to exclaim nothing as a matter of fact! In fact, anything of yours that seeps into my own lands, be it in sight or in sound, is unwelcome!
- Well, my sad neighbour, you have made your point and now surely is the time to settle our differences, accept that we are both men but very different men and part ways, leaving each other undisturbed.
- I have left you undisturbed your whole life, whilst you, my bastard neighbour, have done nothing but disturb me in any tranquillity I ever have attempted to find! It is time that I end this!
In such a rage Wolfgang entered Augustus’ house, just as he had done before when his fist left with wet droplets of blood on it. But, upon entering and remembering how the house had been before, Wolfgang noticed a certain change. Everything seemed a little more colourful and a little brighter: the empty bottles of beer smashed on the windowsills were no longer; the smell of discarded death had disappeared and the garden was lavished in green grass, swaying contently in the cold breeze.
Augustus followed his neighbour into the house and tried to shout at him to leave, but with such years of silence and drunkenness his lungs could not build enough force to raise his voice to more than a quiet statement. And so a quiet statement he made, forbidding the Pole from ever entering with such short and unfriendly notice again, but the man who was standing in his kitchen did not react, in fact it seemed as though he was not listening at all.
Moving toward the broken door that led from the house to the garden, Wolfgang felt a strange sensation in his blood, a visceral feeling warning him to stop, but the lonely man was never one to listen to advice and he knew that nothing was to change that. In such a thought, with a peculiar force hurling through his anatomy, Wolfgang opened the back door and did not look back once at the man who was staring at him from inside. Augustus watched solemnly as his baumgarten was invaded by unwanted, banned guests. He felt the same anger overcome him as had done many times before, but he tried his best to control it.
Following his neighbour into his own garden, Augustus watched the smoke curl over the top of Wolfgang’s head as he exhaled the first breath of a fresh cigarette. Augustus could taste the tobacco in the air and it only enraged him further, and so he moved in closer, but Wolfgang was still not looking behind at what state Augustus was in. Wolfgang felt as if he had control over the situation; Augustus had been making ugly noises all day and so Wolfgang, much like the French and British into Germany some years beforehand, was merely taking control over a situation that had lost control. But Augustus did not share this view as it was his land to make a mess of. Consequently he was growing angrier every second that he followed his neighbour down the grass path to where the trees began.
It seemed peculiar to Augustus that Wolfgang simply kept on walking, through the garden and into the forest, no longer taking any notice of the man he had come to tell off. Nevertheless, in a state of sober confusion, Augustus continued to put one foot in front of the other, and then his body moved, and then again, and before another thought had time to conjure in all the emptiness of his mind, he was stood in the darkness of the deepest forest where he had never stood with another man, another human man.
Wolfgang watched his opponent’s every move with fierce eyes and a stern face. Every breath of air could be seen emitting slowly and wholly from his frozen nostrils. His fingertips were a rare colour and his mind thought about nothing but the man stood in front of him.
Augustus, leaning into his neighbour’s face, grunted in bitterness and let his opponent do what he would.
Wolfgang’s shoulder was the first thing to move, and it moved quickly. Towards Augustus’ face a cold fist came, and between his eyes it landed. A thumping pain was covering every one of his emotions and inside his head he felt a large disturbance. Augustus’ leg followed and met the knee of his opponent. The opponent fell to the floor. A noise let out of the man holding his knee in agony and indeed it was not pleasant.
With his opponent on the floor, the lonely man of the East could not miss the opportunity to land a free hit.
And so it came to be that Augustus Etzel’s foot was inside the head of Wolfgang Bauer. Two angry men had infuriated each other and never learnt how to control such anger with such little human contact, and Wolfgang Bauer’s lungs ceased to breathe; his heart no longer struggled direly to pump the tainted blood of an old man around a broken body; and his brain no longer tried with all its useless might to think a single pure thought. And Wolfgang Bauer, a lonely Polish man who lived in the Lonely East, was dead.
- OTHER DEATHS
Dragging the body of a dead man across the forest floor was not something Augustus ever thought he would be doing. However, he was doing so and had been for some time, in search of the creatures he knew would give him the comfort he needed.
In a deep, dark part of the forest the creatures were sitting around a bench. They talked of many things until a rustle came from the bushes. All three of them paused. They looked around. Nothing could be seen, but then the bushes rustled again. The noise was closer than before. The eyes of each creature widened and indeed a cold chill rattled through their anatomies.
In a frozen fear of staring, cautious eyes, a body appeared, and behind it was another, but being dragged across the wet mud. One creature stood back and took a hold of the bench in a visceral reaction of fear. The other two froze in fright at the sight of the dead man and his murderer. Gradually, through the darkness, the face of the silhouetted body walking towards them became clearer. They saw a beard and long, dirty hair. They saw the smile of a pleased man, but they could not understand why, until a leaf blowing in the wind let in a small circle of light, which revealed the face of the silhouette to be none other than Augustus Etzel.
The creature that had jumped back in fear let go of the bench and stood closer to the approaching murderer. Mutually they smiled and greeted each other as old friends would do. Augustus, with no beer in his hands, sat on the bench and pulled the body of his neighbour up beside him. The creatures moved away from the muddy body and looked at it severely. Augustus saw them looking but knew that no explanation he could give in German would be understood, even if he could have given an explanation in the first place. They surely were wary of the body, just as they had been with Augustus when they first met, but in the dark night of an Eastern forest they could do little to move away from the bench they rested on or they would never find it again.
And so together sat three creatures of the forest and an old Lonely Easterner. The conversation was silent but a definite rapport had been established between the two present species and such a bond required no words. The tallest of the creatures was sitting with his arm around Augustus’ shoulders whilst another creature edged heedfully towards the body of the Polish man on the floor. Reaching towards it, the branches at the ends of its arms were shaking and with it the saplings that protruded from them. Its face was inertly motionless and its eyes fixated solely on the dirty body on the soggy leaves of the floor.
Upon the sight of its own kind touching the cold flesh of the former resident of that very forest, the other creature, who stood watching from a safe distance, came over and felt the dead skin for itself. The skin was soft like smooth plastic and yet fearsome like something one irrationally imagines to be waiting for them in the dark. It was purple like the fallen leaves of the forest in autumn and cold like the Elbe River during the coldest ices of winter. The creatures certainly had never felt such a rare thing; in fact, they had never felt a human body except in the shaking of Augustus Etzel’s hand.
Looking at each other in confusion and excitement, the creatures made a brief, quiet noise and the tallest of them looked over, who was perching on the bench with the German human. It stood up and walked toward the body at which point the two smaller creatures got up from the mud and stood aside. The largest leant in and touched the face of the corpse without hesitation; to it, as to the others, it felt rare indeed, but it was not afraid.
Calling the others to its side, it put two of the branches that looked to Augustus like fingers together and rested them gently upon the forehead of the body on the floor, and then it lifted its hand again and placed the two finger-like twigs on the abdomen of the messy body, there they stayed for some seconds until it lifted them again and tapped each shoulder of what was Augustus’ neighbour, and then it raised its hands again and rested against the left side of its chest. The other two creatures laid there hands upon the left side of their own chests. Augustus saw what was happening but did not want to intrude; also, he knew it would be disrespectful to follow what seemed to be a religious ceremony when he himself was not religious. Although, he raised onto his feet from the bench when all three creatures started gathering leaves from the nearby ground and covering the corpse of an old, lonesome man with them.
The Lonely Easterner bent down to the soggy ground and gathered a handful of leaves himself and placed them over the face he only that morning despised so much.
And then the body on the floor was a pile of leaves. Around the pile were four spectators watching the body as nothing happened, all feeling little emotion towards the dead man.
It was when the sun began to rise and the misty light of the forest cleared the darkness that all four sitting on the bench in the forest heard the noise that shocked them. Augustus, recognising the sound from many previous experiences, was in more shock than the other three, but seeing the old, bearded man in such a state, the other three knew the noise could not be good news. Additionally, the creatures had no time to worry about high-pitched rings or flashing lights as the legs of the bench began to merge with the soil and as one they did appear. The largest creature erected its arms in front of itself and there they remained, firmer and wider than they had been through the night. The tallest creature’s legs then fused together and fixed firmly into the ground. Another of the creatures’ head formed the sapling of a new branch and its eyes inverted into its head, forming just another chip in the bark.
It was a matter of seconds until a lonely man was standing lonesome again in a forest in the early morning, surrounded by trees that blew lightly in the eastern wind. The man who was standing on his own could not help but feel mesmerised again by what had happened around him, but with the sound of the sirens invading his mind, he could not stay in the place he was, where the body of a dead man had been buried.
Walking back through the dense foliage of the murky forest, the baumgarten, Augustus, of course, could not help wonder why the sirens of some emergency vehicle were penetrating the ears of so many animals throughout the wilderness of the Lonely East. The only time Augustus could remember hearing such sirens through the lonely land were times when they had been called there by an unpleasant neighbour. It seemed impossible that the police could have known about the murder. There are no cameras or witnesses in the darkness of the forest. Unless of course, Augustus thought to himself worriedly, his Polish neighbour had had relatives round to stay and he had told them that he was just leaving momentarily to stop the ugly screams emitting from the next garden, and then, upon the absence of his return, the relatives called the police and there was only one suspect and so outside Augustus Etzel’s house they were on a cold morning in late summer.
Augustus thought of many possibilities, in fact, he could not stop his mind thinking. It seemed to be on a rampage of thought that he could not control. A feeling had conquered his mind; a feeling that something was severely wrong and with it, a feeling of immense fear. A chill colder than the darkest point of night in the north of Germany, around Kiel or even into Denmark, tainted his whole spine and his body, from the numb toes of his feet to the matted hair of his head, shivered for seconds.
The sirens of the cars of the communists were growing louder. He could feel them vibrating inside him; in his dark mind and in his empty heart. Everything was rattling through his anatomy like the teeth of a skier over a patch of jagged ice.
The forest seemed to be infinitely large and inside it, everything seemed to look the same. Augustus could remember not walking for so long on his way into the forest, even dragging a body behind him. He could remember certain trees and marks on them where he had played his outdoor games, and they kept passing him, but he did not change direction. The mind of the tired man was surely insane, but this was not a new revelation to the man himself. He was walking in circles but in a straight line his feet continued, never being distracted from the path.
The light of the sun was building gradually and everything was becoming clearer and clearer to Augustus. His mind, on the other hand, seemed only to grow darker and darker as he moved through the dense foliage of his baumgarten. Inside his mind felt far away, further than it ever had done before; he felt as if he could not connect with the thoughts he was thinking: he was not a part of the words and images conjuring inside him but merely the inert paper upon which it was unwillingly being written. Augustus Etzel no longer had control of many things in the world, but his own mind he had always felt the master of, the ruler and primary power in charge, but now, indeed, he controlled nothing.
A Czech Republican lorry driver on his way from Prague to Wolfsburg, carrying cheap beer for a budget supermarket, had heard continuous sounds of a man screaming in the forest as he stopped for a cigarette on a dark road. The sounds were unmistakably the wails of a man in extreme pain. The Czech Republican driver, Honza Mesto, called the German emergency number and asked for the police. He was then connected to a call centre in Berlin where he told of the noises he had heard and was still hearing as he spoke to them.
A police call centre in Berlin had on their wall a small piece of paper that read the information of four police officers stationed temporarily in Wurzen because of new evidence discovered concerning a war criminal who escaped from a Leipzig prison shortly after the war. The evidence came from a police officer who turned up on a routine call to a drunkard’s house in the Lonely East and recognised the face of the man at the door, and so he researched newspapers from the years after the Second World War and matched the faces. The case was sent directly to the German Federal High Court who announced the former member of the National Socialist Party to be the second most wanted man in Germany. The Nazi officer was said to have single-handedly killed over three hundred Jews.
Because of the lack of maps marking roads and sights in the Lonely East, it was difficult for the police officer who first saw the murderer in his home to find the same place again. The four police officers stationed in Wurzen were searching for the house in which the mass murderer was said to have been seen. Upon finding it, they would raid the house and sentence the Nazi officer to death.
Stein, Taren, Abe and Idowa had been searching the area for just over a week, trying to record where they had been and what they had seen in those places. It was on one dark afternoon that the four men received a call from the Berlin call centre and had the exact location and directions of Honza Mesto, the lorry driver, read to them. None of the men were in any doubt that the screams of pain were those of or caused by the war criminal they had been pursuing. It was not clear to any of them why they felt so strongly that finally they had found him, but there was very seldom any activity in the Lonely Lands of the East and so when cries for help were heard, there was only one suspicion they all felt together.
Honza Mesto was thanked by Stein, Taren, Abe and Idowa before he threw another cigarette underneath his black boots and climbed back into his truck, taking a sip of the whisky on the counter. Honza Mesto imagined what could have been happening in the forest as he drove around Leipzig and continued north in his large, red truck.
Idowa, an emigrant of Nigeria who joined the German police force at the age of eighteen, stirred three heaped teaspoons of sugar into his extra strong coffee in the temporary station in Wurzen. Stein took the sugar spoon out of Idowa’s cup and stirred one sugar into his own coffee, that he liked weaker than that of his colleague. Taren was away; he had gone to fetch the morning newspapers before the afternoon raid. Abe sat on a chair in the corner of the cold, ugly room with a cigarette between his lips. He read over and over a piece of worn paper that had been scribbled on by some illiterate hand. Abe was never spoken to before an operation as that was his time of rest. If one of the other men tried to speak to him he would raise two fingers together and place them over his lips, and then his colleagues would fall silent and he would slowly nod his head.
Taren returned and handed out newspapers to everyone, he then poured himself a coffee and took a cigarette from the table by which Abe was sat. It was then that Abe stood up and flicked his cigarette into an ashtray on the main table. The smoke rising from the ashtray circled his wrinkled face but he did not flinch; he picked up his leather jacket and swung it over his shoulders and the others followed.
Stein was the designated driver as he was the youngest, so he would wait in the car whilst the other three would barge the door of the house down and arrest the old murderer, who they presumed would be sitting with a beer by the windowsill pondering on how eternal flames may feel all over his putrid corpse.
Taren got into the car with a full cup of coffee in his hands and a cigarette between his fingers, which sparked arguments between the two sitting side by side in the back seats.
- ‘Don’t bring your fucking coffee in here: I’m wearing a nice shirt and I don’t want you spilling black coffee all over it!’ Abe exclaimed with a red, angry face.
- ‘My God! I won’t spill it; I’m not your child, I know how to hold a cup of coffee!’ Taren shouted back at him.
Following rough lines on a map, Stein found himself on a long, thin road, appearing to run through the middle of a forest. Idowa asked the driver if he knew where he was going, but he didn’t answer. The road indeed appeared to be going in no direction at all, like a simple metaphor in the minds of lost men, but the wheels of the car were moving and the trees were passing the windows. Eventually, as Idowa repeated the question for a third time, two houses became clearer and clearer in the distance. Separated by a large area of woodland, the two ugly houses, tattered and broken in toil, appeared empty. There were no noises coming from anywhere but the tops of the trees where birds taught their children how to fly.
The pencil scribbles on Abe’s piece of paper seemed to relate exactly to where the driver had parked. And so there Stein pulled to a halt and turned off the engine of the car. Idowa got out of the back door and patted the car on the bonnet, winking at the driver. Taren crouched to get out of the car and tipped his cup, which spilt down the front of his grey shirt and onto his fur jacket, which was left open in the car. He swore loudly as he stepped onto the broken concrete of the ground around him and everyone looked over.
- ‘I told you you would! Why do you never listen to me? I always tell you!’ Abe shook his head as he spoke disappointedly to Taren.
Idowa looked through the window at the front of the house but the dust and dirt covering it allowed him to see very little. Where a small drip of rain had hit the windowpane he could see something inside; it appeared to be moving, but just swinging back and forth very slightly. Idowa called the other two over; they saw something moving and Abe pulled a gun from his holster immediately. Taren pulled his gun too and walked around to the side of the house where his entrance was blocked by an old, deteriorating fence.
Abe stood by the door with his arm out at his side, signalling to the others to step back. They followed his orders and pulled their guns up to their chests. Abe knocked three times on the door with considerable force. The other two moved slightly closer.
For some moments there was nothing but silence; it felt to the three stood at the door that nature had felt the suspense and silenced for it.
He knocked again at the door of a silent house in the Lonely East, another three times.
Again there was not even the mere rustle of wind or the tapper of escaping feet.
It was then that Abe’s fingers indicated to the others that they come closer to the door. And so they did. Abe held his pistol out in front of him. Stein heard the birds flee from their nests as a bullet broke all the silence and tranquillity of the forest. Stein could not see what was happening from the car but presumed they had killed the culprit.
The door swung open slowly and a cloud of brown dust covered the three men who all stood with their pistols at the ready. Idowa walked in first and turned to walk up the stairs. He remained half way up whilst the other two crept toward the door that lead to the main room, the room in which they saw something swinging slowly.
Abe had his gun by his chest and his foot gradually making its way through the door. The walls around them were vile and the smell surrounding the house was intolerable. The floors were dirtier than those of the forest itself and there was nothing at all on the walls but stains; no pictures were hung, no posters stuck: a bare wall of evil, all three men thought to themselves.
Abe turned his head to see the room next to him with a sudden jump. His pistol aimed directly in front of him but his hands had frozen stiff. His eyes locked open, unable to blink. His mouth dropped slowly and then remained in the same position. There was absolutely nothing in his mind and he could not think about anything. What he saw in front of him was all. Immediately after him Taren jumped around the corner, using Abe as a shield. But then he froze. He saw something moving, and staring at it with his dark eyes opened wide, he did not move one inch. Idowa saw that his colleagues had stopped and so walked down into the room in which they stood. Turning the corner into the room, the African policeman let out a scream and breathed in heavily.
Abe’s footsteps were slow as he moved toward what he knew everyone was staring at. With his gun still held out in front of him, he edged closer and closer to it. Taren followed him with Idowa by his side. No one in the room took their eyes off of the body of the old, bearded man hanging from the ceiling fan. Rotating slowly by the gravity of the mass murderer’s weight, the fan showed every side of the blooded shirt of the purple-faced man. His distraught face hung like a creased, wet shirt on a washing line in the motionless wind. His arms dangled by his side like the useless extras of a wasted life, of a melancholy man. His feet were bare and dirty and swayed to and fro. His nails were black and upon the back of his right hand was a scar. The scar was thick and red and consisted of two lines that passed through each other in the middle. They both were bent to the right at each end at ninety degree angles. Abe, Idowa and Taren knew what the sign meant; they knew what the body in front of them once did and what it was capable of, and through that, what every human was capable of. And indeed they all felt a sickness run through them. Taren put down his gun first, then the others followed in a strange confusion: whether to shoot the corpse in front of them until it reached an unidentifiable mutilation like the Italians had done with Mussolini, or respect that the body once was that of a human man, a lonely, old man with no friends and no family, who lived a direly tragic life.
Stein played with his hair as he listened for signs as to what was taking his colleagues so long to arrest an old man.
The other three were standing by the window smoking, with the body of a freed man behind them. They stared at the mound in the garden where they saw what appeared to be a war bunker. The garden was long and thin, the grass was overgrown and the plants were ugly. Into the dark forest ahead they looked and imagined the sad life of the Nazi officer who had escaped the Leipzig prison during the War Crimes Trials. Peering into a foreign world of loneliness and misery, a dark forest could not have better described what they imagined.
Three communist police officers put out their cigarettes and turned around, keeping their eyes fixed on the broken floorboards beneath them. At the same time, in the obsolete forest at the end of the ugly garden, passed four creatures, talking and smiling together as the darkness of a summer night set again over the Lonely East of Germany.