The opera had been wonderful. The recent images of the immense pageantry and immaculate music still lingered on his sensory peripherals. He had seen Ludwig’s “Fidelio” many times and yet, he always seemed to forget the magnitude of the musical plane on which it existed. He considered Mozart to be the king of the opera and he held this position in his mind because Mozart had the best quantity to quality ratio. That is to say he wrote a very high number of operas and they all satisfied, at least to a certain extent. However, every time he attended a performance of the one and only Ludwig opera, he was always reminded that had Beethoven composed another opera and continued to write in that medium, it is very possible he would’ve reigned supreme. For all of the narrative flaws the libretto posed, it was always made believable time and time again by the music of the genius composer. Perhaps, that is why he never composed another opera; he felt constrained to the narrative aspect and wished to only compose music where the notes and dynamics are the only characters. Still though, Edgar thought it an awful shame that another had never been attempted. In fact, the more he thought about it, the more of a shame it became; as though a great and personal loss had been afflicted upon him.
He closed his eyes and began to recall the opera. The man who had portrayed Rocco had been exceptionally strong on this particular performance. Why was it the case that supporting characters always turned out to be the most interesting? It seemed to him that this wasn’t limited to opera, but was applicable to all forms of narrative. For instance, Mercutio had always outshined Romeo in every production of that play that Edgar had seen, which was quite a number of times. Perhaps it is better to have a boring protagonist; for the more boring the protagonist is, the more interesting the supporting players become. A rook is a far more useful and fun piece than a king.
The small carriage ran over a rough patch in the road and he was immediately pulled out of his quasi-profound thoughts and back into the tedium of the ride. He pulled back the velvet curtain and looked out the foggy window. The sun had now retreated, leaving the pastel blacks and blues of night to dance past his vision. He pulled out his timepiece and tried to do the math in his head. The meeting was scheduled to start in about an hour but the point of meeting was at least twice that distance from where they now were. He sat back in the cushion and heard the air escape under his weight. He had been sitting all evening, but the thought of getting up from his current position made him borderline ill. He was tired and needed sleep, but he had always been one of those people that had found it damn near impossible to go to sleep in a sitting position or while he was mobile.
Edgar had been on an overnight train once and had paid for the highest quality accommodations that the particular line offered. However, when he tried to lie down in his massive bed, he found no luck in slumber. Even with the copious aid of gin, he was doomed to insomnia and that particular liquid just made the situation worse as he was still doomed to insomnia, but it had now been made a drunken hazy insomnia. It was a rough night, indeed.
So when he put his inability to sleep whilst mobile and paired it with his inability to sleep in his current sitting position, nocturnal rest in this carriage, for him, was less likely than it was on, say, a moon of Jupiter.
He checked the timepiece again; thirty minutes until the meeting was scheduled to start. He threw his head back on the cushion once again, more anxious now. He knew that one of his biggest flaws was his strict adherence to a personal timetable. It was something he had always struggled with and he hated it, but wasn’t going to change it now and probably never would. He had never been late to an appointment as far as he knew, whether it was miniscule in nature or something potentially life altering, not once. The same feeling one gets when they have said something to another person and it hits them in their stomach that it was a comment that should not have been made, is what it felt like to him when he was late to any situation he had scheduled prior or had agreed to lend his presence to. Two seconds or three hours, it didn’t matter, late was late and he loathed it. Still, he thought himself a realist and knew that he was going to be late this time and there was not a single thing he could do to avoid it. He was an oak and the distance-time ratio was the growing termite infestation that he had to endure.
What a rotten mood he now found himself in. He was exhausted but could not remedy that. He was going to be late and there wasn't anything he could do about that either. And finally, there was only one Beethoven opera that just pushed him right into rocky terrain. He suddenly became very hot and the only thing he wanted was to get out of that damn carriage. His palms had grown fiercely damp and he could tell that his feet had grown swollen inside his shoes. Edgar was swiftly becoming a mess. Deciding the best solution would be to get some fresh air, he opened the door to the carriage and leaned outside.
The bitterly cold European air smacked him in the face. He glanced to the front of the vehicle and was able to make out the silhouetted outline of the driver.
“Excuse me!” was all Edgar was able to muster in the driver’s direction before the wind sucked his speech away.
The driver did not immediately react, and Edgar wasn’t sure if he had heard him, so he repeated his beckon. This time the driver acknowledged Edgar with a casual nod to him, but he still kept both eyes on the rocky road ahead, something Edgar appreciated.
“What can I help you with, sir?” the driver shouted back.
“Can we stop for a moment, please?”
The carriage came to a gradual halt and Edgar could hear the driver removing himself from his post and the subsequent walk to the door, which he then proceeded to open. The two men stared at each other for the smallest of moments before Edgar got out of the torture chamber he had been riding in.
For the first time in hours, he was able to stretch his legs and breathe the mountain air. It was instant medication. He was starting to calm down and think rationally again, but he was still not in the mood to conversate with another human being.
Edgar reached into his thick coat pocket and pulled out his pipe. His hands weren’t nearly as moist as they had been, but the smooth mahogany wood of the device still stuck to his palm. He placed the pipe in between his teeth and removed a small and nicely folded pack of tobacco from his coat pocket and began to tightly and neatly pack the bowl. It had become quite a smooth operation for Edgar to pack the pipe, but he always hit a wall when he had to fool with matches. When he opened the matchbox to find only one measly stick, the anger started to rise again. He removed the single sulfuric resource and rubbed it gently against the coarse side of the box; after a sufficient amount practice runs had been completed, he went for it. Cupping his hand around the end of the stick, the tiny flame held. As gentle as a mother to a newborn, Edgar brought the flame to the top of the bowl. He saw one section of the brown flakes light and begin smoking, but a gust of that always-reliable-Germanic air took it out with ease. He was left with a foul odor and a full bowl of his second favorite vice, barely lit. He had had absolutely enough and just as he was preparing to chuck the blasted wooden thing, a bright orange light emerged beside him. Edgar turned to find the driver standing presently with a perfectly unwavering match. A thick wind assaulted their position and Edgar felt his overcoat flaps begin to swirl at the bottom. Still, the flame burned as though they were in a parlor in June. This unsettled Edgar, naturally, but he still put the pipe back to its former post and leaned in to the match. He inhaled and his mouth filled with the sweet smoke, and his troubles all fled. He followed the long drag with another of equal length.
“Thank you,” Edgar said to the driver.
“Not a problem, sir. I do not mean to be a nuisance, but your host and my master will be waiting for us and we are already greatly delayed, as I am sure you have taken notice of.”
“Of course. Allow me just a few more moments and I will gladly return to the carriage,” Edgar extended to the driver the pipe as he said this.
The driver chuckled and gave a slight bow as he returned to his seat at the head of the carriage. Edgar now felt slightly guilty about holding up the trip, because he had this gut feeling that the driver would be, at the very least, scolded for them being late even though, to the best of Edgar’s admittedly limited knowledge of carriage driving, he had been more than adequate. Edgar took a final, heavy and slightly painful drag on the stem of his pipe and let the smoke fester in his mouth for an exaggerated amount of time before he released the milky cloud into the air. He watched it drift with the wind then become enveloped by the darkness. He dumped the last remnants of the tobacco and got back into the carriage.
As he settled back into a ‘comfortable’ position, the rectangular glass panel that separated the world of the driver from Edgar’s opened and the driver peered into the cabin. He reached his hand in with a medium sized bottle of bright green liquid.
“Sir, I hope this isn’t crossing any boundaries, but I can see you are on edge. You’re welcome to it,” he shook the bottle to emphasize as he said this.
“Thank you. You are very kind and I will see it to it that your master and my host understand that the delay was due to my erratic tendencies and nothing that was a fault of yours,” Edgar said as he limply took the bottle. Edgar thanked the driver again and the panel was shut.
He stared down at the sloshing absinthe. Edgar was admittedly a bit of a dipsomaniac and the promise of the driver’s, about this particular substance making him relax, was all he needed to take a massive slog. His senses all became heightened imminently. A short collection of minutes later, he was on the verge of total euphoria and had dramatically slumped down into the seat. He heard a crumpling of papers as he continued to slide, in the floor’s direction, and reached into his overcoat to remove the source of the noise. When his hand returned, it bore the envelope that had started this whole affair. He opened it and read.
“Dear Mr. Edgar Kavinsky,
This is a letter from the desk of Dr. Johannes Willem, renowned traveller and expert on world cultures. You have received this correspondence because of your much revered affection for prose and narrative and your transcription abilities. I understand that you do not typically work on commission, but I have faith that you will find this an entirely unique opportunity, and one that is immensely well suited to your strengths. If you would like to undertake this job, then allow me to send a driver to your location to bring you to my estate in two weeks time. It is my understanding that you have scheduled to see “Fidelio” that evening. I will make sure my driver is there and has a carriage waiting for you at the opera’s conclusion. Bring a trunk of clothes.
Dr. Johannes Willem”
Edgar folded the letter back up and placed it back in his pocket. He felt the cold metal of the pocketwatch and pulled it out, just for reference. He estimated that they would be arriving at the estate soon enough and reserved to try not to worry about being late for the remainder of the ride. Another thick gulp of the green liquor and he drifted off into a semi-catatonic state.
Some indiscernible amount of time later, Edgar began to lose the effects of the absinthe and returned to a pseudo-normal position and peered outside the window. The carriage was moving far slower than it had been previously and they were ascending a rather steep mountainside. Upon further investigation, Edgar was able to make out the outline of what appeared by all accounts to be a castle. He was immediately struck with the images of the tales his mother would tell him as a boy. Stories of torture chambers, goblins, human monsters, hellacious nightmares that conjured the deepest and darkest recesses of the human imagination. His mother had a penchant for seeing the most negative aspects of life and this probably translated to her excitement for the macabre.
The carriage pulled upwards and the closer it got to the castle, the more massive it became. The olympic structure truly appeared as though it could comfortably house a small country’s population and still have space for leisure. The carriage now stood in the courtyard of the behemoth and Edgar did not wait for the door to be opened for him; he leapt from the seat and landed on the ground, still peering upwards.
It was only now, without the movement and the window’s constrictions, could Edgar now fully take the exterior of the castle before him. In front were two giant wooden doors. They were so large that Edgar thought walking through them would be the closest thing to knowing what it felt like to be a cockroach, scampering through his front door at home, that he could experience. One could easily be misled into thinking these were the gates of heaven, or its fiery counterpart, depending on the level of cynicism that particular person was feeling that day.
Vines swirled around the base of the structure as though they were attempting to eavesdrop on the important business conversations taking place on the opposite side of the thick stone walls. They resembled extended tentacles of some great beast, lurking just below the surface, sucking the entire castle into its dark pits. They sent a chill down Edgar’s back, which lingered for a long time. He also found it strange that these vines remained unkempt and allowed to scale the walls, while the rest of the visible grounds remained remarkably neat. He had no idea what circumstance led to this, just noted that it was a bit odd.
On each of the four corners of the home stood four columns that towered over the entirety of the mountain. The columns each also contained a gothic gargoyle which were perched in such a way that they seemed to be ready to take flight and return anyone deemed to have malicious intent. They were unsettling to Edgar, who found them to have a certain amount of realism in their faces, which he could still make out on the ground far below them. It was strange.
He continued to explore the castle with his eyes, but eventually was interrupted by the driver.
“Sir, if you are ready to enter, Dr. Willem is ready to discuss the matters with you,” he said as he motioned to the wooden gates.
Edgar began to move his feet, but his eyes remained fixed on the gargoyle on the nearest corner to his location. Its eyes seemed to be equally as fixed on him and by leaving, Edgar felt as though the gargoyle had intimidated him into exiting. Edgar then realized it was very stupid and childish to project insecurities to a stone monument, but he still resented the damned thing.
Somehow, the average-build driver managed to open the doors and Edgar was immediately bathed in heat radiating from a fireplace in front of him. The massive fireplace was housed in a massive hall that was decorated with massive portraits of distinguished looking men, massive candelabras that bore resilient flames, massive swords and weaponry that appeared as though they had never actually seen the grand violence of battle, and massive shelves, that lined the circumference of the hall with books that were also massive in size and content, rounded out the humble feast of items that made up the hall.
Edgar stood meagerly in the doorway, frozen in place and dumbfounded by the sweeping grandiose of everything before him. Had he missed something in the letter that mentioned this was actually the abode of royalty? Even on his second reading of the letter in the carriage, he had not been under the spell of the great green relaxer to miss a detail such as that. He then began to wonder how one man could amass this much wealth to afford this luxury, the likes of which Edgar had never fathomed. Remembering the immeasurable size of the structure he now stood in, he genuinely wondered what the other rooms could possibly hold. Moreover, where was his host? Clearly, the doctor did not have the same problem of missing appointments and Edgar tried not to pass the judgement of rudeness on a man he had not even met and had opened his home to Edgar.
The driver approached from behind Edgar and placed the large leather trunk that contained many of Edgar’s clothes and other belongings. He had no idea what the specifics of the commission were, for all he knew he could be in the carriage home by morning, but he liked to be prepared. He also found himself cooking in the heavy overcoat he was in. The room was laid out in such a way that the fire’s remarkable heat output was able to circumvent the entirety of the hall’s area. Sweat began to soak his head and he ran his fingers through it to try and disperse it; the driver noticed.
“Sir, may I take your coat?” he asked.
“Please,” Edgar hurriedly replied as he removed the wool oven. “May I ask where the doctor is? You made it sound as though the meeting was to take place currently.”
The driver took the coat and walked to a line of hooks on a far wall. “He should be with you at any moment. It was quite cold out there and he worried you would catch ill and not be able to perform the service he is attempting to procure from you. I believe I hear him coming now.”
Edgar was able to understand all of this perfectly, which was strange. A hall such as this should have quite a bit of echo, yet as the driver stood at the other end hanging the coat speaking, it was as if he was standing right next to Edgar. Perhaps there was some architectural innovation at work here, but it was unnatural and struck Edgar strangely.
Alas, Edgar could hear the faint sounds of stairs being descended and he became slightly nervous at the imminent prospect of meeting the mysterious Dr. Johannes Willem. At last, the moment that had been played over and over in Edgar’s mind since receiving the letter, the meeting, had arrived. At the other end of the hall was a modest doorway where one single stair was visible. A bare foot landed on the stair and was then joined by another. The two feet lingered on the the step and Edgar saw them, and the legs they belonged to, rise and quickly fall as their human owner took a heavy inhale. They then proceeded on their path and Edgar was soon standing across the room from Dr. Johannes Willem.
“Mr. Kavinsky, greetings and my sincerest apologies for the delay. I was in a bit of a panic when the scheduled time of this meeting arrived on my clock but, I was relieved to find another hour granted to me. I have, however, heard rumors of your issues with delays and I do not intend to make them a habit should you choose to stay in my company. I’m afraid I haven’t been wise in my hiring of certain people.”
Willem moved from the doorway and approached the driver, who was standing feeble in the corner.
“What could have possibly been the reason for this meeting having been pushed to this late hour, driver? I highly doubt it will combat your need for removal,” Willem said sternly.
“Sir...I....it wasn’t...the wind,” the driver pitifully stuttered out. Willem’s faced remained course and did not show a single sign of empathy for the poor man.
Edgar moved in the direction of the two men. “Dr. Willem, if I may intervene, the rumors are true of my strict leanings in the matters of time and appointments, however I will admit to extending a brief moratorium on the the journey. I’m afraid I needed some air and a quick visit with my pipe, so the fault is mine. This man was more than competent in his service this evening.”
Willem’s brow now furrowed and he simply waved his forefinger at the driver. “Make sure Mr. Kavinsky’s room is up to standard, especially since he just saved your job,” he said as he turned to face Edgar. He was wearing a burgundy dinner jacket, a black shirt, dark trousers, black leather gloves (strange), and thick glasses that rested on the bridge of his small nose. He was thin, very thin, and moved with an almost virtuosic agility, which he put to use as he floated to a small table next to two large chairs. Willem took a bottle of brown liquid off the table and poured it into a glass.
“Can I interest you in a drink, Mr. Kavinsky?”
Edgar moved towards the chairs and the table and stood awkwardly next to them. “Yes please. Thank you, doctor.”
“Of course. You are my guest,” Willem said as he poured an identical glass of alcohol and handed to Edgar. Willem sat in one of the chairs and ushered Edgar to do the same, which he did.
“Well, since it is quite late and I know you have travelled quite a long time, I will get straight to the point. I intend to enlist your services as a wordsmith and transcriber. You will be paid more than I can guarantee you ever have been before and you will have access to every piece of luxury that this grand home offers.”
Edgar shifted somewhat uncomfortably in his chair. “Doctor Willem, I do greatly appreciate your consideration and generous comments in regard to my abilities, but I am afraid I still lack a clear insight into what I will be doing. This is not the type of work I usually find myself engaging in.”
Willem took a sip of his drink and leaned forward to address Edgar. “I understand. I want to write a personalized account of my family. I will relate the stories to you from my own experiences and lineage and you can spin them into literary gold.”
It was now Edgar’s turn to lean forward, “You want me to ghostwrite your family history?”
“Precisely. I promise you tales the likes of which you have never heard before,” Willem said. “ And if you do not feel like your time is being well spent, you are free to leave at any time. I simply have a story to tell and I believe you are the man to tell it.”
Edgar was on the verge of accepting, but he held back for a moment or two. This was a big commitment on his part. He had always been the type of writer that wrote exactly what he wanted to. Now he was being asked to put down another man’s words and stories, for god knows how long. He also pondered the fiscal rewards that Willem promised. Edgar had fallen on something of financially deficient period and this was an opportunity to recover his losses. However, his employer had promised him the chance to jump ship at any period if he so chose to do so. He decided to give it a try.
“Dr. Willem, I thank you for the offer and I would like to accept the commission,” Edgar said with a closed mouth smile.
Willem took the last gulp of brown and grinned brightly. “Excellent, Mr. Kavinsky! I am most pleased to hear it. I propose one last drink to celebrate our new union and then we retire to the chambers. I am exhausted and I am sure you are as well.”
Edgar smiled again and handed Willem his long-been-empty glass to be replenished. The two men offered a cheers to their partnership and quickly downed their celebratory substance. Dr. Willem took both of the glasses and returned them to their place on the table and stood up. Edgar stood to meet him.
“I trust everything will be as comfortable as possible for you, and if not, let me know and I will have whatever correction needs to be made promptly done. Unless anything else is of dire need of discussion, I bid you goodnight, Mr. Kavinsky.”
Edgar bid Willem goodnight as well and the doctor exited the hall and disappeared up the stairs. Promptly, the driver reappeared and showed Edgar to a different flight of stair and the ascended to Edgar’s room. It was at the end of an elongated and narrow hallway that stretched for what seemed like miles. The carpet of the floor was a bright blood red and the walls were lined with more weaponry, yet these were accompanied by tapestries of the, presumably, slain enemies the weaponry inflicted. The room that was Edgar’s was in the middle of the hallway. It was extremely quiet.
“How many people live here?” Edgar inquired.
The driver turned the key to the room and stepped inside. “It is hard to tell, sir. Many guests come and go. They stay for different lengths of time and then I will go to their rooms to find they have taken their leave. The only permanent residents are the doctor, myself and the kitchen staff.”
“Does the doctor not have a wife?” Edgar asked.
“He did. I do not know what became of her, she has been gone for as long as I have been in the service of this household,” the driver responded.
Edgar entered the room, which was of course, grand and would suit him just fine. “I see. Perhaps he will tell me for our piece.”
“Of course, sir. Is there anything else I can get for you tonight or may I retire?”
“This will do ten fold. Thank you, friend,” Edgar said warmly.
The driver turned to exit the room, but Edgar stopped him. “One more thing.”
“What is your name? I no longer wish to refer to you by your occupation.”
“Klaus, sir. It’s Klaus.”
“Well then, Klaus, goodnight.”
And with that, Klaus hobbled away and Edgar was left in the vast quiet emptiness of his room and the castle, his new temporary home, that it was contained in.
The next morning Edgar awoke to find Willem sitting poised in a chair staring out the window, deep in thought. In his hand was a large cigar emitting smoke that rose to meet the incoming sunlight; it was hypnotic to him. In his other hand, a brown drink, lighter than the night before’s selection, but still dark enough to be taken quite seriously. Edgar stirred and tried to shake the remaining particles of sleep from his face. He finally sat up and waited for Willem to speak. He didn’t for a long time.
At long last, “Time is a fleeting resource and I don’t intend to waste it, Mr. Kavinsky. We are in agreement on that, but I do not have to schedule an appointment for it to apply to me.” He paused for a moment, then continued, “The line goes all the way back to approximately 1105 a.d. He was a german king, a cruel vicious man.”
Edgar froze for a moment then scrambled next to his bed to grab the paper and quill to begin writing down the history spewing from the man’s mouth. He never stopped to allow Edgar to re-ink the pen, he just kept a steady stream of legacy flowing and Edgar feverishly dictated. They carried on like this until the sun rays turned to moon beams.
*They were running behind and their budget was already about to be cut. No more detail. They needed results.
The next few weeks passed in much of the same fashion, and Edgar was losing it. On one hand this was shaping to be the best work he had ever written. Dr. Willem’s history was fascinating, filled with wars and sadism. Many of his ancestors had led their armies to unequivocal victory, then returned to their homeland to find their bloodthirst still rampant. Willem spoke of his familial atrocities with a sort of poetic nonchalance. Edgar didn’t know if this was because he had come to terms with the pain they had inflicted or if he just didn’t want to face it. On the other hand, Edgar’s mind was now constantly filled with the grotesque details and he found himself drinking constantly to take the plaguing violence from his mind’s theater, if only for a short while. The opium helped too, and soon Edgar was unable to distinguish a day from a month. The only representation of the passing of time was to look down and see how many pages had been amassed since he last looked.
As for Willem, himself, he had grown up on the property in wealth and good social standing. He had had a sister who died of a strange disease when Willem was a teenager. Willem took the loss hard and the grief contributed immensely to his cold and melancholic nature. He went off to university shortly after her death and became a world traveller, refusing to return home to a place that held such loneliness. Years later after seeing the great wonders of the world, he returned to the Willem Castle to find his mother dying and father reduced to a crumbling mess of skin and bones. Johannes became the master of the house. About a decade prior, he met a woman and had married her. She made him happy and they set about the process of having children to further the line. The mistress became pregnant and had a beautiful baby boy, but she had been taken in the process. A month later, the child died of an infection and Johannes Willem finds himself entrenched in grief and isolation.
Willem had requested his own personal history be reduced to what amounted to be slightly more than a footnote. Edgar lamented this because he found Willem’s additions added some degree of empathy to a lineage of loathsome characters, but, alas, it was not his decision. Willem was the subject and financier. Edgar had compiled over 1500 pages of Willem’s dictation, which he split into two more digestible volumes. He was set to leave at the end of the week.
On the night before he left the castle, he was awakened by a night terror. Ever since the two men had started the chronicle, Edgar’s dreams had been polluted by the images of violence and human suffering. The one that was most recurring to him featured the perspective of the head of a spear as it pierced a young child. He saw the spear enter the child’s abdomen and then was forced to watch the boy slowly drift into death. The boy would then be lifted and thrown into a mass pile of burning bodies and Edgar would just sit there and watch the flames rise and consume all on the pyre; all except the boy. He was left unscathed on the massive pile of ashes, still grabbing his fatal wound.
Edgar awoke in a cold sweat to this particular dream on the eve of his departure and immediately craved a drink. He remembered Willem and Klaus both briefly mentioning something about a wine cellar on the bottom floor of the castle. Klaus had also told him multiple times that guests were not allowed to venture to that level of the house. When Edgar tried to procure the answer for why this was, Klaus had resigned himself and grew cold. Edgar didn’t push harder on the subject, but his curiosity naturally grew exponentially over the time he spent there.
Finally, lying there on his back and craving the painful taste of alcohol, Edgar decided to go to the cellar. He got up from his bed and stood very still, letting the sweat that had accumulated during his nightmare disappear. After a short time, he quietly walked out into the hallway and felt the stiff carpet on his bare feet. He paused again, this time to question whether his craving for a drink was worth the risk of going where he knew he shouldn’t. To Edgar, breaking the rules, spoken or not, was something he tried to avoid. However this time, it ultimately was worth it to him. He needed a drink.
He progressed further down the hallway and then down the stairs into the lobby where had had his first encounter with the mysterious Dr. Willem some months prior. The door to the cellar was on a far corner of the room.
He began to move that way when he was stopped by a noise in the dark. Then he heard a clinking of glass, the sound of one being put onto the table, then silence again. Edgar froze. At that moment, he wanted nothing more than a long slog of the strongest thing Willem had in that goddamn cellar. He wanted it so badly that he seriously considered bypassing the source of the noise and sprinting to the cellar. However, this thought process was quickly dashed when he saw a match being lit and the face of a total stranger’s face consequently illuminated by the glow. Edgar and the stranger locked eyes for a tense moment, then the match was put to a pipe and all he could see was the orange burn in the bowl.
“You’re the writer,” said The Stranger. Edgar didn’t know if this was a statement or a question, but the answer was the same either way.
“Yes, sir. I’m Edgar Kavinsky, and I’m a writer.”
“So you’re the man that got Johannes to tell all the dirty little secrets, eh?” The Stranger mused. Edgar began to feel uneasy about this particular exchange.
“Dr. Willem employed me to document his family’s history, and so I have. By all accounts, my work here is done,” Edgar responded in a tone that wasn’t quite rude but was clearly deployed in an effort to end this encounter at the soonest possible point.
“Interesting history you documented...Well, Mr. Writer, what brings you and I together in the dark at this hour?” The Stranger’s tone now definitely included a bit of a nefarious undercurrent to it..
Once more, Edgar froze, this time accompanied by sheer panic. He now wished for nothing other than to be away from this man and in the carriage home, with Klaus driving and the green liquid singing him into the warm arms of euphoria. To make it worse, he couldn’t think of anything to answer, he was blank.
The Stranger picked up on this and filled in the silence himself, “Well, don’t let me impede your quest any further. Proceed to wherever you’re headed, my friend.” Edgar thought he heard the man stand up, but didn’t stop to see if that theory panned out. He just darted across the room, with a gliding swiftness that would’ve even impressed Willem. He arrived at the metal cellar door and threw it open. Down the stone steps, he descended. His eyes did not ever adjust to the rampant darkness that he insisted on plunging himself into.
‘Why didn’t I grab a lantern or at least a candle?’ he thought to himself. Edgar believed that everybody was, to some degree, trepidacious of the dark and he was certainly no exception. It had always scared him, because the dark is where things that were out of his control lurked; His mother had told him stories of creatures and villainous forces, that held obfuscated motives for wanting to spill his blood, nevertheless that was their only clear goal, and these forces had almost always called the dark their home. Because of this, Edgar had always been sedulous about entering the places infested with the dark unknown. He wouldn’t have forgotten the lantern in his room if he hadn’t still been reeling from the nightmare and wanted a drink so terribly. Then, perhaps, he would’ve been made aware of the lack of illumination in the lobby had he not run into the strange man and had the incommodious encounter that he did there.
Edgar realized that in his deep fear, he had run out of steps. He reached the cellar floor and his bare feet were now freezing against the stone. He heard what he presumed to be rats squealing in the non-distinguishable distance. He extended his arms and began to feel around in front of him, and he began to walk forward very slowly. Shortly thereafter, he hit a wall and began to feel it up to see if there was a lantern or torch attached to it. There wasn’t one there, so he used the wall to guide him down what felt to be a long corridor. He continued walking down this corridor for a laborious amount of time until his hand felt the outline of a doorknob. In the darkness, he turned to face the door and felt its large build with his hands. Then, a miracle happened. Edgar’s hands landed on what was most definitely a lantern hanging from the wall and behind it, a pack of matches. Edgar couldn’t believe his luck.
He took the lantern from the wall and lit it with a match; He could now see the immense length of the hallway that he had been trying to navigate through. He could now no longer see the stairs that he had come down, only blackness. The same went for the other side of Edgar, it was just yellow stone for what could’ve been miles.
In front of him was the large wooden door that had a medieval lock on it that looked like it would be a challenge to break. Edgar was a man of many protean talents, but a patient lockpicker he was not. He wasn’t even sure if this was the wine cellar, and furthermore, still wasn’t completely invested in the idea of even remaining down here anymore anyways. Still, he had to guess that this was, in fact, the wine room and that he had come all this way and shouldn’t let a door stand in the way of his prize. So he picked up a loose brick and beat the lock until it crumpled and slid off the door. Suddenly, the door became creakily ajar and, a malodorous stench, the putridity had never been matched in Edgar’s personal experience, assaulted him. He lurched through the doorframe, while struggling not to vomit from the rank fumes.
He was then made aware that he was standing in a puddle of something, and it was thick. Thicker than water. Edgar composed himself just enough to also make out the faint smell of wine. Wine that had gone bad what seemed like centuries ago. He held his lantern up and saw nothing in his eyeline, however he felt something gently graze his left leg. Edgar wanted to turn and sprint back down the hellish passage, but he instead turned the lantern to his feet. He screamed and knelt down.
Below him floated the rotting carcass of a horse. Its throat had been cut to the edge of decapitation and the wound was now filled with wine and larvae. Something bumped into his right thigh. He spun to see another equine corpse softly floating through the river of wine and blood. Edgar extended the lantern to the farthest point he could to reveal the entire room was a grotesque collage of the bodies and the burgundy mix. He turned to face the doorway but another body had drifted in front of him. Except this one was different. Edgar could see the creature’s bulging eye twitching fervently, it was still alive. Its body was slowly and painfully heaving and blood was still pouring out into the community collection. He bent down to touch the poor thing and as soon as his hand graced the animal, it let out a horrible and terrifying noise. Edgar was sure this was the sound of a soul’s death and the effort it took to make the noise caused blood to launch onto Edgar from the aperture in its neck.
Edgar launched into an adrenaline fueled run out of the room, but he tripped and fell head first into the vile river. He quickly got up and began in the direction that he had to only assume led back to the steps. He could feel the bloody mess on the bottom of his trousers slapping his ankles as he ran and he was gagging from his own stink. He ran and ran until he was sure he would’ve been going up the stairs had he gone in the right direction. He had clearly made a mistake so he stopped to renegotiate his bearings. Suddenly, he heard the sounds of other footsteps heading towards him. Relieved he began to shout at the footsteps, no doubt Willem and Klaus coming to find him and prepare his departure, his location. The closer the steps got, the more it became apparent that it was much more than just the two men coming to him. Edgar then heard an equal number of steps coming from his other direction and an ominous feeling swept over him. He couldn’t run and the steps were seconds away from being upon him. He kneeled on the ground and waited.
They found him. He could hear them breathing, slow and steady. He could feel one lean down and breath slowly into his ear. He smelled Willem’s cologne.
“Alright, Edgar, time to go,” Willem said, calmly. “Help him up, guys.”
Edgar was shaking and couldn’t form a single word, even if he wanted to. He felt two hands grab his underarms and hoist him to his quivering feet. They helped him start walking and finally let go and let him walk with them independently.
“Why do I have dead horses floating in my wine cellar?” Willem interrupted. “ I’ll put it this way, Edgar, you’re down here because you let your feral cravings get the better of you and now you’ve seen that sometimes the same happens to me. But neither of us would be considered uncivilized people, right? We are both honorable men, we just go a little wild sometimes. The sins of our fathers really do percolate, I suppose. I’m sorry, Edgar.”
The envoy arrived at the foot of the stairs and Willem turned Edgar to face him. “Klaus has your bags packed and loaded into the carriage. Please write me on the progress of our book. I thank you many times over for your work this year. And don’t let tonight taint your memory of this.”
Edgar shook Willem’s hand and turned to walk up the stairs; Willem did not follow. At the top was Klaus who shuffled the still-shaking Edgar into the lobby and out into the yard where the carriage was waiting.
“Mr. Kavinsky, I’ll have you back in town in a few short hours. Dr. Willem thanks you for your service and I want to personally thank you for your kindness to me, sir,” Klaus said, smiling.
Edgar cleared his throat, “If I were you, Klaus, I would never come back here again. Never return.” Klaus looked confused, but Edgar just hopped into the carriage and soon was headed back home. Below him he heard the familiar sounds of sloshing liquid and he pulled the half full bottle of Absinthe from below the seat. Edgar must’ve been the only guest Willem had that liked the stuff, because this was definitely the same bottle as before. He didn’t care; he drank the whole damn thing and, for the first time ever, fell asleep in the carriage.
Edgar awoke in a most uncomfortable position. His neck was killing him and he couldn’t see anything. He moved his hands to try and wipe his eyes, but they hit some sort of metal obstacle on the way. He moved his hands along the obstacle and felt that it also made up the floor of what he was now laying in. This was wrong.
His head was stuck in something, something that felt like a stock. He could make out whispers just ahead of him.
“He’s awake, doctor,” a foreign voice called.
Those gliding footsteps that Edgar had come to know so well, echoed in his ear and soon he once again smelled Dr. Johannes Willem in front of his trapped face. He heard a clap and torches began being lit by his robed captors. When his eyes adjusted, Edgar screamed and began to push and hit the smooth metal he was encased in. Willem was kneeling in front of him and Edgar could see that Willem’s face was covered with a thick black paint and his eyes shone a bright yellow. The other men that stood in a semicircle behind him all had different colors, one of them Edgar instantly recognized as Klaus. Edgar stopped shaking his head for enough time to look to his left and to his right and see that his cage was actually a giant metal bull. Edgar began to scream louder than he thought humanly possible.
“Edgar! Edgar! That is enough. Stop that nonsense,” Willem said, slapping Edgar in the face.
“What are you doing, you goddamn lunatic!? You’re going to burn me?” Edgar yelled.
“I hope you liked the Absinthe, it makes this a little more fun,” Willem said and he smiled big. Edgar could see that Willem’s teeth all had been whittled into a demonic point, no doubt a hallucinogenic side-effect. Edgar pissed himself and began to sob.
“This is pathetic, Edgar. Bring the crown,” Willem commanded Klaus. Klaus disappeared for a short time and then returned with a severed head of a horse. Despite extreme protest, Klaus placed the bloody thing onto Edgar and with that, the last of his humanity was violently revoked.
“Give me a torch,” Willem said.
“For the love of God, please don’t do this,” Edgar pleaded, unacknowledged.
“I really do thank you for your service, the book will be wonderful, Edgar.”
Edgar heard the torch being dropped, followed by the repeated sound of people approaching and contributing their lot to the pyre beneath Edgar’s bovine tomb.
Edgar could feel the heat immediately and began to sweat so much that the horse head began to slide frenetically on his head. His limbs became an enemy, the more he flailed to battle the rising heat, the faster he would swelter. Blisters formed first in the less ventilated areas like the underside of his feet and his armpits, but soon they polluted every aspect of his body. Fear and pain collided into a force that few humans will ever experience or even come close to experiencing. Any nightmare that Edgar’s depraved mind could conjure seemed like a paradise in comparison to the hellish torment inflicted upon him now.
But to his captors and executioners, the sight was a thing of god-like beauty. The way he violently jerked left to right as though he was attempting some sort of dance; it nearly brought Willem to tears.
Edgar felt himself start to slip and the blisters began to burst under the heated pressure of the brazen oven. He let out one final fright filled anguishing exclamation into the popping arteries of the horse. Oh, how he howled. And then he surrendered and sank.
“Dammit. Dammit. His levels are good, but still not what we need,” the man in the white lab coat angrily sputtered before returning to his clipboard.
The young, attractive nurse looked at her own papers and checked the application one more time:
Name: Edgar M. Kavinsky
Occupation: Currently Unemployed
Reason for Participation: Fiscal gain
Likes: Opera, Poe, Brando, The Cure
Problems: Severe reliance on alcoholism, isolation, arrogance, strict time adherence
Preferences: Strong narrative with lots of detail, intellectual stimulation, visceral pain, darkness, friendship, European setting, gothic architecture
Needed Results: 87 or above
She filled in an ‘80’ in the blank and gave the paper to the doctor.
“He’s so close, Sandra, so close. We can’t keep spending our entire budget on this one guy, so bump up the darkness and make that last longer. Also, let’s bump the hallucinogenic effect on the end, the more out there, the more likely we will get those 7 points we need. If he fails after that, then we’ll have to excuse him.”
“Yes, doctor,” Sandra responded, but the doctor had already moved onto the next subject. Sandra took a glance around at all the men and women sunken in their chairs with all the cords and wires going into their bodies. All of them going through their own hells, and responding differently. One bald man at the far end of the room was screeching so loudly that a nurse had to apply a gag to keep him under some amount of control. Others were violently twitching or pleading for their lives. Sandra wondered if the paycheck was worth it to her and them. She tried not to get caught up in the morality of what they were doing here, it was just a science to them and she had to think that way too, for her own sake.
She pressed her code into Edgar’s screen but hesitated a moment to look at him. In the week that he had been here, he had grown deep bags in under his eyes and his hair was severely receded.
“Just seven more points, buddy. You can do it,” she gently said to the comatose Edgar. Then she pressed the button that would doom Edgar Kavinsky to retreat back through his own mental tunnel of agony once more.