Entschuldigung

The sun had only just set when I arrived, so a faint air of warmth still lingered which I found comforting. I continually circled the perimeter of the dilapidated building hunting for an entry-point as the air adjusted to the time of day. The only door was bolted firmly shut so I was left with 2 possibilities, a small hole, and a smashed window. The hole was going to be a tight fit at best but the window was too high up to reach. Using the erratic clouded-moonlight as night vision, I crouched down and scoped out the greying room. It was actively unwelcoming, even the wallpaper seemed to be desperately trying to escape its fate.

I wasn’t sure if I would be able to squeeze through... Although I knew it was irrational, and that any sane person would’ve gone home and moved on with their life at this point; I felt compelled to lie down in the damp dirt, dislodge a couple of loose bricks and attempt to unlawfully enter this soulless mistress. I decided I was most likely to succeed by stretching my arms out in front of me, as if about to dive. Instead of being coddled by refreshing water, my arms dislodged dust making me choke as my head entered the room. My shoulders were causing me a bit of trouble but I seemed to be overcoming their defiance by wiggling… it was at that point I heard footsteps. I didn’t expect this as although the house was on the waterfront, it was difficult to access. I could feel my already pounding chest now punching the earth. I tried to speed up my entry, but realised I was making more noise. This panicked me more and my actions became increasingly frantic as the footsteps grew louder. Luckily I was slight, meaning my hips were the only remaining obstacle. Of course I was unable to turn around to see how close the footsteps had gotten; I was blind, frenzied but determined. I could feel the coarse edge of a brick enter my left leg and scrape downwards as I pushed with my feet. I was in. Panting heavily I sat to the right of the hole, legs pressed to my chest. I could hear that the entity was approaching the wall and wondered if my flailing had left an obvious mark. I tried to stifle my gasps for air as it approached. I watched the shadow of a figure lean down and look through the hole. With nothing more than the very audible noise of my frenzied breath penetrating the complete still and silence, the shadow lingered next to me. After what couldn’t have been even 20 seconds, (but felt like minutes,) it stiffened and walked away, continuing its journey around the perimeter. As I sat there in the damp trying to compose myself, I wondered how this had become my life. I recalled how just a few weeks ago I was enveloped in the comforting arms of the old oak who’d sheltered my ancestors for generations. My body warmed by the fleeting Kent sun and faintly caressed by the thistle seeds caught in a light gust of wind. I’d been attempting to write my dissertation, but was distracted by Mother Nature’s activities in the valley below as she prepared for the change in seasons. It was probably the blood I was losing from my leg that caused me to slip into my past life, so I clenched my fists allowing adrenalin to clear my head and focus my thoughts.

***

Initially I went to the river to read. It was the serenity that drew me in; the faint echoes of water dancing downstream blanketed me, provided a distant comfort. Every evening after lectures I’d return to the same spot without fail, I did this as a feeble attempt to claw back a morsel of the routine and familiarity I’d lost in my journey to this alien land. You see I had fled with my family to Berlin a few months prior and although I knew the move was necessary, my mind refused to adjust. It had also dug my family’s deep-rooted problems to the surface, where they caused more harm than any physical threat could. This shadowed autumn tale is born from my longing to escape from this... no, it’s deeper than that; my longing for the comfort and security that I’d never truly known.

I was the only one in sight that evening as the frost had crept in early and the wind had grown especially bitter. My coat fulfilled it’s purpose and I was far too engrossed in the murder-mystery I was devouring for the cold to claim any sort of ownership of me. I was lost in a world more interesting but something tore me away, caught my eye; a flicker. I looked up and saw nothing. I noticed the reflection of the crescent moon and twinkling stars duelling each other on the inky water so thought nothing of it and continued reading. 10 or so minutes later the same thing happened again, this time I didn’t look back down. I stared at the derelict house that sat across the river, trying not to blink. I was successful until a dry gust hit me face on. When I opened my eyes I saw it, and it was moving. My eyes were wet so it was hard to be sure, but it appeared to be emanating from a lantern… I involuntarily blinked again as the cold air fused with the water, and it was gone. I got up and walked closer to the house, trying to study it in the dark. There were a few street lights in the area but I’d yet to see them lit, I supposed it was due to the area primarily being an industrial, not a residential area. I’d seen the out-of-place dilapidated house numerous times in the day and tried to match the picture in my head with the silhouette I was now confronted with; I suspected little had changed but it felt entirely different. I remember asking my English-speaking lecturer about it once, strange now to think it had previously stuck in my mind. I thought it odd, lonely even, situated flush between two busy factories, seeming to be free from purpose. She told me that her dad worked in the factory to the left and that the house had always been empty. She knew this because the factory owner wished to expand but the rich antique collector that owned it refused to sell; this angered him as he’d never seen the house occupied. I pondered this story as my eyes flitted back and forth, making sure not to miss anything... everything about the house seemed wrong. A chill travelled the length of my spine, sapping my resolve. I decided to visit the house tomorrow evening.

So that’s what led me to be totally alone in the corner of a foreboding room, caked in mud and bleeding profusely. The building had unknowingly become the apex of my new life; like a parasite slowing feeding on my subconscious until only it exists.

It was a mistake, I didn’t want to be there, I wanted to go home. This of course was not a realistic option with the unknown footsteps circling like a hawk outside, so I sat there, cradling my knees tighter to my chest as the adrenalin dissipated, wondering what to do. After a few minutes I stood up. The pain in my leg was searing but I had a plan and just about enough determination to see it through. I was going to locate the smashed window on the other side and see if I could safely jump down. The room was dark, but there was a shaft of pale light in place of a door, highlighted by dust emanating from the main hallway. I focusing on the light and trying to tread on only the most stable-looking floorboards, I made my way past the forgotten things that littered the sides of the room to the door. When I reached the light I was able to see it’s source, a window at the top of the stairs, which was in almost perfect alignment with the clouded moon. The other rooms leading off the hall were filled with blackness, with only their entrances visible, they seemed secretive, trying to conceal what lay within. It was the unknowing that oozed from this house that scared me. I tried not to think of it and snapped my head back towards the moon as I started to make my way up the uneven, rickety stairs. The light dulled as grey clouds passed maliciously.

I heard something hit the floor downstairs, instead of turning to see what lay behind me, I focused on the task at hand. I wiped my sleeve across the thick layer of dust that sheathed the grand window in an attempt to make out the grounds below but a tree consumed the majority of the view. I could see where I’d sat the night before. My eyes lingered on the spot, mind racing, trying to reach some sort of epiphany but failing, it all felt too surreal. I knew it was pointless putting it off so took a deep breath and turned around. Although dim, the large window lit up a large portion of the hallway. I was surprised to see the kind of ornaments you’d expect from a house of this nature, a grandfather clock, faded pictures of past lives, a large hanging lamp with a moth-eaten shade. Although the house was now souless I could quite clearly picture what it must have looked like in its prime… void of happiness, and more actively oppressive. I wondered what sort of lives the inhabitants could have lead as I made my way to the room with the broken window. It was a small room that lacked the direct influence of moonlight, but as my eyes adjusted I could faintly make out that it was a child’s room. A girl’s room if the collection of antique dolls was anything to go by. I ignored their eyes following me to the window and focused on my sense of hearing. Silence. That was a good sign. Even still I was cautious as I poked my head out the window. The figure was nowhere to be seen. I looked and listened as thoroughly as I could and was as confident as I could be that it was safe to leave. Unfortunately there was no way to scale down, but would now feel safer tackling the hole for a second time. I turned around, again consciously ignoring my surroundings as I made my way back tothe light. As I approached the door I heard a clunk in the room opposite. My heart stopped. It was too pronounced to ignore, it couldn’t just be my mind playing tricks on me. Adrenalin seared through me once again and my heart burst back into life. I knew it would plague me for the rest of my life if I ignored it, so against my better judgement I made my way into the room. It was immediately obvious that it was another bedroom, a large four poster bed sat against a wall in the middle of the room. The other side of the bed, in a shadowed corner was a small table and two chairs, on which sat an antique English tea set. On the chair facing me two beady eyes glinted from beneath a dishevelled mass of long black hair. All rationale left me. I took a step forward and in return she slowly but purposefully took a sip from one of the cups. As I got closer I could see that her thin white gown was heavily tea-stained. The staining continued to the worn doll that sat hopefully on her lap, and to a lesser extent the ones that surrounded her on the floor. It was difficult to tell from her current appearance but I’d guess the girl wasn’t much younger than me. Her eyes stayed focused on the tea pot, unmoving as I reached the table. “Guten abend,” she hissed almost inaudibly. The lantern that I’d not seen hanging on the wall to her right sprang violently into life and everything transformed in the fire. The tea that stained the scene now looked more like blood accompanied by flames danced wildly in the dozens of dead, glassy eyes. Luckily in my state of shock I my body granted me control of my feet, I turned and ran.

***

I don’t know if it was trauma or the human need to rationalise but that night consumed my every thought, both awake and sleeping. That girl, who was she? What was she? She didn’t seem it, but she was human, that much I was sure of; she physically interacted with the world around her. So if she was human how long had she lived like that? Was she feral? Should I try to help her? How did that lantern burst into life… surely the gas system was no longer functional. I could easily continue as these were only a fraction of the questions I tortured myself with. I was left with no choice but to take action before I completely lost grip on my dwindling sanity.

It was a good couple of weeks before I plucked up enough courage to visit that house again. I abandoned my tasks for the day and made my way there as the sun was rising; I expected no one would be around. I climbed the fence and made my way back to the wretched hole that had scarred my leg. There was nothing where it had been. I kicked it to be sure; solid brick. Had I imagined the hole? The brick looked too weathered for it to have been recently repaired. I circled the building, there was no other entrance. I looked up to where the smashed window had been. Sat in its place was a window like the others, thick with dust, the rising sun staining it a deep orange. Even with the reflection I could see something behind the window, I walked a few paces to my right so that the glare was less intense. It was her. She stood staring, fixated on the river. The sun reflected in her dark eyes, she still wore the same stained gown. I shouted up at her, aware that I could be making my illegal presence known to passers-by. There was no way she wouldn’t of heard me but refused to move a muscle. I looked over my shoulder as I heard the noise of the fence shaking, someone was coming for me. I looked back up at her one last time to find she was staring at me with dead-eyed. She looked terrified. She started banging her fists frantically on the window. “Wer ist da?” boomed a deep voice approaching from the fence. I looked back up at her; once again she was staring distantly at the river as if she hadn’t moved at all. Like before, only this time it was out of necessity, I ran.

I went to the train tracks that fateful evening. After discovering a gap in the fence and knowing it was not operational at night, I learnt that I much prefered an uninterrupted walk in the crisp night air to an evening at home. The night was blanketed with a heavy low-lying fog and the air was brisk. I walked along a section of the track that led up a hill, unused for countless years and left to the elements they were broken and rusted. As the moonlight struggled to reach me through the thick foliage that was thriving in the soil between the forgotten planks, I contemplated my sanity. I knew I’d lost the ability to tell the difference between reality and fiction but it had all seemed so real! Then again those are, in part, the words of a madman. How could I stop these delusions, how does one fix afflictions of the mind?

I saw a pale figure sitting on the station platform I was approaching; I knew who it would be and decided for now, to just accept it. She was sitting, feet over the edge, watching the half-moon. She didn’t move an inch as I sat next to her. I stayed there until the cold began to become uncomfortable, but it must have been at least half an hour that I spent soaking in the peace of the silent night with her. I jumped down and began walking back. I was no more than 50 feet away when I heard a noise on the ground by the platform. Without stopping I looked over my shoulder, she was now forlornly walking in the same direction as me. When she saw me looking she looked at the floor. I stopped. She stopped... This was as much as she was willing to give me. I didn’t turn to face her in case she was looking at me. “I’m sorry about before. I wanted to help you.” I received no response. “…Entschuldigung.” I never studied German in England but had picked up a little bit over the last few weeks. “Wie heißen Sie?” I didn’t expect a response at this point, but had nothing to lose by trying. There was a loud noise behind me; I just caught sight of her tumbling down a bank into the fog below, hair dancing wildly. I ran to where she’d been and hastily descended. She was nowhere to be seen. At the bottom of the bank, in the place where she must of landed grew a lily of the valley. I picked it and placed it in my breast pocket, in front of my heart.

I had a dream that evening... a nightmare I suppose as it was void of any positivity. I found myself lost in an underground system of caves or a bunker perhaps. It was pitch black but it had an uncomfortable air of familiarity, it felt like a distant memory, perhaps I'd been here during early childhood. This was not the sort of darkness you experience at the dead of night, this was true blindness. I felt an overwhelming sense of disorientation and desperateness, every breath was heavy, saturated with dampness. I walked around as fast as I could given the circumstances, flailing my arms in an attempt to try and prevent myself bumping into anything. As time passed, panic and a sense of hopelessness grew. I noticed an area of darker blackness ahead of me to the left, a passage... I knew what this meant and instantly spun around. Although very faint, probably emanating from behind a couple of corners, light ruthlessly penetrated the darkness; my eyes were caught off guard and I could feel them watering. It was happening gradually, but the light was definitely growing brighter, a presence was creeping closer,I felt sick. All my instincts told me to run, but I was blind in the darkness. I aimed to stay at the edges of the light but was conscious to stay away from whomever was approaching. I could hear footsteps growing louder and had to abandon my plan. I dived down a side passage. In this motion I thought I saw the flower fall out my jacket pocket. Still running, I looked behind me and saw it on the floor. I would’ve stopped if I hadn’t also seen the same shadow of the entity that had hunted me at the house. The side of my head collided hard with a wall. I blacked out as pain rippled across my skull.

I awoke suddenly, drenched and blinking rapidly as the bright autumn sun coming through my window attacked my eyes, making them water. I could tell it wasn’t early in the day and that I’d missed my classes. It was no longer unusual not to get woken by a family member as they no longer communicated with me unless absolutely necessary. Wide awake I put on the clothes I wore the day previous and headed to the house. It was exactly the same as I found it on that first fateful day, my blood now dried on the fractured bricks. It was easier to navigate in the day, and although I could see more clearly it looked and felt exactly the same; there was only one difference, she was nowhere to be found. Instead, on the table where she once sat stood the lily I’d lost in a dusty vial of water. It instantly stood out, full of life and beauty amongst the forgotten, soiled remnants that surrounded it. I sat there with the flower for a few minutes, keeping the dolls company. I looked out the window, down towards the riverbank as she’d done with me, wondering if I’d see her.

I came back that evening, and the one after that. As far as I was concerned this would continue indefinitely, it’d meshed into my daily routine. I made sure to keep the dolls company, as you would a ill aunt. As time progressed I found myself focusing more on the flower, it was still in perfect form and it was mine. It had been unfairly taken from me. Although I now felt comfortable I the presence of the damaged dolls, I felt their judgement as they watched me take the flower out of the vial and place it back in my breast pocket. I left promptly that day, habit dictated I returned the next.

She looked me in the eyes as she watched me enter her room uninvited. Not breaking her stare, concern was splattered over her face. I knew what she wanted, why she’d come back; she wanted rest. I took the lily out of my breast pocket and placed it on my open palm, as if presenting a lump of sugar to a horse, a sign of harmlessness. Without breaking eye contact she stepped closer and I felt her ice-cold fingers wrap around the flower. As a venus fly-trap would, I closed my hand around hers, she let out a slight noise of discomfort. My hand was rapidly being cooled by hers, it wasn’t comfortable, but comfort wasn’t what I wanted. She had made me into this, she had taken over my life, I was sick of being at her mercy. She yelped silently as I threw her hard onto the bed, dust flying as she hit the moth-eaten duvet. As I coughed she tried to get up, I jumped on top of her, pinning her down. She was face up, but her head was to the side, looking out the window. She wasn’t writhing as I would’ve expected, but she was completely expressionless, void of any humanity. She flinched as my hand brushed her thigh to lift her frock. I unbuttoned my trousers, looked at her to see if she was watching, and entered her. She let out a muted cry of pain as she flopped lifeless. Still pulsing inside her I lifted up her arm, it felt different to before, I let go of it and it made a clunking noise as it hit the side of the bed. I tapped her arm with the back of my fingernail, it was hollow china. Her eyes rolled back a little as I grasped the back of her head and lifted it close to mine. I watched the perfectly full moon reflected in her glass eyes as I rhythmically moved inside her.