I met him on an average day. The machine was stuck halfway in a rock, as might have happened to that “Time Traveler,” who also didn’t return, like me…
Fortunately one half of the machine stayed out of the rock, so I was able to open the hatch and exit. Luck? Sometimes I think – if I think of it at all – that it would have been better if I hadn’t woken up again at the end of the journey. The situation was hopeless, even if initially I couldn’t imagine just how hopeless. As I eyed my surroundings I thought – as I usually did based stories I have read – that a third, devastating world war must have occurred; my first response was to try to restart the machine and scram. “In a thousand years,” I told myself, “Mankind would have had enough time to destroy Earth a hundred times over.” It didn’t occur to me that the journey could have displaced me spatially, too, that I was more than one thousand kilometres east of home. “One kilometre per year…or even more, after a few more rounds?” I would ask myself a little later as I tried to compute the landing spot of my return, assuming that I would be able to activate the machine again – a last, naive bit of hope considering the solution Braulifemo would be offering to me.
The place was bleak and stony and abutted a forest. At first I didn’t dare to walk away for fear of losing sight of the machine, of getting lost and not being able to find my way back (although I thought of trying the trick Hansel and Gretel used, without making the same mistakes, of course). But then suddenly I saw a knight trotting by – yes, seriously, hard to believe, with armor and helmet and lance and everything you’d know from films, books and museums! – and I decided I’d rather head for cover between the trees.
“Only missing a dragon now!” I thought. Being totally rattled I tried for a reassuring explanation: They are shooting a film, yes, even in the future there will be period films or more precisely, prehistory films… and I started to giggle nervously. But doubts remained, and instead of following the knight I let him pass and went back to the machine to check which date of arrival I actually had entered. Blimey: The first digit was missing! I had landed in the 9th century – and the time machine was dead! For the first time I accepted my mother had been right stating that I had been a very intelligent but also a very inattentive and reckless child. Yes, true, Mom: It was indeed extremely risky to put myself into the machine and start it in the direction of the future, because I absolutely wanted to go there without trying it with a guinea pig first. And in spite of it all: It’s good that I wasn’t able to continue like that “Time Traveler…” In my case I would have landed between Neanderthals and mammoths!
Suddenly – and that gave me the next shock – he emerged from the forest. Draped in a tattered black burnoose that might have been popular in this epoch, his countenance hidden beneath a huge black cowl, prompting me to follow him, in a language that sounded vaguely Italian. And since I was confident of being able to take this gaunt guy if he gave me any trouble, I followed him to his hut. Along the way, he introduced himself as Braulifemo…I think. Perhaps he introduced himself at a different time. Perhaps it was a different name. Memory comes to me now only with great effort.
Again his ghostly apparition appears before me, I see his shadow dancing while he is stirring the concoction he has started without wasting time and brought to the boil in a kettle. I remember that he babbled nonstop, completely meaningless stuff probably, but at that time I didn’t care because I clung to him as the only hope to get back to my own time or even being able to continue the desired journey into the future; this time I would program the machine very carefully so I would jump more than two thousand years forward!
“Here, for you!” Again I hear his Piedmontese gibberish – I understood enough of his dialect for rudimentary communications although I couldn’t follow all that he was saying – from which nothing and no one could dissuade him. “Consider it medicine…” I thought I heard him say.
“And if the old guy is crazy?” I asked myself. “I’d rather he’d get me a few tools and return me to my machine, I could at least try…” This I wanted to tell him…maybe I did say it. But once he’d put that idea into my head – to hell with it! – in the end I gave in to temptation. I probably imagined becoming an eye-witness to one of the biggest secrets of this magical and long gone world in this way and, without really believing in it, I’ve talked myself into playing the role of hero in this miracle. The old guy might be crazy, but my mind tells me I have nothing to lose trying…
Well, what he promised so grandiosely seduced me. I haven’t overcome my infantile fantasies of immortality, you see. Admittedly they had been lulled by scientific rationality which had been inculcated in me, but because of that woeful accident they were celebrating a complete return to power. The course of the process in which childish incantations were relieved by technology was reverting. Technology promised the realization of a childhood dream to me: Access to the entire future. But science tricked me with the simplest of all arithmetic operations. A simple digit blunder was enough to send me in the opposite direction, into the past – and finally, in this ignorant, daunting past – technology had less significance than the fable and was – compared to the simmering, tangible broth – an unalloyed chimera.
Anyway, thanks to my time machine the world had changed…
More and more I felt like a character out of one of those fantasy films which I had loved so much as a child, with Braulifemo in the role of Wizard of Oz or Merlin. Oh, yes! Over there in that kettle over the wood fire, in which something was boiling and bubbling, those fantasies were reborn more than a thousand years before their actual creation and invitingly held out their hand to carry me off along a wondrous yellow brick road. The only road, as Braulifemo didn’t tire of emphasizing, while steadily stirring his broth.
“Thanks to this magic broth you will be able to return to the epoch from which you allegedly came. At the end of a thousand years – or how many they may be – you might alight there again. You have to live through one year after the other, like any normal mortal; in exchange, death can neither harm your soul nor your life, at least if you avoid accidents and stay clear of human malice.
And now help me and hand me the jar with the chicken feet, over there, to your left.”
“Immortality? Are you serious, Sir?” I asked the shadow.
And Braulifemo nodded and nodded and nodded, dream for dream:
“Since this concerns a magic potion which cannot be bottled but needs to be freshly brewed every time, there are no absolute guarantees that it will work as it did on previous occasions, mind you,” he warns me. “But apparently my future colleagues are not totally infallible with their bricolage either… Whatever, I cannot help you in any other way,” he assures me and squints slightly puzzled from beneath his long scraggly hair, with yellow pus in inflamed eyes. “As anyone who has looked into the future like I did knows, in the present age exist no machines like the one that brought you here nor the means to repair it, though the whole world is talking about our magical capabilities. Here, look at the jackdaw in the cage over there, she is already twenty years old and good as new. My best work so far. And obviously it didn’t harm her in any way…”
And so the sorcerer kept babbling, at times in front of the stone wall, then up there and far away, in the sky, with lots of repetition, like an ordinary old dodderer, meanwhile not letting his concoction out of his sight and uttering half completed sentences concerning wooden wheels and pulleys, catapults, assaults, crossbows and boiling oil.
“Howbeit, my son, only by living forever will you be able to return to your time.”
And a little later he discloses his fear of losing the volunteer, who was sent to cross his path by “magical providence”, with a highly unsettling utterance. That is to say, he stammers: “Are you ready?”
“Yes,” I remember saying astonishingly firm, “I am going to take the chance.”
“So, like I said: I cannot foresee all the consequences… What lies ahead of you I cannot isolate from hostile forces that might appear on the scene,” he emphasizes. “You won’t back out, will you? The spell will only work if you believe in it.”
Once again I look over to the jackdaw. She seems to smile at me.
Braulifemo? Alas, what I wanted to ask you: What happened to you other “works?”
Yes, I can see his silhouette over there, like a paper cut against the moonlight, and I know: if I lean forward I will see him floundering away, riding away on his witch’s broom, I think, unattainable, deaf to my whine, hue and cry (And to my warning cry!), and how he vanishes into the clouds which crown the summits.
So I have answered. The steam rises from the kettle, in front of me the fog condenses to an irregular circle, cut up by the light of the moon. The drowsiness of the dream from which I emerged at midnight dissipates around me like the rings of a spherical wave. Who would know for how many nights now Braulifemos’s eyelids send Morse code messages of a smug Frankenstein before dawn.
The wind wafts purring down the mountain and scrapes along the cave’s entrance. Outside the night arches over a rather bustling valley: Sinister, despicable creatures are savaging each other or take off.
He doesn’t answer.
“Braulifemo? Where are you right now?”
Braulifemo? Alas, if I had only asked him if he had tasted it himself, something Dr. Jekyll at least had the guts to do! Bah, he would have claimed eternity wasn’t his concern.
Ha! As I brought the cup to my mouth I had thought of asking him. But then it wasn’t to be expected that it would work. I downed the cup in one gulp. And felt – nothing. “Shouldn’t I feel anything, Braulifemo, like Jekyll? Does something like this really happen without convulsions and seizures?” The sorcerer shrugged his shoulders. He watched me silently, with rapt attention, and the jackdaw copied him.
“And how do I know that I am not waiting in vain?” I finally asked.
He said, probably to reassure me: “Sooner or later one realizes how time goes by. It has taken me a long time to realize the jackdaw really aged…and still survived one winter after another.”
It was getting late and we lied down, but I couldn’t sleep. Six times I stood up that night and six times I stalked the kettle. Finally I filled the cup with the cold concoction and downed it and was waiting in vain for an effect, which is why I allowed myself a second and third helping. Suddenly sleep overwhelmed me. It was broad daylight as I woke up, the sorcerer was gone. Later, on the same day and for the first time since I left home, I looked into a mirror to find out where that itching in my face came from, but the glass was so tarnished that I wasn’t willing to believe what I saw. So I went to a nearby pond to look at my reflection in the water. And from the other side of the transparent and trembling surface a being looked at me which couldn’t be me but at the same time had to be.
Yes, that was you, you devil’s spawn, it was you I saw reflected, you looked at me, with my own horrified eyes you were staring at me from the water!
Oh, it’s enough, I can’t take it anymore! Come on, wake up! Wake up already, damn it! You, me, who cares? Who cares about Braulifemo? Yes, that was I, and you were me, and you got me to feel your fear, like you managed to conjure it up again and again, every night when I woke up panicking! When will you keep quiet?
Oh yes, I remember it precisely! All of a sudden I realized that I would carry eternity around with me forever…Braulifemo realized it before me, back then, as I slept and cried out in my dream and he must have run away in terror when he saw you.
You cannot reproach him for it. Surely you would have liked to flee, too, I know, but you couldn’t do it and you can’t do it even now, as impossible as it is for me to get away from you. I sure would like to! So forget the sorcerer. He is not coming back. He won’t do anything for us. By now he probably is long dead. He should have taken the poor, probably immortal jackdaw with him. Ha! Like a faithful lapdog she would have circled the cadaver of the sorcerer to find out if he was going to return to life.
Your first raw bite, do you remember? Oh please, come on, don’t be so squeamish, something like that isn’t disgusting. That’s the way to survive. And taking revenge, obviously.
Oh, shut up already! At times I feel like making you glad and happy and doing it simply like the other creatures in the valley. They are not thinking and not suffering and don’t get upset if they kill to survive. They don’t remember their nightmares, they don’t know what happened a century ago, nor do they know what will happen in a millennium. In all this they are different from me: I dream, I think and I remember, I look ahead and can hardly bear the shape I’m in. During the day I hunt, at night I toss and turn sleeplessly, or I sleep, tortured by nightmares, and when I wake up I find myself in a dreadful dream world. None of these creatures could I ever call Sigismund…or Samsa. I sometimes think that one of these names would suit me nicely. Sure, I could have had it worse. I could have become a nocturnal predator, forced to hunt those creatures. And sleep during the day. Maybe hanging upside down from the ceiling of some cave. Or in a coffin, like Dracula. Dracula? Samsa? Sigismund? Where do those names stem from, to which world do they belong? The only plausible explanation…
Oh really? Do you believe that?
It’s completely obvious: An individual from the 21st century would never resign himself to being banished to an inhospitable world, not even had he been born there, and undoubtedly he would try to accommodate it to his needs, make it more familiar by designating the circumstances of life he has to endure with names and symbols he would never part with.
“Never”? What meaning does “never” have for the likes of us?
Shut up, damned beast, don’t provoke me! This young man from the 21st century who became lost in the past looks at me like a reflection in which I again find my origin and my purpose, both of which I believed lost. It isn’t apparent to me that a creature of the 11th century would be able to reflect as I can or to tell my story, even if his power of imagination were strong. I don’t believe that madness could ever evoke such mythical and at the same time believable “delusions” either. The Quixote…? Come on! It is one thing to make giants out of la Mancha’s windmills, but a time machine is something different altogether. And okay, let’s assume that I’m not a monster of this century, had I really been that young man who made four or five times consecutively a hundred, one hundred and thirty, two hundred years ago the same mistake of filling his cup with Braulifemo’s magic potion? Is it really possible that one hundred years ago I jumped back a complete millennium to conquer eternity, is that possible? And could it be that this millennium which I have yet to complete will end one day, that my goal won’t vanish into thin air, won’t evaporate like my daydreams but that it still exists, solidly, in front of my eyes, to be reached at the end of a long and painful term of punishment? Tedious and painful…? Maybe everlasting…like the task Prometheus was condemned to?
Ha, krah! Claptrap…!
Eventually my daylight predator eyes are getting used to the dimness of the cave. The moonlight accentuates the irregularities of the walls. The surroundings are both familiar and despicable. My sense of smell has become active: How can it be that I can endure the stench of carrion and excrement that dominates my sanctuary – I only notice it every now and then – and still feel human at times? I’m shuddering. I draw closer to the cave’s exit. The fresh night air which wafts down the hills blows the cobwebs away. I pull my knees up to my chest and look forward and at the same time backwards, while mentally trying to climb to the summit I threw myself down from. Once more – like nearly every time I woke up – I see myself surrounded by ghostly apparitions. I don’t know if I am remembering or imagining them, I don’t know which of them ever existed, nor when, nor where. Could we stop this? They seem superimposed one on another, and I can’t tell them apart. Then let it be already! My memories, or what I would call my memories are getting fuzzier all to time. At times, I don’t know exactly when, now for example, I feel delirious. Will you stop it? Every time I look back, if I, like now, wake up in the middle of the night and start rummaging in the past in order to compile and fit everything together that I am able to grasp with the mind, I lose myself in a thicket of contradictions. Only for a few short moments, luckily, because amazingly I still get it sorted: Job done! You really shouldn’t bug me with this nonsense… Now everything makes sense again. It is a phenomenon I am able to understand, that I…still understand. The belief that I came from the future is the glue for all of my reconstructions and my will to endure. To what end? Stop it! This “belief” will get us into a hell of a lot of trouble! Still, I have a problem I only just noticed: Time. The whole count seems to cover no more than twenty years, after that everything belongs to another epoch, another life… The life of somebody else, I’d say… A life showing itself to me by flashing between the settings of my nightmares. The past – the whole past – depicts itself as part of a dream. Dream and nightmare. I know I can’t build on my memories, I know. Then just forget them! I know much more must have happened. That’s the reason why I kept count to prevent my impressions from deceiving me. On a wall. On something solid. With notches. Indelible markings. Maybe the elapsed time strikes me as extremely short because my memory is sketchy. I believe that that time went faster than it goes right now, ten or twenty times as fast, every day, every hour, every minute I spend awake. That time speeds up during sleep, it races during nightmares that transfer me to other epochs, past or future. The same time I experienced during more than twenty years as “present” and which is “now” receding into the “past”, while passing ever more slowly, without hurry and so without taking my needs into consideration, my impatience and the gradual depletion of my endurance. Even dawn is taking its time, it seems on purpose. The creatures of the night are not able like me to wish for something so desperately. For my part, I wish desperately you’d keep your trap shut, by all means! Oh, the beast itself proves it with its superfluous demands! For others, for those who are simply only animals – and each of them less monstrous than I am – day only breaks. They are not longing for it, nor do they fear it; as long as the darkness lasts, they don’t know what is coming to disperse some and wake up others.
The facts which cyclic sequence or instinct cannot explain to them let them get active once more without being surprised or astonished. But I can see from here and earlier than them all the sun which is gradually climbing up the backside of the mountains and rises over their simple world. Even more: I can picture it when it is still dark. Should I be thankful for this superiority which stems from the human being I once was and that still exists somewhere in the subconsciousness of the being I have become? Arrgh! Because I am and always will be a human being. Oh yes: I dream, I think, I remember, I foresee, I count, I conjure all sorts of ghosts, even if I don’t know whether I am doing first this, then that. In my confusion I feel as miserable as…yes… as Samsa…? As…Sigismund…? At other times, again and again, on every single morning, when I determine I have turned into a monster unique in the whole universe, I am horrified (as Sigismund…? as Samsa… ?). There are moments I wish I could forget everything. That would be for the best. Simply forgetting everything, so half of the besetting spectres would perish. But I cannot, the powers that represent humanity inside me won’t let me forget…
Yes, more than one hundred and thirty years must have passed since I settled here, halfway between north and south, whereas I go south whenever winter approaches. Though there must have been a castle, earlier, I think that wasn’t only a dream… There, I could see myself wholly, half human, half bird, and every day it scared me anew. I prefer the nights, but I didn’t sleep. I counted the notches I had scratched onto the crumbled wall, next to which a sad lily grew, of which I took care. I counted markings and wondered if the lily wouldn’t flower again soon, because as soon as the first bud opened I knew a year had passed and I would scratch another notch onto the wall. They were my clock and my calendar. Not a chance for more hope. No need to wait for a visit from a fair maiden who would be willing to lift the spell. We never ate anything more delicious than the gazelles that had been served to us then. Had the castle, the prince, even the wall and the lily been nothing more than a web of deceit, conjured by my old mind which yearns all those bugaboos, including Braulifemo? In my, let’s say, more than one hundred year old mind, which in….nine hundred years will take form again?
No, I cannot trust my memories. And no, it is not possible to count the years. Why should it bother you, you miserable beast? But for me it is still important. In fact I don’t know why I doubt. I don’t know how the doubts came to be, completely without meaning; at the most maybe from my dreams, fantasies or premonitions, from the madness that drives me, or from thoughts alien to me and which gang up on me for reasons I can’t discern. The mess whacks me in such moments. The one hundred and thirty notches I believed to have counted in a castle ruin (maybe there are another one hundred and thirty years, maybe more, of the life of somebody else…?) – suddenly it seems as if I had counted them tonight, in the darkness of the cave. But even if my present state hadn’t lasted any longer than a century, the occurrences would seem unlikely and wrong. I am not going to verify! The notches simply must be there, on the wall, back in the cave. Go, then! Go check! Go already and you’ll see there is nothing there, absolutely nothing! In any case, I know that I am in the mountains and that the Southern Cross shines in the sky. I can see it. We see it. The markings have little or nothing to tell me, even if I counted up all the notches in the rock again. They could be able to confuse me, especially since it is possible that not every notch signifies exactly one year. Because how can I be sure that my treacherous memory didn’t mislead me to notch twice, or maybe the lily didn’t bloom one spring and that I in case of doubt…? Even at this moment, I am not sure if I made a notch for the new season that just started here in the south. To be sure I had counted it, a certainty I so badly need, I would be able to make the notch again. How often had something like this occurred? Or had I been in better mental shape at the castle…? Kuarrrk! Whatever, to measure time is the only thing that excites me. I desperately need to know how long it will still take until the banishment is broken. Feeling desperate, I walk to the exit of the cave and stare intensely into the distance, into the cloudless sky, where the stars start to fade. At least I am familiar with this sky. There are still no machines in the sky, and that means a lot, a lot of time still has to pass. It wouldn’t be wrong to estimate eight hundred or even eight hundred and seventy years. But I needn’t become impatient. It was obvious from the start the wait would be long one.
The moonlight suddenly paints the pointy hat of sorcerer Braulifemo on a snow-covered mountain.
There he is, much like I guessed, up there, stirring his kettle with the bubbling broth. The picture charms me and again I relive the nightmare which woke me up. I know this already…
Braulifemo? The bewitched comes to in a castle and asks the sorcerer whom he has to thank for the curse for help. Did he escape beforehand, didn’t he accompany us in the first place? The wary ear registers noises which are for the first time in its hearing range. The frightened man scurries to the broken window and stares into the dark, when the glowing edges of a giant scissor open up. To cut off his neck? A bad dream? Dozens of torches flare out of the dark night. They are closing in along the sides of the mountain and the breeze blows along exited murmuring and the smell of burning. The crowd pauses. The defiant silence of the castle where they are headed keeps them at a distance. In there, exactly there, sits the monster they all came for, and in their fear they see his outline between the battlements, then again in one of the collapsed window bays. Breathing gets harder, inside as well as outside. Some are gesturing, some hesitating, and those in the first row literally are getting shoved along.
“Didn’t take them long to track me down,” the monster said to itself, and its anxiety grows. It doesn’t consider its escape much: instinct takes over and advises the best dodge of all: Bide your time until the circumstances show the right way out, then trustingly go slapdash but unerringly. A long time ago, the creature felt the instinctive urge to fly south like all the other birds. And instinct wins in this cold winter’s night, as terror descends. Torches are yanked up. In a bout of fear, the beast takes a wrong step. “There, there!” the mob chants as they locate the sound. The underground passage leads backward into open country. It can still work, the beast encourages itself, already running, running away, from humans and the winter through the undergrowth.
I did it!
When the creature reaches the top of the first hill panting and covered in scratches, it turns around for a single look back: The castle burns fiercely…they didn’t dare to search for the beast.
An orange-yellow-red colored spark spits over the edge of the black summit as a rose-colored fan opens in the sky. The flames which had licked at the edges of his ruminations extinguish the stars at the same time. “Move it, the sun will be up soon!” Had this dislodged and badgered monster ever been me? Where are the castle’s charred ruins, and how long ago did it all happen? Braulifemos’ witch’s hat again turns into the black rock of the mountain: Is all of this correct? Did he even wear such a thing? Maybe I imagined those stories. The day dawns. That’ll do for the ghosts, the nightmares, the memories… I’m hungry, brutishly so. At the end maybe we, the beast and I, came into the world as one single entity, one of those medieval monsters with a little bit of consciousness…
Still, I am not leaving the cave: There is something behind me, I can feel it precisely, something that is trembling and shaking. I turn around. What stopped me turns out to be a huge bird which unfolds his shadow at my feet while flapping his wings. His fear brings it all back: The torches, the fire, the sticks and stones. Fiercely I try to kick the winged shadow away. “For you, everything just happened, you disgusting beast, for me it’s a nightmare,” I scream, and I run towards the abyss. But the shadow reacts quickly and he manages to stop me by digging his nails into my back’s skin where obviously there are no feathers. His mellifluous voice beguiles my mind: All right, all right. It would be best if you’d forget all this. Look, dawn is coming, he talks fast. The valley is waking; soon we will appease our hunger. Damn it, so much time has still to pass. By all means you should wish for me to jump, because it has to. True, you really are hard to stand.” His thoughts are all too human. Alas, it is such a shame that you stayed human, as you do not tire to repeat every day. A human despite everything, who thinks, certainly, who remembers, who counts… and who instills terror in me with those old stories. On the other hand, you idiot, why are you accusing me of this? You know, we could have done worse. Yes, I witnessed what happened last night, we could have become bats or Dracula… Excuse me for not being in the mood to appreciate the joke properly. Maybe, if Mylord allows, after breakfast… You want me to forget, to stop thinking, that I spare you my doubts, my ruminations, my monologue, but you prevent me from throwing myself into the void… Of course you want to continue hunting, eating, even if it is this disgusting stuff… But even you are carrying ghosts with you and you are dreaming of them, even if you are awake. You are helping me? Shut up – you are driving me mad! Me driving you mad? On the contrary, aren’t you trying your worst to get rid of me? Oh, I need to write this down, I must preserve this. Rein in your appetite, the sun just rose, let me search for my diary. My diary, of course…I haven’t written anything for a long time now. My diary will contain how much time I spend with it while inhabiting their bodies. So I am searching for it. Search, go for it! Where have I left my diary? I have to find it. I search through the bundle I brought back with me during that winter in the north. Come on! It should contain everything about Braulifemo, I have searched the whole cave for it, hell and damnation, everything is noted down there about the castle ruins, the notches, the scorn, the threats, the fire… But it is nowhere to be found, damned beast, no trace of it, have you destroyed it when I wasn’t looking for a moment? Have you… eaten it? Alas, and the story with the wedged machine should be in there, too…”
Dawn breaks. Cowering, face buried in half opened hands as protection against the horizon and the void, I tried in vain to remember what happened to my chronicle, records of one or another time, times actually experienced, dreamt up, imagined, divined times, however, they are all buzzing around in my head, and meanwhile the light of the unstoppably rising sun makes the plumage on my head shine and falls through my human fingers into my eyes, which are reddened by helpless anger.
That helpless anger is my due. I provided myself with the bare necessities: skins, ink, feathers. Enough material to pass a whole millennium writing. Then I sat down at the table, which I remembered as being huge, and stared at the yellow pages for hours, trying to give a short summary of the latest incidents: The accident, Braulifemos’ appearance, bewitchment and escape, nightly raids on farmsteads and monasteries, the doubts about the true character of those events. This mental rehashing, time after time, in front of an empty sheet, did what seems to be so important to me ever have any relevance? Would anyone read it or not? If they did, would my intentions be understood? All the while persuading myself, maybe to encourage myself, that I would have to continue, that I am to never give up, because it would be enough to have written it anyway and to read it again, if only for providing me with a sweet death, a death that would close with everything, a justification of finally being able to die… Or – and why not? – to keep me sane until the sky brings forth machines.
Did the first one, two years, certainly not more, pass like that? Did I already get accustomed to immortality? Did I start believing that I will live forever, if I only take care of myself, if I defend myself? Is that the reason why I backed away from the idea writing constitutes some kind of right to exist in this world? Or did I stop only because I was missing the right place and means? I still remember my concerns in the face of the first virginal sheet, or at least I imagine it like this: How I yearned for finally being able to start, so I could describe everything extremely shrewdly, while keeping the worst secrets for later; how I’d polish my style and would search for suitable words, how I’d brood about syntax and the best sound, and again emotions welled up inside me that conspire to push me into the arms of a fast and evil death. Something cajoles me to snap the feather, to spill the ink on the parchments, to push away the table, to knock it over, to run away and lose myself in cruel hunting adventures in the near wastelands, to kill and to careen, to destroy and to sleep, to guard, to survive, to infuriate the people against me…always at full risk, so the adventure would come to an end, so I could exit the stage. Yes, of course! Of course!
I believe that I came to many days later, far away from that sanctuary I had left and where I would never return. But if it had happened like this, whose fire awakened me this morning? About which books am I driveling, about which diary? Would my story be one of those stories which are told by someone and warmed up again by a third party? It wouldn’t surprise me much, since it seems to me that all of this has been written by somebody who wasn’t me, someone I have never even been. A future legacy which…I wouldn’t be astonished if this story about that time in the mountains morphed into a different, similar story which I would someday experience as just another opaque and mutilated dream…and which I would forget, like maybe I have forgotten others already.
I think that Braulifemo already expressed it that night, I think he said: “Your wish is dangerous. The human being is neither prepared to live forever nor is he prepared to die someday.” It doesn’t matter, Braulifemo. Do I have any other option than going back? It had to happen this way. At that point anything seemed better than dying in the Middle Ages. At some later point, I couldn’t remember anymore how often in all these years I had wished for a quick death. There had been moments in which I wasn’t able to think anymore, to reconstruct myself bit by bit and to recompose the essence, goal and purpose of my life again and again from beginnings which to me seemed increasingly uncertain, dissatisfied, unreliable. I could never remember all the details of all the abysses into which I threw myself full of despair, but on my return I always had the feeling I had left something behind forever, lost something, forgot something, something I might substitute in time with a fictitious incident. It was only logical that I should end up mad, a death on which the beast bet from the beginning, since it would free the beast from all human accoutrements. Oh, how clever you are, to hell with you! Should I allow it? That’s the question. Maybe I should even support the beast passively? If it only was that easy: It is not within my power to renounce human existence. On the other hand, the beast isn’t allowed to let up, has to work towards it: It takes the feather from me, destroys my papers, overwrites my markings to keep me from all human activity. Bah, I’m not doing anything! Now I can only write in my thoughts, and even that it can hardly abide. He keeps me from documenting my actions, confuses me and would neither allow for me to remember my past nor for me to gain a more precise concept of the time that has already passed and the time that still has to pass. The beast doesn’t care for eternity, ignorance and duration means nothing to it… Clever Dick! What would I gain upon your death, as helpful as you are to me, with all your calculations when we hunt…
Oh, I don’t even know anymore which one of us is dreaming.
Enough, that’ll do! The sun is already high up in the sky. The valley has long since awakened! You fooled away enough time writing. The emptiness of your soul only enlarges the emptiness of your stomach. You see, I can be poetic, too. Let the beast out, for your own good. Don’t allow yourself to become confused, trust the senses, they won’t deceive, and sleep within me. Take care: Could it be that your ear deceives you if it hears the scream rising from my throat? That your tongue deceives you whenever you taste fresh blood and raw pieces of meat between the teeth? That your sense of touch deceives you, if you touch my face and your hands grab feathers and beak? Enough! I throw myself down into the valley, alone, completely alone…
Aaah! I watch the amount of lust with which you are gliding down the mountain and descending on small helpless creatures who flee in terror whenever you are visiting me upon them! Once more my senses let me experience my present existence in all its glory. Finally! Later the hangover asserts itself. Yes, he overwhelms you, meanwhile the human inside you defiantly takes the chance to possess your nightmares. Nevertheless: Oh, with delight I determine that you savoured the fun of killing for survival’s sake and are now digesting blood and guts. In a way that is human, too.
Sleep now. While you are dozing, I will be awake to take you far away from here. Look! Look, I say! Kindly listen! This is a city, brightly lit, and over there in the gardens hundreds of lights are moving. Look, over there behind the trees, in the forest glade. Curiosity spurs me on, let’s go! Let’s go, I say!
A huge, spruced up esplanade! Surrounded by large buildings, framed by streets and avenues on which the shine of the lanterns jitters like on canals full of raging water. In the distance machines on wheels glide along the lanes and other more peculiar vehicles. Occasionally flying machines draw their glowing, at times blinking tracks along the night sky. Thousands of lights glare at me. Shrill music as liked by drunks and minstrels suggests a lively celebration (it seems the whole area down there is celebrating some important holiday). The crowd swarms a park which reminds me of home. Groups are forming, people walk about, in pairs, alone, you meet and drift apart again. Thousands of men and women, like you wouldn’t know even from great open battles, outfitted with antlers, muzzles, beaks, fangs and mustaches. I mingle with the crowd without anyone taking offence at my tragic appearance. Suddenly a tower clock begins to chime, twelve measured chimes are sounded. “Congratulations!” I hear, and “Best wishes!” And I observe the revellers hugging each other eagerly and kissing, like human beings who fear that they might not finish before the last note fades away. And suddenly one after the other strip the skin from their faces and remove antlers and long ears from their heads, as if there was nothing to it. It doesn’t take long until they focus on me, standing around bewildered and not moving. “You can take off your mask now, the party is over,” they say. “It is cool, looks very vibrant… Don’t you think so, too, girls?” “Come on, take it off!” a woman shouts close to me, “You surely are a handsome guy.” The impatience is growing. And so I guide my hands to my face though I know that they are mistaken, because I cannot remember ever hiding my true appearance behind a mask. Even as I touch bristly feathers and a curved beak I am still thinking this. Completely confused I try to take off the mask, and in this moment realization hits me. “One moment, friends!” I call to them, and a wave of euphoria grabs me. “This means I am back, this all really happened and the waiting wasn’t in vain…!” And I start to tell them what happened during one millennium which started exactly here, just before the end of the century which they just saw off. “This is no costume like yours, but please, don’t be scared, I am still human and have always been.” I begin. I want to tell them the story which I started to write down on those parchments and continued in my head, so I wouldn’t forget it, interrupting myself at times to repeat again and again: “I am back, back in my own time, after thousands of days and thousands of woes! I only need a little help… those feathers and this beak here are not a mask but a spell…don’t you get it? Don’t you believe me? Only instants ago I was sleeping on an open field, lived in the mountains. I thought I was dreaming and didn’t realize that I had finally made it through all of that damned foretold time…”
Around me resounding laughter bubbled up, resonating to the alley, the boulevards, the buildings, up to the sky. That woman stretched out her hands mischievously, grabs my feathers with her claws and manages to pluck out some tufts. We both scream. The chaos is spreading. Others are daring as well and grab and tug at my plumage, others are trying to tear off my beak. Nobody hears my screams of agony, my panicked cawing is drowned out in the tumult. They are killing me and not even noticing it!
Psst! Are we alone? Then it was probably the same nightmare again from which I wake up after each of your nauseating meals. Simply abysmal! One of these days my heart will stop from this. Are you trying to dissuade me from my plans this way, are you trying to convey your fear to me? Quiet! I can smell the human and his cooked meal. Close! Careful! Night is falling!
A power I remember from similar occasions draws me south, away from the night, the cold, the winter, the winter… Instinct advises me to seek the cover of the mountains. I’ll have to get back there, because… Did I come down from there? One of these days I’ll get lost, it seems to have happened to me before… Maybe it is unavoidable, as much as instinct might be guiding me. I shudder. The human is quite close! I see fire and rocks, feel blood on my feathers again… flames flicker behind torn curtains. Away from here, quickly! Books and parchments are burning. The human is very close now, yes, of course, cut and run! Animals are milling around and are celebrating some mad carnival, they donned human masks. They surround the bewitched prince and want to tear off his face, they accuse him of having an improper mask. They are wearing him out. Let’s flee! Let’s move away from here! South, like the other birds, until it is summer again! Let them have the castle – what do we care about it? – complete with the books, the parchments, the ink, the diary, complete with the wall with its one hundred and thirty notches and a… a flowerpot with a lily, complete with…the bed and the canopy.
What’s to do when nothing is left? They made the beast flee. They managed to chase it away from the ever growing range of influence of humans. But I know the day will come when the sky will populate with machines and the universe with rockets. What counts is life. Eternity hasn’t exhausted itself yet. The end of the period in which I am trapped hasn’t come yet. It will take a while until machines in the sky will herald the approach of my last and final death. Alas, Braulifemo…!
That’s enough, stop babbling like an idiot and staring at the sky. Do you think I slavishly cling to life? I don’t care. About that, what are you afraid of, by the way? After all, the illusion that keeps you alive presents the greatest danger: One day our pursuers will develop those machines, which you wish so desperately to see plowing through the sky. It will be the same people, the grandchildren of their grandchildren! And I am the prey they are hunting: the abominable you have to hold down. Arrrrgh! Come! Follow me! I know how to escape and how to hide… I will keep us alive during the time of your magic spell and beyond, I and I alone will take care that you will reach the foretold goal: to weather those thousand years! To defeat your own kind! But don’t linger, don’t hesitate, don’t think, just go!