Tuesday
Oct062015

Gmunden

David Rice


 

Ulrich is already standing on the porch when the truck pulls up. The journey from the depot must have taken it almost three hours, starting well before dawn, he thinks, thinking this more clearly than any thought about the driver or the cargo or the depot itself, in a part of Austria he's never seen. He's never even seen Vienna. He could ask the driver exactly how long the journey took, but he won't.

He watches as the driver parks, imagining the gravel turning to sand beneath the truck's weight. The driver is behind the truck now, unloading the boxes, straining under some of them but not showing it more than a little. He piles them between the truck and the shed, in the place that Ulrich designated six years ago, when he began ordering this equipment and putting it to use, per his son's instructions.

Ulrich's cup of weak coffee is balanced on the porch railing. Sometimes it falls before the delivery is finished, or just as the truck is pulling out, and breaks in the flowers, but today he does not believe it will. The old materials, from the last young man he hosted, are boxed up in the shed, washed and stacked neatly inside one another. The driver, who's signed a contract binding him to absolute discretion, will bear them away once he's finished unloading the new.

The driver used to wave upon arrival and approach Ulrich with the clipboard to sign, but no longer. Now he keeps his head down, wearing headphones as he unloads, and leaves the invoice on the steps of the porch, which Ulrich signs as the driver is closing up the rear of the truck and locking it. Ulrich puts the signed invoice on the hood and watches as the driver collects it, gets in the cab, and backs out, careful never to hit the mailbox again.

Now all the new boxes are where they always are and the old boxes are gone. Ulrich's coffee cup has not fallen. He finishes what's left in it gratefully, peering up at the sky to check the weather and the approximate time. Then he checks his watch. He has three hours until Hans arrives at the station.

The first box is the heaviest because he picks the heaviest up first. He knows that his best energy is always on the surface, and he only gets more exhausted the more he lifts, so that by the end the lightest box is more taxing than the heaviest was at the beginning.

He carries his coffee cup indoors after having carried in the heaviest box. He stands by the sink watching sparrows fly across his field in the direction of the creek that marks the edge of his property to the south. Then he returns to pick up the second box. This, too, he carries to the proper place. Before attempting the third, he sits in his chair for nearly five minutes, scratching his jaw, accepting that he will no longer have time to shave it.

 

Unshaven and quickly showered, all the boxes in their right locations, Ulrich sits behind the wheel of his car, which turned thirty last Christmas, making it forty-one years younger than he will be in August.

He smiles to remember that he used to think of the car as new, and pulls out, deep in the tire tracks left by the truck, until he reaches the main road, at which point he turns right, toward the station, where the truck turned left, the fastest route out of Gmunden and, he imagines, back to the depot.

It's a ten-minute drive before he passes any houses, and only five more to the station. The parking lot is empty but for the cars of the three old men spending their final days at the station café, smoking, drinking beer, and reading the newspaper, just as they spent all of their younger and middle days that they didn't spend working or in the army.

Ulrich walks quickly past them, but not so quickly that it seems as though he's trying to avoid their gaze. They look up, putting their hands over their keys and wallets, which lie on top of their shared newspaper pile, protecting all this from him in a gesture whose irrationality doesn't make it less hostile.

He doesn't avert his eyes from theirs, nor does he mimic their expressions. There is the sound of beer going flat and a buzzing fly, mixed with the slow chop of the ceiling fan. They stare as long as he does; they see him here more often than they'd like, picking up young men, or dropping them off. They never see him in town aside from this. Their wives, who do the shopping, claim to see him at the store once a month.

Beyond them is the ticket machine and beyond that are the two tracks, one for each direction.

Ulrich walks to the platform nearest the station, where the trains from Vienna stop, and sits on the single bench, always abandoned. He crosses his left leg over his right knee and then, as always, switches, finding the right-leg-on-left-knee posture more comfortable for waiting, always his least favorite part of the job because it reminds him too sharply of the first time he sat on this bench, to see his son off seven years ago.

Positioning his legs takes four of the five minutes before the train arrives. The fifth he spends watching a squirrel, and then the train is there, its brakes loud in the quiet morning, and then two people exit. One is an old woman, probably the mother or sister of someone in town, though no one is here to meet her. The other is Hans. Tall, fit, his brownish hair cut short, face clean-shaven. Ulrich rubs his scraggly chin as the young man, twenty-four and three months according to his son's email, comes toward him, slowly but not hesitantly.

"You are . . ." he begins.

"Yes," replies Ulrich.

He reaches out to take Hans's bag, knowing Hans will refuse to let him.

Hans carries his own bag to Ulrich's car in the parking lot, and they both get in, regarding one another in short, furtive spells.

They pull out and drive three blocks to the simplest of Gmunden's several restaurants, a wine house that serves sandwiches and salads and has two tables out back, away from the street, facing a hill.

They are seated at one of these. No one's at the other, as is almost always the case. The waiter shoos wasps with his dishrag and regards Ulrich carefully, then regards Hans, perhaps trying to communicate something with his eyes.

They order mugs of cold white wine and green salads and salami and French bread. Without mincing words, Ulrich makes it clear that he will pay, and that Hans should feel free to order coffee and dessert, which Hans will decline to order, as will Ulrich, who only drinks coffee in the morning and eats dessert on Christmas.

"Should I tell you about what happened in Vienna?" Hans asks, once the salad and most of the bread is gone. His voice is cautious but not shy. He's not as badly off as some of them are.

Ulrich shakes his head. "Later. Drink." He indicates the mug of white wine, which the waiter has refilled. Hans drains it halfway, puts it down to eat some bread, and drains the other half.

After this, they leave.

 

Claiming a great need to sleep, Hans closes his eyes in the passenger's seat as Ulrich drives the most secluded though not the quickest route out of town. He doesn't like driving through the main square. There is a roundabout that bothers him and a park that attracts too many schoolchildren. He can tell the young man isn't really sleeping, and believes the young man knows he can tell, and doesn't mind. With some of them, there's the need to explain more; with others, less. This one strikes him as unusually ready to devote himself to recovering from whatever overwhelmed him in Vienna.

The afternoon sun is still high, but the light strikes Ulrich more dimly now, perhaps due to the wine, or in preparation for the shaded walk through the woods he and Hans will soon take.

They pull into the driveway, coming to a sharp stop that jolts Hans out of his sleeping position. "Here we are," says Ulrich. Hans heaves his bag out of the backseat and follows Ulrich in, overtaking him despite his manners and the old man's head start. He waits for him to catch up by the stairwell, where the clothing catalogues are piled.

They pass the first-floor room where Ulrich sleeps with his collection of maps, heading upstairs to the room where his son slept before leaving for Vienna. The bed is now made up for Hans; the sheets have been washed with unscented detergent and hot water.

"Yes," Ulrich replies, when Hans asks if he can touch the things laid out in the room: pen and paper on the desk, towels on the bookcase along with a few books in a pile and a desktop computer.

Hans puts down his bag and sits on the bed. Ulrich says they will meet downstairs in fifteen minutes for their walk, which will constitute the first part of the weekend's treatment.

 

In the fifteen minutes that Hans spends in the bedroom upstairs, connecting it with what he knows of Ulrich's son from Vienna, Ulrich is lying on his bed downstairs, the ceiling spinning. He hasn't drunk more wine than usual—indeed, he has followed the exact routine he follows every time he picks one of them up—but he feels winded. Perhaps, he thinks, without dwelling on the thought, senility is beginning to set in. If it were night now, he would gladly close his eyes.

Instead, he warms up his computer, identical to the desktop upstairs because he purchased two at the same time, and emails his son to say that the new guest has arrived. The account, according to his son, is private, encrypted, something like that, somehow illegible to outside authorities should they one day have cause to investigate. He waits a moment, letting himself savor the possibility that his son might respond. Then he logs off and looks back at the ceiling as a precise mechanism in his brain counts down the remaining seconds before it is time to put his shoes back on.

When these seconds are gone, he stands up, leaning on the desk to steady his dizziness, and turns toward the doorway to see Hans waiting in white tennis shoes and a windbreaker. He can tell that Hans has been watching him but doesn't mention it.

 

They set out from the house around the back, through a meadow of waist-high grass Ulrich drives his car through once in spring and once in autumn so as to smooth down an approximate trail to the woods.

In the woods, not speaking, Hans follows Ulrich's lead toward the lake, soon to appear magnificently through the dense foliage. First, they crest several small hills densely covered in pines, the sounds of birds and insects totally absent. What little of the sky Hans can see through the branches makes it clear that it will be dark by the time they return.

The lake opens after the third hill, almost too wide to see across and so still it reflects the sky and pines around its edges like they've been scooped into a declivity and there is no such thing as water in Gmunden

Ulrich leans against a trunk while Hans takes this all in. They hold these poses until a child appears between them, not saying anything, making only a clicking sound as it comes to a halt. Ulrich gauges Hans' reaction: His guests don't always react in the same way, though the child always hypnotizes them in the end. Hans succumbs immediately, his eyes locked on the child's eyes, his lips pressed into a single wad of flesh.

Ulrich has never known the name or gender of this child. As far as he knows, it lives in a cabin on the other side of the lake, invisible from this vantage. It always knows when he's approaching with a guest from Vienna, and always appears soon after the two of them reach the lake.

There are times when he imagines that it's two children who live over there, a brother and sister, twins perhaps, alternating, never letting him see them together. They do not respond when spoken to, nor appear open to communication by other means. He's often dreamt that his son is in touch with them, even that his son has created them, but cannot incorporate this dream into his understanding of waking life.

He lights a cigarette and sits down on a rock by the lakeshore, letting Hans and the child enter a private sphere. The child comes very close to the young man, making a gesture of welcome, entreating him to follow. Hans goes slowly, neither hesitating nor hurrying. They depart while Ulrich watches evening settle over the lake and thinks about his son, who would have drowned here when he was thirteen had a hunter from another town not pulled him out and brought him home, requesting a large dinner with coffee and dessert as a reward.

 

Hans and the child are gone now, lost in the trees that ring the lake, probably about halfway to the cabin. When he began accepting guests from Vienna, Ulrich's walk back from the lake in the dark frightened and disoriented him, making his house seem very far away, like he was already dead and trying to get back to a place he could never get back to, but by now he's used to it.

He has about two hours to set everything up before Hans returns, exiting another part of the woods and returning to the house by another route. Ulrich crosses the meadow, loud with crickets, finding his way toward the house, where there are never any lights on except in the room he's in.

The night gets colder even after it's gone fully dark, to the point where he's shivering on his back porch, fumbling for the keys he keeps nestled in a fern.

Once inside, he has to sit down on the bench he uses to pull on his snow boots in winter. He's aware of wasting time, but has learned not to push himself to the point of collapse. Better to gather his strength now, even if it means having to rush once he has it.

When he does, he pours a glass of Riesling from the open bottle in the refrigerator and takes it with him to the workroom in the back of the house on the first floor, where the boxes that arrived this morning wait.

Gathering his thoughts for the task at hand, he is not happy to discover that the feeling of being an inch outside his optimal self has lingered. He takes a gulp of wine and sets his glass on a shelf by the door, turning on the light and rolling up his sleeves. A box cutter sits between the glass and the wall. He picks it up and opens the box on top of the largest pile, spilling out the packing peanuts. These he will sweep down a grate in the floor, which leads to a trash receptacle in the basement, to be emptied on the first of every month.

He removes the gleaming metal pieces, two curved joints that fit together according to the instruction manual he memorized over the course of two nights six years ago, when his son, who'd been in Vienna for a year with no word, had first emailed to say he was sending a guest and outlined the procedure. A young man who's had a breakdown in Vienna. An acting student, an egomaniac, a suicide risk. By the time he returns, he will remember none of it. He will tell everyone he feels better, and he won't be lying.

Ulrich still refers to the manual on occasion, when some part of his memory doesn't correspond to how the pieces actually cohere. He's never known what the pieces are, only that certain of them need to be replaced after each usage, whereas others can be dismantled, cleaned, and reused.

He will take these from the locked storage closet in a moment, after first opening and assembling all of what is in the boxes, peeling off the plastic seals that mean they can no longer be returned to the depot. The permanent components required a more substantial investment of time to set up and a full toolkit he had to purchase in town, forcing himself to endure the suspicious gaze of the salesclerk at the hardware store, but the single-use components, which the truck delivered this morning, are modular, designed to fit together with no tools and no more than an hour's work, which, after his rest by the door and his sluggish pace so far, is all the time he'll have before Hans returns.

 

Hans, when he comes to, pulls himself to his feet and begins stumbling through the woods, his side throbbing, the lake a giant expanse of partial moonlight.

He holds his hands high above his head, partly to feel the moistness of the night in his armpits, partly to not feel the moistness of his side, where the child was at him. He hopes Ulrich made it back safely.

If the crooked route he's on now doesn't bring him back to Ulrich's house, he's decided to sleep wherever his strength gives out and to wake in the morning and grope his way back toward the road by praying to hear the sound of traffic.

 

Ulrich sits on the workbench beside the machinery, finishing his wine and listening for footsteps on the porch.

His task took less time than he'd allotted, so now he's faced with having to wait, which he never finds easy though he's always tired.

He makes certain that everything is plugged in and there are no pieces left in the boxes, pretending there's a possibility he forgot something. He sweeps all the packing peanuts down the grate. Then he thinks about pouring more wine but resists, deciding to indulge in a spate of unconstrained thinking instead. He thinks about how much he'd like to drink on the porch with his son, both of them ten years younger and on the near side of the thing that came between them after his second wife, the boy's mother, went to London on business and never returned.

He rises when he hears footsteps. They get louder, then they stop. He looks out, sees Hans face-first against the house a foot to the right of the door, his mouth working soundlessly against the wood. There's just enough space for Ulrich to open the door and step outside behind him, shifting him over and guiding him in like the puppet he's become.

He picks up a towel from under the rocking chair on the porch, where he usually keeps it, and wraps it around Hans like he would a wet dog eager to warm up by the fire.

Holding him tightly from behind, marveling, as ever, at the feeling of a body at once so muscular and so weak, Ulrich leads him through the foyer and into the workroom.

He closes the door behind him and turns on the work light. It shows just enough of the room to guide Hans onto the table. Ulrich positions him in the center, heaving, worrying about his heart, as he must when his guests are heavy.

He fits the gas inhaler over Hans's mouth and turns on the tank. Hans sighs as the amnesia gas starts to flood his system, eyes bulging beneath their lids. Ulrich leans in to take a whiff from the small leak where the tube meets the inhaler. He always permits himself one. Then he leans back, savoring the taste before letting it out through his nose. As he does, he leans in again, laughing inwardly at the thought that he's already forgotten his first whiff, and takes a second, then, after a somber pause, a third.

Slightly more than comfortably dizzy, he pulls down Hans's pants and affixes one electrode to the underside of the tip of his penis, another to the base, and one behind each testicle. He turns the other machine on, sending out low-level electricity that turns the young man's groin a light blue, like the color around the yolk of a hard-boiled egg.

Then he eases a needle into the boy's scalp and turns on the machine that heats it. The final step is to cover the body with a lightly scented sheet, made in Vienna and mailed here by his son in the early days. It's perforated enough to breathe through as the machines slowly prepare the young man for his role in his son's film. In the part of the sheet that covers Hans's face is a silkscreened image of his son's face, which, when stretched taut over Hans's face, gives an agonized superimposition that Ulrich supposes his son is striving to express.

 

Ulrich shows himself out, turning off the work light and turning on the surveillance camera that will record Hans's processing to a cache on his desktop computer.

Back in the living room, he has to remind himself he's already had his glass of wine. He turns on the kettle for lemon tea, drizzling three deep spoons of honey over the teabag because he feels more uneasy than usual.

When it's ready, he leaves it where it is and takes the wine bottle, finding that his will to resist, for the moment anyway, has abandoned him. Swigging from it and beginning to feel his eyes water, he hurries into his room. Setting the bottle down on the desk, he turns on the light and boots up the computer, looking out the window at his black property. It beeps a minute later, returning him to the room he's surprised to find he's still in.

The desktop is pure white, no background.

He sighs, then clicks on the CAM 1 icon. It loads for a moment, then cues up the feed of Hans on the worktable.

Ulrich leans closer to the screen, reminding himself that the boy he's looking at isn't his son, despite the mesh of his son's face stretched over the stranger's.

Just a stranger, he thinks, consoling himself. Another stranger, like the rest of them, sent here by my son because he trusts me to help him make his first masterpiece. The vision that will establish him as a great filmmaker in Vienna is, in part, in my hands. He needs me.

But as Ulrich's watching, Hans shivers and groans and twists toward the camera, looking straight at it through white, occluded eyes visible through the mesh sheet. His look is so pitiful, so imploring, that Ulrich begins to sob.

He presses his watery face to the screen, which burns it with static, and closes his eyes, letting the awful feed play out against his lids.

 

Ulrich wakes with a start against the screen and leans back from it, hoping for the return of the certainty that the boy down there is not his son.

But the certainty does not return. He feels nothing but terror at the possibility that his son is suffering because of him.

Knowing his heart might give out, he bolts up from the desk and down the stairs, desperate to intercede.

He tears open the door to the workroom in an instinctual rage, begging the Catholic God of Austria whom he hates with all his heart to spare his son this one last time.

The young man lies on the worktable, the machine grinding away at his testicles, the sheet over his face expressing the distorted image of his son.

Ulrich pauses, fighting off the dissonance between this image and the other, then enters a frenzy beyond anything from his days in the military, ripping out everything that's attached to the body, pulling off the inhaler, which hisses and spews, gas seeping into his sinuses and down his throat.

The young man falls off the worktable and lands on his face on the floor. Ulrich tries to lift him and cannot. His heart gives out and he falls next to him, paralyzed, eyes mashed into the grate. The perforated sheet falls over them both and there they remain, the camera recording without adjusting focus.

 

Much later in the night, Hans comes to.

He doesn't try to remember where he is or what the circumstances of his being here might be, or why his nose and throat are so cool and raw. He only moves, fast, out from under the sheet and away from the old man collapsed beside him.

Crawling and hunching along, he makes it into the kitchen. His back feels broken, but he manages to climb into a chair and lean against the kitchen table. There he remains, a thin stream of blood working its way from his groin to his ankles.

He can see the coffeemaker and a swath of spilled grounds and believes he would be restored, that his life would be spared, if he could get to it, but he cannot. He's unsure how injured he is. He has the feeling that the deepest injuries will only reveal themselves in time.

He passes out at the table, the smell of coffee like a faraway breakfast on the other side of the night he's now sinking back into.

 

Under the sheet with the gas crawling over him, Ulrich dreams of the morning his son declared he was going to Vienna.

He knocks on his father's door at 5:15 and says, "Wake up." They hadn't said that many words to one another in a year.

Ulrich wakes up, feeling the cold of his room and the staleness of the air that can't escape because all the windows are closed.

He sits in bed, looking at his watch though he can't read it in the dark, taking comfort in knowing that his map collection is displayed all around him, every location precisely labeled. His son knocks again and says, "Get dressed, we're leaving right now."

So Ulrich does.

When he comes out, his son, eighteen, is wearing his coat and scarf though it's only September, with a backpack and suitcase beside him. He stands at the door with his back to his father, looking out at the light that's starting to rise over the field that leads to the woods and the lake.

Ulrich sets about making coffee, knowing there isn't time, and his son shouts that there isn't time, not turning his head from the door. So Ulrich leaves it where it is, grounds spilled on the counter, and follows his son into the car.

They pull out of the gravel driveway and take the back route into Gmunden. Even then, Ulrich abhorred the roundabout. They park at the station and Ulrich stands by the fat retired men in the café, already smoking and wiping their stained fingers on their newspaper pile at six a.m., while his son buys a one-way ticket.

When his son is ready, they walk together onto the tracks. Ulrich sits on the bench expecting his son to do likewise, but his son stands, wearing his backpack and balancing his suitcase against his thigh.

It takes more than fifteen minutes for the train to arrive. During this time, all his son says is, "I'm going to the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna to become the greatest filmmaker our country has ever produced. Greater than Ulrich Seidl, greater even than Michael Haneke. You'll hear from me once I've made inroads," he promises, as the train finally approaches. "I'll need your help after that."

Ulrich nods and stays seated as his son climbs aboard, his first time on a train, not looking out the window to check if his father is following his progress with his eyes.

Lying paralyzed under the sheet, Ulrich knows there's nothing to do but wait, and so chooses to wait inside this memory, which is deep enough to withstand the amnesia gas filtering into his bloodstream. He extends the memory by imagining that the time to leave the bench will never come, that his son's train will never pull all the way out of sight, only reach the horizon and stay there, leaving him to spend the last phase of his life watching it from that remove.

 

Hans, all this time, lies slumped at the kitchen table, praying for the energy to stand.

The last of the night drags on and on. When a little energy flows back in, Hans opens the freezer from where he sits. By feel, he extracts a steak. This he holds to his groin, trying to freeze the blood that doesn't want to clot. He thinks back on the bleak day Ulrich's son approached him in Vienna, claiming that his father's land, especially the lake behind it, had recuperative properties unlike those in any commercial rest spa anywhere in Europe. And it was free for friends.

This is the only memory he can access through the fog. He grips the steak so hard a piece breaks off.

 

When a little light finally drips into the dark outside, Hans stands, wincing, and puts the rest of the steak in the sink, as if expecting it to dissolve down the drain when it thaws. He walks as purposefully as he can into the room where Ulrich is dreaming. He is strong now, ready to fight. Lying on the ground under the sheet, Ulrich has crossed one leg over the other, sitting on the bench at the station in his dream.

Gripping it with both hands, Hans tears off the sheet and shouts, "Get up! I'm going to the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna to become the greatest filmmaker our country has ever produced!"

Ulrich's eyes shoot open, a babyish plea covering his face. Then surrender. He nods as much as his sore throat and neck will allow him, and sits up with Hans's help.

He falls back onto the worktable when he tries to stand, staying upright on the second try. They walk together through the kitchen and onto the porch, then across the gravel the delivery truck disturbed at this hour yesterday. Hans helps Ulrich into the car, handing him the keys.

They pull out, taking the back route to Gmunden, where it's unlikely they'll be seen.

Hans leans back and closes his eyes, ceding the moment to Ulrich.

They pull into the station, Hans helping him out of the car, and walk past the fat men in the café with their cigarettes and newspapers and looks of rural hatred.

Ulrich lets them look while Hans negotiates the ticket machine, paying his one-way fare with coins from his back pocket.

When this is done, they walk together across the tracks, to the far platform where the Vienna-bound trains stop. There's no one else waiting and the train takes fifteen minutes to come.

Ulrich tries to say something, either an apology or a demand for an apology, but he stops before getting anything out. Hans looks over at him, then back at the empty track. He reaches in his pockets, feels his irradiated testicles, knows he'll never have children but that some other greatness is there for the taking.

The train comes.

It slows very gradually, so that only the last car lines up with the platform. Hans brushes himself off and climbs on, trying to stand at his full height despite the pain, looking back at Ulrich only once.

Ulrich looks too, accepting for the last time that he'll never see his son again. The train pulls out, sticking for a moment at the far edge of Ulrich's line of sight.

 

When he can no longer see or even hear it, he gets up and crosses the tracks, and walks back past the fat men without looking at them, and gets in his car, driving through the center of town and around the roundabout, no longer concerned with preserving his anonymity or preserving anything.

He parks in his driveway and walks straight into the woods, all the way to the lake.

He sits on the rock and waits for the child to appear. When it doesn't after several hours, and his life has come to feel intolerably sealed around him, he gets up and starts walking along the shore, in the direction of the child's or children's cabin.

"I'm the one you want now," he thinks, as if he'll have to explain it to them. "There will be no more of the others."

He thinks the words again and again, praying they understand German.

When he gets there, it's night. There's no light on, but he knows he or she or they are home. He creaks up the porch and pushes open the door. The interior smells like food left out.

He fumbles in his pockets for a cigarette. Not finding one, he looks up to see two of them pushing toward him. He can hear them sniffing, their noses hacking at air, trying to bring it to their brains through layers of blockage and scar.

They press up to him, into his groin and belly, trying to ascertain who he is.

He closes his eyes, waits to feel their teeth and venom, unsure if the sensation will be more like a squirrel or a lizard. His back tenses, his nerves pulling straight and tight, bracing for the tips of teeth and poison. He pictures himself as the boy in the surveillance feed, praying into a wall, watched over by his father from another room.

But it doesn't come. He keeps waiting, unable to see them, but it doesn't come and now he can hear them backing away,  mumbling too old . . . too old . . . in a dialect he hasn't heard anyone use since he was their age.

Instead of fainting or leaving, a strength seizes him and heaves him across the floor and into their dark, where he grabs one of their heads and forces it into his side. It scrabbles, punching at his groin, hissing, but he presses tighter, so tight it has to bite him in order to breathe, tearing into the flesh so it can suck the oxygen in his blood.

He feels the venom racing through him, extra potent because of the child's fear.

At first he can hear the other one hissing in some mix of repulsion and jealousy, and then nothing but the lapping of the lake outside the window.

 

He comes to on his back on the lakeshore. It's so dark overhead he can't tell if he's under trees or open sky. His side feels made of cotton, partially stuffed into him and partially fanned out.

Without rolling over, he slides forward, over rocks and then weeds, into the water. It splashes over his face and rushes into his side, soothing the venom and bearing his weight.

He floats out to the middle, as flat on his back as Hans had been on the worktable under the sheet, looking up at the sky that still has no moon, that offers no way through, nocturnal fish streaming upward beneath him, and in the venom-fog he can see the train pulling into the station and a young man stepping out to become a great filmmaker in Vienna.