It was war, and time was growing later for them all.
January 11, 2014
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A VG Serial: Night Side of Dark
The house was small, dark, and smelled of wood smoke and Limburger cheese. Lincoln and Celia walked into a cramped living room, separated from the kitchen area by a bare table, nothing more. The old man’s bedroom waited just down a short and narrow hallway. A man’s life, such as it was, had been reduced to fear of the light, a prayer when the sounds of guns reached the street outside, and three cluttered rooms. Books and old newspapers littered the floor. War did not always kill a man quickly. For most, death was little more than a tumorous growth that wrapped its tentacles around his throat and gently twisted until there was no breath left in his lungs. Man in his wisdom called it a dread of the unknown and mostly the unexpected.
A new log had been thrown on the fire, and the hearth glittered with the gold and burnt orange of flaming embers. The room was suffocating as though the heat had sucked out all the air and thrown it out into the cold. . The embers crackled as fire tore its way through green kindling, and the only other sound was made by splinters of wind leaking past the cracks in a broken window. The heat knocked it down as soon as it entered the room.
Shiman Kreisler slumped onto the sofa and nodded toward two wooden, straight-backed chairs across from him. His faded blue shirt hung on his skeletal frame as though it were two sizes too large. Once it had no doubt fit him, but that was long ago and before the war.. He had a pinched face with wire-frame spectacles hanging on a hawk nose. A patch of white hair wrapped around his balding crown. His pants had lost their color from too many washings. Holes had been patched with cardboard in the soles of his shoes.
“Who sent you to me?” he asked quitly.
Kreisler smiled softly. “A brave man,” he said. “Where did Ascher find you?”
“Was he looking for you?”
“He knew I was coming.”
Kreisler nodded. “He’s a dying man, you know.” His voice had no traces of pity or empathy. It was simply a statement of fact, a secret that no longer needed to be kept.
No one cared anymore.
A brilliant man’s time had come.
And now it was going.
No one other than Shiman Kreisler would miss him.
No one else knew him.
“We did not know he was dying.” It was Celia. Her voice was barely audible, lost in the crackling of the fire and the whine of the wind.
“Ascher was mistreated terribly by the Germans,” Kreisler said. “He told me he prayed to die and cursed God ever day because he remained among the living. He watched others die and did not know why he had been spared. It turned him into a bitter man, and then it turned him into a defiant one. The Germans would drag him to the edge of death with their experiments, then revive him again. An SS officer was in charge of the operation, or at least that’s what Ascher was led to believe.” Kreisler leaned back on the sofa and closed his eyes. The memories ran deep, and the old man suffered each time he tore back the ragged edges of his memory and forced himself to relive them. “Nazi doctors wanted to know how much a man could suffer before dying.” He shrugged.. “Ascher was a celebrated man, and, in the end, that’s why the doctors turned him loose. It was a political gesture and nothing else. He was the only one taken from the university who did not die. If others lived, he did not know about it or who they were.”
“How about those horrible tattoos on his face?” Again it was Celia.
“A cruel joke,” Kreisler said. “Ascher was one of the great art professors and historians in Europe. His reputation was known throughout Germany. The doctors were ordered to ask him about his nightmares, then tattoo the scenes he told them about on his skin as though it was painter’s canvas. The Nazi officer told him that his back would be framed and someday hang in the Louvre.”
A tear formed on Kreisler’s cheek.
He clenched his jaws.
The muscles in his face were twitching.
“Because he endured,” Kreisler said, “we will endure. They can drag us to the edge of death, as they took him day after day, night after night, but they cannot throw us all over the precipice. They will try, but they will not kill us all.”
The tears touched his words.
Lincoln waited in silence until Shiman Kreisler opened his eyes again.
It took two minutes and twelve seconds.
Lincoln could have been in a hurry.
It wouldn’t have done him any good.
“I apologize for being so rude,” Kreisler said at last. He took a deep breath as he fought his own demons to clear the agony and torment from his mind. He had left the netherworld and returned to the present. There was no difference between the two. His voice was stronger now. “Would either of you like a glass of wine. It’s vintage. It will turn the cold away for a time.”
Celia looked at Lincoln.
He shook his head.
Celia smiled. “No thank you,” she said.
“Do not worry about me,” the old man said. “I have more than I need, and a man who drinks alone has no reason to drink at all.”
“A small glass,” Celia said.
Again Lincoln shook his head. The night might last forever, and he would face it sober without the smell of wine on his breath. He could not afford to damage any cell in his mind. There were too many cells already missing.
Kreisler smiled at Celia, adjusted the wire-frame spectacles and squinted as he looked at the gray-faced clock hanging above the fireplace.
It had stopped.
It was no longer two-thirty, either day or night.
The time was later than that.
The time had grown later for them all.
Chapters of Night Side of Dark will be published on Saturday and Sunday.
Please click the title, Night Side of Dark, to read more about Caleb Pirtle III and his novels on Amazon.