The Tomb at Père Lachaise
By Karl Hans Strobl 1917 (Das Grabmal auf dem Père Lachaise) From Lemuria
Translated by Joe E. Bandel
Copyright 2010 by Joe E. Bandel
Protected under United States Copyright Law as a derivative work of a foreign Author originally published prior to 1923
Today I moved into the dwelling from which I may not leave for an entire year. All around me are smooth, cool marble walls that are excellently crafted with no other decoration than a molding above and below, a molding that carries the winged image of the sun disk, the symbol of eternity for the Egyptians
Even more than the quality of the craftsmanship, I am moved by the simplicity in the spirit of this sculptor like décor. It is perfection. I look at these stones that are so closely matched and joined with such extreme care. Only a master craftsman could do this.
I run my finger across one and feel the cool, smooth polished stone surface. The touch is delightful. The marble has little veins in it like delicate moss, like plants or other ocean animals encased in clumps of crystal.
When I look at these lightly scalloped, pointed and colored bands for a long time it seems as if they form curiously shaped letters under a layer of transparent ice. They lie so deeply within that the eye can scarcely make them out. It is a stiff, frozen world of impossibly delightful shapes that gives the sensation of life and movement. It is a most precious material for a tomb.
In the middle of the back wall a few spans across the floor is a bronze plaque adorned with the simple inscription “Anna Feodorowna Wassilska, died 13 March 1911”. Her coffin was lowered down into a shaft below the floor and then sealed off.
A narrow slit leads out of the marble chamber to the outside. The cemetery lies in the sunlight of an August day. Here, inside, it is cool. The air still plays a little around the entrance bringing warm waves and the scent of flowers with it. At times bees buzz past or a blue iridescent fly stays for a moment in front of the slit with buzzing wings only to suddenly draw back.
Besides the buzzing of these little lives over the graves there is a still deeper, uninterrupted sound that trembles in the air. Beyond these barriers lies Paris. Paris, the sparkling city with its work, pleasures and passions that I must now leave behind here at Père Lachaise.
When I stepped through the entrance, scarcely the width of a man, I had arrived at the boundary of my territory. For an entire year this view of the outside world seen from the entrance of the tomb is the only one that I am allowed. It is a simple view of other graves and monuments. But I can be contented with this view. If I bend forward I can see Bartholomew’s miraculous heartfelt work directly to the right.
It is the deepest, most sensitive stone memorial of a love that will not fade. I see the miserable, broken and desperate shapes that stagger even the gates of death. I see them both moving and loving through the darkness that goes beyond. They are of a man, strong, compared to the woman across from him and of the woman that shares his path in infinite trust and confidence.
I will not be bored in my marble chamber even though I must spend an entire year in it. I sit like Hieronymus in his cage. But I hear Paris. I smell the fragrance of the flowers that bloom among the graves. I have my glimpse of great art and like Hieronymus in his cage I am well stocked with books, writing materials and paper.
In this solitude I will compose my great work. It is not a work of God like that of Hieronymus, but one of science. Here I will take my thoughts about entropy and the decay of matter that I have prepared over the last ten years and work out the details of a surprising new system of science that will bear my own name.
What is it that I really want? Haven’t I already fulfilled all of my wishes? Haven’t I, the poor, self-taught private student, already done the independent research to my own satisfaction? It has been possible only through love and belt tightening at the risk of starvation.
Here I will have the time to complete my work. Every interruption and disturbance will be kept away. I am permitted to speak with no one else but the servant that brings me my meals twice a day. Neither friendship nor love is permitted to me but I have no worries about my daily bread. Madame Feodorowna Wassilska provides for me. She has even had the menu for the entire week prepared and truthfully, as far as I can say on this third day of my solitude–the menu leaves nothing to be desired.
The Lady in whose tomb I sit understands something of a good meal. Why should I lie about it? I really enjoy being able to eat such good and plentiful food … My meals have my full attention. Every one of them is an experience to me. I have starved far too long not to appreciate a stuffed hen or pickled tongue with a wonderful Polish sauce or some other types of little Russian appetizers.
I feel completely healthy as well and know that this well being will last the entire year of my imprisonment. Then, when the year is up I will receive from the late Madame Wassilska the small matter of two hundred thousand Francs. Two hundred thousand Francs? That means I won’t need to see some whining publisher about publishing my work. Naturally the rascal would laugh out loud at me if I were a poor devil that expected him to publish a book that would threaten all of those hollow heads at the university. Now I don’t need him. I can be my own publisher or hire one of them if I wanted to. Two hundred thousand Francs? That means I can travel and give lectures about my theories and carry copies of my book around everywhere that it is not in print.
It means I can pack my little Margaret into an auto and take her to the train station. The next day we can be in Marseilles with the white laughing waves of the ocean waiting for us. My poor little one, she has gone through so many troubled times with me that she has truly earned a journey into fairytale happiness. Every day there will be sun, ocean breezes and nothing else to do except spend her time being as cozy as possible.
This Madame Anna Feodorowna Wassilska must have been a strange piece of furniture–may my benefactor graciously forgive me–a crazy hen, much more so than we Parisians or any of her usual countrymen. I have some very definite ideas of what Madame Wassilska was like based upon a portrait of her and on the reports of her neighbors.
I think she was like a kind of Empress Katherine, full of greed for life, seizing it in all of its forms from the most refined to the most brutal. She was a rich Russian with immeasurable property somewhere on the dusty steppes and came to live here somewhere between the moors and endless grain fields of Paris. For years she oppressed her farmers and for amusement participated in little conspiracies before coming to Paris. It was here that she hoped to enjoy in full gulps the life that she at home had only been able to have drop by drop.
That is what I believe I read in her facial expression after being shown her portrait and left with it for one hour according to the provisions of her last will and testament. This was only after I had declared myself willing to fulfill the provisions of her will before the court.
Now Lady Wassilska did not present the painter any great difficulty in her choice of clothing. She was no common Lady dressed in white, red or green like you can see by the dozens every where. She was, so to say, a lady in nothing at all. She stood before a window completely unveiled and anyone would say that she had a beautiful body. Her head showed the austere autumn beauty of a lady in her fifties. She had sharp, cold eyes under gorgeous arched eyebrows, a coarse Russian nose, and a full, voluptuous mouth with blood red lips that appeared to soften and slowly give way to reveal strong white teeth. She wore a cruel and cold smile–a true predator’s smile–which was more suspect than it was self-expression. The painter had shaped the hands curiously. The fingers were long and pointed. The strange way the shadows lay on them made them almost look like claws.
Oh, in viewing this portrait you could only imagine the unprecedented fortune and love madness this woman must have experienced and granted as a teenager. This portrait was a good confirmation of what her neighbors had told me about her. Naturally as soon as I was once resolved to earn the two hundred thousand Francs I inquired about her. You can’t live for an entire year in the tomb of a completely unknown person. You need to know whom you are sending your good night greetings to.
An entire assortment of strange tales had been related to me but there appeared to be even more that were not said. Perhaps that was because they were the strangest and most unbelievable, because people didn’t want to be laughed at. These good people didn’t realize how many charming or otherwise fantastic tales turned out to be true after further experiment and investigation.
Madame Wassilska loved the fine arts as well, in her own Katherine way, as one might expect. In her estate, for example, could be found an entire collection of paintings from the period of Goya to Van Gogh. They were all placed together. Landscapes, still-lifes and portraits appeared to have no appeal to her.
To this collection of paintings was joined a porcelain cabinet of similar taste consisting of nymphs, naiads, Aphrodite, Galatheon and Grazien from the hands of the masters in Meissen, Nymphemburg, Vienna and Sevre’s.
They were arranged so the light played on the round smooth forms of delicate beloved figurines, those of gallant kings, of women whose pleasure it was to give themselves as candle holders or of goddesses that held mirrors so ladies could make themselves beautiful for their lovers at their dressing table.
But Madame Wassilska didn’t waste her love on the arts alone. She also always had a lust for living and her needs were very active, brutal and fantastic. Like Katherine the second, men, especially young men, were led to her. She left her house in men’s clothing to wander around on the streets searching for God knows what kind of adventure. At times she would rent the rooms of a large hotel and give splendid parties. I remember here and there hearing of those nights as half Court ball and half orgy. They left Paris stirred up for several days afterward.
Sometimes her love needs expressed themselves in cruelty. None of her girls could endure it for long. She loved sticking long needles into the flesh of her Roman chambermaids or suddenly scorching them with a glowing coal. It was truly a noble and classical taste that Parisian chambermaids could not be forced to endure and was more suited to Libyan or Persian slaves.
Just as strange was the matter of the baker’s apprentice. One day Madame Wassilska saw the young baker that brought rolls to her house. He had a handsome round neck that Madame Wassilska found pleasure in. She asked the youth if he would allow her to bite him three times in the neck. A considerable number of Francs appeased his hesitation and made him agreeable but after the second bite he ran out of the house screaming, became ill, and refused to ever set foot again in the house of the Russian.
That is the portrait of my benefactor. You must admit that I have moved into the entrance hall of the last resting-place of a very interesting lady and that under these smooth hard tiles a very passionate urge has finally come to rest.
Yesterday I began with my work. First there was an uncountable number of notes to put in order. My friends have always laughed at me because my work is as detailed as a German professor’s is. It is not a disgrace, I believe, to be thorough when laying the foundation from which an entirely new science will arise.
Various types of notes formed this large quantity of papers. There was white paper, on which I had written down my experiments and singular thoughts; blue paper, on which the opposing opinions of other scholars were brought in and lastly yellow, on which I refuted these opinions. Everything had to fit into each other in an orderly manner…
But I scarcely began my work before having a small misfortune. Yesterday evening I had the first portion of these notes completely organized and laid out on the table. Today, as I rose out of my field cot early in the morning these hundreds of notes lay strewn all over the entire floor. They were very difficult to pick up from the cold marble floor and stuck to it as if they were attracted by static electricity.
During the night a gust of wind must have blown through the entrance slit and swept all these hundreds of pages down onto the floor. Now I must start my work all over from the beginning.
Ivan could certainly tell me more about his mistress if he only wanted to speak. But I still know absolutely nothing. He never has anything other to say than “Good day” and “Goodbye” and he speaks these words imperfectly with a rattling voice like a parrot or an old time gramophone from the time before what we now call a phonograph.
Twice a day he appears punctually with his little wagon. The aluminum pots and pans are sunken into it and kept warm with a little system of flames. He pushes the little wagon in front of him like an Italian street vendor pushes his cart through the streets. He slowly comes up the hill, stops in front of the tomb of his mistress and sets my meal on the table. Then he sits across from me on the floor with his legs crossed in the Tartar fashion and stares at me.
It is not very pleasant having someone stare at you while you are eating. I’ve tried getting him to chat, to get around his wide eyed gaping stare and bring some life into his features. But it is like trying to get an answer out of a fence post.
Ivan is a small fellow with bristling hair, which he tops with a Tartar cap in the summer time. If he were younger and more handsome I would say that he did it to have it fall off and make the foreign girls from Britain crazy about him. Just like the Russian students do with their pipe boots and tied up skirts to find some little sales clerk that will run around for them and do what they want.
But with Ivan this is guaranteed not to be the case. His face is a mountain range–with creases. Between pockmarks countless red pimples stand out, each with a white puss filled point in the middle. The hairs of his drooping mustache stick into his devastated skin as if they had no roots. There are no connections under them. They are like little twigs that children have stuck into a sand pile. The arrangement of these grotesque monsters is similar, only one is higher and looks as if it were awkwardly torn off and then stuck back on again.
This crusty Tartar is the only servant Madame Wassilska brought back with her out of her homeland. He was in charge of all her other personal servants and able to endure working for his Mistress. He must know all of her customs and would be in a position to describe many of her peculiarities to me. This Russian lady would show no restraint in front of this familiar servant.
I would gladly learn more from him about the strange provisions in the last will and testament of his Mistress. I can scarcely imagine that she had any incentive out of the goodness of her heart. It contradicts every feature of her character that she would be motivated by a higher impulse to leave any more to anyone than she had to.
There appear three possible reasons for these provisions in her last will and testament. It could simply be out of a fear of being buried alive. From time to time horrible reports appear in the newspapers of such cases. Perhaps she wanted to know that someone would be there that could hear her if she woke up once more in the narrow confines of her grave. Wait! But then she would only have needed to arrange for her tomb to be guarded immediately after her burial, not to have the applicant watch over her corpse for an entire year and not be allowed to leave the entrance.
Maybe it was out of concern for corpse robbing and body snatchers or perhaps she had once heard the case of Sergeant Bertrand. I, myself, , had once seen the Sergeant’s atrocities at Père Lachaise acted out at the theater.
One day while viewing the corpse of a beautiful young girl the Sergeant had suddenly been seized with the impulse to embrace her. In the night after her burial he crept into the cemetery, tore up the fresh grave and rolled around with the dead girl. The atrocious lust and satisfaction from this desecration was so great that from that time on Bertrand would roam around cemeteries at night searching for corpses.
A year later in a court trial he was accused of digging up twelve to fifteen corpses in one night before finding a dead woman to throw himself upon, to kiss, to mutilate and bite to pieces. This monster was extraordinarily clever, almost incomprehensible and perpetuated his handiwork for a long time despite all safe guards and precautions. He was finally wounded by a hellish contraption while climbing over a cemetery wall and captured.
It could be that Madame Wassilska thought the idea of falling into the hands of such a beast was too embarrassing.
But there is still a third possibility and to me it appears to be the one best suited to the nature of this Asian tyrant. Perhaps she had these two hundred thousand Francs set out only for the purpose of anticipating with pleasure the torment, fear and horror the applicant would feel at being kept spell bound in a cemetery for so long and how it would wear on a person. Now if that was Madame Anna Feodorowna Wassilska’s real intention she will be thoroughly disappointed. I eat like a tiger and sleep like a rat.
It is late. I have drunken a bottle of burgundy and am in a good mood. I must take leave of my benefactor. I rise up, take a bow and knock on the bronze plaque with a curled finger.
“Good night Anna Feodorowna, good night!”
The entire tomb reverberated with the ringing of the bronze plaque, “Good night!”
For the second time the same misfortune. My papers, which I had completely organized and laid out on the table, are once more strewn over the entire floor. I must not forget to put them into some other location or burden them with a heavy weight.
Today I have seen perfectly how they were sent whirling to the floor by a draft. I woke up in the middle of the night out of the deepest sleep as if my nerves had been given a signal from an attached electrical battery. It is inexplicable, but my entire inner attention, the very core of my being, hangs on this work, is judged on it and feels it as a component of itself. While I slept this attention was still awake. The premonition of danger to my work interrupted my good sleep.
I awoke and saw my marble chamber flooded with a moderate light. It was not moonlight from outside. This brightness appeared to be the reflection from the many marble tombstones that had somehow combined and penetrated into the chamber in such a way that the stones around me glowed. It was the first time I had seen such illumination and it somehow reminded me of the phosphorescent lights of the ocean or as if the stones had absorbed the light of the sun during the day and were now giving it back again in a soft glow.
I sat up in my cot. The chamber was so ablaze with this light that I could make out the objects of my study. The uncommon phenomenon suggested an entirely new line of research into how matter was formed. Did it come out of this mysterious radiation?
At that moment I noticed a black four-cornered hole on the back wall of the tomb at the place where the bronze plaque was embedded. It looked as if someone had removed the plaque. At the same moment a soft breath of air swept over me that brought with it the scent of withered flowers and extinguished candles. It was a smell that I had at times noticed before. This breeze went from the entrance of my tomb toward the back wall or from there to the entrance and I saw how it seized my papers that were lying flat on the table and whirl them to the floor.
Half terrified and half furious I sprang out of my bed to save the rest of my work. The papers appeared to cling once more to the marble floor and as I pulled on them I noticed the stones were moist and sticky as if covered with a layer of some congealing substance that gradually released the papers. I gathered them together with difficulty.
That was when the bronze plate first occurred to me again but when I looked it was there back in its place. A soft light radiated from it so that I could even read the name of the deceased perfectly. An immense excitement seized me. I saw a new puzzle placed before me, a new discovery into the most mysterious of all forces, light.
I was certain that this phenomenon dealt with a new species of light, perhaps some type of radiation like x-rays that penetrated through metal and under certain conditions, under a specific angle of refraction had the power to make things disappear. When I looked out from my bed the bronze plate was gone. I sat back down on the bed again but now it remained in its place. I was wrong then and must have missed what really happened.
I got very little sleep that night. I kept going through the various methods of light investigation to determine which would work best in this case. It was only in the early morning dawn as the strange radiation slowly dwindled before the day that I finally found some rest.
Curious bystanders went back and forth or stood outside attempting to see me. I could only imagine what the newspapers had written about me. The Parisian could not imagine that anyone would remain in one spot for an entire year of their own free will. Some simply laughed at me as a fool. They stood outside and grinned. Others shook their heads at me, filled with compassion and melancholy.
Oh if these sad Parisians only knew that what I feared more than death was boredom! If they only knew what I experienced, how the thoughts of my work have not once given me peace at night. A short journalist with a notebook and pencil attempted to pull information from me. He tried to talk me into giving up my two hundred thousand Francs just so he could have a spicy story to deliver. (By the way, I really would like to know what the newspapers are writing about me, whether they portray me as a hero or as an idiot. All I need to do is tell Ivan to bring me a newspaper. But I have sworn that here at Père Lachaise I will only take of the outside world what can be seen from the entrance. Nothing of the outside world shall divert me from my work.) My short journalist will depict me honestly. I’ve made it clear to him through gestures that I must remain quiet and stay inside here behind the door and the slit in the marble wall.
Another visitor has me irritated and stirred up. Margaret was there. She didn’t dare come up herself, but I saw her black hat with the yellow tea roses in the distance between the burial mounds. When it began to rain a troop of people came back from a burial and walked past my dwelling. They stood there, pressing themselves against each other and staring in at me. There was a black haired clod with a glistening wet umbrella; someone made a joke, a couple made faces at me. Then suddenly I saw, only for a moment, between two wet umbrellas, under a thin rain veil, Margaret’s large hat and her sad pale face under it…
“You are the best! It is all for you, Margaret, that I sit inside here, all for you!”
I have no doubt any more that intermolecular forces are at work in the marble of this tomb that are contrary to known science. I’ve written down my nightly observations. As soon as complete darkness falls, sometime towards the middle of the night, a mysterious light, a strange greenish glow appears to radiate out of the stone. I’m inclined to think that it is a special type of marble that absorbs light during the day and gives it off again as a phosphorescent glow at night.
On the other hand the structure of the marble itself appears to be different under the influence of this radiation. This is an impression I’ve had twice now and it always repeats itself. The outer layer of the marble appears to become soft; turns into a viscous jelly like substance. At the same time in the uncertain light the images and veins in the stone, the ferns, moss, starfish and coral branches seem to float in a fluid and crawl closer to the surface. When I walk over the marble blocks of the floor it is like stepping on a soft carpet. When I touch the walls the impression of my fingers stays behind.
What a strange and fortunate coincidence that that I am just beginning a foundational work on the decay of matter and entropy. This phenomenon that I am just learning about is closely related to that theme and will undoubtedly provide essential support for my theory after I have closely examined it. I am determined to do this.
Without a doubt the appearance of this light and the structural changes of the marble stand in close association with each other and they must derive from the elementary laws of matter and all other known types of radiation.
I will require some apparatus for my experiments. I’ve given Ivan a list and appointed him to procure them for me. He just looked at me without comprehending and grinned scornfully. Poor devil, his Asian skull has no concept of the wonderful elation that researchers and discoverers feel.
I’m beginning to get fat. Truthfully it is very ridiculous but I must reluctantly accept the responsibility for it–if I don’t want to lie to myself. I’m beginning to get fat. My starving body has consumed the meals with such greed that it is becoming groggy. For some time now I’ve noticed my poor hands. These bundles of sinews and veins have altered their appearance. There are no depressions between the tendons any more. My veins lay embedded in fat and my fingers have become round. My gaunt legs have filled out my trousers and the tips of my knees have become round and soft when I am sitting, like the cupola of a cathedral, or like those of an invalid. There is a very real and unaccustomed clumsiness when I walk around on them.
But today I’ve received unambiguous proof of just how fat I’ve become. I was bowed over my work completely forgetting my entire surroundings and myself. Suddenly in the middle of a sentence I felt compelled to put down my quill and look outside. I saw a piece of blue sky and the cemetery in the wonderful autumn sunshine. Orange colored linden leaves slowly blew past the slit in the tomb. It was early in the day. The thin threads of old woman summer were now covered over and all of the graves were sparkling with dewdrops. A wild yearning fell over me to see Bartholomew’s tomb in this cool morning light, to relish the shapes in this rich sunlight and experience the happy feeling that goes with admiring such a great work of art.
I got up and stood by the entrance, bent forward and tried to see the monument. But it didn’t work. My fat, bloated body filled up the narrow slit, got stuck in it like in a trap and only by pulling against the side walls with all my strength was I able to back out and free myself. I must take responsibility for the ridiculous fact that I am a prisoner. I, the scrawny unfortunate one have become a prisoner of my belly. My gluttony has deprived me of the consolation and happiness of great art.
It is no wonder. I eat like a Drescher and don’t move around. But that will all be different. From now on I will eat normally and go jogging around my table every day. What good would it do if I got even bigger and at the end of a year couldn’t leave the tomb with my well-earned two hundred thousand Francs? I’m going to begin with my abstinence today.
Oh ridiculous tragicomedy, this gluttony! What has come out of my beautiful intention? I held it firmly in my soul and drove in deeply in with hammer blows of my will, right next to my other great resolutions, next to my belief in my work and in myself. Then, as I saw Ivan coming between the graves with his little cart on the sand strewn path I struggled to keep my resolution and my will firmly in place.
When a bowl of tempting ragout was placed in front of me I saw my fat round face in the smooth polished silver of the saucer and renewed my intention.
“No,” I said and pushed the dish away from me. “Today all I want is some bouillon and a white bread.”
Ivan looked at me and his grin as well the look he gave me in which he appeared to measure my circumference showed that he did understand me. He quietly pulled back the bowl of ragout enriched with mussels and placed a bowl of bouillon from his cart onto the table. As soon as he set the beautiful brown brew in front of me its aroma was so wonderful that my resolve wavered. Just as the steam from a laundry eventually penetrates the strongest masonry and destroys it this delightful aroma destroyed my resolve only it didn’t take as long. It only took a few breaths. After I had taken the first swallow an immense craving for food swept over me. My belly screamed for food as if I had already gone for fourteen days without eating. My intestines cramped together and I threw all considerations aside.
Ivan had stepped outside and acted as if he had prepared the food himself. He uncovered the pots and dishes in his cart showing me the white flesh of the poultry, the brown crusts of the brats, the colorful mix of Italian salad, the yellow-white creamy filling of a torte. I stood up, reached over the table and pulled the bowl of ragout toward me.
“Ivan,” I said. “Bring everything, bring it. I’ve recovered my appetite.”
In a moment I once more saw my face in the mirror of the platter. My teeth were bared, my eyes rolled around fearfully and my entire features were distorted by greed. I looked like an animal protecting his food. Not anything remained of the entire meal. I consumed the ragout together with the brats and ate half a turkey. I had to force myself to set the bones aside and not gnaw on them like a gluttonous hound.
I must say that the cook who prepared these meals for Madame Wassilska is truly an artist at his trade. I don’t believe it is possible to cook better than this man. Every meal is complete in itself and the meals are so balanced that a taste of one thing compels one to eat it all. It is impossible to resist a meal that is produced with such refinement. They are equally charming to the eye, the nose and the gums. I bless this great-unknown artist–and I curse him. It begins to look as if I may never leave this tomb. If this goes on I will become–fattened.
Ivan brought me the apparatus that I need for my experiments. He placed the things in front of me with a gloomy and malicious grimace that trickled with a viscous slime between the pimples on his face. How could he understand what the prisms, telescope, shutter, microscope, electrical element and photography camera were for? The chemistry department at the university had placed these things at my disposal and written a very flattering letter that accompanied them. They considered themselves very lucky to be able to assist such a young scholar in any way they could…and so on.
If they only knew to what purpose I would be using these weapons that they furnished me with. That I would proceed to tear down the entire wearisome foundation of their educational structure, stab a knife into their authority, fling a flaming torch of destruction to their radiant theories.
My new theory is fixed solidly in my head; my proofs are collected in stacks of paper. The only thing left is to witness the strange phenomenon that I am experiencing here and explain it in terms of my own theory. For the time being all of my efforts have been fruitless. The more thoroughly and carefully that I investigate, the more mysterious this phenomenon becomes that I observe during the night. How can I sleep if I can’t find the answer to the puzzle of this radiation?
It is a very distinct and recognizable faint green glow that comes out of the marble walls for no apparent reason at all. Yet this distinct visible glow does not follow the known laws of optics, as one would expect. It can not be broken, polarized or refracted by electrical currents or magnetic fields. In fact, and this is down right sinister, it has no spectrum at all. It goes straight through a prism like through common glass. It leaves the prism exactly the same as it enters it. It can not be contracted or dispersed with a lens. It shows no chemical reaction and leaves no trace behind on a photographic plate. It seems to exist in defiance of all natural laws.
Still it is not without chemical influence and occurs simultaneously with the softening of the marble. That is not an illusion either. It is as real as the green glow. My hands feel it. My instruments detect it. As a rule it occurs right after midnight. It seems the green glow must take awhile to work before it alters the chemical structure of the marble. The softening increases steadily through the morning and reaches its peak at daybreak when the green glow leaves. Then it gradually diminishes in daylight and the stone is once again hard and solid during the day–as it should be.
As long as this phenomenon lasts finger imprints remain, it is easily cut and poked. It acts like a jelly, like a giant quince cheese that is in the process of congealing. A touch of the hand leaves an impression that slowly fills out. A knife cut is visible for a some time and then disappears again. At the same time the marble appears to display an attractive power. Its outer layer is sticky to the touch. Light objects cling to it and the hand sticks to it on contact and afterward there is a light burning sensation.
I have tried to find some explanation for these peculiar and often contradictory phenomena without success. I am completely perplexed and will do what any scholar does when they are perplexed. I will try developing a new theory, a theory that will be compatible with my own system.
For some time I’ve wondered if this radiation is related to the one that the Polish engineer Rychnowski observed. Rychnowski made use of the newly installed electrical lighting in the Lemberg State Assembly building. He constructed a dynamo and conducted nightly experiments. Little glowing balls of greenish blue color appeared in the adjoining room at the same instant the power was cut to the machine. The room was entirely separate and the walls were a meter thick.
While investigating this puzzling phenomenon Rychnowski developed an apparatus that succeeded in producing a greater and greater number of these glowing balls until they finally flowed together into one continuously glowing ball. He considered these balls to be a type of matter and interpreted them as proving the existence of a previously unresearched particle, which he termed an electroid.
Did these self-glowing balls of Rychnowski at the Assembly building in Lemberg have anything in common with the green glow in the tomb of Madame Wassilska? The description of a greenish light could lead one to say yes. But where is the dynamo machine that created it? There is also the important distinction that Rychnowski made very clear in his report. He considered his balls of light to be a form of matter. My glowing light is most certainly not matter and does not have any earthly characteristics. It lies beyond the boundary of measurable, weighable and chemically reactive. In a word I hold it to be luminous aether, the world aether become visible, which permeates all things and creates everything, whose atomic weight is 0.0000096 that of the hydrogen atom and whose velocity is calculated at 2,240,000 meters per second.
It has been only a year since Poincaré wrote in his “Mathematical Theory of Light”:
“The question of whether the aether really exists has little meaning for us. (Namely the physicists) It is the work of the metaphysician."
This remark of Poincaré’s shows the complete short sightedness of an otherwise brilliant scholar in these things, that he believes he must keep this question away from himself. Oh no, this question is extremely meaningful for us as physicists. Since Maxwell proposed his electromagnetic theory of light, since we must accept that electricity is not a force of nature but a particle, since the addition of two atomic particles, the proton and electron, our concept of energy and its nature has become much more tightly defined. It was only a step from there to the bold declaration of Mendelejeffs, the discoverer of the periodic table of the elements when he stated that the world aether was chemical in nature and set all the elements in the periodic table under one system.
With that and with George Rudorf’s confirming explanation of light as the original source of matter the old opinion of the atom fell, that it swam in the world aether like wood in water and was actually foreign to it. Now here I stand on the foundation of my own system. The atom forms itself out of the aether. It is like a hurricane in the aether, a cyclone that condenses and solidifies. It originates out of the inconceivably swift movements of the aether particles that now rotate in space instead of going in a straight line.
And how does this world aether itself originate? This is where the greatest wonder of the physical comes together with the metaphysical. Here Poincaré himself describes the transformation of movement into substance!
The world aether is simply the passage of energy in the material world. Energy is not a property of matter; it is instead the earlier pre-existing substance out of which matter comes. Thus the solution to the decay of matter is solved as well, that puzzle which so disturbs our physicists. Matter must decay in order to once more become pure energy.
The law of the preservation of energy is true, but it begins well before the birth of matter. A cycle of energy waves is produced out of which matter is first created. That is why the world aether is material and immaterial at the same time. It is both element and energy. It is the carrier of all phenomena in the visible world but even though it will take on all properties it has no properties of its own. That is why this self-luminous aether in my marble house displays none of the properties of light.
Still, I am filled with dismay because the more I observe them; the more they display properties that I can find no explanation for. I’m thinking of the disappearance of the bronze plaque on the back wall of the tomb. This phenomenon occurs very suddenly and it reappears again just as suddenly. It happens so fast that I can not legitimately observe it.
In the middle of the night from my bed I see that the bronze plaque is gone. I get up, walk over and try to feel the metal. It is really gone. It has been removed without a trace left behind and after awhile the bronze plaque is back in its place once more.
I need to add that an unpleasant feeling of anxiety, difficulty breathing and a desperate beating of my heart falls over me with this disappearance. When it reappears these sensations are gone. I've already spoken about the structural changes of the marble and so, in conclusion, I must admit once more that I am not as clever as I thought I was. The incompatible properties of this radiation confound me. I am at the end of my confidence and once more in doubt that it really is the world aether that fills my dwelling at night with a green light.
But if it is not the world aether, then what is it?
I have received an answer to my question. Under the last sentence of the notes I had written down in the early morning dawn before falling asleep exhausted there was something else written down and added to it. After my closing question was added:
“It is the breath of the katechana.”
Who is the katechana? What is it? This answer to my question gives me a new mystery and who has written it? That is perhaps the strangest of all the peculiarities that surround me. At first glance it appears to be my own handwriting. It has all the characteristic features of my own strokes, the broken line in the “k”, the long stoke in the “a”. But you only need to examine it closely and critically to see that it is only an attempt to copy my handwriting. It has a perplexing foreign feel to it that does not belong to me. But who else is there in here that can play this joke on me?
The only possible answer which I must accept is that I was up walking in my sleep and wrote down this mysterious answer myself and this abnormal condition of my brain altered some of my handwriting. But where did I get this word, katechana? I don’t know what it means at all. Could it have come out of a dream, out of the abyss of the unconscious, from which no ray of consciousness can intrude?
I have never noticed any inclination for sleep walking. This body of mine has never before played any pranks on me other than the paroxysms of hunger that have deceptively drawn me away from the steep mountain path of my research.
Anyway, it is not out of the question that I have fallen into a pathological condition of consciousness. I must admit that my body and my spirit now find themselves in a strange conflict. I am tormented by this sinister gluttony. I renew my intentions daily only to be unfaithful to them and become even fatter. My spirit appears to be weakening.
I have begun a new line of thought to explain this mysterious answer which I have received. While it is correct in general, I find the individual points crude and inadequate. They lack the sharpness that my work has shown up to this time and must be influenced in some way by my unknown enemy. Even though I clearly recognize these blunders and mistakes I make no effort to correct them. I don’t know how to begin.
More important than any of these questions is that of the breath of the katechana. Now it appears to me that this word really is the explanation for all that has happened. I am convinced that everything will become better when I find the answer to it. I will win back my clarity and overcome this sickening gluttony, this animal impulse to fill my belly. The battle against this insatiable hunger is exhausting me. When I am finally sated I feel such shame and disgust at my lack of will that I want to lacerate my bloated features and crush my white, soft, fat cushioned hands that are so compelled to push food into my mouth.
I have never known a tomcat that could be enticed in such a way to eat so I must then be a goose that is being fattened. Fattened! It seems that I am supposed to become fat. But for what purpose?
Today I have overslept for the first time. I wanted to begin work yesterday evening like always but my thoughts were confused and entangled more than ever. Yesterday was All Soul’s Day. An immense crowd of people filled the cemetery from the first morning hours until dusk. Paris had burst open and people were everywhere seeking out the graves of their departed and praying for their dead. Wreathes, flowers and candles were everywhere. The buzz of all the people lay like a murmuring cloud over the graves.
Almost all day long groups of people stood in front of my marble house. The first visitors were two women clothed in black that led a little girl between them. Perhaps they were wife and mother of one of the deceased. The child looked at me with large fearful eyes.
“Mama,” she said. “Is that the man that must stay in there for a year?”
The women pulled the little one away. They felt it was intrusive to be staring at me. After fifteen steps the little girl had forgotten me and everything else in the cemetery. She was hanging on the arms of the women, pulling her legs up and allowing herself to be suspended and carried like a little angel for a ways.
Not all the visitors were as considerate as these women were. Several of them made attempts to draw me into conversation. The sky alternated between rain clouds and sunshine. I only have a general impression of the day, groups of people now in the light, now in the shadows. At last I finally turned my back to the entrance of the tomb.
Toward evening it was very quiet. Ivan brought me the evening meal and while I sat there slinging it down someone else stepped into the door slit.
“Mein Herr,” he said. “Excuse me!”
It was a young man with a fresh face. He appeared to be a craftsman, salesman or something similar.
“Mein Herr,” he repeated. “Don’t stay here any longer… I advise you to leave the money, she bit me twice in the throat…”
At that Ivan leapt forward like a wild animal. I have never seen him like that. The unkempt mustache hairs appeared to stand on end. He raised his fist and shook it at the young man who ducked his head down between his shoulders, mumbled something and moved off into the dusk frightened away. It became quiet once more in the cemetery.
“Who was that?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” he said in his wearisome, rattling voice.
But I knew–It was the baker’s apprentice, Madame Wassilska’s apprentice baker that she had bitten in the throat…I was tired from the constant exertion of will that it took to put up with the gaping crowd all day long and slept like a dead man.
I awoke in suspense with a feeling of uneasiness inside… I felt something on my right lower arm and on my throat. My glance fell on a little dried crust of blood above my left wrist. It sat on the edge of a little wound. There were a series of them. It looked as if I had been bitten there. Bitten… I can find no better word for this type of wound and the skin surrounding it was white colored and flabby, a saucer sized bloodless spot that looked as if it had been covered over night with a poultice. I grabbed at my throat and found a similar wound there.
I try not to think about whom could have inflicted these wounds on me. Could it have been a Sergeant Bertrand imitator? Could there really be such people with such bestial lusts, which they can not repress? Do they go wandering around cemeteries at night mangling corpses and perhaps falling onto sleeping victims?
The nights have become very cool. From now on I will solidly shut the door of my dwelling. Soon I will need to bring a stove in here if I don’t want to become ill in this marble prison. I asked Ivan what precautions he had in mind for the winter. He looked at me as if he didn’t understand me.
Some dark voice told me to hide my wounds from him so I wore a high collar and pulled the cuff of my sleeve down over my wrist. The gaze of the Russian was embarrassing. It seemed as if he was painstakingly examining every part of my body. I felt as if I had a secret infirmity.
“I need a stove,” I said furiously. “A stove. Do you understand me?”
Suddenly something occurred to me.
“Listen Ivan,” I said. “Why haven’t you tried to earn these two hundred thousand Francs? You could have. It was open to anyone. Why didn’t you apply?”
Then for the first time I saw this taciturn, grouchy person, this machine, seized by some inner force. His features contorted themselves into a grimace of horror. His crippled hands with their bent fingers stretched out in front of him and like a scared parrot he shrieked, he rattled, “No…no!”. I don’t know why I was likewise gripped with terror at this “No”, why I suddenly trembled, why such fear fell over me as if I had been drenched with boiling hot and ice cold water at the same time.
I grabbed at a wineglass in order to get control over this panic. My cuff raised, pulled itself up and Ivan’s glance fell on the wound above my wrist. The horror yielded and then melted away from his face making room for a grin that stuck there between the pussy pimples.
Margaret was there. She stood between the marble walls of the entrance. Her large hat with the yellow roses appeared to tower over the barren treetops. Her eyes were full of tears that slid down over her pale cheeks. She stood there like an envoy of the living, of temptation. It was as if Paris, the city whose sounds I constantly heard, had sent her to me and I had to obey. This battle of love lasted almost an hour.
“Ernest,” she said. “I beg you… Come out of there. Don’t you love me any more? I’ve let you have your way… I wanted you to believe that I was as strong as you were but I can’t stand your being here any more. Let me take you away from here… Oh, Ernest, look at you! What nonsense to sacrifice your health and your life just for some money.
Weren’t we happier, both of us, when we didn’t know how we were going to pay for the next meal? Remember that evening in my room and our stroll in Fontainbleau, the large bill we had and how we sneaked out without paying? How we didn’t have five Sous… If you love me, come out here.”
I stood three steps away, held myself back with both hands gripping the edge of the table. A thousand words of love lay on my lips. A thousand affirmations of my yearning and tenderness forced their way out of my heart. But I was not permitted to speak if I wanted to win my prize honestly. I could only allow my eyes to speak.
But how could my eyes say what was really important, why I couldn’t leave, that I did not want my time here to be in vain, that I was absolutely resolved to win the money, that the real reason I couldn’t go out was because I was a prisoner of my own body. Most of all, that I was determined to unravel the mystery of this tomb and the breath of the katechana! It was very difficult.
Margaret cried, “Oh, you don’t know what the newspapers write about you… What your friends say…You sent a short report about your observations to the university… ”
So, they speak and write about the preliminary report that I sent regarding the mysterious light I have seen during my imprisonment. Now, they would like to say, what they want to say, is that I have gone crazy… As if I cared.
“Is that what you want? Do you want what the people are saying to become real? Oh how I love you Ernest. How I love you… I can not bear it any longer.”
I felt that I would become weak and waved her away with both hands. I turned my back on her and stood that way until her shadow was gone from the marble floor, until her sobs receded among the graves.
But she, the faithful, the good, the best love a man ever had, came again in the night. She braved the terror of the graveyard from which she had formerly trembled like a little child. Who else could it have been other than Margaret?
I awoke that night out of the dull sleep into which I now always fell, and felt that I was not alone. Someone was with me, had thrown themselves on top of me and kissed me so painfully that it was like a bite. In the green glow I saw a woman. I felt her… I returned her kisses without speaking a word… I was not permitted to speak and Margaret pressed herself against me with all the force of yearning and despair.
Margaret, who else could it have been? My entire body is covered with wounds… with bite wounds, the traces of her wild kisses. I stagger around powerless. My flesh seems bloodless… my muscles are asleep and spongy under the withered skin. And the wounds don’t heal… They have become atrociously scarred, become pussy pimples. And Margaret comes every night… every night.
Ivan has spoken. I know what the katechana is. I have torn it out of him. I saw it in his eyes, in his insidious gaze with which he observed my wounds, appeared to count them and appraise them. He knew what they were. I had seen this testing, appraising look before in the boxing ring when both battered and bloody opponents paused before going in for the knock out punch.
Once it was entirely clear to me that Ivan knew what they were, what the katechana was, I moved toward him. I still see how he backed away from me, how he pressed himself into a corner, how I seized him by the throat. I stood in front of him.
“Who is the katechana,” I asked.
That’s when I saw his fear return despite the scornful cheekiness he had treated me with for so long. He blinked at me insidiously, but now I knew that he was going to tell the truth.
“That’s what she called herself,” he rattled.
“She learned it in Crete. For a half a year she lived at the abyss of Lenka Vrune and I had to bring her sheep which she mutilated.”
“What does katechana mean?”
“It means the same as … In Albania it is called Wurwolak, in Bulgaria, Lipir. The Chezch call it Mura, the Greeks in the ruins of Sparta call it Bourkolak and the Portuguese call it Bruxa. It has been known by all these people.”
“These are just names, you miserable… What does it mean? I want to know…”
“It means one that can never have enough of blood and the sacrifice of manhood. One that lives beyond death…”
I let go of him. I knew enough. I was being fattened inside this marble prison–I was being fattened for a vampire… My flabby, distended body was only a container for its blood. My blood vessels had to become distended so the juice could be taken out of them, for the vampire that came every night and drank till it was sated.
And in some mysterious way my manhood is stirred up and torn out by these criminally spiced meals. She drinks away my strength. She sucks my life in and the more I give her the stronger and more real the skin of this vampire becomes. The shape that in the beginning appeared as light and playful as a cloud in the last few nights has become a heavy body weight upon me…
Her breath penetrates through the stone and envelops me in a green glow. It disintegrates the marble… or it could be that the marble only appears to transform. Maybe it is only because my entire body is so drunk from her breath, because my muscles, nerves, senses and my brain are so fully saturated with this glowing poison of decay…
Now that I know everything I am once more completely at peace. Now I know at last why I have not been completely myself and why I have been staggering around in a drugged condition. But now I have my courage once again. I am resolved not to yield now that I know the enemy I must be prepared for. I am resolved to win my two hundred Francs, to win against the katechana and all the terrors of the grave… If she is able to have a physical body it must also fall under physical laws. If she can win to life she can still die a second time…
I will tear up this cocoon that has been spun around me. Yes, a cocoon, in the literal sense of the word. When I was down and vulnerable she wove a net around me that made me want to stay here in order to win my two hundred thousand Francs, that made me a prisoner in this marble house. She has most certainly spun a web around me because I can’t go out any more.
My legs are hindered at every movement. With every step I push against an elastic thread that only slowly gives way with a resounding clang. Every movement of my hands is difficult when I try to raise these threads and push them to the side… They give way only to a hard pull… They scurry incessantly over my face like the fabric of a spider web, like when you walk on some wooded path in the summer time. Only these threads are of an invisible metal. I hear them clang. The sound of them always rings in my ears when they finally snap. Oh, I will tear this web apart… before it becomes too solid… Tonight? It is time. I will be free. The katechana will not torment me any more. I will get my two hundred thousand Francs from her. I will be the winner.
Tonight I lie in wait, alert like I have never been before in my life. The buzz of the city down below becomes fainter. I have left the door open despite the autumn chill in order to hear this buzz. It tells me of life, of the life I will plunge back into with my two hundred thousand Francs. The reflections of many lights shine from the night clouds. They blink back and forth brightly in a regular pattern. They are the flashes of an electric billboard that advertises a bathtub, a theater performance or a pleasure cruise… I wait patiently.
Around midnight the green glow in my prison becomes stronger. I look across at the bronze plaque with the name Anna Feodorowna Wassilska… But I breathe peacefully as if I am asleep… Now the bronze plaque is slowly dissolving in the green glow. It becomes thinner, as billows of faint red mist appear here and there in the green light. Now the last of it fades, disappears leaving a gaping four cornered black hole in the marble.
Now a breeze presses out of it once more, a mist like breath on cold winter days. It forms itself into a ball, becomes thicker, takes on form and once more someone is standing beside my bed…
I see the eyes of Madame Wassilska, her coarse nose, her full mouth and blood red lips that slowly give way to strong, white, pointed teeth… I recognize every feature from the portrait that I have been shown.
She bends over me, kisses me… I wrap my hands around her throat, feel my nails press into her flesh. It is flesh that I feel… She gasps, beats at me and pushes with her arms against my chest… but I hold onto her and don’t let go. I fall from my bed and we roll onto the floor… always with my hands on her throat. I sense the convulsions of her body. Oh, it is a body built out of my blood, but it is like the body of a living person… I hang onto her like a hound, my teeth seize her throat… her movements become weaker… lessen…finally she offers no more resistance… But I want to be certain that I have really won. Blood fills my mouth. Ah, yes, it is only my own blood that I am drinking back.
She lies for along time entirely still. I get up… A sweet taste fills my mouth, my lips stick lightly together, my hands are covered with blood, my own blood that I have won back. She lays stretched out on the floor–the katechana and now my marble house is dark. The breath of the katechana is gone. I sit through the entire night without making a light. But inside myself there is a light, I am free.
The late autumn morning dawns gray and gloomy. The katechana lies stretched out on the floor with her throat bitten through. She is dead a second time, this Madame Wassilska. I look at her face. I pull back. Oh, she wanted to give me one last fright before she yielded to me. She has taken on the features of Margaret. She wants me to believe that I have killed Margaret… I push the shell away from me with my foot. Ivan will be surprised.
The day breaks.
I am free…