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Franz Kafka Prepares For The End Of Civilization

kafka20strichmaennchen

(Image drawn by Franz Kafka)

In my novel, Kafka In The Castle, I fill in his lost diaries.  Here, as the learned Doktor of Laws, he has been asked to speak to the citizens of the small village where he is living with his sister for a few months. He speaks the truth, and avoids the truth.

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15 January 1918

This war. They wanted my opinions about this endless war. These earnest, honest men, awaiting the words from the Herr Doktor of Prague.

I agreed only to answer questions – that way I could not be accused of fermenting treason. Even in these troubled times, the law allows a man to answer questions. Assuming that the law prevails.

The law was present in the form of the policeman, attending this questionable gathering while still in uniform. He doffed his hat as he shook my hand. I would rather have him in our midst, than lurking in the hall. We have nothing to fear from him.

“Will the empire last?” This was first from their lips. And they must have needed to hear the words, for even the Emperor must know that all is lost. The Old Order, having fallen into the hands of dull and witless men, must succumb. The complacency of the age must be purged – but that has not yet happened. That awaits the next generation – and the destruction will be furious. But I do not tell them this.

I am skilful in what I do not tell them, for the truth is beyond their power to persuade or control. (Their next questions would have been more difficult had I not curbed the truth further still.) “What will happen to Zurau? What will happen to us?” And they have every right to worry. To suspect. When a society crumbles, it is those at the bottom who get crushed. But I told them that Amerika seemed a just power – not bent on retribution.

I did not tell them that a victor can do as he wants.

And I told them that we live in a secondary part of a secondary empire – the powers of destruction will be concentrated on Vienna and Berlin. I did not tell them that during the death of a snake, the spasms of the tail can be lethal.

And I told them something which could really be of help. I told them, in this coming year, to grow more food: fatten more beasts: prepare, preserve and put away. Fill their cellars and barns to bursting with food and fuel. Buy some things now, which they can use for barter later if the currency becomes worthless. Look after their families and lands. Look after each other.

 

16 January 1918

I did not tell them that war is the end result of injustice and arrogance, and that it is oftentimes necessary. I did not tell them that when the natural balance is upset by human action, the cost of righting it must be made in human payment. I did not tell them that a country where neighbour is cruel to neighbour is a country mean for war.

 

17 January 1918

I did not tell them how the Jews will always suffer in time of war. How we will be searched out, then driven as far as the east is from the west, and then be persecuted. How there will never be safety for us. Yea, even unto the land of Israel.

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A Ghost House Suitable For Halloween

Samhain/Halloween is a night of death and ghosts. Ghosts to fear and ghosts to help along their way to the Otherworld. But not all ghosts are troubled and fearful. There is nothing wrong with being dead if one is content.

This excerpt is from a non-spooky novel, where a man goes looking for a new place to live. He comes across many houses on his quest. Many.

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o-haunted-houses-towns-facebook

From: He Lives In The City/He Drives To The Country

  It had been a house of dreams, it was now a house of ghosts.

   Ghosts tranquil and benign peered through the dusty upper windows, stood in wait behind the boarded doors. The dreams of long ago, which had tumbled down the stairs, and frolicked through the rooms, were now memories in the minds of ghosts.     

   The ghosts were themselves memories, destined to further fade with each new birth. But there would be no births in this house, as it slid inexorably toward decay. The lackluster brown shingles would be more smudged, the remaining panes of old glass would break, the floors would warp and collapse, the unkept roof would succumb to the years of harsh weather. 

     Even the `No Trespass’ sign was barely legible. Then where would the ghosts go?

     Blaine left his car and walked toward the house. 

     If he had eyes to see, who would be there to greet him?  Would children’s dreams, fair-haired and boisterous, burst through the front door and surround him in games of tag and laughter?  Would he get caught by their enthusiasm (would he become a child himself), and race behind the trees, burrow into the hay, hide between the bins of potato and turnip, intent not to be `it’. 

     Or would he meet the ghosts, quiet and tentative at the top of the steps, moving slowly with their uncertain smiles. Would they greet him with a wave, invite him into their warm-smelling kitchens, offer him fresh tea, and squares right out of the pan?  Would he sit in the stream of fall sunlight flowing across the well-oiled floor, and talk about childhood?

     Blaine walked part way up the drive before he stopped.

     He knew what lay beyond the boarded windows, and the sagging door upon its rusty hinges. Wallpaper would be water-stained, and curling off the plaster walls. There would be lumps of refuse in the corners of the rooms, with one inevitable rusty bedframe lying on its side. There would be gaps in the ceiling, where beams of sunlight shimmered through motes of dust. There would be holes in the baseboards, where earnest rodents made comfortable homes.

     There would be musty smells offering a hint of long-ago meals, and something gone bad in the pantry. There would be one upper window (at the back) which still had a tattered lace  curtain, half obscuring what had once been totally private. At night he would hear bats.

     It was not this house he had come to see, of course. Of course, not this derelict house, which he knew could never be restored, and which was so beyond help even death slept while visiting. 

DE

(image)http://i.huffpost.com/gen/833600/thumbs/o-HAUNTED-HOUSES-TOWNS-facebook.jpg

The “Dance of Death” [Der Berliner Totentanz] Offered For Halloween

In my novel, “There Has Been A Sighting”, sightings of Satan are tracked and confronted. An antechamber to such an encounter occurs in the crypt of the St. Marien church, in Berlin.

 

berlin-1936

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Dorkas removes the keys from her pocket. “Which is worse, do you think. Keys keeping things out, or keys letting things in?”

“They each – ” begins Breeze.

“You may as well have the flashlight.” Dorkas interrupts her. “Until we get the damn door open.”

Breeze has to hurry to stay in step, and almost drops the flashlight in her haste. When they reach the door, Dorkas quickly inserts the key. It works with ease.

“Fortune smiles on my enterprise,” mutters Dorkas.

“I don’t understand.” The young woman is perplexed as she looks around. “I’m certain when I was here, the painting was on these walls.” She watches Dorkas put the other key into a second door. “We didn’t go anywhere else.”

“What did Agnes tell you?” Dorkas opens the door, and glares down a darkened flight of steps.

“I’m not supposed to say.”

“Mother Ursula certainly expects me to go down into the gloom.” Dorkas is harsh. “Otherwise, why am I here?”

“I don’t deny that’s the way it is now.” Breeze stands beside her, peering into the dark. “I just wonder if it is what we would find tomorrow.”

“I may as well take their kind illumination.”

“Agnes only had a candle.” Breeze gives her the flashlight.

“Agnes could not fear half the terror I feel.” Dorkas shines the light down the stairs. “She expected to come back.”

“I’ll be waiting.”

“If I’m not forever, then I won’t be long.”

As Dorkas descends, the stone walls absorb the light, pockmarking the surface with rough shadows. She pauses before entering the room, perturbed by the dimness. Her light had shone brightly minutes ago, but now its beam seems submerged in water.

“Damn.”

She slaps the flashlight against her open palm.

“I’d do better with – ”

She stumbles on the bottom step, twisting her right foot as she is thrown against the wall.

“Damn.”

The flashlight falls and rolls across the floor. She hears its metal casing scratch over the stones, and watches the beam of light spiral like a demented beacon, until it turns around to shine back into her face.

“I won’t stay if that goes out.”

Dorkas deliberately speaks aloud.

“Whether I’m in Berlin for a night or a year.”

She tests her foot and finds her ankle is slightly injured.   “If I break my leg, what will they do? Leave me down here?”     She bends over to get the flashlight.

“A permanent fixture.”

As she takes the light, she points it away from herself.

“Christ.”

The feet are bare, and dirty, and raising dust as they dance. A cloud of dust rises up their emaciated legs to their knees. Although Dorkas is in a crouched position, she jerks away from the figures, and sprawls on her back.

She starts to cough in the dust, and the ragged, whirling band begins to encircle her. The light gripped in her hand strays across their bodies, and catches the glint of bleached, protruding teeth as they grin down at her.

“A tomb.” Dorkas shouts.

She can not count the number of hands reaching toward her, their flesh mottled from the iridescence of putrefaction. The frayed cuffs of their funeral finery trail strands of unravelling cloth, and she cringes from the touch.

“You want me with you?” Dorkas struggles to her knees. “To end on your wall?”

Bejewelled rings and bracelets rattle against bony fingers and wrists. The sound fills her ears as the hands, extending to grab her, are jostled by the tempo of the dance. They can not stop their own feet, and they can not stop their partners who hurry them ever on.

“I won’t.” Dorkas holds the light in both hands. “Alive or dead.”

Der Totentanz becomes smaller as the figures tighten the circle around Dorkas. A whiff of their decay permeates the dust, and she turns her head, coughing even more. But she can’t avoid their movement, their grasping hands, their stench. Victory is etched upon their faces.

“Dorkas.”

She barely hears her name as she huddles more closely to the floor. She is afraid to stand in case the frenzied dancers graze against her. She fears that the slightest brush – whether from their knees, their fingers, or even their rotting clothes – will lift her to her feet and make her a part of this final procession.

“Dorkas! I can’t turn on the electric lights.”

“You wouldn’t want to see.” Dorkas tries to shout, but her throat is clamped by hysteria. “This is worse than buried alive. I’d rather be in the dark.”

The dust of the dead is filling her mouth as she switches off the flashlight.

“Dorkas! For God’s sake.”

Breeze comes plunging down the stairs, scraping her hands as she steadies herself against the wall.

“Answer me!”

When she reaches the bottom, she stops in the blackness. Her hesitation is brief, and she starts forward at her usual pace, hands outstretched. She strains to hear the slightest sound.

“Dorkas? Did you drop the flashlight?”

“Are you alive?”

“Dorkas?” Breeze turns abruptly, for the voice is behind her. “Of course I’m alive.”

“Then I guess we both are.”

Dorkas gets to her knees, and slowly stands.

“Berlin proves to be as wonderful as I anticipated.” She brushes dust off her shirt. “Let’s get out of here.”

“Did you lose the flashlight?” Breeze starts to move toward the other woman’s voice.

Dorkas is momentarily puzzled, then realizes it is still gripped fiercely in her hand. She switches it on, casting a beam over Breeze’s legs.

“You’re it.”

“I thought you were it.” Breeze looks down at her legs, then follows the light back to Dorkas. “When you didn’t answer, I thought something had gone wrong.”

“I’m in Berlin.” Dorkas laughs harshly. “Everything goes wrong.”

She approaches the younger woman slowly.

“I don’t know where I would be if you hadn’t come to me.” Dorkas strokes Breeze’s arm. “Your intervention won’t make the others happy.”

“I’ll handle himself if you take care of the old girl.”

“Deal.”

“Let’s take a look.” Breeze reaches for the flashlight.

“A look?”

“At the bloody painting.” Breeze is turning the light toward the wall. “I know it’s been a long time since I’ve seen it, but maybe we can figure how its now in a different place.”

“No.” Dorkas swats the flashlight with her hand. “If you accept that there is God and Satan, then you accept there are things beyond your power.”

She stands close to Breeze, the light between them.

“You do not invite what can destroy you – that is dangerous folly.”

“But you came here.”

“Yes.” Dorkas takes back the flashlight. “I came here. And that courage – and you – enables me to walk out of here.”

She looks Breeze in the eyes.

“I have light, and I have a friend, and I’m not going to be buried alive. Not tonight, at any rate.”

She shakes the flashlight.

“Not here, at any rate.”

Dorkas sighs deeply.

“But I’ve done my part.”

“These are distinctions I don’t understand.” Breeze begins to feel uncomfortable. “Here we are – standing right here. Haven’t you won?”

“If you tempt fate?” Dorkas speaks softly. “No – fate will always win. Fate has all the cards.”

“That sounds fatalistic.”

“Life is fatal.”

“Perhaps I’ll come back tomorrow and be a tourist.” Breeze wants to hear her own voice. “Will a bunch of loud Italians and pushy Americans keep the dancers in the painting?”

“It might make it easier for them to mingle.”

“I’m not going to see them step from the wall,” insists Breeze.

“I suggest you look closely at the mustiest Italian, or the most hysterical American.” Dorkas shines the light toward the exit. “And then keep your distance.”

Dorkas is impatient as she watches the young woman walk through the beam of light, and quickly begins to follow.

“Did you say something?”

“No.” Dorkas answers curtly, but she has heard it too.

It is a sound which stays in her ears, until the door is firmly closed and locked behind them.

The sounds of an interrupted dance, where she knows partners are still being sought.

DE

 

(image)http://www.dodedans.com/Full/berlin-1936.jpg

A Dream Of Death After Life [from: Kafka In The Castle]

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21 March 1917

Dreamed I was standing in a galleria with him. In a town in Northern Italy. We could see across the rooftops, to a plain slipping gently toward the foothills of the mountains. The day was clear – a cool spring morning – and the touch of sun was welcome on our skin.

He pointed to a laden waggon passing beneath us. A curtain of dust rose from its wheels as it squeezed through a narrow lane. We watched it for awhile, then he turned to me, his body a silhouette against the vivid sky.

“I enjoyed my funeral. I wish we could have talked about it after – it was one of those things to share.”

“We did share it,” I pointed out. “I was there.”

“But I was not,” he said.

Then he eased himself over the balcony, and without effort, we were sitting in the back of the waggon, perched upon boxes and equipment. We rattled out of the village toward the countryside.

“I loved the outdoors,” he said. “I still remember my last walk in the fields.”

We moved slowly through the country side, the waggon rarely being jostled along the rutted road. The teamster must have been an expert, but he never turned his face to us. Intent upon his business, I suppose.

“You forget that I am dead; for which I thank you.”

“Sometimes I do,” I replied.

“It is at those times, I sometimes think I’m still alive.”

He occasionally pointed to things behind me. Once there was a rabbit. The countryside spread endlessly, without another person in sight. I mentioned this, and he nodded.

“It will be crowded at our destination. But I’ll want to meet my wife.” He then leaned toward me, across the waggon. “You helped me, you know – in our final dance.” He smiled, then sighed, then pointed beneath me.   “My destination is close, I must return.”

I looked down, and saw I was sitting on a coffin – the polished brown one of his funeral. I moved, then bent over, prepared to open it. His fingers touched the wood beneath my hand.

“No. Do not look. You would not like what you found.” His smile seemed forced, there were more teeth showing than usual. “I embrace my new world. But for you, I am well and truly dead.”

DE

(image) http://whitesauctions.com/yahoo_site_admin/assets/images/WAGON2.344181058_std.jpg

House Of Ghosts Waiting For Halloween

Novel Excerpt:  

(image)

I http://s0.geograph.org.uk/photos/09/51/095181_9494027f.jpg

   It had been a house of dreams, it was now a house of ghosts.

   Ghosts tranquil and benign peered through the dusty upper windows, stood in wait behind the boarded doors. The dreams of long ago, which had tumbled down the stairs, and frolicked through the rooms, were now memories in the minds of ghosts.     

   The ghosts were themselves memories, destined to further fade with each new birth. But there would be no births in this house, as it slid inexorably toward decay. The lackluster brown shingles would be more smudged, the remaining panes of old glass would break, the floors would warp and collapse, the unkept roof would succumb to the years of harsh weather. 

     Even the `No Trespass’ sign was barely legible. Then where would the ghosts go?

     Blaine left his car and walked toward the house. 

     If he had eyes to see, who would be there to greet him?  Would children’s dreams, fair-haired and boisterous, burst through the front door and surround him in games of tag and laughter?  Would he get caught by their enthusiasm (would he become a child himself), and race behind the trees, burrow into the hay, hide between the bins of potato and turnip, intent not to be `it’. 

     Or would he meet the ghosts, quiet and tentative at the top of the steps, moving slowly with their uncertain smiles. Would they greet him with a wave, invite him into their warm-smelling kitchens, offer him fresh tea, and squares right out of the pan?  Would he sit in the stream of fall sunlight flowing across the well-oiled floor, and talk about childhood?

     Blaine walked part way up the drive before he stopped.

     He knew what lay beyond the boarded windows, and the sagging door upon its rusty hinges. Wallpaper would be water-stained, and curling off the plaster walls. There would be lumps of refuse in the corners of the rooms, with one inevitable rusty bedframe lying on its side. There would be gaps in the ceiling, where beams of sunlight shimmered through motes of dust. There would be holes in the baseboards, where earnest rodents made comfortable homes.

     There would be musty smells offering a hint of long-ago meals, and something gone bad in the pantry. There would be one upper window (at the back) which still had a tattered lace  curtain, half obscuring what had once been totally private. At night he would hear bats.

     It was not this house he had come to see, of course. Of course, not this derelict house, which he knew could never be restored, and which was so beyond help even death slept while visiting. 

DE

    

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