Standard disclaimers apply.
Classification Information for Archivers: * Rating: R (gore, violence)
* Characters: Caspian
* Synopsis: (From the Caspian Files) Convicted of unspeakable crimes against humanity, Evan Caspari is being treated by Dr. Draco, an optimistic yet weathered Hungarian doctor. Draco wants to help his patient, but must struggle against his own conceptions, even if he didn't believe this man... and he begins to fear that he just might.
Author's Notes --
* I offer my most sincere regrets for not thinking about these stories until a few days before Halloween.
* This is my ongoing attempt to flesh out the character of Caspian, since
the series writers had no interest in doing so.
The posted story is part of a project that I am beginning, called "The Caspian Files". In a few weeks, the framework should be posted. In the meantime, we have a story from these files... The True Story.
This is a continuing story, so feedback and comments would be very much appreciated. :-) And now, on with the story.
Methos was a survivor. Part of his ability to survive came from his psychological methods of adaptation. To adapt meant that you couldn't dwell on the past or keep your methods of living for the sole reason that it's tradition. As a result, he dressed in fashionable clothes, drank micro-brewed beer, and went to trendy coffeehouses and dance clubs.
I found Methos at one such coffeehouse in Seattle. I flashed him my tattoo and he relaxed. "I was hoping we might be able to talk for a while."
"Let's start out with the fact that I know that you're really Methos."
Now he was spooked. "That's a new one."
"Relax. I'm a historian -- not a Hunter. I just want to ask you some questions about someone who lost his head a few years back in Bordeaux. It'll be under wraps for another forty years, so nobody is going to be using this against you."
He stared at me as if I'd lost my mind.
I extended my hand, which had my business card. "If you have any doubts, take a look at my own stories. I think you'll find that I'm not the same as the others. I'm a historian, and I think you'd much rather talk to me than anyone else."
A few days later, he called me. There were some things that I really wanted to know, but I didn't want to shape anything he had to say. I asked him what he had to tell me about Caspian, and he led me to a story from a Romanian paper.
"Yes,"I nodded. "As Evan Caspari, he killed a bunch of people and buried them in his back yard."
"That's the official story."
We were conferencing over the lines, but if he saw my face, he would have seen a look of curiosity. "You learned that this wasn't so?"
He laughed cynically. "I know you've read 1984. I've also read your commentaries on modern culture and government in Libereco. Do I need to elaborate?"
CHAPTER 1 --
The psychologist looked at his paperwork once more, then at the man sitting across from him. He wore restraints in his steel chair, his expression one of total apathy. There was life in there, but what Dr. Draco saw along with that disturbed him. It had been several weeks since Mr. Caspari had been found guilty of the brutal murders, and now it was up to the State to rehabilitate this man. Dr. Draco was known for his eagerness to take on the unwanted case, and this was one very unwanted case. Perhaps it was because of the fact that Draco was not Romanian, but rather Hungarian. He knew what it was like to be the one who looked just a little different, and talked just a little differently, and as a result got the looks from others... at the very best.
"Mr. Caspari? I am Dr. Draco. Do you know why I am here?"
"No. Why do you not enlighten me?"The accent was definitely not any form of Romanian, though his language was excellent. Funny... his papers said that he was born in the city. Surely he could find people who knew this man.
"I am here to determine if you are mentally ill, as the State accuses you of being. If you are ill, I will heal you. If you are not ill, then I shall still work with you. In either case, you will be made better."
Caspari just smiled at him. "You're not from around here."
"Neither are you, I might suggest."
"He shrugged. No. I was born on the shores of the Volga."
He smiled. "Not even close."
"Who are you, then?"
He shrugged. "That is not important."
"If nothing is important, then you wouldn't mind talking with me."
"You think you're clever!"he spat at the table.
"I'm just trying to help."
"All right. The State has decided that I am insane. You have decided that I'm some poor little man in need of help from a man who is so much more learned than I could ever be. Why don't I tell you the whole story...?"
"What story would this be?"
"What really happened in that back yard."
"The dead people."
"Yes. The dead people. They were killed. Of that there can be no doubt. However, I was not the one who killed them. Someone else did."
"Did you have an accomplice?"
Caspari showed a moment of irritation, raising his voice but not yelling or making what physical display might be in his limited power. "You are not listening! I did not kill them. But I know who did."
"To you, he is known as the chief of the secret police."There was a pause. "You are skeptical. You believe, as everyone else does, that there are no secret police. That is not true, as you also believe. You have only to look around you and see the secret police, watching you, recording everything you do. Some night, they may even burst into your most sacred of places -- your home -- and they can destroy everything you hold most dear. They can rape your wife and daughter, kill your son, and then kill the rest of you, and no criminals would be found. After all, the secret police do not exist."
"Mr. Caspari, please believe me when I say that I am not scoffing you. I am not skeptical and I endeavor to be factual, but not critical out of habit. In fact, I have every reason to believe in what you just said, because I am Hungarian. My parents and grandparents resisted the Russians and I myself am an open critic of Communism. The only reason I have not fled to New York or London is because I believe in honesty. An honest man does not run away from a battleground and then cry to others about the slaughter."He sighed. "If nobody ran, Communism would never have been an issue in Hungary."Dr. Draco blinked. "But this is not about me."
Caspari smiled. "Maybe, maybe not."
"For the moment, it is about the story you wished to tell me."
"Yes. The chief of the secret police was not only the one responsible for all those murders, but he was the one who did it with his very hands. You see, the adjectives that this civilized society has created to describe cruelty just don't work well enough. He comes from a time when no words were needed for such natures."He showed his teeth. "I also come from such a time. That is why I understand him so well."
The doctor looked up from his notepad. "You have known him for a long time?"
"Most of my life. In fact, I've known him for far longer than you've been alive."
"You look as if you could be no older than thirty years. You file says that you are thirty-five years of age."
"That's where the story truly begins. I could tell you what happened these last five years, and the story would mean absolutely nothing to you. We have to start before this story starts."
"When does the story start?"
"A time that the Russian archaeologists are still studying. It was a time so long ago that the only name that Pavel Dolukhanov could come up with for the name of my people was the Catacomb Grave group, one of the Accorded Ware peoples. I can give you a name. We were the Aryans."That gave the doctor a chill."You think I am a Nazi. Don't. The Nazis were children with very little imagination and creativity. Hitler's yes-men looked across the globe for bits of mythology they could use to satisfy their political needs. They corrupted the Swastika, Nietzsche, Wagner, and Nordic mythology to suit their needs. They corrupted the history of the Aryans as well."He spat. "The Aryans were not Scandinavians, and you don't need to hear it from me. They didn't have blond hair or blue eyes, and they weren't tall."
"What are you saying? You say that you are Aryan, but not a Nazi. You say that you were born in Russia, but you are not a Russian. You say that you come from a time so long ago that the archaeologists are still putting the pieces of pottery together. What are you telling me?"
Caspari shook his head, clicking his tongue against his teeth. "You're cheating. You're trying to read the end of the story before the beginning and the middle."
A buzzer sounded. "It sounds like you'll have to wait until tomorrow. Your next patient is coming."
Caspari was led back to his cage by several armed guards. The man didn't seem to care. He didn't care when an aggressive nurse medicated him with a needle. He didn't care when a male nurse forced enough pills down his throat to kill a bear.
There was one thing that the doctor could believe: Caspari didn't seem to care about anything.
CHAPTER 2 --
"Our first meeting was productive, but only in the sense that he was willing to talk. I believe I know what points need to be addressed. While some of what Caspari says and believes is very disturbing, I am convinced that it is his truth. I would rather be faced with an unpleasant truth than a pleasant lie. When I face him next time, I will be armed with what facts are available to me about the Aryans (based on genuine historical and archaeological works)."
-- From the journal of Dr. Draco.
Dr. Draco noticed that Caspari seemed to be in better spirits, as if he got something from these talks. He once more reminded himself that Caspari was being held here because of his conviction of multiple murders and sadism -- sharpness of the mind not to be unexpected. The man's mind would be functioning, even if there were problems with his emotions and sense of morals.
"You are staring at me,
Dr. Draco."Caspari didn't seem to mind.
"I'm terribly sorry, Mr. Caspari. I was just thinking."
"What were you thinking about?"
"Where we will start this session. I think it might be best if we start where we left off. You wanted to tell me what you called, 'the whole story'. I have no more appointments, and I do apologize for cutting you off yesterday. What do you want to tell me?"
He seemed thoughtful. "As I said before, if I told you the punch line, you wouldn't appreciate it. Let me start where most successful storytellers start. Not in the beginning or the end, but in the middle."
"The middle? When would that be?"
"When I was very confident that I knew myself and my place in the world."
I woke up, wanting to spit out whatever was in my mouth. I was only partially successful. My nose and throat were clogged with blood, dust, spit, and some things I didn't even know. My face had been buried in the bloody mud for who knew how many days. Perhaps it was a good thing that my nose was clogged, or I would have smelled the decaying dead. It had been long enough for the scavengers to eat undisturbed. They had left me alone.
This battle had been between two tribes. Let us just call them 'us' and 'them'. We didn't name ourselves the way that nations and cities name themselves. We considered ourselves to be 'people' and them to be 'enemies'. That was all that mattered.
I had died in that battle, killed by one of those that didn't matter.
The fact that I had come to life didn't bother me. I had discovered this little fact more than a few years back, and had kept it a secret from my people. I was smart enough to keep from being banished or buried alive out of fear that I was some demon wearing a skinsuit. What had bothered me was that I felt a sensation that I hadn't ever felt before. It was like nothing I had ever experienced, but I knew that I did not like what I was feeling. I wanted to vomit, except that I had nothing to vomit. I wanted to fall back to the ground, except that I hadn't gotten up. It was not pleasant. To put things in perspective, I was a man who could not be killed for more than a few hours and laughed at pain, because I knew that my body would heal the wounds in a short time. To say that I did not want to feel this sensation means something.
"So you're the one I felt."The voice startled me.
I reached for my sword, broken and covered with filth. It didn't seem to bother me at the moment.
The source of the voice was a foreign woman unlike anyone I had ever seen before. That was a shock to me. Women just didn't wear armor and carry swords, except for a strange tribe that the old people told us about as children -- a faraway tribe of women who were said to kill all their men and burn off their breasts so that they could use bows without hindrance. I wondered if she might be one of that tribe, but I also noted that she did not look like the people from that direction. She looked like someone of the south. Tales were told of the Land of Two Rivers, and I wondered if she could be one of them. "Do not be foolish, boy."
She called me a boy. I, who was old enough to see my grandchildren born -- if I ever had children -- and she called me a boy. She looked younger than my daughter would have been, and shorter than I was. But as a warrior should, I ignored such words. "Whay should I fear you, woman?"
I had managed to stand up by then, but faster than I could see, my broken sword flew from my hands. The next moment, I was trying to catch my breath, wondering why I was looking at the clouds.
"Because I am in control."
Though it hurt my pride, I admitted that she was in control for the moment. But I knew that I could not die. A man who cannot die has nothing to fear. "Who are you?"
"I have many names, but none among your people. You would not know me."
A name meant everything. Without a name, you could not know a person... or have any power over them. "What is your name?"
She shrugged. "If you must have a name, call me Astarte."
Astarte. I was right about her being from the south. I did now know that the south had women warriors. "What did you mean by what you said before?"
"I sensed an immortal here, but I did not know who it might have been."She gestured among the hundreds of dead. "It could have been anyone -- even one of those corpses being eaten. Some of us, at first, do not know that we are immortal and are supposed to come back from the dead."
"Immortal? Like Gilgamesh."
"No. Gilgamesh was a mortal who sought immortality. You are created immortal, and have just learned what you are."
"Yes. You can be killed in any fashion -- even the ones that you can't imagine -- and you will return from death."
"That much I knew, but I did not know I was truly immortal."
"You are not truly immortal. You are almost immortal."
"Almost? What can truly kill me?"
She smiled cruelly at me. "What is that secret worth to you? You can walk away without knowledge, and owe me nothing. Or, you can learn what you truly need to survive and owe me a very dear price."
Dr. Draco smiled, "I think I can imagine what happened next."
Caspari shook his head sadly. "Nothing like that, if you imagine that she wanted me to plow her like a field. You forget that she was an immortal who had lived for countless years already. Childish mortals might delight in such pleasures, but the jaded and world-weary look for more creative and inventive diversions. I survived her attentions because I was immortal. A mortal would have died."
"You are making me very curious now. What did she do?"
"Are you sure you want to know?"
"Yes. Tell me."
"As you wish."
I woke up from death. This had happened countless times since that day. For my first years in this condition, before I met Astarte, I had wondered if my luck might run out. I had died so many times, and suffered so many woundings that this was no longer my question.
My question was now, when can I die again? Though I had once more risen, the pain was still with me.
I was suspended from the roof of the hut, over the flames. Though I was suspended a few feet above the coals, the heat was quite strong when it reached my bare flesh. I hung from the frames, not by rope or chain, by many hooks that punched through my flesh. They hooked through skin and muscle, from my feet to my head, and from my shoulders to my hands. A strong slap might have made the hooks rip through my flesh.
I could see where my blood had fallen onto the ground. Some of the pools were still fresh.
A mug was placed in front of my mouth, and I realized how dry my mouth was. I drank hungrily and immediately spat it out. Though my eyes were partly impaired, I knew by the smell what this putrid liquid was. A groan escaped through my mouth.
Her only response was laughter. "You'll beg to drink that soon enough."
I should have resisted. I should have fought and prevented myself from being in this spot. My pride had long since left me. All that was left was my pain, my dwindling hope, and the question that was hanging around in my mind. What was I? I knew that I was not human, but I did not know what I was in the very slightest.
Her tone was dripping with false pity. "Oh, are we feeling sorry for ourselves? I know how to fix that."
The scream I heard could not have been my own. It was too high of a pitch. It should have been that of a woman. But there I was, screaming.
When she showed me what she held in her hand, I was screaming even louder. It was a scream not only of pain, but also of disbelief. Something else crept in there too. It was something that I don't think I felt before. It wasn't even a feeling -- in the emotional sense.
The best word was aloofness. I felt aloof.
The closest way I could describe it to someone who hasn't experienced such a feeling would be to say that I was enlightened, or that I saw, or understood for the very first time. Oh, I didn't have the answers to those questions that I sought, but they had also lost their importance. What did my questions matter when I was seeing everything?
What importance was pain or pleasure? What importance was fear or anger? I felt nothing and everything, and for that I was grateful.
I also knew that I had regained control.
I knew that compared to what had been done to me before, ripping myself from the net of hooks was nothing. They were mere pinpricks. That is what I did. I think she must have been surprised. Yes. That was her reaction. Surprise and maybe a little fear.
I could see it in her eyes. She was no teacher. Perhaps she had planned to take off my head after the cruel woman had her fun. She had lied to me as much as she had told me the truth.
"Come closer,"I gasped, standing in the fire without flinching, even as my flesh burned and the blood from my gushing wound made the air smell like a roasting feast. "Come closer and let me thank you."
Astarte stared at me as if I was some kind of freak. Fear, confusion, shock, incredulity, and anger were all in her face. "There's no need."She grabbed for her sword and made to cut off my head.
She was too overconfident. She did not think that I would learn from her.
Perhaps if I hadn't lost so much blood she might have been dead. I didn't see what she did after I humbled her, because I had collapsed from lack of blood.
When I woke up, only the ruins of the hut had convinced me that any of this had happened. I did wonder what I was doing alive. I knew that while I had my moment, she had hers. She could have killed me or made me her torture slave again. Why did she leave me totally alone?
Was it because I was in control, or because she was?
Dr. Draco sat in stunned disbelief. He had heard fantasies before, but this went off the charts in terms of weirdness. But there was room for thought and analysis, for which he was grateful. Perhaps with more data, he might be able to develop a useful, as well as rich, analysis.
"So, Dr. Draco, what do you think? Am I crazy?"
It was not a question, as the doctor knew very well. "I think that you miss your mother."
Caspari looked introspective. "Yes. That's it. I miss my childhood and the games I would play with my mother. I miss the way she loved me. Yes. Freud is so right."
The doctor ignored the sarcasm. "So. Tell me about your father."
CHAPTER 3 --
"It is clear that Caspari holds a conflicting view of his mother, which he calls Astarte -- after a Mesopotamian goddess of sex. On one hand, he sees her as a source of perverse and forbidden sensation and nurturing, and on the other he blames her for his loss of power and manhood. In his story, I believe he is rather clear in equating attaining understanding with suffering and forbearance. It took great pain in order to reach his understanding, which was actually losing his need for it and losing his touch with emotions. It is very evident that the relationship with his mother concerned power -- its attainment and its maintenance.
"I hope to determine his views concerning his father."-- From the journal of Dr. Draco.
I had been in the land of the Sumerians for the last few years. By this time, I had managed to gather more than a set of new clothes for myself. Starting naked and wounded at the ruins of Astarte's home, I managed to steal or take by force some armor, a helmet, an Egyptian sword (very exotic, in my mind), and the fastest horse that the four directions had to offer. These were familiar comforts in a world that grew bigger by each day. When life seemed so simple, it had become so vast that I could never hope to understand it. It was good and bad.
I had no luck finding Astarte, unless I counted the temples. She was a goddess here, but I would not give her that generosity. The memories were still too strong. All I remembered was the pain and the torment, and willingly choosing that pain in the hopes that I would learn something about who and what I was. She had promised me that knowledge, and she lied to me.
A saying would come to be -- count your greatest riches and your greatest learning from your experiences of adversity. I did not think that way, and if someone told me that, I think I would have a violent reaction. If you asked me, I would have told you that I wanted to put her through a few rounds of torture. I would have killed her if that were not an option. But I would never thank her.
In all that time since I had last met her, I had not felt that sick feeling I had felt after waking up on that faraway battlefield. I had totally forgotten about the existence and possibility of that sensation. At first, I thought that I had met Astarte again, but I could see that it wasn't so. Though the marketplace was crowded, I could have spotted her anywhere. She was not here.
But I could see something that did not fit, and he could see me.
The man was visually distinctive, even without the feeling I got in my gut. He was of a tribe that I had never seen before: his hair was white as snow and his eyes red as fire. The shape of his face looked familiar, but I wasn't sure. This was my first encounter with an albino, and I thought that it was the most odd curiosity in a place noted for its strange faces and customs.
He faced me in all serious, but no apparent fear. Even without the chaotic feelings running through me, I knew that this man was a warrior through and through. Though he wore hemp and flax robes, as the southerners might sometimes wear, he had the frame and the bearing of a warrior. His armor might be missing, but he had a sword by his side.
While he did not look his part, I certainly looked mine. Riding a horse was intimidating enough. That and wearing armor and a sword was enough to convince anyone that I was a fearsome killer of men. He seemed unconcerned of that.
"Ugcho."He pointed to himself. I took that to be his name; though I wasn't quite sure I heard it right. There were some sounds that slipped past my ears or mind. That happened to me a lot.
"Caspian."It wasn't my true name -- which the Sumerians could not pronounce to my satisfaction -- but it was close enough, and pronounceable.
I was still mounted on my horse, so I knew that he was asking something less obvious. It took a moment, and then I realized the true question. "Yes. My people are."
He nodded. "My people come from the snow."
Snow. I had seen that very rarely, but unlike the southerners, I knew what it was. All I knew at this point was that he came from a cold place. "My people come from flat ground."
He nodded once more. "We fight?"
The man was absolutely insane. He wanted to fight me? "What?"
He looked confused himself. "How old are you?"
I didn't know anything about numbers, other than one, two, or many. The question made absolutely no sense.
He tried again. "Did you die soon?"
That was even more confusing. Then like a flash of light, I understood. "When did I die?"I held up my open hand. "These years."
"Come. We eat and talk."
Getting food was easy. We both had coin. What was not easy was talking. Sumerian was our only common language, and neither one of us spoke it well. Between Sumerian and signs, I began to understand. He was like me. Instead of dying on the battlefield, a wild beast had killed him as he went hunting. Nobody had known, and for a while, neither did he. He killed some beasts for food and brought them back to the village, and nobody was the wiser.
It was years later that the others noticed it first. He didn't age. The elders declared him to be a lucky spirit and consulted him for advice. He might have stayed there in the comfort of his village, but when all of his family and friends had died of old age, he moved on. There was nothing for him in the outer world, as he called it, but the unfamiliar faces drove him into that nothingness.
He met another immortal, who taught him the rules -- just as he was teaching me. No immortal knew how he came to be. He just was. No immortal could die unless by decapitation. When that happened, the soul of the immortal entered the victor.
That was the other thing. I wasn't sure if I heard it wrong or he said it wrong, but he called it the Game. When one immortal killed another, it had to be in an honorable duel. No back-stabbing or friends helping out, but whatever you could do in sight of the enemy was fair game.
But whatever was fair on the earth, was forbidden on holy ground of any kind, even the holy ground of infidels and heathens. No immortal was to fight on holy ground.
It took me a while to digest, but I believed that I understood. Astarte had not told me any of this. She would have perhaps taken my head off after she finished toying with me. My blood boiled when I replayed what I would do to her.
"Whay are you mad?"Ugcho looked more curious than anything else.
That's when I told my story so far.
"Immortals hear of the passing of one another. Astarte, I don't know."He smiled. "Your anger is fitting, but be aware that things that are not right for mortals are different for us. In my tribe, a woman would be killed for holding a weapon, looking at a man in disrespect, or raising her voice. Immortal women do all three, and more. You adjust well, but be aware that what you expect to see does not change what you see."
It had been only a few hours, but I felt that I understood him better, just as he understood me better. This was unexpected, based on my poor ability to speak in Sumerian.
Even more unexpected was my reluctance to go my own way when I normally would.
Dr. Draco tilted his head. "You liked him, didn't you? Almost as a father?"
Caspari snorted. "Not like that. He was never my father figure. He was someone I could respect. Everyone seems to equate honesty with morality, and morality with Christianity. Let me tell you that this man was as honest as the floor under your feet and had the brutality of a savage bear. His bravery never wavered, even when he knew his death might come. When a threat passed, he shrugged it off. His next thought was always of beer and prostitutes."
"How long did you two stay in Ur?"
"We left for the west in a few months. There was not much to do, and we felt the wanderlust hit us. I had an Egyptian sword, but I had never been there. Neither had he. So it seemed like an interesting thing to do."
"You're waiting to say something..."
"You're reading ahead again."His eyes were unfocused as he looked back into his memories. "Half a year later, we arrived at the Nile. We had come to the land of Egypt. Time and the capability of civilization had truly impressed me in a way that Sumer couldn't. It would take time for some of the more memorable sights to be built, but there was enough there to make both of us stare in awe. The paved streets, the temples, and the palaces were so grand that we would not have believed their descriptions."
"But something made things worse."
"Astarte."The tone of his voice became flat where it had been somewhat nostalgic before.
"She came in the middle of the night, as we were deep in the smoke of the cannabis. Ugcho was the first to die. It was no fight at all. It was a murder."
"This bothers you more than any other death, it seems."
He stared at the wall. "In all of my long life, Ugcho was the only one I can consider to be a friend. There have been three who were my brothers, closer than blood. I have had enemies, tools, acquaintances, and teachers... but only one had been my friend. A woman had to make sure that my one friend would die."
"Do you hate all women?"
His smile became brutal. "That's not it at all: I don't trust them."
"Why do you not trust them?"
He shook his head. "You haven't heard the rest of my story."
"Fair enough. What happened next?"
"Before, she was on my list of people to hate, but I could have not encountered her and have been content. After that night, she became the only thing in my mind. I could not rest until I could string her up to a net of hooks, over a hot fire."
Dr. Draco nodded, writing some notes.
CHAPTER 4 --
"I find it very interesting how Caspari can be quite descriptive and expressive about the things he hates and the pain he feels, but can be quite short when discussing the good things in life -- or at least the things associated with feelings of intimacy. Perhaps it all comes back to the issue of control? At first, I thought that Ugcho might have been a father figure, but I am beginning to suspect that he might have been a lover, even though I don't know if Caspari holds any homosexual tendencies. I will make no trigger-statements, but I will leave this as a question to be followed."-- From the journal of Dr. Draco.
Draco looked at Caspari. "I find it very strange. Astarte affected your life, and you were very descriptive in an encounter that as very intense, but lasted a relatively short time. Your time with Ugcho was much longer chronologically, and yet you have very little to say about him. Yet you say that he was your best and only friend and peer. Are you merely giving me the synopsis, or is there something else here?"
Caspari didn't speak for a moment. "I could speak for years about the things that Ugcho and I did and saw. I only mentioned him to set the stage. He was the only person in all time who I felt feelings for. Astarte tore that away from me."
"Yes. You swore revenge."
"Yes. But I did not get it for years."
"What comes next in the story?"
"Astarte's trail was warm, but getting very cold. The simple fact was that she was far better at running than I was at hunting, and she didn't want me to follow. Still, in these days, people were more honest and talked to anyone who seemed friendly enough. That was the easy part: pretending to be their friend. It's amazing what a proper set of clothes and a smile might do, or perhaps a suggestive wink. People like to talk about the things that they have experienced, especially if it is something that they are not supposed to talk about. Yes, people had seen someone of her description. She was especially remarkable because she was a stranger. People notice strangers.
"She was going north, in the direction of the place where we first met. No conclusions had come into my mind yet. I was tracking the witch, fantasizing about what I would do. In my mind, I had no intention of stopping, but that is exactly what happened."
"What stopped you?"
"Ironically enough, the call of humanity. Oh, I wouldn't have called it that at the moment. I would have called it fate or an irritating distraction. Historians, should they have the evidence placed before them, would have said that what stopped me had been the deciding factor of all future life."
Draco tried to hide the expression in his face. "What do you mean?"
"You look animated for the first time in hours."
"Quite all right."
I was once more in familiar territory. Snow-capped mountains were in the distance, and I could remember their names. I could speak and be understood by people I met, and some of the people knew my tribe.
Most of the people here were herders. It was a beautiful, but a rough country, and you had to move where the grass was, and that grass seemed to always be a little further north or south than it was the day before. It wasn't all too uncommon to see a family or two camped out near a stream or lake, and then see nothing, only to find them again further down the way without ever seeing them pass you anywhere along the way.
I never thought about seeing people and families appear and vanish like that, but I never expected to find a stone city where there was none before. None of the herders mentioned it, so I wondered if I had eaten something that might have caused visions.
Touching the stone walls convinced me otherwise. The city seemed to be lifeless from the outside, but I could tell that it was real enough. I had seen walls this size only in Egypt and not even on such a large scale. It would have taken me half a day to walk around the perimeter. As it was, it took me quite a while to ride to the front gates. They were black gates, smooth to the touch and very solid. They were made of woven bars of metal, and at the top were spikes, and on each spike was mounted a severed head, in varying steps of decay.
You might think this a sign of horror. A place of great evil. Put yourself in the times and remember that all rulers of cities did this to discourage crime and revolt. There was nothing like a clear answer to prevent the question from being asked. Even so, the nature of this place might have encouraged some travelers to move on, but I had curiosity gnawing at me. What was this place that I had not seen before? My people never told me of such a place, and they should have. After all, the old ones told me about places further away that I had seen with my own eyes these last few years.
Perhaps I might never have gotten past this gate, except that it opened to my touch.
I heard no sound, and the gates opened inward of their own accord. My horse fidgeted nervously. I knew that all horses are fidgety and nervous for no reason at all, so I forced her to walk forward. The fact that she was more afraid of my feet than this city reassured me. She just wanted to get back on the familiar grasslands. I didn't like cities either, but my curiosity was drawing me in.
The gates slammed shut the moment that we were in all the way. That startled the both of us. I jumped off my horse and ran to the gates, trying to open them with my hands. They would not open, no matter how hard I pulled at them. I tried to pry them open with my sword, but they would not budge.
One of my strengths is the knowledge of when a different door should be tried. My horse was scared stiff. She wouldn't move until I threatened to kick her ribs in.
The question now was... where would I go? Inside the gates, the buildings were built the way they would be in any southern city -- with narrow streets and packed dirt pathways. The only difference was that the buildings were made of black, hard stone. It wasn't the baked mud or white, sandy stone of Egypt. This was a place unique in itself.
"Is anyone about?"I yelled as loud as I could. My voice echoed for a few seconds. "Answer me!"
"Aa aa a aa a a a a aAAAA!"The sound seemed to come at me from all directions, first as an unheard whisper, and then with all the force of a violent storm. My horse actually screamed, throwing me off her, but I could see nothing. Still, my heart beat wildly and my sword was out. I knew it was no immortal, but still, it was something.
"I am Caspian!"I yelled. "Come out!"
Nothing answered my call, not even that eerie sound.
"Come, horse."I always talked to my horse, as all horsemen I knew did. "All cities have stables. Even this place should."
It looked like I was in a business district, where the merchants might catch anyone coming through the doors. The buildings looked like the ones that merchants would use, but their wares were scattered about. They were placed in the way that they should be: clay jugs and pots for sale, fruits and vegetables in the stands, and other assorted needs. I grabbed a piece of bread. Fresh. Still warm in fact. But there was nobody there.
I was as if everyone in a lively city had suddenly picked up and walked away. But there were no footprints. The fires were burning, I noticed, some with food cooking. The soups and bread had not burned. I grabbed some flatbread off a pan. Good. Very good.
There was no sound. Not even the boiling food made a sound. I slapped my horse's rear to get her to walk with me, and I noticed that even that made no sound. I checked my ears to see if anything had plugged them without my knowing. No. They were clear.
"I am Caspian!"I yelled. I could hear my voice echo, and yet nothing else seemed to make a sound.
I mounted my horse and kicked her into a run, looking for any kind of life. I saw all of the things that any city needs or should have, and nobody yet.
I began to feel tired, and stopped at a traveler's stop. The front door was open, and I could see bowls of stew set on tables, mugs of beer, racks of cured mutton, and a large fire in the center of the place. My hunger got the best of me. Tying my horse to an outside column, I walked inside and tore some mutton from a hook and began ripping off huge chunks of it with my teeth. I almost fell to my knees, the taste was so good. These were flavors I tasted all my life, and yet they seemed pale and shallow compared to what I tasted now. The beer was even better.
I soon fell asleep and dreamed. Most often, I know that I dream but remember nothing. This I did not want to remember.
I saw a face that filled me with fear. I think it was not the face itself, but its quality that scared me. It was an emotion and a lack of emotion that I remembered. The face was human, but it had an aura of otherworldliness about it. All those things that I could not touch or name took me beyond fear. I could not see anything else, but there was a feeling that grew with the power of the coming night, and it made me want to flee like nothing has ever done to me.
When I woke up, I was screaming.
A face was in my vision. A different face. A woman's face. She screamed too.
CHAPTER 5 --
The woman had a bow drawn back and aimed at me. "HANDS IN THE AIR! PUT YOUR HANDS IN THE AIR!"She was obviously distressed, and not just cautious. I could see that in her face. She was more intelligent than most too -- she kept a few feet away from me. There was nothing I could do without getting an arrow in the chest.
Her hair was in matted tangles, but from the look of her clothes, I judged that she was normally very concerned about her appearance. Her face was scraped and a little bruised.
I put my hands in the air, slowly getting my bearings. "Relax. My hands are in the air."
"On your knees."
I had to get off the chair first, and I don't think she minded that. "All right. I'm on my knees."
"What are you?"
That was an unexpected question. Most people asked who I was, not what I was. "I'm a horseman."
"Where's your horse?"
That got me. I really didn't care how many times I died in a row, but if someone got to my horse, there'd be hell to pay. "I did leave my horse tied up outside the front door."
"You shouldn't have slept. Someone took your horse."
I shrugged. "It better not have been you or one of your friends."
"You're not in a position to talk."
That's what she thought, but I'd let her believe I was afraid of being hit. "How is it you're the only other one here?"
"Where have you been?"she got frightened again. "Were you asleep all day?"
"No. I entered the gates a little before noon, and I didn't see anyone around. The fires were lit and food was cooking, but everyone vanished. So I helped myself to some food and fell asleep."
"You were lucky..."I could see some of her fear being replaced by caution and nervousness. "It was horrible."
"What happened?"That was the question that had been on my mind the whole time.
"Demons. Hell. I don't know. I always listened to the priests, but not even the madman preacher of the north market could have envisioned what happened today. All I do know is that a once great city of five thousand has only one left, and one visitor."
She didn't listen to me. "I'm a good person. I try to think that, anyway. What have I done that is evil? I make my sacrifices and follow the laws. I take care of my family and do no wrong. Am I being punished for some sin? Are the gods angry at me?"
"I don't know. Were the people killed?"
"Killed!"she spat. "Killed! Death would be the greatest gift they could ever receive, no matter how much we might fear it."
She lowered her bow, her emotions and mind going inside. I could see that she had shed many tears this day, but she wasn't crying now. Maybe there were no more tears for her.
I slowly grabbed the bow. "You won't need this with me. Just relax and drink some beer."
She let me take the bow from her, and I set it closer to me. I had no clue what was going on here, but I figured I'd be in better condition to use it if the need arose.
For the longest time, she didn't speak. She just stared at the table. "I was outside the city, gathering medicine for my son. He is ill, and so I left before the dawn. I found the leaves and returned. I stood at the gates when it happened. Maybe I was spared because I did not stand inside the city."Her expression changed to one of sweet memory. "The guardsmen all knew me. I came and went often to gather medicines, and I sometimes gave them medicine pouches for their wives to use. I even knew their names."
I was about to start screaming. My curiosity had extended beyond curiosity. What had happened here? I restrained my increasing urge to strangle her, but I didn't know what else to do. So I kept quiet.
"The gates are never shut during the day, but they shut at that time. Then came a scream so loud and horrible that I can't bear to remember. We have fought off armies and raiders, and we have kept them outside our walls. We never would have thought that our destruction would have come from within."
"What was it? A son usurping the throne?"
"A black evil. A shadow. That's all I saw. A shadow descended over the city and the people screamed. The sound was so horrible that all I could do what stand and stare. I saw the faces of men I knew looking at me, their voices begging for help, but I just stood there."She closed her eyes, pulling at her hair. "THEY WERE SCREAMING MY NAME AND I DIDN'T DO A THING!"
She would say nothing useful for a long time after that. For a few hours, she was babbling about her son, ill by the yearly ailment.
I ignored her while I pretended to be giving her sympathy. I really didn't care about her or her problems, but I admitted that I did need whatever information she might have on this affair. My fear was that if I didn't pretend to be her friend, she wouldn't tell me. Actually, the thought of whacking her head off and shutting her up was an increasingly tempting thought. But... I remained a realist. All the while I was absently nodding, I was deep in thought.
Could some sorcerer, demon, or god be responsible for whatever happened to the people here, or was this some grand joke being played on me? I really didn't know, but I did know that I was beginning to feel very uncomfortable about this situation.
Finally, I had enough of coddling her. "Is there any other way out of this place other than the front gates?"
"No. We're trapped here."
"There's no stairs leading to the top of the wall?"
"I TOLD YOU WE'RE TRAPPED HERE!"she screamed suddenly, pounding the table. "AREN'T YOU LISTENING?"
Actually, I wasn't, but I was smart enough not to tell her that. "We have to do something. We can't leave, so we have to do something -- and I don't even know what happened yet."
I didn't get an answer, and I didn't want to leave her quite yet, so I did the only thing I could do. I ate some more cold mutton and drank some beer. At least I was going to spend this situation in the best way possible.
Dr. Draco looked at the clock. "How did you find the answer to your questions?"
"It came with time, something it appears you have no more of."
"You're looking at the clock very anxiously. Is your wife keeping the evening meal warm for you?"
Draco smiled, shaking his head. "No. A nervous habit, I guess. I always keep track of the time."
"A failing of this modern world. Very well. If you need to take a rest, call me when you're ready again."
As Mr. Caspari was led away by the orderlies (and would soon be pumped up with numerous 'anti-psychotics'), Draco noticed how it seemed that Caspari ran the show. No longer was Draco a questioner -- he was the small child, waiting eagerly for his next installment of a storyteller's presentation. But Draco wasn't the child, and this wasn't a storytelling session. He was the inquisitor, and Caspari the man supplying him with the data.
He reminded himself that he was the last hope of this convicted killer. If any other doctor had interviewed him, he would have been pumped full of drugs after five minutes of speaking and been scheduled for invasive brain research. If he felt that he was in control, then he did not understand his situation. But that wasn't important. If it took false feelings for him to tell the doctor what was in his mind, no matter how outlandish and fabricated it was, then that was all right.
Draco looked at his notes, trying to figure exactly what kind of data he had. That's when he realized that maybe he was a small child listening to stories, because when it came down to it, he had only a tantalizing glimpse. "At least it's not the usual bit of insanity..."
It was almost bedtime by the time that Dr. Draco reached his car.
"Dr. Draco. Working late?"
He spun and saw that it was his boss, Dr. Pavelski.
"You seem surprised."
"As do you."Pavelski stepped into the moonlight, a thick cigar in his hand. "I just wanted to make sure everything is going all right, seeing as you've cancelled your other appointments."
"I figured it might draw some attention, but I needed to focus my attention on Mr. Caspari. He is not a usual case."
"I would imagine. But what do you hope to get out of this man?"
"Further understanding of the criminal mind."
Pavelski nodded. "When I was your age, I too had that youthful enthusiasm. Just make sure that it doesn't make you lose your head."
Odd phrasing, that. Maybe it was because Caspari mentioned that it was the only way he could die. It was funny how coincidences worked. Draco didn't believe in them. "Are you busy right now?"
Pavelski raised his eyebrow. "Why."
"I have good Czech pilsner and some ham that needs to be eaten. I thought I might invite you over for dinner."
"Ah, my doctor put me on a strict diet. Besides, my wife is already angry about my excessive tardiness. But she would not mind a surprise guest. Since the children moved away, she misses company."
Draco felt nervous about the sudden change of location, but he ignored his irrational nervous feeling. "That would be nice."
Draco followed Pavelski in his own car.
When the two cars moved on, the parking lot was left in darkness. In the moonlight, it was hard to see the one woman who stepped away from a telephone pole, her expression thoughtful.
CHAPTER 6 --
True to Pavelski's word, the food was healthy and quite good. It had been quite a while since Draco had eaten anything resembling fresh vegetables or pasta. The only thing that kept him from truly enjoying the food was his growing nervousness. The topic of conversation ranged from current events to different cases in various wards. Most of the topics were quite pedestrian and had nothing to do with him directly.
Eventually, the conversation did reach Caspari.
"You know, the evaluation of Caspari was meant to be a token gesture. It was not meant to be taken seriously. My superiors are beginning to ask some hard questions, such as why one of my most gifted staff members has diverted all but one of his cases to other members. I am not normally one to cave in to such questions."
"But I have been reviewing the transcripts and am convinced that it is poor fiction at best. He's not the first lunatic to say outrageous things, but you are putting all your attentions into such a great waste of time."
Draco nodded. "Yes. At first, I faced difficulties in the topic of his stories, but I have learned to treat them the same way as dreams. If I can look past the particulars and investigate the interactions of the symbols, I can understand where he is coming from."
"And where is he coming from?"
"I am convinced that he is an unapologetic misogynist and that he is imbalanced, but I hesitate to say that he is just plain crazy. He is a very complex puzzle, and I am convinced that when I have heard his complete story, I might even be able to help him."
"Help him how? He is a convicted criminal. If he were not judged insane, he would be in prison or dead by now. Besides, what you have told me is common sense. Of course he is a misogynist and imbalanced. How does that help the medical community?"
"What is our job then? Help only those who wouldn't make it to prison?"
"It would be a more efficient use of your talents, at any rate."
"I think it would be the most efficient if all medications were halted."
"I know it's standard procedure, but I think I might be able to get more out of him without the shots."
"I don't know about this... It's bad enough with the medication in place."
"Are you more afraid of your own position than concerned for him?"
"Of course I'm afraid of my own position, as you should be afraid of yours!"
"What do you mean by that?"
"You know what I mean. Have you listened to nothing I've said to you? Are you so naive that you would actually believe you could practice pure psychology without attracting unwanted attention?"
Draco was silent. "It's become political."
Pavelski threw his hands up in exhaustion. "You're now beginning to understand! Maybe there's some hope for you yet."
"Of course I figured it would be political."
"Then why are you drawing attention to yourself?"
"I thought I was doing my job."
Pavelski shook his head sadly. "I didn't hear any of what you told me tonight. I'm giving you a week to wrap up your studies. On the record, you'll be ill. After seven days, I will expect to see you pick up your routine schedule along with your backlog with the vigor of someone who has gained his energy back. Caspari will be placed into isolation and forgotten, injected with drugs that will make him a breathing vegetable."His expression was quite frightening to behold, yet Draco could very much believe it was Pavelski who was facing him. "Life will go on, and the last few days will never have been."
Draco wanted to ask who was paying him off or threatening his wife. It was the only thing that could make sense. He said nothing and asked nothing. "I think it's time I left. The air has become nauseous."
Pavelski's eyes narrowed. "You can't be subtle, so don't even start. It's not cute."
Draco didn't say anything. Shaking his head, he left.
By the time Draco returned home, it was very late. For many years, he thanked himself for being a shameless single -- for one, because he could come home late for any reason and not get chewed out for it. It was also the down side. The place was larger than one would expect for someone his age, and the large place was silent as a stone. The air was cold, and every small and insignificant sound echoed endlessly between the walls. That was why he rarely used the lights. He knew every wall and corner by heart, and felt no need to shed any light on his loneliness.
An ancient, wooden cross hung openly on the wall across from the entrance door. Draco looked sadly at it, asking, "Why? Lord, I have done my best to be a good and honest man, and I find myself being persecuted because of it. If I am honest, I can't do my job, and if I am dishonest and keep my job, I am shamed and miserable. Is there a way to have virtue and not be hounded?"
As usual, the cross remained silent and no answer came from heaven or the angels. The funny thing was that Draco had as much faith as ever. It was something that he never analyzed in his own mind, and something that he might never do in the future.
No matter how much the silence saddened him, he had learned to accept it as normal. When he smelled the damp perfume and heard the soft breathing, his reflexes came into action. Spinning around, he saw a single person in the darkness. Enough moonlight filtered in through the curtains to show the near-invisible form of someone pointing a gun at him.
"Stop your questioning of Evan Caspari." The person spoke through a voice box, but he could sense a female quality to it.
Draco had become increasingly maddened at the forces of darkness that sought to extinguish the existence of his family, the freedom of his nation, and his own soul. That and his frustration about the Caspari case made him snap. He would immediately question himself, especially with the gun pointed at his face, but his reflexes had the first choice. "No."
Those same reflexes made Draco hit the floor as the bullet flew. He might have been a white-coated doctor, but he also survived a few riots, rough neighborhoods, and a stint in the army. His ability to remember regulations and dismantle a gun might fade with time, but not his ability to duck and cover.
The next few minutes went by in an adrenaline blackout.
He didn't know how, but he had managed to reach his car. His keys were in his hand, and he knew that he would be able to get out of here in one piece. But would he be safe? He could call the police, but what could they do? For all he knew, she could be one of the secret police. That's when the thought hit him. Caspari was framed by the secret police, so the man claimed. What if the police wanted to stop him before he heard any incriminating evidence? With determination, he grabbed for his tire iron and hid.
She could have come out any door, he reasoned, but she could also reason where he might go. The car seemed to be the best ambush spot.
For many years, he had questioned his sanity by keeping the lights off. It was now that he thanked himself for that quirk, as uncertain as his future might be in the next few minutes.
"Not bad at all,"the voice whispered from behind him, making him jump. "But you can't escape me."
He knew it was she. "Why do you want him silenced? I just want to understand him. Knowledge isn't evil."
"But he is. He must be forgotten."There was a pause. "You may be a good man, but your intentions mean nothing compared to your actions. If you give voice to an evil man, you are evil yourself."
Draco nodded. "I agree with you. You have no argument from me."
He could almost sense the silent sigh of relief. "You will drop the case?"
"Let me put it to you in my own words. Please remember that I am a good man in thought and deed, and I never saw your face."
The iron swung into her head, knocking her out. He left her where she lay and drove off. She was still alive and partly conscious.
He knew that he could have finished her off. He could have learned her identity and sent the evidence to the real police. It would have achieved nothing. He would still have been dead.
This way, he felt that he might have gained just a little more time. Perhaps they might ask themselves what game Draco was playing. Perhaps they would let him live just a little longer because their secret was safe, and they could at least enjoy their evening meal before trying again.