Thursday, June 8, 2017

In the Memory of Andy, by Michal Stránský

In the Memory of Andy

“In the Memory of Andy” is a short horror story, which is meant to pay respect to the old Masaryk Circuit in Brno and to all those, who lost their lives there. It tells the story of three friends with a strange hobby of visiting memorials of the dead – necrotourism.

In the Memory of Andy
           They called it necrotourism. It sounded like a good joke. To them, at least.
            And so, every time it was too late for sitting in the pub, but yet too early to go home, they got in the car and headed to the old Masaryk Circuit, to pay their respect to Mr. Baltisberger. Hans Baltisberger, of course, was a motorcycle road racer, who lost his life on the occasion of the Grad Prix of Czechoslovakia, half a century ago. Over the guardrail and through the wet grass they went, where they found rather small, but sturdy block of stone, reminding all generations what happened here. Are those the stumps, which cost Baltisberger his life? Mike speculated driving the darkness away with his flashlight. Not likely, after 50 years, Christine opposed quite logically.
            They didn’t mean to be disrespectful. They didn’t find death funny. Who knows, why they made their trips to Baltisberger a habit. Maybe it was the name – Hans – which was also the nickname of their third companion. The one, who regularly was – being the most sober one – their chauffeur. Driver just like Baltisberger, Hans himself cracked the joke.
            Or maybe, it was the dark poetry of their tradition. How easy it could be to swerve, crush the guardrail and break their necks on stumps and monuments. Would there be anyone willing to find their way to the old Masaryk Circuit at half past midnight, just to light a little candle for them? Mike asked. 
            Or maybe, they were just glad that they were together and they shared something belonging solely to them, because no-one else understood.

            Be that as it may, one monument gets boring over the time, even if it’s famous, even if Hrabal himself wrote a story about it. But the old track of Masaryk Circuit has more of these little memories. Rocks and stones, the garden of granite pillars on the Farina curve, celebrating the races and racers, celebrating Giuseppe “Nino” Farina, who killed two young lads there. Thus, necrotourism was born.    
            Once, on their way from headstone to headstone and from death to death, they came across a little black monument of unusual brevity: “In the memory of Andy”. Date of death. A single silver rose. So they finished off their cigarettes, threw them away into a respectful distance, and leaned towards the cold stone to make a little memory of their own, as tourists do.
            The flash of Hans’ camera changed the darkness around into bright daylight for the briefest of moments. There was nothing special in the picture – three smiling faces over the black block of stone with a silver rose on it. But, if they had looked behind their backs during this short moment of light, they would have found Andy smiling with them.

            A white cat ran across the road and the car with three necrotourists left the darkness of the forest to return back to the tired, but still buzzing reality of Brno. As usual, good old Hans offered his companions a ride home. They played some music, fighting fatigue with some conversation and letting their midnight experience slowly fade away. Christine got out of the car first. 

            She lived on the top floor of a respectfully old house (historical even) on Mlýnská street. She owned a stylish penthouse flat there and she was quite fond of it. She closed the entrance door, turned on the corridor lights and started climbing the old cold stairs to the attic. A drawback of historical houses is their lack of elevators. 
            After the midnight trip, Christine was, let’s say, unsettled. She wasn’t a coward or something, just these ghost stories were getting under her skin. Alas, in the boys, the journey amongst headstones had always provoked an urge to speculate about the afterlife and to make stupid jokes about how all three of them were in fact long dead, killed on the very first necrotouristic trip. When she protested, that this kind of nonsense doesn’t make her feel good, it just inspired them to play a creepy version of the song about a drunken sailor, sung by a little girl. Dead, of course, why not. Climbing the floors, Christine found herself singing that cursed song and she hated herself for it. Stupid boys.
            „What shall we do with a drunken whaler, what shall we do with a drunken whaler…“
            Naturally, from the dead girl, their conversation had to turned to horror movies, to the sequel of the legendary Ring and the murderous Samara. Hans was joking, that if it is the same with cursed songs as with cursed videotapes, poor Samara will have to crawl out of the tiny slit on his radio. Christine laughed, but she didn’t find it funny a bit.
            Bloody Samara.
            „Wey, hey and up she rises, wey, hey and up she rises.“
            The hallway lights went out.
            „Wey, hey and up she raises…“
            Christine nearly stumbled as she instantly jumped over all the remaining steps to get to the mezzanine, where she knew she could find a switch somewhere. She was aware, that nothing was happening, that she never managed to get to the garret during just one cycle of the lights timer. But the darkness… As a rational being, she knew very well how stupid it is to be afraid of the dark. But on the other hand, to be afraid of what is in the dark…
            She burst herself into the mezzanine and found a switch on the wall. She turned it on, scared of whatever she was expecting to see.
            It wasn’t Samara, of course.

            Mike lived with his parents in Královo Pole. He got into the apartment very quietly, for his brother had dropped his daughter there for a couple of days and Mike didn’t want to wake her up. He didn’t dare to turn any lights on, so he settled with sneaking through the darkness like a thief, invisible in his black clothing. He waved his hands, felt familiar shapes of knobs and walls, took off his coat carefully. He was more drunk than he thought, and he was in the mood for poetry.
            Being a drunk robber in my parent’s flat… flashed through his head. And then, suddenly, bang! Terrible noise, as he tripped over the boot he just took off.
            … I’ll stumble over and I will be dead, he finished the rhyme. It couldn’t wake his parents up, but the important thing was not to wake up little Therese. So careful now! Step by step, waving his hands like a blind man, on his way through the darkness…
            Hurry, Mike, find the right door at once! Before the Grim Reaper takes you to dance, Muses were persistent. Not bad for 1 a.m., Mike judged himself knowingly and found his bedroom door at last. Quickly and silently he slid behind, but he didn’t find any more light there.
             The thing is – if everything he owned wasn’t black, maybe he would be able to find a safe way to the lamp without tripping over the slippers, a briefcase, a chair…   
            This is nonsense. I would give everything for one shot of brandy, he carved another verse. Brandy, brandy… What rhymes with “Brandy”?
            - click! - lights went on. Every danger, hidden in the pitch black, revealed itself and ceased to be dangerous. The adventure was over. Mike wisely decided to postpone another poetry til the morning and started to dig up his pyjamas.
            But then the noises started. It wasn’t knocking, it was three dull, clumsy pounds on the door. Mike stood frozen. What the hell… A cat? No, his cat couldn’t possibly do such an ado…
            Again. A throb into the door. A rattle around the knob, as if something strange was trying to take it into its hands. Mike freed himself from his stupor, made several quick steps and opened the door.
            On the threshold, there was a little girl. But she wasn’t dead and instead of black greasy hair she had fair blonde curls. It was little Therese, woken up by Mikes arrival. She sneaked herself from her bed to greet him.
            She stood there scared to death, looking somewhere behind his shoulder. 

            Hans was returning home in his car. He would never admit it to his fellow necrotourists, but he was glad the trip was over. He was really looking forward to getting in his bed. Hans worked in the UK and he wasn’t back in his home country so often, therefore, he was grateful for a chance to go on their pilgrimage among the headstones. But his frantic lifestyle was taking its toll on him and his eyes were really closing now.  
            He kept himself up with some radio music. But with some real music this time, no more drunken whalers.
            I wish I had an angel for one moment of love…“, he hummed almost to the beat of the song, but the road ahead was changing into nothing more than a blur of visual sensations anyway. This won’t work.
            Hans shook his head and focused on the world behind the wind shield. What is this lunatic there, a hitchhiker? In the centre of the city?!
            But it wasn’t the centre of the city anymore, he was in the suburbs. Focus, Hans, damn it! You can do this. 
            Old loves, they die hard…
            It would be so much easier to stay awake, if there was any actual light on this cursed road. They call this public lighting? What joker is sitting at the city hall again?
            … no, wait. This isn’t right. There should be some light here. Where is he, God damn it? He had to have lost his way during the moment of being half-asleep and now he was… somewhere. He could stop to ask this hitchhiker here for directions, but in that case he would have to take him along.
            Old lies, they die harder…“.
            The lights disappeared for good. Suddenly, both sides of the road were fringed with trees. A forest, basically. The realisation touched Hans lightly, but inevitably. In one moment, he was torn out of his lethargy.
            He was back on the old Masaryk Circuit.
            This is not possible. Did he fall asleep and then drove all the way back in some kind of wacky somnambulism? That is rubbish. After all, the same song has been playing all the time…
            Hit by the car’s full beam lights, a white cat rushed directly under the wheels. In all this mayhem and fright, Hans couldn’t think any better than slam the brakes and swerve to one side frantically. With unpleasant screeching, the car wrote a semi-circle on the road, but the guardrail just scratched it.
            While he, in a deep shock, stared into the cones of light, revealing stumps and wet grass in front of him, Hans refused to believe that he had survived.
            Some hitchhiker, emerging from the shadows of the trees, probably interpreted Hans’ dramatically sudden stillness as an invitation of a kind and hurried to try his luck. Heavily breathing, Hans looked at him and… he wasn’t surprised at all.       
            I wish I had your angel tonight…

            Midnight was near. The pub was slowly closing, but night was still too young to go home. Sharon rejoiced as Mike appeared in the doorway and dandily aimed for their table. Close second, Christine headed to the bartender to negotiate three more pints. Hans rattled with a pack of cigarettes in front of Joan. 
            These three never appeared before the twilight. When no-one was expecting them to come anymore, they just waltzed into the pub as if they have owned it, with plenty of smiles and merry stories. You just can’t go to sleep! they said every time. Just look at this beautiful night! Perfect one for a trip! A trip among the trees and stumps, among the crosses and headstones. Come with us, they lured the present company. Come, we will introduce you to our friend.
            To Baltisberger? Sharon laughed. Something like that, they answered.
            They called it necrotourism. It sounded like a good joke. To them, at least.

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