A note to the reader: I started with a Balkan name from the Behind-The-Name Random Name Generator. Then I had an fragment of history. Then I had an image. And this came, more or less spontaneously in content and plot but not without research, afterward. It’s rough, but it turned out to be a fruitful study, I think.
Emil Viktor stood in the rain without his umbrella. He had left it inside his cheap hotel-room, for he had other things to think about. The year was 1912, and it was early autumn. That meant little, no doubt, to the fat-cheeked sop standing on his right, but it meant a lot to Viktor. His mind dwelt upon it irrationally. One month since the Balkan League had declared war on the Ottoman Empire. Twenty-six years since the forced abdication of Prince Alexander.
His black hair had been neatly combed, but the rain had changed it in form to more closely resemble the mountains, utter and starless, raised in their secret patterns against the night sky. But the rain had also changed its substance to reflect the orange light of the gas lamps, as it did the scattered sparks that were raindrops, falling from the clouded, black heavens to run down his hair and his fine nose and gather in his beard to counsel one another. Some slipped down the sleeves of his thoroughly-soaked frock coat and glistened in beads on his hand, which seemed to him far older than he was. He was only thirty-five. And yet he was an old man. His evening neared, he felt it as he might a stilletto-blade slowly driven into the arteries of his wrist.
“When’ll dat train arrive?” the man beside him said rhetorically. Viktor did not answer, and the sop looked over at him.
“You’ll khatch yur death wit’out an overkhoat or umbrella in dis rain, ‘less you stand under de shelter,” he said.
“Thank you for your concern,” Viktor said. “It makes up tenfold for my forgetfulness.”
It was sarcasm, obvious enough that Viktor supposed that the sop would be offended. He did not show it. Perhaps he merely attributed the rudeness to Viktor’s being a foreigner, or perhaps was too dull to catch it. This bothered him profoundly, somehow.
“What’re you, Russian?” the sop asked a moment later.
“Bulgarian,” Viktor said. He ran his fingers nervously over his wide lips and bearded chin. He did not even have the money for a good cigar. He might still look like a gentleman, but his hotel room was nearly as worthless as the spare suit he sold for a fare to Europe.
“What’re you doing in Liverpool?” The sop was persistent. Viktor was too tired to contrive creative ways to brush him off and decided to answer his questions as far as was possible.
“I’ve lived here since I retired from the sea. I’ve not been to Bulgaria since I was a child.”
“Isn’t dur a war down dur?”
A faraway train whistle reached the almost-deserted platform. Olddd. Olddd. Victor stared out into the obscurity of his world. Except for the train whistle , he might have supposed that, beyond the platform and the curtains of rain, beyond the dark, lapping waters of the Mersey, the whole rest of the earth had plunged into the pre-Edenic void. He and this sop stood on an island, the last survivors of humanity. His father, the most loyal of the prince’s officers, was laid to rest in the churning, black depths of the sea. He once imagined, as a boy, that Teodor Viktor slept among palaces of pearl and coral, forever wept by strands of swaying kelp; but now he had read the oceanographic reports of the Atlantic floor; his father rotted restlessly in a stark abyss. His mother lay in a lonely grave in Tirnova. There, in the earth, perhaps she had found some peace at last.
A bedraggled pigeon came suddenly into the light of the station lamp, cautiously, Viktor guessed, trying to make its way to the shelter of the overhang from the station. It paused and looked piteously toward the Bulgarian, perhaps hoping to be thrown some food. With a sailor’s speed and precision Viktor leaned down and grabbed the bird with both hand, holding it tightly to confine its frantic movements. Then with his right hand he grasped the pigeon by the neck and slowly squeezed its fragility. The bird struggled in vain as the fingers closed off its breathing and the grip gradually tightened. Then, suddenly, the spine snapped, the pigeon’s head fell limp, and its movement ceased.
“Lor’, man,” the sop said, his eyes widening. “Me soul! A Transylvanian monster, you are.”
“Perhaps, for once in its life, it felt truly alive,” Viktor said quietly. “Even though it be no less misery, that was a gift worth dying for.” Whether or not the sop heard him, he did not know, for the man did not answer. They turned and saw the pale light of a lantern through the rain. Someone was coming nearer. Then Viktor distinguished the figure of a uniformed boy. His thin, adolescent voice called to them.
“Dur’s been an akhcident on the tracks. De storm….”
Ignoring the stream of abuse that poured from the sop’s mouth, Viktor turned and walked away into the darkness. He went vaguely westward, to the docks, which due to the time and weather were accordingly silent.
As he walked, he whistled the tune of a crude sea shanty. There was a flash of lightning which turned, for a second only, all the rain and water of the puddles to sheets of fire. He felt mad and powerful at once; no one dared touch him, whether it be the thugs of the docks or the gods on their thrones. His mind was unleashed to wander across space and time. A candlelit church in Tirnova, the benison of the priest. I fainted at mass once. It was Christmas Eve when I was a boy, running through the town in a red costume my mother made for me, singing carols and gathering the ring-bread like a hundred ouroboroi. No, my mother is dead, killed by a drunken Turk. Father told me we are leaving for Russia after the men with guns came, but we didn’t go to Russia. He died on a ship far away in the sea. But no, I live by the river which leads to the sea. It is not far away.
There was another flash of lightning. He thought he saw a massive face outlined in the rain, a face like the icons that he had seen in the church as a child. It was an angelic face, turned in wrath toward the earth; the angel of Noah’s flood, when the antediluvian world was cast into darkness. His foot slid in the puddle, and he looked up into the endlessness of the tempest. Nothing was beneath him; no force held him to the earth.
He sank into the water. He had forgotten the world, and the world, which never remembered him, continued on.