Tuesday, 26 March 2013


The colonnade was a long covered walkway supported by wooden pillars that had been carved with grinning, leering, demonic faces.  Many were poking their tongues out and were pop-eyed.  Teeth sprouted from parts of faces that should only have grown hair, eyes were extruded from ears on stalks, and bones were twisted and deformed as though the heads had been through strange and unusual pressures.  Some of the tongues were long, unnaturally so, and one or two stretched from one pillar to the next, forming slender railings that, if you looked closely, were textured as though covered in hair.
“They’re carved from life, you know,” said Dr. Rosendieb.  He gestured casually with one black-gloved hand at the pillars.  “Each face was the face of a real person in the Tiergarten in the late seventeen hundreds.”
“Tiergarten?  Zoo?” asked Phlebitis, staring at his feet.  The pillars made him feel queasy, almost sea-sick if it weren’t for the fact that he hadn’t felt sea-sick since he was fourteen, even when Poseidon was angry and the sea was throwing his ship around like a dog worrying a chew-toy.  He was trying hard not to look too closely at them, partly because he thought he might recognise some of them.
“Hah!”  The doctor’s laugh was short and sharp, almost humourless but redeemed at the end by the hint of dryness.  “Hah, yes, I suppose.  It was a name that would be considered unpolitisch these days I suppose.  That’s politically incorrect in the delightful euphemism of English, of course.”
“Really?  I thought that was a type of trumpet.”
“You’re thinking of the euphonium, of course,” said Dr. Rosendieb.  “I played it as a child in a marching band.  It was, despite the name, not a particularly pleasant instrument, too heavy for my little arms.  I much preferred the shawm.”
“That sounds lovely,” said Phlebitis, aware that the doctor had stopped walking and hoping that if he continued the doctor would resume suit.  Instead, Dr. Rosendieb caught his elbow and gestured at the pillars.
“The Tiergarten then was the name given to the Asylum,” he said.  “The inmates were… demented I suppose, although it is arguable that they resulted in that state because they were interned in the Tiergarten rather than being put there because they were already in that state.  There have been a small number of high-profile cases in the papers of late, which you must have seen.  Various records have been uncovered that suggest that certain high-ranking families were disposing of unwanted family members there.”
“Well,” said Phlebtits looking with distaste at a pillar.  “You can see how some of them might not have been the relative you wanted to introduce to people.”
“This one,” said Dr. Rosendieb, laying his hand on the forehead of a cephalitic-looking young man with a twisted jaw and flattened nose, “ended up looking like this only after five years in the Tiergarten.  When he was committed there he was sufficiently handsome that fights would start in bars because of other men’s wives looking at him for too long.
“I see,” said Phlebitis.  He shivered somewhat theatrically.  “It’s a little cool under here, doctor.”
“Of course, of course!  Let us continue, at the end there is sunlight.  It is a lovely day.  But tell me, my dear chap, what brings you here?  Why are you interested in the Tiergarten?  It was closed down over eighty years ago.”
“I think my first mate might be in there,” said Phlebitis, his eyes firmly fixed on the ground again.  “And I’d quite like him back.”
“No, you are quite mistaken,” said Dr. Rosendieb, his voice now quieter and more discreet.  “The Tiergarten was closed down and the patients remanded into other, better care.  Your first mate cannot be in there.  Perhaps you misunderstood the name of hospita–“
“The Tiergarten,” said Phlebitis.  “There has been no misunderstanding, just as it was not chance that caused me to seek you out, Doctor.  I had a little help, of course, but not too much.  Not so much that I couldn’t find you, I was warned about that too.”
Doctor Rosendieb stopped again and Phlebitis, cursing to himself, also stopped and looked back at him, trying to ignore the faces on the pillars.  He was sure he could hear insane laughter in the background.
“What are you talking about?”  The doctor’s words could have meant that he thought Phlebitis was gibbering, but his tone made it clear what he meant.
“Madame Sosotris sends her regards,” said Phlebitis.  “She still has her cold.”
“That woman always has a cold,” said Dr. Rosendieb.  “I suspect she has the archetype of colds and were we ever to cure her of it then no-one would ever get a cold again.”
“You should try,” said Phlebitis.
“Hah!  Is she still chasing every man she sees, though?”
Phlebitis nodded and shuddered at the same time.
“I may wait a little longer,” said Dr. Rosendieb.  “I see then, the clairvoyant has told you where the boundaries are then.  Did she also tell you that no-one leaves the Tiergarten until they die?  Hmm?”
“What she said was that you didn’t let any of them leave before they die,” said Phlebitis slowly.  He realised with horrible slowness that the pillar the doctor was standing closest to contained a carving of his first mate’s face second from the ground.
“That woman is too accurate for her own good,” said Dr. Rosendieb, a moue of distaste crossing his face.  “What are you looking at?”
“The face of the man I’ve come to buy from you,” said Phlebitis.  He pointed.
Phlebitis nodded.
“That’s the first time anyone’s offered,” said Dr. Rosendieb.  “Perhaps I should listen to you.”
“Yes,” said Phlebitis.  “That would be advantageous to us both I hope.  Allow me to tell you what I will not sell you from my cargo first though.  You may have none of the lilacs from the dead land.”
“Lilacs from Paysmort?”  Dr. Rosendieb staggered, even though he’d been standing still a moment earlier.  “You found lilacs from Paysmort?”
“I found Paysmort,” said Phlebitis.  “And I’d really like to forget it now.”

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