E. M. Angerhuber

I leave the train that brought me into the old city at the edge of the sea and walk through the well known streets. It is April 30th. This day will pass in a few hours and a new day will start, and with it the beginning of a new month. A new life. That day ten years ago my old life came to an end and a new one began. Looking back, the past seems to me like a shady grey river of nostalgic melancholy. I long for this past as though for an exquisite bottle of wine, emptied a long time ago, which had perhaps been the present of a late friend. Just like that bottle of wine, the past will never return, but it is still as much a part of me as it is of every single person around me in the streets of this city on the edge of the sea.
The weather is changeable tonight, and people hurry by with their coat collars up to their chins and their hands buried deep in their pockets. Tar grey suits, water grey dresses and sky grey coats crowned by asphalt grey hats, even the women have pulled their raincaps and scarfs over their foreheads, hiding their faces from the eyes of the passing. Time is on my side. I stroll idly around, looking at passengers and the display windows of the shops, my hands in the pockets of my trousers, feeling the aftermath of my return run through my veins like a gentle electric current. Many years ago this was my hometown. I was born in this place. I know all the houses, the neon signs, the sky by day and night: the candy-blue day sky covered with rushing rags of cloud; the red-violet threatening night sky with its crescent moon that bears visible signs like toothmarks. This night sky contrasts with the multicoloured neon signs -- an artificial rainbow of empty promises. These lights attract, twinkle seductively, deceive with their mendacious advertising art-words which sound so much more agreeable and true than our real plain language. Now slowly the day turns into night, the darkness falls like a dirty sheet and covers the rhinestones of the lanes with its smell of smoke and car exhaust. This quarter consists of a multitude of narrow winding lanes like artificial canons between the towering grey mountains of 19th century buildings. This is the place where one's steps sound hollow on the cracked pavement, causing the waiting ones to shudder in mute hope behind their drawn curtains. But I just walk on by all these houses, I just walk on by. I linger nowhere and no door opens for me, and I would not ask for admission. My fingertips graze the crumbling roughcast by passing these houses, the dusty sheet metals of the windowsills. This is my town, or rather: once it was my town. I have become a stranger to it over the last years, but nevertheless I was never really far from it. These narrow streets and ugly structures are settled in my night dreams until I awake. I know the name of every street, every corner used for secretive meetings, every hiding-place in this confusing labyrinth of lightless passages where the contents of dustbins indulge in forbidden growth. Night falls like a dirty sheet, powdering the faces of passengers so pale, as if they were dummies' faces hidden beneath their human shells. Nobody is looking up as I pass by, but I smile although nobody sees it. This smile is for the flickering neon lights that are rising one by one over the rooftops like gaudy birds.
Banana Split Bar, I read in silent amusement, Calypso Casino. I know these bars and pubs, these amusement arcades and hotels where dull pleasures sit in huge armchairs, waiting for a stranger to enter. North Star Insurance, I read, and I think of the administration building, heavily wainscoted with sandstone, its huge doorways and portals and the rows of lightless windows. A pink palm tree trembles in the distance over the wide surface of the water, seemingly waving its arm-like branches. Now I stand at the harbour, having turned my steps unconsciously to this location. The black waves of lightless waters roll over the concrete banks, carrying an odour of fish and oil. And the flickering cyphers of advertising anodyne and cinemas mingle in its depths, forming a sparkling carpet of light dots like a lost treasure of glittering jewels. There, at the foot of the stairs, in an old drain, lies the rowboat waiting for me as it does every year. I step aboard, I loose the chain from its ring in the wall, I sit down and grab the oars. This boat is narrow and small, capable of gliding through the canals without anyone noticing it, provided one rows cautiously and silently. And I am rowing slowly, with regular movements, in gentle oblivion. My eyes catch sight of the neon advertisements' reflections like glassy marbles as I watch, head thrown back - reflections of distant lights. In the distance, behind a wall of heavy and huge structures, the sign that I love most is flickering. It lingers for a moment, only to disappear behind chimneys and aerials, playing a provocative hide-and-seek with me.
The Blue Star. I have never found out what this sign means that glows without letters -- only a plain if pretty symbol -- on the cloudy cover of the night. It resembles a stylized star with five long, thick prongs and shorter, thinner ones between them, like a starfish, a crinoid, perhaps a sea-anemone. Its colour is the same crystalline blue as ever, as if the years had not gone by. I row slowly, I glide over the nightly water; I succumb to the crossing streams of past and presence and to the sensuously intoxicating repetition of every cycle deep inside my innermost heart. Lowering my eyelids, I listen to the voices of the past -- how they laughed and joked that night, many years ago, a trifling game of flippant youth. And I remember her name. Yes, I remember her name ... It is April 30th. When this day comes to an end in a hour or two, and the new month begins, perhaps my new life will also begin. I whisper sweet nothings like a gentle fool to the gusts of wind, steering my boat along the mole toward the point where the Blue Star twinkles and baits. Once we saw it the same way too: shining cobalt-blue in the black sky. We thought the sight so beautiful that we decided to drive onto it, no matter where it would lead us. For some reason we were convinced that some wonderful bar or night club must hide behind the pretty little star. It could not possibly have been an advertisement for headache anodyne or baby food. We were sitting in a boat, a-rowing just the same as I am now. We were four. The laughter of the girls sparkled like Champagne in the stuffy cup of the towering building around us.
It was exciting but not particularly easy to follow the Blue Star that hid like a coquettish young girl behind the houses and chimneys, only to break through glaring now and then at unexpected spaces. The Blue Star fooled us, played with us like a kitten plays with a handful of downs. We drifted ahead and reached the place where the magic blue flower was blooming. It was a wide stone-tiled mole in front of a formerly magnificent building which perhaps had served as a big publisher's house, a ministry, or a museum. But even at that time the building was abandoned. The ground floor windows and doors were nailed up but the colossus of stone still reached for the sky. The mole was illuminated though some of the cast-iron lamps were extinguished and nobody seemed to feel the necessity to fix them. Obviously nobody ever set foot on this promenade. After we went ashore, we stood and gazed in amazement for some moments. The Blue Star had moved its location and now twinkled high above the roof of this impressive ruin. The meaning of this Star has remained a mystery to me to this very day. Is it simply an advertising neon light or some secret signal, an encrypted message which only few would know how to read? I put the oars aside and climb onto the mole where I remain for a second to look down at the once glazed tiles in whose cracks moss or lichen grows lavishly. And I look for the Blue Star that would not betray more than a few of its prongs to me.
So you have returned at last, it seems to say, and all at once I understand its language. I will never know what this sign means and why it is glowing there, but the Star knows everything about me. It knows my heart. Even worse: it knows my past. Will you remember, it says with a sardonic smile, the pretty Blue Star. (I'm almost sure it would smile sardonically if it was capable of smiling.) Yes -- I do remember. I have no difficulty in finding the raft between the planks which were nailed there to cover the side exit of the building. I put my finger into the knothole to draw the plank away and slip inside. Just the same way that we did it that time in the past, we four. The laughter of the girls sparkled like Prosecco in the stuffy cup of the ruin that surrounded us.
My lighter must provide enough light to feel through the darkness so that I might find the forgotten place which I can only recall on April 30th of every year. When this date is approaching, I feel the urge to come to this town; and I indulge to my urge impatiently, almost morosely. I mistake it for nostalgia or homesickness that drives me here. But when the Blue Star finally speaks to me I remember the true reasons ... I feel my way through the dust-covered, filthy corridors and echoing staircases. The tiny flame of my lighter cannot bring to light the vastness of the rooms, the height of the ceilings of this Roman ruin. This house was built for a king and though it is forsaken and abandoned for so many years, forgotten, perhaps even spurned within the most silent corner of the old town. I look for the back stairs, a narrow, wooden spiral staircase which leads to a turret or oriel, where we four thought we were safe and unobserved. We ascended the stairs, giggling and drinking cheap wine that splashed onto our clothes. We were young. We needed no bar, no night club to amuse ourselves. We had reached where the Blue Star had led us.
From the attic window we hoped to get a close look at it. And we managed to. I remember how we stood on tiptoe to catch a glimpse of the Blue Star. And the flaming neon sign stood high above the roof, directly in front of us, sitting on a scaffolding of rusty steel bars like a spider, stretched upward toward the evil glow of the night-violet sky and the crescent of the moon that hid behind the clouds, bearing visible signs like tooth-marks. We felt the pride of the Blue Star and its unyielding will to resist being drawn to the ruin of its house; and we got a hunch of the hidden and unreal currents -- absolutely different from normal electricity -- that fed this magic sign with its intensive luminosity.
Here I am, Blue Star. I walk to the attic window to glance outside, I salute you, I pay you my tribute. Let me forget at last. Why won't you let me forget what I don't want to remember? Why must I feel this pain again and again, every year on this damned day? There in the corner, between old furniture and even older papers, I see her well-known silhouette, her well-known figure. She has not changed through all these years that I had to return here. The Blue Star shows me the way. The glow from the Blue Star is so strong that I don't need my lighter anymore. I approach her cautiously, so as not to disturb her, and I kneel beside her. Her face is small and wrinkled like a dried apple, the face of an ancient Egyptian mummy. Strange -- she has been lying here for only ten years. I know it was not the climate that dehydrated her to this mummy-like durability but something completely different. I sit down at her side to caress her lean hand that looks like the dry paw of an ape. Her skin is as thin as ancient parchment, I am afraid it might crumble under my slightest touch. Her eyes have opened wide, glowing from inside like children's marbles. I fear this look with its wordless accusation of everything I have done -- or rather: what I failed to do.
"I remember that night", I say. I cannot avoid, although it is so unspeakably embarrassing to me, that a tiny tear falls down on her dry mummy's hand. That night, the four of us were drinking too much cheap red wine from gallon-bottles. The girls wore those wide pushy skirts which make a small waist and pretty legs. Morris and me competed in drinking. Soon we were very drunk; we danced and sang until we got dizzy. Then I kissed Leila behind a stack of old furniture. For the first time I felt the moist, inviting inside of her lips and forgot that Morris and Tina were still around. Tina laughed and said it would be better to leave us alone and that we wouldn't be bored anyway. Leila and me, we laughed about her suggestive remark. When we heard them rumbling downstairs, we embraced once again and I bedded her down on a pile of old newspapers. (The same pile which is now holding her mummyfied body.)
But she is not dead; she cannot be dead; she watches me with her shining, accusing eyes like children's marbles, staring at me out of the black ruin of her face. Her once so beautiful eyes are reflecting the glow of the Blue Star. She had eyes of the same colour as the candy summer sky; the same colour as the Blue Star. To see this Star means to look into Leila' s eyes. Leila's dead eyes keep burning inside me like the confession of an incomprehensible guilt. I simply left her alone that night. While lying on the pile of old papers, kissing and caressing each other, we did not notice that the light of the Blue Star was growing dimmer. I held Leila in my arms and the cheap taste of the wine mingled with the sweet, authentic aroma of her youth. We did not see what was happening outside the attic window. The Blue Star had grown darker; its hue had changed from bright cobalt-blue to that malicious violet-red glow that resembled certain tropical orchids. We did not notice the thin black strings winding and curling from the attic window until they reached Leila's foot. These black cables, sprouts of the scaffolding on which the Blue Star grows, keep her body embraced to this very day.
They are holding her legs up to the hips, sprouts from the black scaffolding on which the Blue Star sits. I did not dare to tear them away because they drilled into her flesh within the fracture of a second and merged with her blood vessels. She screamed and cried in terror, tried to back away and struggled vainly against them. But she only kept on struggling for a short time. Then her body sank back into the bed of papers, and the horrible mutation took place. The Blue Star drained all energy from her. The Blue Star needs energy to shine so brightly throughout all these nights, and it left her shrunken like a mummy. I crouched in the rear corner of the attic and trembled with my fists stuffed into my mouth to prevent me from screaming until daybreak.
It wouldn't be possible to remove the black cables from her body anyhow. But apart from that fact, I never dared to touch them. I am afraid of her, of the Blue Star, and of the alien and horrible thing she has become. I am guilty of Leila's death. I have abandoned her like a coward. She is dead and yet not dead; her radiant eyes look at me with an ironic and accusing expression, as if they said: "Well then, great hero? Do you still know me? Do you remember how you slid your hand under my skirt and touched the secret spots that now belong to the Blue Star?" I cannot avoid that a tiny tear drips down upon her parchment cheek. I bend down to her and whisper in her ear: "So long. I will come back, next year on April 30th. I will never forget you."
And then I leave the silent house and its secret and the old town with its brackish canals. I take the morning train southward, back home to my real life, my real existence. But I keep on looking for the Blue Star with longing eyes, full of nameless melancholy, and for the blue of her eyes at a new day's dawning horizon.

© M. Angerhuber
"The Blue Star" (English version)
appeared first in April 2000 in "The GrimScribe in Cyberspace" (a tribute to Thomas Ligotti),
special issue of the TERROR TALES e-zine by John B. Ford
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