Thursday, October 27, 2016

A WALK IN FOG by Peter Nolan Smith

On a murky November evening I attended the opening of the "Dream' exhibition at Luxembourg's Mudam Museum. Madame l'Ambassador bailed early for a formal dinner. I was not invited for supper.

"It's a diplomatic thingee." Madame l'Ambassador explained, as we walked through a thickening fog to the waiting Jaguar.

"I understand." A writer-in-residence has to accept his place in the scheme of things.

Francois the driver opened the right-hand rear door for Madame l'Ambassador. It was the safest seat in the car. He asked if I needed a lift back to the city. The museum was located on the opposite side of the gorge running through the city. I had traversed it several times on foot and refused his offer.

"You go with Madame. I'll be fine." After all I am simply the guest writer.

I lingered at the soiree for another half hour. The crowd was young and artistic. The curator waved to me. The amiable Italian was chatting to an aristocratic couple in their 70s. Patrons of the museum were much more important than a well-unknown writer and I ordered a Duvel.

The bartender poured the triple-strengh beer into a special glass with reverence. Mittel Europe worshipped its beers.

I leaned at the bar and studied the passing faces. The queue at the bar seemed contently unconcerned by the chaos of the Euro. Their luxurious clothing cloned the bare threads of down-and-out artists, then again Luxembourg has the highest individual income in Europe and even the poor are rich in comparison to America.

The first beer had gone down quick and I ordered a second. No one commented on the speed of my drinking. The grand duchy marked the highest beer consumption per capita in 1993 with an unbeatable score of seventeen beers for each man, woman, and child in the tiny country.

A light-weight in my late-50s I called it a night after my third beer.

I had a good walk ahead to the upper city across the canyon of the Petrusse.

The I.M. Pei structure was shrouded by a spectral fog and I remembered my High School German teacher's translating fog for our German class.

"Nebel." Bruder Karl at Xaverian High School had spoken the word with the muted thunder of someone whose wrist bore the tattoo of the camps.

Nebel coupled with Nacht became night and mirrors, a mystical combination for the intrigues of the Gestapo.

I heard no jackboots and descended into the reconstructed fortifications with the night's cold touch on my skin.


The Mudam disappeared into the gray murk. I followed the switchbacking trail like a man going blind. A train sounded its whistle on the tracks below. It was the 7:43 from Troisvierges.

During its reign as Gibraltar of theNorth Luxembourg had housed thousands of soldiers and his path from Fort Thungen would have been travelled by hussars, dragoons, and mercenaries back in the 17th Century. Tonight my footsteps ricocheted unanswered against the stone ramparts.

The slurry of leaves crossed my path and I thought about a movie that an actor friend had made here several years ago. Bill had played a blood-lusting Nosteradu. The city's medievalism had lent the exterior scenes an unexpected aura of horror and this evening I glanced around me with a rising apprehension.

I was all alone.

The city was old.

While I no longer believed in God, I had seen enough vampire movies to know that I offered a fairly easy target for a bloodsucker. Were-wolves were not a worry, because the earth was in the middle of the synodic month.

A twig cracked in the surrounding woods. Something was out there in the forbidding shadows. I wished for a sword in my bare hand.

A single pinpoint of light broke through the swirling overcast.

Venus.

I salvaged a little confidence with the sighting of a familiar object in the night sky, then a lisping wind scrapped the bare branches to chant an incantation from a time before the invention of electricity.

Meeting a woman under a light was too much to ask from this evening.

This was Luxembourg and not Paris' Rue St. Denis.

My pace accelerated through the tunnel underneath the outer bastion. A shiver scrapped a dull razor against the skin of my spine. My cellphone dimly illuminated the black passage of stone. Running would have been a sign of fright to creatures of the night preying on the weak.

I crossed the tracks before the 7:45 train to Wiltz raced beneath the steep embankment. The smooth cobblestones gave way to gravel and the trail bore the ruts of wagons.

A rusting grate blocked the tunnel under the railroad tracks. Something inhuman was in the trees. I hopped over the metal fence and bushwhacked through the underbrush to the tracks. I looked both ways and clambered across the double set of steel rails to the other side.

I reached the street ten seconds later.

A streetlight glowed overhead.

The fortifications along the Petruche were in sight.

My cell phone rang.

It was Francois the driver.

He asked if I was all right.

I had reached the safety of the old city.

"Okay." The word meant the same in English as in French.

"Sure?" Madame l'Ambassador was concerned that something bad might have happened to me. She was a longtime friend. We shared mutual acquaintances. Neither of us wanted anything bad to happen to me on her watch.

“Fine, I'll be back at the residence within fifteen minutes. Thank the ambassador for asking."

It was a nice feeling to know someone cared and also that a good scare made a man feel alive, which is 100% better than being killed by a vampire any night of the week.

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