by Teodor Reljic
Ferdinand knew the hours would feel like years. He was fully aware of how time will stop and stretch its cruel way onwards, and onwards, and onwards, in this castle. How the pock-marked bricks would feel less like a quaint architectural feature and more like an optical illusion as the days went by, and as he would wake up in this self-imposed prison fully aware of the fact that the next day will be exactly the same.
Ferdinand knew full well what all of this implied. In fact, he barricaded himself in the castle precisely to enjoy that unmitigated awareness: fully reared to confront the torrent of boredom and loneliness that awaited him, he chose to dedicate the rest of his life to this, the closest to eternity he thought a man could get.
And like all imprisoned men inevitably do, he read.
The fact that Ferdinand was named after a murdered Archduke was a fact he held closely to his heart, like a proud, public fetish. He would get drunk at parties and trot it out like it was the best joke he had ever heard and when nobody laughed, he knew that he was on to something good.
Being in the castle gave him the perfect opportunity to read up on his namesake, to maybe reach a level of kinship that would make him a successor. The library was well furnished and meticulously filed. He was certain that he would find what he was looking for, even though he sometimes had to cross floor upon floor of crumbling spiral staircases. His only guides would be the perfectly signposted codes, (‘H76-AAA’) and the deepening darkness.
This would have been preposterous on the outside, of course, but this was exactly why Ferdinand chose to live outside the outside. There’s a purity to preposterousness, he would mouth with his lips. He was as tempted to speak about it as he was to write it down. But committing the myriad of ideas and images that passed through his mind every hour of every single day, giving them a voice and allowing them to exist outside the cerebral crevice in which they were born felt, to Ferdinand, like a fundamental breach. His pact was with stillness, his pact was with lethargy.
He could choose to break that pact, of course. But doing so would be equivalent to laying dynamite at the foundations of the castle itself.
“You had a past once, Ferdinand, and now it’s no more,” he told himself each morning. It was the one thing he allowed himself to vocalise, because he did not believe it qualified as a fully-fledged thought but as an incantation. Its purpose was flat – it existed as a simple reminder, a cog for him to continue on his mission.
He knew that forgetting was impossible. That is why he acknowledged the existence of the past, but refused to give it any credence.
And the sun shined, and then the moon came and then, it was dark. It happened again and again, and when Ferdinand lost count of this inevitable diurnal churn, he allowed himself a tiny smile.
“We began with fire,” he thought to himself one night as he was preparing himself to sleep. He slept on the floor by the battlements in summer, on an outstretched tablecloth that he kept just clean enough for it not to smell.
“It begins with fire, our artificial rule… it begins with fire, there is always light in the skies be it sun or stars but we begin with fire, and that much is right.”
Ferdinand’s vow was simple: he would live in the castle until he faded by natural means. He was not yet able to obliterate being able to recognise the seasons – he still felt the summer and the cold. But Ferdinand never hoped to accomplish this, so he was not disappointed. And how could he be? The balmy breeze washed over his face and if it didn’t, he would sweat.
“These are the moments we miss, on the outside,” he said silently to himself. “These are the moments in between everything else and now, they are mine.”
“There is a thing about making your thoughts heard, and visible. I don’t quite know what to call this thing because really what can you call anything without making sound like something else but here it is: it’s something like vanity, something like shouting just a little too much.
“I never liked that, and what I hated – really hated, like the true opposite of love – is when people chose to do it for you.
“It wasn’t murder I committed, because my sister wanted to die. She told me so many times: how she hated life, and I always thought she hated it as much as I did.
“I left because I didn’t want to eat her remains. That would have been the only way to complete the gesture: I read her… I read her, I mean I read what she wanted: and she wanted to be no more. And if I helped her die then shouldn’t I have consumed her also, taken her no-life into my life and let her exist the only proper way she could exist?
“She is buried somewhere below this lump of rock. This castle I chose to make something spiritual of myself. I chose for her, I knew I had to choose for her and that means I did something I hated but there was no other way. The other way would be to go on.
“And that is what I – and that is what we – are doing now.
“I see the fire I burned her in each night. It flickers past my eyes, a flash of orange flame as artificial as any other thought.
“And tomorrow, again.”
Teodor Reljic was once an addict, but now prefers tea. He thinks Malta is perfect for many things, even though co-running a fiction magazine may not necessarily be one of them. Still, he persists, for lack of any business and, indeed, common sense.