Bohnice to Krizikova
It was so terribly cold. Snow was falling, and it was almost dark. I got to my knees and shook my head. Far off, a wounded animal called in distress, a lingering cry trailing into the sky like futile prayers from a crumbling altar. I clamped my jaws and, in the silence that followed, looked about myself.
The remnant of a broken wall poked above the dense treeline surrounding me in a rough circle about one hundred yards across. I was pretty sure this was all that remained of the abandoned chapel. As I took in the rest of my surroundings, it occurred to me that instead of night falling, day might be breaking and with that thought came complete disorientation. I was adrift in a world of little certainty and no comfort. As if I needed more to worry about, my head was behaving like a funky balloon, randomly inflating and deflating, and my mouth was so dry I did not think I could swallow. Sensibly, I postponed dealing with these symptoms until I had a plan.
All around me, the ground was covered in a thick layer of brown leaves, spotted with large snowflakes. How had I got there? A vague memory of a car ride, a desperate struggle, then running for my life.
Clearly, I was in trouble. It would not be long before the snow took hold, and I was afraid. I was not dressed for prolonged exposure to the elements. I was….I was not sure what I was dressed for. Truth is, I was not properly dressed at all. My trousers were gone, and I had a half-real, maybe imagined, recollection of another, earlier fight, the sound of tearing cloth and…. my shoes, too. Gone. I began to be seriously concerned. A person can survive extreme conditions only if the body is adequately protected and the extremities insulated. I had no hat, gloves, or shoes, and as I took inventory, I realised my pants were gone too. I was naked from the waist down and above, only a shirt, badly torn, and part of a waistcoat. I would be in serious trouble if the temperature dropped any further, which would happen in the next hour or thereabouts, judging by the snowfall.
I put my hand to my side and touched my naked thigh. It came away sticky. There was not enough light to see, and I would not risk tasting, but I guessed blood?
Now I knew by the darkening sky that it was not dawn but night, which made my condition most wretched. Nobody would pass this way before morning, and most likely not even then, for by the proximity of the abandoned chapel and the peculiar undulation of the ground around me, I realised I was in the old graveyard of the psychiatric hospital in Bohnice. Here are buried the disappeared, the forsaken who warrant no markers or headstones, claiming only the body's length of forest floor, row upon row upon row.
I suspected I had been given phenobarbitol or a variation of it, for it is this class of barbiturate that is most commonly used to extract the truth from a subject, and I was pretty sure whoever was responsible for my condition would have been satisfied with nothing less than the truth. I shuddered, then quite suddenly, leaning forward, vomited noisily, finally wiping my mouth on the back of my hand and spitting to expel the last of whatever I had been forced to swallow.
The sensible thing would have been to stay still. Even in freezing conditions, the body can sweat, and if the sweat becomes ice beneath the clothes, death will follow sooner rather than later. Then I remembered⸺I had almost no clothes left. Every cloud, I guess. I began to walk slowly and painfully towards the east, where, some hundred feet below me, the Vlatava ran slow and deep as it made its loop around the city. The centre of Prague was on the opposite bank. It would be a puzzle to get there and a thing best tackled when it could no longer be put off.
Aware of a weird rasping sound, I realised I had begun to sing or, to be exact, to hum, and I might have smiled had I been able when I realised I was humming Always Look On The Bright Side of Life. Indeed. I wrapped my arms around myself as best I could to hoard some warmth and stop myself from picking skin from my face with the nails of my thumb and forefinger. I knew, at some level, I ought not to do it, but at the same time felt it was a thing I must do for reasons I could not understand.
There was no denying I was in a tight spot, and I bent my steps towards the tree line, trying not to trip on the irregular surface of the semi-sunken graves as I did not wish to disturb those resting there. No sooner had this thought landed than I felt, rather than heard, the swelling and bursting of the ground behind me and my heart quailed at the prospect of what a legion of undead might add to my woes. Terrified, I looked behind me but saw nothing to support my apprehension. Nevertheless, I quickened my pace; just because you can't see them doesn't mean they aren't there. Broken roots and small debris scraped the skin of my feet, and the pain helped focus my mind. To keep my spirits up, I began to make small chirruping sounds, such as a caged bird would make, but my song was poorly executed, the timing was dreadful, and knowing I had done so much better in better times, I soon gave it up in favour of grunting like a pig every ten paces or so. By this measure, I thought to record how far I had come, but if that came to nothing, it would at least be a comforting sound on that awful night.
When the land fell away towards the bank of the river, I almost stumbled. I began to hurry, but worryingly, as soon as I entered the trees, the sound of unnatural things on my back trail amplified until I believed phantasms must be closing in. I hoped they were apparitions of a mythical kind, such as unicorns or dragons, as these entities can be a bore but are otherwise entirely harmless if you do not stare at them. However, my common sense told me it was unlikely there would be any of these creatures out and about on a weeknight; thus, I knew to expect the worst.
The stars were more giant than they had been, but I knew I was seeing them now through a psychotic veil that I could not lift. Though I was suffering, I was yet alive to further danger; specifically, the need to be vigilant against attack by beasts of the air, for the flying horrors come down without warning and do great damage to the body as well as the spirit. I began chuntering and screeching like a chimpanzee to protect myself as I loped down and down towards the river. It seemed to help, though I knew, with certainty, that I needed a truly volcanic puke. I stopped running, leaned against a tree, and, to my great satisfaction, threw up like a champion.
Feeling ever so slightly better, though still anxious and afraid, I managed the last yards of the slope to the river, and before I knew it had burst from the trees onto the towpath.
I must have made a brave sight there by the mighty river. I had dropped into a half crouch, a fighting stance, an ape at the ready, my arms swinging and my head swivelling rapidly from side to side. My frozen ballocks swung like clackers while I screeched my monkey noises, interspersing them now with the crowing of a cockerel. It was at the end of one of these mad cock-a-doodles that I saw them. Too late, I realised I had blundered straight into their trap.
"There he goes. Get him, for heaven's sake. Don't let him get away again, whatever you do."
In a moment, I was overcome. Though I struggled, I was soon the prisoner of four sturdy men, one or two of whom seemed vaguely familiar. However, I was not without resources and managed to get in a couple of good knocks on my own account, which only earned me the wrath of my captors. One of these, I later learned his name was Andy, slandered me with a vile name and gave my bits and pieces a violent wrench, making me cry aloud.
"It will do you no good," I raged. "Oh Christ, I think I am going to be sick again," and you have never seen anyone unhanded faster, though nothing was left inside me, and in any case, almost immediately, I passed out.
When I next came to, I opened my eyes and saw I was in a dingy flat. There were familiar aspects; I was almost sure I had been there before. I felt no worse than before my capture, so I surmised I had not yet been drugged again. A series of lights were going off in my brain, too many colours to remember, flashing in sequence like traffic signals, getting RIGHT ON MY NERVES. I began to nod in time with the lights, hoping they would vanish, but they persisted until one of the four men who had captured me came into the room and, taking my face in his hand, turned my head so I could not help but look at him.
"You've led us a right go around, you bleeding idiot. What were you thinking?"
I decided I would not be drawn and did not answer, which did not seem to anger him though I detected a rising level of impatience.
"If I untie you are you going to behave?"
I nodded. He untied my hands and then released the rope that bound me to the chair. Immediately on standing, I needed the bathroom.
"Oh, Jesus, don't do that here, you dirty beggar. Come on, Andy, take this prat to the loo, and don't let him out of your sight."
I stared at him as he said this, but he would not look at me.
"Where am I?" I managed.
"Where do you think, you nutter? Andy, come on. Get this idiot to the bog, then let's get some more coffee down him." Turning to me again, this person said, "You really don't have a clue, do you?"
The one called Andy took me by the arm with surprising gentleness and led me to the bathroom, where things nearly went bad as I hadn't noticed that someone had put a pair of pants on me. When I let myself out, I returned to the room I had been in and sat down in an armchair that was so comfy it might have been my own.
Andy looked at me and suddenly burst out laughing. "You complete prat," he told me. "If Silva ever gets a whiff of this, she will have your balls for earrings."
“Who is Silva? Silva. I know Silva.”
"You better had do."
I had a sudden vision, a flash, gone almost before I could place it though the impression of a striking brunette remained with me, troubling me in some way too subtle to pin down.
"What happened to me?" Obviously, these men meant me no harm, and I wanted to know if they held the key to my recent suffering. I was feeling a little more secure.
"Do you remember the absinthe?" the one called Juři asked.
"Do I bollocks." I was surprised to find that I was thinking more clearly. My mind was moving faster and, frankly, not liking everything it saw.
"I am not in the least surprised. You were like an animal. The girl was burning the sugar on the spoon, but every time she went to put it in the absinthe, she found you had drunk it, and she had to begin again. You must have done half a bottle in twenty minutes, you knob."
"Oh, bugger," I groaned as an unwelcome memory floated over my transom.
"But what really fucked you were the mushrooms. I put a portion out for each of us, but when I turned my back for a second, you leaned over quick as a flash and gobbled up the whole lot."
"It rather put our plans out," Andy said. "We were going to strip you, smother you in jam and superglue you to the plinth of the equestrian statue in Wenceslas square, but you were so raving bonkers you fought like a tiger, got clean away from us and jumped in a taxi."
"Yes, and you owe us a thousand euros for that. You threw up in it and got jam all over the back seat."
"One of the other drivers spoke to your driver, who said you attacked him, bit his ear and told him he was vole spawn, so he gave you a good hiding and kicked you out near the nuthouse in Bohnice."
"Appropriate," another joined in.
"But that wasn't until last night, you dickhead
"So," this was Andy again, "Instead of a wild time on Thursday night with all day Friday to recover, here we are."
"Where are we? Exactly."
"Exactly? Well, you have to be at the altar in Krizikova in three hours. Though you are such a washed-out piss-ant, I can't see Silva going through with it."
The bastards were laughing again, and I? I groaned. "Bollocks."
Truth to tell, I could have done without it. A nice cuppa and a few hours in kip would have been fine. The boys went out of the room one by one to catch a bit of shut-eye. Last out was Andy. He turned and said over his shoulder,
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That was a fun read! Loved it. We've all had those "day after" moments. You described his confusion so vividly. Well done. Thank you for sharing! k