Summary: After escaping from the Orient, Erik wanders through Europe, alone, lost, without any purpose in life. An illness forces him to rejoin human society in the desperate fight to survive. Told from Erik's point of view.
I was not even thirty years old. Not even thirty and I had seen more countries, learned more and endured more adventures than almost everyone else. I survived against all odds and found myself in Europe and completely alone. I was alone and understood now what the ancient Greeks meant when they described someone to be hunted by Erinyes. I cannot count the nightmares I had to endure, the terror whenever I felt like someone was following me. An assasin send by the Shah or the Sultan? Someone seeking blood vengeance?
The worst was that I felt like my life was over anyways. I had absolutely no purpose. Everything seemed to be pointless. I was alive. But what for? Why was I still alive? I had been so afraid of death that I had not even asked why I tried to survive, I just did and now that I was far away from Persia, from Turkey and asked myself what for? The good Daroga who saved my life in Persia. He most likely paid for this with his own life. His sacrifice - what for? Why? The men who died so I could escape the Sultan. What for?
I was alone. I had no one and nothing. Men my age ought to be young, having a wife and a family, trying to build up something. I had already erected a palace for the Shah of Persia and done the same for the Sultan. What did I get for my efford? They tried to kill me and many nightmares that will most likely torment me until I die. I survived, and if it was only to defy them.
But life is no adventure-book. If I was the hero of a book, the book would end now, telling I found a wife and settled down and lived happily ever after. Save guess that I am no hero, if anything one would picture me as the villain, just one look at my deformed features and it is obvious that I have to be the bad guy. After what I did in Persia and repeated the same in Turkey, I can no longer tell them they are wrong. If someone accuses me to be a monster, I ought to lower my eyes in shame for they are right. Not that I would ever do that, but if I were a villain in a book I would get the punishment for my sins in the end.
No one and nothing prepared me for surviving. I was lost and did not know what to do now. Briefly I considered going back to where I came from,the circus. But I could not. I could not endure the humiliation of being stared at. I had wrestled my way from the travelling sideshow-freak to a powerful position and rank at the Persian court, fallen from grace - even if I cannot say that it was not my fault at least partly - and earned another powerful and well-respected position in Turkey.
The higher you climb, the farther you fall. Unfortunately this is the truth. I climbed very high and hit rock bottom again. Now I was just another vagrant living in the streets again, never able to stay anywhere for more than a few days. In a weird way I sank far deeper than before, for as a child I had earned my keep through work, at least mostly. Now I did not even think about doing any work at all, neither as street performer nor did I try to find a job. I don't know why, maybe some circus would have hired me as a magician, some theater as répétiteur, some building enterprize as bricklayer. It was my pride that absolutely forbid me to even ask for such a job. I knew that I could no longer endure being just a slave after I had experienced what it was like to be a master, to be the éminence grise, to have kings do as I told them just because I knew how to make them bow to my will like I knew how to play an instrument.
Funny enough my pride did allow me to live as a thievish vagabond, preying upon everyone who had the bad luck to be in my way or have something in his possession I needed or just desired. Unfortunately the wandering didn't help me, it made everything worse. Wherever I came, I was shunned and driven away. Small wonder, I was just a filthy unwashed vagrant, dressed in a long coachman's cloak, an old hat and a mask made of grey fabric. What little I had, I carried with me, and that was certainly nothing to calm anyone who saw me. I had a large walking stick, it was almost 1,5m long and attatched to it was axe head. A formidable weapon, but if the police asked me I had it with me because I wanted to work as woodcutter. They didn't know that I was armed with more weapons: a lasso made from catgut, two knives and a gun. Exept my weapons I had litte to carry with me. In my bag was only a warm blanket and a bottle with water and sometimes some food. If someone called me a beggar, he was right. I was as poor as any other beggar but my pride outshun even the Shah and the Sultan.
I guess to the local authorities I was just another crazy vagrant who had damaged his brain with too much cheap alcohol. They mostly ignored me as long as I did not try to stay anywhere. I did carry several identity papers with me, papers I had stolen and forged to my best ability. Sometimes it was difficult to remember the right name when I handed someone my passport to prove my identity.
So I came to Belgium. I do not know why I was on my way North-West. Maybe I subconsciously wanted to go to France, maybe it was pure coincidence. Maybe I was just trying to avoid being taken to a workhouse. I was able-bodied and would therefore be enslaved and exploited and they would justify it that they would try to reform the workshy wretch and make him a valuable member of society - what was, at least as I saw it back then, yet another euphemism for a slave.
I was in a bad shape. For days I suffered terrible pain in my stomach and felt tired, dizzy and suffered headache. This would not have surprised me had I been on a binge for days, I cannot deny that I did sometimes, but not then. I had been sober for weeks, mostly at least. Nothing that would cause such a hangover.
I hoped that a good night's sleep would help me and found shelter in some shack, hiding in the hay. I slept much longer than intended and woke to the paniced shriek of a girl. A few meters before me was a girl, about seven years old, a pitchfork in her hands. I remember that I groaned in frustration. I was weary of that scene I had seen far too often in my life. Looking around I found my mask lying beside my hat. I put it on and pushed myself up, I ought to be quick now before the rest of the peasants would come with pitchforks. But I could not bring myself to move quickly, I was too tired. I was so tired I even considered lying down again and allowing them to finish me. If it was them or anyone else or just exhaustion and despair to kill me, I did no longer care. I took off the mask and lied back, waiting for the inevitable to happen.
But nothing happened. No one came. The girl stood there, aiming at me with the pitchfork. I have to admit that I admired her courage. There was a small girl ready to defend herself against me. Maybe she wanted to kill me. What a ridiculous end for the Sultana's champion, the undefeatable Azrael, the angel of death. To die at the hands of a small girl with a dirty pitchfork.
"Why do you laugh?" the girl asked. Had I really laughed? I could not recall laughing. I really did not remember it. "Do you want to steal our hay? Are you one of the tieves?" She did not sound scared, she rather sounded like she was about to kill me for stealing her precious hay.
"No... I never steal hay..." My demented laughing fit must have finally convinced her that she was dealing with a complete madman, that I was still lying in the hay and made absolutely no attempt to leave or to attack her seemed to convince her that I was harmless. Another harmless drunkenard who slept in their shack- except for my face that I did not even bother to cover. I must have been really suicidal that time.
Her cry had alerted someone. Two other women arrived, one obviously the mother, the other one smaller, maybe an elder sister of the blonde scrawny girl? She screamed even more and pulled her girls back, away from me. I just closed my eyes and lay back.
The next thing I remember is a group of policemen standing around me, one poking at me with a stick. I moved, trying to defend myself but my movements were sluggish and my vision blurred. I felt terribly thisty. "Water..." I croaked and the policemen jumped back with panicked screams. Their screams were even louder than that of the girl. And they, other than the small girl, left the shack in a hurry. What a pity. I was really disappointed that they did not kill me.
I could hear them talking outside, in terrible panic discussing what I was. One man was sick, I could clearly hear him retching. This time I pushed myself to my feet, leaning heavily on my stick. I felt lightheaded, everything seemed to move around me as if I was on a ship in a storm and not on solid ground. I was dizzy, disoriented, I felt like I was drunk, really drunk, but I wasn't. I had not had any alcohol for at least a week for I did not dare drink with stomachache for fear to make it worse.
When I left the shack I saw the policemen standing in a group, debating who or what I was. I needed to support myself with my walking stick with one hand and held onto the boards of the entrance opening to the shack. Everything seemed to spin around me, I felt like I was walking down a wall and right before me was bottomless hole in the ground. My eyes told me I was walking on solid ground, my equilibrioception said I was somehow standing with my feet at the wall.
"Get back! Get back!" a policeman shouted at me. He did not draw his weapon. Obviously this was a very peaceful city where policemen weren't used to make use of their weapons.
I did not. I cannot say why, I needed to concentrate on remaining on my feet. I didn't think about my mask or my hat, the blanket and my bag. I just saw the well with the hand operated pump and the wooden trough. I was so very thisty, I needed water... just some water. My movement was extremely slow, uncoordinated. I just dragged myself to the well - unaware that I had to pass the group of policemen. The moved back to get out of my way, pushing each other ot of their way. I have to admit that I must have been a terrible sight. I was filthy not having had any chance to wash in weeks, no chance to change my clothes in months. I was uncovered, I was told later that the dirt on my face made it look like the decaying flesh was already coming off in pieces. It was dried mud on my face, I guess, from sleeping somewhere in the fields. My matted hair was full of dirt, hay and lice and fell down over my shoulders. Yes, I had lice that time like most vagrants did, and I had not cut or combed my hair in years and not washed in months. As I dragged my exhausted body towards the well, my mouth hanging slightly open, the policemen really must have thought they were dealing with a decaying dead body that was somehow still walking around. I admit that it must have been terrible for them to see me like this, the effect heightened by the stench and the dirt so I really looked like some corpse that had dragged itself from its grave after decomposing for some months.
I collapsed at the well, somehow pulled myself up so my head rested against the wooden through. It was empty except for some old brown rest of water. I used my right hand to hold onto the wood and my left to try to get some water in my dry mouth. It tasted bitter, so bitter I could not swallow the few drops. I could not get up to operate the pump. All I could do was sitting there, staring at the pump. "Water, please, water..." I begged, but the men were too afraid of me to come close enough to give me some water. Didn't they see that I was too weak to be dangerous? The small girl could have easily killed me, I would not have been able to defend myself.
The faucet seemed to come alive and a sprinkle of cold, clean and sweet water splashed into the wooden through. I remember smiling faintely and reaching down for water, but it ran through my fingers, I could not get it to my mouth and I could not push myself up enough to bring my head down into the water. Another splash of water, then a metal dog bowl appeared before my face. It was the two girls, the older one operating the pump, the younger one using the bowl to catch some of the water and she even dared to hold it out to me, but I could see the fear in her eyes. "I won't bite," I promised.
The woman helped me turn round so I sat with my back against the wooden through as the girl helped me to drink from the bowl.
I do not recall how long I sat there. Eventually a carriage arrived, maybe they had been called by the police. Several men approached me with terrible curiosity. "I have never seen such thing," one said, "Never. He... seems to live."
"Is it contagious?"
"If we don't know what it is, we can't take any chances. We need to put him in solitary confinement in the hospital to keep this... whatever it is... from spreading."
Some men dragged me none too gently onto a filthy cart, covered me with some blankets and even put hay over that blanket to hide me. I do not know why, maybe they wanted to keep my presence a secret. They did well to do so - the news that a living, walking corpse was in the city was likely to cause mass panic. I was lucky to be in the hands of medical doctors now who wanted to study me and not in the hands of some superstitious fools who might just have burned me to death to prevent me from spreading any illness.
What happened after that I cannot really recall and what I do recall I am not sure if it is a real memory or just one of my nightmares. I was thrown in some room with a hole in the ground. The room was tiled and obviously the hole in the ground was some sort of plughole. Rough hands stripped me of my clothing, someone poured several buckets of soapy water over my shivering body and they scrubbed me with brooms so they didn't have to come close to me. I tried to protest, but was immediately pressed down to the slippery cold floor. Someone grabbed my hair and began shaving my head.
My next memory is rather pleasant. I was lying in a bed, in clean sheets for the first time in months feeling clean and comfortable. I was so very tired I did not even try to get up and closed my eyes again.
This chapter is called "Walking Dead" for it actually was that TV series that inspired it. I wanted to write a scene where people are confronted with Erik who is walking like a zombie (of course nearly no one knew that word in 19th century Europe) and people being scared of him. Of course they are, even if they do not know about zombies, a corpse walking around with uncoordinated sluggish movements is guaranteed to scare everyone. Poor Erik is just ill.
Unlike Susan Kay I assume that it is likely that Erik escaped from Persia and Turkey with his life, but he had no chance to take anything with him. So when he comes back to Europe, he has nothing but the clothes he wears (and they are most likely stolen). He has nothing, but does not want to be a street performer again.
So... now I have three fanfics "under construction": Reborn, Pug of the Opera, If Love Were a Flower.