by Craig Russell
- Women's Karneval Night. Cologne. January, 1999
she looked was insanity. She ran through crowds of the demented.
She stared around wildly, seeking an asylum: somewhere she could
find refuge amongst the sane. The music thudded and screamed mercilessly,
filling the night with terrifying cheerfulness. The crowd was denser
now. More people, more insanity. She pushed through them. Always
away from the two massive spires that thrust up from the mayhem
of the streets, black and menacing into the night. Always away from
She stumbled as she ran down the steps. Past the main railway station.
Through a square. On an on. Still surrounded by the shouting, grinning,
laughing faces of the insane.
She collided with a knot of figures gathered in front of a stand
selling Currywurst and beer. The former German Chancellor Helmut
Kohl stood in a nappy stuffed with Deutschmarks, laughing and joking
with three Elvis Presleys. A medieval knight struggled to eat his
hotdog through a visor that would not stay up. There was a dinosaur.
A cowboy. Louis the Fourteenth. But no clown.
She spun around. Scanned the throng of bodies that now closed in
her wake. No clown. One of the beer-stand Elvises staggered towards
her. Blocked her path and circled her waist with his arm; said something
lewd and latex-muffled. She pushed Elvis away and he collided with
'You're mad!' she screamed at them. 'You're all mad!' They laughed.
She ran on through a part of the city she didn't know. Fewer people
now. The streets narrowed and closed in on her. Then she was alone
in a narrow cobbled street, dark and tightly lined with four-storey
high buildings with black windows. She pressed into a shadow and
tried to get her breathing under control. The sound from the distant
city centre was still loud: madly cheerful music mingled with the
raucous cries of the insane. She tried to listen through it for
the sound of footsteps. Nothing. She stayed pressed into the shadow,
the reassuring solidity of the apartment building at her back.
Still no clown. No nightmare clown from her childhood dreams. She
had lost him.
She had no idea where she was: one direction looked the same as
the other. But she would keep heading away from the maniac sounds
of the city, from the looming black spires. Her heart continued
to pound but her breathing was now under control. She hugged the
wall as she moved along the street. The raucous music and laughter
faded further but suddenly there was a new blast as a door opened
and yellow light sliced across the street. She shrank back again
into shadow. Three cavemen and a female flamenco dancer burst out
of the apartment house, two of the Neanderthals carrying a crate
of beer between them. They staggered off in the direction of the
other lunatics. She started to cry. To sob. There was no escape
She saw a church at the end of the street. A huge church, standing
crammed into a cobbled square. It was a Romanesque building that
at one time would have sat grandly with fields and gardens around
it. But the city had closed in on it over the centuries: now it
was squeezed on every side by apartment buildings, like a bishop
jostled by beggars. A parochial house sat nudged into its flank.
A bar-restaurant at the other end of its meagre square. She would
avoid the bar. She would seek refuge in the parochial house. She
walked towards it, suddenly startled by the image of a small, frail,
frightened, broken-winged fairy in the black shield of a butcher's
shop display window. Her reflection. Her reflection hanging between
pasted cardboard stars with special offers on beef and pork.
She reached the corner of the church. It loomed dark and austere
into the cold night sky. She turned the heavy iron handle and leaned
against the door but it would not give. She moved towards the parochial
He stepped out in front of her from where he had been waiting, hidden,
around the corner of the church. His face was blue-white in the
dim streetlight, his over-wide painted smile dark crimson and grotesque.
Two flaps of green hair stood at a ridiculous angle from his otherwise
bald head. She tried to scream but nothing came. She stared at his
eyes: cold and dead and hard under the comical arches of his black-painted
eyebrows. She couldn't move. She couldn't cry out. She couldn't
find the strength to break free and run. His hand, gloved in bright
blue felt, snapped up and grabbed her throat. He pushed her against
the wall and into the shadows. Lifted her onto tiptoe. In a single
movement of his free hand he produced a necktie from the huge patch
pocket of his oversized coat and looped it around her neck.
Now she struggled. The necktie burned her skin, crushed the arteries
in her neck, closed her windpipe. No breath came to her screaming
lungs. Her head swam. Her world darkened. And as he tightened the
ligature around her neck, all she could do was stare into his face.
His grotesque clown face.
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all material © Craig Russell