THE DEATH OF ME by Peter Nolan Smith

Last December I attended the opening of the “Dream’ exhibition at Luxembourg’s Mudam Museum. Madame l’Ambassador bailed from the event early for a formal dinner with diplomats. 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 understand his place in the scheme of plans.

Francois the driver opened the right-hand rear door for Madame l’Ambassador. It was the safest seat in the back of 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 beer. The bartender poured it 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.

Luxembourg doesn’t possess the ancient heritage of Belgium’s Trappist beers, but their offerings are better than the Bud of the USA. The grand duchy also 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 put down my third beer and called it a night. The alcohol content of 6.7% was strong enough for a fourth to knock me off my feet and I had a good walk ahead to the upper city across the canyon.

Outside the I.M. Pei structure was shrouded by a gloomy fog.

I skirted the spectral display of shadow and light, remembering my High School German teacher’s telling the class the word for fog.

“Nebel.” Bruder Karl spoke with a muted thunder.

Nebel coupled with Spiegel became fog and mirrors, the mystic atmosphere for magic and the intrigues of the Gestapo.

No one else challenged the deepening murk and I descended through the reconstructed fortifications in a silence of darkness. 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.

Luxembourg had housed thousand of soldiers during its reign at the Gibraltar of the North. This 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 film a friend of mine who had made here several years ago. The story concerned a director casting a real vampire in his film. My friend Bill had played a vampire. The city’s medievalism had lent the movie’s exterior scene an unexpected aura of horror and this evening I glanced around me with a rising apprehension.

I was all alone.

The city was old.

I no longer believe in God, but I had watched enough vampire movies to know that I offered a fairly easy target for a bloodsucker. Were-wolves were not a worry. 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, instead I bracketed a set of keys in the knuckles of my right hand.

A single pinpoint of light broke through the swirling overcast. Venus was too bright to be to be a star and I salvaged a little confidence by sighting a familiar object in the night sky. When my eyes dropped to Earth, a lisping wind scrapped the bare branches to chant an incantation from a time before electricity.

My pace accelerated to reach the tunnel underneath the 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 and creatures of the night prey on the weak.

I arrived on the other side and 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 safely reached the street ten seconds later.

A streetlight glowed overhead.

My cell rang.

It was Francois the driver.

He asked if I was all right.

“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 care and also that a good scare makes a man feel alive and that’s 100% better than being killed by vampires any night of the week.

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