Marcus awakened, slowly rising to the surface of consciousness from the depths of a dream. It was a new, recurring dream in which he was trapped in a maze of mirrors and he couldn't get out; the mirror maze would then suck his soul into its trick reflections, absorbing him. Always he'd wake in a sweat.
But when he opened his eyes, he did not see the usual still life of the familiar objects in his Manhattan apartment. And there was no noise of taxis and sirens from outside his window. Am I in LA? he thought blearily. Sometimes he woke discombobulated in the mornings when he was traveling a lot...
But no. He didn't recognize this room at all. He was in a kind of trundle bed, under an intricate quilt such as you would find hanging in a folk art museum. The ceiling was high, made of rough hewed beams, and slanted sharply down, like an attic. The furniture was of ornately carved dark wood, but old and dry. He checked the nightstand for his wristwatch, his glass of water, and his amber RX bottle of pills. He opened the nightstand's small drawer. Empty.
He went to the window and drew aside the white muslin curtain. Rolling green hills, jutting mountain peaks shutting in the land in the distance. Here and there in the landscape was a house with a steep thatched roof. An unpaved road snaked in the foreground. The unseen morning sun tinged all of this with incandescent light.
Marcus stood there for some moments, his mind churning and grasping. He was a filmmaker, a well known one. He was due to receive a prestigious award that week. (One that he knew he didn't deserve.) There was a picture in his mind of the recently purchased tuxedo, hanging back home in his closet. The Italian leather shoes that he had shined so they glistened. They were home, now, in his closet. And he was...here.
Just then he heard the faint sound of voices; a group of men wearing work clothes were walking down that unpaved road, past the house. They carried scythes over their shoulders. Although he couldn't make out the words they were saying, he had a sense from the swing and cadence of their speech that they were not speaking English.
His confusion was overtaken now by fear. Fear that he had lost control of his faculties. Is this real? Am I real? Am I dreaming? Am I dead? But of course he was not dead, of course he was real. There was a sour feeling in his stomach and a tight feeling in his chest. This physical discomfort made him know that he, and this, were real. He knew he must recover himself and think, retrace the events of the previous day.
Well, the day had been ordinary. He had spent much of it at home, going over material from a recent location shot. Photographs and such. He had been viewing some screen tests. Looking over the script. It was to be his first new project in four years. Sure, he'd been a little anxious. He needed a success. People had begun to write him off. That his movies were becoming too cerebral. Too self-indulgent. It was said that Marcus was losing his relevance. And he was worried he that maybe they were right. He had no more inspiration. No more energy. He had no more films in him.
A horse drawn wagon rolled down the road. What was this place? He felt as though he'd landed in the middle ages. Had he gotten sucked into a fairy tale? All these myths and fairy tales, he thought, just variations on the same story told over and over. Even this one! A man, waking up in an unfamiliar world. A story told many times, right? I know this story!
He willed his heart to slow down. All he needed to do was connect the dots. Find the patterns. So many answers lie just beyond our awareness, he thought. The secret was just to not try to hard to see them. Let the subconscious do the work.
He would just go with it. Whatever this was, he was equal to it.
He opened the bedroom door and went down the splintered wooden stairs.
Everything seemed narrow and cramped and twisting in this house. The stairway led him to a long narrow foyer. Which led to a long narrow living room. Shabby but clean. Old sagging sofa with an afghan draped over it. Dark end tables with doilies on top.
The kitchen contained a plain wooden table and chairs. The refrigerator was an ancient one, whirring and clicking to itself. There was a covered dish inside of it. A stew of vegetables, mostly cabbage, with a white sauce.
He went through all the rooms of the downstairs and looped back into the front foyer. He opened the closet door. It contained a shovel, a pick ax, a scythe, and a pair of work boots.
He stood looking at these things, feeling lost and confused for just the one moment. The he put on the work boots. They were just a little big. He picked up the scythe, gravely, resolutely, and went outside to follow those men.
Nothing can shock me, he thought. If somebody is testing me... if they think they are going to break me....
So much green and wide-openness. It was beautiful but dizzying. Every detail so distinct. Each twig and branch as sharp and clear as those snow capped mountain peaks in the distance.
Finally he heard voices ahead. Coming around a bend, he had come to a hay meadow.
He approached the men, scythe weighing heavy on his shoulder. First one man turned to him, and then there was a growing silence as they all turned. Soon all he could hear was the wind whispering through the hay stalks.
"Hi. Hello. I'm Marcus. I'm here to join you. I'm here to help."
He approached one man. He was youngish, wearing a toboggan cap and a plaid flannel shirt. When Marcus put out his hand, the young man looked at it, and then looked away. There was a look of superstitious fear on his face. In fact, they were all looking away. One man spit on the ground. Another crossed himself.
Marcus lowered his outstretched hand and walked away. He found a place for himself apart from the others, and swung his scythe into the hay. Swoosh. He wasn't used to using these muscles. He was fifty-eight years old and not in the best shape. But he took it up and swung, and swung again, until he got in a sort of rhythm. It wasn't long until he was covered with sweat. But he kept swinging the scythe relentlessly. In his other, old life, he was known to always go overboard in his single-mindedness. His extreme nature could send his cast and crew to tears. He's a crazy man, they'd say.
"Fuck it," he panted to himself. I will demolish this hay.
Soon there was the murmur of voices around him again, in whatever language this was. Eastern European, it sounded. But which one this was he couldn't guess. As the men worked through the day, sometimes they would sing. They broke for lunch, which they ate out of buckets, food that was wrapped in checkered cloths But Marcus kept going. And going. He couldn't stop. Kick its ass kick its ass...
* * *
As the sun began to wane in the afternoon, Marcus had to stop, exhausted. He was shaky all over, and there was a deep ache in his lower back. The hard labor had left his mind feeling empty and scoured out. But the feeling was not unpleasant.
The light was failing as he began the walk back to the house. He knew he had to hurry. If it got too dark heíd not be able to find his way back at all. And he needed food, needed water. He was lightheaded. But he hated cabbage...it was red meat he wanted...
Suddenly, before he knew what was happening, a dark form jumped from the bushes and was coming at him. What the?! Something taller than him, covered in fur, with teeth and flashing eyes. A bear? A large dog on hind legs? It sprung towards him, and Marcus let out a loud yelp.
At the sound of his yelp, the thing flickered and vanished, mid-jump. Leaving only an afterburn image in Marcusís mind. A wolf.
Marcus ran to the house and slammed the door. If Iím hallucinating, itís only because Iím so tired and hungry! He drank some tap water that tasted of grass and dirt. He ate some of the stew, cold, straight from the dish.
I just wonít think about it again.
After sitting on the couch, staring into space, he investigated the house some more. Every drawer was empty, as though the house was nothing more than a movie set of props. All he had found were eating utensils and some chipped white plates and bowls in the kitchen.
There was an old upright piano in one of the small rooms in the back of the house. On it was a book of sheet music. It was opened up to a song called ďDesteapte-te, Romane!Ē
Romania! He was glad to at least know where he was. But there was another feeling, too. A connotation of the idea of Romania. Something like guilt. Something like a bad taste in his mouth.
It was the girl. Nadya was Romanian. Nadya of the long neck, the dusky heart shaped face. The large tilted eyes beneath the jaggedly cropped black bangs. It was all a mistake. An accident. He wanít a bad person, he thought. He had just used poor judgment one night after drinking too much.
She had wanted him to call her afterword, and he had said he would. But he had taken that scrap of paper with her number on it and thrown it in the trash. In fact, throwing it out was the last thing he remembers doing before going to bed and waking up here.
But Marcus put the thoughts out of his mind, and went to bed.