By Ivan Karasev
When I was still alive and about ten years old I became a witness of a most queer case.
There was a museum in our town. Just an ordinary provincial museum, with shabby walls, mice and cocroaches. Everything in that museum was quite trivial, except one item. And although the item did not stand out for any exquisite workmanship or bright colouring, I always felt drawn towards it. It was a bed made of cypress tree. There was a table saying: A CYPRESS-TREE BED, 3-rd cent. BC. ANONYMOUS CRAFTSMAN.
The bed impressed me with its free line and perfection of form. For hours on end could I pore at the headboard finished in the form of a lion’s head and the opposite back-rest made as a beast tail. The four legs were shaped as curved dragon’s paws. The whole of the bed looked like a lean beast of prey lingering before the final leap to attack the unanxious victim.
The surface of the bed was speckled with intricate drawings. Most attractive were figures of people who were naked.
There was a baby running downhill rolling a wheel in front of him. Now he was playing a pipe amid cows. He was wearing a cap decorated with long feathers. He was being watched closely by a man accompanied by two wolves. There were words scratched under the figures, much like Greek ones: “ΚΙΦΡΙΣ” and “ΑΠΛΥ”.
Below there was a picture of a youth hugging a deer. They were surrounded by all kinds of birds and animals, nobody doing any harm to each other. Beside there appeared a hunting scene, a deer running ahead, his large horns vergent backwards, legs curving in a leap. Dogs following close on his heels, one of them snaching the deer’s leg, another going to sink its teeth into his side. The dogs were being urged by a man on horseback. There was a drawing of the Sun on his face. One of his hands was holding a bow, the other fitting an arrow from his quiver to the bow string.
I was so captured witn scrutinizing the pictures that I started scratching on some badly-seen details with my fingernail. I was immediately holloed by the attendant woman. I looked up and saw a woman of about thirty-five years of age. She was slim and alert. Like a panther she seemed to be going to sink her teeth into my flesh, had it been only within the bounds of decency. It looked like I had entrenched upon her property. Or could she be jealous of my attention to that cypress bed? I guessed intuitively that there was a kind of relation between her and the bed. They even looked sort of alike: the same line geometry, the same halftones, the same temper: wild, indomitable, violent.
I had a firm intention to finish my inspection of the patterns scratched on the bed, so I took a moment to slip behind a curtain. I meant to wait until the attendant woman moved to another room. But there were few visitors, so she didn’t move anywhere else. The time was dragging on too slowly, I felt bored and soon fell asleep.
I was awoken by a strange anxious feeling. I opened my eyes. Visitors had long since gone away from the museum. I was just ready to leave my hiding-place and run away, but suddenly I heard footsteps. The room glimmered with a faint light.
The attendant woman was moving straight towards me. She was concerned with something. Now she stopped, put her lantern down on a table and came up to the cypress bed. She kneeled down and pressed her cheek to its back rest.
The clock struck midnight. There was a strange squeak, and out of the half-light there appeared an ancient man lying on the bed. His body was clad in a white clothing, much like a Roman togue. The antedeluvian was so decrepit that he seemed dead. But there – he opened his eyes and smiled with his ugly toothless mouth.
The woman bent down to him and started stroking his wrinkled bark of a face. Then she kissed the old man on the lips and began to passionately hug and caress him. At the same time the old man’s image began to change. The wrinkles smoothed away, the hair grew black, the old age vanished from his face, and the body became young and tough. There lied a youth on the cypress-tree bed, equal in frame and feature to Apollo or Adonis.
The attendant woman instantly disrobed and fell down into his bed. She was revelling in his youth, not even trying to conceal her delight. One could imagine the girl was thrashing or stifling her victim scratching his body and face with her fingernails.
Her lunacy did not last long. As soon as she got up from the bed, the youth shrunk down again into the senile age. His youth vanished like an obsession. For a moment I thought all the previous developments had been just born in my own brain. The events going on in the museum room gave an impression of a rapid shifting of scenes in a theater.
“You have no mercy upon me”, the old man said, “why are you disturbing the spirit of the cypress tree? I feel an unbearable pain all over my body, as if I’ve been shot through by an arrow of a hunter, or cut down by uncouth peasants when they were manufacturing this bed to please Procrustes”.
The woman was smiling with a corner of her mouth. She was quite pleased with herself and indifferent to anything else.
“You are not listening to me, Margolyta! But I will tellyou more than that”, the old man’s voice grew sinister taking a somewhat iron-like hue. “It is the twelveth night already as you come to me”.
“But it was you who first lead me into the temptation”, Margolyta argued, but the old man went on:
“You must know now, that this night has changed your destination. Now my power over you has become absolute”.
“What are you up to?” Margolyta grew suspiscious.
“You see, the varnish enamel covering the surface of my bed has worn out with years. I need your skin, your young blood”.
“Oh, no, you dare not!” the woman cried. The old man raised his hand and Margolyta started spinning like a pegtop nearing slowly the cypress-tree bed. Finally she gave out and stretched full-length down along the fatal bed.
“A sleep is a small death for a human being”, the old man went on. “Whenever you are shuting your eyes and going to sleep, you are anticipating your old age and then death. A bed of a human being, like his cradle, is a kind of prefiguration of his grave. Therefore don’t you try to resist me. It should have happened sooner or later”.
He finished, and the cypress-tree bed became alive. The back-rests of the bed engulfed and embraced the living body. There was a sound of cracking bones and splitting skin. The scarlet blood covered the surface of the cypress-tree bed all over.
Margolyta uttered a scream that drowned in the laughter of the mercyless old man whose speck of a form was flattering in purple flares over the bed in the museum halflight.
I screamed too with fright and dashed out of the museum through the open window. I don’t remember what followed next and how I managed to survive what I had seen. But in twenty years I visited the museum again and came up to the cypress-tree bed. It looked just like many years ago, but its surface was finished with a layer of excellent varnish.
I examined the drawings covering the bed: there was a girl bound to a sacrificial bed. A naked youth with a knife was standing high over her. A boy of about ten was watching the scene at the background – the very image of me! I felt noise in my head. My hands stretched upwards and my body protracted and stiffened. I looked up and saw branches and green leaves above me. Somewhere below there was a noise of an axe.
(Translated by Marina Martinova)
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