• Vol. 06
  • Chapter 08
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The Niemandsland

‘The butcher and baker didn’t know who they were leaving food for at the edge of the field; the hotel was indiscernible from the road, despite rising fourteen to eighteen storeys into brown sky. Inside, every day, the hotel manager – a strange red-moon-faced fellow in a pinstripe suit – opened the guestbook to paper as empty as the moon, and slapped the pages closed with triumph,’ says the old man to you on the sun-hot steps outside.

He laughed. ‘But the patrons did come. They came across the fields with the surgical precision of napalm and exacted their business on either side of the hotel for days. The first of them arrived at the doors with so little luggage, the bellhop wasn’t sure how to assist them – but he soon discovered a talent for fireman’s lifts.’

‘Those without names were given them from the manager’s favourite books, I reason, so the place soon filled up with men who’d escaped prisons and travelled to Mars, that lunar paper filled with mud scribbles, before each man was taken to a room with the curtains tight closed—’ He mimed them shut. ‘—and put in an armchair by a fire, blankets over their knees.’

You lean in, sound is bleary in the heat. ‘Lots of them died,’ he said, quiet. ‘They spread too far in their chairs. But those who didn’t? They emerged into corridors, whispering in languages and waving in surprise at golden wallpaper… Lambswool carpet… Brass numbers on their doors… And they crept down wide staircases to find their guns all organised in elephant foot umbrella stands.’


The Niemandsland

‘The bar was breathing greenery and amber liquid, and the men gathered there, so many they sat on the floor hugging dirty knees until, at midnight, guests all safely stowed, the manager joined them for a drink. He drank absinthe from a thimble, and upon being questioned about bills and rates, explained that he’d never been one for making money.’ ‘I don’t understand,’ you say, but the old man is off with his suitcase, waving toodle-oo.