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  • Kyle Tabone Betts

Beautiful, Charming, Wonderful Prague

Prague astronomical clock face

Oh beautiful, charming, wonderful Prague, what have you done to me?

I found myself enthralled by your very existence. Never had I been to a place that inspired such wonder in my soul. You made me feel whole, as if you and I were meant for each other from the very first. We could have been happy you and I had we not been so different. Had you not lured me with your charm to the horrors that lay half-dormant beneath your enchanting existence. But you chose to betray me, to lead me astray. I do not hate you for it, but I no longer love you either. Not in the same way.

Not after last night.

I was at peace then, wandering your narrow, cobbled streets, crossing exquisite Old Town square with its Christmas market stalls and illuminated titanic tree, reveling in the smoky fragrance of burning firewood and roasting meat, gazing yet again upon the splendor of your astronomical clock on my way to Charles bridge, intent on crossing it for the hundredth time on my way to destination unknown. Because there is no better way to get acquainted with you (is there, oh magnificent Prague?) than to get lost in your streets while journeying into the unknown.

But now I do know. Now I know everything.

I felt it first when I passed that mysterious clock of yours, so beautiful in its construction and terrible in its secret purpose, an inexplicable terror beyond the common fear of mortal man. There was a stillness in the air, a nightmarish quality to the night’s cutting frigidity. I now think it strange how I failed to notice the curious shamble of the thinning crowds and the dying sounds and lights around me. I did, however, notice the voices. Low whispers in the night. Or should I say of the night? Yes. Of the night. Low whispers of the night borne by the thin fog creeping along your narrow streets. Panic took me when the voices multiplied in tandem with the fog’s growing density as it swirled around me. I ran blindly into the night, dimly aware of the musty stench that had replaced the fragrance of firewood and meat. The night’s chill intensified and gripped my soul. It was then that I saw it, the only visible building, its windows beckoning me inside with the luscious promise of light and warmth.

An absintherie. The absintherie.

I fled the night by accepting the bar’s promise. Once inside, the whispers receded, replaced by a babble of voices, and the chill in my soul departed, replaced by the absintherie’s warmth. I made my way up the wooden staircase, the crowded downstairs not being to my taste. There I had the whole floor to myself. I picked the farthest table in a secluded nook, sitting on the pastel blue chair without daring to take my coat off lest I needed to flee the bar.

A shadow fell upon me.

It was the barkeep, with a menu in her hand and a smile on her lips. A smile I now know to have been sly. She offered me the special of the night, a secret blend of absinthes that came together to form a unique whole not found outside the absintherie.

I accepted, foolishly taking the bait.

The special was served two minutes later by the smiling barkeep. It came in a stemmed crystal shot glass and had a curious phosphorescent quality to it, one that commanded my attention long enough for the barkeep to seemingly melt into the bar’s cozy air. It took some courage to put the luminescent spirit to my chapped lips, but I was thankful for it when I finally did. The first sip was soon followed by the second and the third and the final long one that drained the glass. That was when the whispering voices assailed my mind once again. When the frigidity of the night took hold of my soul once more.

Presently I saw that the outside fog had worked its way inside and was now crawling up the stairs. The whispers intensified and this time brought with them visions of titanic vaulted chambers and passageways with basaltic walls on which were carved intricate glyphs I knew no human had ever set eyes upon. I shot up from my chair, knocking it over with a resounding crash, and sprinted down the stairs, using the banister of polished cherry as a guide through the dense fog, intent on settling my dues with the barkeep and escaping the confines of the absintherie. But of the barkeep there was no sign or sound. Nor of the patrons.

I left what I reckoned would be my fair share of korunas on the bar and walked back into the terrifying night, where the streetlights were now barely visible through the fog and the musty stench bordered on the overwhelming. The whispers came stronger than before, perfectly audible and mysteriously indecipherable, and the visions of the vaulted chambers and passageways grew more distinct in my mind so that at times I was unsure whether I was walking down a foggy street or a dark passageway intermittently lit by torches of arcane purple flames.

Then the visions stopped with an abruptness that was as sudden as it was alarming, replaced by the silhouette of a stooping figure with a shambling gait. It beckoned me to follow it, leading the way with a purple-flamed torch too similar to the ones lighting the titanic passageways for comfort.

I followed, despite my better judgement.

As we walked on your cobbled paths, I glimpsed some of the buildings on either side, crippled ruins from a distant past. I began to make out the first few words of the assailing whispers. They spoke of how the stooping inhuman figure was leading my body through space while the purple-flamed torch was leading my mind through time into the future. But I was not to fear—my body would soon join it and had already begun the transition.

Oh blasphemous, hideous, monstrous Prague, what have you done to me?

We reached our destination, the astronomical clock, ten minutes or ten centuries later. Time had become irrelevant. The door was open, and my guide pointed a crooked finger up the stairs. I glanced into the figure’s face and regretted it when I saw its featureless countenance. There were no eyes or nose or ears or mouth to speak of, only a blank canvas of sickly greenish gray. I ambled up the stairs and was quick to put the faceless horror out of my mind, for at the topmost level of the clock I found myself in a library that had previously escaped my notice. Outside, your skyline was indistinguishable, and the pallid light of the bloated moon reflecting off the few decrepit spires rising higher than the fog turned the panorama into a vision of nightmare. Pockets of purple light danced in the distance with the rhythm of a raging inferno.

My attention then turned to the books, ancient and written in obscure languages. But the whispers were now at their strongest and guided my mind into unlocking the secrets of the alien language. The books spoke of the distant past and the more distant future, of species heard of and unheard of, of wonders and blasphemies beyond natural human comprehension. They spoke of a race of beings omnipotent and omniscient, terrible beings that were old even before our known universe was born out of the cosmic event the simple mind of humans childishly calls a Big Bang. They spoke of a Prague the beings had made their home, and of a vaulted city of titanic proportions they had built underneath, the entrance to which lay under the astronomical clock, the clock itself serving as the downward-spiraling elevator into the city.

And then the quaking started and the tower began its descent, and it brought me down from the human world and into the titanic city of nightmare. Terror took me at first, then curiosity. Then wonder. The whispers welcomed me to my new home. They opened a new region in my mind, one that was able to hold the full knowledge of the pathways in the underground city, passageways leading to chambers and doors opening onto new dimensions of both space and time as well as windows allowing glimpses of universes outside human observation.

And now as I delve deeper into the histories and mysteries of eons past and future, as I lose myself in knowledge neither meant nor fit for human consumption or comprehension, as my mind continues to expand with the infinite knowledge of things both within and outside the known cosmos, as I lose my self and become one with the hive mind of a monstrous race that once was, still is, and will forever be, I ask once again:

Oh beautiful, charming, wonderful Prague, what have you done to me?


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