A Distant Tower

Our brand new anthology of uncivilised writing and art is now available through our online shop for £15.99 – or cheaper if you support our work by subscribing to future issues. Over the next few weeks, we’re going to share a little of what you’ll find in its pages. Today, we present a short story by Nicholas Kahn and Richard Selesnick.

Prophet of the Ditch. photograph by Nicholas Kahn and Richard Selesnick

Photograph by Nicholas Kahn and Richard Selesnick

The following is related by Dr. Falke, co-founder of the Truppe Fledermaus: ‘Some years ago I was travelling with Herr Orlofsky to Dartmoor on one of our innumerable tours of the provinces – on this occasion we had selected the rocky tors of the region as a backdrop to rehearse with the ghost bat costume. I had recently completed this outfit with help from my assistant and was quite proud of the result. I was looking out of the train window at the sun setting over the water meadows, listening to Orlofsky monologue on the possible use of impossible architecture as a stage set, when suddenly he became quite animated and started pointing out of the window: ‘Look my good man, that’s exactly what I mean!’ Rousing myself from my stupor, I followed his gaze and saw a distant tower rising from the dreary landscape, silhouetted against the still brightened sky. It appeared to be possibly covered in vines and had odd asymmetric protrusions on one side. I ventured that it might be the chimney stack of an old wheelhouse while Orlofsky was of the opinion that it was of military origin, probably built during the last war. Orlofsky, falling prey to one of his wild enthusiasms, insisted we leave the train to investigate further. Although my curiosity was admittedly piqued, I had little desire to pass the night in the tent with Orlofsky without even the smallest snifter of champagne to leaven the experience. Fortunately the region seemed thoroughly unpopulated, rendering it unlikely that a station would appear. I agreed that we would go in search of the tower should the train make a stop. To my profound irritation, no sooner had the words left my mouth than the train began to slow down.

The station (if I might dignify it so) was no more than a raised promontory of roughly cobbled wood. There was not so much as a shack associated with it, nor in fact any sign of human habitation in any direction. We picked up our duffels, loaded down as we were with props and recording equipment, and started off in the general direction of the tower. Before long, the country lane we were following devolved into a rough track and then a muddy path. The landscape was entirely flat, a maze of flooded fields, primitive canals and ditches, and impenetrable willow boundaries – here and there, crude leats and wooden spill doors had been constructed in an attempt to control the ever-present flooding, but with no apparent success. I could smell the sea very faintly, and surmised that this region was probably below sea level. Try as we might, we found it impossible to make any headway towards the tower, our way being continually blocked by impenetrable thickets and water of uncertain depth. Orlofsky was of the opinion that we should just wade directly towards it, but I vetoed this idea – the risk of becoming stuck in the bog in the fading light seemed to me a foolhardy venture at best. The tower itself continually changed its appearance as we circumnavigated it. From some angles it appeared little more than an oppressive block, while from others the aforementioned protrusions gave it a jaunty, almost sinister air. For the life of me I could not imagine what the purpose of such a structure could possibly be. We were on the verge on abandoning the whole venture when we heard a motor in the distance.

Orlofsky was attempting to carry out a conversation with a local man on a tractor, but was struggling with the dialect. For my own part, I found the entirety incomprehensible, and the man himself a bit frightening. He was continually raising and waving his stick in a manner that suggested we were trespassing. Eventually he drove off and Orlofsky walked back over to me declaring that the farmer had disclosed to him the location of a bridge by which we might access the tower, which, apparently, was on an island. I must have looked dubious, because Orlofsky strode away in irritation back towards one of the canals blocking us from the tower. I hastily followed on, concerned that my companion’s stubborn nature might lead us into a rash, ill-advised situation. I caught up with him on the bank of the canal and tried to forcefully suggest that we head back to the station, a move I knew to be a tactical error as soon as the words left my mouth. Before I could stop him, Orlofsky had scrambled down the bank and was wading into the canal, mumbling that it ‘didn’t look that deep’. Almost instantly he lost his footing on the slippery bottom and upset the bag of props that he was carrying into the water. To his credit, he managed to quickly grab the bag before the canal bore it away, but not before the ghost bat costume had spilled out into the current. An involuntary moan passed my lips. While Orlofsky struggled to climb out with the sopping bag, I ran after the ghost bat all the while looking around for a stick to fish it out with. To my horror, I realised that the canal ended in a thicket where it flowed into an underground culvert – for fear of being sucked in myself, all I could do was watch as the costume, now fully puffed up by the current, its wings unfurled, described a graceful arc to the mouth of the tunnel. Orlofsky had caught up with me now; astutely reaching into my equipment bag, he photographed the bat just before it disappeared. ‘Don’t worry old chap, we’ll retrieve it on the other side,’ he said, attempting to cheer me up. And with that the bat suit was gone.

Of course it didn’t appear on the other side, if one even existed. An entirely fruitless hour was spent in the half-light attempting to ascertain where the canal emerged from the culvert; rather, the ground beyond the thicket was quite dry and eventually gave way to raised causeway amid familiar tangle of drowned meadows crisscrossed with yet more leats and ditches. This we eventually followed back to the station. The tower was now nowhere to be seen, but in any case, I had ceased to care. Orlofsky, as is typical of him, screamed abuse at me when I dared to express my frustration that his ill-considered actions had led us to an entirely preventable fiasco. This then gave way to terse apologies peppered with feeble excuses, and finally to unbridled glee at what he deemed to be the ‘beautiful absurdity of the whole performance, far better than any we might have achieved at Dartmoor.’ Entirely exhausted by his peregrinations, I left him to his reveries, and nibbled on some soggy chocolate retrieved from the bottom of the prop bag as I lay on the platform waiting for the train. Above me, dark shapes swooped through the night air, undoubtedly the local fledermausen conducting their nocturnal feast of marsh insects, little knowing that their poor white queen lies lost forever in the underworld.

Nicholas Kahn and Richard Selesnick are a collaborative artist team who work primarily in the fields of photography and installation art, specialising in fictitious histories set in the past or future. Kahn & Selesnick have participated in exhibitions worldwide and have work in over 20 collections, including the Brooklyn Museum of Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Houston Museum of Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Smithsonian Institution. In addition, they have published three books with Aperture Press, Scotlandfuturebog, City of Salt and Apollo Prophecies. kahnselesnick.com

You’ll find more where this came from in our latest book. 

Dark Mountain: Issue 9 is available through our online shop for £15.99, or cheaper if you support our work by subscribing to future issues

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