The Land Across

Free The Land Across by Gene Wolfe

Book: The Land Across by Gene Wolfe Read Free Book Online
Authors: Gene Wolfe
drinks, and all of them would push you around, or try to, if you complained. Days she showed me around the city or I searched the Willows, and three or four times we went to the beach.
    Kleon kept getting worse if you know what I mean. I think a big part of it was that nobody came to see if I was still at his house. Then one evening Martya and I were talking and I was watching her peel vegetables for supper when someone began rattling the front door. I told her I would get it, and I did. I had just long enough to recognize Kleon and see he was drunk before he knocked me down.
    For a moment or two I must have been dazed. When I realized what was going on he was kicking me, kicking as hard as he could but not always effectively. Somehow I managed to roll away from the kicks and get back on my feet.
    For a few seconds we fought—or to cut the crap, I tried to fight Kleon while Kleon fought me. Then I was down again, and Martya was clinging to Kleon and begging. I could tell from her tone that it was begging, and I thought she was begging him not to kick me again. She may really have been begging him to forgive her and swearing I had forced her mornings, which was when we made love. That is a pretty good bet.
    Whatever it was she said, it worked. They went off together to their bedroom. I limped out the open door and down the little path to the street with no ideas beyond putting as much distance as I could between Kleon and me.

6
    NIGHT, AND NIGHT’S DENIZENS
    The expression of the first woman I passed in the street told me I ought to get my bruised and bleeding face out of sight. At first I could think of no place where I could hide but the Willows. When it finally occurred to me that I could go to a hospital, I began asking where I could find one. Most of the people I stopped could speak no German—or anyhow pretended they could speak none. One lady gave me directions that left me completely lost.
    At last a kind old man directed me sensibly, warning me at least three times that the distance was long and the hospital might not take me. I set off anyway, thinking a lot about how any distance these people thought was a long walk was likely to be way too long for me.
    I walked until I felt terribly tired, and I believe I would have been tired even if I had not been all set to fall over before I started out. Then I saw the cherry trees, fragrant ghosts towering through the twilight and still in full bloom though the bees had gone home to their hives. Beyond those trees, I knew, stood Volitain’s house. Was Volitain a doctor? I could not remember, but he had sure acted like one when he had treated my stings.
    It was all I could do to walk to his door and bang his knocker twice. After that I just listened, and it seemed to me I heard, barely (only barely) heard, somebody crying inside. Soon the crying stopped.
    The door was thrown wide. Until that moment I suppose I thought Volitain’s death’s-head face could never look surprised. If I did, I had been wrong. His eyes flew wide and his jaw dropped. Then he took me by the arm and pulled me into his parlor. “Were you set upon by thieves?”
    “By Kleon,” I said.
    “Ah! I see.” Volitain chuckled. “And now you’ll stay away, and Kleon will be shot. He will be shot, at least, if you confess your escape to the police. Will you do it?”
    “No,” I said. “I don’t want that.”
    “Ah! You are afraid of him.”
    “Sure I am, but that’s not the reason. His wife was cheating with me. We were pretty open about it. He had a right to get mad.”
    “You let him beat you.”
    “I didn’t. I fought him, and I would’ve beaten him every bit as bad as he beat me if I could.” I thought back to our fight and remembered things Martya and I had done before the fight and told Volitain, “I’m not going to claim it would have been right, but it’s the truth.”
    “I see.”
    “Can I sit down? I’m tired.”
    “Certainly! Certainly! Here. This chair.”
    I sat and

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