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Fiction

Alongside my academic work, I also write fiction, often inspired by and engaging with the themes and contents of my academic research. I am currently searching for a suitable publishing home for my first novel, Between the Strokes of Midnight (see the summary below for more details as well as a reading sample).

 

In the meantime, I am working on a second novel, provisionally entitled The House of History. Set in a haunted house, the story revolves around its strange inhabitants, their tortured pasts, and the terrible secrets they are struggling to conceal. On the allegorical level, the house and its inhabitants embody various aspects of modern German history in Central Europe. 

Between the Strokes of Midnight

What if the past were to catch up to the present? What if there were a space, between the strokes of midnight, when the shadowy figures of lore stepped off the pages of the books they inhabit and walked the streets of the nocturnal city?

 

My first novel, entitled Between the Strokes of Midnight, is a Gothic story set in present-day Vienna, Austria, between late October and the winter solstice. Premised on the legend of Doctor Faust and inspired by tales of Austrian history and folklore, the novel explores how cities, like the people that inhabit them, are haunted by their past.

N, the anonymised “anyman” of this story, is a struggling writer who one night stumbles into just such a place: a parallel Vienna of the night, where the veil between the waking world and the world of the dead has parted. Led by the mysterious M (his Mephistophelean guide), N soon finds that his sanity, and even his life, is imperilled, as a cataclysmic confrontation with his diabolical benefactor becomes inevitable.

Excerpt from Chapter 9, “The Horror in the Catacombs”, during which the protagonist, N, arrives at Stephansplatz, the cathedral square in Vienna’s historic city centre, only to find it hideously transformed:

            Gargantuan black clouds lay low and heavy over the midnight city. There was neither moonlight nor starlight to shine down upon the square where N–––– sat off to the side in quiet contemplation. Yet he could still make out the great hulk of the cathedral rising before him nonetheless: a dark behemoth silhouetted ever so faintly against the impenetrable black of the sky above.

            N–––– hadn’t been surprised to find upon his arrival at Stephansplatz that the sleek modern paving stones had disappeared and that a colossal old cemetery had arisen in their place. It encircled the cathedral on all sides, a rolling expanse of bulging mounds and sunken crevices along which old wooden crosses and marble stelae tilted at alarming angles and the stone sarcophagi lay in ruins.

            It was on account of this sepulchral landscape that had manifested around the cathedral that N–––– could make out the terrain despite the absence of moonlight. For the ground was covered with a luminous green moss that shimmered putrescently, as though the poisonous corruption of the decaying bodies below was slowly seeping up to the surface, oozing out into the open from the porous ground.

            The cemetery, the broken funerary monuments, and the walls of the cathedral beyond were moreover illuminated by the dim candescence of myriad flickering lights that burned all across the boneyard, like the jack-o’-lanterns of popular American folklore. Gravelights, N–––– thought to himself, beacons of the legion of the dead.

            He shivered, as a deep sense of foreboding settled under his skin. He couldn’t shake the acute feeling that he was being watched. Who knew what kind of spirits walked restively under the moonless sky tonight, the shades of those who’d once lived and breathed, but whose consciousness had been contorted and corrupted by an eternity spent in the Pit.

            N––––’s gaze returned to the massive stone face of the cathedral rising into the darkness above. It was titanic, grown to monstrous proportions. It looked at least half as big again as he remembered it during the daytime. This manifestation of the vaunted edifice also looked older, far more ancient than the sandblasted countenance of its modern daytime counterpart. The colossal slabs of hewn rock that constituted its thick walls were stained black with age, and its ornaments and statuettes were worn down and faded almost beyond recognition, as though the passage of time had erased the names of even the saints and angels themselves. An eerie light shone forth from within those black walls, illuminating the huge Gothic window that divided the façade vertically in half like a wicked shard.

            N–––– had been sitting motionless on a bench on the far side of the square for some time already, surveying this profound transformation of St. Stephen’s and its eponymous square. Craning his neck far back, he could just make out the Heidentürme, the so-called Heathen Towers, a pair of old octagonal bell towers that flanked the mighty façade on either side.

            They, too, were hideously enlarged, rearing up high above the nave and out of sight. His gaze wandered back down to the Riesentor, the Giant Portal, the name now applying quite literally. The tympanum and the gigantic wooden doors were lost in the shadows beneath the deep pointed archway.

            This was St. Stephen’s, and yet it wasn’t. As soon as he’d arrived, he’d noticed that the great Gothic spire of the south tower had moved, and now stood on the north side. It was as though he were looking at the cathedral’s twin, an older, greater, and sinister twin. Gone was the pristine church of modern times, with its dazzling limestone walls, artificially rejuvenated through decades of painstaking restoration works following the inferno of the Second World War. In its stead stood this imposter, this immense, nightmarish anti-church, a great charcoal-black cathedral to house the sinister shades that had arisen from the necrotic ground all around, their gravelights twinkling morbidly in the night to signal their imminent return to the material world.

            N–––– recalled the story of Hanns Buxböm narrated to him by the barkeep in the Cabinet of Wonders, about the ill-fated master builder who’d received the commission to build the accursed north tower. There were many legends connecting the Devil to this house of god. And truly, looking over the black cathedral that now rose before him from this festering graveland, N–––– couldn’t sense so much as a shadow of divinity here. There was only evil and death. “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here”, he thought to himself as he rubbed the scar on his left palm. It had started tingling uncomfortably over the past days.

            As though on cue, he arose and, after just a moment’s hesitation, made his way brazenly between the grave mounds and the sinister lights emanating from within, heading straight for the great arch that loomed darkly up ahead.

A dark alleyway in Vienna's old city near Schönlaterngasse
Skulls in the Paris catacombs
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