"Chasing Fuseli," by Darren Speegle

Chilled, dejected, resigned, I lamented the sound that preceded the train. I’d prayed halfheartedly that by some stroke of fortune the last run of the day had been canceled, that the mist enshrouding the narrow Lauterbrunnen Valley would remain undisturbed until it chose to abandon the rushing mountain stream that was its source. Of course in the dream I wasn’t fortunate either. In the dream the train arrived precisely at 9:44, according to the clock that stood above the empty station.

The bundle in my arms, emitting a stench of alcohol, weighed on me. I looked back along the road, locking the image of the wheelbarrow into my memory, a keepsake of this awful night. The wheelbarrow might have been sitting there since last fall, so idle and useless it seemed. My eyes wandered across the stream and up the hillside till they found the lights of the cabin peering out of the mist. I wondered if within those walls the dream kept going, though the cabin was empty. I let my gaze continue up the slope, beyond the sheep pen, above the waterfall, to the snow-covered firs growing at the brink of the sheer cliff. Above the trees, crisply configured against the moonlit night, stood the mighty Jung-frau and Eiger, treasures of the Alps. Just three days ago we had been skiing somewhere up there. But then . . . then the thing had culminated with a ferocity to which even the master’s brush mightn’t have aspired.

I turned my attention to the station in time to see the train part the fog and come to rest by the desolate platform. A lamp stood by, casting a somber glow over the double metal doors of the first car as my heart—what was left of it—tick-tocked in raw, agonizing anticipation.

Fuseli dreamed.

That was when I knew it was going very, very bad for me. I lucid-dreamed that I was Fuseli dreaming, and it was so viciously real that when I woke I thought for a moment I was Fuseli.

"We’ve got to get you help, Gordon," Dana said to me.

I looked down at my chest, where she had placed her hand. It was moist with sweat. The hand I put over hers trembled.

"Do you want to tell me?" she said.

"Yes. It’s better if I tell you."

We were at our Brunnen cabin by then. It was supposed to have been an escape from the nightmares and ghosts in Zurich, but now it was becoming clear: to the ragged ends of the Earth, they would never relent.

The corridor seems endless. The canvases that hang on both walls shimmer, as if with fresh paint. The carpet beneath my shoes rolls ahead of me, into darkness. I seem to carry what light there is with me, bringing the oils to life as I come. I recognize the paintings. I have envisioned these scenes, dreamt these scenes, even painted these scenes with my own brush. To my right, three witches point along the corridor toward whatever lies at its end. To my left, Lady Macbeth. Ah, and there she is again, with Banquo and the hags on the heath. And there—there is Thor in the boat of Hymir. And on the other side, Cardinal Beaufort. And . . . but there seems no end to these creations of mine.

I look down the length of the corridor and frown to see a dim light. I know it is an end at last, but the sight of it stirs something in me, a sense of familiarity and dread. I walk more slowly, considering whether or not I wish to continue, but now the light is moving toward me. Is it someone coming? Is it . . .

It is a door. I tell myself, do not touch it. But I’m dreaming— what harm can be done? A voice within me says, But are you dreaming?

I touch the door. I open it. Oh no, oh my God, my God, I knew but I could not stop myself. The words are caught in my throat. What are you? What are you and why are you torturing my innocent, sweet Anna?

"And you actually recognized her as Anna?" Dana watched me intently.

"I knew her, Dana. I knew the woman lying on that bed. She was Anna Landolt. It was as though I were watching a scene from my life."

"Which perspective?" she said.

"Detroit. That’s the one that haunted him. That’s the image he saw."

Detroit referred to the Detroit Institute of Art—as opposed to the Goethemuseum in Frankfurt, Germany. What I dreamed was not just a nightmare, it was The Nightmare, Henry Fuseli’s Romantic-era masterpiece, and whether it manifested itself as the first version or the second, there was no escape from it.

"But it makes no sense," Dana said.

"What the hell does?"

"I mean, it being a scene from your life—Fuseli’s life. Demons don’t exist, Gordon. There was no such scene in Fuseli’s life."

I fell in love with the The Nightmare when I was dating a girl who worked at a gallery near Purdue University, where both of us were students. I was no connoisseur, just a kid with an unsophisticated, college-taught knowledge of the Arts and a taste for their darker samples. Fuseli’s depiction was certainly that. As I told Dana when we got to see the original in Detroit, The Nightmare is to painting what Dracula is to literature.

Although I came to regard the work as my single favorite artistic piece in any medium, I didn’t obsess over it as in fact I had with Stoker’s novel in my younger years. On the contrary, I might never even have viewed the work if Dana and I hadn’t been in Detroit for a writers conference. Our winding up in Vienna, too, was by pure coincidence. Dana accepted a job with the World Wildlife Fund, and there I found myself, in the very city where Sigmund Freud had hung an engraving of Fuseli’s masterpiece in his apartment. It wasn’t until a year later, when Dana was transferred to Switzerland, no less than the birthplace of one Johann Heinrich Füssli, aka Henry Fuseli, that I began to wonder . . .

I dreamed of the painting our first night at the hotel in Zurich. On waking I rationalized about associations being at work. Fuseli had been a topic on the drive down from Vienna, when I had noted to Dana the irony of our life’s course. She had admitted the coincidences were odd, but that’s as far as she would go with it.

"Chasing Fuseli," she called it. "Like something out of one of your novels. Or worse yet, those twisted films you watch."

I had rented Bergman’s Hour of the Wolf recently and Dana had had her own nightmares.

"Well, if I’m chasing Fuseli, I’m chasing him backwards through time. But I guess that’s the way we chase ghosts."

I thought about this dialogue as I disentangled myself from the cobwebs of my disturbed sleep. It was the dead of night, the November air penetrating the high arched windows of the fourth-floor hotel room, and Dana slept right on through, as if I hadn’t just dreamed of Fuseli’s nightmarish vision, and indeed, of the artist himself. He was a more squat, malevolent-looking rendition of the man whose face I had managed to memorize along the way, but definitely Fuseli— my dream-sense said so.

Just as the incubus did with the woman in The Nightmare, he had been crouching on Dana’s belly as she lay sprawled across a bed in the throes of an erotic nightmare. Peering from out of the curtains behind her was the ghastly head of the steed that bore the incubus through the night.

Strangely, as I experienced the horrific image in my dream, my perspective was that of Fuseli’s second version of the painting, the one that hung in the Goethemuseum in Frankfurt, the one that I thought far inferior to its predecessor. I say "strangely," because I never even vaguely referenced the second version when I brought The Nightmare to mind. I did know something about the first painting that might have encouraged my imagination’s modifications of the image, however.

Fuseli was known to have fallen in love with one Anna Landolt, only to have his heart broken when she rejected his offer of marriage. On the back of the original painting in the Detroit Institute of Art was the portrait of a woman art historians believed to be Anna. Many agreed that if it was indeed she, then the demon haunting the woman in The Nightmare might very well have represented Fuseli himself. Because I had always been fascinated by this possibility, it wasn’t unreasonable to assume—in a world where dreams made perfect sense—my mind might conceive of his face on the body of the incubus. The thing was, dreams didn’t make sense.

I thought to wake Dana and tell her all about it, but decided I would be accused, with more sympathy than I could, uh pardon me, stomach, of taking this "Chasing Fuseli" a wee bit far.

Chasing Fuseli. Ha! Fuseli was chasing me.

The dream graciously proved not the recurring type—not then, that is. Dana and I spent the next few nights making our own startling images. We called it a vacation, though the days were spent looking for a house to rent, getting to know our way around, and, in Dana’s case, familiarizing herself with the office and her new duties. Because the WWF’s studios were on the skirts of the city, we were able to go rural in our house search, unlike Vienna, where our apartment overlooked the Opera House in the middle of the city. We found a place nine days after our arrival, pulled our stuff out of storage—touring Europe via an outfit like the WWF, which relied wholly on donations and subsidies, you trailered what you had, and you didn’t have much—and cozied in among the cattle and sheep.

Between hikes and local bike tours, my exercises of choice, I spent my days writing, and my evenings trading the day’s events with Dana, who loved her job every bit as much as I loved mine. Winter came and went, I dreamed tolerable dreams, and in the spring there was a writers conference in Frankfurt.

Dana teased me, but we went right to the Goethemuseum. The "other" view was much better than the cheap prints (and cheaper critics?) had made it out to be. The perspective painted nine years after the first was almost as disturbing, almost as erotic, almost as delicious to the darker tastes. Like most of Fuseli’s work, it was somewhat overblown and lacking in subtlety, but God help me, I loved the man for these very merits. As William Blake said of him, Henry Fuseli was "The only man that e’er I knew/who did not make me almost spew."

I went home from that conference happy. I had had no expectations, and look what Mr. Fuseli, Romantic that he was, had managed—the quelling of my layman preconceptions.

The night of our return, I dreamed of The Nightmare again. The perspective was that of the first version of the painting.

The next night I dreamed. And the next. And the next and next and next. Sometimes I dreamed one version, sometimes the other, sometimes my own variations. It wasn’t until the eighth night running that it became so violent Dana was stirred from her own slumber.

She had heard me in its throes. When I woke, she remembered some of its fiercest parts for me.

"You said you were going to rip the heart out of me and feed it to your horse." Apparently the subject matter of the dream, which I vaguely remembered myself on this occasion, was lost on her.

"I did not say that."

"And you said you were going to dip your paintbrush in my blood."

"Did I actually speak your name?"

"‘I’m going to dip my paintbrush in your blood, Dana.’ Those were your words."

It was crazy, nonsensical, not to mention perverse. Fuseli and the demon seemed interchangeable in my unconscious mind. "God, Dana, I’m sorry."

"No, no. No need. But if any of your future conferences ends up near one of Mr. Fuseli’s paintings, we’ll skip it, mmm?"

"What else did I say?"

"You said I was a demon’s whore, your whore, and that I should remember that."



It was that night, I think, that I first allowed myself the bizarre notion that I was possessed by Fuseli. Ghost or reincarnation.

I did not speak this to Dana. I never spoke any such thoughts to Dana until the last night in Brunnen, when we sat by the hearth, in the glow of the fire and the cognac.

Dana said something to me, and unbeknownst to us both, the end was beginning.

"Why don’t we take a vacation, Gordon? We haven’t gone skiing since Austria. They were just talking at the office about how fantastic the skiing is in Switzerland. What do you say?"

"I think that’s a great idea, Dana. I do."

A month later we were in the gorgeous Lauterbrunnen Valley.

During that month before we packed up our skis, neither of us commented on the weight I had lost, on my hair seeming to gray and thin, on the haggard face I regarded in the mirror each morning. I entertained the thought that maybe Dana didn’t see it. Or maybe she attributed it to difficulties I was having with my novel-in-progress. One day I remarked that I wished I had never quit smoking. That evening she brought a joint home from work, courtesy of the secretary. "It’s not tobacco," she said, "but maybe it will make you feel better." That was as close as she came to commenting on my condition.

When the day came, and we loaded up the Opel wagon, I found myself feeling better, looking forward to getting out. My hikes and bike tours had diminished to practically nil. I even brought along my laptop, which Dana, under any other circumstances, would have been bitching her head off about. This time, anything that bore a semblance to normalcy was okay. She knew. She knew I had been under a slow, twisting knife, dying from within.

Our journey took us by way of Interlaken, which only served to further brighten my spirits. It was said the water of the sibling mountain lakes was among the purest in the world, the fish that came out of it second to none. Mid afternoon found us dining by the clear water, in the shadow of the mountains whose snows fed the lakes, and the fillets, as advertised, were the best we had ever tasted. I kissed her over white wine, making my wife of eight years actually blush. It seemed a long time since we had done that—kissed for any reason.

We drove twenty kilometers south through the narrow, deep cut in the Alps that was the Lauterbrunnen Valley. As we approached the village of Brunnen, we watched both slopes for a cabin we had seen only on the Internet. We had to turn around ultimately, so overwhelmed by the beauty of our surrounds that we could not possibly have picked out our little cabin. At the Bahnhof they instructed us how to get there. This side of the big waterfall . . .

"Not that one!" exhaled Dana. "The photo did not do it justice!" I took her hand, and we passed a face on our way out. It looked like Henry Fuseli’s.

That particular injury may have been the hardest to overcome.

As usual I said nothing to Dana. I listened to her go on about the cabin as we drove up the hill. I smiled. I participated as best I could. But by the time I engaged the emergency brake, she had sensed the change in me.

We unpacked silently. When our eyes happened to meet, I saw the sympathy pouring out of her. It was only a matter of time before that emotion would be joined by fear and confusion and even anger. We are all built to react that way.

It came that night, down in the village, over Salat and Brötchen, a lighter dinner after the late, satisfying lunch we’d spent.

"You know, Gordon, this . . . whatever it is . . . is beginning to hurt our marriage. I have tried to be patient. I have tried very hard. I don’t know what happened earlier, but you’re on a path that’s not just going to destroy you, but us as well. I’m involved, you know. You look in the mirror and feel sorry for yourself, but I—me, Gordon—I’m involved too."

"I know," I said stupidly.

"We’re here, it’s beautiful, an absolute wonderland. But you . . . you’ve fucked it up again."

"Again?" I echoed.

"Every time we seem to be making strides."

"You make it sound as if I’m trying to overcome an addiction."

She let her head fall to the side slightly, stared fixedly at me.

"I don’t know what’s wrong with me," I said. The beer tasted bitter as I tried to clear the dull haze that had followed me from the Bahnhof.

"I don’t know what’s wrong with you either."

"I’ll come out of it."

"Will you?"

Silence reigned for the better part of dinner. The waitress, in her quaint, made-for-tourists Swiss outfit, felt the mood. Feeling the mood, her English grew deliberately poor. Her face fell each time she came within ten feet of our table, a chore she tried to avoid even when our glasses sat empty. I almost had to shout for the bill—and Rechnung does not sound pleasant off my baby tongue—when it came time to pay.

After settling up, Dana and I strolled the village. The sun set on us as we shopped windows and their baubles. Sounds of merrymaking drifted from a nearby campground. A rollerblader shot by, glancing back at me to show me his straight Fuselian nose by the light of a streetlamp. A net of stars dipped in the deepening liquid of night.

It would be like this each night, wherever we were, only worse.

The next night, as we descended by rail from the slopes, I called my wife Anna.

"What?" Her mouth was open, and her eyes were inside me, every bit as cold and steely as the knife that always twisted. The train bore at a steep downward angle, gravity playing hell on my body and mass.

"I don’t know why I—" I threw up, all over my boots, all over the seat in front of me.

She pitied me. As I looked around, wondering if anyone had heard, if anyone had seen—the seats immediately surrounding ours were empty, perhaps owing to the gloom that hung around us—she pulled an extra sweatshirt from her bag and began to mop it up.

"We’ve got to get you help," she whispered.

"I . . . I had too much to drink."

"You had two beers, Gordon. Three hours ago."

"I’m sorry. I’m sorry, Ann—" Too late. I’d done it again.

She hit me in the chest. A terrible taste filled my mouth. A terrible smell filled the air.

We got off at the next stop, though it wasn’t the bottom. Dana stuffed the sweatshirt in a garbage receptacle. Faces peered out at me from the train. They all knew. They all had long straight noses and a penchant for drama and symbolism.

Dana wanted to know if I was ready to go back to Zurich. I told her to take the next train down, I wanted to walk for a while. I was backing away as I spoke. She started to protest, but then she let me go.

We were still well above the snow line, so I had a time finding the trail out of the little tourist village where the train had deposited us. Finally I did, and in shin-deep snow, I made my unhurried way down the mountain. When I reached the valley, I was desolate, empty. By the rushing river, at the dead station, I curled up on a bench and slept.

I sleep in the night, on a wooden bench. The moon is new, but the stars are countless. The river rushes, foamy and brilliant, music to die by.

My eyes are open as I lie here, and I see someone on the footbridge, coming my way. It doesn’t look like a man, but a boy, or perhaps a woman, small and squat, old. What can she want of me as she steps from the bridge, turning in my direction?

What have I to offer an old woman?

But I now recognize it is not a woman. It is not a boy. It is not human. It is stumped and beastly, and horribly grim in the gesture of its claw. It belongs in lower places, not here, not in beautiful Where I am.

Where I am.

It wants something from me, but what have I to offer a demon?

Anna, it says. She is mine.

"What, what—?"

"You’re dreaming again," she said.

"Isn’t it cold? Who . . . ?"

"It’s Dana."

"Dana. Yes . . . "

"Let me get you something," she said.

"Sleep. Sleep is what I need."

I drift into a corridor. It seems endless. Canvases on both sides shimmer with fresh paint.

"I’m so afraid for you," came the tendril of Dana’s voice.

To my right, three witches point along the corridor toward whatever lies at its end. To my left, Lady Macbeth. Ah, and there she is again, with Banquo and the hags on the heath.

"Wake up . . . "

I ignore the voice. I am touching the door. I am opening it. Oh no, oh my God, my God, I knew but I could not stop myself. The words are caught in my throat. What are you? What are you, and why are you torturing my innocent, sweet Anna?

"Wake up, wake up. Gordon!"

I started beneath the flat of her hand.

"Are you—?"

"I’m Dana, Gordon."

"I . . . was Fuseli dreaming. I knew I was dreaming, but I knew it as him." I looked down at my chest, where she had placed her hand. It was moist with sweat. The hand I put over hers trembled.

"Do you want to tell me?" she said.

She listened, and I told her.

"And you actually recognized her as Anna?"

"I knew her, Dana. I knew the woman lying on that bed. She was Anna Landolt. It was as though I were watching a scene from my life."

"Which perspective?"

I stared. "Which—?"


"But we haven’t discussed my nightmares except that one time . . . "

"That one time when you said you would dip your paintbrush in my blood."

"Did I speak of . . . perspectives?"

"With your brush you did. Your brush, my blood, in the mirror."

"Did I—"

She showed me her tongue, with the deep teeth marks in it.

"I would never do that to you, Dana . . . "

"Wouldn’t you?" she laughed, throwing her head back and letting her tongue loll from her mouth.

I threw the covers off me, rolled off the bed, looked back—

There he was, upon her belly, as she twisted in the erotic nightmare that gripped her.

And yet it was Dana saying, "It makes no sense . . . A scene from your life? . . . Demons don’t exist . . ."

The last day, I woke late. The dream was fresh, unabating. I would carry it with me all day.

"What shall we do today?" she asked cheerfully.

What had I done to make her think the end hadn’t arrived? Maybe she knew it was the last day, and was grateful.

Over Brötchen and cheese and soft-boiled eggs, we talked about how pleasant life really was, how fortunate we were to be in Europe, and in Switzerland specifically, lovers of nature that we were. How fortunate we were to know their traditional breakfast of Brötchen and cheese and soft-boiled eggs.

"I think we should stay close to the homestead today," I said.

"Do you love me?"

"I do, Dana."

"You wouldn’t go back to Zurich without me, would you?" She laughed as she said it, but I wondered.

There was a falls a few kilometers south of the village of Brunnen that was touted as carrying a higher volume of water than any other waterfall within a mountain in the world. We decided to hike to it, do the ascent through the water-carved rock, and hike back. Once upon a time, that would have spelled paradise to me. Now it spelled the motions of the last day. I told Dana I loved her four times as we explored the falls.

But still I didn’t die.

"Tonight," she shouted over the roar, "I want the richest, most expensive, most sinful dinner we can find." It was Saturday. All the restaurants would be open.

We took the suggestion of a proprietor and did a place that had appeared in the film, The Eiger Sanction. The choice, tender portions we received certainly merited that sort of stardom. They served cognac, and we drank cognac. It was the color of Dana’s hair.

Night fell during our return. She had insisted I buy a bottle for the road, though the road amounted to but four kilometers. We drank as we walked; the sky grew less clear, a mist evolving of the river-stream that cut the valley.

"You could toss me in, and never have to worry about me again," she said.

"Is that something you’ve thought about?"

"Maybe." Still laughing, amber laughter.

"Do you think I would do such a thing?"

"I don’t know you well enough to know, do I?"

It would be easy, I thought, as I looked at her, half-drunk wife of mine. But I envisioned the incubus hanging from the footbridge to snatch her up as she swept downstream.

When we reached the cabin, we fetched glasses, emptied the rest of the bottle. Before the hearth we sat, sopping and hopeless, and made short, furious love by the flames.

I lamented the sound of its coming even then.

Chilled, dejected, resigned, I lamented the sound that preceded the train. The noise of the rusty wheel of the wheelbarrow hung with me. The stench of alcohol was pungent, but that was goodness and mercy, not a forerunner of the abominable act being committed. Little that it mattered. It was 9:44, and she was a demon’s whore.

I turned my attention to the station in time to see the train part the fog and come to rest by the desolate platform. A lamp stood by, casting a somber glow over the double metal doors of the first car as my heart—what was left of it—tick-tocked in raw, agonizing anticipation.

As the doors parted, wrenching open the night itself, I begged her, without looking down at her face, to forgive me. A dark horse and rider emerged. The bearer of the incubus, eyes aglow, snorted and blew in the misty night. The clop of its hooves, as it majestically bore its inhuman rider toward me, was my heartbeat. Within a few feet, the noise stopped.

The incubus and I stared down.

"The whore," the demon gestured.

"Why?" I said, meaning all of it, every bit, the nightmares and the rest.

"My whore!" he lashed.

I stood there with her weight in my arms. "And Fuseli?"

"Bah. She was always my whore. He just caught us at it."

"I’ve loved this woman," I stated.

"You may have loved her, you may have made love to her, but she was never yours." The incubus shook its unseemly head, tapped its chest. "She has always been mine."

"What will you do with her?"

"What do you do with yours, mortal?"

The decision descended on those words. "I look at you, demon, and I find I have at least enough for this one last thing."

And I lunged for the river, my bundle in my arms. As I tossed it, he screamed. But it was a rueful scream, which gave me hope. A last hope.

They rode the river, horse and rider trailing wings of hell, and I started back for the cabin, shoving the wheelbarrow aside as I stepped onto the footbridge.

She was there on the bed as I entered, tossed across the draping sheets in the throes of an erotically violent dream, her hands caressing her breasts, her belly, clutching at the fabric of her gown. Moaning a name unspeakably vile to my ears.

Dana for that moment, and then . . .

Gone. The smell of cognac and ashes and sex lingering. Her tongue crawling out of nothing to touch at the residue of my clumsy strokes against her, against my own nightmares, against the devil rider. Whichever perspective he chose.