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The Game of Salt
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ISBN
978-619-02-0763-4
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Rating (24)
3.8333333333333 24
Language
Bulgarian
Format
Paperback
Size
13/20
Weight
361 gr.
Pages
480
Published
02 April 2021

The Game of Salt

In the world of alchemy, salt symbolizes the unity of the various elements. "The Game of Salt" is a novel about opposites doomed to unite.

Bram Kobke, creator of the world's most popular larps (live action role-playing games growing into a new reality), organizes Tabula Rasa, a therapeutic larp for people with bipolar disorder, in which they must deploy their inexhaustible supply of energy and ideas to master the extremes of their spirit and live in peace. The abandoned coastal neighborhood of Varosha in Famagusta, torn by years of enmity between Greek Cypriots and Turks, is becoming a spectacular arena for a new game of opposites. Determined to defeat the enemy team, the heroes unlock gifts hidden to humanity, and the merging of the psychic and the physical world becomes a dangerous weapon in the battle between them. This will take them far beyond the game - in an ancient labyrinth, where the subconscious is a new door to the memory of the world.

"It's not exactly dystopia. This is a possible future - talentedly narrated, guarded by borderline states, often turning into a beautiful delirium ... An extreme future, which we still hope to find ourselves in. " Lyuben Dilov-son

About the Author
Elena  Koleva

Elena Koleva graduated in journalism at Sofia University "St. Kliment Ohridski ”. She has worked as an author and editor for MAX, Amica, L’Europeo, InGlobo and Playboy magazines, and is currently the editor-in-chief of a lifestyle media. "The Game of Salt" is her debut novel.

Excerpt

The Game of Salt

Synopsis

Genre
Modern prose, dystopia, science fiction.

Subject
In the world of alchemy, salt is a symbol of purification and the unity of opposing elements. The Salt Game is a novel about the unification of opposites: conscious and subconscious, future and past, mania and depression, science and alchemy, Cypriot Greeks and Turks.

About the Author
My name is Elena Nikolova Koleva, and I have many years of experience as an author and editor at QMedia publishing on the magazines Amica and L’Europeo, as well as with the publisher Egmont Bulgaria. I have also been published in the magazines Intro, Max, Playboy, InGlobo, and others. I have participated in the “Mailbox for Stories” forum on the theme of “Thank You” with the text “To Freud with Gratitude,” read by Mariana Vekilska. At present I am editor-in-chief at the magazine GoGuide, Bulgaria.

Synopsis
Bram Kobke is a successful gamemaster and the boss at the popular Danish live action role-playing (LARP) company Lusorium. After the disappearance of his son, who suffers from bipolar disorder, Kobke sets up a “therapeutic” LARP for people with bipolar disorder, called Tabula Rasa. For the location of the LARP, Bram chooses Varosha, a seaside neighborhood in Famagusta, Cyprus, which was abandoned suddenly by its Greek residents after the armed conflict with Cypriot Turks on August 15, 1974. According to Bram, the collaboration between Lusorium and the authorities will help solve the Cypriot issue. And at the same time, the disease discovered in the 2nd century by Aretaeus of Cappadocia will, in a sense, return home.
The main participants in the LARP are:
Hardy Rope – a super-experimental psychologist, charged with criminal activity after an illegal experiment with his student.
Cora Delmar – an architect who, after the death of her parents in a tsunami in Phuket, takes over the family business, together with her fiancé, designing avant-garde swimming pools. Shortly before the LARP is announced, one of Cora’s wealthy clients is found dead in her swimming pool, which Cora designed.
Jerome Drakos – a Cypriot Greek and underwater archeologist whose parents left their home in Varosha in 1974 because of the Turkish invasion.
Asena Kardemir – one of the thousands of Turkish immigrants housed in the abandoned homes of the Cypriot Greeks in order to take care of the land in Varosha.

In the Tabula Rasa LARP, the players with bipolar disorder have the freedom to create their own town with their own laws. They actually establish three neighborhoods, according to their predominant conditions: Mania, Depression, and Hypomania, with the leader of each neighborhood being determined through holotesting, which reveals a great deal about the players’ pasts.
Cora becomes the leader of the manic, and Hardy, of the depressed.
In Varosha, Cora is in her element, and she turns her neighborhood into a triumph of architecture. Her success cannot completely mute her feelings of guilt, however, which she feels towards her fiancé, Guillermo – especially when she learns that, after she joined the role-playing game, he killed himself.
In the meantime, Hardy is growing increasingly suspicious of the gamemaster, Bram, but he is also strangely drawn to him. Is it possible that Bram is actually his father, whom he has never known? Hardy decides to search for the answer with the help of the underwater archeologist, Jerome Drakos, since he believes that water is the greatest conductor of the subconscious. In the depths, Hardy falls into a “vent,” and he meets Zenya for the first time – a half-child, half-old man, with an expressionless face and a strange voice, who tells him about the Psychology Club and the secrets of the collective unconscious. According to Zenya, the goal of the LARP is not to heal the bipolar, but to empty their minds and turn them into blank slates (tabula rasa), and only Hardy can stop Bram, by building Increatum.
With the help of the Lusorium architect, Hardy builds a waterscraper – an underwater tower made of stone, steel, and armored glass. The building has to connect the world of technology with the primitive world and to transform into a womblike conduit to the past, where the players must sink into their subconscious. It is Hardy who connects Jerome and the Turkish woman Asena to their parents’ pasts. Jerome’s father was shot by a Turkish soldier when he returned, after the Greeks had moved out of Varosha, to look for a locket forgotten by his wife. Today, the locket is on Asena’s neck, and she and Jerome become increasingly close.
Cora herself ends up in the conduit to the past that Hardy builds. There she finds out that her parents had carried out a bloody order for Bram Kobke when he was still a teenager – a swimming pool with a double bottom and a special mechanism for the purpose of killing Bram’s father. Later, again with Hardy’s help, Cora also learns the truth about her parents’ death – her fiancé, Guillermo, at that time just her close friend, had not followed through on her request to warn them of the incoming tsunami. Until now, Cora had thought that they had simply not believed her because she suffered from bipolar disorder. Now she finally knows that it is not her fault.
In the meantime, one of the bipolar sufferers (the daughter of an official at the UN) is found dead. Convinced that Hardy has killed her, Bram pressures Cora to make him commit suicide in his subconscious. Rope really is dangerous – for some time now, Jerome has been talking about his sadistic attempts to distill the sadness of the depressed. But the true danger is from Zenya, whose goal is to drive Hardy, Cora, Jerome, and Asena into the Pleroma, the Jungian concept of the union and destruction of pairs of opposites.
The town is under siege. Someone has informed the father of the dead girl, and the UN begins an investigation. But upon learning that the people with bipolar disorder are hostages of Zenya, Bram rushes to help them.
Having taken the bipolar sufferers captive, Hardy realizes that he is under the control of his shadow – Zenya. Only after integrating it into his subconscious does he succeed in freeing the Collective Unconscious from the Reservoir. When he swims to the surface with Cora, Jerome, and Asena, the journalist are just bringing Tabula Rasa to a close, and Bram Kobke is receiving a Golden Ludens.
Hardy waylays Bram and finds out that the UN official has withdrawn his accusation, after his daughter’s second autopsy revealed that her death was caused by congenital toxoplasmosis. The deceased girl was actually the girlfriend of Bram’s son, who himself turned out to be the student from Hardy’s ill-fated experiment. But if in the beginning Kobke created the LARP to understand more about his missing son in Hardy’s subconscious and to eliminate the cursed disease, in the end, he is far more kindly disposed towards its sufferers. And Cora, who has realized that Hardy healed her in penetrating her subconscious, feels love for the first time. 
Shortly before they are evacuated, Hardy, Cora, Jerome, and Asena take a final cruise around the waterscraper. The ending is open: either they will enter the tower, or they will return to their lives.

The Game of Salt

NOVEL

1

Columbia, San Antonia del Tequendama,
two months earlier

Bram Kobke yawned. He was standing on the roof of the skyscraper that rose from the rim of the canyon and staring at the small statue of the Virgin Mary 28 floors below. She, too, was on night duty, just like him. She guarded the mouth of the deep chasm – a chalice of vertical cliff walls rushing down below, following the blast of the waterfall. If the statue could somehow move and take a few steps to the left, it would step onto the unfortunate terrace of the Del Salto Hotel.
They called her the Virgin of Suicides, since no small number of people had jumped from her stone lap. He suppressed a laugh. That poor thing! She was completely powerless against the will of those poor wretches who weren’t stopped by her silent prayers and hurtled down towards the frothy mouth of the Tequendama. Why did they choose this particular spot? According to the locals, it was because their bodies dissolved in the depths between the cold surfaces of the stones, and no one ever found them. He would have to verify this.
A little before the live broadcast continued, filling the canyon with sound, Bram scratched his chin. He’d better not forget to ask Skovgaard whether he had secured enough medical personnel. He didn’t want any failures, and as of late, especially with the more extreme games, the presence of emergency medics was a must. Of course he wouldn’t ask him. Everything would be fine, like it always was. He turned to see whether Runa had taken care of the burned-out letter in the electric sign on the roof. LUSORIUM was shining just as bright and invincible as ever.
As if carved into the stone, the faces of the announcers appeared on the plasma screens built into the cliff recesses along the giant vertical walls, and then, that of Maritza Rojas as well. The appealing lesbian writer and researcher of supernatural phenomena who had been probing into the case of the Del Salto Hotel for years. Bram had no way to skip over her. She was the antagonist in his game – the person who wanted to prove by any means possible that the place was cursed. As much as he preferred not to admit it, he needed her.
“… And so, for the viewers who are just tuning in, here we are again, live at the Laguna of the Dead! We’re broadcasting straight from the Del Salto, the haunted former hotel that was renovated in 2014 as an ecology museum, but which has recently been abandoned again. A short while ago, Mr. Bram Kobke, who is the acting director of the well-known LARP organization Lusorium, and is also know by the nickname “the Improviser,” officially announced the last evening of Metanoia, the hit live active role-playing game that explores the idea of changing our way of thinking, and to what extent this is possible. Ladies and gentlemen, will the thirty level-headed men and women who have spent a month in the infamous Del Salto Hotel decide that ghosts do exist after all? And will the remaining thirty participants in the LARP, the actual survivors of the ill-omened site, come out of the safe embrace of the high-tech skyscraper across from us and, convinced otherwise, say goodbye to fear?”
He cracked his neck, stiff from the cool air laden with water droplets, and laughed – maybe the Virgin was tired, but he wasn’t. If any evil force was raging here, let it hoist him up and pull off his skin! He would already be putting a new one on tomorrow. He would pry apart the ribs of the Earth and make a place for a different Universe, one of his own.
“… Dear spectators! You are looking at a siege at the entrance to the hotel! The members of the Brotherhood – the international organization that defends the rights of players throughout the world – are protesting against Lusorium’s dangerous game and blocking Ms. Rojas’s path! But here she is, she managed to slip through… Ms. Rojas, tell us a little more about the building’s sad history.”
The face of Maritza Rojas glowed behind the crescent-shaped black tresses that outlined it. It appeared that the young woman loved ghost stories, because she began talking animatedly about the 157-meter waterfall with an almost Victorian aspect, describing how, during the 1950s, the hotel had sunk into oblivion, and death had become its most regular guest.
Bram’s eyes glided along the hydraulic bridge that connected the base of the skyscraper to the mournful little hotel opposite; he attempted to forget the abyss that separated them and to imagine the Del Salto’s glory days. The elite of Bogotá and the balls beneath the champagne of the waterfall. But then, the image of Raul Padilla floated before his eyes again, unbidden. As the long-time manager of the hotel, Padilla must have known the cursed building better than the three hairs on his bald pate. In spite of  this, the old man had succumbed to the general mania. And though he had once fired every maid with an overly developed imagination, today, he too was convinced that the hotel was inhabited by evil spirits.
Over the past two months, every time Bram invited him on a walk, Padilla would not stop prattling on about mysterious moans, levitating objects, and a scratching at the windows. He would tell him how the guests had woken up with bruises or had thrown themselves from the Virgin mid-sentence, urged on by voices that called to them from the chasm. In moments like this, the little hole in Padilla’s beard would tremble or widen with horror, and it would sink in even more. But try as he might, Bram could not forget the day the old man had told him about the woman with the bloody face…
The two of them had been walking through a forest on the Tequendama Plateau when Padilla stopped abruptly beside a tree, rapped on the trunk with his rotten cane, like a woodpecker, and looked around. Only after he was certain no one was following them did he bring his face close to Bram’s and exhale an alcoholic mist of fear into it.
“A South American woman, short dark hair. First she appeared at my window. Then I heard footsteps in the room, but I decided to pretend I was asleep. Then the thing sat on my bed, warm like… a person!” Padilla finished with wide-open eyes. “Maybe I had gotten a chill… I only mustered the courage to look once. And then she vanished into thin air. Poof!” He released his cane for a second and gave a clap with his hands. “Do you believe me? Tell me! I could swear that it was Maria Prieto herself. The one who was the beginning of the end…”
“Calm down, Raul. All that finished a long time ago. The hotel’s been vacant for years.”
Padilla gave him a look of reproach. “Nothing is finished! If it’s finished, then why are you here? The tourist suicides continue.”
“There won’t be any more suicides. We’re keeping things under control. And tell me more about this Maria. I want to know everything.”
Padilla rapped with his cane again, more feebly this time. It looked like he’d been completely swallowed up by the image he was painting under the quiet and sporadic rain.
“They arrived from Bogotá by train. She and her fiancé. They looked so happy that I gave them our most beautiful room – on the second floor, with a view of the waterfall.”
“The one where I was sleeping?”
Padilla nodded.
“And then something happened, and Maria stopped smiling. She stopped asking me about the birds… After dinner, they’d clear away her plate almost full, and at night, I would watch her walking across the terrace in bare feet and her night gown.”
“Oh, you, Padilla!” Bram winked, in a doomed attempt at teasing.
“That Sunday, Maria was smiling again,” the old man continued, and one of his eyebrows leapt upwards. “I served them breakfast myself – scrambled eggs and arepas, then the two of them left. Her fiancé went to swim a bit, but she asked me to send her the photographer on duty.” Padilla looked at him as if from the judge’s bench. “You know, to make some photos of her as a souvenir from Bogotá.” The man took out a small creased card and ran his sandpapery thumb over its surface. Attached to the photo with a rusty paperclip was a yellowed piece of paper with elegant handwriting. “Look at the last pose that our photographer caught her in.”
Bram took a look at the photo. Framed by the cliffs, in a long, white dress, Maria Prieto was frozen in her last flight, captured by a photographer who was probably suspecting nothing.
“Look at the note,” whispered Padilla, as he gave Bram’s hand a quick tap.
Bram removed the paperclip and unfolded the piece of paper. Then he began to read the poor woman’s last words before her death.
Because of my ingratitude, I am drawn into the depths of the mysterious waterfall and the deep, romantic chasm that drops down along the green mound behind the shroud of the trees. A savage place! So sacred and magical, like a woman weeping for her demon lover under the pale moon.
November 4, 1935
Maria Prieto
“Get going, already, Mr. Kobke,” Padilla said. “And it’d be best if you’d raze your shiny building to the ground. Your will is powerless here. Soon the president will seal the place off under the pretext that the river is toxic, and everything will be covered up again. Go on, at least for you it’s not too late. And if you can, forget about the Del Salto Hotel. The souls of those swallowed by the mouth will stay locked up here forever.”
This May afternoon was the last time he had seen Raul Padilla. Since then, every time Bram passed by the hotel’s façade, he would spit on its face. This is why he had built a skyscraper on the other side of the cliffs! This is why he had raised it so high, as tall as the depth of the precipice, and even a few meters more, if you counted the company’s sign. The skyscraper was a monument to human will, which was in direct opposition to the ghosts of the past. Within it, he would soon permanently accommodate the victims of the stigma and their families. He would give them new life. To the designer and the personnel of the former Del Salto, to the local driver, to the architect who lived in exile and in a panicked fear of ghosts, but most of all, to the media, who pursued him day and night after the suicides of two teenagers from Ecuador. To the locals and, of course, to Raul Padilla, who had sold his house for practically nothing and was now wandering around the parks of Bogotá with a saddlebag and a bottle of vodka wrapped up in a newspaper. Bram would put an end to all of it this very evening.
He closed his eyes and tried to think logically. Metanoia was being played for the second time this year. The LARP, even in the shorter chamber version, had garnered huge success in the other “haunted” house in Stockholm. Just then, the World LARP Organization began to follow his works with a particular closeness. Bram was undoubtedly leading in points over his biggest competitor, Elephant’s Dream. In fact, he was hoping to get the Golden Ludens – the prize awarded every three years in the realm of LARP arts.
For several years, Bram had been dealing only with third-generation LARPs – a term introduced by the charming Marie Holm-Essendrop, who was an icon in this field. Under “third-generation LARPs,” she envisioned those games that were not played among cardboard props, but on the stage of reality itself. Games that would start bleeding beyond the playing field – and that actually hurt. Bram defined them more as performance art or as hidden theater, which had the goal of awakening the senses of people on the topic of a particular question and making them act. Even though it had only recently been established, the Ministry of Unbounded Consciousness was happy to fund games like this, as long as they were in line with their interests, and Bram knew how to achieve this.
Stockholm, though, was low-hanging fruit. Now he had to be especially careful. First, for them not to accuse him again of controlling the game too much in his role of gamemaster, which, in the interest of the truth, was a frequent observation by the judges. And second, because the shadow over the Del Salto Hotel was so heavy, and the stakes – too high. If he succeeded in bringing the place back to life, tourism in this part of Colombia would flourish again, and he would attract new investors who would turn into loyal sponsors of his future LARPs. If he failed… No, Lusorium could not fail. Lusorium was a conqueror of reality, and then too, with Metanoia, Bram had secured himself well. He had gathered together the most level-headed people. Not a single one of them was religious, none of them were members of any kind of organization or sect, and they had not even the slightest psychological deviations.
“But here it’s not a just question of sensitive or unstable people, Bram,” Maritza Rojas protested comfortably, and told him excitedly about her colleagues who had spent the night in the hotel, who had felt something pulling their hair. At moments like this, Bram stared into her face and saw a simple dilettante who was looking for fame on a tray. “Everyone feels it when they’re here,” she insisted. “First you feel dizzy – you don’t see a view like this every day. Then something is always falling out of your pocket. The chasm is magnetic, and your eyes want to take it all in. Despite the mist that hangs over it the whole time…”
Bullshit! He had spent the night in Maria Prieto’s room a few times now, and he slept like the dead. He didn’t even dream. Except for last night. He had gone down with a rope to the bottom of the chasm, where a woman was waiting for him with an egg in one hand, and a knife in the other. That cute Rojas… She’d give up her little game soon enough. Bram saw her more and more often splashing around, she and her tattoos, on the other side of the bridge – at the skyscraper and with a cocktail in her hand. The Del Salto Hotel didn’t interest her in the least.
And in spite of this, something was bothering him, like a piece of dust in his eye. At lunch yesterday, the girl who was playing the role of Maria Prieto in the LARP was acting strangely somehow. “Do you know what the name Tequendama means, Mr. Kobke? The one who settles to the bottom. And did you know that during the Spanish invasion of South America, to escape being enslaved, the locals threw themselves over the cliffs and turned into eagles? But even if they didn’t sprout wings, from here to the lake of the dead, you fall for some six seconds,” the girl had injected, before getting back into her role.
Bram tried to direct the game but, at the same time, to be careful not to anger the judges. They didn’t give very high scores to games where the gamemaster took advantage of “hidden editing” techniques. And yet, the players couldn’t go without scripts, nor without taking some time to merge with the cool shade of the hotel, whose floor and walls sprouted weeds and damp moss. They spent their nights in the cold stone body of the hotel, and in the daytime, they look for the body of the latest suicide, which had not been an easy task. With the help of his connections in the Forensic Medicine department, Bram and Skovgaard had procured a real corpse – some bum who didn’t even have an ID. Even though he was his right-hand person, Skovgaard came close to refusing. With Runa’s help, though, Bram managed to convince him. Well, sure, it was especially important for them to prove to Padilla that he was wrong: the fact that they’d never pulled a body out of the precipice wasn’t proof of any supernatural phenomenon, but simply a lack of technology and organization. Over the course of nine days, Bram observed how the boys scraped their bodies over the rocks in their attempts to climb down and find the body. If they reached the bottom, the falling water would tear apart their clothes and they’d continue on naked, breathing through their mouths because of the fierce stench of the river. Then, with the last strength left in them, they would climb back up. Their nails were broken and blood flowed from them, but Bram was proud. The had crossed the boundary, and the made-up universe had finally started to bleed. The rest of it would be taken care of by Rojas, who gave the instructions for the players’ roles, and Runa, who conducted the psychological testing.
At the same time, the real victims stood glued to the windows of the skyscraper and observed the reenactment of history from their fortress of security. Naturally, from the time they began to reside in the skyscraper, they had not been threatened by any spirits. For their peace of mind, the newest technology to measure paranormal activity had been installed in their rooms, and on every floor, there were people from the Department of Ghost Hunters on duty. It was Skovgaard’s idea to have Rob Brezny giving lessons on the topic of Pronoia in the conference halls, and how happiness was a habit that could be cultivated. Every time he passed by the hall, Bram would almost burst out laughing. The Pronoists believed that suffering was for the good and that, in spite of it, the Universe conspired for their well-being. This idea struck Bram as being just as harmful as the idea that evil spirits existed.
The bright light from the plasma screens again furrowed the darkness, moving like steam and interrupted his thoughts. Bram squinted his eyes in expectation of the outcome. He tried disregard the violinists who were playing in the depths of the cliffs, and stared at the large plasma screen, which at any moment would begin to describe the last evening above the river. The loudspeakers thundered, and Bram froze. Every evening at exactly 10:00 p.m., the bridge between the skyscraper and the Del Salto Hotel opened up, and the players from the two camps would meet on it. They had the right to change their minds – to pass from the hotel to the skyscraper or vice versa. Bram looked at the huge water clock that pierced the center of the bridge. There wasn’t much time left until the end of the game. Around twenty minutes, and then no one would be able to pass from one side to the other. With the help of shock absorbers, the bridge would turn into a scale, and as soon as all of the participants went outside, one of the two sides would definitively weigh more. The skyscraper of the will or the hotel of death? The viewers were making bets.
And the final scene was getting closer and closer. The scene in which Maria Prieto asks the photographer to take her photo in front of the waterfall. Bram looked at the players, who at this moment were recreating the Colombian bohemians’ ball, bathed in champagne, and he felt a rush of adrenaline in his body. And here was his Maria Prieto – the girl was walking towards the estuary of the Tequendama in her long white dress, and on her way, she nodded at the remaining guests. She stopped in front of the photographer as if she wanted to ask him something. Damn it, Dusty! Could you not find tinier subtitles? Bram moved his headset in his ear, pressed a button, and headed towards his favorite observation point – a comfortable recess formed in the rock a bit a theater box, with excellent visibility. Along the way, he scolded a violinist, who was staring at his fellow musician and played a wrong note because of it. He had just taken his position when he saw the crane. This was a strange time for them to be raising it. Bram tightened his fists. What the hell was Skovgaard doing? It was still too early for speeches! He blinked once, twice, then almost stopped breathing. It wasn’t Skovgaard. It was Brianna, and the skirts of her black raincoat were fluttering in the sky like uninvited anthracite clouds.
He hadn’t seen her in years. Why was she coming now, and at the climax of the game? As a playwright, Brianna knew this world better than anyone. She knew that the game was sacred, and that it does not stop for anything in the world. And if there was any reason at all why it could be stopped, it could only be their son, Harold. 
The crane stopped and placed Brianna’s delicate body on the stone in front of him. Bram shuddered. Would they broadcast this on television? And if so, what would the judges say? Deus ex machina?! Really, would they think about the frigging crane in ancient Greek and Roman dramas, the one that had held the god above the stage, and which had turned into, over time, a metaphor for an artificially imposed decision? He took a deep breath and saw his own cheekbones emerging in the abundant red light of the projectors. He waved at the operators to get his face off the screen and tried to smile. Then he raised his eyebrows, staring into the lenses of her eyes.
“I’ll be quick. I came to tell you that I agree. Do it. What you wanted to do ten years ago. Make the game for people with manic depression.”
He knew her. To an extent to which he felt what she felt instead of her. The wind she was struggling against now, that seemed to want to blow her words back into her mouth. He felt it in his own throat. He started to touch her, but she drew back.
“Take him wherever you want, lock him up at the ends of the earth, but keep him alive. Save him, Bram, for God’s sake, I’m begging you!”
“But why?” he asked her evenly. “Wasn’t it you who believed that good would win in the end? Isn’t that why you separated Harold from me and didn’t let me take part in his life? Wasn’t the depression supposed to get better on its own, or maybe be cured by some benevolent spirit? What were you thinking?” He grabbed her hand and squeezed it. “That if he didn’t remember me or carry my name, his life would be wonderful?”
Brianna didn’t stop looking back and forth between the bridge and him, and Bram pulled a rolled cigarette out of his pocket. He was saving it for the end of Metanoia. He also pulled out a lighter, but his hands were so sweaty that it slid from out of his fingers and sailed down towards the abyss.
“Damn it. Do you have a match?” he asked her, sensing the tendons in his neck stretching like the strings on a sound board. “Of course you don’t have a match. You’ve always been cold.”
Bram looked at the plasma screen and back at Brianna.
“There are ten more minutes till the end of the game. Let’s talk after, I know a little restaurant in Bogatá. This isn’t the moment…”
“Isn’t it ironic, Mr. Kobke?” Her gaze moved over the smooth windows of the skyscraper, sharp as a razor. “You build such a tall and proud building, filled it with people, and them – with hope, and in the end, you’re just going to leave?”
Applause filled the space and echoed through the chasm. The girl playing Maria Prieto appeared on the large plasma screen, along with the boy in the role of the Del Santo’s photographer. “This note is for you. And… something else. Could you take just one more photograph of me, over here?” said Maria, reciting her lines, but Bram didn’t like the way the corner of her mouth began to tremble at all. She’d better not dare disappoint him…
“Harold’s in bad shape, Bram, and this time I don’t know whether you can pull him out of it. You can’t just teach him to box underwater, where no one will see you.” Fine droplets of water reached Brianna’s face and made her skin glisten. “His depression has gotten worse. I talked to Ed Blackwood, the psychiatrist. He told me that at their last session, Harold was very confused. He’s left Oxford and he quit the lab. He said he was going diving, and nothing matters anymore, not even love.” She looked at him in horror. “What if he’s gone diving in Mexico in this condition? To look for that underwater cave he’s always talking about?”
Against the backdrop of her dry, wind-chapped mouth was the foam of the Tequendama. And against the  backdrop of the Tequendama – something glowing even more white and attracting his gaze. As if the photograph from his last walk with Padilla had come to life. What the hell was the photographer doing? All he had to do now was to smile, to take Maria by the hand, to pull her away from the edge, in order to take her picture. It was his line, damn it, why wasn’t he saying anything?
“Are you listening to me at all, Bram? This is about your son!”
A sweat as cold as mercury dripped into his eyes, and he blinked. From here he couldn’t see Prieto’s face well. What was there in it that was paralyzing the photographer? In the end, the boy raised the camera, pulled Maria away from the edge, and took her place, standing with his back to the chasm. Good lad, you’re not going to jump this time, right? Not this time, either.
“I’ve never before begged you to save him, Bram…”
A gasp sounded. Bram looked towards the Virgin and the splash of light that flooded her face. It was from the flash of the photographer, who took a single step with a smile on his face. A step backwards. Then Bram saw the light again and again. A blitz that illuminated every square meter of the precipice, further and further down. A light in free fall.
He did not hear the people, who were opening their mouths in mute horror. He only heard the restless green whisper of the forest beside the Tequendama. The barrel of the water that swallowed the boy’s body in seconds and hid it within as if behind a curtain. Then he saw Brianna’s beautiful face and wondered how they’d reached this point.
He recovered a few seconds later. In the niche in the cliffs, the violinists continued their scraping, probably waiting for a second order. But the plasma screens had gone out. The shadows of people whizzed around and sirens flashed. Players ran from the hotel terrace towards the skyscraper. The entrance in the middle of the bridge was closed, but they jumped over it, one over another, or threw themselves into the river. From a fortress of the will, the skyscraper had transformed into a fortress of fear. It was just that the world, and Brianna, were wrong. Power was not in the hands of the spirits or of faith. It was always in his hands.
He looked over at Bri, took several steps back to gather his force, and hurtled forward. How unfortunate that they had interrupted the program. It was a good scene – a flight from the rocks towards the doomed terrace. What kind of face of Mark from Elephant’s Dream make if he could see his body, tilting like an airplane wing. And he cut the air in half with his sharp turn in the sky.

The Game of Salt

Synopsis

Genre
Modern prose, dystopia, science fiction.

Subject
In the world of alchemy, salt is a symbol of purification and the unity of opposing elements. The Salt Game is a novel about the unification of opposites: conscious and subconscious, future and past, mania and depression, science and alchemy, Cypriot Greeks and Turks.

About the Author
My name is Elena Nikolova Koleva, and I have many years of experience as an author and editor at QMedia publishing on the magazines Amica and L’Europeo, as well as with the publisher Egmont Bulgaria. I have also been published in the magazines Intro, Max, Playboy, InGlobo, and others. I have participated in the “Mailbox for Stories” forum on the theme of “Thank You” with the text “To Freud with Gratitude,” read by Mariana Vekilska. At present I am editor-in-chief at the magazine GoGuide, Bulgaria.

Synopsis
Bram Kobke is a successful gamemaster and the boss at the popular Danish live action role-playing (LARP) company Lusorium. After the disappearance of his son, who suffers from bipolar disorder, Kobke sets up a “therapeutic” LARP for people with bipolar disorder, called Tabula Rasa. For the location of the LARP, Bram chooses Varosha, a seaside neighborhood in Famagusta, Cyprus, which was abandoned suddenly by its Greek residents after the armed conflict with Cypriot Turks on August 15, 1974. According to Bram, the collaboration between Lusorium and the authorities will help solve the Cypriot issue. And at the same time, the disease discovered in the 2nd century by Aretaeus of Cappadocia will, in a sense, return home.
The main participants in the LARP are:
Hardy Rope – a super-experimental psychologist, charged with criminal activity after an illegal experiment with his student.
Cora Delmar – an architect who, after the death of her parents in a tsunami in Phuket, takes over the family business, together with her fiancé, designing avant-garde swimming pools. Shortly before the LARP is announced, one of Cora’s wealthy clients is found dead in her swimming pool, which Cora designed.
Jerome Drakos – a Cypriot Greek and underwater archeologist whose parents left their home in Varosha in 1974 because of the Turkish invasion.
Asena Kardemir – one of the thousands of Turkish immigrants housed in the abandoned homes of the Cypriot Greeks in order to take care of the land in Varosha.

In the Tabula Rasa LARP, the players with bipolar disorder have the freedom to create their own town with their own laws. They actually establish three neighborhoods, according to their predominant conditions: Mania, Depression, and Hypomania, with the leader of each neighborhood being determined through holotesting, which reveals a great deal about the players’ pasts.
Cora becomes the leader of the manic, and Hardy, of the depressed.
In Varosha, Cora is in her element, and she turns her neighborhood into a triumph of architecture. Her success cannot completely mute her feelings of guilt, however, which she feels towards her fiancé, Guillermo – especially when she learns that, after she joined the role-playing game, he killed himself.
In the meantime, Hardy is growing increasingly suspicious of the gamemaster, Bram, but he is also strangely drawn to him. Is it possible that Bram is actually his father, whom he has never known? Hardy decides to search for the answer with the help of the underwater archeologist, Jerome Drakos, since he believes that water is the greatest conductor of the subconscious. In the depths, Hardy falls into a “vent,” and he meets Zenya for the first time – a half-child, half-old man, with an expressionless face and a strange voice, who tells him about the Psychology Club and the secrets of the collective unconscious. According to Zenya, the goal of the LARP is not to heal the bipolar, but to empty their minds and turn them into blank slates (tabula rasa), and only Hardy can stop Bram, by building Increatum.
With the help of the Lusorium architect, Hardy builds a waterscraper – an underwater tower made of stone, steel, and armored glass. The building has to connect the world of technology with the primitive world and to transform into a womblike conduit to the past, where the players must sink into their subconscious. It is Hardy who connects Jerome and the Turkish woman Asena to their parents’ pasts. Jerome’s father was shot by a Turkish soldier when he returned, after the Greeks had moved out of Varosha, to look for a locket forgotten by his wife. Today, the locket is on Asena’s neck, and she and Jerome become increasingly close.
Cora herself ends up in the conduit to the past that Hardy builds. There she finds out that her parents had carried out a bloody order for Bram Kobke when he was still a teenager – a swimming pool with a double bottom and a special mechanism for the purpose of killing Bram’s father. Later, again with Hardy’s help, Cora also learns the truth about her parents’ death – her fiancé, Guillermo, at that time just her close friend, had not followed through on her request to warn them of the incoming tsunami. Until now, Cora had thought that they had simply not believed her because she suffered from bipolar disorder. Now she finally knows that it is not her fault.
In the meantime, one of the bipolar sufferers (the daughter of an official at the UN) is found dead. Convinced that Hardy has killed her, Bram pressures Cora to make him commit suicide in his subconscious. Rope really is dangerous – for some time now, Jerome has been talking about his sadistic attempts to distill the sadness of the depressed. But the true danger is from Zenya, whose goal is to drive Hardy, Cora, Jerome, and Asena into the Pleroma, the Jungian concept of the union and destruction of pairs of opposites.
The town is under siege. Someone has informed the father of the dead girl, and the UN begins an investigation. But upon learning that the people with bipolar disorder are hostages of Zenya, Bram rushes to help them.
Having taken the bipolar sufferers captive, Hardy realizes that he is under the control of his shadow – Zenya. Only after integrating it into his subconscious does he succeed in freeing the Collective Unconscious from the Reservoir. When he swims to the surface with Cora, Jerome, and Asena, the journalist are just bringing Tabula Rasa to a close, and Bram Kobke is receiving a Golden Ludens.
Hardy waylays Bram and finds out that the UN official has withdrawn his accusation, after his daughter’s second autopsy revealed that her death was caused by congenital toxoplasmosis. The deceased girl was actually the girlfriend of Bram’s son, who himself turned out to be the student from Hardy’s ill-fated experiment. But if in the beginning Kobke created the LARP to understand more about his missing son in Hardy’s subconscious and to eliminate the cursed disease, in the end, he is far more kindly disposed towards its sufferers. And Cora, who has realized that Hardy healed her in penetrating her subconscious, feels love for the first time. 
Shortly before they are evacuated, Hardy, Cora, Jerome, and Asena take a final cruise around the waterscraper. The ending is open: either they will enter the tower, or they will return to their lives.

The Game of Salt

NOVEL

1

Columbia, San Antonia del Tequendama,
two months earlier

Bram Kobke yawned. He was standing on the roof of the skyscraper that rose from the rim of the canyon and staring at the small statue of the Virgin Mary 28 floors below. She, too, was on night duty, just like him. She guarded the mouth of the deep chasm – a chalice of vertical cliff walls rushing down below, following the blast of the waterfall. If the statue could somehow move and take a few steps to the left, it would step onto the unfortunate terrace of the Del Salto Hotel.
They called her the Virgin of Suicides, since no small number of people had jumped from her stone lap. He suppressed a laugh. That poor thing! She was completely powerless against the will of those poor wretches who weren’t stopped by her silent prayers and hurtled down towards the frothy mouth of the Tequendama. Why did they choose this particular spot? According to the locals, it was because their bodies dissolved in the depths between the cold surfaces of the stones, and no one ever found them. He would have to verify this.
A little before the live broadcast continued, filling the canyon with sound, Bram scratched his chin. He’d better not forget to ask Skovgaard whether he had secured enough medical personnel. He didn’t want any failures, and as of late, especially with the more extreme games, the presence of emergency medics was a must. Of course he wouldn’t ask him. Everything would be fine, like it always was. He turned to see whether Runa had taken care of the burned-out letter in the electric sign on the roof. LUSORIUM was shining just as bright and invincible as ever.
As if carved into the stone, the faces of the announcers appeared on the plasma screens built into the cliff recesses along the giant vertical walls, and then, that of Maritza Rojas as well. The appealing lesbian writer and researcher of supernatural phenomena who had been probing into the case of the Del Salto Hotel for years. Bram had no way to skip over her. She was the antagonist in his game – the person who wanted to prove by any means possible that the place was cursed. As much as he preferred not to admit it, he needed her.
“… And so, for the viewers who are just tuning in, here we are again, live at the Laguna of the Dead! We’re broadcasting straight from the Del Salto, the haunted former hotel that was renovated in 2014 as an ecology museum, but which has recently been abandoned again. A short while ago, Mr. Bram Kobke, who is the acting director of the well-known LARP organization Lusorium, and is also know by the nickname “the Improviser,” officially announced the last evening of Metanoia, the hit live active role-playing game that explores the idea of changing our way of thinking, and to what extent this is possible. Ladies and gentlemen, will the thirty level-headed men and women who have spent a month in the infamous Del Salto Hotel decide that ghosts do exist after all? And will the remaining thirty participants in the LARP, the actual survivors of the ill-omened site, come out of the safe embrace of the high-tech skyscraper across from us and, convinced otherwise, say goodbye to fear?”
He cracked his neck, stiff from the cool air laden with water droplets, and laughed – maybe the Virgin was tired, but he wasn’t. If any evil force was raging here, let it hoist him up and pull off his skin! He would already be putting a new one on tomorrow. He would pry apart the ribs of the Earth and make a place for a different Universe, one of his own.
“… Dear spectators! You are looking at a siege at the entrance to the hotel! The members of the Brotherhood – the international organization that defends the rights of players throughout the world – are protesting against Lusorium’s dangerous game and blocking Ms. Rojas’s path! But here she is, she managed to slip through… Ms. Rojas, tell us a little more about the building’s sad history.”
The face of Maritza Rojas glowed behind the crescent-shaped black tresses that outlined it. It appeared that the young woman loved ghost stories, because she began talking animatedly about the 157-meter waterfall with an almost Victorian aspect, describing how, during the 1950s, the hotel had sunk into oblivion, and death had become its most regular guest.
Bram’s eyes glided along the hydraulic bridge that connected the base of the skyscraper to the mournful little hotel opposite; he attempted to forget the abyss that separated them and to imagine the Del Salto’s glory days. The elite of Bogotá and the balls beneath the champagne of the waterfall. But then, the image of Raul Padilla floated before his eyes again, unbidden. As the long-time manager of the hotel, Padilla must have known the cursed building better than the three hairs on his bald pate. In spite of  this, the old man had succumbed to the general mania. And though he had once fired every maid with an overly developed imagination, today, he too was convinced that the hotel was inhabited by evil spirits.
Over the past two months, every time Bram invited him on a walk, Padilla would not stop prattling on about mysterious moans, levitating objects, and a scratching at the windows. He would tell him how the guests had woken up with bruises or had thrown themselves from the Virgin mid-sentence, urged on by voices that called to them from the chasm. In moments like this, the little hole in Padilla’s beard would tremble or widen with horror, and it would sink in even more. But try as he might, Bram could not forget the day the old man had told him about the woman with the bloody face…
The two of them had been walking through a forest on the Tequendama Plateau when Padilla stopped abruptly beside a tree, rapped on the trunk with his rotten cane, like a woodpecker, and looked around. Only after he was certain no one was following them did he bring his face close to Bram’s and exhale an alcoholic mist of fear into it.
“A South American woman, short dark hair. First she appeared at my window. Then I heard footsteps in the room, but I decided to pretend I was asleep. Then the thing sat on my bed, warm like… a person!” Padilla finished with wide-open eyes. “Maybe I had gotten a chill… I only mustered the courage to look once. And then she vanished into thin air. Poof!” He released his cane for a second and gave a clap with his hands. “Do you believe me? Tell me! I could swear that it was Maria Prieto herself. The one who was the beginning of the end…”
“Calm down, Raul. All that finished a long time ago. The hotel’s been vacant for years.”
Padilla gave him a look of reproach. “Nothing is finished! If it’s finished, then why are you here? The tourist suicides continue.”
“There won’t be any more suicides. We’re keeping things under control. And tell me more about this Maria. I want to know everything.”
Padilla rapped with his cane again, more feebly this time. It looked like he’d been completely swallowed up by the image he was painting under the quiet and sporadic rain.
“They arrived from Bogotá by train. She and her fiancé. They looked so happy that I gave them our most beautiful room – on the second floor, with a view of the waterfall.”
“The one where I was sleeping?”
Padilla nodded.
“And then something happened, and Maria stopped smiling. She stopped asking me about the birds… After dinner, they’d clear away her plate almost full, and at night, I would watch her walking across the terrace in bare feet and her night gown.”
“Oh, you, Padilla!” Bram winked, in a doomed attempt at teasing.
“That Sunday, Maria was smiling again,” the old man continued, and one of his eyebrows leapt upwards. “I served them breakfast myself – scrambled eggs and arepas, then the two of them left. Her fiancé went to swim a bit, but she asked me to send her the photographer on duty.” Padilla looked at him as if from the judge’s bench. “You know, to make some photos of her as a souvenir from Bogotá.” The man took out a small creased card and ran his sandpapery thumb over its surface. Attached to the photo with a rusty paperclip was a yellowed piece of paper with elegant handwriting. “Look at the last pose that our photographer caught her in.”
Bram took a look at the photo. Framed by the cliffs, in a long, white dress, Maria Prieto was frozen in her last flight, captured by a photographer who was probably suspecting nothing.
“Look at the note,” whispered Padilla, as he gave Bram’s hand a quick tap.
Bram removed the paperclip and unfolded the piece of paper. Then he began to read the poor woman’s last words before her death.
Because of my ingratitude, I am drawn into the depths of the mysterious waterfall and the deep, romantic chasm that drops down along the green mound behind the shroud of the trees. A savage place! So sacred and magical, like a woman weeping for her demon lover under the pale moon.
November 4, 1935
Maria Prieto
“Get going, already, Mr. Kobke,” Padilla said. “And it’d be best if you’d raze your shiny building to the ground. Your will is powerless here. Soon the president will seal the place off under the pretext that the river is toxic, and everything will be covered up again. Go on, at least for you it’s not too late. And if you can, forget about the Del Salto Hotel. The souls of those swallowed by the mouth will stay locked up here forever.”
This May afternoon was the last time he had seen Raul Padilla. Since then, every time Bram passed by the hotel’s façade, he would spit on its face. This is why he had built a skyscraper on the other side of the cliffs! This is why he had raised it so high, as tall as the depth of the precipice, and even a few meters more, if you counted the company’s sign. The skyscraper was a monument to human will, which was in direct opposition to the ghosts of the past. Within it, he would soon permanently accommodate the victims of the stigma and their families. He would give them new life. To the designer and the personnel of the former Del Salto, to the local driver, to the architect who lived in exile and in a panicked fear of ghosts, but most of all, to the media, who pursued him day and night after the suicides of two teenagers from Ecuador. To the locals and, of course, to Raul Padilla, who had sold his house for practically nothing and was now wandering around the parks of Bogotá with a saddlebag and a bottle of vodka wrapped up in a newspaper. Bram would put an end to all of it this very evening.
He closed his eyes and tried to think logically. Metanoia was being played for the second time this year. The LARP, even in the shorter chamber version, had garnered huge success in the other “haunted” house in Stockholm. Just then, the World LARP Organization began to follow his works with a particular closeness. Bram was undoubtedly leading in points over his biggest competitor, Elephant’s Dream. In fact, he was hoping to get the Golden Ludens – the prize awarded every three years in the realm of LARP arts.
For several years, Bram had been dealing only with third-generation LARPs – a term introduced by the charming Marie Holm-Essendrop, who was an icon in this field. Under “third-generation LARPs,” she envisioned those games that were not played among cardboard props, but on the stage of reality itself. Games that would start bleeding beyond the playing field – and that actually hurt. Bram defined them more as performance art or as hidden theater, which had the goal of awakening the senses of people on the topic of a particular question and making them act. Even though it had only recently been established, the Ministry of Unbounded Consciousness was happy to fund games like this, as long as they were in line with their interests, and Bram knew how to achieve this.
Stockholm, though, was low-hanging fruit. Now he had to be especially careful. First, for them not to accuse him again of controlling the game too much in his role of gamemaster, which, in the interest of the truth, was a frequent observation by the judges. And second, because the shadow over the Del Salto Hotel was so heavy, and the stakes – too high. If he succeeded in bringing the place back to life, tourism in this part of Colombia would flourish again, and he would attract new investors who would turn into loyal sponsors of his future LARPs. If he failed… No, Lusorium could not fail. Lusorium was a conqueror of reality, and then too, with Metanoia, Bram had secured himself well. He had gathered together the most level-headed people. Not a single one of them was religious, none of them were members of any kind of organization or sect, and they had not even the slightest psychological deviations.
“But here it’s not a just question of sensitive or unstable people, Bram,” Maritza Rojas protested comfortably, and told him excitedly about her colleagues who had spent the night in the hotel, who had felt something pulling their hair. At moments like this, Bram stared into her face and saw a simple dilettante who was looking for fame on a tray. “Everyone feels it when they’re here,” she insisted. “First you feel dizzy – you don’t see a view like this every day. Then something is always falling out of your pocket. The chasm is magnetic, and your eyes want to take it all in. Despite the mist that hangs over it the whole time…”
Bullshit! He had spent the night in Maria Prieto’s room a few times now, and he slept like the dead. He didn’t even dream. Except for last night. He had gone down with a rope to the bottom of the chasm, where a woman was waiting for him with an egg in one hand, and a knife in the other. That cute Rojas… She’d give up her little game soon enough. Bram saw her more and more often splashing around, she and her tattoos, on the other side of the bridge – at the skyscraper and with a cocktail in her hand. The Del Salto Hotel didn’t interest her in the least.
And in spite of this, something was bothering him, like a piece of dust in his eye. At lunch yesterday, the girl who was playing the role of Maria Prieto in the LARP was acting strangely somehow. “Do you know what the name Tequendama means, Mr. Kobke? The one who settles to the bottom. And did you know that during the Spanish invasion of South America, to escape being enslaved, the locals threw themselves over the cliffs and turned into eagles? But even if they didn’t sprout wings, from here to the lake of the dead, you fall for some six seconds,” the girl had injected, before getting back into her role.
Bram tried to direct the game but, at the same time, to be careful not to anger the judges. They didn’t give very high scores to games where the gamemaster took advantage of “hidden editing” techniques. And yet, the players couldn’t go without scripts, nor without taking some time to merge with the cool shade of the hotel, whose floor and walls sprouted weeds and damp moss. They spent their nights in the cold stone body of the hotel, and in the daytime, they look for the body of the latest suicide, which had not been an easy task. With the help of his connections in the Forensic Medicine department, Bram and Skovgaard had procured a real corpse – some bum who didn’t even have an ID. Even though he was his right-hand person, Skovgaard came close to refusing. With Runa’s help, though, Bram managed to convince him. Well, sure, it was especially important for them to prove to Padilla that he was wrong: the fact that they’d never pulled a body out of the precipice wasn’t proof of any supernatural phenomenon, but simply a lack of technology and organization. Over the course of nine days, Bram observed how the boys scraped their bodies over the rocks in their attempts to climb down and find the body. If they reached the bottom, the falling water would tear apart their clothes and they’d continue on naked, breathing through their mouths because of the fierce stench of the river. Then, with the last strength left in them, they would climb back up. Their nails were broken and blood flowed from them, but Bram was proud. The had crossed the boundary, and the made-up universe had finally started to bleed. The rest of it would be taken care of by Rojas, who gave the instructions for the players’ roles, and Runa, who conducted the psychological testing.
At the same time, the real victims stood glued to the windows of the skyscraper and observed the reenactment of history from their fortress of security. Naturally, from the time they began to reside in the skyscraper, they had not been threatened by any spirits. For their peace of mind, the newest technology to measure paranormal activity had been installed in their rooms, and on every floor, there were people from the Department of Ghost Hunters on duty. It was Skovgaard’s idea to have Rob Brezny giving lessons on the topic of Pronoia in the conference halls, and how happiness was a habit that could be cultivated. Every time he passed by the hall, Bram would almost burst out laughing. The Pronoists believed that suffering was for the good and that, in spite of it, the Universe conspired for their well-being. This idea struck Bram as being just as harmful as the idea that evil spirits existed.
The bright light from the plasma screens again furrowed the darkness, moving like steam and interrupted his thoughts. Bram squinted his eyes in expectation of the outcome. He tried disregard the violinists who were playing in the depths of the cliffs, and stared at the large plasma screen, which at any moment would begin to describe the last evening above the river. The loudspeakers thundered, and Bram froze. Every evening at exactly 10:00 p.m., the bridge between the skyscraper and the Del Salto Hotel opened up, and the players from the two camps would meet on it. They had the right to change their minds – to pass from the hotel to the skyscraper or vice versa. Bram looked at the huge water clock that pierced the center of the bridge. There wasn’t much time left until the end of the game. Around twenty minutes, and then no one would be able to pass from one side to the other. With the help of shock absorbers, the bridge would turn into a scale, and as soon as all of the participants went outside, one of the two sides would definitively weigh more. The skyscraper of the will or the hotel of death? The viewers were making bets.
And the final scene was getting closer and closer. The scene in which Maria Prieto asks the photographer to take her photo in front of the waterfall. Bram looked at the players, who at this moment were recreating the Colombian bohemians’ ball, bathed in champagne, and he felt a rush of adrenaline in his body. And here was his Maria Prieto – the girl was walking towards the estuary of the Tequendama in her long white dress, and on her way, she nodded at the remaining guests. She stopped in front of the photographer as if she wanted to ask him something. Damn it, Dusty! Could you not find tinier subtitles? Bram moved his headset in his ear, pressed a button, and headed towards his favorite observation point – a comfortable recess formed in the rock a bit a theater box, with excellent visibility. Along the way, he scolded a violinist, who was staring at his fellow musician and played a wrong note because of it. He had just taken his position when he saw the crane. This was a strange time for them to be raising it. Bram tightened his fists. What the hell was Skovgaard doing? It was still too early for speeches! He blinked once, twice, then almost stopped breathing. It wasn’t Skovgaard. It was Brianna, and the skirts of her black raincoat were fluttering in the sky like uninvited anthracite clouds.
He hadn’t seen her in years. Why was she coming now, and at the climax of the game? As a playwright, Brianna knew this world better than anyone. She knew that the game was sacred, and that it does not stop for anything in the world. And if there was any reason at all why it could be stopped, it could only be their son, Harold. 
The crane stopped and placed Brianna’s delicate body on the stone in front of him. Bram shuddered. Would they broadcast this on television? And if so, what would the judges say? Deus ex machina?! Really, would they think about the frigging crane in ancient Greek and Roman dramas, the one that had held the god above the stage, and which had turned into, over time, a metaphor for an artificially imposed decision? He took a deep breath and saw his own cheekbones emerging in the abundant red light of the projectors. He waved at the operators to get his face off the screen and tried to smile. Then he raised his eyebrows, staring into the lenses of her eyes.
“I’ll be quick. I came to tell you that I agree. Do it. What you wanted to do ten years ago. Make the game for people with manic depression.”
He knew her. To an extent to which he felt what she felt instead of her. The wind she was struggling against now, that seemed to want to blow her words back into her mouth. He felt it in his own throat. He started to touch her, but she drew back.
“Take him wherever you want, lock him up at the ends of the earth, but keep him alive. Save him, Bram, for God’s sake, I’m begging you!”
“But why?” he asked her evenly. “Wasn’t it you who believed that good would win in the end? Isn’t that why you separated Harold from me and didn’t let me take part in his life? Wasn’t the depression supposed to get better on its own, or maybe be cured by some benevolent spirit? What were you thinking?” He grabbed her hand and squeezed it. “That if he didn’t remember me or carry my name, his life would be wonderful?”
Brianna didn’t stop looking back and forth between the bridge and him, and Bram pulled a rolled cigarette out of his pocket. He was saving it for the end of Metanoia. He also pulled out a lighter, but his hands were so sweaty that it slid from out of his fingers and sailed down towards the abyss.
“Damn it. Do you have a match?” he asked her, sensing the tendons in his neck stretching like the strings on a sound board. “Of course you don’t have a match. You’ve always been cold.”
Bram looked at the plasma screen and back at Brianna.
“There are ten more minutes till the end of the game. Let’s talk after, I know a little restaurant in Bogatá. This isn’t the moment…”
“Isn’t it ironic, Mr. Kobke?” Her gaze moved over the smooth windows of the skyscraper, sharp as a razor. “You build such a tall and proud building, filled it with people, and them – with hope, and in the end, you’re just going to leave?”
Applause filled the space and echoed through the chasm. The girl playing Maria Prieto appeared on the large plasma screen, along with the boy in the role of the Del Santo’s photographer. “This note is for you. And… something else. Could you take just one more photograph of me, over here?” said Maria, reciting her lines, but Bram didn’t like the way the corner of her mouth began to tremble at all. She’d better not dare disappoint him…
“Harold’s in bad shape, Bram, and this time I don’t know whether you can pull him out of it. You can’t just teach him to box underwater, where no one will see you.” Fine droplets of water reached Brianna’s face and made her skin glisten. “His depression has gotten worse. I talked to Ed Blackwood, the psychiatrist. He told me that at their last session, Harold was very confused. He’s left Oxford and he quit the lab. He said he was going diving, and nothing matters anymore, not even love.” She looked at him in horror. “What if he’s gone diving in Mexico in this condition? To look for that underwater cave he’s always talking about?”
Against the backdrop of her dry, wind-chapped mouth was the foam of the Tequendama. And against the  backdrop of the Tequendama – something glowing even more white and attracting his gaze. As if the photograph from his last walk with Padilla had come to life. What the hell was the photographer doing? All he had to do now was to smile, to take Maria by the hand, to pull her away from the edge, in order to take her picture. It was his line, damn it, why wasn’t he saying anything?
“Are you listening to me at all, Bram? This is about your son!”
A sweat as cold as mercury dripped into his eyes, and he blinked. From here he couldn’t see Prieto’s face well. What was there in it that was paralyzing the photographer? In the end, the boy raised the camera, pulled Maria away from the edge, and took her place, standing with his back to the chasm. Good lad, you’re not going to jump this time, right? Not this time, either.
“I’ve never before begged you to save him, Bram…”
A gasp sounded. Bram looked towards the Virgin and the splash of light that flooded her face. It was from the flash of the photographer, who took a single step with a smile on his face. A step backwards. Then Bram saw the light again and again. A blitz that illuminated every square meter of the precipice, further and further down. A light in free fall.
He did not hear the people, who were opening their mouths in mute horror. He only heard the restless green whisper of the forest beside the Tequendama. The barrel of the water that swallowed the boy’s body in seconds and hid it within as if behind a curtain. Then he saw Brianna’s beautiful face and wondered how they’d reached this point.
He recovered a few seconds later. In the niche in the cliffs, the violinists continued their scraping, probably waiting for a second order. But the plasma screens had gone out. The shadows of people whizzed around and sirens flashed. Players ran from the hotel terrace towards the skyscraper. The entrance in the middle of the bridge was closed, but they jumped over it, one over another, or threw themselves into the river. From a fortress of the will, the skyscraper had transformed into a fortress of fear. It was just that the world, and Brianna, were wrong. Power was not in the hands of the spirits or of faith. It was always in his hands.
He looked over at Bri, took several steps back to gather his force, and hurtled forward. How unfortunate that they had interrupted the program. It was a good scene – a flight from the rocks towards the doomed terrace. What kind of face of Mark from Elephant’s Dream make if he could see his body, tilting like an airplane wing. And he cut the air in half with his sharp turn in the sky.

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