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Thomas von Steinaecker's novel "Wallner begins to fly" - an excerpt

From his breathing, little clouds of vapor have formed before his mouth like speech balloons. Costin decides in favor of the withered spruce in front of him, grips the axe, raises it and swings it into the trunk. Aylin has bent down to gather brushwood. No question: the brown linen smock with the white apron and the red kerchief look good on her, and naturally she has let nothing stop her from putting on some lace underskirt under the smock, the fringe of which is now suddenly showing. Costin shoulders the trunk of the spruce and carries it to the handcart.

Dieter is piling pieces of wood on it, and Costin can only hope that in his, that is, Costin's, short lederhosen, linen shirt and haferl-shoes, he cuts a better figure than Dieter does. There's no mirror in the hut.

Aylin, too, lays her bundle of brushwood on the handcart, puts her hands on her hips, says "Phew," and "So about the slaughter, I mean, the idea that today I'm going to take part and slaughter the pig with you guys, that Rudi is being slaughtered at all, I mean – forget it."

Dieter objects: "150 years ago, Aylin, people didn't give a crap. Slaughter is a totally normal thing. It belongs to life on the Alpine pasture, and in any case to this here."

Costin keeps out of it this time, but naturally, he thinks his part: that, for example, this was so clear, that Aylin, ex-children's channel-moderator and October Playboy Bunny (see "ex-children's channel-moderator"!), takes life here on the Alpine pasture substantially worse than the unflappable Dieter, who was a successful comedian long before Costin's time, Costin only knows him from a few black-and-white TV sketches that sometimes air on New Year's Eve – that Dieter was even still alive he had had no idea. This road – Aylin: Miss Persnickety, I-am-sensitive, Priss-priss; Dieter: Mr. Bad-jokes-non-stop, har, har – this road the two have already gone down during the preliminary discussion with the others. They are on the same road now – no matter whether with the camera, as now, or without it.

Costin himself – who, as he now realizes, had in fact totally forgotten the cameraman directly beside him – was reminded, back when the show started a month ago, a little of the time he was cast for The Ping-Pongs. At first always only when the camera was there: adrenaline rush, the kick, yap, yap, good performance; as soon as the camera was off: limp, boy am I tired, boy, don't feel like doing a thing. Then, as of a certain point, after one or two weeks, it suddenly didn't matter whether he was being filmed at the moment – even when he was on the toilet or in bed, where he was definitely not being filmed, he simply felt constantly (see "kick") as if there were someone somewhere in the dark, or better yet: something that was aimed at him, that registered him.

The cameraman – Gottlieb or Fürchtegott, something with Gott – has told them that this will suffice, he has enough material, the remaining wood that they need will be placed at their disposal, then he'd only need a shot of them below, stacking the bundle and pieces of wood in front of the house, and that would be it. Costin and Dieter have positioned themselves at the handle and begun to pull the handcart out of the woods and onto the meadow, with Aylin behind making sure that nothing falls out.

From the distance, behind the hill, the gray shingle roof of the Alpine hut is visible, from which, Costin has a feeling, in a zoom or a long shot, they are currently being filmed.

Costin's hands have been burned by the friction with the handle. When he cast a brief glance at his fingers, they were completely bloody.

The voice (loud, monotonous, thus indeterminable whether question or statement; distorted, thus indeterminable whether female or male): "Who among the contestants here do you particularly like."

Costin: "Actually, everyone here is pretty cool."

Voice (rapidly): "And if you had to name one person."

Costin: "Frieder."

Voice (rapidly): "And among the female participants."

Costin: "Okay, Aylin."

The Voice (without missing a beat): "Would you say that you have feelings for her."

Costin: "Yes, no, I like her, that's all. She's cool."

The Voice (without missing a beat): "You could imagine having something with her."

Costin (laughing, looking at the floor, pause, then): "Okay, I don't know."

The Voice: "Did you feel that the punishment of your group today was fair."

Costin: "It was okay, the wood gathering, I didn't mind much, it was actually even somehow fun, the whole thing, that is, we're doing something sensible here."

The Voice (rapidly): "And how do you feel now."

Costin: "Quite good. I like it here, really. The Alpine pasture. The group and all. That is, I would gladly stay here the remaining months, too, and hope that I stay in. This goes now to all of you out there. You have seen that this here is my thing, and how I make a contribution here, you have known me now for a month already, and I am still here, and I think that means you are okay with what I do here, what kind of a guy I am. So I am already really sad that one of us has to be kicked off on Saturday, but I would also like to say that I trust you out there, you get what's going on here best."

The Voice: "Thank you, Costin."

Costin: "Thank all of you."

Costin stands up from the stool. While closing the door of the cabin – which apparently once served as a bathroom and has now been converted into a studio – he sees that the camera's spotlight goes out. In the twilight, the contours of the Alpine hut at the other end of the meadow are still discernible. Behind the mountain peaks across the valley an extremely narrow piece of light blue sky is still visible, and above – wow! – thousands of stars spread out, tiny twinkling points, as Costin now lays his head back.

"Okay," the Inner Costin, alias CPIV (Costin's Personal Inner Voice), intervenes. "Now look around, Costin" – Costin looks from the campfire to the other contestants, who sit around it in a circle – "There's Frieder, for one."

Costin looks at Frieder, who became well-known as Alberich in the Babelwood remake of the Nibelungen as well as through numerous guest appearances on crime shows like Tatort, Polizeirevier, et cetera, where he mostly played a particularly nasty variant of the villain, the hunchbacked gnome. Frieder, who was called "Germany's most significant dwarf" by the December issue of Der Spiegel magazine, and whose little legs dangle from the beer-bench, at the moment imitates the chancellor, which he in fact does stunningly well, the exact voice, the exact gestures, the other contestants listen to him spellbound, burst out laughing after each punch-line – "You see, Costin, Frieder is well-liked, Frieder stays in, 100 percent; then there's Gisela" – Gisela: blond-gray braid, tanned, wrinkly skin, presently holds her hands before her face in laughter – "Gisela is a housewife, Costin, Gisela is the only normal woman here, Gisela is one of them out there, who can identify perfectly with Mrs. Super-Average, Gisela will never in your life get thrown out, okay; we don't even need to talk about Dieter sitting beside her, Dieter is the male Gisela, that is, exactly what she is for the female viewer, he is for the male, was once successful, was once good-looking, now it's all over = completely likeable; Aylin, also such a clear-cut case, once got naked, now every grandpa wants a cupcake like that to stay in; ah well, we come to your friend, Umpf!" – Umpf! is the only one who has folded his arms over his army shirt, stares into the fire and only giggles now and again absentmindedly when the others laugh – "Umpf! is an asshole, Umpf! is your opponent here, Umpf will have to go, sooner or later; at some point the Umpf!-bonus – hard shell, soft core – will be used up…Costin? Hello?! I want you to listen to me, now, don't look at Frieder, but rather look into the fire now and concentrate, please: what is the show called that you are currently in?"

"Alpine Desire," Costin whispers so that the others cannot hear it, and throws a little stick into the fire.

"Exactly," the Inner Costin, alias CPIV, says. "Alpine Desire, that means, as you yourself have surely realized, that there is a love jackpot here. Whoever is officially a couple is automatically here for the next two months. So I know well that you can't stand Aylin, but...."

When Costin stands up, at first stretching and acting as if he were tired – in reality, however, he wants to go over to Aylin and whisper into her ear to ask if she wants to come with him, for he has to tell her something – just then Aylin looks at him and, as if this were all long since arranged, gets up too. On the way to the Alpine hut – none of the others has followed, there was not even a dumb remark, strange ... – she silently grasps his hand. Although the men's bedroom is pitch-dark under the loft, Costin knows roughly which bed is nearest to the camera on the crossbeam, he can hear it, very softly, the sssst, sssst as it pans, and finally sits down with Aylin on Frieder's bed – which naturally raises the question, why of all the beds does the camera hang over Frieder's, weren't lots drawn for the beds on the first day? Although ...when Costin now thinks back for a second...Frieder (shrieking, with both legs stamping Rumpelstiltskin-like on the floor): "I want this bed!"

Suddenly Aylin has pushed him onto the bed and pulled the cover over them both. Directly into his ear and thereby guaranteed not to be heard by any ever-so-hypersensitive microphone, she says, "You know that I've been crazy about you for the last two months, actually since your appearance on the children's channel, you little archaeopteryx, I have only not dared to tell you because I, well, I think I'm truly a little bit in love with you, and I don't want people to somehow find out, it's no fun that way."

Costin is dumbfounded. And spontaneously somewhat sour, because the situation here is already stressful enough, so they shouldn't now make such a fuss, no intense feelings, and if so, then please so that the people out there know. But Aylin has already pulled him to her, begun kissing him. When a little later the cover has slid to the floor, it seems suddenly no longer to make any difference that they are now both visible for the camera – Aylin: smock, apron and underskirt lifted, straps of smock slipped down, bosom bare; Costin: lederhosen dropped down to the knees; Aylin: legs wrapped around Costin; Costin: penetrating Aylin – yes, Aylin seems not to have noticed anything at all, she has, as far as Costin can see in the darkness, laid her head back, closed her eyes, moans very softly, stifled, she must really enjoy this here (Costin has already experienced relatively much in his life, including fakes). So that he doesn't come – Costin may by no means come....that would be better still: child conceived with ex-children's channel-moderator live on the reality show named Alpine Desire; ten years later: look, little one! here we are conceiving you!...No, thank you! – Costin has imagined how this here now will look on the air, the night shots with a green cast from the bird's-eye view, possibly a zoom on Aylin's face, plus the voice of the moderator: "Aylin and Costin finally get closer" or: "Aylin and Costin can no longer hold back their feelings for each other" or: "Only sex in the hut, or the beginning of a great love?" (indistinct sounds, moaning, rustling, crescendo); or, on the other hand, the whole scene gets cut – too explosive! – and vanishes in the archive; only to be watched surreptitiously sometimes by a lonely editor on the late shift, when nothing's going on, the first live sexual act on a German reality show, or perhaps even ever on television, globally so to speak, who knows, TV-history that never was.

Translated by Ross Benjamin
Copyright Frankfurter Verlagsanstalt

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