The Tower

*This story was prompted by cues from an idea generator that required these elements: My main character/protagonist is a male. My main character is an air traffic controller. An archetype present in my story is Rogue. (*Schelm is a German word for Rogue.) A key object or symbol in my story is a large axe. My story will be set in Medieval Germany. My story is about madness.

The tower shook mildly as another jet zoomed past, coming in for a landing like a thousand other jets before it. Ralph Schelm* was quite used to it by now. He shook himself out of a reverie that threatened his concentration, causing the control panel in front of him to blur into a maze of blinking lights that surrounded him like a hazy green and blue fog. He was grateful for his job as an air traffic controller. It paid well and had generous vacation benefits to combat the stress of responsibility for so many lives day after day. He was due for some more time off and struggled to stay focused on the meanings of the flashing lights and dials in front of him while his brain insisted on thinking about his last vacation.

He smiled as the image of the winding blue water of the Danube River rose from his memory. He couldn't help wondering what it must have been like to live in one of the huge stone fortresses that lined the river like sentinels, the air traffic control towers of medieval days. His reverie was interrupted abruptly by the electronic voice of a pilot in his ear seeking directions and permission to land.

"You're the 6th boat in line. Angle to port and watch out for the rocks."

In Ralph's ear, a nervous laugh was followed by a "What? Did you say rocks?" from the incoming pilot.

A chill tingled down Ralph's spine and he shook his head. "No, sorry...I said head for the docks, North Concourse." He took care to enunciate clearly.

Ralph leaned back in his chair and rubbed his eyes, then looked around the circular room. He was surrounded by instrument panels, metal and plastic, and the wall of windows that showed him the skies for miles around. The sky was cloudy, stony gray with the weight of a drizzling rain. The metal and plastic were beige and gray too, like the rocks along the river. There was a fire extinguisher and next to it, encased in a glass-covered niche in the wall, a large steel emergency axe. Suddenly, there was the sound of laughter. It began as a low chuckle but rose to a throaty, gravelly laugh and Ralph felt himself rise, striding toward the axe.

The smell of water and stone was in his nostrils. He stood tall and proud, a mighty warrior, master of earth and sea. He served no man but himself. He was a loner, a fighter, a rogue on the prowl for adventure. Glass tinkled to the floor as Ralph roared with laughter, taking the axe in his bloodied fist. He stroked its haft, feeling it like an extension of his power. No man could stand between him and his destiny as long as he wielded this glorious tool of strength and destruction!

He strode to the windows and surveyed the lands under his command. The rolling countryside that surrounded his castle bowed before him in the rain. That gray ribbon below was his Danube, bearing silver ships along the German landscape. To him they paid tribute. He could hear them now, begging passage.

"Pay my toll, and you shall pass!" he roared, whirling the axe with roguish menace above his head. He had no fear of the carriages creeping below, their armor flashing red and blue as they thought to lay siege to his fortress. As long as the ships obeyed him, the carriages were no threat to his power.

He turned to face a cowering page, pale-faced with fear before his master's fierce battle lust. His lips moved, but the warrior did not understand the strange words issuing from them. He must be the new boy, from one of the far villages with their obscure peasant dialects. His clothes were certainly odd enough to match the theory. "Fetch me wine!" he ordered the servant, and turned back to his surveillance of the land and sky, certain his order would not be disobeyed.

It seemed a long while that Ralph stood staring stiff and still, one hand continuously stroking the axe. The water sounded strange today, he mused, oddly raspy, with a booming sound like distant thunder echoing behind him. He turned quickly to face that direction, searching the sky for a coming storm.

A look of surprise registered on his face when instead of the sky he saw two more pages dressed in matching dark uniforms rushing towards him. He barely had time to raise the axe before they reached him, bearing him to the ground. He landed hard, a warm wetness suddenly flowing over his throat and the stricken face of one of the pages quickly paling before him. He struggled to throw the page off but found it difficult to move. His hand struggled and lost its grip on the axe, which had become slippery.

"Ralph! Ralph! Dammit Ralph! Let go!"

He recognized the voice, but couldn't respond. It was a moment before he realized why he couldn't breathe and he struggled against the elbow around his throat.

"Stop it Ralph! What's the matter with you!" A name slowly attached itself to the voice in Ralph's head.

"Larry?" Ralph asked, trying to see his co-worker. The elbow did not ease its hold and he struggled to swallow, his mouth suddenly dry.

"Yes! God Ralph! killed that cop..."

"What? What cop?" Ralph went limp, confused images obscuring his thoughts. He was distantly grateful when the elbow shifted off his throat, peeling away with a sickening, sticky feel. He allowed himself to be pulled up, his arms pinned behind him. He followed the red trail down his white shirt to the body at his feet and finally to the axe gleaming dully in a red pool next to it.

An eerie fire lit his eyes as he turned toward a pale and shaking Larry. "Hey, Lar...did I ever tell you about my vacation to Germany?"

©Sonja Torres 2001


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