Kanle Kule

Kanle Kule

Kanle Kule 2268 4032 Caroline Fleischauer

Nell knew she was drunk when she looked up at the White Tower and saw blood dripping down between its turrets.

Liam nudged her, then put the plastic bottle of Retsina in her hands, purchased for €3 from a nearby vendor. She could still see the umbrella on the man’s cart out on the corner, blue and white stripes undulating in the night’s slight breeze.

“Seeing ghosts?” he said. Sometimes she wondered.

She rolled the plastic bottle between her hands before unscrewing the cap and taking a long draught. “Ever think about how many people died here? Not just at the tower, I mean. But in general?”

“Sure.” Liam took the bottle back, smiling with half his mouth.

“What do you think they did with all the bodies?”

“Tossed them in the water.”

“You think?”

“That’s why it smells so bad. Ioannis says if you get some in your mouth, it’ll make you sick, it’s that dirty. Can’t see down more than a few centimeters.”

“You really think there’s bodies in there? Just falling apart?”

Liam laughed, the sound bouncing off the medieval stones at his back and making her teeth chatter.

“That’s the big problem in Greece right now, isn’t it? Running out of room to bury all the bodies? Pretty soon they’ll just be stacking them above ground.” She thought of coffins lined up on the sides of the street, human detritus piled into carts like in a movie she had seen about the Black Plague, and shuddered.

“Easy, Nell,” he rubbed her back, conciliatory. “I was only kidding. You Americans. So sensitive about death.”

It wasn’t that she meant to think about death. At least, not that often. It just always came to her like this. An image, a feeling. The slow, static whine of the flatline.

They sat in silence, his fingers moving to the back of her neck as the tower cast a shadow over both of their faces, hiding them from the muted yellow glow of the streetlights.

She took another swig of the Retsina, felt the turpentine sting in her nose, and coughed.

“Easy, girl. We’ve got all night yet.”

By now, others had joined them. Groups of Greek teenagers, the girls all wearing black pants, white shirts, and leather jackets, the boys with their hair slicked back. A few tourist couples, taking in the view of the tower in the watery moonlight. A busker and his dog. A man hawking watches by the boardwalk. Amid it all, the tower stood, a silent sentinel.

She had read that it had been a stronghold once. Built first by the Byzantines in the 12th century, then reconstructed by the Ottomans a few hundred years later. They had used it for torture, this Kanle Kule, this “Red Tower.” Named for the blood that ran from the bodies of the headless, decapitated out on the terrace. She wondered if the victims had looked out at the horizon, over the lip of the black water, or if the last thing they saw had been the stones stacked beneath their knees.

No one knew when her mother had fallen, her skull shattering on the icy concrete beneath her. No one knew what she had last seen, what she had last heard. If she had ever been aware of the machine that made her heart pulse and her lungs contract.

A cannon used to sound after each beheading, the blast and the smoke drifting through the air, dissipating as the body cooled.

The tower had been renamed after being whitewashed in 1912. A systematic cleansing, an attempt to erase the stain death left behind.

Liam leaned toward her, alcohol and trouble on his breath. “Let’s get out of here, yeah?”

On any other night, Nell would have taken Liam’s hand and let him lead her through the labyrinth of Ladadika. She would let him buy her more cheap drinks, put his hand down her waistband, kiss her neck. She would let him do what he wanted to drown out the sound of that machine, echoing whenever she closed her eyes in the blackness, alone.

But as he ran his tongue along her collarbone, she looked up. The blood was a thin line now, a trickle, stretching down to where her head rested against the wall. Her breath caught.

Liam took it as an invitation, pushing her onto her back. Ice gripped her, spreading through her stomach to her limbs. The blood was gushing now, pouring down the sides of the tower, staining the white stones red.

She thrust her hands against Liam’s shoulders, the scream building in her throat. He fell away, grunting, eyes following her pointing finger, not up to the top of the White Tower, but toward the murky waters of the Thermaic Gulf, where a woman’s howling rose above the traffic’s pulsing clamor as a body sank beneath the soft waves lapping against the pier, so dark that they swallowed the moon.

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