Chapter 11: Dortmund

Chapter 11: Dortmund

Dortmund worked harder than anyone else. 

Living, as he did, in the bowels of the temple, he studied feverishly by dim candlelight. The priests favored him, he knew, because of his intelligence and skill and utter devotion. That was why they chose him to live in the temple, and entrusted him with the sacred duties of caring for the grounds, the sanctum, and the crypt.

Dortmund’s father had been a sailor. He never knew his mom, but he understood from his father’s stories that she was an ungrateful wretch whose stupidity was exceeded only by her gluttony. On land, Dortmund’s dad was perpetually drunk and prone to fits of violent rage that caused the pale, skittish boy to hide under whichever piece of furniture was least broken. When he was beaten, he would escape in his mind to a world in which he was supremely powerful. It was a world where others did his bidding. It was a world he continued to visit long after his father’s death at the hands of another drunken sailor on the docks one muggy summer night.

The Brothers of the faith discovered him begging for scraps on a dirty street in Fish City at the north end of The Grotto. It was shortly after his tenth birthday, and they led him, wide-eyed, into the clean opulence of Hillcrest, to the massive white temple that would become his home.

Prayer and devotion consumed his life. He knelt for hours in his scratchy burlap pullover with the other orphans. He made a point of starting earlier and staying later than all the others, because he overheard one of the priests whispering one day about the importance of total commitment.

But the prayers did not make sense to Dortmund. They told him to clear his mind, and his mind would not clear. They told him to welcome in the spirit, and the spirit did not come. They told him to be penitent before God and he found himself, instead, wandering back to the world where he himself was God, and the rest of the inhabitants were prostrate before him.

There were miracles. Dortmund witnessed things that set his young mind afire. One night he saw a man carried hurriedly into the temple bleeding copiously from a huge gash across his chest. Ashen and barely conscious, he was carried to the center of the sanctum and laid on the marble floor, blood pooling around him. Four of the Brothers rushed to his aid, placing their hands on him and bowing their heads as Dortmund was ushered from the room to join the other boys for bedtime.

Dortmund awoke early the next morning, and stole from bed without waking anyone. Intrigued by the bloody scene of the night before, he secretly wanted to see the wounded man one more time to feed his own growing guilty obsession with violence.

When he entered the sanctum, he saw that the kneeling brothers had not moved one inch. Heart pounding, Dortmund crept quietly up behind them and peeked between their rigid bodies for a glimpse of the gore his adolescent brain so desperately craved. What he saw, however, was unexpected and even more thrilling than he’d imagined. Dry blood still caked the man’s chest and the floor, but the wound was knitted closed and he was breathing normally. By their prayers alone, the brothers had put his body back together!

Dortmund smiled inwardly as he was dragged away for rule-breaking and flogged. When the lashes bit into his backside, he slipped easily away into his dream world where his subjects feared his might and praised his mercy whenever he deigned to heal the wounds that he himself had caused.

After that episode, Dortmund redoubled his efforts to appear pious. He made faces of ecstasy during prayer, paused longer than the others in reflection after lessons, and crunched together his jet-black eyebrows in sincerity any time the Brothers addressed him.

The happiest day of his life was when he traded his shapeless burlap pullover for a brown robe of the brotherhood and they informed him that his clerical studies would begin. That same day he was also granted access to the temple library. While pure devotion was something that he found frustratingly elusive, the acquisition of knowledge was a matter of dogged persistence—Dortmund excelled at doggedness.

Several confusing years passed during which Dortmund did everything he could to learn and succeed, while the Brothers grew increasingly impatient with his total failure to commune with their deity. After a particularly trying episode, Dortmund was sent to see one of the priests.

He dragged his heels to the inner chambers.

Dortmund did not understand why, but he knew he was failing. He knew they were asking him for one thing, yet, try as he might, he seemed to be delivering great quantities of something else. As he neared the small arched doorway past the Sanctum, he imagined walking through his own great castle. Pushing inside, he saw his subjects before him, frowning because they secretly wished to be as great and powerful as he.

In the inner chambers, the Brothers said words to him. They offered to him the job of groundskeeper, and in his imaginary world Dortmund heard ruler of the kingdom

He readily accepted.

One benefit of being groundskeeper was access to nearly all parts of the temple. Each night Dortmund hungrily studied the darkest and most depraved of the temple’s books. The more he read, the more his imagination was fueled by fiery desire.

Some nights he even snuck into the crypt. His favorite book described rites of sacrifice and invocation that called for all manner of components including human and animal remains. Rationalized in some deep dark part of his mind, Dortmund desecrated the tombs in the dead of night to steal teeth and skulls and bones. These he added to a growing stash of dark objects hidden beneath the floor in the black basement where he lived.

Five years passed.

Dortmund was outside picking up sticks when he saw a pallid face peering through the bushes at the edge of the temple grounds. This was a new one. He approached the bushes cautiously, but when he arrived, the face—and whoever it belonged to—had disappeared.

Was it a spy? Dortmund walked around to the back of the huge temple, to the entrance of his basement dwelling, whistling loudly and cracking sticks as he went. He slammed the wide door over the dark descending steps as if he was going within. But he was not inside. No he wasn’t—Dortmund was only making it seem that way. Instead he crept stealthily around the far side of the bright white temple. He slithered through the bushes at the border of the grounds, ignoring the puzzled stares of nearby pedestrians. He stalked around the perimeter, careful to stay low and hidden, and he looked for the interloper.

Dortmund did not have to search for long. Across the wide street—in the shadow of an alleyway—the spy was hiding, face upturned at the shining temple as though studying every detail. Racing across the street, Dortmund grabbed the arm of the startled mystery man and coughed out, “Gotcha!”

The man’s eyes went wild, like an animal caught in a trap. Dortmund had dreams of dominance, but he also desperately craved companionship. In the terrified eyes before him, he saw the potential for both.

“I’m Dortmund,” he said, now catching his breath.“Ruprecht,” the startled guest managed, as he meekly tugged his arm free.

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