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  • Writer's pictureGershon Ben-Avraham

The Abyss

“And when you look long into an abyss, the abyss also looks into you.” 

—Friedrich Nietzsche. Beyond Good and Evil, IV, 146




A light touch on his arm awakened him. He was immediately confused, unsure where he was or who the two men standing before him were. The older of the two asked him his name. 


“Isaac Berger,” the man replied. “Who are you?” 


“I am Inspector Heinrich Müller, and this gentleman,” he said, pointing to a younger man standing behind him, “is my assistant, Constable Richter.” 


“May I have a glass of water? And please tell me where I am and how I got here.” The Inspector nodded to his assistant, who left the room and quickly returned with a glass of water. “Thank you.” 


“You are in a guest room at the Alpenrose Gasthaus in Mistendorf. You were found unconscious in the Market Square early this morning and brought here. I was called immediately, so here I am.” 


“Ah, it’s coming back to me now.” 


“Good. That’s what we want to talk about.” 


“Have you news of misters Reinhardt and Nielsen?” 


“Perhaps, of one. Let’s start at the beginning, shall we? Who are they, and how do you know them, Mr. Berger?” 


“They are professors, I believe, teachers of philosophy. They were on holiday to hike the trails and area around Mount Nebelberg. I responded to an advertisement they placed in the Steinheim Tageszeitung. My wife showed it to me. They were looking for someone to serve as a scribe, write down what they discussed while hiking.” 


“Did you know anything about them before?” 


“No. I only met them this, or rather, I suppose now, yesterday morning. We ate breakfast together here before leaving on our hike.” 


“Do you know where they are?”


The man shuddered. He brought his hand to his chin. “I…I fear for their lives. They jumped, you see. Together they jumped from the overlook. Twilight was coming on. I ran to the edge. But darkness had already covered the abyss below me. I turned and started running, running as fast as I could.” 


“They jumped, you say. Jumped together?” 


“Yes, that’s right. We must look for them.” The man tried, unsuccessfully, to rise from his chair. 


“Not to worry. We are looking into that now. A body was found this morning, lying twisted at the base of a beech tree, discovered by a shepherd boy taking his flock up the mountain to graze. The body was quite battered. The rocks are jagged on the western ascent of Nebelberg. The face is steep. We are hoping you can help identify the body this afternoon.” 


“Of course. What of the other?” 


“Well, he’s not been found yet, but we’ll find him. It’s just a matter of time. In the meantime, we would like to get you some food and ask that you give us a deposition. My assistant will do the writing. In it, please describe the two men, what they looked like, how they were dressed, and tell Constable Richter what happened after you left the inn with the two gentlemen yesterday morning.” 


“Certainly.” 


 

Deposition of Mr. Isaac Berger, recorded by Constable Karl Richter, August 26, 1900, in the  Alpenrose Gasthaus, Mistendorf, Baden-Wurttemberg. 


My name is Isaac Berger. I am thirty-three years old. Israelitisch. My wife, Hannah, and I live in the  small town of Steinheim in Baden-Wurttemberg. Steinheim is located at the northern entry to the  Swabian Alps. I have spent many happy days hiking its woods and mountains. As I mentioned to  Inspector Müller, I learned from my wife about a job opportunity, accompanying two men hiking  the Alps. I was to record their conversations. 



Yesterday morning, the twenty-fifth, after breakfast at the Alpenrose, Mr. Friedrich Reinhardt, Mr.  Lars Nielsen, and I took a trail leading from behind the inn to the eastern side of Mount Nebelberg.  The path on that side of the mountain is more circuitous and easier to walk.  


Neither man was appropriately dressed for hiking, their clothes more suitable for walking around  town. Reinhardt had dark, thick, wavy, unkempt hair. His eyes were deep-set, intense, and piercing.  He also sported an amazing mustache that curled upwards at the ends. He was dressed elegantly,  overdone for hiking, as I said.  


Mr. Nielsen was of slim build and had a slightly stooped posture. His hair was light brown and thin  in places with a grayish look. His dress was formal and meticulous. He was wearing a black suit  with a white cravat. He looked serious, introspective. His eyes were blue and deep-set, like Reinhardt’s. 


Our hike began well enough. The two men talked of the natural beauty surrounding them, the  panoramic views abundant from the mountain trail. In time, however, their talk turned serious. They  spoke of ethics, morals, the existence of God, and how one should live. It is the talk common among philosophers. From time to time, they would stop walking and face each other. They spoke  much with their hands, and their gestures were lively and abundant. 


And so it went until we were about two-thirds of the way to the top of Nebelberg. Suddenly, Mr.  Reinhardt stopped, looked in disbelief at Mr. Nielsen, and shouted: “He’s dead, Nielsen. We killed him. You and I. How can you not know that?” 


Mr. Nielsen began laughing. “You’re insane, Reinhardt; you’ve lost your mind. Maybe you think you killed him or tried to, but I had nothing to do with it. Nothing at all. Do you think with that super-ego of yours, you can kill him? I’ve news for you. You can’t do it. No one can.” 


At this point, Mr. Reinhardt uttered some words I prefer not to repeat. They turned and resumed walking but stopped talking. Mr. Reinhardt walked, staring at the path all the while, kicking a loose stone from time to time, his hands clasped tightly behind his back. Mr. Nielsen, on the other hand, seemed to inhale the scenery, the forest, the sky, the sound of birds, and the wind, ignoring  Reinhardt. 


It was only a short time before we came to a fork in the trail. The two signs marking their respective destinations were oddly placed. The one pointing to the right was on the left, and the one pointing to the left was on the right; thus, the signs pointed at each other. The two men looked at the signs and  then at one another. Mr. Nielsen said, “Shall we go to Himmelreich?” naming the sign pointing to  the right. Mr. Reinhardt huffed rather noisily and said, “Suit yourself. I’m going left. Anyway, it makes no difference.” He took the direction named Vergessenheit. They parted, each going his own way.  


I didn’t know what to do. I stood there, not moving. Then, the most remarkable thing happened. From the sky above me descended a—I’m not sure how to describe it—a flying coach. Its external appearance resembled one of our regular horse-drawn carriages, but it had been modified with retractable wings. The wings could be concealed within the carriage’s body, seamlessly integrating with its overall appearance. It was the most amazing vehicle I’ve ever seen. The wings, when activated, gracefully extended from the sides, resembling delicate feathers unfurling. They allowed the carriage to take flight. 


The vehicle landed behind me. Its wings retracted, and a woman emerged. She left the driver’s door open and gestured for me to enter. Not thinking, I did so. She shut the door and began to walk away. I called to her. She looked over her shoulder, smiled, and said, “Just tell it what you want it to do.” I did, and the carriage responded accordingly.  


I rose above the treetops and then some more. Beneath me, I saw the two men walking. I noted that their different trails did not lead to separate destinations. They skirted an oblong section of forest and rejoined at its far end, at the edge of the mountain at a rocky outcrop that provided a magnificent view of the surrounding mountains, valleys, and countryside. I flew the carriage to the overlook, landed, got out, and found a comfortable, well-positioned bench to wait for Reinhardt and Nielsen. 


I didn’t have to wait long. In about twenty minutes, Mr. Nielsen entered on my right. He was  surprised to see me. I explained the nature of the trails, did not mention the carriage, which seemed to have disappeared, and told him I thought Mr. Reinhardt would soon join us. And, sure enough, Reinhardt came around the turn on my left, huffing and puffing a bit, mopping his brow with a white handkerchief. He looked disappointed to find us there. He asked me to move over so he could sit down. I was now sitting in the middle. No words passed between the two men.  


The surrounding valleys darkened earlier than the peaks as the sun began to set behind the  mountains. The fading light colored the mountaintops with hues of orange and pink. Shadows lengthened in the valleys, hiding their beauty. The mountains held onto the remaining light, adorning their slopes with a warm, unearthly glow. The sky transformed from vibrant colors to gentle purples and blues. Eventually, darkness enveloped the landscape, leaving the mountains as dark silhouettes against the dimly lit sky while the valleys sat in shadow. 


Unexpectedly, Reinhardt leaned forward, looking across me to Nielsen. “Shall we,” he asked. Nielsen smiled and replied, “I don’t see why not.” The two rose together, walked to the rocky overhang, positioned themselves like someone about to dive into the sea, and leaped off the mountain. 


At first, I didn’t fully understand what had happened. When I did, I ran to the edge of the overlook and peered into the valley’s darkness. I saw nothing; I heard nothing. I turned in a panic and began running as fast as I could, headlong down the mountain. You know the rest. 


Signed: Isaac Berger, August 26, 1900.  


 

Concluding Unscientific Postscript: Isaac Berger conclusively identified the body discovered by the shepherd boy as Friedrich Reinhardt, while Lars Nielsen’s remains remained elusive. As time passed, two narratives emerged attempting to explain the absence of Nielsen’s body. The first theory proposes that wolves devoured his remains, leaving no trace. The second, more ethereal account  suggests that when Nielsen leaped from the mountain, he ascended into the embrace of God, akin to the Biblical figure Enoch, and now walks alongside Him. The choice between these versions is said to hinge upon what one perceives when gazing deeply into the abyss. 


 


Gershon Ben-Avraham is an author of introspective short stories, poetry, and non-fiction pieces delving into religious and  spiritual struggles. He holds a Philosophy (Aesthetics) Masters from Temple University. He was awarded the Fiction "Special Mention" in Pushcart Prize XLIV. Chapbook God's Memory published by Kelsay Books. 

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