9th March 2023


16 minutes read

László Sepsi


translated by Owen Good

9th March 2023

16 minutes read

(Excerpt from the novel Territorium)


I saw your record stack, The Banditas and Lulu Zord,

I thought I was in love, we liked the same tunes,

but I just wanted to fuck you like all the others.

The Rabid: Study Room


Darkness all around you, concrete beneath you. Centimeter-long pins jab into your neck, your shoulders are tied back, plastic cuts into your wrists. Your face is swollen, your mouth cut, gagged. The rag drips with drool. Sock taste. When you were children, and for a whole weekend your only available amusement was to pick on each other, you teased your older brother that his feet smelled and he got fed up and stuffed one of his dirty socks in your mouth: same taste. He had pressed too hard and broke one of your incisors. Years later you got it fixed the first time you earned a more sizeable sum through a small job for Amanita. Your brother had recommended you, and when he saw your immaculate teeth, he beat your shoulder. You could be a gigolo with that kisser, he said. You told him to fuck off, and he laughed.

Groping with your hands between the plastic loops, you feel the chill of the metal pillar, and the body heat of someone else’s clothes. You hear the sound of conversation, a person hastening their words, but can’t make out what they’re saying. A few meters ahead light filters in through a gap.

The talk falls silent. An engine. Silence. A car door. Silence.

You don’t dare budge your neck, afraid that the pins will pierce an artery. They aren’t pins, you just imagine them to be. They’re thicker and a good bit blunter. Nails. Short nails. Like a studded dog collar with the spikes pointing in. The gravelly crunch of footsteps, shadows shifting beyond the darkness.

Creaking tin, a warehouse door lifts. Three men approach you, three men’s shadows. The left one presses a button and lights flicker above you, cold lights, neon lights, they burn your eyes, which are full of mucus and trying to withdraw into your face, swollen from the beating. Three men: two older, one younger. You don’t know the younger one’s name though he was the one who beat you. The other two you know. They walk towards you, plastic presses into your wrists, nails jab at your throat, you can’t escape. Your brother always said that getting into tight spots came with the territory, a few teeth might get knocked out, a leg broken, but the work made up for it. Because while his incisors weren’t popping or shinbones snapping, he could do what he pleased. Practically anything. Enough to be worth the trouble.

The three men stop in front of you. One of the older ones looks at your neck, then at the younger one, who shrugs.

“It was in the car.”

Little do you know, the younger one, who’s called Till Tolliver, spent the hours between breakfast and beating you fixing the fence at his grandma’s farmhouse, almost two kilometers northeast of the city limits, not far from the old Vulbrass Farm. The former perimeter fence, built from planks and wire by Till Tolliver’s father, was regularly toppled and torn by wild boar, and so months ago the good son had promised to put up a new one. After drinking two coffees at the KVK petrol station between Tolliver Farm and Fuchsberg, in honor of his promise, he spent his day erecting a fence three meters from his grandma’s vegetable patch, until he got a call from Hildemann. Till was annoyed to abandon the job, and though his grandma was delighted that at least he’d got this far and her young peas were safer from the wild boar than before, Till sensed a faintly begrudging sadness in her voice, maybe not because of the fence, but because he wasn’t staying for the night, or even dinner, for that matter. Consequently, negative emotions gathered in Till Toliver, and during your beating, among other things, you could experience their surfacing first-hand. For the same reason,

all the tools necessary for fence building were at hand in Till Tolliver’s boot:

a manual pile driver, a wire tensioner, a wire twister, impregnated wooden fence posts, rust-resistant poles, wire cutters, chicken wire, and since besides wild boar Till Tolliver had also considered human trespassers, steel barbed wire.

One of the older men, whose name is Hildemann, slowly squats in front of you so your eyes are level. He says:

“I’m looking for a Wumper. License plate: BRKR-0303.”

You drive along the R1 that connects Grumford and Höksring. The headlights slice pyramids from the darkness, and every inch of the road, as you approach and race across it, is flooded with light, before it’s once again shrouded in pitch black. As you drive, it’s as if you were tracing the way from an infinite number of illuminated points, never lit up in the same instant, though were time dissected and its parts laid alongside one another, they would still form a straight line, that takes you somewhere, something that could be regarded as a road. You drive along the straight line in a stolen Wumper. License plate BRKR-0303. A body in your trunk, and Boris the Novice’s hit song Dick or Get Dicked playing on the radio. You grit your teeth as you hold the wheel because earlier that day you took a bullet from a 7.65 mm Bulldog. Even so, you were luckier than you’re buddy lying in the trunk. The bullet pierced the driver’s door of the Wumper, slowing significantly before reaching your ribcage. If it did break through your ribs, then most probably it will have punctured your lung, though so far you’ve avoided suffocating. Boris’s syncopated song storms through rhymes for “stash”, “the slammer,” “giving head”, and “crematorium”. The background singer angelically sings the refrain, dick or get dicked, that’s my proposal, (dick or get dicked), fight your corner (dick or get dicked) or bend on over, (dick or get dicked, get dicked, get dicked). The bullet embedded in your rib is less painful if you squeeze your left elbow against the wound. The bleeding stopped hours ago. Your girl bandaged the wound. She told you not to go anywhere, to keep your head down, but here you are, on the road, your yellow headlights tracing out the road you have to follow to the end. She’s not even twenty but the girl’s already smarter than you.

Boris the Novice stayed a novice forever. Not long after his second album was released a badly filled hookah blew up in his face: the explosion took off Boris’s jaw, burned his chest, and now with his tongue stump, not only can he not find rhymes for “crematorium”, but gets into trouble ordering coffee. There were rumors that with the help of one of the background singers, Ivan the Tsar planted some special charcoal in the water pipe. After the incident, you and your pals became a lot more cautious with hookahs. You checked twice what was inside, but all in vain, because Frog still ended up jawless in your trunk, he was hit by two bullets too from the 7.65 mm Bulldog, the first took off his jaw, the second tore an artery in his neck, spraying in your face, and across the windshield. You could barely see. You were scared that during the downpour of blood you would drive into a streetlight. And then the blood-rain stopped, and your accomplice stayed a novice too.

Who’s Blowing Who?

The headlights flash up on the three-kilometer marker, rising from the bank of the roadside ditch like a crumbling stick of chalk. You turn off beside it onto a dirt road, a narrow trail between two cornfields, little more than tire tracks besieged by crunching gorse and thistle.

. But beneath the leaves, stalks, and asterales you see the road that will take you to Kasztor Farm: to that certain point in the night which no headlights can illuminate, and which you still don’t suspect, because you’re a hopeless optimistic, and spread your naïve trust indiscriminately, if the financial benefits and other privileges are right, even for people who absolutely did not deserve your goodwill, maybe because as a child in a story you’d heard, smile and the world smiles with you, and so you do, smile first, business second, anything can be negotiated, deals can be struck with anyone, and in your blind faith, you don’t realize it’s no accident that Kasztor Farm is the end of the road.

I’m looking for a Wumper. License plate: BRKR-0303.

This is the situation: you and your brother are tied to a pillar, back to back, your wrists fastened to the bottom with zip ties, and your necks looped with barbed wire that Till Tolliver had in his trunk because this afternoon he was fixing his grandma’s fence two kilometers outside the city. The wire wreath runs below your Adam’s apple, its barbs pressing into your skin despite your careful breathing, vainly scratches the metal pillar, the chill unbroken by even the heat of two bodies, wraps your brother’s neck in its embrace, still unconscious, comes back along the other side, and then completes the same circuit twice more.

If either of you moves, the barbs slit the other’s neck.

I’m looking for a Wumper. Who hired you? Nobody. They were waiting for us. Who? What do you know? Nothing. Who do you work for? Amanita. Amanita hired you? For what? A broken finger. A stifled scream. The neck can’t budge, if it does, the barbs dig into your flesh. Your brother’s flesh. You squeeze your torso back against the pillar, as far as possible from the barbs. Did Amanita say to send us there? Amanita didn’t say shit. The license plate is BRKR-0303. Never seen it. Never seen what? Nothing. Who sent you? Nobody. Who sent them? Sent who? Crack, the neck presses against the pillar. Your wallet in his hands. Plastic cards turning in his fingers. Healthy fingers, not like yours. Ones that can still break noses, play guitar, pleasure girls. Shall we ask your brother? What brother? He’s asleep just behind you. He’s not my brother. You have the same name. Coincidence. Shall we wake him? No. He’s dozed off. He doesn’t know anything. Smack, open hand on face, not your own. The barbs dig into your neck. He’s not waking up. What do you know about the car? Who sent you? What do you want? Who do you work for? Who sent them? What do you know? What are you trying to achieve? What do you want? Nothing. Nobody. Nothing. Nobody. Don’t know. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing.

What you do know, somewhere deep down, though you’re incapable of digging it up and verbalizing it, is that all speech is merely a prelude to violence. Violence is a sign that a disagreement has arisen between two parties: the friction of two hearts that involuntarily falls upon the body. At some point, a long, long time ago, we realized that such unrestrained outbursts of the community’s internal tensions were harmful to the population: our fellow men’s lives are endangered by countless threats – vermin, diseases, great shards of rock wistfully plunging from the cave ceiling – that it seemed best to find a new means of seeking resolution to personal tensions. Violence has moved into words, into expressive gestures that make do without the other body, into the intricacies of etiquette, into the harmless verbal cuts and thrusts of a cool exterior whose one goal is to force one party’s will upon the other – through compliments, mockery, flattery, jokes, pleading, vowing, half-truths, assumptions, promises, clever phrasing, timely questions, misleading answers, false self-revelations that urge the other to divulge themselves, revealing the weak points of their own will. Deep down you know all this, and that the Vulbrass gang don’t care for this substitution’s ornamentation. Eventually they tire of words. They return to the times before speech because the mouth is a weapon, they’ve chiseled away for decades not at the baroque adornment, but at the honesty of sentences and gestures.

I’m looking for a Wumper. License plate: BRKR-0303.

Who hired you? Who was waiting for us? Who do you work for? What did you not see? Who sent you? What do you know? What do you want to achieve?

License plate: BRKR-0303. Who hired you? Who was waiting for us? What did you not see? Who sent you? What do you know? What do you want to achieve? I’m looking for a Wumper. What do you know? What do you want?

Nothing: and the barbed wire wreath digs deeper into the flesh. Shall we wake him up?

You park the Wumper fifty meters from Kasztor Farm. In the darkness, you make out the cylindrical barn like the capsized, half-buried hull of a ship, the silhouette of the farmhouse, its cracked windows that beat back the lamplight, its collapsing chimneys, and crooked weathervane, its empty yard overgrown with weeds. Hesitant to stop the engine, in the end you let it run, not wanting to kill the music. It hurts to move. You open the door, and stand yourself up, holding on to stay upright. You look towards the farm.

Aberama Kasztor traveled the world, by train, car, ship, plane, rickshaw, boat, on horseback, on foot, and by bicycle, he saw the kinds of places you’ve never dreamed of, volcanoes fed on young goats, lakes whose waters wash away wrinkles, feasts where the spiced livers of newborns were served up, and rested in the shade of trees whose runners strangled the birds resting in their crowns. Later he returned to the farm that he inherited from his father, then one quiet spring evening when the crickets were chirruping and the moon was shining daftly, he pointed the captive bolt gun borrowed from one of his old friends at his head and blew his brains out. Nobody knows why: around these parts there’s a story behind every bush but they don’t all make sense.

You stagger to the front of the Wumper, on the same track used by the day laborers who had come to start work in the cornfields at dawn when they found Aberama Kasztor’s body. You stand between the headlights, the last two pyramids sliced out of the night for you: hymenopterans gathering at its call. A figure shifts beyond the reach of the light, in the darkness, behind whose back two headlights switch on. They’re stronger than yours, blinding you, the joint stage carved from light is asymmetric and not in your favor.

“Where is he?” asks the figure, you know the voice, it’s Villem Perr Junior, director of the special operations unit in Grumford, a grizzly scar on his face supposedly made by Elrik Vulbrass’s teeth. He promised to get rid of your problems, you were up to your neck in shit, forever convinced you’d done nothing wrong.

“In the trunk,” you answer. Carrying a firearm without a license, possession of drugs, grave bodily harm: you barely know anyone these wouldn’t apply to. Your girl asked you whether you took care of all the paperwork with the cops. Every last nark has a contract. You lied that you had.

Smart girl, not even eighteen. Smarter than you.

“Were you recognized?” By who, you want to answer, but pain shoots through your third rib where the bullet from the Bulldog is still in you, and air rushes from your lungs. Frog is lying in the trunk, his face shot to bits, he needs to be seen by a doctor soon, so do you, it went a lot shitter than planned, these Vulbrass bastards are tough, the only thing the cop cares about is whether you were recognized.

“Did you talk?” he asks again, though you already didn’t know what to answer to the last question, he doesn’t budge from the pyramids of light, despite the growing swarm of nocturnal insects, mosquitoes, moths, fruit flies, their minuscule black bodies pattering on the metal, glass, and skin, searching for the brightest point of the beaming light that promises passage to a happier, predator-free habitat rich in food and fertile mates.

“No,” you lie, knowing it’s what Villem Perr Junior expects you to answer, again the pain shoots through your third rib, you want to tell him that you need to see a doctor fucking fast, otherwise you won’t make it until the morning, and what the fuck are you both doing at a farm, is there no better place? You clutch your side, you grope at the blood-soaked clothes, you’re wheezing, your lung may not be punctured but you still feel suffocation lurking nearby. Seeing your movements, Villem Perr roars.

“Show me your hands!”

“I was fucking shot…” you answer, hesitantly raising your hands, you can barely stand upright, never mind gymnastics, bugs land on your open palms, you stand crucified without a cross, you gasp for air, and then from the barn roof of the Kasztor Farm, a bullet whistles out of a Condor sniper rifle through the insect cloud and slams into your forehead, barely a few centimeters from the point where Aberama Kasztor beat a hole into his own skull with a bolt gun, but the bullet doesn’t stop halfway, retracting back into its metal barrel like the stunner’s spring-loaded bolt, but penetrates the skin, the frontal bone, the dura mater, the arachnoid, the pia mater, the frontal lobe, the grey matter, the cerebellum, then exits through the occipital bone, breaks through the windshield of the BRKR-0303-licensed Wumper, grazes the steering wheel’s faux leather lining, and fixes itself in the upper right corner of the driver’s seat. The strength of the shot knocks your body backward, you fall against the bonnet, slide off, and collapse between the two untiring headlights.

Villem Perr Junior and Lidia Roratan remove from the pants pocket of your dead body your almost empty wallet and your phone, to scour your calls. They unscrew the Wumper’s license plate, render the car number and engine number unreadable, gloved fingers dig out the bullet embedded in the driver’s seat. Afterward, the Wumper is pushed into a swampy backwater of the River Blott, whose steep banks put off anglers, and due to whose uniquely optimal location, the thirty-eight-meter deep river bottom has been the end of the road for a variety of vehicles and passengers. All things considered, were your brain still able to form thoughts, two details would annoy you. First, you really had done nothing wrong. Nothing. Second, once again your girl was right.

written by

László Sepsi

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Issue 04


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translated by

Owen Good

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Visit by László Sepsi
In the criminal underworld of László Sepsi’s upcoming novel Territorium, talk never really was an option and violence comes with the territory.