He did not speak for the first hour and thirty minutes. We were alone in the darkness of the cell. Cold water dribbled onto his head from the ceiling of chipped brick and concrete. We had cuffed him to the chair so tightly that his wrists began to bleed. He didn’t complain. The young man’s body was pale and mostly hairless. His legs, his chest, and his forearms had been waxed or shaved. I remember he was balding in a very peculiar way. There was no singular bald spot on the back of his head or any recession of the hairline. Instead the entire top layer was fading out of existence like shredded cotton. With every rivulet falling down his face, I could see his scalp exposed through the follicles. Remnants of smeared lipstick and mascara lingered on his stoic face like a cruel joke. Though we estimated he was between twenty and thirty years of age, any man would have said, after looking at him, that he was already a hollow corpse.

I finally asked him his name. He would not tell me. I told him that if he continued to remain silent we would begin torturing him. I described each of the tactics using as much visceral detail I could without propagating the notion that I relished torture, which, I must adamantly submit to you, was never the case. I could barely stomach torture. The faces of all the men and women I have seen screaming in agony have been indelibly etched into my rotting, infected conscience.

Speaking of torture, however, did not break down the wall that had been so furiously constructed around his nerves.

Thinking of the quiet evening rainstorm outside and a the possibility of going home to a warm cup of tea, I lost my patience and ordered another guard into the room to assist me beating the “stoic faggot” as we called him.

The other guard, whose name I can no longer recall, came through the iron door with a bunched mass of knotted rope in his hands. He swung it into the young man’s stomach a few times. He did not yell or curse at us. The guard punched him few times in the face and screamed in his ear. Then he handed the rope to me and fished a small pocketknife out of his pants. The blade was no longer than an inch and he quickly jabbed it onto the young man’s shoulder. We began to threaten him with blindness. He remained silent.

I asked the guard to remove the knife and go out to get me a hammer. We were alone once again. Blood trickled from his arm to the side of his white torso. His expression did not change.

I lit a cigarette—I smoked in those days—and offered him one. He ignored the offer but he spoke for the first time. “Are we below the city?” he asked.


“Are we below the city? Is this cavern built above or below the city?”

I hesitated and exhaled through a gray plume of smoke. “This facility is built both above and below the city.”

“I noticed there are homes near his building. Do people complain about screaming?” he asked.

“I don’t think they can hear anything,” I said.

“I think people hear more than you want them to,” he said.

I cast the cigarette into a puddle and asked him, for the last time, what his real name was.

The young man had entered the German Democratic Republic from the West by train as a woman. He wore a long black sweater, a skirt, and an auburn wig. He had a Swedish ID card with a feminine name: Katharina Vanderborg. He was gifted in linguistics and masking his male voice. He worked as a secretary and interpreter at a tourist bureau that specialized in trips to Cuba and Czechoslovakia. He—or she for that matter—was allowed in the country to live and work after claiming political asylum as a communist. It was good to welcome the stray individuals who actually wanted to live in the DDR. It kept up the hope of the masses that wanted nothing more but to leave that godforsaken wasteland, so monotonous, so void of color. But under the fa├žade that we were happy to allow Miss Vanderborg into Berlin, we kept a vigilant eye on her. We tapped her phone and screened her mail. On a fall evening, we apprehended her in the plaza after discovering, through an English-language telephone conversation, that she was a man. Based on the accent analysis, he was American. It was obvious to us that he was an agent of some sort.

I asked him his name one last time in the damp chamber. He said his legal name was Katharina Vanderborg. I asked him his birth name.

“Kurt McGinnis,” he said.

He did not speak again. He didn’t have to. We could not find an American agent with such a name in our records. We tortured him for three days on the grounds that he had given us a fake name. Eventually we contacted the Americans and attempted to organize a trade off for one of our men. They denied having an operative enter the country under the guise of being a Swedish female. I assumed they were embarrassed, though it was possible that certain agents had gone so underground their retainers lost sight of them. Kurt would not respond to any further questioning.

We were tired of dealing with this anomaly. We dressed him as the woman he had been living as, forged a suicide note that explained his gender, and threw him from the top window of a government building in the dead chill of an October night.

I suppose that’s why you snuck into my house tonight. Trust me I have done worse things in my lifetime. I have done far worse things. I doubt you’ll indulge me in the luxury of knowing whom Kurt or Katharina Vanderborg was. Of course, it doesn’t matter to me. I stopped caring the night I tossed him out that window. Oh, so you brought a gun. Go ahead…

Copyright: © 2011 Connor de Bruler


Connor de Bruler has been published in Yellow Mama, Dark Anima Journal, Micro Horror, Glossolalia Magazine, PEEP, The Horror Zine, PJM's Southern Gothic Shorts Anthology, Death's Head Grin, and Lit Up Magazine. He grew up in Greenville, South Carolina. He is currently 20 years old.


  1. That's a chilling, perfectly executed story. Superb work, Connor.

  2. That cold, soulless interrogator will haunt me for a long time. ("I smoked back in those days." Brilliant.

    One of de Bruler's best.