Our next Mark Valentine story in Inner Europe is a tale of the dispossessed, and the terrible spell that the past can cast upon the young and vulnerable. Or that's what I think, anyway.
Three young men are trying to stay alive in a devastated, non-specific land. They could be in Eastern Europe in the closing stages of either world war. They scavenge, starve, freeze, and do their best to avoid others. Eventually, though, they decide to break into a villa to find shelter. The villa has been largely stripped, not looted, the owners taking most of the valuables. However, two fencing masks remain, fixed to the wall.
When one of the young men dons the mask, he is transformed. His friends save him, or at least attempt to. He explains that he 'had to put it on' and that it 'took hold' of him. The imprint of the mask remains, like the scars of war on the collective psyche, and the outworn rituals and beliefs that underpin so much collective violence.
That, at least, is my take on this short, intense, elegantly balanced tale. It might almost be a traditional ghost story, but its foreign, distinctly un-cosy setting put it into a different category.