Extract from Michael Mitchell's translation

The Dedalus Meyrink Reader edited by Mike Mitchell

The Pilot

Tomorrow is the fortieth anniversary of that day, feast of the Assumption of the Virgin. I was sitting at my desk in my bachelor apartment in Prague. I had just put my farewell letter to my mother in the envelope and picked up the revolver, which lay in front of me, for I intended to set out on the journey across the Styx, to cast away a life that seemed shallow, worthless and with little promise of consolation in the future.

At that moment the ‘Pilot wearing the cloak of invisibility’, as I have since called him, boarded my ship of life and turned the helm. I heard a rustling at the door leading out into the hallway and when I turned round I saw something white being pushed under the door into the room. It was a printed brochure. The fact that I put my revolver down, picked up the brochure and read the title came neither from a feeling of curiosity nor from a secret desire to put off death – my heart was empty.

I read: ‘On Life after Death.’

‘Strange coincidence!’ was the thought that tried to form inside me, but it hardly managed to get the first word onto my lips. Since then I have never believed in coincidence, I believe in the Pilot.

With trembling hand – it had not trembled for a moment before, neither when I wrote the farewell letter to my mother, nor when I picked up the revolver – I lit the lamp, for night had fallen, and read the brochure, which had obviously been delivered by my bookseller's messenger boy, from beginning to end, my pulse racing. It was all about spiritualism, above all describing the experiences the important scientists investigating this area – William Crookes, Professor Zöllner, Professor Fechner and others – had had with the mediums Slade, Eglinstone, Home etc.

I sat through the whole night until dawn started to break, with burning thoughts, which until then had been alien to me, going round and round inside my head; could such outstanding scholars as these have been mistaken? Hardly imaginable. But then what strange, incomprehensible laws of nature, flying in the face of all known principles of physics, had been at work?

In that night the ardent desire to see such things with my own eyes, touch them with my own hands, investigate their genuineness and understand the secrets that must lie behind them blazed up inside me to a scorching intensity which has remained with me ever since.

I took the gun – temporarily superfluous to requirement – and locked it in the drawer. I still have it: it has died of rust and the cylinder will not revolve, will never revolve again.

Then I went to bed and slept, a long, deep, dreamless sleep. Dreamless? Dreamless only in the sense that I saw no images or scenes I was involved in. But there are other, more profound experiences in deep sleep than dreaming in forms and figures; it is word and speech coming alive in some curious way when there is no mouth to speak apart from one's own. It is a dialogue in which two separate persons speak and hear, and yet are one and the same. When we wake after such a dialogue, we have always forgotten the words themselves, but in the course of the day their meaning will appear in our consciousness in the form of thoughts that suddenly occur to us, behaving as if they had just emerged from the womb of our brain.

That day I woke with the feeling that someone in the room had just said something out loud; the next moment, however, it became clear to me that it was I myself who had spoken in my sleep and for a fraction of a second I caught my lips murmuring – along with incomprehensible things that sounded as if they were in a foreign language – ‘That is not the way to cross the Styx.’

For many years I was convinced that it was the Pilot who had said that to me and I developed many theories: false, semi-false, three-quarters true, spiritualist, superstitious and religious (the most dangerous of all) theories about who the Pilot might be. It takes a long time, a terribly long time before one realises what powers can disguise themselves as a pilot, it is an agonising journey through swamps full of will-o'-the-wisps.