Ambrose Vienna: An Out-of-Mind Experience

An

Out-of-Mind

Experience.

A review of Ambrose Vienna.
By Eden Bumaro.
17 min read.
⭐⭐★★★

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rating: +61+x

Disclaimer: For a portion of this review, it’s not possible for me to say how closely what I’ve written matches what actually happened. However, this is a transcription of my experience, and while it may not be entirely accurate to reality, it is my truth, and my final star-score for Ambrose Vienna reflects this.


In the restaurant-reviewing business, it’s unusual — but not unheard-of — for a restaurant to directly and explicitly request a review. It’s actually considered poor form. The typical route to soliciting reviews is slow and simmering. A restaurant should build its reputation naturally, building a rapport with satisfied customers who leave positive reviews online. A restaurant should not ask their customers for reviews, and soliciting a professional review is frowned upon. The goal is to attract the attention of an influential expert by your own virtues, rather than because you flagged them down. It is certainly a game, complete with rules both official and unspoken, and the classy way to win is to play slowly.

What is unheard of, however, is for an Ambrose restaurant to request a review. Ambrose, which is technically a small international chain but realistically a set of unrelated restaurants under a single name, have a very consistent business profile. They stay under the radar. Ambrose restaurants cater to a specific clientele — the niche; the unknown; odd individuals who come up out of the woodwork for a single meal and then retreat back from whence they came, never to be seen or heard from again. There is always a gimmick.

Mainstream media attention, to an Ambrose restaurant, is toxic.

So when Waldon Studio was contacted by Ambrose Vienna, we were surprised; and none more so than when they requested a review from myself — Eden Bumaro — specifically. Waldon Studio are nothing if not connoisseurs of the unknown, so decorum be damned — I was happy to accept.

I had absolutely no idea what I was in for.


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The street of Ambrose Vienna.

First Impressions

Ambrose Vienna is located just outside the Ringstrasse, the circular road that encloses Vienna’s city centre, a ten-minute walk away from the south side. I’m fortunate to be able to catch a tram on the way there, a historic but otherwise unnoteworthy experience that I’d missed out on when arriving at my hotel the previous night. The walk from the tram stop to the restaurant was a pleasant one, though I was unable to find a church for morning prayer. Austria is far prettier in the light of the morning, and the briskness of the winter chill is enough to focus my attention upon it, but not enough to encourage a single-minded focus on finding somewhere warm (as I am ashamed to admit it had done the night prior).

There is nothing remarkable about the doors of Ambrose Vienna. Two panes of glass are rimmed by dark wood, the top of which is adorned with the chain’s logo in a golden typeface. Two tall, slender handles of polished silver-coloured metal curve gently inwards, accentuating the warm darkness that hides behind the glass. I am grateful to be wearing gloves as I open the door, as I don’t wish to disturb the perfect finish of the metal.

I step inside and a shiver passes through me. The foyer is dark, and my eyes take a moment to adjust from the winter sun. There is a coat rack to my right, visible in the light shining through the door, and I take a moment to remove my coat, scarf and gloves. By the time my attire adorns the brass construction, I can see plainly.

In front of me is a small desk, no doubt for a server to greet patrons as they enter the restaurant, but there is no-one there presently (Ambrose Vienna agreed to allow me a few minutes to explore alone). To my right is a wall, which I find surprising, given that the door I entered was in the centre of the building — I would expect to see a seating area. There is a glass panel to my left, though, and through it I can see the expected seating, but each chair lacks a table. In fact, it invokes the image of a waiting room. Behind the server’s desk is a pathway that leads around the glass panel and towards the chairs.

I make my way into the ‘waiting room’. The temperature in here, somehow, is perfect — it is as if the air is not present at all. At the right-hand side, opposite to the windows, is a bar, the rear of which has a reputable stock of liquors. The chairs, five in total and distributed evenly throughout the room, appear to be made of a faux leather that is uncracked and undamaged. They have never been used. A quick test proves that they are certainly comfortable. I am growing more certain by the minute that they are designed to make quick a long wait, and this creates a conflict in my mind: a restaurant that concedes to inordinate waiting times surely cannot be a good one… and yet one that admits it so plainly?

An Ambrose restaurant always has a gimmick, and so far, I’m yet to see it.

My flight had been delayed, so I had not been able to attend a prayer service either last night or this morning — you’d think that finding a church would be easy, now that all places of worship serve the same cause. However, the chair is comfortable, and it proves the ideal spot for a quick personal prayer as I wait.


Honey Bees

A door opens from behind the bar. My solitude is broken and my prayer goes unanswered.

The new face is young — perhaps late twenties — with a shaven head but a full beard and moustache. He is wearing a tightly-buttoned chef’s jacket in a deep crimson, and with a salute he steps out from behind the bar to reveal black trousers and polished black shoes. With a smile and smidge of hesitation, I return the salute.

He steps towards with one hand holding a metal canister and the other outstretched towards me. I take it, we shake, and I look into his eyes long enough to commit his eye colour to memory. It’s a dark brown. His nametag reads ‘Jakub Svobodný’. This is the person with whom I’ve been emailing back and forth, though it’s the first time I’ve seen him in person.

“You must be Jakub,” I say. “God smiles. It’s good to meet you, at last.”

“And the same to you,” he replies, but then stumbles: “Uh…”

“Eden.” I know that he’s unsure which honorific to pick. “Eden Bumaro.”

“Thank you, Eden. God smiles. Welcome to Ambrose Vienna.”

I nod. I already know this. I’m keen to learn literally anything else — for example, the contents of the metal canister in his hand. I gesture to it.

“Is that a present?”

He looks down at it, as if he’s forgotten what it is.

“Ah, of course,” he says, “how much do you know about what we do here?”

I raise my arms in defeat. “Absolutely nothing. You reached out to me, remember?”

He smiles. “I see. Well, this can contains a gas-based hallucinogen.”

He stops to gauge my reaction. I manage to hold myself back and reveal nothing — thank God.

“I’ll be giving you a dose of this now, with your consent, of course. It’ll take about a half hour to set in, during which time you’ll make your order and we can have a chat, and as you start to experience the effects you’ll receive your meal. How does that sound?”

I take a moment to process what he’s said.

“How does this work normally? Do you give this to every customer?” I take a glance around the room. “All five of them?”

“Every customer. That’s why we can only accommodate so few.”

“Legally?”

“Of course. It’s all consensual. The regulations in Austria are far more lax than what you’re used to, I imagine.”

It’s true. Coming from the Kingdom, where drug possession of any kind is a criminal offence, seeing a canister of lifelong sentences a mere metre away from me is somewhat of a culture shock. Even the fast food chains I passed after arriving at the airport felt alienating. It’s probably why Jakub didn’t disclose this upfront, out of fear of me being a product of my environment and being unwilling to try a forbidden experience. Now that I’m here, I can’t professionally back out, even if I wanted to, and we both know it.

“That’s fine, then,” I tell him. “You have my consent.”

He withdraws a rubber face mask from underneath the bar and, assuring me that it’s sanitised, attaches it to the metal canister. He has me hold it tightly against my face and take three deep breaths — no more, no less. The gas tastes sour. The canister must contain a perfectly-measured portion, because as soon as I’ve had my fill, the hiss of releasing gas stops. Jakub takes the canister and mask and places them on the bar. It strikes me as odd that there’s no designated place to put them.

At least now I know what this place’s gimmick is.


Cheap Auditions

Jakub’s first task is to have me make my order. He passes me a menu, which he withdraws from under the bar, presumably from a stack of many more. No further instruction is required — I am very familiar with this step.

The menu is varied, with the restaurant catering to a range of diets, but there is one choice that stands out to me:

Penne all’arrabbiata. Literally ‘angry pasta’ in Italian, referring to the spice of the chilli. It’s a simple dish that’s easy to make, but I’ve seen it made so wrong, so many times. In particular, many restaurants used a misspelled version of the name — ‘arrabiata’ — as a synonym for unspiced tomato sauce. If a restaurant serves it, I order it, and frequent readers will know — as does Ambrose Vienna, I’m sure — that I think it is the perfect test for a restaurant. It is easy to wow me with an impressive dish. It is far more difficult to wow me with a basic dish. If the restaurant can achieve that, then they are truly excellent.

Jakub takes my menu and passes my order on to the kitchen, then has me sit in one of the chairs in the waiting area. I choose the same one I sampled before. He crouches down on the floor in front of me.

Now we have roughly half an hour to waste, and Jakub sets to work like a fevered woodpecker. He has stories to tell, anecdotes to share, but mostly, I think, he has a script to work through. His family is from Cisleithania, I am told, and after the war and the following religious unification, his grandfather was allowed to move to Vienna to be with his grandmother. He tells me that he has been here ever since. His mother passed away when he was very young, and his grieving father tried to raise him atheist — the word sounds unfamiliar — but he assures me that they both saw the truth eventually and now enjoy a far healthier relationship. I learn that he plays the lute, and is a member of an amateur band called the Initiative that meets regularly to play medieval music. They’re competing for the chance to play at their local church, but it’s not going well. He seems okay with that, but he doesn’t have any other interests to tell me about. I’ve always found the ‘one person, one hobby’ trope irritating, but Jakub seems to fit the stereotype perfectly.

I ask him what prompted him to work for Ambrose. He says it’s a family business, but he’s oddly non-specific about how anyone else who works here is related to him, so I suspect he’s referring to some other kind of family. Perhaps his musical friends.

He asks me what prompted me to work for Waldon Studio. I tell him the truth: that I appreciate good writing and better food. We share a laugh.

We spend perhaps twenty minutes making small-talk. He teaches me a few German idioms and recommends a nearby sausage street vendor whom he often visits for lunch. I make a note to swing by should I have the chance.

Our conversational is jovial, but the trivialities do not last long, and the tune of the talk soon changes.


Seeds to Sow

“As the hallucinogen starts to set in,” explains Jakub, “I will be encouraging it to blossom by planting ideas in your head. You’ll think they’re nonsense, but I want you to really try to stretch your suspension of disbelief for me. Will you do that?”

“What do you mean by that?”

“If I tell you something that plainly isn’t true, or that doesn’t make sense, I want you to believe it. I want you to open your heart and really try to let that information settle. It’s part of the experience — the drug will help you get there, but it can’t start the journey itself. Will you do that for me?”

“Is that… is that safe? You hear all these stories of nasty side-effects of drug use, even long-term, from drugs that are, uh, apparently totally fine — I’m just a little wary, you know?”

“It’s safe,” he assures me. “Even with the drug. We’ve never had a customer tell us that they regretted the experience.”

I take a moment to think. I’ll admit I was anxious about it, but the reassurances were helping. There was something about Jakub — he had a very trustworthy face. “Sure. I think I can do that. The idea doesn’t make much sense to me right now, but I’ll try my best.”

“Thank you.”

He waits a long moment before speaking again.

“There are three people in this room, Eden. Do you feel them?”

I consider it. “Sure — me, you and God.”

Jakub shakes his head. “No, no. It is me, you, and the Restaurant. The Restaurant is as much a person as you or I, and it has thoughts and feelings and desires just the same. It is the same as us. Do you understand that?”

“No God?”

“God isn’t watching right now.”

“Is this one of the things you told me to try and believe?”

“Yes. Indulge me. I need you to truly believe this.”

“Alright. God’s distracted, and this restaurant is… a living person? Or it thinks like one?”

He nods. “Good! You’re getting there. When you receive your food, I need you to understand that the Restaurant has created it for you. That’s very important — it’s for you. It’s not pasta that could have been for anyone but happens to have ended up in front of you. It is pasta that was conceived for you, made for you, cooked for you, served for you. The idea of pasta began, so long ago in Italy and even before then, because the universe needed to find a way to serve you pasta at this exact place at this exact moment. Tell me what you understand.”

The directness of his demand throws me a little. “This pasta… was destined for me. All pasta was destined for me?”

He smiles. “Yes. Perfect, yes. But the inverse is also true. Tell me.”

“The inverse? That… I am destined for this pasta?”

“Yes!” he cries in a celebratory tone, playfully slapping my knee, “You’re destined for this pasta. Your sole meaning in life, the divine purpose of your creation, is to consume this pasta. Do you understand?”

“Yes.”

“Do you believe it?”

“No.”

“That’s alright. We still have a few minutes. The Restaurant wants to facilitate this exchange. The Restaurant’s destiny is your destiny. It all revolves around you, Eden. The Restaurant makes the pasta and the Restaurant serves you the pasta. I’m just the messenger — it’s my job to deliver you unto the Restaurant, but I don’t matter. The Restaurant is the universe and it wants nothing more than to watch you eat this pasta. You must want it, you must want this more than anything.”

I close my eyes. As much as he is telling me to believe — and believe me, I’m trying — his voice and his face are distracting me. The drug creates an odd feeling, but it’s more the expectation that I’ll feel something than anything else. I’m overthinking everything that enters my head. I imagine I would feel the same if I’d only been told that I’d taken a hallucinogen. The one thing I’m certain of is that I’ve not yet hallucinated anything.

Without the vision of him crouching there to distract me, it’s easier to focus on what he’s said. Thankfully, Jakub has stopped talking. What he’s saying doesn’t make any sense, but I’m trying my best not to think about that. I’m genuinely trying to believe — and it’s made all the easier by the fact that, no matter how much I doubt what he’s saying, I think that he does genuinely believe it. I just need to persuade myself into thinking the same.

The universe is aligned the way it is because I must eat pasta. (Although, it seems likely that the fact that it’s pasta doesn’t matter. It is a symbolic act of consumption.) The world is the way it is not because God made it so, but because it simply needs to be this way in order for me to be here. For a moment, I feel it — I feel it! I feel the cosmos around me, I can feel the universe pressing against everything, I can feel the unknowable breadth of its desire, and I can feel the Restaurant connecting me to it like a lightning rod. As I open my eyes, the moment fades, though, like the receding waves on a beach, and the building is simply a restaurant again. But, like the ebb and flow of the waves, I am filled with hope that the moment will shortly return. The drugs work. The journey has begun.


Lambs to Slaughter

I hear a faint beeping sound. Jakub must have set a timer for the ideal time for the drugs to kick in. I’m impressed with his accuracy. He pulls out his phone to turn it off, and the sound is silenced. It is horrifying to watch the thing that just a few seconds prior was asserting control over time itself, over the flow of the universe, buckle and bow to the whims of a mere human. It is almost insulting.

“I felt it,” I say.

“You believe?”

It feels like he knows what I’ve experienced, and doesn’t need me to elaborate. A simple yes or no will suffice.

“I do.”

He tells me to stand up, and I do so, grateful that I’m sat in a seat without a table to block my path. I find myself a little unsteady on my feet, and Jakub takes my arm to help me up. He directs me towards a door at the back of the room that I hadn’t noticed before. He is behind me as I lead the way. As we walk in the restaurant I find myself walking forwards on the beach in my mind, too. We arrive at both the door and the ocean in seconds. The walk has left a feeling in my legs, evidence that it happened, but the fact has slipped my mind. Jakub’s face is close to mine.

“Are you alright?” he asks.

“Yes. I’m fine.”

He pushes open the door to reveal a long, dark corridor. His right hand, red hot, is placed gently on the back of my neck as he guides me forwards, and his left, icy cold, is wrapped around my left elbow. I step into the darkness and the lights flicker to life one by one, left then right and so on ever outwards, my eyes darting from side to side. The corridor seems to gently twist counterclockwise as it extends, and as I walk I find myself veering to the left before Jakub’s firm grip redirects me and centres me right in the middle where I belong.

I’m acutely aware that, at any given point, what I think I’m experiencing is unlikely to be what’s actually happening. I honestly suspect that I’m still in the chair in the waiting room. The waves lap over my feet, though, and the water is warm, the sand is soft. It is comforting.

We reach the end of the corridor and enter a vast circular room, perhaps ten metres wide. The walls are a matte grey metal, and seem to extend upwards as far as I can see, like layers and layers of stacked iron rings. The floor is a metal mesh, with steel struts supporting it over a black chasm that seems to extend downwards for the same distance. There are no visible lights but the room is brightly lit. In the centre of the room, in the middle of this vast tube, is a single table and chair. A knife, fork and napkin have already been set out.

“So this is why you only have five seats in the queue. One customer at a time.”

I look to Jakub to see if I’m correct. He nods and smiles, as if the parent of a young child who’d correctly identified dog faeces.

I hope you remember the details of your time in the Restaurant, Jakub says. It was the last chance you had to see it.

He guides me to the middle of the room and pulls back the chair. My mind hovers. I know there is something that I am supposed to do, some action I am supposed to take, but it is both unknowable and forbidden. The concept of it eludes me. It is not mine to touch nor to decide.

“Sit.”

I sit.

Another person emerges from the corridor that led me here, dressed again in crimson and black. I look at its face to gauge who it is but there are no details to see. For a single moment I understand that everything Jakub told me was a lie; that he wasn’t who I thought he was; he was merely the face of the Restaurant, a medium between me and It, and every fact I learned about him was concocted to comfort me — but the moment falters and fades an instant after it appeared. The waves come back in and cover the exposed sand. The water is up to my knees now, and even sitting, I continue to walk deeper into it. The person, which was carrying a plate of food, places it in front of me. It is penne all'arrabbiata.

“Thank you,” I say to the person. “May I take a picture?”

It nods. It is a bee in the hive.

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Penne all'arrabbiata, by Ambrose Vienna.

My phone’s screen is warped and confusing. The camera controls are familiar but alien, strange shapes that I recognise but can’t make sense of. I take only one picture — I hope that it’s article-worthy. (Looking back now, yes, it’s fine.)

The person leaves. I’m unsure that it was ever there in the first place. It was not a real person, with thoughts and feelings, that much I am certain of. It was a puzzle piece, a message written by the universe. Part of the Restaurant.

The water has reached my hips, and it has begun to restrict my movement. My walking naturally becomes wading.

Everything Jakub told me was false. The Restaurant does not want me to consume — it is just the mouthpiece, a puppet. Jakub is a marionette, the strings of whom dangle from a wooden bar that he calls the Restaurant, but it too has strings, strings that hang from something else, and gripping that is a vast emptiness.

A cold, cold terror sits in the base of my heart. My heart freezes. My breath stops. That emptiness — I’ve seen it. I understand exactly what it is, I know it intimately, I have prayed to it every day for my entire life and so has everyone I’ve ever known. We have spoken, held long conversations that last months and years in barely-intelligible symbolism and coincidences. Jakub is nothing compared to the Restaurant, and the Restaurant is nothing compared to it. Everything pales in insignificance against it, even the fact that I know. But never, until now, have I seen it. And if I have seen it, then it has seen me. It knows me.

Does Jakub know it exists? If he did, why didn’t he tell me? Why did he lie?

In the middle of this room, this circular metal room, in the belly of the Restaurant, I am in the eye of the storm. The storm, the rest of the universe, revolves around me, spinning its chaos everywhere. The counterweight is here. It’s me.

I understand it — of course I understand it. I am the only thing that is separate from it. It is one unified entity that represents everything I have ever known. Every person in my life, my mother, my father, every friend I’ve ever made, everyone in my church, every stranger I’ve shared a smile with, everyone I used to be; they are all one.

It is everything that is not me. I understand what I am, therefore I understand what it is.

The pasta in front of me. It’s part of it, too; in fact it is the centrepiece. Everything else simply exists, like the petals of a flower, to guide me, the bee, to the middle. I am finally here, as I have always been fated to be.

The water has reached my shoulders.

Of course. It doesn’t matter whether or not Jakub knew. He was part of it. Whether he knew or not — whether or not such a distinction is even valid anymore — he was either in on the secret, or part of it. What he said was neither truth nor lie; it was a stepping stone, a bridge to take my mind to a place where it could understand what is important. It served a purpose.

The universe could never give me a direct command — it is too far removed, too abstracted. We are unknowable to each other. It has been trying to tell me that it exists for so long, so, so long, but I have always ignored it. Its messages are everywhere. Every schoolteacher, telling me what to think. Every advertisement, telling me what to want. Every anxiety, telling me how to behave. Every mirror, telling me how to change. Every sunrise, the sheer beauty of it, the consistency of one day after another, the horror of monotony, the encapsulation of night and day like a pill that must be taken for the rest of your life, the depression that underpins this world and everything in it, the depression that everything is built upon. It has been trying to assert its existence, trying to tell me that it exists, for as long as I have been alive and billions of years heretofore.

And I thought that was God.

How silly of me.

The water has reached my neck.

This time, its message came in the form of Jakub. It was as direct as it possibly could be. I would never have stumbled upon this place, this Restaurant, on my own, though perhaps it had been waiting for that. It needed some sort of catalyst.

Jakub is gone now, though. I certainly don’t see him, though he may have been the person who brought me my food. His job was to show me the universe. The Restaurant. His job was to prove to me that the Restaurant exists, entirely separate and apart from the restaurant that contains it. The Restaurant is not alive, as he had asserted; it is an idea, a doorway that leads to the universe. A doorway that I am not allowed to walk through. It is strictly an entrance for the universe’s desires.

Now I am capable of seeing those desires for myself. I no longer ignore them. This time, with nothing else in this vast metal room to distract me or to be mistakenly-interpreted, those desires are manifest inside me, in my hunger. My hunger for survival — my hunger for food.

It is one last step, and the universe has been guiding me all the way, like Jakub’s hand on the back of my neck. I have to take the last step myself.

I tilt my head upwards to keep my mouth out of the water, and I tilt my head downwards to see my food. Penne all'arrabbiata. Angry pasta. I pick up the fork and press it into one of the pieces. It sticks to my fork and the sauce, pale red, sticks to the pasta.

I raise it to my mouth, and lift my head ever further. I place the pasta inside and pull it from the fork with my teeth. It is both soft and hard. The tomato is sweet. The basil is pungent. A piece of onion, which hitched a ride alongside it, is both tart and brittle.

But it isn’t spicy.

As I chew, there is silence. The room is empty and cold. My head is empty and thoughtless. The universe has nothing to say to me. I did what you asked, didn’t I? Is that it? Are you done with me?

Then I swallow.

Suddenly the floor beneath me falls away — where once there was sand, now there is water. I am above a bottomless chasm filled with the ocean. I trip, inasmuch as is possible in deep water, and fall; my arms were by my sides but now they uselessly churn the sea in a panicked frenzy.

The salt water stings my eyes, and my lungs begin to fill with fear. I did not have a chance to take a breath before I fell. I clutch at my throat with my right hand, trying to breathe, but only water fills my mouth, I try to expel it but my lungs, suddenly demanding attention, cry in pain. I stand up, knocking the chair over backwards and it clatters to the ground behind me, and I keel forwards onto the table, not caring about the pasta in my way. My left hand lands in the middle of the bowl and it shatters, creating a cascade of sharp white triangles, pasta spilling out from both sides, sauce splashing over me. My body spins in the water as I struggle, I am upside-down, the dark abyss appears above me but it grows brighter as I sink deeper, my body convulses as I take a desperate breath, the pressure grows stronger and my vision starts to fade as the ocean floor comes into view and at the bottom I can see —

At the bottom of the abyss, there is nothing. Nothing at all.

The moment is gone. The beach, the waves, the ocean, all gone. A memory that’s already fading.

There is tomato sauce up my arm and down my clothes. I timidly pull my hand away from my neck, moving my tongue around inside my mouth, checking for debris. There’s nothing. No pasta, nothing to choke on. I feel more than a little humiliated.


Treading Water

My first instinct is to check for injuries. I’m not entirely certain what happened. I must have started to choke, coughed the pasta back up, and then swallowed it. What definitely did happen is that I sprayed shards of ceramic across the room. It looks like most of them have fallen through the mesh that covers the floor — but now I can see that beneath it is not a bottomless chasm, but a mirror that spans the entire room. I look up, and the same is true for the ceiling.

I’m not in a tube, just a circular room. That explains, too, why I thought the room was made of stacked rings instead of a cohesive tube — I was seeing the boundary of where the mirror met the wall, repeated upwards indefinitely. I’m most surprised that I didn’t notice either my own or the table’s reflection. I feel as if I have just awakened from a long sleep.

Luckily, I don’t appear to be injured. I can’t find any blood. It’s probably all still inside me.

As the shock fades, my attention turns from physical injuries to mental. What did I just experience? I feel fine, and have felt fine for the duration of my visit, though right now I’m a little panicked and there is certainly adrenaline coursing through me. I make myself cough a few times, mostly to check whether or not my lungs are full of water. They’re not. I give myself a moment to catch my breath and let my heart rate return to normal. I tell myself that I just suffered a panic attack, either caused by or amplified by the drug, and that everything is fine.

I’m not going to eat from a broken plate, so my next order of business is to seek a replacement, or a least an opportunity to apologise. But, looking around the room, I can see that I am alone. I am, honestly, appalled that I have been left unsupervised. After being drugged, I would expect to be on constant watch for unpredicted events — and indeed, such an event has occurred!

I clear whatever sauce I can from myself and head towards the corridor through which I entered. It isn’t twisted like I remember, but it does seem to be about as long. I arrive back in the waiting room with the bar without incident. There is nobody here, either. The seat that I sat in — the one that part of me, somewhere, is sure that I am still sat in — looks crumpled and used. The other four still look pristine.

When I arrived, Jakub came from a door behind the bar, so I decide to look there next. As I pass by, I can see that the metal canister of hallucinogenic gas and the mask used to administer it are still there — reassuring proof that he was definitively not imagined, as I admit I had begun to worry. I take this opportunity to find out what the gas was, but find that the canister is unlabelled.

I open the door behind the bar, expecting to see a kitchen, but there is only a very small room, more of a storage closet than anything else. There is a small counter, atop of which is an empty plastic container, stained red, and a microwave. There is a shelf higher up, and a cupboard beneath the counter, but both are barren. There is nothing else here. Jakub is nowhere to be seen — whatever his objective was, he achieved it. He doesn’t need me anymore.

I come to two conclusions: that I will not be receiving any more food, and that it is time to leave.

I head towards the entrance. My coat, scarf, and gloves are precisely where I left them, and even being this close to the door I can feel that it is still cold outside, so I put them back on.

I take a left after I leave, and peer through the windows that were to the right of the door as I entered. It is too dark inside to make out anything clearly, but I can see tables and chairs with cloth draped over them. There are rat droppings on the windowsill.

I leave Ambrose Vienna with an empty stomach but a busy mind.


Happy Yesterday

It has now been several months since I visited Vienna. It has taken me this long to gather my thoughts, and work out exactly what I want to say.

The events of that morning are seared into my memory. I have not forgotten a single detail nor a single word of what Jakub said. I am certain, to the fullest extent, that what I have written is what I experienced — though of course, as noted above, what I experienced may not have been what actually happened.

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Burenwurst, by a local sausage stand.

After leaving Ambrose Vienna, seeking a more fulfilling meal, I headed to the sausage stand that Jakub had recommended. The sight of patronage by the locals in their various working uniforms, even in the cold winter sun, was enough to assure me that the place was trustworthy, and I ordered a Burenwurst, which I’m told is a local delicacy. It was my first opportunity to try meat since leaving the Kingdom, and I must say that it was not to my liking, and I cannot recommend it to Kingdom denizens. I can say, however, that the mustard was sweet and delicious.

I’ve always wanted to visit St. Stephen’s Cathedral, a tourism hot-spot for Vienna, and headed there next, hoping to catch some of the services as well as atone for my missed prayers. It’s in the city centre, but I took pleasure in the walk, and spent the time mulling over my experience.

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St. Stephen’s Cathedral, interior.

The cathedral had quite a few people milling about inside, as do most places of worship after the unification, and I began to partake in the ceremony of fire, as the queue for flesh was too lengthy and I was unsure of the rites in German. However, midway through, I realised that I was only going through the motions. I didn’t feel anything, I couldn’t feel God. I excused myself and left to sit on the paving outside the cathedral. I closed my eyes and prayed, but no matter how hard I tried, there was nothing there. Just a hollow feeling. All I could think of was the image of my own corpse floating in some forgotten ocean.

In the months since I left Vienna, I’ve been to countless places of worship in the Kingdom, and have had the same experience each time. I go through the motions that countless times before have elicited in me divine euphoria. Now, nothing. Empty gestures to an empty sky. I watch everyone else experience the same things that I used to, and I am obligated to pretend alongside them. I’ve spoken to family, to religious experts, to therapists. No-one can work out what is wrong with me. I’ve been asked, by my own priest, no less, to keep this quiet, for my own safety. I have done, for the most part, as tempting as it is to ask some online discussion board for help.

Whatever happened in Ambrose Vienna, it took something from me. Something that I cannot recreate. I tried to find out what the hallucinogen actually was, but it is impossible to find out about any drug in the Kingdom, let alone a specific one. I tried to plan a trip back to Vienna, back to the restaurant, to speak to Jakub and find out what happened — but of course, as I’m sure you’ve seen in the news already, it later transpired that Ambrose Vienna burned down no less than a month after my visit. (Tabloids popularised the theory that arson was the cause, but I cannot say whether or not I agree.) I tried to find previous customers to compare experiences, but I found no reviews, no comments, nothing to indicate that they had ever served anyone but me. I know only one thing for certain: whatever I lost, I will never get back.

Despite the advice, I can wait no longer. This is my truth and I will not hide it. My name is Eden Bumaro. My God is dead, and without It, so am I.


Overall: A memorable experience, but poor service, poor food and a fire make Ambrose Vienna a letdown. Two stars.

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