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The Witch Finder

The Witch Finder

By Karl Hans Stobl

Die Hexen Richter (Lemuria)

Translated by Joe Bandel

Copyright Joe Bandel

Tap… tap…tap…tap…tap…came up the wooden stairs… It was Herr Doctor…uncertain, damned uncertain like his blade today that normally so firmly declared his decree. Tap…tap. Suddenly with a rattle an entire ring of keys rolled down the stairs… again… tap… but now downwards. Then a long stillness… finally once more, very soft and hesitant, as if ashamed and embarrassed of this nightly spectacle of feet on the steps. Tap… tap. There was a soft scraping like when someone touches a rough wall with a groping hand… step by step… wary… long…crash… a collision of steel and stone… It was the iron wall brace that held the pine torch to illuminate the stairs colliding against the stone head of the highly educated Herr Doctor, a celebrated member of the inquisition, known far and wide across the land as a distinguished and highly praised witch-finder. Tap… tap… At last, in front of the door to the bedchamber came a sigh of relief… The key grated in the lock and the rusty bolt slid back.

It was dark… pitch dark… in the bachelor’s bedchamber. The Herr Doctor groped for a match…tried to make it stay lit… finally the tinder glowed and ignited  threads of sulfur, illuminating a circle three paces wide around the unlit candle with a horrible reddish-yellow light.

The Herr Doctor had a red face—his velvet beret sat deeply back on the nape of his neck. The fur collar of his overcoat was turned inside out on the left side and on the right was in its accustomed place nestled around his shoulder…. With wide set legs the doctor bent over in order to read the glowing lines of sulfur on the floor.

The lines of sulfur had already burned an ugly black hole in the snow white sand strewn floor. The doctor muttered something inaudible… then moaned in fear… there, sitting on his table in the middle of the room, was Satan. He had his tail casually pulled tucked under his left arm and looked good naturedly at the doctor with large, round, fiery and glowing eyes.

“Ah,” thought the doctor… too damned much straw wine.

When His Majesty noticed that he had been seen he jumped down from the table… tap, went the human foot—click, went the horse hoof. With a jerk he pulled his tail down between his legs and up to the front holding it straight and stiff like a candle in front of him. He looked like a guard at the Prince’s castle that holds out his musket when his Highness walks past. The Herr Doctor was very flattered. He put his hand to his beret in a salute and waved his thanks. Then His Majesty went out onto the balcony, came in again and pulled himself back up onto the table, but immediately hopped down again… tap—click… He had seen the disapproving look of the master of the house. He went to the flower painted chest in the corner behind the wardrobe and took out a wool blanket. He knew the customs of the house. He spread the wool blanket out on the table and only then allowed himself to sit comfortably back down on it.

A suppressed laugh came from out of the darkened corner where the wide bed stood. A virginal head with a rosy face peeped out from under the heavy covers and a disheveled flood of blond curls flowed out over the pillows. When two of the heavy curls moved thousands of tiny sparks glowed and a light crackling sounded in the stillness… Under the tangle of curls two eyes looked out, so alluring and mysterious, so fearfully tempting and promising. They were angel eyes—vampire eyes… The doctor felt very strange… it was as if those two eyes were glowing balls of fire that could warm and do good one moment and in the next hurt and set fire to anything flammable around them. He rubbed his temples. His head was pounding like a hammer.

He timidly neared the foot of the bed and attempted to lift the corner of the cover with the tips of his fingers. He had an irresistible urge to see the feet of this creature. He had the definite idea that these feet hand to be small, warm and white. He wanted to take them between his large, red and clammy frog hands. His horned Majesty moved over the table and across to him with a mighty leap and gave him a sound slap on the hands.

“Ow,” said the doctor and rubbed the burned spots.

“Stand there,” said the dark one. “I will do that.”

With a sudden movement he pulled the covers down to her feet. The woman’s white body lay there in its naked beauty. It seemed to the doctor as if hot water had been throw over his head. At first he couldn’t see anything. Then he sat down on the edge of the bed and taking his hand as softly as possible moved it caressingly along the soft lines of her hip.

“Don’t tickle,” she said coyly. Yet her large eyes looked at him provocatively.

At that the doctor threw himself on top of her and covered her mouth with hot kisses…she wrapped her arms around him…the last thing he remembered before losing consciousness was that her arms did not seem to be the white, warm arms of a woman, but the hard sinewy, long hairy arms of a gorilla… then he sank into her…

He awoke with a mighty grip on his shoulder. At first he didn’t know where he was, yet the shaking continued. His black Majesty had seized him solidly and would not let him go until he entirely came to. The light had burned out, an unbearable stench filled the room… that of fat and burnt out wick. The moon had risen and shown bright as day into the room—the woman lay in the middle of the rumpled bed. Her face was blue, liked that of a strangled person—her tongue had swelled up and protruded far out from her throat—her body was convulsively distorted. The doctor was entirely confused.

“I want to show you something,” said His Majesty and poked with his black pointed finger at a spot between the breasts of the woman. The doctor got agitated and didn’t feel well.

“Pfui, the Devil!” he said.

“If you please,” said His Majesty.

The doctor became quiet. The dark one poked once more and with a bang the navel flew out of the belly of the woman, like the cork out of a pop gun. A long white cord was attached to the navel. It had notches or segments like those of a tapeworm. The navel fell to the floor and pulled the white tapeworm with it. It coiled around on the floor as if it were alive. More and more of the white cord kept coming out, faster… in spirals… coiling about like snakes… the womb of the woman was inexhaustible. Already the entire floor was covered.

The doctor climbed up onto a chair. It shook underneath him. The thin white cord became thicker. It was already the size of an earthworm. The segments became deeper and limbs started poking out of each one… and still more kept gushing out of the hole where the navel used to be…. Now the cord was as thick as a thumb. The segments swelled and became almost ball shaped. Then they began to cut away from each other and separate, began rolling around on the floor very much alive.—some hopped into the air, others raced around with terrible speed between their siblings.

Then all of these round white balls assumed a new appearance. They grew feet with bird claws, a long, heavy sloping hind part and a head—a serious bearded head with a velvet beret—noisy little doctor heads. They were already the size of a fist and growing larger.

“Look at your children,” said Satan.

A red flame shot through the doctor’s head. He jumped down from his chair and trampled angrily among the quibbling masses…

“Ho, Ho!” he screamed, “Ho, Ho!”

He made wild leaps as he trampled millions of the squeaking and squealing young birds.

“What are you doing?” yelled Satan grimly.

He seized the doctor by one leg and whirled him around his head until he lost his breath. Then he put him down again. But as soon as the doctor came to his senses he once more jumped into the masses stomping and trampling them.

“Ho, Ho!” he screamed, “Ho, Ho!”

Then Satan became quiet and serious. He pulled some hairs from the tip of his pointed tail, tied them into a red silk cord and handed it to the doctor. The doctor’s eyes became glassy. He stood still and motionless. Then he made a noose out of the cord, placed it around his neck and pulled and pulled—until he collapsed. The woman on the bed sat up and looked at him with glowing eyes.

In the distance sounded the horn of the night watch. The measured steps of troops rang under the window. The fountain in the market place murmured in the moonlight. The sandstone statue of the river god with his water spewing vase straightened up and looked over across at the doctor’s window.

The next morning the Justice Commission needed his signature to justify yesterday’s burning but the messenger could not get into the room. All kinds of gossip and speculation went through the people. They had heard strange things in the house. When the door was finally sprung—the doctor lay there dead on the floor with a red silk cord around his neck—on his hands was two large burn marks. In the rumpled bed swam a putrefied, stinking slop.

“Hm, hm,” said the Elder.

“Hm—hm”, said the remaining wise Gentlemen of the jury.

The Bogumil Stone-B

The old man took his wife’s son, the one that she loved, the last king of the Bogumil. They fled out of the country to the Turks, took on the beliefs of Mohamed and convinced that country that we were now enemies. With war they broke the fortress, destroyed the city and made a wasteland out of our home.”

We stood by a sarcophagus that lay across our path. The outlander unslung his rifle and set the stone solidly on the ground.

“I know many such stones. They are troublesome to maintain. The blood won’t let them rest. Our blood is not like yours which runs peacefully, allowing itself time to build, to write, to think, to conquer the world. We don’t think about the world. We only think about the enemy, the next murder and the next love. Love and murder, that is our history. Always more love and murder. Our lives have never been enriched with the great things because we must hang our neighbor by the gullet, tear him to pieces. Our blood is our curse.”

It struck me suddenly like a red-hot steel nail through my head, something new that broke painfully through my dulled senses. Which language did this man speak? It was the language of this mountain. It was Serbian and until now I had not known that I understood Serbian. I understood him like I understood myself when I spoke my thoughts out loud. But I scarcely felt this astonishment before it gave way to an aching fear that left me stunned as I once more followed my guide further. Would the road never come?

Where was this man pulling me like a chained prisoner? We came into a still, savage and sinister landscape like the one where I had first encountered him. The limestone blocks lay like giant hewn bones in the night and they were all glowing with a shimmering skin of green and yellow that covered them. It was a soft trembling shimmering light. They looked like parts of broken up skeletons.  Broken ribs and crushed leg bones surrounded us creeping out of the black earth. There was a hole here, a dark hole that you couldn’t see down into. Another mass grave perhaps…

“I’ve seen seven hundred dead women here. Seven hundred corpses of women fallen in battle. There is no foot of earth on this mountain that has not already drunk our blood, our savage, and wild, impetuous blood. It rushes through us until our brain is confused and our hand grabs a knife. Our empire could not stand because our blood would not allow it. They are all fallen because of greed in particular and once more I see our empire overthrown because of the greed of the raging blood that has climbed into our brains. And our earth drinks our blood and is not sated, can’t get enough, is always still dry…dry…”

He stood across from me, a head taller than I… or had he grown?…and a voice inside my head said concise and clear, “It is over.”

It is over? What? Me? My pelvis felt like it was paralyzed; a lead weight pressed my feet into the ground. The only thing I could still move was my arm. I slowly pushed my right hand into my jacket pocket but the pistol I had hidden there was gone… or had the feeling left my hand? Did the nerves of this sleeping sack of skin not flow to my brain any more?

What I saw in slow motion was horrible and unsettling. The outlander stood in front of me at the edge of a deep hole and towered gigantically over the dark crater. His head was under a long stretched out cloud, behind which a trace of moonlight gleamed and then vanished.

“Dry, dry,” he said.

I saw how he aimed the rifle at me.

“All our stones want blood, hewn and unhewn,” he murmured. “Always more blood, hot blood… there is never enough…”

I believe that he fired. I don’t know. Later the border patrol said they didn’t hear anything. Almost at the same time as the bang of the rifle I heard voices and immediately after that a light flickered in front of my feet. It was a lantern that one of the border guards carried. Four or five soldiers surrounded me…

I looked down and saw the solid white road under me. The outlander had not run away. He stood on the edge of the road in the dark still threatening, still with his rifle aimed. I could move my hand again and stuck it out, pointing at the figure. A border guard raised his lantern. A Bogumil stone stood there on the edge of the road, a grave stone, shaped like a cross, and yet almost like a crude human. It was covered with mysterious markings.

The Bogumil Stone-A

The Bogumil Stone

By Karl Hans Strobl 1917 (Der Bogumilenstein) From Lemuria

Translated by Joe E. Bandel

Copyright 2010 by Joe E. Bandel

As evening came I went a little ways out of Bilek up the Vardar. Over in Macedonia that is the name of a great river, here it is a mountain that carries an ancient fortress. God knows who laid the foundations. The Serbs settled there, then later the Turks and finally the Austrian forces as border guards against Montenegro.

Now the old walls have been burst asunder and hostile Steifuni often go inside at night and on the streets down below appear things that are taken from Bilek to Kobilja Glava to be sold.

But the flanks of the mountain are riddled with uncountable boulders and strewn with the gravestones of a vanished race. In this area the Bogumil once had a large and mighty empire and perhaps somewhere nearby laid one of their cities. Nothing remains of them other than perhaps the fragments of a tower on the top of the Vardar and this swarm of graves. It is a city of the dead on the flanks of the mountain. The remainder of the fortress was destroyed from bloody wars or under the hammer of time. I think the region is so wasted and bleak because the ruins of a Bogumil city are scattered all over the soil.

I deviated from the road onto a narrow path into the confusing rocks. It did not take long to find the graves I was seeking and soon I was in the midst of them. Christians, Jews and Turks all have gravestones of standard shapes and sizes but with the Bogumil there appears to be no standard set for them. Arbitrariness was the rule for the manifold stone shapes. There were sarcophagi, urns, plain stone slabs, upright and flat, as well as simple holes dug into the rocks…

In the growing dusk I carried a thought between the surrounding graves. What were the Bogumil? A race? A sect? An empire? History knew very little of them and I knew even less. A serious and quiet man, a first lieutenant, in Bilek had once told me about them. Their religion was of no known religion. It was classified as a type of ethics from which came the best phrases of Christianity and Islam. Traces of their teachings could still be found here in the countryside where the inhabitants were not Muslims or Christians in the orthodox sense. They had no churches and needed no priests. The farmers were plain, upright, hospitable and chaste. There were none of the great crimes committed that you heard of in Europe.

I thought it over and considered how cities and nations could go to ruin and yet a thought or idea survive them and how we would gladly prepare this Bogumil fate for our enemies. It was important to recognize not only the German idea but that of entire humanity as well.

By this time it had become very dark. I stumbled among the surrounding graves and became a little confused. Then for the first time I noticed not far from me the strangest of all the Bogumil stones in this wasted cemetery.

It looked like a cross and yet like the crude shape of a person. The top end was round like a head and the stone angled down from it like two sloping shoulders to the arms of the crossbeam. It appeared that both the upright beam and the crossbeam were covered with mysterious markings.

As I bent down low to examine them someone behind me, almost at my neck said, “Good evening Herr!”

I jumped up taking a quick step to the side. In an instant my hand was in my jacket pocket where my pistol was stuck. But the man stood there calmly, motionless as if he were just one of the gravestones that had begun to speak.

“You seek the old ones, Herr,” he continued. “They are gone. There is nothing remaining of them except these stones. Their entire empire is lost.”

Now I could see that an old farmer stood before me. He was dressed in the customary garb, had a rifle slung over his back and the white wraps covering his legs and his sleeveless jacket glowed a little in the darkness. He was certainly a head taller than I was and it made me feel uncomfortable to encounter a stranger in the darkness, perhaps a wild man, so near the Montenegro border.

“Come along,” he said. “I will bring you to the road.”

Then he went past me indicating I should follow him through a crack in the darkness. I didn’t know at all anymore where the road was and in any case it was not a good idea to be lost in the territory of the Montenegro Streifuni. After some wandering and snaking between the boulders and around the edges of the gravestones the man stopped and stood as if he had a compelling thought.

“Everything of the empire that was here is lost. You must have become lost here too.”

I was not surprised of what the man spoke. It occurred to me that I had seen him in the bright light of the officer’s mess in Bilek and then his earlier remarks. There was only one question that rang shrill in my brain at that point. It swelled in my consciousness and perhaps did amaze me somewhat.

“Where are you from?” I asked.

“I am from here,” he answered. “And you are one of the Swabians that arrived here today in the wagon without horses. I stood on the road and saw you.”

“Are you from the guard post?” I asked further.

He didn’t answer, but it seemed to me that he turned his head and looked down at me from his height. I stumbled along behind him without further questions.

Then he stopped once more, “Not everything here today is of stone, hewn or unhewn. Do you know how this empire was destroyed? Through licentiousness. That is the curse that lays on the land and the people. It is the blood that has deceived and cheated us of everything around us. It lies in the blood. In every one of us is this wild, hotheaded, stream that explodes and destroys everything. Do you know how the empire was destroyed?

The Head-B

Then she crouched down and took the head in her lap. She stroked the cheeks a couple of times as if with a loving caress — the men settled down in a circle around her — and then she had one of the small enameled nails in one hand and gripped a hammer in the other, and with a short hammer blow she pounded the nail up to its head into the temple. Again a short hammer blow, and again one of the nails disappeared into the woman’s thick hair.

Then she started humming a song, a very fearful, joyous and strange folksong of ancient magic.

The bloody monsters sitting around looked over at her pale and terrified — their fearful eyes stared at her from out of their dark hollows. And she hammered and hammered, driving one nail after another into the head in time to the music of the strange old magical song that she was humming.

Suddenly a piercing scream pushed out of one of the men and he jumped up. His eyes were opened wide and protruding. Drool dribbled from his mouth. He threw his arms backwards and twisted his upper body as if from a terrible cramp and from out of his mouth came the shrill and piercing scream of an animal.

The young woman hammered and sang her song.

Then, a second man jumped up from the ground and howled as he waved his arms around him. He tore a burning brand from out of the fire and pushed it against his breast — again and again, until his clothing began to smolder and a thick stinking smoke spread out from him. The others sat stiff and pale and did not prevent him from doing it.

Then a third jumped up — and at the same time the others staggered to their feet as well.  There was a deafening noise, a shrieking, a yelling, a screaming, a bellowing and howling; a tangle of moving limbs. Whoever fell . . . remained there to be trampled on by the others . . .

In this orgy of madness, the young woman sat there and hammered and sang.

Then she was finished, and she stuck the head studded with little enameled nails onto the tip of a bayonet and held it high over the howling, jumping masses. Someone tore the fire apart, the pieces of burning wood were put out and glowing sparks flew out into the dark corners of the courtyard where they were extinguished . . . it became dark — only a single passionate scream and a wild noise, as if from a fearful scuffle — I knew, that all of these insane men, these wild beasts were now fighting over this single woman, with teeth and claws . . .

Everything became dark before my eyes.

My consciousness remained only long enough to see everything become gray around me . . . It was dawn . . . dark and indistinct, like the ending of day on a dreary winter afternoon. It rained on my head. A cold wind ruffled my hair. My flesh became soft and weak. Was this the beginning of decomposition?

Then something changed for me. My head was in another place, in a dark pit, but it was warm and peaceful there. Inside of me it was once again bright and clear. There were many other heads with me in the dark pit, heads and bodies. And I realized that the heads and bodies had found each other as best they could. And in this position they had again found their speech, but it was a quiet, inaudible, thought speech, in which they talked to one another.

I yearned for a body, like I once yearned after one to finally find relief from the unbearable cold on the cross-section of my neck which had now almost already become burning hot. But I yearned in vain. All the heads and bodies had found each other. There remained no body for my head. Yet finally, after a long wearisome search I found a body . . . at the very bottom, modestly in a corner . . . a body, that still had no head — a woman’s body. Something in me strove against a connection with this body, but my desire, my longing, triumphed and I moved closer — moving by the power of my will — toward the headless trunk and I saw how it also strove toward my head — and then both severed surfaces touched each other . . . there was a slight shock, the feeling of a soft warmth. Then the most important thing happened, I had a body again.

But strangely . . . after the first feeling of well-being had passed, I sensed a huge difference in my other half . . . it was as if entirely different juices were being mixed together, juices that had nothing in common with each other.

The woman’s body, which my head now sat upon, was slender and white and had the cool marble skin of an aristocrat, one who took wine and milk baths and squandered costly ointments and oils. On the side of the right breast, over the hip and across a portion of the belly was a strange design . . . a tattoo. And within it, thoroughly entwined among the blue points, hearts, anchor, and other arabesques were the letters “J” and “B”. Who could this woman have been?

I sensed that I would know — soon! Something was forming from out of the vague darkness of the body beneath me. Minute by minute this image became clearer and more distinct. It was due to the painful penetration of the juices into my head, and suddenly it seemed me, as if I had two heads . . . and the second head — the woman’s head, — was bloody, disfigured, distorted, — I saw it in front of me — completely covered with little enameled nails. It was the head that belonged to this body — at the same time in my own head, I felt perfectly the hundreds of pointed nails in my temples, the top of my head and in my brain; I wanted to scream out in pain. But everything around me sank into a red veil, one which moved back and forth as if pushed by a strong breeze.

Then I felt it, I was a woman, only my mind remained decidedly male. And then an image climbed out from the red veil . . . I saw my other self before me, in the lavish splendor of an extensively decorated room. I lay burrowed into the soft carpets . . . naked. In front of me, bending over me was a man with the hard coarse features of a man from the lowest levels of society, with the work hardened fists and the weather burned skin of a sailor. He was kneeling in front of me and poking strange designs into my soft flesh with the tip of a needle. The pain and stimulation aroused a strange sort of lust . . . I knew that the man was my lover.

Then a short, sharp pain from the needle caused my body to twitch and convulse together. I wrapped my white arms around the man’s neck and pulled him down to me . . . kissed him and lay his hardened, callused hands upon my breasts, my shoulders and then kissed him again in a tumbling frenzy; embraced him and held him so tightly against me that he moaned breathlessly.

Then I seized his brown throat with my teeth, the throat, which I loved so much and which had so often aroused me, caused my tongue to stroke it with moist caresses . . . and then — and then I had to press my teeth into the firm brown flesh — I could not help it — I had to bite . . . and I bit . . . I bit . . . and I felt his moan become a gasp — I felt how the man in my arms was writhing and twitching spasmodically . . . but I didn’t let go. His body became heavy — heavy . . . a warm stream flowed down over my body. His head sank down on top of it— I let him slide out of my arms — he fell back onto the soft white carpet with a dull thud . . . a thick stream of blood poured out of his bitten through throat. — Blood, blood was everywhere, on the soft, white polar bear fur — on me . . . everywhere.

I began to scream . . . the hoarse and raw sound forced itself out of my throat. The chamber maid rushed in, she must not have been very far away, perhaps in front of the door in the next room . . . had she been listening? . . . She remained rigid for a moment, without comprehension,  and then threw herself over the body of the dead man without a word . . . without words and without tears . . . she buried her face in his blood covered chest — I could only see her clenching her fists.

Then I knew everything . . .

And then I saw another image . . .

Again, I saw my other self and it was the time when I was in the wooden cart, the same one that was going to the guillotine. Then I was standing above on the platform and raised my eyes to look at the sun for the last time.  I slowly turned, then my gaze fell on a young woman who was standing very close to the front, who had pressed up into the first row . . . it was her . . . the lover of the man, the beloved of the one that was the victim of my lust . . . with a pale, twitching face, a red skirt, a revealing shirt and fluttering hair . . . her eyes glowed wildly, like those of a predator, moist as if from restrained grief and loss, as if about to experience a great joy. Then she raised her balled up fists in front of her face, and her mouth began to move . . . She wanted to speak, to reproach me, scold me, yet she could only cry — broken and incomprehensible . . . then I lay my head under the blade.

Then I knew everything.

I knew whose head it was that served as a sacrifice the night before in the glow of the bonfire, the terrible revenge from beyond the grave — I also knew who the young woman was, who in the same night in the dark palace courtyard had unleashed the raging beasts so that they raged, mangled and trampled . . . in my head was the pain of hundreds of needle sharp nail tips . . . I was bound to this body . . . to this body full of horrible memories and terrible pain, to this sinful, beautiful body, that has wandered through all the gates of hell.

This terrible split of my two beings is tearing me apart . . .  oh, not for much longer . . . I feel a gentle leaving behind of all my limbs, a letting go of the fleshly parts . . . all the inner organs are becoming spongy and turning to liquid . . . the decomposition begins.

Soon my disgusting two fold self will embrace the night — the night of decomposition . . . my body will fall apart — my spirit will become free . . . the hand stopped writing and disappeared.

The Head-A

The Head by Karl Hans Strobl

Translated by

Joe E. Bandel

Copyright 2013 Joe E. Bandel

 

The Head

It was entirely dark in the room and all the curtains were shut. Not a glimmer of light came in from the street and it was entirely quiet. The stranger, my friend and I compulsively held our shaking hands together. There was a terrible fear around us . . . in us.

And then a gaunt, white glowing hand came up to us from out of the darkness and began to write on the table at which we were sitting, with the pencil that we had prepared for it, which was lying there. We could not see what the hand wrote, yet we felt it within ourselves at the same time, as if it were written in fiery letters right before our eyes.

Here is the story of this hand, and the man, to whom it once belonged, that was scribbled down on the paper there in the deep darkness of midnight by the white, glowing hand:

. . . — As I stepped upon the red cloth that covered the well-worn steps . . . there was something odd about my heart. It swung back and forth in my chest like a large pendulum. But the edge of the pendulum weight was as fine as a hair and sharp as a razor and when the pendulum touched the edge of my chest at the end of its swing, I felt a cutting pain there – and had trouble breathing – so that I wanted to gasp out loud. But I bit my teeth together so that no sound could come out, and I balled up my shackled fists so tightly that blood poured out from beneath the nails.

Then I was at the top. Everything was in order; they were all just waiting for me. — I calmly let my neck be shaved and then asked for permission to speak to the people one last time. They granted my request. I turned around and looked over the endless crowd that was pressed up close, head upon head, standing around the guillotine, all those stupid, dull, bestial faces, partly filled with crude curiosity, partly filled with lust: that mass of people, that 14,000, that I scorned to even call human — the entire affair seemed so ridiculous to me that I had to laugh out loud.

Yet, then I saw the official looking face of my executioner filled with strict folds, scowling at me. It was downright impudent of me to not take this more seriously. Yet, I wanted to incite the good citizens a little more and quickly began my speech.

“Citizens,”  I said, “citizens, I die for you and for freedom. You have misunderstood me; you have condemned me; but I love you. As proof of my love, listen to my testament. Everything that I possess is yours, here . . .”

I turned my back to them, and made a motion that they could not misunderstand. . . There was a bellowing of outrage . . . I lay down quickly and with a sigh of relief placed my head in the opening . . . there was a rushing hiss . . . I felt an icy burn in my neck, then my head fell into the basket.

Then it seemed to me, as if I had stuck my head under water and my ears were being filled with it.  The dark and confusing sounds of the outer world that pressed at me became a mere buzzing and humming in my temples. On the entire cross-section of my neck I had the feeling as if ether had evaporated there in large quantities.

I know that my head lay in the wicker basket — my body lay up above on the frame, and yet I had the feeling that the complete separation had not yet occurred. I felt my body lightly kicking and dropping down on the left side. Behind my back my manacled, balled up fists were lightly twitching; my fingers forcefully contracted, then stretched out and pulled back together. I also felt the blood streaming out of the stump of my neck and how this draining of blood made the motions become ever weaker. Also the ability to feel my body became more weak and faint, until the lower half below my severed neck was completely gone.

I had lost my body. In the complete darkness from my severed neck downwards I suddenly sensed red spots. The red spots were like sparks of fire in a dark stormy night. They flew around each other,  flared up and spread themselves out like drops of oil on the still surface of water . . . when the edges of the red spots touched each other I sensed electrical shocks in my eyelids, and the hair on the top of my head stood up. Then the red spots began to spin around themselves, faster, ever faster . . . countless numbers of burning fiery wheels, glowing fluidic slices of the sun . . . there was a rushing and a whirling of the discs with long tongues of fire licking out from behind them, and I had to close my eyes . . . I still felt the fiery red discs inside me . . . they stuck to me like grains of sand between my teeth and in every joint. Finally, the discs of flame faded away; their frantic spinning became slower, then one after the other became extinguished, and then for the second time it became very dark for me from my severed neck downwards. This time it was forever.

A sweet fatigue and laziness came over me, a letting go; my eyes became heavy. I didn’t open them anymore, and yet I could see everything around me. It was as if my eyelids were made out of glass and had become transparent. I saw everything as if through a milk-white veil, over which delicate, bloodshot veins branched outward.  But I could see clearly and further than I could when I still had my body. My tongue had become lame and lay heavy and paralyzed in my mouth like a lump of clay.

But my sense of smell had refined itself one thousand times; I not only saw things; I smelled them, each different, with its own particular, personal odor.

There were three other heads in the woven wicker basket beneath the notch of the guillotine blade besides my own, two male and one female. Bits of makeup clung to the rosy colored cheeks on the woman’s head;  a golden arrow stuck in the powdered, coiffed hair, and dainty, diamond earrings were in the little ears. The heads of the two men lay with their faces turned downwards in a pool of dried blood. An old, badly healed wound showed across the temple of one; the hair of the other was already gray and sparse. The woman’s head had its eyes shut and did not move. But I knew that she was watching me through the closed eyelids . . .

We lay like that for hours. I observed how the rays of the sun moved upwards across the frame of the guillotine. Then it was evening, and I began to freeze. My nose was quite stiff and the cold of evaporation on the cross-section of my neck became uncomfortable.

Suddenly there was a coarse shouting. It came nearer, much nearer, and suddenly I felt how a rough, powerful fist seized my head firmly by the hair and pulled it out of the basket. Then I felt as if a strange pointed object was pressed into my neck — the tip of a lance. A crowd of drunken day laborers and soldiers were doing something with our heads. A powerful, lanky man with a red bloated face held the lance with my head on its tip in his hands and waved it high above the wildly excited and screaming crowd.

A knot of men and women were fighting over the division of the loot and pulled at the hair and ears of the woman’s head. They rolled around wildly — entangled with each other — fighting with hands and feet — with teeth and nails.

Then the fight was at an end. They parted from each other. The crowd of disappointed ones that pressed around were clamoring and screaming at the ones that had managed to carry a piece of the booty away.

The head lay on the ground, defaced, defiled, with traces of fists everywhere, the ears were torn off by the violent jerks with which they had removed the earrings. The carefully coiffed hair was disheveled, the powdered braids of the dark blonde hair lay in the dust of the street. One nostril was cut as if by a sharp instrument; on the forehead was the imprint of a boot heel. The eyelids were half opened, the broken, glassy eyes stared straight out.

Finally the crowd moved forward. The four heads were stuck on long spikes. The anger of the people was mostly directed at the head of the man with the gray hair. The man must have been especially unpopular. I didn’t know him. They spit on him and threw clumps of filth at him. Then a handful of street dirt hit him on the ear — what was that? Did he just move, softly, lightly; unnoticeably, perceptible only to me, or was it only a band of muscles?

Night fell. They requested that our heads be placed together on the tips of the iron fence surrounding the palace.  I didn’t know the palace, either. Paris was large. Armed citizens lounged around the courtyard and set up a large bonfire. They sang bawdy songs and told jokes. There were bellows of laughter. The smell of grilled lamb wafted over to me. The fire gave off an aroma of costly rosewood. The savage horde had hauled the entire interior of the castle out into the courtyard and they were now burning it piece by piece. A graceful, elegantly upholstered sofa was brought up to the edge. It was now its turn — but they hesitated; they didn’t throw the sofa into the fire. A young woman lunged forward, in a shirt that was open at the front and showed the full, solid shapes of her breasts. She spoke with lively hand movements to one of the men.

Was she asking them to give the costly piece to her? Did she suddenly desire to think of herself as a “duchess?

The men still hesitated. The woman pointed at the fence, on whose pointed tips our heads were stuck and then again to the sofa. The men hesitated — finally she pushed them aside, tore a sword out of its sheath away from one of the armed men and with the help of the blade began to pull the little enameled nails from out of the wooden frame of the sofa, which held the heavily stretched silk in place. Then the men were helping. Then she was pointing again at our heads. One of the men came closer to the fence with hesitant steps. He searched, then climbed up the iron rods and took down the abused, disfigured head of the woman.

A terror shook the man, but he acted as if under a compulsion. It was as if the young woman over there by the fire, the woman in the red skirt and open fronted shirt ruled all those men around her with her wildly blazing predatory gaze. With a stiff arm he carried the head up to the fire by the hair. The woman seized the dead head with a wild, joy filled outcry. She twirled it around, swung it by the long hair twice, three times, over the flaming fire.

At A Crossroads

At a crossroads

By Karl Hans Strobl 1917 (Lemuria)

Translated by Joe Bandel

Copyright Joe Bandel

Three gray female giants sat at a crossroads. One had her feet propped up against a woodsman’s cottage and was scratching the dirt out from between her toes with a dry bony finger.

“Hu—Hu” went the wind through the firs trees and shook them. The woodsman and his wife in the room inside convulsed in the paralyzing terror of a nightmare. A child in a crib whimpered softly.

The second made herself very small and cut at the wooden crucifix along the side of the road with a large, sharp knife. First she cut long splinters from the trunk and the crossbeam of the wooden gallows. She sang in a murmur, “Horum pitschor—rum…Rex Judae orum.”

Sliver by sliver she cut away at the wood of the savior’s nose until it was entirely gone and the white spot shone out of the dirty and weathered wood. Then she took the knife and scraped with the point of it on the navel of the wooden body. She turned it like a mixer in her hands, faster, ever faster, until a large deep hole was bored into the body. Then she blew the remaining woodchips and dust out of the hole…her eyes glowed in the dark like those of a wolf.

The third sat upright. Her head towered high over the tops of the black fir trees. Something squirmed in her hand, a fat, plump farmer. Snap—she bit off his right foot. She crunched and chewed pleasantly…

“Oh,..I…,” whimpered the farmer. “Let…let me go.”

With a pleasant grin she looked at the fat morsel in her hand…

“I have a wife…my children are waiting for me at home.”

“So,” said the giantess…”My wife…I can’t die…”

“So,” she grinned again. “There is your wife.”

And she set him down at the window in front of the room. It was light inside. He tried to stand up but collapsed.

The giantess reached into her mouth, “Here is your foot.”

Now the farmer stood on his toes. On the table inside was a lamp… The table was covered, two mugs of beer, two half full glasses, two plates full of bones. In the middle of the table was a dish with a half carved goose and another with seal flesh. On a chair by the door was a riding coat and broad staple hat with two tassels in back. On a chair by the table was a jacket and lederhosen. On the floor in front of the curtain that hid the wide marriage bed was a pair of high boots and a pair of slippers. The farmer turned away from the window. He was pale as a corpse.

“My children,” he stammered.

The giantess led him to the pig sty. The farmer trembled as the giantess lifted off the wooden roof with a jerk so he could see inside. There was a fearful stink. A boy sat cowering in the corner, motionless…dirt on his face with bulging eyes. In the other corner a mother sow stood over a little girl and bored into the white flesh with her snout, tearing large chunks out of the tender body. The little body was still twitching and the warm blood made the piglets drunk as they pushed and rolled around in it. The two in the bed heard a scream, a piercing scream.

High above the black tree tops the giantess placed the fat morsel in her sturdy mouth with a pleasant grin. Snap—the hard bones broke—fat and blood ran out of the corners of her mouth.

At the crossroads the second had kindled a fire out of cow dung and dry fir branches under the feet of the crucifix. The naked feet smoldered in the hot flames of cow dung and dry fir branches. The entire body writhed and twisted in pain. The hollow of the body was stuffed with pages she had torn out of an old prayer book. When the tongues of flame reached up and the old yellow paper began to crackle and glow she jumped over the fire three times in glee. Then with a serious gesture she took the rosary from around the neck and threw bead after bead into the fire.

Then she hummed, ”Ho—rum pi—tsho—rum—Rex Ju—dae—orum.”

Large heavy black drops of blood dripped from the cut off nose, over the pale face and down the distorted body into the fire where they sizzled and died.

At the woodsman’s cottage the giantess had smashed the chimney flue with her big toe. The bricks crashed as they fell down into the fire place. With a scream the woodsman’s wife came out of the bad dream. Everything was quiet. The clock had stopped.

“Hu—Hu,” went the wind through the fir trees and shook them.

“Father,” she shook the man. “Father, what is going on…”

She shook harder, still harder, despairing, “What is going on!”

She grabbed his hand… It was entirely cold… “Jesus Maria—Josef…make me a light!”

A sudden gust of wind tore the clouds apart. The moonlight fell in its purity into the black fir forest and onto the crossroads. Tatters of fog hovered over the tree tops. They slowly rose and swam in the glittering moonlight. In the distant village a hound began to bay noisily. In the woodsman’s cottage a lamp was lit… Orum—orum— went the toads in the swamp.

The Wicked Nun-F

As I expressed my willingness to be at her service, she began to complain through tears, that her husband must be sick.

“He goes around so strangely disturbed, scarcely speaking a word for days and tosses around back and forth sleeplessly in bed at night. He has already promised for several days that he was going to take some vacation and leave immediately, because he was certainly over worked and tired, but he cannot be persuaded to leave the city.”

“My God,” she said. “I scarcely speak of doctors any more. He flares up at those words and reproaches me, as if I am being degrading to him.”

I agreed with Frau Blanka that she must try convincing her husband to take a trip. A few moments later Anders came back home.

He greeted me, obviously delighted, and also gave his wife a greeting. But some sentiment told me that something stood between the two spouses, a shadow, a formless thing, an invisible influence that worked on both and separated them. This influence worked on Frau Blanka as anxiety and on Anders —at first I believed I was wrong, but I saw my observation confirmed—as revulsion for his wife; fear mixed with revulsion. That seemed highly strange to me, because I knew that earlier Anders had been uncommonly in love with his wife.

After a short, indifferent conversation Frau Blanka withdrew, in order for me to have the promised opportunity to speak with Hans. She was scarcely out of the room when Hans seized me by the arm and pulled me into the bedroom.

“Come,” he whispered. “You will see it.”

Over a sofa—and across from the bed—hung the painting from the Sacristy, a green curtain hung next to it and was pulled back. It was a somewhat eerie portrait, a face that seemed to speak of wild sins, and if it really did portray sister Agathe, then it did a good job of showing the blasphemous impulses of this nun that were reported in the old chronicle.

I moved over toward the painting with the intention of taking it down from the wall. I wanted Anders to know that his absurd fantasies must give way to reality. But he sprang at me with such a ferocious movement that I was frightened as he pushed me back.

“What you intend is impossible. It now hangs here on the wall and no power in the world can take it away.”

Apparently he had forgotten that just a few days ago he had invited me to his home in order to convince me of the correctness of his explanation.

“But why,” I asked, “have you allowed this painting to be brought into your bedroom? This face can bring bedevilment into the most peaceful of dreams.”

“I already told you,” answered Anders, “that I was not at home when the painting arrived. The man that brought it hung it right there without asking; and now I can’t get away from it. I’ve tried to pull a curtain over it. But—“

His voice became very hoarse with excitement.

“She will not tolerate the curtain. When I pull it shut in the evening, it is pulled back again around midnight. She is always watching me, continuously, with her terrible eyes. I cannot bear it. And do you know why she looks at me that way? I will tell you.”

He pulled me away from the painting and whispered so softly that I could scarcely understand:

“She has sworn to have revenge on me, and she will keep her word. She is planning something terrible, and I believe that I know what she intends.”

And suddenly he interrupted himself to ask me, what at the time, I thought to be and unrelated question.

“Have you really looked at my wife?”

But before I could answer, he continued.

“Nonsense! What I imagine at times is nonsense.”

And then he returned to what he had been saying, “She wants to destroy me, because I discovered the subterranean passageway; because I ordered the shaft to be dug down from the street and in doing that allowed her pursuers to follow her into the tomb.”

Anders dismissed my objections with a hand movement.

“Believe me doctor, it is true. I have considered this thing very carefully, and if you have seen what I have seen, you would agree with me.”

I was only later to discover what Anders meant with this dark insinuation. These words are impressed upon my memory with utmost vividness, and I will always see his face close to mine as he whispered them to me. His entire behavior gave me the impression that he was very ill, but my advice for him to leave the city and go into the mountains for a few weeks was to no avail.

“I must stay here,” he said. “It would be in vain if I tried to escape her. She could seek me out at three thousand meters just as easily as here.”

The weirdest thing about his nature was that he openly admitted to having to do battle with some ghostly apparition as if it were a real power. I made Frau Blanka aware of it and told her that her influence would be needed in this matter.

“Influence?” she said, and the poor woman was almost in tears. “I don’t even have enough influence that I’m allowed to send for the doctor for him.”

In order to do the woman a favor, the next morning I sent my friend Dr. Engelhorn to visit Anders. But the architect fell into such a rage that Engelhorn had to beat a hasty retreat. At that time I was called away to search for an important document in the archives of Castle Pernstein. It was several days before I found the document; but during the search I also found several other highly interesting items and my stay was extended for several days.

On my return I used the train for only a few stations and then climbed out in order to hike through the beautiful forest to reach the city. In passing by a popular tourist resort I chanced to glance over the fence of the garden and saw Hans Anders sitting at a table. I must confess that I had entirely forgotten his story because of my work, and in that moment it weighed very heavy on my heart that I had neglected my friend so very much.

In order to immediately find out how things were going with him, I stepped into the pub garden and greeted him. I saw that Anders was very drunk, even though he was normally a very sober man, and I immediately thought that it must have something to do with his dark story.

“Oh doctor Archivist,” he called out to me. I am very happy, extraordinarily pleased, and greet you in the name of science.”

While I drank my quarter bottle of Moravian wine, he drank the rest, and only as it began to turn dusk did I succeed in walking him home. We were going slowly along the river and could see the lights of the Königsmühle before us through the fog filled valley, when Anders finally began to speak about that which, as I had suspected, he was still incessantly preoccupied with.

“Now I finally know what she intends.”

“But don’t talk about her so much,” I began, “as if she is a real person.”

Hans Anders looked at me and didn’t understand my objection; he was so comfortable in his imaginings.

“Do you know what happened right in front of my eyes? It is terrible. She has taken over my wife.”

“What are you talking about?”

“She has taken over my wife and the transformation is going on in front of my eyes. It began with the eyes; a strange, lurking gaze surfaced in them, with which she watched me, my goings and comings, all of my movements. When I said something, then it smoldered in those fearful eyes like scorn. But then even her figure started to change. My wife is shorter and stockier, the woman that now sits near me and sleeps or pretends to be asleep and watches me beneath closed lids, is more slender and taller. She encircles me, spins me in her web. She has murdered my wife and taken possession of her body, in order to be near me, and on the day, in which she looks exactly like the portrait on the wall, then she will completely take me over as well. But I am determined, to pre-empt her.”

I realized with horror that the nervous excitement of the man had already made such progress that you could speak of it as a mental disorder. It was high time to move forward and with energy. I was even thinking it over the next day with my friend, Dr. Engelhorn, what to do, in order to help the poor woman, when Frau Blanka came to visit me. She looked much harried, pale with sunken, shifty eyes and had become so thin that she looked somewhat taller to me.

“I know everything, gracious lady,” I said.

At that she began to cry.

“How could you know? You can only imagine what I suffer. My life has become a hell for me. In my case that is not just a phrase, but the bitter truth. I cannot stand it any longer. My husband has been entirely transformed. I see very well that he has revulsion for me. He watches me silently; I always feel his terrible gaze on me, and he acts as if he expects me to do something evil to him.

Sometimes his turns around suddenly with an angry movement, as if he believes that I am creeping after him. He says almost nothing at all, and when I talk to him, he answers as if every word is a trap. And when I attempt to ask about the cause of his strange behavior he laughs at me so fearfully . . .

Last night, well he was gone for the entire day and came home a little drunk—just as I was in the act of undressing; he was suddenly standing behind me. Before that he had been in his room and I had seen through the glass door that he was reading a journal and paging through it. But all at once he was standing there behind me. He had silently snuck up on me, and when I turned around, he seized me by the neck and said:

“Such a beautiful neck and already severed once.”

I became afraid and wanted to know what he meant. But he only laughed so horribly and waved at the old portrait that hangs in our bedroom.

“Ask her, or better yet; ask yourself.”

I could not sleep that night and thought about his strange words. But the next morning I got up and went into his room to get the journal, because it seemed to me as if it must have something to do with his altered being. It still lay on the writing desk and was completely filled with my husband’s handwriting. I remembered that he had been writing in the journal this past week; in a strange haste, often as if upset and so irritable that the slightest sound in his vicinity was enough to set him off, and it had something to do with me, that had him working there so very fascinated and agitated. But as I began to think about reading it a strange fear overcame my curiosity. I dared not even open it because I . . . because I feared to experience something horrible.

That’s why I’m bringing this journal to you and asking you to read it, and then tell me what it is about; at least share with me as much as you think is good for me to know.”

With that, she handed me the journal which I am now handing over to you, Herr Judge. You will find the most highly remarkable things inside, and I will leave it to your own ingenuity, to make some sense out of this story that is still very confusing to me. (We have placed the detailed account of Hans Anders at the beginning of this report.)

Dr. Engelhorn and I attempted to talk the woman out of her concerns and, even though we were convinced that danger was very near, acted as if she had nothing to be afraid about. So we managed to reassure her somewhat and she went back to her house, after we promised that we would read her husband’s journal and give a report about it to her immediately the very next day; and that was an unforgivable omission. This absence of presence of mind, of vigorous resolve on the part of her friends, has cost the poor woman her life. So it was with us men, we saw the danger very clearly, but we failed to deal with it in time. As we–Dr. Engelhorn and I–read through the journal, we looked at each other.

“He is insane,” I said.

But Dr. Engelhorn is a strange man. Although he is a representative of the exact sciences; he still preserves, just as well, a type of superstitious belief in all kinds of “night conditions” of the human soul.  With every opportunity he repeats the saying, “It gives more things between heaven and earth . . .ect.” And when medical science is confronted by a puzzle, nobody is happier about it than Dr. Engelhorn. Therefore I was not at all surprised when he looked at me doubtfully.

“Insane? I don’t know whether I can agree with you. I do not get that impression from him. There are circumstances, where insanity and despair seem similar and yet it is not insanity. But in order to explain this to you I must . . .”

“Well, it just as well could be,” I interrupted him.

But he simply shrugged his shoulders at me.

“I don’t know.”

“This conversation, Herr Judge, took place late that night. The next morning I heard that Frau Blanka had been murdered. But what precipitated this terrible deed can only be learned from Hans Anders himself. We can only suspect that through this murder he thought to free himself of this spirit, and that the destruction of the portrait had something to do with it as well.

It is up to the court to decide these things, or perhaps the last word in this strange story will be spoken by a psychiatrist.”

That was the statement of the archivist Dr. Holzbock. Two days later the mysterious case of Hans Anders was brought to a type of conclusion. They found him in the interrogation room, in a sitting position, leaning back against the wall. One hand was on his heart, the right arm hanging down limply, in such a twisted manner that the prison doctor shook his head at it when he began his examination. He found that the arm had been dislocated and broken several times as if it had been crushed by a terrible force. But the doctor determined the actual cause of death was a heart attack due to sudden terror.

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