Archive for November, 2014

That day we made a discovery in the rubble field that highly delighted the archivist. It was the excavation of a beautiful old portal, whose elaborate artwork had been done with such care in the past that he wanted to set it back up again as a memorial in a different place.  Over two pillars, which were richly decorated with flowers and fruit, curved a beautiful arch over the entrance. On the ledge above this portal stood statues of the saints in the style of the 17th century, saints that held their symbols out in front of them like hieroglyphs of their fates. As they tried to lift St. James from his pedestal, his head fell from his neck, rolled a few paces further and remained lying in the rubble. You could see a round cylindrical recess at the base of the head; as if an iron bar had once been fastened to it and when they picked up the rest of the statue you could see that the recess continued into the cavity of the statue as well.

At first I reproached the workmen for their carelessness, but Dr. Holzbock, who had lifted the head and was looking at it very intently, interrupted me:

“They could not help it, my friend. This is not a new break; it is an old one. It is not an accidental separation, but an intentional one, and it would not surprise me . . .”

Just then one of the workers came up to me and handed me a small role of dirty paper.

“This was inside the hole,” he said. “Perhaps there is something in it.”

The archivist looked at me and took the roll of paper from out of my hand. With great care he attempted to unroll it and finally succeeded in spreading it out on the drawing board in my office and fastening it down with thumb tacks. It was a piece of heavy ancient document, like that which the most important contracts had been preserved upon in the past. I tried in vain to make sense of the confusion of red and black lines. It appeared to be some type of blueprint, even though my skills as an architect failed to make any sense of it. I gave up my efforts, but Doctor Holzbock declared that he was determined to solve the puzzle of the paper and asked me if he could take the find home with him.

Even before closing time he had returned and beckoned to me from afar with his hand. Solemnly, he laid his hand on my arm and led me through a small nearby door into the church, where we could be undisturbed. A wonderful evening sky, in which unfathomable purples, reds, and the deep emerald of the pilot boats with their white sails disappearing into the night, gave the lonely church something of their colors.  The tall Baroque silver candlesticks, between which we were standing, were tinged with red. On the wall across from us St. Agnes allowed her anger to disappear and radiated in turn a glowing expression of sensuality. The statues of the saints, the pulpit and the angel below the gallery were transformed, as if released from the compulsions of the day and rejoicing in the night, in which they could be entirely free, and perhaps live a life of which we knew nothing.

In the meantime the archivist had pulled our blueprint out of his pocket and began:

“After some consideration it became clear to me that this blueprint as we see it now is meaningless. Or rather, its meaning is hidden. When we observe the confusion of lines, our senses are so overwhelmed, that it could be a blueprint, but we are not able to determine just exactly what it means. The appearance of the paper, even the letters, which you find here and there among the lines, I can with confidence claim, originates from out of the first half of the 17th century. That was also the time when this building was a cloister for nuns. Now, I have found an old chronicle that speaks quite often and very specifically about this cloister, and seldom with very kindly thoughts.

You know that people often said the strangest things about cloisters during those times. My chronicle also has much to report about this cloister, but very little of it is edifying. If our guess is right, that this paper which we found is a blueprint, then it could very well signify some mystery of the old building, which was then deliberately made to appear confused and incomprehensible to anyone else.  Another consideration strengthens me in this presumption. Have you discovered an inner passage at the portal, whose excavation you have begun today?”

“Yes, it adorned the entrance to the compound wings between the northern and the southern tracts and lies directly in front of the so called three cornered court. “

“Very good, then it will not have escaped you, that the top of this portal reaches as high as the second floor, so that some of the figures, that is the heads of the statues, could be reached without difficulty from the windows of the second floor.

Certainly, we can see that even now. The heads of some of the figures, including that of St. James, could be removed from the windows of the second floor without any trouble, if they had been separated from their bases. It would be easy to hide a dangerous paper in one of those clever recesses.”

“You think so too?”

“Haven’t I just told you that it was not a fresh break? Now I was so completely convinced of this, convinced that there was some hidden mystery behind the confused scribbles of our blueprint.  The message was hidden, but how could I get to it? I had to consider everything, before I applied any reactant chemical, because of the danger that I might spoil everything with it.

As a researcher of ancient history I have often had the opportunity to be amazed at the manifold and ingenious secret materials of the Middle Ages. I know many of the formulas for secret writing. Of these sympathetic ink plays the most important role, and the simplest type of this ink is one which becomes invisible again after drying and only becomes visible again when the paper is warmed up. This paper here could not be of that type, because it already has enough scribbles. But isn’t the reverse also possible with the unimportant and confused lines? That was something I could try without fear of damaging our treasure. Well, my dear friend, I made the attempt and it was a complete success. Would you like to see?”

Dr. Holzbock pulled out a small pocket lamp and lit it; then he laid the plan on the warming cylinder. We waited silently in the growing twilight, which was only a little disturbed by the fearful light of the little lamp. After several minutes of observation, I believed that several of the lines were becoming fainter. Then they disappeared entirely. Finally, all that remained were several lines that clearly formed a blueprint.

“It is a blueprint like I said, and now it is your job to read it.”

In a moment I found my directions, “Here is the three cornered court; here is the crossroads; this signifies the church and out from that is the Sacristy and out from the Sacristy . . . what is this? This line does not correspond to any masonry, it must be . . . Yes, and it is without a doubt a subterranean passage that leads out from the convent.”

The archivist was beside himself with joy that his suspicions had been confirmed, and I was delighted as well. It seemed to me that this discovery must in some way have something to do with my nightly experiences. I was about to tell him about it but a strange shyness held me back. I have always been guarded at the beginning of things as they developed, not wanting to speak too much, for fear of the impact of the spoken word. The word is more powerful than our common sense thinks, and it influences the future in some mysterious and intangible way.

But Dr. Holzbock must have noticed something of this because he asked me almost anxiously, “What is wrong? You seem so out of sorts.”

But I pulled him into the Sacristy without giving an answer. Here I began to search the walls according to the measurements described in the plan. I found that an immense cabinet stood against the wall where the beginning of the subterranean passage should be. It was a gigantic cabinet that could hide an entire kingdom of vestments and treasures, a well-crafted piece of old world craftsmanship.

The monstrosity, heavy as a boulder, decorated with rich carvings, rose like a Colossus from the floor to the ceiling. The archivist placed its origins in the 16th century. We were both convinced that the entrance would be found behind this cabinet, but it was also very clear to us that we could not move this monstrosity from its place if we didn’t know the secret mechanism.

“Enough for today,” said Dr. Holzbock and he managed to convince me that I should go home, although I had initially intended to remain in the Sacristy overnight, as if to guard our treasure from thieves. Our discovery and the assumptions that tied in with the blueprint occupied me so very much that my wife claimed I was obsessed.  She scolded me for so long that I promised her, as I had done before, to apply for my vacation.

Although I was resolved to not leave my bed again that night, a strange feeling compelled me, in which fear mixed with curiosity, to get up in the dark hours and go down onto the street to wait.

It struck midnight and immediately I heard the fearful scream. The sound of running men came closer and the pursuit went past me exactly as it had the previous night. This time I could see perfectly that the woman was wearing a long, nun like garment that was open a little at the breasts, as if she had hurriedly thrown it on. She turned her head to me for a moment, a pale, beautiful face, in which her dark eyes glowed with a strange light.

Once more I was compelled to follow after the chase, and again everything disappeared at the fence that surrounded the rubble field. But I believed I clearly seen the pursued woman tear open the gate and enter the building site.

“Didn’t you see anything tonight either?” I screamed at the night watchman. The man drew away from me and declared that he had not seen anything.

“But I know that she entered here. You must have seen a woman.”

When the night watchman insisted that he had seen no woman or anyone else, I pushed him aside and began to search without giving any explanation of why I was so upset and eager to get to the bottom of things. I climbed over all the debris piles, investigated all the rooms and a hundred times believed that I saw a woman in the long gray dress of a nun deep in the shadows.  Once I turned around suddenly because it seemed as if she was following with quiet steps so close behind me in the moonlight that I could hear her breathing. I opened the church with the key, which I had put in the pocket of my coat that evening with a dark intention.

In that moment I didn’t consider that there could not have been any way for her to enter the locked church. After I convinced myself that there was no living being in the church I entered the Sacristy and pulled out the blueprint. The moonlight shone bright and green on the old cabinet so that the decorations shone as if made of bronze. The beautiful carvings sprang out from the golden brown background, and the exuberant cherubs appeared to come to life in the light.

A painting above the old cabinet that I had not noticed during the day caught my attention. It was an old painting, so darkened by the smoke of incense and candle flames that only the face of the saint could be made out, as if stepping out from the shadows of the centuries. Or maybe it was not the face of a saint? Perhaps it was the portrait of a woman who had once lived within these walls? It seemed more friendly and informal than the portrait of a saint. Then in the green moonlight it seemed to me as if I had seen this face once before. Those dark, flaming eyes burned into my own.

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The Wicked Nun

By Karl Hans Strobl

Translation by Joe Bandel


One night I suddenly awoke out of a deep sleep. My first thought was a certain surprise that I had woken up at all; because I had spent the entire day in the ruins of the old Jesuit barracks and was very tired. I turned over onto my other side and tried to fall back to sleep, but then I heard a scream, a scream that scared all sleep away from me. It was a scream of terror, and in that moment I sat up straight in bed.

At first I tried to get my directions straight. Often at nights I don’t know where the door is or the window and have to search for them. I finally remembered that there was only one way that I could sleep, with my bed facing north to south, and then I knew that the door was on my right and the window was on the left.

In bed to my right my wife slept in a peaceful, contented, childlike sleep.  After a while, which I spent tensely listening, I lay back down, convinced that it must have been a dream. This dream must have been strangely powerful and wild to have those screams resound so loudly in the twilight of my consciousness. It was only after two hours that I was able to fall asleep again.

During the day I couldn’t keep my mind on my work. My thoughts were constantly preoccupied with my dream and I wanted to indulge in them undisturbed. I climbed around among the ruins of the Jesuit barracks. I had to manage and supervise the demolition.  The sun was relentless and the dust of the broken masonry wrapped around me and got into my lungs.

Punctually at eleven o’clock, as every day, Dr. Holzbock, the head of the provincial archives, found his way over to me and inquired after the progress of the work. He was extremely interested in the destruction of the ancient building, which in its oldest parts almost dated back to the founding of the city. Since he had made the history of this country his study, he hoped to find many clues in the dissection of this august body.

We stood in the great court and watched as the workers tore down the first floor of the main wing.

“I am convinced,” he said, “that we still have many special discoveries to find after we get down to the level of the foundations. On the testimony of the past, physical gravity has pulled many powerful works to the ground. I cannot tell you how much such a building attracts me; one with such a rich history as this one. At first it was a merchant’s court, then a nun’s cloister, then a fortification and finally a barracks for Jesuits.

A relatively large part of the old foundation appears to have touched the surrounding walls of the old city, and may have taken in and left traces of that life behind. These layers of deposits, which cover one another, proclaim traces of each time period in a geology of history for us. I believe that there are still strange things to discover in this old masonry—not just pots with old coins and whitewashed frescoes, but also petrified adventure and fossilized fate.”

Thus said the fanatical archivist, and across from us the team of workers exposed a tip of solid masonry. An archway was revealed there, and I imagined the many processions of merchants, nuns and Jesuits, who had spent one part of their lives under the oppressive grayness of this passageway. While Doctor Holzbock continued his rhapsody I was seized with the irresistible, romantic temptation to visit the ruins some night. I wanted the charm and thrill of the uncanny to work its effect on me and to make friends with the spirits of this place.

That night I awoke out of a sound sleep, exactly as I had done the previous night, and shortly after that heard the fearful scream. I had been listening for it and strained to determine exactly where it came from. Yet at the decisive moment, I was seized by such an inexplicable fear, that I couldn’t tell exactly if it came from inside our house or from out on the street. Shortly afterwards, I believed that I heard the loud steps of men coming from the street. I lay in an uncomfortable half sleep till morning; in which I occupied myself with the puzzle of this scream. When I spoke of these things to my wife at breakfast, she laughed at first.

But then she said worriedly,” I believe that you have become more nervous since you have been so preoccupied with the old Jesuit barracks. Take some leave and let one of your colleagues take your place. You are overtired and have an obligation to your health.”

But I didn’t want to hear anything about it because digging in the rubble of the old building and searching for the things that the archivist expected to find, had become my passion.  I gave into my wife only this much; I promised her that I would wake her up if I woke again in the middle of the night.

That night I once again woke out of a sound sleep. Hastily and fearfully I shook my wife awake, and we sat upright next to each other in bed. Then the scream came once more, shrill and very clear—from the street.

“There, there, do you hear that?”

But my wife lit the lamp and looked at my face.

“My God! How you look! It is nothing. I don’t hear anything at all.”

I was so beside myself that I screamed at her, “Hush . . . there . . . now there is running down below on the street.”

“You are hurting me,” cried my wife, as I squeezed her arm, as if to convince her by force.

“Didn’t you hear it?”—

“I didn’t hear anything, nothing at all!”

I sank back into the cushions covered with sweat, exhausted, like after strenuous physical work and was unable to give understandable answers to the concerned questions of my wife. Around morning, when she was once more asleep, I became clear about what I had to do to satisfy her. With completely serene and calm behavior during the day I succeeded in convincing my wife that I had calmed down. During the evening meal I joked about my nightly hallucinations and promised her that I would sleep until morning the next day and to not trouble myself any further over the scream, or other tumult on the street. At the same time I promised her that immediately on completion of this very special and responsible work I would take a long vacation.

But I had scarcely heard the deep breathing of my wife indicating she had fallen asleep, when I got up and got dressed again. In order to ensure that no unreasonable thoughts would enter my head, I took up Kant’s “Critique of Pure Reason” and attempted to submerge myself in its strict and logical presentations. But around midnight a disquiet and unrest came over me that made me incapable of reading any more. It was impossible to follow the iron force of the book. A stronger force pulled me away from it.

I quietly got up and went out of the house. By my growing trembling I knew that the time had come. I pressed into the recess of the house entrance, summoned all of my courage and waited. I was determined to find the natural cause of my nightly torments and put a quick end to them. A gas street lamp burned twenty steps away and gave enough light for the section of the street in front of my house. A young man, who had apparently drunken too much, came up the other side of the street to a house. He stood there standing and after several failed attempts, finally unlocked the door. I listened to the sound of his return home as he crossed the main floor and began to climb the stairs. Then everything was quiet again.

Suddenly a scream flared up in the stillness. I staggered back into the deep shadows and reached for the door knob, whose cold metal I could feel perfectly in my hand. Desperate and beside myself with fear, I wanted to flee. But even though I had not locked the front door I could not open it. Then I heard the rushing steps of many people on the street and something flew past me. I could not recognize whether it was just a shadow or a human. It did not seem to possess the weight of a human as it passed; but it gave the distinct impression of physicality; of a woman in a frantic run up the street; a woman in a long flowing gown which she lifted up in order to run better. And several steps behind her came an entire crowd of men in strange garb that was foreign to our time. With them the experience was also repeated as of shadows gliding past, but still giving the impression of physicality.

I don’t know what madness possessed me and forced me to run behind them. It may have been the madness of the slaughter that is stronger than fear and causes soldiers to throw themselves into enemy fire. I never ran before like I did then.  It was not like a run; but more like a gliding and floating, as if I were in a dream. I never lost sight of the chase in front of me, the woman ahead and the crowd of men behind. It seemed to me that I had run for a long time and yet I felt no sign of fatigue.

Suddenly the woman disappeared; I still saw the chaotic back and forth movements of the pursuing men and then everything disappeared into the shadows of the night.

To my surprise, I stood in front of the wooden fence that surrounded the ruins of the Jesuit barracks. There was a sign over the entrance that read: “This site is banned to nonemployees!”

I tore open the gate and stormed in. The night watchman stood there very close to the entrance, leaning against a support, and greeted me as I appeared so suddenly before him. Proud that my sudden appearance had found him at his post, he pulled himself together and tried to announce his presence. But I did not let him say a single word.

“Have you seen a woman? She was wearing a long gray gown that she was holding up high and she just ran in here!”

“I have seen nothing Herr Architect, nothing at all.”

“By the devil, she could not have melted into the air. Have you been sleeping? Sleeping with your eyes open?”

The watchman was very upset about my suspicions and asserted emphatically that he had not been sleeping, and that he still had not seen anything. Then I began looking around for myself. I crawled around everywhere, looked into all the corners of the courtyard; the many rooms and crannies which were lit by the reflection of the city lights on the jagged broken walls overhead. I dared to cross dangerous remnants of masonry which threatened to collapse at any moment in order to look into the most otherwise inaccessible chambers.

Then I ran further along the half open gallery and the glow of the lanterns played strange shadow games on the dirty paintings. The church, which had been completely enclosed by the old building so that only the roof and tower rose high above the gray walls, was now laid bare for the greatest part, and there were a crowd of hiding places. But I didn’t find anything there either  and went back home with a heavy head and trembling knees; all the while thinking about what I had seen and putting every possible  interpretation on it, but just getting more confused than ever.

“Hopefully you didn’t hear anything last night,” said my wife the next morning.

“No—I slept soundly,” I lied and quickly stuck my face in the water basin so my wife would not discover the signs of the night on my features.

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The Mermaid


Tall Peters came running back into the village like a man possessed. Even from a distance he was waving his long arms in the air. Yes, then the pastor’s wife randomly threw a glance out the kitchen window. When she saw how tall Peters came running with his legs flying and waving his hands the frying pan fell out of her hands in terror.

The pastor’s wife was in another condition. Terror went shooting through her limbs and she sank down onto the wooden crate by the stove deathly pale. With one hand she held her aching body, with the other she felt along the wall trembling convulsively. Her trembling fingers threw the salt shaker from the nail so that it fell down and shattered. The white salt mixed with the gray dust in front of the stove. Her eyes were staring wide open and fear poured into the emptiness.

Then tall Peters ran through the village bellowing something as long legs flew behind him and his arms waved like a windmill. He was yelling at the top of his lungs. The women peered after Peters from out of all the doors. But he didn’t stop until he had ran through all the streets. Then he stood in the middle of the village square, pale and panting from the exertion. Curious, inpatient women crowded around him. What was it? Yes. What was it? Yes what?

The fishermen have caught a mermaid down on the beach. She’s lying there in the sand. She was trying to escape and the waves have washed her ashore. She has a fish tail and green blood and she’s lying down there. Everyone should come and see. Then the women gathered their bonnets and scarves together and in a few moments the entire procession was running out of the village. Hobbling along behind them as quickly as her old feet could carry her came the short weathered, over one hundred years old, grandmother of Peters. She was leading her smallest grandson by the hand because he still couldn’t run very well and kept on falling down.

The wind blew the skirts and scarves of the women so that they fluttered like loose sails behind them.

From a high dune they could already see the dark crowd of fishermen down below them. They were standing together in a knot and looking at something in their midst.

Then the women parted the circle of men that were standing around and the miracle of the sea lay there before them.

Half woman, half fish . . . a small, pale face with blue, fear filled eyes that wandered from one to the other of them in deathly terror. Heavy, moist blonde hair fell around her shoulders. And the trembling young, budding breasts lifted and fell in a storm of small dancing water droplets.

But where the legs began with human children, there was a tender, rosy red and green scale. And the gleaming scales became smaller and thicker, until they slid together and tightly covered the barrel shaped lower body around to the back where they ended in a fish fin. Diagonally above the tail, but right beneath the fin was a deep and hideously gaping wound. Only a thin band of flesh still held the fin to the body. Large, heavy drops of green blood slowly oozed and trickled from out of it. All around her the sand had been colored green.

A knife sharp coral reef must have wounded the helpless mermaid and the waves washed her onto the beach.

The fishermen, women and children stood in a circle and looked at the miracle with dull eyes.

Then the spell was slowly broken. What did it mean? What should they do with her?

Someone proposed that they should drag her up into the village with ropes. No, not into the village, the women clamored . . .

Let’s ask the pastor! Someone get the pastor! And Peters with his long legs was sent running to get the pastor. The others continued to shout at each other, a confusion of questions. But no one had any answers.

The blue, tired, and deathly afraid eyes wandered from one to the other. Finally they settled upon Jens.

Flaxen haired, broad shouldered Jens had pressed up to the front. He asked nothing; he answered nothing. He just stared fixedly and dumbly at the mermaid at his feet.

Her wandering eyes had found a calm place to rest and with a trembling look embraced his figure. Then her searching eyes met his . . . and bashfully and shyly her small, pale hands reached up to her heavy, moist mantle of hair and covered her tender, young breasts.

The two of them didn’t hear the confusion of voices and questions around them. Wealthy Klaus proposed to simply kill the devil thing and throw it back into the water. The women were all in agreement with that and the men wanted to run back to their boats and grab their oars.

Then Jens broke his silence. This woman was not to be killed, he declared with his deep voice. He would take her and heal her, and when she was healthy he would put her back into the water.

“But Jens!”—screamed his mother from the crowd.

And Jens was indifferent to what all the others said.

“You are not permitted to torture the animals. That is what the pastor said. So you must also help those that are only half human.”

The women raised a great fuss over it and Jens mother started to cry.

Jens thought that the pastor would agree with him.

Here comes the pastor, several screamed, and the pastor stepped into the circle with them.

He was very agitated and his legs shook. His hands trembled and the sweat of fear stood out on his forehead. At home his wife was writhing in pain.

“What is it?”

“Jens! Jens,” they all screamed.

Jens explained to the pastor what he intended to do.

But the pastor pressed his hand against his forehead, as if to come to his senses. Then he began to speak, hastily and brokenly.

What Jens intended, could not be tolerated within his congregation. All compassion and all charity went only to God’s creatures. But this creature here was without a doubt a creature of the devil, and it would be evil to take such a thing into the village and do such devil’s work.

“Kill it, kill it,” cried Klaus and a few others with him. But the pastor also thought that killing it was not right. They should just let it lie there in peace; it was a mixture from hell, and it would disappear again like a fish, when the tide came and carried it out into the sea again.

But now everyone should go about their work and leave the mermaid in peace.

Then the pastor pressed back through the circle of people and hurried with long strides back to his house. Slowly the people disbursed.

Only Jens remained behind. With bowed head he looked down at the woman. Her blue eyes had become more calm and quiet. There was gratitude and trust in them. She knew that he had spoken up for her.

Then a rough fist shook Jens shoulder.


His father stood next to him. But Jens stubbornly shook his head. He wanted to stay there. But his father shook him harder. A red rage climbed into his face. He threatened . . . then Jens grabbed the fist on his shoulder with his iron fingers so hard, that the joints creaked.

Both men stared into each other’s faces. But . . . Jens saw his mother up above on the dunes. Her skirt and scarf fluttered and she rang her hands in misery.

Then Jens let go of his father’s hand and went back up to the village . . .



The clouds scurried across the narrow crescent moon. The sea surged. Its loud sounds reached to the village. Everything there had long since become dark. Only in the pastor’s house, behind red curtains, was there a light. A dull red glow lay upon the small front yard. A figure sneaked past the picket fence—Jens.

He stopped for a moment and looked up at the lit window. He knew that up there a woman was struggling with death. He bit his teeth together and muttered an angry curse.

Then he was beyond the village and down the dunes. On the white sand lay a dark spot . . .

The mermaid heard footsteps. She tiredly raised her head. And then Jens kneeled down beside her and spoke to her with gentle, kind and compassionate words. He knew that she didn’t understand him. But it would sound good to her.

She hid her feverish hands in the brown fists of the boy.

Then she began to sing, softly and sadly, words in a strange language. Like thick gray fog over secluded rocky islands—the melody was so hollow and heavy—and so infinitely sad.

Jens listened . . . and he didn’t notice how the tears were rolling down his face.

Then he came to his senses. He had brought some food, bread and fish, and he offered her some.

But she just shook her head. And then she sang some more. Jens knelt beside her and held her hands in his, until the stars went out and the morning wind began.

Then he got up and looked at her.

“I will come again.”

And she understood the strange words and the promise, and her gaze was mild and peaceful, as he climbed up the dunes.


There was a great unrest over the entire village, as the people went with shy, quiet steps past the house of the pastor and the window draped with red curtains where it was so deathly quiet. Several had heard broken screams and strangled whimpering, as if someone was biting into a pillow. Around noon the pastor stood motionless in the garden behind the house and stared down at the distant roiling sea, with a long pipe in his hands. And then suddenly, like a madman, he shattered the glass ball of a lawn ornament with the head of his pipe so that it shattered in all directions and ran back into the house. There was something eerie in the air.

There was an early morning noise in Jen’s house. His father had learned from the night watchman that Jens had been down at the beach. It came to a dispute and Jens raised his hand against his father and flung him against the stove so that his head received a considerable lump. But finally the old man overwhelmed Jens, carried him upstairs like a child and locked him in his room.

In the village there was a wild muttering against the poor, abandoned mermaid lying down there on the beach. Several young fellows had been down there and reported that she was lying there motionless in the sand, with closed eyes. It was only by her slight breathing that they knew she was still alive. They had wanted to tease and throw sand at her, but the lust to do that had left them when they had seen her pale, dying face.

But the elders held the mermaid responsible for the disruption in the village that day. Wealthy Klaus thought it would have been better if they had immediately killed the thing of the devil yesterday.

Then, late that evening the people discovered that the pastor’s wife had brought a dead child into the world. The baby had a malformed water head and its crippled feet had a reddish and green metallic shimmer like fish scales. It was hopeless, the pastor’s wife was going to die.

Then a great rage seized the people and they wanted to go down to the beach immediately and kill the mermaid, whom they thought had caused all this. But the night was growing dark, and the wind that blew from the sea was so icy cold that they turned back. Tomorrow . . . in daylight . . . at dawn.

Then it became completely dark and not a light was burning in the entire village—only the sad flickering behind the red curtains showed someone was still awake in the pastor’s house—when Jens climbed out his bedroom window.

Like a cat, silently and carefully.—His broad shoulders barely fit through the narrow window frame. But he succeeded. Jens pushed himself through—and then jumped down to the soft lawn in front of the house. His knees buckled from the force of the fall, but he straightened back up. As he ran past the red curtained window of the pastor’s house, he balled his fists and growled a wild curse between his teeth.

And the mermaid knew that he would come. She lifted herself up on her arms and reached out her face to him. And Jens kissed the pale lips and the eyes, sunk deep into their holes.

Then she sang once more. The melody swam like fog over a rocky reef—then the veil of fog parted and her song became clear and golden. Sunshine lay over the sea and the waves became calmer and quieter and ebbed . . . and she softly fell asleep.

The woman had taken Jens hand and placed it on her breast. His hand moved through the heavy mantle of hair and then his heavy, work callused hand tenderly and softly lay upon the trembling breast of the woman.

And Jens felt how the life in her heart became fainter and fainter with every beat, then one last wild heartbeat, a convulsive grip on his arm and the woman fell back.

Jens sat and stared at the sunrise.

His eyes were dry. He had not shed one tear for his deep pain. And yet this pain was so easy and free. Only something troubled him. He didn’t know at first what it was. But then it came to him. He had heard what they had promised to do downstairs. They were going to come and kill her.

But they would not find her . . .

He got up with a powerful effort and took the corpse into his arms. His gaze burned solidly on her small, starring face; the severed fin dangled down from his right arm and swung with every step he took.

That is how he walked out into the sea. With confident leaps he went from stone to stone and from the last large boulder he flung the corpse out into the sea with a mighty heave.

A splash and gurgle—and the tide carried the body away . . .


When Jens arrived back on the beach he heard the voices of the men from the village up above on the dunes. He realized immediately that several of them were drunk, recognized their hoarse, tinny laughter right away.

They shouldn’t see him.

He laid down flat on the dunes in a low spot and let the procession go past. In the morning light he saw almost all of the men and boys of the village with sticks, clubs and oars. Several were drunk. At the front of the procession was Jens father with a white cloth around his banged up head. His fist was wrapped around an axe, and he was drunk as well. His eyes were bloodshot and his face was red.

Finally they were past. Jens raced up the dune. Halfway to the village he heard the angry, disappointed screams behind him.

Jens ran on. He wanted to reach the village and his room before the men came back. They shouldn’t know what had happened that night.

As Jens passed the house of the pastor, he saw all the windows wide open.

He knew then, that the woman inside had died. And he ducked as he went along the houses and growled a wild curse between his teeth.


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Down below was an urban canyon, above, a few stars shone exactly between the thin, taut wires of the telephone lines. They looked like little glowing musical notes caught between the systems of lines and gave off an infinitely harsh and bitter melody at the desecration of heavenly lights being caught in the mundane.

Herbert took off his hat and the cold pressed against his head, tightening the skin of his face and neck. The dancer walked beside him, looking strange in her white sheets, on which her coat hung like a pair of black wings. Carts came rumbling by at a trot, automobiles leaped around corners with a squeal or a sudden honk, throwing harsh balls of light against the walls of houses, or they saw them coming from further away, two little balls of light at the end of the street, that quickly came rolling up in a dark roaring tunnel, then very close, a broad streak of light sweeping over the pavement. They stood in a blinding tremor of light, and then it was gone and the cold darkness pressed back in.

Meanwhile a couple beats of dance music spewed out through some quickly opened hotel door, fragments of laughter ran into the night, Fasching spread little waves of happiness along the lonely path of Herbert and his companion. But all that seemed immaterial to Herbert compared to the terrible feeling that was inside of him, that flowed out of him like a heavy, thick, freezing smoke.

They entered a little coffee house, in which Herbert often liked to sit for a half hour behind a newspaper, more from a sense of duty than from a sense of need. Yet on the threshold it occurred to him that now his companion must take her mask completely off. But she said the same thing as before, she wanted to remain unrecognized for a while longer, and since all the locals were celebrating carnival time they would allow her the freedom to continue wearing her mask.

She appeared to be correct, since among the tumult of the tables quite a number of people were masquerading, in national costumes, Venezuelans, Spaniards, Turks, as well as mountain folk, Eskimos and Indians. Among all these worn-out and faded traditional costumes and masks a phantom seemed to pass just as well, so Herbert’s companion was not noticed. She pushed through the thickest group without anyone taking special notice or making any effort to move away and again there was the unmistakable recognition of posture and movement that now hit Herbert like a bodily pain.

As they sat down at a table that had just become free, he seized her roughly by the arm.

“Who are you?”

He searched for her gaze, but found only a vague glimmer in the depths of her mask.

The waiter stood before Herbert. He let go of the hard, thin arm that had not given beneath his grip, and ordered coffee. After a silence, in which he observed the clownish, lusty celebration around them, the waiter returned bringing a single cup of coffee and placed it in front of Herbert. As the young man left and seemed indifferent to what his neighbor wanted, she asked him to let it be. This was their hour and he was not to ruin it for anything.

These few words, which again seemed so puzzlingly familiar, stirred such an unspeakable sadness in Herbert, that he put his head in his hands. He placed his fingers on his forehead and thumbs over his ears, as if he wanted to spare his senses from the craziness of the outer world.

It occurred to him that earlier his neighbor had asked, with ironic intent, if he was a medical student. Why that, he thought. Is that how she knew him? . . .

Between his spread fingers he looked angrily and resentfully into her eye holes. He understood, concluded, that she had something she wanted to say to him. Something that he, as a medical student should have already learned, how to become reconciled with death—that was the common view of the good people and of the bad cartoons, that the doctor and death stood in a type of company, one the lackey of the other.

And death always stood as a condition of his own occupation, as an element of the divine world. Just like the fur trader believed the fur bearing animals grew for him; and the mine owner, that the ancient forests of the Stone Age had flourished for his own pocket; and the architect, that gravity was discovered for him alone. In this way doctors maintained the logic of death, because it was demanded by the logic of their profession.

But this was not his viewpoint.

He always found that death was something absolutely senseless; that death itself lived the life of a fat good for nothing, a sewer man, a wanton lost spirit that would in the end set a goal that was only cheap and tawdry.

It was an opinion grubber, a fist baller, begrudging not only everything earned, but also everything glowing, tender, and contributing to love and happiness. All this had to be mowed down; this was proof of the senselessness of death.

No, his treasured values were unknown and in no way popular sentiments, but instead straight up truth. That this world was highly rich in misery was not to be doubted. But why? Every day you could see how the competent and honorable were driven without reason to the bottle, how the evil climbed in and the good were left sitting down in the mud and finally how death thoughtlessly brought forth a settlement, in which all of this and everything else on the mixed table of life was wiped away.

But how different it would be around the world, how bright and lusty it would be if a letter of parole for real human worth was presented to death. Those who according to their nature could not reach after a higher “I” would be weeded out; but those able to purify and reform themselves, their lives would be lengthened in the measure of their goodness and throughout the greatness of eternity. Then perhaps you could still speak with Dante, Michelangelo and Albrecht Dürer. Then for the first time life would be entirely beneficial, a mutual exchange of love and effort, a mutual exchange of help. . .

The little flames in the depths of the eye holes of his neighbor appeared to grow brighter, a thin, but sturdy layer of air, like glass, enclosed Herbert and his neighbor, and except for this sphere you could only see colored, unrelated scraps of the surrounding world . . .

And already there were several things he could talk to death about, because he had seen him up close and the illogic of death had been clearly proven. If the world was arranged according to some reasonable plan, then Bettina would still be alive and he would not be so lonesome, so broken hearted, poison blooded, brain destroyed lonesome. He was a Robinson in the middle of the trackless ocean of life, the prisoner of an ice palace with all the terrors of both poles.

Bettina? Well, this unknown person admitted to knowing him, so she must have also known Bettina. Her blood didn’t freeze at the name, as if she knew the meaning there was within this name. She, who now belonged to eternity, should have lived for thousands of years, if there was any justice in this world. Oh, he knew death well enough, the old arch-rogue and pathetic buffoon; he had a grip on him. The fellow approached, made himself unrecognizable, but betrayed himself like a bad comedian without a punch line, forgetting his lines, disgracing his co-performers, taking them prisoner and making them into murderers.

Yes, murderers, he must be aware of it. When one of his beloved kills, you cannot call it anything else, right? Over there a child grows in its mother’s love, but within him also grows a fear of the world; a child who doesn’t want nature to take its due. Already, all around, people are stretching out their long naked necks, crooked noses and vulture claws, already pointing their round fingers, gleaming with fat, thrusting in shame. It is an arsenal of flesh pistols, fists filled with bottles and the pointer finger as the muzzle pointed in shame. And someone silently blurts out: “Give us today our daily bread!” . . . There is only enough for two, not enough for three.

But colleague, the germinating life must not be uprooted and destroyed! There is a path; it is dark to travel before the light is visible. And when the damned stand upon it; just once, there are only crimes against that which exists, but none against the unborn. Yes, but death crouches there somewhere in the corner. The miserable scoundrel squints, reaches for the little medicine bottle, shakes it and sticks its venom and poison on everything with an invisible slime.

That’s when you see your beloved convulsed in cramps, fighting back and clawing with all the power in life and yet you see the life slip out of your grip and become a flood, slowly running out to a dark door, through which it disappears. There you stand on the beach with all the skill of a soon-to-be doctor, and when the last drop has gurgled into the channel of death and disappeared; then a large, red hot needle presses through the top of your head and out through your entire body as a solidly forged, merciless word—murderer.

And the regret . . . the step by step searches into the past, and there is no day that is any different, no hour that does not fail to reveal . . .

Herbert Ostermann felt himself slowly come together, there was a hot forehead between his spread out fingers and two heavy lumps of feet beneath the table, and all this was bound together above and below with a broad band of pain. He could not say whether he had thought all this to himself, or if he had said it out loud, but he felt an understanding from his neighbor, as if from himself.

The waiter had noticed the lonely guest a long time ago. He considered the young man who was sitting alone in his corner, his distraught glances and heavy hand movements as he mumbled to himself, to be a heavy drunk in a miserable condition. Then, after the small room had emptied and the first street car rumbled by outside, he stepped up to his last guest and let the coins in his trouser pocket jingle.

Herbert looked up and saw the strange man, black and white in a radiant opalescent wreathe of steamy light. There was a sharp impression of empty glasses, burned up matches and gray ash heaps, and in the middle a pasty smile . . .

“We will go,” he murmured.

The dancer walked in front of him. But it was not strange anymore, everything was familiar and deep, embedded deep in his life. Originating from out of his core, it was still without a name, but was all most there.

“Who are you? Who are you?” and Herbert grabbed at the clothing of his companion. The cloth blew through his hand and in the depths of the eye holes he saw a crackling blue light, like a small discharge of static electricity. And then a churning and trembling ran through his arm, as if he had been struck by a slight blow.

“Where? Where are we going?” he asked stammering.

“I’m going with you!”

Herbert didn’t find it at all odd that this strange girl made this proposal. Everything that had happened, yes, had already happened a hundred times before, every word and every step. He even knew the sound of her voice, and had somehow known that she would come along.

How could he have told all that to a stranger, what he had pulled from out of his innermost core? Only one person had the right to hear all that. This admission hung upon her and transformed the unknown into the known, radiated back from her as a wistful, deep light.

So they walked together through a winter morning still heavy with the dense haze of dreams that were slumbering away, and now and then the first hard beat of work slipped in as well; meanwhile the hoarse remnants of Fasching’s revelry still sounded.

As if in a vision Herbert saw a collapsed clown on the brightly lit platform of a streetcar, with half-closed eyes and an extinguished cigar in the corner of a broad mouth. His right arm hung down over the guardrail and from out of his fingers ran a cord, on which a brown teddy bear hopped behind the streetcar in grotesque leaps, thrown from side to side by the rattling of the street car and dragging all its limbs against the pavement.

That was the last thing Herbert saw perfectly. From then on he went in a fog, from out of which just once in a while someone, a person came rushing up in a hurry, only to just as quickly disappear again.

He felt more than he saw, that his companion was not heading into the inner city, but instead headed out into the suburbs.

“Not that way . . . I live in the city,” he said.

“I don’t know anywhere else.”

She was right, and Herbert went along with her, walking next to the dancer down cool, endless streets and dark streetcars kept appearing in front of them.

He thought that what was happening was remarkable, even if she didn’t think so. Part of him was in the future and at the same time in the past, as well as being timeless. Perhaps death was not the end of time, but the uplifting of all disappointments. But then it would be the solution and it might be possible, through a strong will and perhaps through the power of a remorseful man to bring someone back; it could never give the complete appearance of someone, but it would be enough to serve! In this manner all questions would be answered, if only he knew her name. If only he could think of it . . .

A familiar house door was there, with withered vine boughs around the bottom story and the arch; the knocker with the lion’s head, over whose menacing snout they had always laughed. They went up and the stairs curved in front of them in the darkness, into which the morning fog now pressed . . . the seventeenth step still creaked as always, and you still had to tip toe past the door of the landlord. The narrow stairs turned tighter and tighter in the tower, and there was the branch of a cherry tree in front of the little window, from which you once tore a bouquet of flowers in the spring. There was the little black figurine of the Virgin that was set into the wall with its little red glass light.

And then the door to the tower room sprang open and you were home . . . once more Herbert saw everything perfectly, all the beloved furniture, the writing desk and the bookcase, and behind green curtains both beds, from which she had just risen up.

And when he turned around, Bettina stood there, in a white flowing gown and her parted hair, which she had just combed, hung down on both sides of her head.

She looked up and Herbert saw a blue shimmer in the depths of her eyes. But her flesh was strangely transformed, it pulled itself like a thin sheet of jelly over the smooth bones of her dance mask, and you could see every indentation and every fissure of her skull. Her hair fell loose and enticing in soft, flowing masses.

And everywhere the transparent features of the bones were eaten away by dull spots, little clumps of earth clung in the corners of the eyes and mouth, and her hair seemed to move slightly by itself as if swarming life lie hidden beneath it.

But Bettina threw the hair out of her face, lifted her arms high over her head and with strong, thrusting, exaggerated, and victorious movements began the wanton, angular, and provocative dance of the phantoms . . .



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Then knots of swirling, flitting movements formed on the dark stage as specters joined with each other, showing that the distinction between the sexes still existed within the realm of the dead. Now that eyes had become accustomed to the darkness you could see how men and women stepped out in pairs and then began a circular dance of phantoms winding around between the tombstones.

Even though all the onlookers knew that their own colleagues had discussed, put together and practiced this, and even if they thought they recognized someone beneath the ghostly wrappings, they were still transported into a very strange mood, an unprecedented excitement of the nerves.

Some trick of the beer caused a wild tension to come over the students, which you could sense as frivolous, without being able to tell its origin. This mixture of gruesome and grotesque was repulsive and compelling, fearful and as spellbinding as a look into an abyss. These young people, whose youth and profession brought daily encounters with death and to whom death was unavoidable, felt this dance of the dead, this play of putrefaction, was somehow a challenge; and somewhere in the back of their minds the will to live, to light and to health set itself against the dark influence of this scene.

Meanwhile the dance on the stage progressed, the couples uniting and separating, linking into a chain, forming themselves into a ball that quickly circled around itself, while a whitish-blue light, the phosphorous glow of decay, radiated out at them from the stage and the phantoms appeared to dance faster.

The performance sought to be loyal to Goethe’s poem, and there was something sharply familiar in the movements, some evil intention, something puppet like and angular, as if they really were fleshless limbs dancing.

At the beginning of this performance Herbert Ostermann felt a dull, hollow feeling arising, as if streaming from a storehouse into his body under great pressure, a kind of rage that incited him to jump up and do something foolish to stop the increasing tension. It shot through his head to beat on the table, smash a beer glass on the floor or simply scream with a wide open mouth, “Stop!”

But lightning quick, even as he considered these possibilities; he already felt how the angry outrage left his body, poured out and faded away, leaving him limp and powerless, exhausted and empty, exposed and defenseless against some unformed terror. And then it came to him, slinking from out of the void like a slimy, heavy fluid, rising up to the wall of his “I”, to the foundation of his world, a terror and fear of these wrapped things. A distant part of his consciousness was extinguished in this flood, went under, while another self rose up from it like an island, foul and glowing with an unnatural light.

He sat there, one hand cramped around a beer glass, the other on his knee, balled into a fist, with a distended face, from which his eyeballs appeared swollen from out of their place. That which was dancing around on the stage was an abscess of decay, clotted blood of the grave, stained with the slime of death. Didn’t anyone but him feel these dark, singeing rays that went out from this dance, an invisible, malignant radiation from some metal or stone perhaps; a corrosive excretion from the dance that ate through flesh and bone until it entered into the very soul? Couldn’t anyone sense how the poisonous pyorrhea ulcer raced around to seize and destroy the entire person?

While the horror sucked Herbert in, it suddenly seemed to him as if there was something familiar in the movements of the dancers. It was like when you see something vaguely familiar, yet distorted, and all efforts at remembering are in vain and fail to take form. Within the swaying, twisting, at times advancing and then retreating movements of the dance of phantoms, a flitting shadow of memory jumped forward, disappeared, lost itself in the chaos, and then reappeared once more. After a long stupor Herbert began to breathe heavier, as he recognized fragments of some movement on an innermost level, an inclination, a step, the lift of a hand. Then this shadow of memory lifted, and let itself down upon one of the figures, on one of the female phantoms, upon which it came and went.

It was a tentative growing of form from out of the chaos, a hesitant crawling forth from out of the darkness, of which Herbert felt, besides fear, also something like an outburst of passionate tenderness, a deep sympathy with it.

He was in a complete bundle of unsolved threads from a vague piece of his past that wound around him and held him fast. The phantom on the stage above whirled even more crazily between the gravestones; the skull remained motionless in scary contrast to the leaping and fluttering wrappings. The bones rattled against each other even more loudly, an entire confusion of dry and hard sounds droned from the stage out into the hall. It seemed that the lust of the phantoms had not died within the graves and a horrible orgy of skeletons was about to begin.

Then as if from a great height the sound of a clock fell in the middle of the dance. It was as if the phantoms were blown apart from each other by an explosion. The dance was destroyed. The figures stumbled and staggered back and forth, groping among the tombstones, robbed of all certainty; fearfully searching for missing parts, which they once more put back together. Wrapped with sheets, floundering, timid, staggering and flapping, once more robbed of their freedom, they crouched down at their tombstones and disappeared into the darkness.

There was a large exhalation through the hall before the first timid applause began. Then gradually the clapping of many hands, as if this happy noise could tear away the thin, horrible web that seemed to hang from the stage over the tables.

The president banged with his gavel and bellowed a command.

“By the devil, that was beautiful!” exclaimed Kretschmer and took a large gulp of his stale beer. Then he stood up, pulled on his waistband, flexed and straightened up again, as if he wanted to see whether his flesh and blood were still held together in their accustomed way.

Herbert Ostermann didn’t reply. He was busy trying to find his way out of the shock. There was a strange taste in his mouth and a peculiar emotion remained; a bitterness that could be described as heartburn of the spirit. He turned and saw the participants of the dance of death coming down the small steps of the stage and into the hall. They still wore their grave clothes, but had taken off their masks and fresh, red, youthful faces showed from out of the wrapping of the grave. That was the safest way to dispel the intensity of the past half hour and regain the old composure. They were surrounded, questioned, and praised, as people went around like tightrope dancers joking about an abyss they had just crossed over.

As Ostermann turned back to the table, he was struck by something ice cold and burning through the middle of his heart.

Next to him, in the place that Richard Kretschmer had just left, sat one of the dancers, very quietly, with white cotton gloves over hands respectfully folded in her lap. She still wore the grave clothes like the others, but had not taken off the skull mask, and when she turned her head to her neighbor, there were glimmers in her eyes like distant sparks in dark caves.

It seemed as if she expected to be addressed, and after several tries Herbert succeeded in forcing a type of obligatory smile on his lips and asked if the Fräulein was satisfied with the success of the performance.

The dancer, who seemed to not want to speak, simply nodded.

“Even on the stage you must have noticed the immense tension of the audience, when the dance, which at first showed recognizable amateur shortcomings, became freer, more skillful and artistic until something happened and a living transformation took place between the stage and the audience.”

Herbert continued to speak, as if continuous questions were directed at him by the soft glowing gaze. He spoke of things he hadn’t thought about for a long time. He attempted to bring rationality to the mood into which he had sunken, and felt the power of his speech was like the board on which a lost swimmer placed his last hope.

“Yes, it is strange,” his neighbor said, “for the living to perform a play about the dead.”

“And the cemetery music,” continued Herbert in great agitation. “That modern music with its remarkable beat and intricate rhythms somehow causes the listener to sense all the horrors of the grave. It is illogical music; the logic of music is in its melody. Mozart for example, was a logician and therefore takes us right where his spirit desires with the convoluted scene in ‘Don Juan’, not to the heart . . . but this modern illogical music goes beyond death, which itself is illogical . . .”

“And you are a medical student?” his neighbor asked.

Her voice was muffled and unclear as if pressed through some unclean medium, yet even in its distortion an original melodiousness was unmistakable and Herbert regretted that the resonance had become so altered and broken through the mask. This thought brought his attention with complete sharpness to this thing of paper maché, which was supposed to portray death in a Fasching’s joke. He had to admit that the mask had not been created from cheap materials. In its own way the mask was completely artistic. The harmless material, from out of which the face of the ugly step-mother was portrayed; a dull country clod, a wanton slut, double chinned with bloated cheeks, a red nose and every protuberance and rankness of the flesh; had this time been used to form deceptively smooth bones.

Everything was exact according to color and structure, each bone anatomically correct and sewn so that one could believe that the head really was a skull. They had kept a real skull as a model and used it to make an exact copy with such attention to detail that yes, in many places, in the eyes, the nasal holes and between the teeth the remnants of rotting flesh was portrayed. But the scariest thing was that hair hung down from the back part of the skull, down to the neck, and you couldn’t really tell how it was attached to the bone. That was in contrast to how the face was rendered, where the hair covering was no longer present and the skull was smooth. If the image of the mask was intended to heighten the horror as much as possible, it succeeded through this hair, discolored, matted and covered with little clumps of dirt. It looked as if it really had come from out of the grave.

Herbert Ostermann observed all this with unfathomable calmness, sharp and clear, as if glimpsing a great danger, something that strained against the immense power center of man, against the “I” itself.

“And you are a medical student?” his neighbor repeated her question in the meantime.

“What do you mean? Really! Do you know me?”

“I know you!”

“Won’t you take off your mask? The play has ended! The other ladies already have.”

Something like a soft rattling came out from between the teeth, that was supposed to be a laugh, but at the same time Herbert remembered in a tortured way a sound from out of his childhood days. It was when Prusik, the merchant, threw large, strangely formed scraps of dried shell fish onto the counter. At the same time he was reminded of something else, the forced laugh that seemed to have come from out of completely dried out, mummified, black vocal chords, rustled like a grave wreath.

The dancer stopped laughing.

“The other ladies find that the masks do not suit them. I am not vain. Mine fits me quite well. And you must still puzzle out who I am.”

“I know you then?”

She turned to Herbert and slid a little closer: “Yes!”

Again there was an ice cold and burning pain through the middle of his heart.

Then a miniscule movement, the irrelevant shrugging of the shoulders once more threw an uneasy memory over Herbert, a fragment of a gesture that he recognized. One that had spoken out to him in the play of limbs during that complex dance, one that had come from this dancer that sat next to him.

Immediately the blind towering fear was once more there, breaking the possessed calm of sharp observation, rushing with him down into the darkness. He looked around. To the left and right colleagues were talking away over their beer glasses, writing on calling cards, toasting one another. No one was paying attention to them. It was as if Herbert and his neighbor were not present.

Despite this everything had become unbearable to him. The noise and light beat oppressively against him. He suddenly stood up.

“Come,” we will go somewhere else.”

She was immediately in agreement and followed him to the wardrobe, where she stood next to him for a moment in her coat, and then they went out onto the street covered with a thin, miserable covering of big city snow.


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Familiar Moves


After the death of his girlfriend, Bettina, whom Herbert Ostermann, medical student, had lived together with for almost two years; becoming a hermit was the best way to avoid people.

Being at the podium for countless semesters, during the prime of his life, had made him more critical of the academic youths, and Ostermann was already standing alone like a cliff. Then you add the pain of his lost girlfriend to it and he appeared to want nothing to do with his younger comrades. The life of high spirits and indiscretion lay behind and beneath him.

But Ostermann had more friends among the youthful students than he knew. His albeit not affectionate, but always polite manner, the certainty with which he kept little promises, the impression of unconditional reliability which he gave, let him appear as a paragon of all essential male qualities to his comrades.

Finally, they were interested in him, much more than he knew at the time, because of his relationship with the little German-Russian, and her quick, somewhat puzzling death that had caused him to become so closed off.

They knew the couple very well from the assembly hall and the concert hall. They had seen them together countless times and only occasionally alone. The tall, lean man and the petite, quick East Sea German did not seem like an exceptionally well matched couple. His movements, so to say, were awkward and angular as he took the lead while her charming curves did not entirely match as she followed. Yet there was something there despite the outer differences that implied an innermost communion. For that reason no one dared, what otherwise under similar circumstances was so common, attempt to take this most lovely of all students away from her friend and take her for themselves.

Ostermann accompanied the eager to learn and enthusiastic student to her science lectures, which lay far beneath his own studies, and listened patiently once more to the beginning basics of anatomy. It appeared as if he was starting over with his girlfriend and would finally bring a prosperous conclusion to his very lengthy studies. They became accustomed seeing the togetherness of this couple as something solid and inviolable; sensed something holy flowing out from the bond and observed the relationship with piquant curiosity. The death of Bettina horrified them all; even those medical students with a hardened disposition that cultivated cynicism as a critical virtue, could not escape this collapse.

So it was just an outpouring of the common compassion and respect for Ostermann, that made one of the younger students of those collectively assembled, the student Richard Kretschmer, ask him to come back. At first Ostermann declined the well-intended invitation. But then, as he passed through the urging voices, he was asked to at least take it into consideration. And finally he agreed, perhaps feeling that he didn’t want to be alone any longer.

Ostermann left his previous dwelling, one in the country over grown with wild vines, in whose spired upper story he had lived for almost two years with Bettina, and moved in with the rest of his countrymen. From out of a quiet, poetic corner he moved into a bare student’s room in the large city. He didn’t allow himself to notice that something was missing in his life, but he didn’t take part in the lives of his comrades either.

These well-intended people wanted Ostermann to escape from his unfruitful and dangerous brooding and were always urging him to go along to student festivities and get-togethers.

Fasching time came, the first festival since the death of Bettina, and the heads of the university planned an evening of festivities to celebrate the formation of their new committee and this happy time. A student drinking party was to take place, with all kinds of strange fellows and performances according to the mood of the festival. His friend was seriously resolved to entice Ostermann out of his cave for this very special festival.

“It is wrong for me to celebrate,” said Ostermann, as Kretschmer urged him even more strongly.

“You won’t be doing anything wrong,” replied his friend forcefully. “The dead are dead, and no mourning can change it.”

Ostermann looked at the younger and rasher person seriously and it seemed as if he were about to reply. But he remained silent, and when Kretschmer wouldn’t stop assailing him, he finally agreed to take part in the festival. Even though Ostermann couldn’t shake the feeling that something about it was wrong, the good will of his comrade was so apparent and sincere, that he didn’t want to lose his friend over it.

The large hall of the restaurant, where the Fasching evening took place, was full of young medical students. The faculty, feeling resplendent in the formation of their new committee, stepped proudly to the front. A large number of professors were in attendance and watched the goings on with fatherly benevolence.

The seemingly spotless table cloths spread over the long tables streamed the aroma of being freshly washed. The arc lamp under the ceiling sent a corona of glowing, needle pointed rays through the hall. From the kitchen came the clatter of dishes and often the aroma of prepared food.

One table was set up as a popular raffle of harmless jokes articles and things medical students would like as decorations for their writing desks: blinding white bone specimens as paperweights, half skulls, and a shoulder blade on a base with a collar bone railing to be used as a large ashtray.

The young people, an entire crowd of college students, went back and forth, assembled together into groups and then once more separated.

Ostermann, who had not been among such a large group of people for a long time, was not able to enjoy the uninhibited festivities.

While Kretschmer, next to him, was making an effort to involve him in the net of shouts and drinking taking place back and forth over the entire table, Ostermann fell ever more deeply into a feeling of discomfort. The noise, the needle sharp lighting of the arc lamp, the back and forth movement of the crowd, seemed partly exaggerated, foolish and crude, partly overstated and harsh to him. He began to regret that he had come here with his friend.

In the meantime the gathering took its accustomed form, speeches and songs followed one another, the professors jovially spoke of their delight at the antics of the academic youths . . . “Sour week, happy festival” . . . and sometimes the young girls laughed loudly with joking phrases. When Ostermann heard this laughter or saw the waving of a brightly colored dress, it tore at his heart, and flowed through his body like a stream of sharp pointed ice crystals.

Finally around eleven o’clock, he believed that he had done enough and told Kretschmer of his decision to go.

“Don’t talk,” laughed the other, “the best part is just starting. The door is guarded! No one is allowed to leave!”

And indeed one of the gentlemen of the new committee shortly announced a break so that a humorous Fasching performance could be prepared. In the sign of the carnival prince, much was allowed, honny soit, qui maly pense und so. [evil unto him who thinks evil of it]

After a somewhat commemorative speech filled with beer and brimstone, curtains were pulled across the wide hall in the space opposite the professors. A stage was set up behind it and you could see a vivisection table, on which a corpse lay, clothed only with a loin cloth.

A scene played out between the anatomy professor and several hung-over students that had returned from a card game after skipping work. The main joke of the performance lay in the successful depiction of one of the most well-known and popular professors, who came onto the stage with all his peculiarities, wheezing and spitting. That awoke the unbounded hilarity of the entire crowd, and most of all, the one that had been portrayed himself, who now saw himself in the distorted mirror image across from him. Next to the satire of the professor they had also thought to pattern the play after the anatomy of Rembrandt. The closing scene showed the professor in the position of Doctor Tulp standing at the corpse, surrounded by his students. Only he was not referring to bundles of nerves and muscles, but instead revealing all kinds of things that emerged from out of the depths of the corpse. It was all common stuff, a beer coaster, a cigarette lighter, a house key and a committee song book. But when he turned the corpse over and began to work on its backside, the corpse jumped up from the vivisection table with an angry bellow and the performance ended with a wild flight.

The grotesque humor, that was intended to put all the guests in a good mood, was not entirely missed by Ostermann. But in the end, it led to the uncomfortable feeling that such playing with the horror of death itself did not seem entirely appropriate for these unrestrained youth.

Ostermann also thought that perhaps it was only his own emotions that caused this heavy feeling of guilt. At the same time he felt so strangely held there that he no longer had any thought of leaving.

After a while a young medical student stepped out in front of the violet curtain, a book in his hand, from which he began to recite a poem with little talent and much enthusiasm. It was Goethe’s “Toten-tanz”. [Dance of the Dead]

“The watchman, that looks in the middle of the night down on the graves in their places . . .”

Ostermann found this tedious recitation seemingly superficial, but with the final words the hall suddenly became dark and then it was seen what purpose the poem had served.

The opened stage now showed a cemetery. From out of the darkest darkness something white stirred and moved forward. You could make out a figure wrapped in a sheet and groping its way between the tombstones. The specter lounged against one of the graves, set a violin against a bony chin and began to play in an absurd way.

Then it struck midnight somewhere, as if from a church tower. The little orchestra in front of the stage took up the haunting melody of the violin and wove it into highly strange, eerie music, whose bizarre harmonies and choppy rhythms seemed to conjure all kinds of terrors from out of the darkness. And then came, entirely in the manner of Goethe’s poem, from the left and the right, limping, groping, and stomping grave occupants, climbing out of self-opening mounds, moving from behind the tombstones to the front and staggering between the clods in the darkness. Around their limbs waved and flapped long grave cloths, in front of their faces they had white, phosphorescent masks of fleshless skulls with dark eyes, nostril holes and the grin of bare teeth.

They moved to the beat of the horrible music, approaching one another with contortions and ridiculous curtseys, in a mocking of the ordinary form of the dance. It was as if you could hear the rattling of the bones, the clicking of the thin joints under the white sheets, like the clicking of castanets, castanets of the grave, which formed a hard necked accompaniment to the music.

It was clear that the author and director of this production, some student, was an entirely original head of many fantasies.



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And now I must report something strange, which proves perfectly how powerful the devil is inside us and how great our weakness is. Theresa was scarcely out of my sight when a great sadness fell over me that lasted the entire day, even though I kept repeating to myself that we should be happy to have finally gotten rid of this wicked heathen and servant of Satan, and even though Don Pedro had referred to the story of the arid fig tree that needed to be eradicated and thrown into the fire. In the course of the night my sadness became a heavy fear that would not let me sleep and threw me from one side to the other, until Don Pedro finally awoke and asked me what was going on. I was not able to conceal from him that I couldn’t sleep because we had lost Theresa. At this Don Pedro responded to me that he was heavily troubled since we had chased the woman away, out of fear that she might betray our camp to her countrymen out of revenge. I knew that Theresa would never do that, but I didn’t want to say this to Pedro, because he might perhaps think that I was still too attached to Theresa.

But with every hour—despite all objections, the power of Satan overcame that of Christ in me, so that, on the following evening I was entirely confused and sad in the depths of my soul. I thought only about Theresa’s fate and could only imagine the evil and swift punishment that she had received from her own people, whom she had betrayed. I dwelt upon this thought until I could no longer resist, and the image that kept coming to me grew ever more terrible and bloody. Once during the night it seemed that a voice called me by name. I sat up and then at the same moment, very close by, I heard the abominable screeches and cries of birds that were tearing out the hearts of sleeping whales.

Such a terror fell over me that I almost lost my senses. I jumped up and ran, without telling Don Pedro that I was leaving, out of the ruins, down the mountain, across the plain and toward the village. I ran so quickly, that I noticed nothing of it myself, and was sometimes startled at the large leaps that my shadow made in the moonlight next to me.

Around daybreak I came to the forest above the village and then had to go slower between the tree trunks. When I came out of the forest it was almost sunrise. I found myself on a rocky ledge above the huts, and even these lay so far below that the great light of the morning sky had still not reached them, yet I could see everything perfectly. There on the place in front of the house of the king two great fires were lit, around which a crowd of people were circling.

My hopes were dashed, because it was impossible for me to go unseen into the village and discover where Theresa could be found. While I was still thinking about what I should do, the king stepped out of his hut. The people immediately drew back, so that a circular shape was cleared in which the two fires burned. But between them, tied with rope, lay a human body on the ground and I recognized Theresa.

The king was greeted with a great rattle of drums and clanging of cymbals, and the warriors, placed in a circle, swung their spears and shouted his name. As he arrived at the mat on which the prisoner lay two women with skirts of leaves and red coral necklaces between their breasts approached from the fires.

Three bowls were brought up, baked fish was in the first, in the second some type of food like bread and in the third some cloths and mats made from palm tree fronds. After the bowls were set down in front of the king, the two women came up; each took one of the cloths, spread it on the ground and sat down placing themselves in such a way that their faces were turned to the east, which was already so light that you could expect to see the sun any minute.

One of the women carried a trumpet out of reeds in her hand; the other carried a stone knife. They stood that way for a while, without moving, until the sun lifted its edge over the horizon. Then the woman blew three blasts on her trumpet and began to sing in a loud voice, to which the other answered. This back and forth singing continued until the sun had completely risen. Then the first woman wrapped one of the cloths around her head and slowly began to walk around the body lying on the ground.

The other wrapped a binding around her forehead and followed the first at the same pace. Then they changed places, the first threw away her cloth and took up a binding, while the second wrapped her head completely. Then they threw away the bindings and the cloths and continued to dance around the prisoner, and then once more exchanged places.

I saw the gleaming naked breasts and the red coral necklaces swinging back and forth between them. This dance lasted for a very long time until the king gave a signal with his hand. Then the first woman came up close to him and received a bowl filled with palm wine. She turned back to dancing, put the shell up to her lips three or four times without drinking, and finally with a swing, poured a little out over Theresa’s breast.

At the same moment the second dancer rushed at Theresa and stabbed her stone knife twice into her heart. The clanging and drumming became a great noise; the first woman touched the tip of her trumpet into the flowing blood and sprayed it out over the people, not any differently than our priests do with holy water.

I watched all this in a condition that robbed me of all my will and only my ability to think remained, so that while I reproached myself strongly for my cowardice, at the same time I realized that no help in the world could tear Theresa away from her fate. I don’t know what happened in the village after that. I left the place and slowly returned through the forest and over the plain back to our camp. I made no attempt at being careful, because I didn’t care if I was discovered or not.

As I reached the ash heap of the golden city, I found Don Pedro in a state of great agitation about me, but I gave him no answer to his question of where I had been. Then a terrible hatred against him filled me completely. The devil whispered to me that he was the one responsible for Theresa’s death. I sat down on the ground and when my hand touched the grass, Satan stabbed me with Theresa’s stone knife. Then I was compelled to immediately stand back up again. I stepped up to Pedro with the knife in my hand, and without knowing what I was doing, stabbed the knife into his breast twice. In this you can see that the devil was guiding my hand, not my own will.

Pedro collapsed and cried, “Brother, what have you done?” and passed away.

I only came back to my senses after his death, and knew that because of what had happened the Lord and all his saints had abandoned me.

The few empty pages that I have used for this manuscript are coming to an end, and I must hurry to say what is still to be said. I dug a grave for Don Pedro at the foot of the cross, before which we had performed our services and lowered him into it. Then I took his prayer book with me and left the place, which the natives rightfully take as a dwelling place of demons. I headed for the coast, determined to either die or leave the island. During the following night I succeeded in taking a boat, unnoticed, despite the placed guards, and arrived on the high seas.

After many adventures and dangers and after even more hungry days, the wind drove me onto this little island, which according to the speech of the occupants belongs to the Kingdom of Cipango, and where these harmless and friendly people have taken good care of me.

After a short stay I fell into a high fever which left me very weak, which always returns, and I know with full certainty, will bring my death. Yet I don’t want to die without first writing down my experiences on the island of Zubu. I have prepared the ink myself, write with a pen of reed, and the heathens of this island see me as a great sorcerer. This manuscript serves not as a report to the world, because it will never come before those eyes, but is instead for myself alone. I have determined, as soon as it is finished, to turn my thoughts to my days on Zubu, and spend the rest of my days in prayer and penance for the salvation of my soul as I await my death.

But if this should ever come into the hands of a Christian, I repeat my plea first expressed at the beginning, and close in the same way as I began: “In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, Amen!”



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One time we saw a red, glowing cloud protrude from the tip of the mountain and rush down over the cliff, and then the cloud balled together and became even redder. It took a course straight towards us and came up so swiftly, that we were scarcely aware of the danger as it wrapped around us. It was only for a moment, but we believed we were going to breath fire and that we were going to burn. Then it was past us, and to our astonishment, we remained unharmed. After this outburst it became calmer in the air and in the earth, and finally during the first morning hours we were able to lie down to sleep.

In the morning, with Theresa’s help, I rebuilt our broken hut again as quickly as I could, while Don Pedro went out to see what had happened during the night, particularly because the ground was all broken in pieces with wide, deep fissures and cracks showing. But I had not been working too long when Don Pedro came running up so distraught and out of breath, that I believed he must have encountered something especially horrible. He took me by the hand, led me to a large golden block that lay close by the hut and asked me to touch it. I did, and it seemed to me as if I grabbed at a yielding mass, and the gold crumbled beneath my fingers, transformed into dust and trickled down to the ground. And as Don Pedro pounded with his fist against the block, it collapsed entirely and became nothing more than a collapsed heap of ash.

Then, after some consideration, I said that this proved we had been wrong, that we had mistaken it for real gold and that it must have been destroyed during the night through some chemical reaction from the glowing cloud.

But Don Pedro threw himself to the ground, beat himself with his fists and screamed so loudly that I thought he had fallen in a fit of cramps. Finally he got up, led me to the side and said that now it was unfortunately very clear and proven without a doubt, that this female, who lived with us, was a wicked witch and a sorceress, which we had to chase away or free her from demon for the salvation of our own souls.

I could not believe this at first, but Don Pedro proved to me how everything hung together; how Theresa herself had at first refused to pray with us; how she had sacrificed to the idol and how the terror of the past night had been called up with the help of infuriated demons after the pedestal had been destroyed. This was finally followed by the destruction of our great treasure.

I had to agree that there was something to his argument, and agreed to question Theresa about it. But instead of Theresa answering Don Pedro, she turned to me and spoke. She said that she no longer wanted to conceal from me how the chaplain hounded her with his hatred. She had remained silent up to now, to cause no problems between us, but now she wanted to tell me that she hated Don Pedro, and because of that she was not willing to do what I asked.

Then Don Pedro rang his hands and lifted them up to the heavens.

“Brother,” he cried, “now you can see for yourself how wide the abyss of this evil castoff creature reaches, that she even dares place me in shameful suspicion, in order to steer us away from her own shameful deeds. I must profess that these are all stinking, hellish and low down lies, concocted by the demon that is inside her.

I myself was frightened at Theresa’s evil shamefulness and agreed with Don Pedro, that we must castigate her in the name of the Lord, in order to drive the devil out of her.  We tied Theresa to a pole and I struck her with a rod; but after a while Don Pedro said that I was becoming too tired and not strong enough in my blows. Then I turned Theresa over to the chaplain, and he went to work with a great zealousness. After three blows from a thumb sized rod, Pedro held the picture of the Madonna up to her, to test her, to see whether the devil had left her yet. But Theresa refused to kiss the picture. She said that nothing could compel her to show reverence to my beloved.

Then we saw that she had still not been cleansed of the demon, and Don Pedro thought that we must to use more severe materials; he brought a couple splinters of the hard wood with which we started our fire, and ignited them.

I did not want to watch anymore, even though the good Christ said we must do it, that it was our duty, to save Theresa. So I left her with the chaplain, who wanted to singe her a little with the splinters.  It was not very long before I believed that I heard a moaning and whimpering. I returned and told Don Pedro that he had done enough. Theresa was burned in many places, but it was still impossible to bring her to kiss the picture of the Madonna, and you could still clearly see the stubbornness of the indwelling devil.

Despite that I could not bear the sight of her wounded back and gathered some of the healing herbs, which she had taught me about, and laid them on her with a bandage of soft plant leaves. Theresa said nothing, only kissed me on the hand, so that I began to believe that she had regained her senses and perhaps would not resist our request so strongly the next day.

But we were to see that Theresa was entirely in the power of the devil. Overnight Don Pedro had hung the picture of the Madonna on a newly driven post in our hut, so that the mother of god might spread her mantle upon us and protect us from the evil spirits and terrors that now surrounded us.

When it became light and we arose, we didn’t see the picture in its place and found it only after a search among the bushes; entirely broken into splinters and completely destroyed. Theresa’s stone knife lay close by and we were not in any doubt that she had destroyed it. When we asked her about it, she didn’t deny her deed in anyway; instead she spoke with a strong glow in her eyes, she had now conquered her enemy.

Then a blind rage came over me, because my heart had hung on this portrait, which was our sanctuary and for me at the same time showed the features of my beloved. And it seemed to me, as if Theresa, in destroying the portrait, had also destroyed all our hope of ever returning back to Spain. I could not control myself and beat Theresa with my fists and finally chased her away, telling her that I would kill her if she ever dared to come back to us. Don Pedro had intended that we punish her some more, but I was fed up with the beating and singeing, and only cared about one thing, to not ever see Theresa in front of me again.

She stood silent for a while by our bed and looked over at me, as if she didn’t understand what I had just said to her. But as I repeated my command with strong words and waved her away with outstretched arms, she turned and left with a lowered head. I climbed to the heights above the ruins, which were even more fallen down, and watched after her, how she climbed down the cliff of the mountain and then took the path through the wide grassy plain that to my calculations must lead back to the village, so I assumed that she wanted to go back to her countrymen.


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After this happened, he began to zealously instruct her in the Christian faith. At the request of Don Pedro I erected a cross, made of two pieces of wood and bound with bark, at a place near the hut. We held our morning and evening services in front of this cross.

Don Pedro had brought a painting of the Madonna on a piece of wood and a prayer book along with him when he had come ashore. He had loyally guarded these sacred objects during his stay in the wilderness, and he read to us from out of this prayer book. I will remark at the same time that there were some empty pages bound in the back of the book; the same ones, on which you now find this manuscript, which I removed from their place much later.

Meanwhile the chaplain was not satisfied with Theresa’s progress in the Christian faith. She was still as stubborn a heathen as always in her inner self and did not take the holy teachings seriously, especially since my presence distracted her so much that he had to ask me to no longer be present during the hour of instruction.

I now wanted Theresa to become a believer as soon as possible and relieve Don Pedro of the sustained effort and great enthusiasm with which he brought forth threats against her bright soul. I followed his wishes and left him alone with Theresa for the hour of instruction. This led to no better end.

One day as I strolled through the forest near the hut I heard a loud scream coming from that direction and recognized Theresa’s voice. I believed that Theresa had been attacked by a wild animal and hurriedly ran there. I found Theresa lying on her knees in front of the chaplain, who was pressing down on her wrist with his left hand, while holding out his right to strike a blow. As I came up he let his arm sink, but I recognized by his face, that he was in an exceptional rage and his anger was so strong that he was not able to speak at all. Finally he said that Theresa was so opposed to the holy truth, so stubborn and disruptive, that he had lost his Christian patience and been gripped by the impulse to punish her.

At this I said (because I found that Theresa understood me better than Don Pedro) that it was for me to punish her, it was my duty, and he only needed to tell me if she remained stubborn and disruptive. I would then find some way to reason with her.

But Don Pedro replied that he had given up all hope of making a true Christian out of Theresa and would not trouble himself about her any longer.

Theresa had not spoken during this argument, but in the night she moved to my side and asked whether I desired that she should give herself to the chaplain as a woman. Now I knew very well, that on the island of Zubu, the custom ruled, for the host to offer his friends and guests the women of the house. Our manhood had over zealously made use of this custom, and because of it a strong rage had developed in the men because they saw that the women preferred the strangers over themselves.

From Theresa’s question I realized that Don Pedro’s instruction in Christianity had not gone well and she was still not able to recognize the difference between being a savage or a Christian Spanish woman. The customs of her own land no longer applied to her. I made this plain, told her that she was now a Christian and must put away the customs of the heathen. Finally I also told her that as a priest, Don Pedro was a holy man, who had renounced sexual intercourse with women. After that she didn’t resist any further.

The chaplain really didn’t trouble himself very much with Theresa’s Christian education after that and remained hard and dark against her. But he became even more preoccupied with the thought of the great treasure in the golden city. Once more in his daily speech he spoke of Spain and Sevilla and reminded me of how I could buy old Donna Mercedes whatever her heart desired.

I really had been thinking more than ever about my homeland as well, and a great unrest came over me.  We thought of making some kind of plan so that we could somehow leave here. I knew that Magellan had, in his last days, calculated that we could not be far from the lands of the Portuguese. The Islamic merchants who had discovered Zubu and traded goods with the king must have known about them as well, because they had told the king to guard himself against such men as us, as well as any others of the west.

We spent many hours talking together in counsel over what we could do, with the help of God and all the saints, to win past the Portuguese, who, even though an enemy of Spain would not leave us in the hands of the savages. The more we considered it, the more we thought that it would not do us any good and no plan came forward.

Even if we were to build a raft without the people of Zubu discovering it, we didn’t have any charts and would need to sail without a compass. There was a greater chance of entering the throat of death than of life and our homeland.

We stood more and more often on the peak of the mountain and looked out over the ocean to see if we could discover a Portuguese ship. But nothing was to be seen, other than from time to time the sails of the heathen that were out catching fish. During such hours I could imagine my homeland perfectly, and I thought about Donna Mercedes, who had embraced me at my departure and whispered to me. I must return because our lives were entwined together.

Because I thought so much on my Donna and ever more perfectly imagined her features, it happened that one evening I discovered in the Madonna painting, which Pedro held up for me, a great similarity between these features and those of my beloved. We had just spoken more of our escape, and Pedro had pulled out the portrait and held it out for me to kiss. After I had discovered this similarity he said that he trusted in the intercession of the mother of God. And it seemed to me to be a good omen for our plans, so much so, that I became entirely happy in my heart and began to hope more strongly than ever before. I also told Pedro of my newly established hope and he agreed with me that the similarity between the mother of God and my beloved could be looked at as a good omen.

The following night, as I lay there sleepless and thoughtful, it occurred to me, whether it would be possible to steal one of the boats of the natives and flee in it with some lumps of gold. Theresa knew where the boats lay hidden, and at night she would be taken for one of the women of the village by the designated guards. She could untie one of them and bring it to a place where we could climb in.

But when we talked this plan over the next day and found it a good one, Theresa resisted us and would not agree to do it. She said that she would never do it. I must here now mention that a great transformation had come over Theresa. While she had earlier always been passionately inclined to speak, she had now become quiet and thoughtful. When we spoke of our escape and our homeland, she crouched on the floor and watched us with a dark countenance. Especially after she realized that I longed to go back to Mercedes, and she clearly showed that she was against our plans.

Then, with the newly awoken memory of my beloved in Sevilla, I became increasingly aware of the difference between Mercedes and Theresa.  How much softer and lighter my Spanish beloved’s skin was, how much more slender her hips and how much finer and silkier her hair. How easy it was to treasure Mercedes, and the strange and exciting love caresses that she knew, which Theresa didn’t know anything about. So it came about that I was hard and annoyed many times when these differences were so perfectly presented before my eyes.

I also cried out loud to her that she had to obey me, and would not even consider letting her contradict me. At that she stood up and said that she would never lift a hand to help me return to my homeland and to Donna Mercedes. Then Don Pedro began to yell at her as well and exclaimed how could she dare, even take the name of Donna in her mouth; and that in comparison to the Spanish lady, was nothing more than the dust at her feet. And to make her feel even lower, he put the painting of the Madonna right in front of her eyes and said that my beloved looked like the mother of God herself. Then Theresa gripped the portrait with both hands, pulled it close and looked at it for a long time with a wild expression on her face; one that I had never seen before, not even the time when she had stabbed her knife into the chest of Duarte Barbosa.

Then she gave the picture back to the chaplain and ran out of the hut. She didn’t come back home for the entire day and was not in front of the cross that evening for prayers, which until then she had always done together with us. She came back later that night and the next morning I gave her a good talking to and chastised her with hard words.

Then Don Pedro showed a great rage over this absence and said that we must now pray even more zealously than ever and use the opportunity to beseech the Lord so that he would not deny us his help.

Theresa remained silent and defiant during my performance and immediately ran away, again not to return for the entire day. Then I was seized with a great rage, when she again was not present at the evening service. I was of the same opinion as Don Pedro, that it would go bad for us, if we allowed this disloyal soul to once more return to the devil. When I saw that I could not bring her to the services before the cross with threats, I hit her with a stick which Pedro had cut for me from a bush.

But she stood and let herself be beaten, without complaining, and even though I was so anxious to force her into a pious experience through pain, I finally had to stop.  The bright blood ran over her back, and even though I was so annoyed over her abhorrent stubbornness, I still had compassion for her.

Once more we had to pray without her, and Don Pedro set me straight that through the stubbornness of this heathen our hopes became even smaller. I said that I would like to try once more to win her back on our side. But Theresa gave no opportunity for that, because she only came back into the hut that night, so softly that she didn’t disturb our sleep, and was long gone with the morning light. This continued for three days. On the fourth day Don Pedro came and told me that he feared Theresa had entirely fallen away from the Christian faith and returned to the devil. He had found fresh fruit and flowers in front of one of the idols in the ruins as an offering, and they could not have been put there by anyone else but Theresa. Then he led me to the idol and I found it was true, as he had said.

It was one of the abominable idols with four legs and five arms, of which the fifth grew from out of its belly. On its head it wore a feather headdress with a torn out bird’s beak, and if you looked at it closely, you could see that every feather was held in place by a little skull. Then I was seized with horror that Theresa could believe in such a terrible superstition after she had been baptized. Don Pedro thought that we should hide and surprise her when she came back with another offering.

So we lay there in the bushes for several hours, until we heard steps and saw Theresa coming with flowers and fruit. We waited until she had laid down her offering and begun to dance, as was the custom of all peoples when they want to honor their gods; then we jumped out at the same and Pedro seized her on the arm and dragged her down to her knees.

“Miserable idol worshiper!” he cried. “You vessel of sin, you bride of Satan! How can you stain your soul that has been purified through baptism in such an abominable way? You deserve to be immediately thrown into the abyss of hell, to be shut out from all grace and mercy!”

And I added, how could she give herself so completely into the hands of the evil one, when she had told me herself that her own people believed the devil lived here in the golden ruins.

But she cried in her language, “Really, this belief is true. The devil does live in these ruins, and there he stands.”

She pointed at the chaplain, who became very frightened at these evil words of the heathen Theresa and stepped back.

But he scarcely pulled himself back together, when he cried that he wanted to drive the demon out of Theresa, and that he had no greater desire, that he could no longer endure such a horrible and fearsome spirit so close by. And Theresa needed to see that her idol was nothing other than putrid smoke and fumes before the breath of the Lord.

At that he commanded me to help him and grabbed onto the hand of the idol and broke it off. After that we brought some rope and poles and with considerable effort succeeded so that the statue tumbled to the ground with a dull thud. At first Theresa covered her head, as if she didn’t want to watch. Then we went further, through the entire ruins, and to the honor of God, threw all the idols, twenty five in all, down from their pedestals.

But during the night a horrible crashing arose over our heads and a rumbling in the earth, so that the ground began to sway like a ship and our hut was immediately torn apart, as if the poles were thin reeds. We ran out, and then saw a great flame on the top of the highest mountain and a reflection like blood surrounding us in all the rubble. There was a screeching and shrieking in the air as if from a thousand voices; as if all the spirits in hell were descending upon us. The ruins of the golden city rolled around each other, so that they gave off loud noises as they crashed together.

A large boulder fell from out of the sky right in front of Don Pedro and almost hit him. Theresa began laughing at that, and it was so frightening to hear, that Don Pedro approached her. She was to remain silent and feel the blessed holy Virgin in her soul.

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After a short time the same horrible and miserable screeching as yesterday began again on the roof of the hut, and even the dogs began to howl and whine again. In front of the hut was raised a murmur of voices and a clattering of weapons, and then I heard the steps of many men running away into the distance. After a long time I felt a hand seize mine with a tug and a sign for me to understand. I was to get up, which I immediately did, in order to blindly follow my guide. We crawled through a hole in the wall at the back end of the hut, and I inhaled the night air with great joy. It was so dark that I could not distinguish anything of my guide other than her figure and streaks of white. It was a color with which all the women of Zubu painted their breasts and legs and which now glowed a little under the free light of the heavens.

We slipped away between the huts of the village towards a mountain, until we came to a forest. Here we took a short rest, and the girl began to softly speak, but I couldn’t answer her in any other way than in Spanish and I thanked her for rescuing me. Then we went further, and as we came out of the forest near daybreak; we found ourselves in the light of the just risen moon and took shelter on a broad, grass covered plain. In the same light I recognized my guide as the girl that had sat near me on my right. What happened to the other, I would only learn later, and will only say what I suspected at the time, namely, that she had been given something in her drink, which she ingested and it put her into a deep sleep.

The travel through the high grass of the plain was difficult and troublesome for me once my head with its wound and my swollen feet were exposed to the rays of the sun. When my little girl became aware that I could scarcely continue, she made a rest by running water, washing my wound and bandaging it with her veil. Then she took some herbs, and anointed the irritated places on my feet and wrists with the sap, after which I almost immediately felt more comfortable and stronger, so that I could soon continue on further.

On this trail I found many flowers whose leaves were alive. These leaves consisted of two parts that clapped together like wings, and they sat with short, pointed stems on the branches. At the other end they had a red thorn. When they sensed a human, they pulled away, and a little stick flew through the air as well, and when they were driven into a tight corner, they turned around and stabbed with the red thorn, no different than an animal. But they really were leaves, and I believe that they lived upon the air.

Toward evening we climbed the steep mountain and at twilight came to a narrow ravine which we had to wander through for perhaps an hour. From this we stepped out onto a level plain, whose grass spread out in front of us like a carpet. Again it was so dark that I had to take my guide by the hand, meanwhile we came across some stone ruins that looked like pillars or arches, so that a person might think they had found themselves in a destroyed city.

Night fell upon us, after which we ate several fruit, which my girl brought from the nearby growing bushes, without a fire next to a large heap of stones, and there I became very tired and only awoke late the next day. As I looked around me, I realized that I had not been deceived last night. We really were in the ruins of a city with the remains of walls and towers and pillars and fountains. What I had not been able to notice in the darkness was that these ruins and rubble were all of pure gold, so that they shone and glimmered in the sun, as if we were standing in brilliant flames. Now it was well known to us that this metal was considered common on our discovered island and of little value. Magellan had to strongly forbid us to not seem too greedy for gold or to place a great value on it, so the savages would not know how valuable and expensive it was to us. But I had not thought such an empire possible in these lands. In comparison to the huts of bark and cane down below on the beach, these golden ruins seemed to have been built by another people and—even though I was no expert—I would venture to maintain, that the city must have been built before the great flood. In the rubble there were also many gigantic statues of gods, standing and sitting, with eyes of jewels and rings on their fingers, of which one alone, was worth an entire house in Sevilla, like the one that Donna Mercedes lived in.

As I learned the speech of the land from Salaja, that was the girl’s name, I learned from her that her countrymen knew of this city very well, but the avoided the area because they considered it occupied by devils. At my question, why Salaja had come here with me despite this belief of her folk, she smiled at me and kissed me on the mouth, as I had taught her that was what the Spanish women did. I must here confess that Salaja had become my wife, after I realized that she had taken on all dangers and the rage of her own people because she loved me.

And if anyone should find this manuscript, I don’t want you to think that I had taken some ugly Negress to wife. I must clarify that the women of Zubu were almost as white as our women, that in youth they had smooth and tender skin and that their voices were very soft and gentle, so that you could listen to their songs with great pleasure.

At first my Salaja wore large pieces of wood in her ears like all the others and painted herself with red and white mud, but she put the wooden earrings away and stopped painting herself after I told her once that I was not fond of this kind of decoration. She was compliant and competent in all things and did everything according to my will, so that I often wondered a little if she really was the one that pushed the stone knife into the breast of Duarte Barbosa.

We lived in the golden city, whose surroundings gave us an abundance of fruit and animals, for a long time without moving, almost for six months, unbothered and without having to suffer the rigor the heavens in this hot and happy stretch of land. And while in the beginning I thought of my own travels and my homeland with longing and homesickness, I later forgot them from day to day, living even more only for corporal things, just like a plant or animal. And I do not want to say what might have become of me and to what level of forgetfulness the devil might have brought me even further, if something hadn’t happened one day, which I will relate in the following. (NB. But sometimes it seems to me, that this early time could not have been under the sign of Satan, and furthermore, that which happened later, seems to have been on his instigation and led to an evil game. So that I am now in great confusion and my soul is still in no way clear about what I should make of all these things. That is why I desire this once just before my death, to raise a sincere prayer to my patron in heaven, so that perhaps death will be easier for my soul, things will not be so painful and I will no longer be so full of doubt and confusion.)

So it was perhaps half a year after my liberation and we had still not seen any other people, when one morning Salaja had scarcely gone out, when she came rushing back into our house of twigs and bushes. She cried that she had seen someone in the bushes and slinking around the ruins. I immediately followed her to a hidden spot and there we saw a human who crept through the bushes so carefully in the twilight that I only got one glimpse and could no longer make him out.

Then I seized my spear, on which I had fastened a blade of stone, to kill this other person if he came any nearer. But as he stepped out of the shadows I recognized our chaplain Pedro ed Valderrama, whom I had believed murdered with the others. His clothing was very torn, his face was framed with a wild beard, but he stood there alive in front of me, and while I was watching him, he looked around and his glance fell upon our golden ruins. Then he sank to his knees and raised his hands high, as if in prayer, at which point I stepped up and greeted him. But he screamed out loud, fell down and hid his face between his hands, so that I had to speak with him for a long time and tell him that I really was Juan Serrano, his companion. Later I recognized that his terror was not so remarkable, since I had not been wearing my shirt during my flight, and after that Salaja had woven me a skirt out of bark and leaves, so that I, with unshaven head, beard and burned from the sun, appeared like a savage.

The chaplain was almost still more astonished over the golden city in which we lived than he was over me and he said that all the riches of previously discovered lands could not compare to these treasures. He picked up clumps of gold and carried them in all his pockets, which he always took out and examined, as if there was not enough of this metal lying all around.

After we had brought him to our hut, he explained that he had been saved by Cilatun, a brother of the king, the same one, whom he had brought back to health through baptism and prayer. This man had been very ill when we had come to the island, and had not spoken for four days. The magicians and priests of the gods could not prevail over the illness, but immediately after baptism and after Don Pedro said a prayer over him he had felt better and in a short time was completely healed. Out of thankfulness Cilatun had then spared the chaplain’s life by leading him to his own house, from where he had then escaped into the forest and later to this lonely mountain.

I was overjoyed at finding one of my companions, but Salaja was silent and troubled, as if Don Pedro was not very welcome to her, so much so that I had to console her. During the night after Don Pedro’s arrival I again heard the horrible and miserable screech of a bird near our hut, and when I became aware that Salaja was awake, I asked her what kind of bird it was. But I had to ask for a long time before she would give me an answer. This bird was the grimmest enemy of the whales, and when these came up from out of the deeps, in order to sleep with open mouths on the surface of the ocean, this bird would fly down to it, through the mouth, into the innards, tear its heart out with its sharp beak and kill it in this manner. But its scream was considered unholy. And that was why even the guards in front of the hut had run away that time. Then I asked her whether the screech of the bird was such an evil thing to her, whereupon she squeezed my hand and kissed me, as only a Spanish lady can kiss.

The next day Don Pedro clambered around in the ruins and came back in such great confusion that I noticed the prospect of so much gold must have climbed into his head. He spoke only of it, that these heaps of gold were immeasurable and with them a man could buy the entire Royal Empire of Castilla. That evening he went with me to a high place, from which you could see the plain overgrown with grass and look out over the endless ocean.

“What you could have with all this gold,” he said to me. “It lies here unused!” We are both the richest men in the world and will never enjoy any of our riches.”

And he continued on to paint for me, how a person could live in Sevilla, and how all the world would be amazed and serve you. But as I answered him, I declined to dwell upon it, because it was not possible and we would never be able to leave this island. To which he replied that he had already noticed that in living together with this woman I had lost all my incentive, yes, that I had even forgotten what the best way was, that of Christianity. He could not even imagine that Salaja had ever been baptized.

At which I replied that was quite possible, because Salaja was clothed with another a type of priestly dignity, one that all these people had renounced before being baptized.

Then he said that it was necessary for her to take up the Christian faith, because he could not endure that I continued living with a heathen any longer as if in marriage.  If I did not ask this of her she would still fall into hell and be thrown from the face of God.

I told him that I had not done this, because Salaja had saved me from death and I had not wanted to insult her.

Then he said what beautiful gratitude it was, that someone who saved me from death, would be given the prize of the spiritual death.

After that I agreed that I would request this of her and persuade her to be baptized.

After the words of Don Pedro and my own given promise I began trying to convince her with all my power to enter into the Christian community. Salaja didn’t resist and said, although a little sad, that she would do what I desired; and so Don Pedro performed the baptism, gave her the name Teresa, and united us as well in Christian marriage.



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