The Adventures of Zeit Hinterland (story)

zeit hinterlandI walked for years and came finally to house among the trees. The wood of the forest outside had been used to build the panels and bookcases inside, squared off and varnished a dark brown. There was only one lamp in the hall, but it felt cosy, rather than dingy. The rings of the wood, like eyes, eyes that had seen a thousand years in the forest, and four hundred years in the house, looking at me, who is this girl, and why has she come here.

So many moths in the house. Those tiny brown fragile ones, a pale taupe and so delicate. I found them crushed and dying on the window sills. What a strange thing to come back in your second life as a moth, to be so vulnerable that even a breath could kill you. An incarnation that lasts only a few days. Or perhaps a purgatory for those who have committed minor sins. Pausing to contemplate one last time in this world before going on to paradise.

I walk though room after room, where the house has been changed and added to, a mess or shapes, the original floor plan completely lost, what was once a symmetry long destroyed.

Is this a hall, a dining room, a library, who knows, perhaps it is just a shape. A trapezoid in wood and plaster. Do they spell out some incantation? Do the gods looking down read some hidden message?

I walk down a gallery which feels older than the others, and push open a door. In a dark red room there is a mirror at the top of a short flight of stairs, I thought it would be a door, but it wasn’t. It was a mirror, just a mirror. I stood and looked at myself.

I was here because I was a murderer. But I did not know who I had murdered. “You are Vlad the Impaler,” they had told me,

“No, I’m not, I’m just a girl,” I replied, but they did not believe me.

“His spirit is in you,” they said. I was dangerous to them. So I was thrown out of the village and left to walk the forests, ever bitter at the Wicca Woman who had cursed me to this fate, looking deep into my eyes and seeing flecks of colour which were not meant to be there, and marking me as “other”.

I touched the young face in the mirror, it did not frighten me because it was the face of a girl, an average girl. It was me, but it could have been anyone else. I looked for traces of Vlad in those features and saw none.

Later I slept on a couch in what had been a parlour, surrounded by paintings of people I did not know, the wood of the house keeping out the cold of the forest, and the howls of mad wolves echoing in the distance.

Three nights later there was a scratch at the door. I ate bread and cold gruel and tried to ignore it. It came again, and I wrapped my head in a shawl to muffle out the sound.

I barricaded myself in the house for a week, eating potted apples and drinking vodka until the supplies ran out, and the sounds of barking and sniffing drove me mad. “Who are you?” I yelled at the animal. No reply came, just silence and the feeling that someone was stalking around the house.

Desperate for firewood and for food from the orchards, I fashioned myself a weapon, a broom handle sharpened into a stake and walked across the yard. I am not afraid of you, I said to the wolf, inside my mind, repeating the words until they felt real. Perhaps the wolf was just a phantom, or a small dog with a gift for noise. I laughed at my own folly and my own cleverness.

And then the animal came at me, leaping above my head as I came to the apple trees, I held up my stake and impaled it as gravity brought its weight down on me an down on the ground. We lay in a bloody puddle of fur and twitching teeth as it expired, scratching at my face but leaving hardly a mark as the life and blood drained from its body, the pathetic scratches of a small dog.

Three days passed as I paced the house like a spirit and washed myself in the fountain-pool, the smell of blood never left me, and I covered myself in garlands of flowers from the wood. The body of the wolf rotted slowly, and I found lilies to cover the stench. I looked at my face in that mirror again, looking for some sign of hardness, but found none.

I gave the wolf a christian burial, and thought about who it had been in its other lives, as I smoothed over the earth of the grave, but the flowers wilted and the ground around the body turned to ash.

So I planted an apple tree so that the spirit could climb out of the ground. The wolf was my antagonist, but I remembered the words of a Sadhu who had told me that fierce creatures are not necessarily beings of bad-spirit, they are just base and hungry in this incarnation. “Be free,” I said to the wolf.

The tree blossomed and bore fruit. I did not eat it because I was afraid. One day a messenger came to the house. He told me “the Wicca Woman is dead,”

“How,” I asked, surely the Wicca live forever,

“She just disappeared into the forest one day,” he said. I thought about her and her wolf-like eyes and her phoney spells and her prophesies which never came true.

“You’re free to return if you wish,” said the messenger. He handed me a sash of crimson and gold. We drove away in a donkey cart, and he spoke of the village, and how it needed a messiah, someone to save them from evil spirits, robbers, and bad harvests.

Behind us, the stones of the yard were still dark with blood. Years of scrubbing had not removed the stains. And a tall stake was driven into the ground, entrails dried and clinging to the wood, a warning to other wolves. A talisman to protect the house for a hundred years.

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