Browsed by
Tag: fiction

Ghost Story Night

Ghost Story Night

It was Last Sunday and the moon stood bright and wide.
Susan hugged her parents and walked across the smooth wood floor,
blankly registering the constant jiggling of the river flowing beneath.
She removed the thatch covering over a small hole in the center of their floating cabin and,
flippers slicing the cool rippling flow, slipped into the river, holding the cylindrical little door over her head and settling it neatly back in place after her splashing disappearance.

Her mother looked at her father and shook her head.
He threw his arms up, elbows at his side, webbed fingers supplicating the various forgotten gods.
“He’s your father.”
She winced. “He’s a wise man; I trust his goodness and his wisdom, but I am worried they are not enough.”
But, madam, if wisdom and goodness are not enough, what hope have we creatures? What compass is left us?? And so we must accept the only tools that could ever mean anything to us, that could ever do anything for us, take us anywhere that we could ever really care about, believe in, belong to.

Susan swam swiftly to the market square, deserted now except for a few kids playing checkers (the universe is a child playing checkers) and strange old Henry, who seems to spend all day and night sitting on the wooden railing, looking sadly into the center of the market square. Especially at night when no one’s there and all is muffled and lightless does his body slump dejectedly and his eyes glass with some deep internal shudder that he cannot move beyond. Strange fellow. Nice enough to talk to, though he never says much. She waited by the entry—a break in the railing wide enough to hold four or five Water Runners standing shoulder to shoulder (so about five feet wide)—nearest her grandparents’ home, dangling her legs in the water.

These Water Runners are funny folk.
At least they’re funny-looking.
They remind me of cormorants.
Have you ever seen cormorants?
They are sleek black water birds you’ll watch dive into water fresh, salt, and in-between.
Water Runners are likewise black, sleek, smooth divers.
And they also share the cormorants oily wet look.
Their skin is pure black and covered by tiny black hairs that collectively bear a striking resemblance to the oiled feathers of a cormorant.
But Water Runners are humanoids, not birds.
What a thin people! arms and legs like beanpoles.
Instead of visible noses, they’ve two small slits. Instead of ears, they’ve an invisible hole on either side of their head. You might think they were little kid bank robbers in black jumpsuits and ski-masks, but their proportions are too narrow for a human to pull off.
Flippered feet and webbed hands, small but deadly sharp claws on each digit.
Made for the water, they dive beneath the surface of a river or lake, swim and dart about from one submerged stone to another. Their big wasp eyes shielded by a thin retractable shield and using sonic clicks and hand signals to communicate, they scavenge, hunt, explore, play in the warbling underwater light. After quarter of an hour or so, they’ll surface, gorge themselves on air for a few minutes, and return to the well-lit depths of deep-channeled rivers and shallow lakes.

Water Runners don’t like water too deep to see in. They leave that to the Sea People, who can breathe water and see without light, and who are altogether more suited for such scary depths. Of course, the sea people don’t like freshwater, and so no human-like creature ventures beyond the shallows of the giant lakes with waves and storms like oceans. But that’s just as well.

The craggy, pocketed rocks jumbled on the water’s edge make for a sharp, bumpy, thoroughly unpleasant seat. Hence the little square reed mats. One or two are enough for the sleight Water Runners, but the Tree People need four or five beneath their solid rumps. Susan sat nearest the river. There one need only lean a little to one side to tumble down a few feet into the safety of quick-moving, white-foaming waters. The Tree People, being clumsy even in calm, easy waters, fear quickwater and would never pursue a Water Runner into the froth. Next to Susan percherd her grandfather; next to him his friend Sam, of the Tree People. Sam’s grandson Ted, about Susan’s age and friend her whole life but never playmate and never once physically touched by her, sat next to his grandfather, the escape vine between them.

In the old days, with the Water Runners and the Tree People constantly skirmishing, many such meeting places had been designated along the river’s edge. With the water near, the Water Runners could safely escape the Tree People, and with heavy trees overhead and vines and/or ropes dangling down to the rocks, the Tree People could easily toss themselves up into the canopy to evade belligerent Water Runners.

Susan’s grandfather had grown up as the fighting waned. Over the years delicate peace treaties grew stronger as the peoples webbed themselves deeper and deeper into each other, forming religious, business, and political relationships that in many cases blossomed into real but cautious friendships. Like the one between Maxwell Knifehider of the Water Runners and Samuel Strongarm of the Tree People. For years now they’d met on this pile of rugged boulders by the foaming spitting jagged waters and beneath the heavy limbs of ancient fern-leafed and soft, yellow-trunked trees.

Maxwell and Samuel were both religious leaders, ones who spoke to gods, healed the sick and wounded, advised the leaders, warriors, traders, and laborers in matters of the spirit. On this rocky outcrop, they shared ideas their respective peoples couldn’t, in their judgement, presently bear to hear: all the true gods were just different human experiences of the one God, who did and did not mind names like “River Driver” and “Great Sky Tree”. But those kind of radical theological musings were for evenings without grandchildren. Tonight they’d tell the old stories, the stories shared by all the peoples, the ones from the days of the creatures.

“It was the time of the creatures and the sky was sticky and mean. Every place had its monster: Tall spindlers roamed the plains; dread dogs bounded the forest floor and tree to tree; bigmouthed frogs sliced the waters, chomping Water Runners; laughing sharks scattered Sea People remnants across ocean floors; and from overhead great long-beaked fire-breathing birds burnt and tore everyone, although they paid particular attention to tumbling the Flying Ones’ cliff-side villages into the surging sea. Worst of all were the mountain monsters; that is why the Mountain People are to this day so few and so skittish you can never find one—not even at the edges, where in the First Days other peoples found and knew them. In the First Days, all peoples believed in one another and no one fought anyone. All had all they needed and anger filled no one. But then the creatures came, and the creatures tore up everything.”

“It was the time of the creatures, cruel and bold. Monsters without bellies, hungering only for mayhem, for spreading pain, destruction, death and loss. Tall spindlers were strange balls of rough loose rhino flesh, with leathery legs and arms as long swinging vines but thick like water poplars. They ran like thunder and lightning, tossing themselves across the world, their fierce-clawed spinning arms slicing every hut, every Plainsman, every ox and every cart. Nothing could stand their reckless sour-heartef fury; any Plainsman within reach would–strong, fast, and fierce as they are on the open grounds–be cut in two. There was no hope, no way to defeat the tall spindlers with slicing teeth and giant bulging yellow eyes. And who could stand against a dread dog as it banged from tree to tree, its sticky drooling teeth decapitating every Tree Person, hurting tree homes and walkways to the dirts far below? Nor was there a weapon to pierce the thick unctuous hide of the bigmouthed frogs, that swam faster than the fastest fish and lived only for destruction: chomping Water Runners apart, ramming their homes and boats until they sank; even their urine was a deadly poison that made the waters putrid, killing fish and Water Runner alike.”

“Those monsters were terrible. And the people suffered greatly. But the worst creatures from the time of the creatures were the laughing sharks who tore apart the twenty seas; the fire spitting birds who broke and burnt homes, trees, fields, anything safe and nourishing; and, worst of all, the mountain men because they were men like us and clever like us, but they were also evil giant monsters without stomachs or hearts, as tall as a riverside willow, covered in white, impenetrable fur, with red desperate eyes, strong enough to snap an ox’s neck in one hand and crumple the tallest proudest Plainsman in another.”

“Some say the mountain men led all creatures, that all haters obeyed their will, followed their command, fulfilled their plan. Some say the creatures are not dead, but only waiting; and the mountain men hold the few surviving Mountain Folk emaciated and blurry-brained in small prickly cages, saved for the dark day coming”

“For what day? What dark day?!” Blurted out young Theodore Treebreaker. Rising up on his two stubby legs, great arms reaching high with long shovel fingers drooping down, twittering. He reminds me of an excited orangutan. Of course, Tree People are bigger than orangutans, and though their arm and leg proportions are more orangutan than human, they otherwise look like bodybuilding humans covered from brown head to black toe in a very fine light grey fur. Also, all humanoids sport opposable thumbs, a handy tool of which neither ape nor monkey nor any other animal can boast.

“Awaiting the day of great vengeance. When the creatures return to end our world and send all living people to the distant land, where the dead dwell.”

“Why great vengeance? What have we done? Why do they want to hurt us?” asked Susan in a quiet voice, instinctively leaning towards the water,as if the cool skipping water could save her from the creatures in her head.

“If the creatures had reasons, they would be humans and the gods could reach them, could persuade them, guide them into gentler paths. They could repent their wanton violence and live joyfully, at peace with themselves and all living creatures. But they have no reasons. They are not like us who think: ‘I should find a justification for this act, and if I cannot, or if I discover that the justifications I am able to give are not adequate, I should cease committing the act’. Even the mountain men, who spoke and strategized, who outsmarted many peoples many times–they had no reasons. They did not ask themselves why they must kill and maim, break and tumble. They felt like hurting us; that was enough to drive their berserk, to punish us day and night. These creatures do not understand love, kindness, joy, friendship. They are soullessly miserable in a way that no person–no matter how lost to folly–can ever be. For we always have Godlight within, trying to get through to us, to lead us to better, more beautiful feelings, thoughts, words, deeds. But the creatures–that’s the real problem with the creatures. They have no soul, only sickness on the inside and strength on the outside.”

AMW/BW

The Red Badge of Courage

The Red Badge of Courage

The Red Badge of Courage was published by Stephen Crane in 1895, when he was 25 years old. He died in 1899.

This is the first Chapter:

Chapter 1
The cold passed reluctantly from the earth, and the retiring fogs revealed an army stretched out on the hills, resting. As the landscape changed from brown to green, the army awakened, and began to tremble with eagerness at the noise of rumors. It cast its eyes upon the roads, which were growing from long troughs of liquid mud to proper thoroughfares. A river, amber-tinted in the shadow of its banks, purled at the army’s feet; and at night, when the stream had become of a sorrowful blackness, one could see across it the red, eyelike gleam of hostile camp-fires set in the low brows of distant hills.

Once a certain tall soldier developed virtues and went resolutely to wash a shirt. He came flying back from a brook waving his garment bannerlike. He was swelled with a tale he had heard from a reliable friend, who had heard it from a truthful cavalryman, who had heard it from his trustworthy brother, one of the orderlies at division headquarters. He adopted the important air of a herald in red and gold.

“We’re goin’ t’ move t’morrah–sure,” he said pompously to a group in the company street. “We’re goin’ ‘way up the river, cut across, an’ come around in behint ’em.”

To his attentive audience he drew a loud and elaborate plan of a very brilliant campaign. When he had finished, the blue-clothed men scattered into small arguing groups between the rows of squat brown huts. A negro teamster who had been dancing upon a cracker box with the hilarious encouragement of twoscore soldiers was deserted. He sat mournfully down. Smoke drifted lazily from a multitude of quaint chimneys.

“It’s a lie! that’s all it is–a thunderin’ lie!” said another private loudly. His smooth face was flushed, and his hands were thrust sulkily into his trouser’s pockets. He took the matter as an affront to him. “I don’t believe the derned old army’s ever going to move. We’re set. I’ve got ready to move eight times in the last two weeks, and we ain’t moved yet.”

The tall soldier felt called upon to defend the truth of a rumor he himself had introduced. He and the loud one came near to fighting over it.

A corporal began to swear before the assemblage. He had just put a costly board floor in his house, he said. During the early spring he had refrained from adding extensively to the comfort of his environment because he had felt that the army might start on the march at any moment. Of late, however, he had been impressed that they were in a sort of eternal camp.

Many of the men engaged in a spirited debate. One outlined in a peculiarly lucid manner all the plans of the commanding general. He was opposed by men who advocated that there were other plans of campaign. They clamored at each other, numbers making futile bids for the popular attention. Meanwhile, the soldier who had fetched the rumor bustled about with much importance. He was continually assailed by questions.

“What’s up, Jim?”

“Th’army’s goin’ t’ move.”

“Ah, what yeh talkin’ about? How yeh know it is?”

“Well, yeh kin b’lieve me er not, jest as yeh like. I don’t care a hang.”

There was much food for thought in the manner in which he replied. He came near to convincing them by disdaining to produce proofs. They grew much excited over it.

There was a youthful private who listened with eager ears to the words of the tall soldier and to the varied comments of his comrades. After receiving a fill of discussions concerning marches and attacks, he went to his hut and crawled through an intricate hole that served it as a door. He wished to be alone with some new thoughts that had lately come to him.

He lay down on a wide bunk that stretched across the end of the room. In the other end, cracker boxes were made to serve as furniture. They were grouped about the fireplace. A picture from an illustrated weekly was upon the log walls, and three rifles were paralleled on pegs. Equipments hung on handy projections, and some tin dishes lay upon a small pile of firewood. A folded tent was serving as a roof. The sunlight, without, beating upon it, made it glow a light yellow shade. A small window shot an oblique square of whiter light upon the cluttered floor. The smoke from the fire at times neglected the clay chimney and wreathed into the room, and this flimsy chimney of clay and sticks made endless threats to set ablaze the whole establishment.

The youth was in a little trance of astonishment. So they were at last going to fight. On the morrow, perhaps, there would be a battle, and he would be in it. For a time he was obliged to labor to make himself believe. He could not accept with assurance an omen that he was about to mingle in one of those great affairs of the earth.

He had, of course, dreamed of battles all his life–of vague and bloody conflicts that had thrilled him with their sweep and fire. In visions he had seen himself in many struggles. He had imagined peoples secure in the shadow of his eagle-eyed prowess. But awake he had regarded battles as crimson blotches on the pages of the past. He had put them as things of the bygone with his thought-images of heavy crowns and high castles. There was a portion of the world’s history which he had regarded as the time of wars, but it, he thought, had been long gone over the horizon and had disappeared forever.

From his home his youthful eyes had looked upon the war in his own country with distrust. It must be some sort of a play affair. He had long despaired of witnessing a Greeklike struggle. Such would be no more, he had said. Men were better, or more timid. Secular and religious education had effaced the throat-grappling instinct, or else firm finance held in check the passions.

He had burned several times to enlist. Tales of great movements shook the land. They might not be distinctly Homeric, but there seemed to be much glory in them. He had read of marches, sieges, conflicts, and he had longed to see it all. His busy mind had drawn for him large pictures extravagant in color, lurid with breathless deeds.

But his mother had discouraged him. She had affected to look with some contempt upon the quality of his war ardor and patriotism. She could calmly seat herself and with no apparent difficulty give him many hundreds of reasons why he was of vastly more importance on the farm than on the field of battle. She had had certain ways of expression that told him that her statements on the subject came from a deep conviction. Moreover, on her side, was his belief that her ethical motive in the argument was impregnable.

At last, however, he had made firm rebellion against this yellow light thrown upon the color of his ambitions. The newspapers, the gossip of the village, his own picturings, had aroused him to an uncheckable degree. They were in truth fighting finely down there. Almost every day the newspaper printed accounts of a decisive victory.

One night, as he lay in bed, the winds had carried to him the clangoring of the church bell as some enthusiast jerked the rope frantically to tell the twisted news of a great battle. This voice of the people rejoicing in the night had made him shiver in a prolonged ecstasy of excitement. Later, he had gone down to his mother’s room and had spoken thus: “Ma, I’m going to enlist.”

“Henry, don’t you be a fool,” his mother had replied. She had then covered her face with the quilt. There was an end to the matter for that night.

Nevertheless, the next morning he had gone to a town that was near his mother’s farm and had enlisted in a company that was forming there. When he had returned home his mother was milking the brindle cow. Four others stood waiting. “Ma, I’ve enlisted,” he had said to her diffidently. There was a short silence. “The Lord’s will be done, Henry,” she had finally replied, and had then continued to milk the brindle cow.

When he had stood in the doorway with his soldier’s clothes on his back, and with the light of excitement and expectancy in his eyes almost defeating the glow of regret for the home bonds, he had seen two tears leaving their trails on his mother’s scarred cheeks.

Still, she had disappointed him by saying nothing whatever about returning with his shield or on it. He had privately primed himself for a beautiful scene. He had prepared certain sentences which he thought could be used with touching effect. But her words destroyed his plans. She had doggedly peeled potatoes and addressed him as follows: “You watch out, Henry, an’ take good care of yerself in this here fighting business–you watch, an’ take good care of yerself. Don’t go a-thinkin’ you can lick the hull rebel army at the start, because yeh can’t. Yer jest one little feller amongst a hull lot of others, and yeh’ve got to keep quiet an’ do what they tell yeh. I know how you are, Henry.

“I’ve knet yeh eight pair of socks, Henry, and I’ve put in all yer best shirts, because I want my boy to be jest as warm and comf’able as anybody in the army. Whenever they get holes in ’em, I want yeh to send ’em right-away back to me, so’s I kin dern ’em.

“An’ allus be careful an’ choose yer comp’ny. There’s lots of bad men in the army, Henry. The army makes ’em wild, and they like nothing better than the job of leading off a young feller like you, as ain’t never been away from home much and has allus had a mother, an’ a-learning ’em to drink and swear. Keep clear of them folks, Henry. I don’t want yeh to ever do anything, Henry, that yeh would be ‘shamed to let me know about. Jest think as if I was a-watchin’ yeh. If yeh keep that in yer mind allus, I guess yeh’ll come out about right.

“Yeh must allus remember yer father, too, child, an’ remember he never drunk a drop of licker in his life, and seldom swore a cross oath.

“I don’t know what else to tell yeh, Henry, excepting that yeh must never do no shirking, child, on my account. If so be a time comes when yeh have to be kilt or do a mean thing, why, Henry, don’t think of anything ‘cept what’s right, because there’s many a woman has to bear up ‘ginst sech things these times, and the Lord ‘ll take keer of us all.

“Don’t forgit about the socks and the shirts, child; and I’ve put a cup of blackberry jam with yer bundle, because I know yeh like it above all things. Good-by, Henry. Watch out, and be a good boy.”

He had, of course, been impatient under the ordeal of this speech. It had not been quite what he expected, and he had borne it with an air of irritation. He departed feeling vague relief.

Still, when he had looked back from the gate, he had seen his mother kneeling among the potato parings. Her brown face, upraised, was stained with tears, and her spare form was quivering. He bowed his head and went on, feeling suddenly ashamed of his purposes.

From his home he had gone to the seminary to bid adieu to many schoolmates. They had thronged about him with wonder and admiration. He had felt the gulf now between them and had swelled with calm pride. He and some of his fellows who had donned blue were quite overwhelmed with privileges for all of one afternoon, and it had been a very delicious thing. They had strutted.

A certain light-haired girl had made vivacious fun at his martial spirit, but there was another and darker girl whom he had gazed at steadfastly, and he thought she grew demure and sad at sight of his blue and brass. As he had walked down the path between the rows of oaks, he had turned his head and detected her at a window watching his departure. As he perceived her, she had immediately begun to stare up through the high tree branches at the sky. He had seen a good deal of flurry and haste in her movement as she changed her attitude. He often thought of it.

On the way to Washington his spirit had soared. The regiment was fed and caressed at station after station until the youth had believed that he must be a hero. There was a lavish expenditure of bread and cold meats, coffee, and pickles and cheese. As he basked in the smiles of the girls and was patted and complimented by the old men, he had felt growing within him the strength to do mighty deeds of arms.

After complicated journeyings with many pauses, there had come months of monotonous life in a camp. He had had the belief that real war was a series of death struggles with small time in between for sleep and meals; but since his regiment had come to the field the army had done little but sit still and try to keep warm.

He was brought then gradually back to his old ideas. Greeklike struggles would be no more. Men were better, or more timid. Secular and religious education had effaced the throat-grappling instinct, or else firm finance held in check the passions.

He had grown to regard himself merely as a part of a vast blue demonstration. His province was to look out, as far as he could, for his personal comfort. For recreation he could twiddle his thumbs and speculate on the thoughts which must agitate the minds of the generals. Also, he was drilled and drilled and reviewed, and drilled and drilled and reviewed.

The only foes he had seen were some pickets along the river bank. They were a sun-tanned, philosophical lot, who sometimes shot reflectively at the blue pickets. When reproached for this afterward, they usually expressed sorrow, and swore by their gods that the guns had exploded without their permission. The youth, on guard duty one night, conversed across the stream with one of them. He was a slightly ragged man, who spat skillfully between his shoes and possessed a great fund of bland and infantile assurance. The youth liked him personally.

“Yank,” the other had informed him, “yer a right dum good feller.” This sentiment, floating to him upon the still air, had made him temporarily regret war.

Various veterans had told him tales. Some talked of gray, bewhiskered hordes who were advancing with relentless curses and chewing tobacco with unspeakable valor; tremendous bodies of fierce soldiery who were sweeping along like the Huns. Others spoke of tattered and eternally hungry men who fired despondent powders. “They’ll charge through hell’s fire an’ brimstone t’ git a holt on a haversack, an’ sech stomachs ain’t a’lastin’ long,” he was told. From the stories, the youth imagined the red, live bones sticking out through slits in the faded uniforms.

Still, he could not put a whole faith in veteran’s tales, for recruits were their prey. They talked much of smoke, fire, and blood, but he could not tell how much might be lies. They persistently yelled “Fresh fish!” at him, and were in no wise to be trusted.

However, he perceived now that it did not greatly matter what kind of soldiers he was going to fight, so long as they fought, which fact no one disputed. There was a more serious problem. He lay in his bunk pondering upon it. He tried to mathematically prove to himself that he would not run from a battle.

Previously he had never felt obliged to wrestle too seriously with this question. In his life he had taken certain things for granted, never challenging his belief in ultimate success, and bothering little about means and roads. But here he was confronted with a thing of moment. It had suddenly appeared to him that perhaps in a battle he might run. He was forced to admit that as far as war was concerned he knew nothing of himself.

A sufficient time before he would have allowed the problem to kick its heels at the outer portals of his mind, but now he felt compelled to give serious attention to it.

A little panic-fear grew in his mind. As his imagination went forward to a fight, he saw hideous possibilities. He contemplated the lurking menaces of the future, and failed in an effort to see himself standing stoutly in the midst of them. He recalled his visions of broken-bladed glory, but in the shadow of the impending tumult he suspected them to be impossible pictures.

He sprang from the bunk and began to pace nervously to and fro. “Good Lord, what’s th’ matter with me?” he said aloud.

He felt that in this crisis his laws of life were useless. Whatever he had learned of himself was here of no avail. He was an unknown quantity. He saw that he would again be obliged to experiment as he had in early youth. He must accumulate information of himself, and meanwhile he resolved to remain close upon his guard lest those qualities of which he knew nothing should everlastingly disgrace him. “Good Lord!” he repeated in dismay.

After a time the tall soldier slid dexterously through the hole. The loud private followed. They were wrangling.

“That’s all right,” said the tall soldier as he entered. He waved his hand expressively. “You can believe me or not, jest as you like. All you got to do is sit down and wait as quiet as you can. Then pretty soon you’ll find out I was right.”

His comrade grunted stubbornly. For a moment he seemed to be searching for a formidable reply. Finally he said: “Well, you don’t know everything in the world, do you?”

“Didn’t say I knew everything in the world,” retorted the other sharply. He began to stow various articles snugly into his knapsack.

The youth, pausing in his nervous walk, looked down at the busy figure. “Going to be a battle, sure, is there, Jim?” he asked.

“Of course there is,” replied the tall soldier. “Of course there is. You jest wait ’til to-morrow, and you’ll see one of the biggest battles ever was. You jest wait.”

“Thunder!” said the youth.

“Oh, you’ll see fighting this time, my boy, what’ll be regular out-and-out fighting,” added the tall soldier, with the air of a man who is about to exhibit a battle for the benefit of his friends.

“Huh!” said the loud one from a corner.

“Well,” remarked the youth, “like as not this story’ll turn out jest like them others did.”

“Not much it won’t,” replied the tall soldier, exasperated. “Not much it won’t. Didn’t the cavalry all start this morning?” He glared about him. No one denied his statement. “The cavalry started this morning,” he continued. “They say there ain’t hardly any cavalry left in camp. They’re going to Richmond, or some place, while we fight all the Johnnies. It’s some dodge like that. The regiment’s got orders, too. A feller what seen ’em go to headquarters told me a little while ago. And they’re raising blazes all over camp–anybody can see that.”

“Shucks!” said the loud one.

The youth remained silent for a time. At last he spoke to the tall soldier. “Jim!”

“What?”

“How do you think the reg’ment ‘ll do?”

“Oh, they’ll fight all right, I guess, after they once get into it,” said the other with cold judgment. He made a fine use of the third person. “There’s been heaps of fun poked at ’em because they’re new, of course, and all that; but they’ll fight all right, I guess.”

“Think any of the boys ‘ll run?” persisted the youth.

“Oh, there may be a few of ’em run, but there’s them kind in every regiment, ‘specially when they first goes under fire,” said the other in a tolerant way. “Of course it might happen that the hull kit-and-boodle might start and run, if some big fighting came first-off, and then again they might stay and fight like fun. But you can’t bet on nothing. Of course they ain’t never been under fire yet, and it ain’t likely they’ll lick the hull rebel army all-to-oncet the first time; but I think they’ll fight better than some, if worse than others. That’s the way I figger. They call the reg’ment ‘Fresh fish’ and everything; but the boys come of good stock, and most of ’em ‘ll fight like sin after they oncet git shootin’,” he added, with a mighty emphasis on the last four words.

“Oh, you think you know–” began the loud soldier with scorn.

The other turned savagely upon him. They had a rapid altercation, in which they fastened upon each other various strange epithets.

The youth at last interrupted them. “Did you ever think you might run yourself, Jim?” he asked. On concluding the sentence he laughed as if he had meant to aim a joke. The loud soldier also giggled.

The tall private waved his hand. “Well,” said he profoundly, “I’ve thought it might get too hot for Jim Conklin in some of them scrimmages, and if a whole lot of boys started and run, why, I s’pose I’d start and run. And if I once started to run, I’d run like the devil, and no mistake. But if everybody was a-standing and a-fighting, why, I’d stand and fight. Be jiminey, I would. I’ll bet on it.”

“Huh!” said the loud one.

The youth of this tale felt gratitude for these words of his comrade. He had feared that all of the untried men possessed great and correct confidence. He now was in a measure reassured.

The book is available at Project Gutenberg:
http://www.gutenberg.org/files/73/73-h/73-h.htm

In der Bankschlange/In Line at the Bank

In der Bankschlange/In Line at the Bank

Wenn irgendeine überlastete, kleine, magere, matte, vom kalten Rauch riechenden Laufmädchen in einem unebenen grellgelben polyestern Rock und einem zu großen, verblassten, rosa, kurzärmligen, breitgekgragten Hemd mit riesigen plastischen Knöpfen ahnungslos und erschüttert zwinkert und mit schaumigen Speicheln umgegeben offenen Mund lautlos weint während eine große Dame mit massiven kullernden Brüsten und Gesäßbacken in einem schmeichelhaften Nadelstreifrockanzug, ihre lange dünne geschmückten Fingern auf einer niedrigen Marmor bedeckten Theken gespreizt, über die Wehrlose ragte, durch zusammengekniffene Augen, Nüstern, und langem Choralmund an ihr herabschaute, und in falschsüßer Altistin — die sie gelegentlich mit schrillen, abgehackten rachenraumgeborenen Schaulachen unterbricht — erklärte, daß die junge Dame am falschen Ort sei, daß man hier leider keine Zeit für derart geringfügige Konten, daß wenn Online ihre Bedürfnissen nicht entsprechen werden würde, sie eine andere Bank finden könnte, oder — was in diesem Fall fast sicherlich am praktischsten sei — einfach ein Paar Stunden im Betteln verbringen:
vielleicht eilte dann ein junger Praktikant eines gut angesehenen mittelständischen Kaufhauses aus seiner geschätzten Stelle in der langen, mehrmals sich überschlagenden Schlange und, Ledersohlen auf glitzerndem Marmor rutschend, hart an er schwarznussen Bankschalter stösste, das HALT! in großartiger Sicherheit riefe.

Da es aber nicht so ist; eine schöne Dame, die jugendliche Gesundheit aus vollen rosigen Wangen strahlend, ihr zierlicher, kurvenreicher, athletischer Körper freudig in enganliegenden rosa Pulli und schwarzen Hosen umhüllt, mit zurückgeneigtem Kopf in kindlicher Freude lacht während eine große Dame mit massiven kullernden Brüsten und Gesäßbacken in einem schmeichelhaften Nadelstreifrockanzug, ihre langen Fingern an ihren liebenswürdigen — und, wenn der riesige glitzernde Verlobungsring glaubwürdiger Zeuge ist, doch sehr geliebten — Hüften, mimt, indem sie von Seite zu Seite schlängelt und mit künstlich übertrieben hervortretenden Lippen die Hälse pfaut, eine freche Schelterin, entschuldigt sich nochmals und nochmals der Kleine versichert, daß falls sie nicht beim Bankautomaten nicht zurecht komme, Joe — an dem sie jetzt winkert und der, ein gut gelaunter Bär in einem gut anpassenden Anzug, mit einem breiten offenen Hand und einem freundlichen spielerischen ironischen Grimsen (weit offene Auge vorn, Kinn leicht angezogen, flaches Lächeln verschmiert übers angenehme teigige Gesicht) alsbaldig ihrer in süßer Freundschaft gefesselten beruflichen Einsatz anerkennt — ihr helfen würde:
Da dies so ist, runzelt momentan der junge aufrechte Geschäftsmann die Lippe, senkt dann den Kopf, und hebt ihn wieder um erst die prachtvolle mit eisernen römischen Ziffern versehenen Uhr und dann die gewölbten Decke und sein handbemaltes Gebälk unaufmerksam zu studieren.

Copyright: Andrew Watson of Watson Schmatson Lane

Short Story Game #2: Die Weise von Liebe und Tod des Cornets Christoph Rilke – Part C: Response Story (No Part B today)

Short Story Game #2: Die Weise von Liebe und Tod des Cornets Christoph Rilke – Part C: Response Story (No Part B today)

Der Heimkehr des Cornets Christoph Rilke

»… den 24. November 1663 wurde Otto von Rilke / auf Langenau / Gränitz und Ziegra / zu Linda mit seines in Ungarn gefallenen Bruders Christoph hinterlassenem Anteile am Gute Linda beliehen; doch mußte er einen Revers ausstellen / nach welchem die Lehensreichung null und nichtig sein sollte / im Falle sein Bruder Christoph (der nach beigebrachtem Totenschein als Cornet in der Kompagnie des Freiherrn von Pirovano des kaiserl. österr. Heysterschen Regiments zu Roß …. verstorben war) zurückkehrt …«
I.
Schreiten, schreiten, nervös auf und ab.
Graf Jakob von Langenau, erst vierzig Jahre alt, seit 2010 Geschichtsprofessor an die Universität Heidelberg, in seiner weitläufigen Wohnung voller Hartholz und Bücher auf und ab schreitend, überlegt die allerwichtigste Frage seiner Forschung, die für ihn einzige Frage: wie kann man gerecht den Bedarf von jedermann decken, ohne irgendjemand zu schaden. Gewiss ist diese Frage ihm vorwiegend aus dem relativen Luxus seines Lebens gewachst, aber die Frage geht weit über ihn und seine moralische und soziale Ungetümlichkeiten hinaus. Sie ist doch die Frage nach dem echten Fortschritt. Nur wenn wir die Gerechten der Besitzer sowohl die Gerechten der Nicht-Besitzer schützen–nur dann können wir alle zusammen friedlich voran gehen. Jakob will einfach wissen, wie die Menschen die Unterdrückung sowohl das Chaos vermeiden kann. Welche andere wesentliche politische Frage gäbe es?
Schreiten, schreiten, schreiten.

Und der Mut ist so müde geworden und die Sehnsucht so groß. Der Neckar glänzt schwarz. Stadtseite ist seine Dunkelheit von weiss-gelben Lichtstreifen mit gezackten Kanten unterbrochen. Dann aber kräuselt er sich wieder purschwarzkalt heraus. Im Winter fangen die Nächte um halb fünf an. Was soll ein Mann? Wir Männer wollen doch etwas sich lohnendes schaffen und dazu irgendwie anständig leben, spüren aber ständig den Druck der Geschlechtigkeit, als ob man nur auf der Erde wäre, um schöne Frauen zu explodieren. Das darf nicht wahr sein–oder? Ganz bestimmt nicht. Aber das Austausch von Leidenschaften zwischen Männern und Frauen ist auch sicherlich nicht bedeutungslos. Das Problem ist, dass sobald man ihre Wichtigkeit zugibt, erlaubt man die Sexualität und seine Liebesdränge ein Platz am Tisch, der sie unweigerlich verwenden, mittels unheimlich überzeugender Gefühle zu behaupten, dass sie doch die allerwichtigsten seien. Also zum Schein muss man zwischen zwei perverse Übertreibungen wählen: die unehrliche Übernüchternheit der totalgeistigen Abstinenz und den unehrlichen Rausch des Befriedigungsbemühens. Was ist überhaupt wahr heutzutage? Besonders wenn man ein immer noch ziemlich jung und gutaussehender Professor, umgegeben von netten, intelligenten, bluthübschen jungen Frauen ist. Welche Realität könnte so einem gehören? Welcher Kompromiss wäre seiner Leidenschaft und seiner Gelassenheit gemäß? Vielleicht ob er wieder zur Kirche ginge. Naja, heute haben wir Donnerstag; der Gottesdienst feiert man prinzipiell Sonntage …
Der von Langenau richtet sich auf, macht halt vor einem Neckarüberblickenden Fenster, und sagt: »Fräulein …«

Seine Nachbarin die Alte Brücke hüpft in sechs schlichte, saubere Bogen über den breiten stillen Neckar. Schon neun Mal und in ihrem jetzigen Gestalt seit 1788 spannt sie diese Stelle zwischen der mittelalterlichen weißgewandigten rotgedachten Altstadt und einem begrünten Wohnabhang. Jetzt weiß sie nichts mehr. Sie ist wie ein Kind, das schlafen möchte. Schwarze Nacht bleibt auf ihrem feinen roten Sandstein liegen; sie merkt es nicht. Sie wird langsam welk in kalter, klarer, aber doch undurchsichtiger Winternachtluft.

Aber der von Langenau lächelt und sagt: »Du machst keinen Fehler, Fräulein Alte Brücke. Du beharrst in deiner Stelle: Man muss sich Sisyphos glücklich vorstellen«

Da blüht die alte Jungfrau noch einmal auf und zittert im schwarzen Wasser und ist wie neu.
Jemand klopft an die Tür. Ein Amerikaner offenbar. Laut und wichtigrhytmus-schnell setzt er seine Faust. »Was soll das? Wer darf das sein? Und wie ist er hier nach oben angekommen? Keiner hat geklingelt. Spätabend. Ein bisschen unerhört, oder? …« murmelt Jakob von Langenau als er, (schon drei meter entfernt) die rechte Hand sich gegen die Türknauf streckend, sich die Tür nähert.
Ins Guckloch ist alles klein und konvex.
Frauen sind aber immer besser. Es ist immer besser, eine Frau vor deiner Tür zu finden.

Da zieht die schöne, formschöne Frau mit großen dunklen Augen die Kapuze ihres grauen Sweatshirts ab. Seine dunklen Haare sind weich und, wie sie das Haupt senkt und sich nach die Schnürsenkel eines roten Canvasturnschuhs bückt, dehnen sie sich sanft-zauberhaft auf ihrem Nacken–fluid, wie Sandkörner durch gedehnte Finger.
Jetzt erkennt auch der von Langenau: Fern ragt etwas in der Blendung einer Außenkante des gewölbten Prismas, etwas schlankes, dunkles. Eine einsame Säule, halbverfallen. Und wie die Nacht vorüber, später, fällt ihm ein, daß das eine Madonna war. Der von Langenau ist aber nicht abergläubisch, kann also nichts daraus schließen, kann in solchen Fällen nur bis auf die ewigen Himmel staunen–ohne eine Schlussfolgerung zu ziehen: ein schwieriges, schwermütiges existentielles Heroismus! Man muss dazu geschaffen sein.
II.

Runder Eichentish unter vier hellen weißen Glühlampen im Windradarrangement von einem mehrfarbrigen Buntglasshirm eingekreist. (Auf der einen Seite, eine hoch moderne dunkelholz, weißmarmor, edelstahl Küche; auf der nächsten, ein klassisches oft antikes dunkelholz rotsamt, Wohnzimmer–ein großer Schritt von der Küche gesunken, mit vier neckarzugewandten Stahlgittterfenstern, einer Bücherregalwand, und, an einer Ziegelmauer hängend, einem Paar Porträts wichtiger von Langenaus aus der achtzehnten Jahrhundert). Man sitzt rundumher und wartet. Wartet, daß einer spricht. Aber man ist unsicher. Das warme weiße Licht umhüllt. Es macht ein Reichsapfel worin die zwei Fremde–auf 1880s dunkeleichen Stühlen mit kunstvoll geschnittenen thronartigen (bedeckt mit drei Turmspitzen, usw) Lehnen und Gittersitzflächen aus dunkelblondem Korbgeflecht sitzend–sich über den Tisch anstarren, wegsehen, wieder einander ansehen und in verfremdeten Grinsen zucken. Plötzlich aber leuchten–mit eigenem, seelegeborenen Licht–eine Weile die schwarzen Augen der mittelgroßen Asiastischamerikanerin mit tropfenformigem Gesicht, zartem Schmollmund, breiten athletischen Schultern, und vollen Brüsten. »Es werde Licht!« dachte der von Langenau. Und, sein Geist Brust Bauch Eingeweide Geschlecht in wunderschön-vagen, traumhaften Gefühlen schwimmend, sprach er leise und konzentriert-betont:
»Wer, wenn ich schriee, hörte mich denn aus der Engel
Ordnungen? und gesetzt selbst, es nähme
einer mich plötzlich ans Herz: ich verginge von seinem
stärkeren Dasein. Denn das Schöne ist nichts
als des Schrecklichen Anfang, den wir noch grade ertragen,
und wir bewundern es so, weil es gelassen verschmäht,
uns zu zerstören. Ein jeder Engel ist schrecklich.«
Sie lächelt ihn an als er befangen und schildkrötisch seine Lippen nach innen rollt und langsam sein Mund schließt, sein Blick und Kopf dazu ein bisschen sinken. Er ist groß, schlank–ein schlaksiges Rechteck. Kurze blonde nach oben und hinten gebürsteten Haaren. Hellblaue Augen, Habsichtsnase, ein langer robuste Kiefer. Der Anfang von Runzelbildungen um seine Augen und Mundwinkel. Dreißigerjahre? Frühe Vierziger? Seine dicke, schaufelartige Hände setzt er zuerst auf den Tisch, dann auf den Schoss, dann wieder auf den Tisch. Seine Stimme ist tief wie aus einer Höhle, aber im Hintergrund zittert sie–oder irre ich mich? Seine Interesse ist peinlich offensichtlich–sie blutet aus ihm, wie ein Kind oder Hund. Weißt er wie das Gedicht weiter geht? Weißt er überhaupt wie viele Elegies es gibt? Wollte er, bevor Verlegenheit ihn einholt, mich damit beeindrucken, oder mich eher damit berühren, indem er indirekt mir sagt, dass ich ihn berühre? Und lautlos ruft sie den nächsten Schritt zusammen ins Gedächtnis:
Ein jeder Engel ist schrecklich.
Und so verhalt ich mich denn und verschlucke den Lockruf
dunkelen Schluchzens. Ach, wen vermögen
wir denn zu brauchen? Engel nicht, Menschen nicht,
und die findigen Tiere merken es schon,
daß wir nicht sehr verläßlich zu Haus sind
in der gedeuteten Welt. Es bleibt uns vielleicht
irgend ein Baum an dem Abhang, daß wir ihn täglich
wiedersähen; es bleibt uns die Straße von gestern
und das verzogene Treusein einer Gewohnheit,
der es bei uns gefiel, und so blieb sie und ging nicht.
O und die Nacht, die Nacht, wenn der Wind voller Weltraum

uns am Angesicht zehrt –, wem bliebe sie nicht, die ersehnte,
sanft enttäuschende, welche dem einzelnen Herzen
mühsam bevorsteht. Ist sie den Liebenden leichter?
Ach, sie verdecken sich nur mit einander ihr Los.
Der von Langenau hat es gesehen–ihres sanfte, schonende, behutsame Lächeln. Er denkt: ich habe keine Rose, keine; ich habe keine Worte–muss sie stehlen; ich habe keine Ahnung–muss irgendeine eine Ahnung mimen. Oder doch vielleicht einfach hier bebend sitzen. Ja. Ich soll verlieren, also sitze ich hier, verliere, und dadurch die Gerechtigkeit betreuen. Aber hätte ich eine Rose, schenkte ich ihr sowieso–auch wenn ich verlieren soll, muss, und pflichtgemäß werde.

Dann öffnet er den Mund einen Augenblick um die Lippen dazu vorbereiten, noch enger zusammen zu drücken, sodass im nächsten Augenblick das Maul gerade oben und unten der Lippen sich bauscht. Die Augen öffnen weit; die Stirn runzelt tief. Und die ist eine alte traurige Verwirrung, die seit fast vierzig Jahren durch ihn spielt und in seinen Gesichtsausdrücken, Gebärden, Wortwahlen und Handlungen heimlich und oft pervers erscheint.
Nimm dich doch zusammen, Junge! Verliere, wenn du verlieren mußt, freundlich!

Sagt der von Langenau: »Sie sind also Studentin?«

Und Susan Lang: »Postgrad.« Dann schweigen sie eine kurze tiefe Weile.
Später fragt der von Langenau: »Also, Sie wollten mir etwas wichtiges sagen?«

»Ja« gibt die aus Wichita zurück. »Eine seltsame Geschichte. Ich hoffe, daß Sie sie glauben werden, und daß sie wahr ist.«

Und sie schweigen wieder, bis der Deutsche ruft: »Aber zum Teufel, wie seltsam kann sie doch sein! Heraus damit!« Er wollte damit herzhaft-lustig wirken, fühlt sich aber dann verlegen und schuldig wie beim mißerfolgten Versuch den Klassenkasper zu spielen, und–die Handgelenke auf dem Tisch und die Hände angehoben als ob sie Scheinwerfer hielten–neigt er sich den Kopf, schließt die Augen und öffnet den Mund in einer frustrierten Fratzen. Er will sich aufsammeln und was vernünftiges sagen, aber ihr Lachen unterbricht seine Gewissensprüfung.

Susan lächelt. »Also meine seltsame Geschichte! Aber zuerst, verstehen Sie bitte mein Zögern: meine Familie hat vier hundert Jahren gewartet, deine Familie diese Geschichte zu erzählen.«
Was für eine nette Frau! Sie lauert um die Schiffsseite, etliche Rettungsringen um beide Arme. Sie nutzt er Leben um die armen, von schwarzen Sturmwellen geprügelten Ertrinkender zu retten. Sie, der Gottheit gleich, verbietet es, daß auch nur eine einzige Menschenseele verloren geht. Was für eine nette Frau!
Der von Langenau blickt ermuntert auf: »Vier hundert Jahren?! Also soll ich Sie nicht hetzen!« Und sein Humor wird warm und kichernausstrahlend.
Sie neigt sich den Kopf ein bisschen zur Seite. Ihr Lächeln wird ganz dünn; ihre Augen spähend.

Und auf einmal wachst durch seine dankbare Freude eine sanfte bereuende Schwermut. Er denkt an ein blondes Mädchen, mit dem er studierte. Wilde Ideen, große Hoffnungen, alles und immer zu weit gehend. Er möchte nach 2000, für einen Augenblick nur, nur für so lange, als es braucht, um die Worte zu sagen: »Jakob von Langenau: hör jetzt auf! Ich verspreche dir, daß es Zeit ist, damit aufzuhören. Und anzufangen, dich zu fragen, warum … –ach, nein. Das ginge nicht. Ich weiß nicht wie ich dir raten soll. Es tut mir Leid. Aber hör jetzt bitte auf!« Und er sinkt seine Augen in ihren mit dem herzlichsten Wunsch, drin akzeptiert zu sein.

Sie können nicht voneinander. Sie sind Freunde auf einmal. Haben einander mehr zu vertrauen; denn sie wissen schon so viel Einer vom Andern. Sie zögern. Und ist Kunstlicht und Dampfhitze um sie. Da blinkt Miss Lang und richtet sich breitschultrig auf und das kleinste Stückchen zurück. Sie teilt die Lippen mit ihrer Zunge, so daß für einen Demi-augenblick sie drei Lippen hat–oder als ob sie feierlich eine Hostie im Mund hält.
Dann fängt sie zu sprechen an, und der von Langenau sieht nichts, hört nichts, ist irgendwie nur ihrer Wörtern, ihrer Geschichte bewußt.

III. Ihre Geschichte

Den 23 November 1663 langte Christoph von Langenau, erst achtzehn und seit mehr als einen Monat unterwegs, im Schloss Sárkány, auf der ungarischen Seite des Raabs, an, wo er sich die Kompagnie des Freiherrn von Pirovano anschloß. Aufgrund seines Adelsstandes und eines vom örtlichen Fürsten verfassenen Empfehlungsschreiben, gewährte man ihm die Ehre, als Fahnenträger des kaiserlichen österreichischen Heysterschen Regiments zu Roß gegen den Osmanisches Reich in den Krieg zu ziehen.

Er hat die letzten drei Tagen allein gereitet. Mit jedem Stoß des kanternden Pferd fühlte er das Gewicht seines Brustpanzers und das Streicheln des kratzigen wolligen Waffenrocks. Dabei bedachte er ein rotes Rosenblatt, ihm von seinem Reisegefährtens der Marquis D’Andelot geschenkt, das zwischen Waffenrock und Fleisch sein junges Herz kribbelt. Am Tag zuvor hatte er den unheimlichsten Traum seines Lebens:

Er träumt.
Aber da schreit es ihn an.
Schreit, schreit,
zerreißt ihm den Traum.
Das ist keine Eule. Barmherzigkeit:
der einzige Baum
schreit ihn an:
Mann!
Und er schaut: es bäumt sich. Es bäumt sich ein Leib
den Baum entlang, und ein junges Weib,
blutig und bloß,
fällt ihn an: Mach mich los!

Und er springt hinab in das schwarze Grün
und durchhaut die heißen Stricke;
und er sieht ihre Blicke glühn
und ihre Zähne beißen.

Lacht sie?

Ihn graust.
Und er sitzt schon zu Roß
und jagt in die Nacht. Blutige Schnüre fest in der Faust.

Also war es kein Traum; also entdeckte er den Krieg.

Im Morgenlicht, die roten klebrigen Händen im Eiswasser eines kleinen Bachs gereinigt, schrieb Christoph von Langenau einen Brief, ganz in Gedanken. Langsam malt er mit großen, ernsten, aufrechten Lettern:

»Meine gute Mutter,
seid stolz: Ich trage die Fahne,
seid ohne Sorge: Ich trage die Fahne,
habt mich lieb: Ich trage die Fahne –«

Dann steckte er den Brief zu sich in den Waffenrock, an die heimlichste Stelle, neben das Rosenblatt. Und er denkt: er wird bald duften davon. Und denkt: vielleicht findet ihn einmal Einer … Und denkt: ….; Denn der Feind ist nah.

Und so ging es weiter, auch wenn für ihn alles schon vorüber war. Er traf sich mit anderen, die der Heystersche Regiment gehören sollte. Andere freiwillige, wie er und der Marquis und die übrigen Reisegefährten—die aber alle für andere Regiments bestimmt waren, und von denen er deshalb sich vor drei Tagen getrennt hatte. Die Krieger kamen aus jedem Teil des Heiligen Römischen Reichs—das damals ganz Deutschland sowie Teile vom heutigen Frankreich, Holland, Polen, Tschechien, Österreich, Slowenien, und Italien umfasste—am Schloss Sárkány an.

Fünf Meilen vorm Burgtor ritten sie über einen erschlagenen Bauern. Er hatte die Augen weit offen und Etwas spiegelte sich drin; kein Himmel. Später heulten Hunde. Es kam also ein Dorf, endlich. Und über den Hütten stieg steinern ein Schloß.

Dann wird alles zum Rausch: Willkommen, ein Festmahl, ein Tanz, eine erste Liebe—die Gräfin, habe ihm ausgewählt—, beglückt eingeschlafen, zum Feuer und Rauch aufgewacht, Chaos, der Feind ist am Tor, jeder läuft im Schlafrock nach seiner Rüstung, die Fahne ist verbrennt und die Panzerung zu heiß zum Anfassen, er muss die Flammen entkommen, auf einmal ist die Gräfin wieder da, sie zieht ihn weg und er—der jetzt so unheimlich müde, einsam, und biegsam fühlte—folgt ihre schönen, vollen, in Seide bewegenden Hüpfen durch einen dunklen, nasskalten Fluchtstollen, und—während seine Kameraden und ihr Graf heroisch sterben und ihre Freundinnen zur Kriegsbeute wird—reiten sie gemeinsam, er vorn und sie an ihm festgeklebt, auf einem versteckten Ross.

Sie reiten, mit den Gulden des heroisch früh im Schlacht gefallenen Grafs in ihren Taschen bis an Ende der Welt, nach China, nach nirgendwo Kleindorf China, wo sie vier Kinder zusammen gebären und großziehen.

Ihre Kinder werden weiße Chinesen; die Kinder ihrer Kinder Halbblüter; schon in der dritten Generation kann man die Adelsfamilie aus Langenau von den übrigen Dorfbewohner nicht unterscheiden. Sie tragen aber immer noch ihr Geheimnis, ihren Geheimstolz: Sie sind Adelige: Ihnen gehört zwei Schlösser, etliche Acker samt Bauern, und auch das Blut Christi und die ewige Rettung—was auch immer die sind. Und der älteste Sohn der älteste Sohn: er trägt immer die Fahne—sobald sie wieder vorrätig sei. Aber sie haben nicht nur einen Geheimstolz: sie sind auch von der tiefsten Schande belastet: Überlasser, Verräter, Versager. Gewiss: die echte Liebe erklärt alles und rechtfertigt vieles, aber immerhin bleibt eine Ursünde die man immer wieder erzählen und zu wiedergutmachen versprechen muss.

So vergingen Jahrhunderte. Die Familie wurde ehrgeiziger, dann tatsächlich reicher, wichtiger, mächtiger. Aber das alles ist je gleichgültig. Irgendwann wird es zu eng, und die übrigen sind geflohen, wurden als Chineser die Vereinigten Staaten erreichen, schon wieder arm, aber immer noch sicher, dass sie Adel sei. Ihr Vater aber, der letzte Junge des Stammbaums, fand das alles so blöd, wollte frei sein, Amerikaner, Wissenschaftler, Geiger, Tanzer, Basketballfan.

“Wieso, also, Sie sind doch hier. Sie haben Deutsch gelernt, die Reise gemacht, hierher gekommen, meine Tür geklingelt in kalter Winternacht, bei der Stille des Neckars.”

“Stimmt. Habe ich. Wollte einfach mal schauen. Halloa sagen. Das Ende zu erreichen, auch wenn das Ziel ist jetzt woanders.”

“Wo genau? Das Ziel? Wo ist es jetzt?”

“Da drüben, im Fluss, wo die Lichter zerstreute wirbelnde Schneekugel wurden. Nein, nein! Das Ziel? Jetzt? Jetzt empfinde ich die glatten Strasssteinen, jetzt geniesse ich den Frieden, jetzt bemerke ich daß die Weisheit eine Pause im Verlauf der Geschichte grabt, und daß wir ganz ruhig und dankbar der Sonne atmen muß.”

“Ja klar. Alles klar.”

Author: BW
Editor: AMW

Mr. Mann comes to town

Mr. Mann comes to town

It was a drizzly day in Heidelberg, a town with the oldest university in Germany. I believe the university was founded centuries ago–perhaps 400, or maybe more, it just depends how you look at it.

It was a drizzly October day in Heidelberg, and some 21 year old American exchange student walked down the cobblestop Haupstrasse, smoking a thin cigar. He’d be switching to cigarettes within a few weeks, but he didn’t know it yet.

It was a drizzly October afternoon in Heidelberg, and some 19 year old French exchange student waived to the American exchange student she’d met the other day when all the exchange students had toured the exercise complex.

Let them go, let them slide apart, let them go without meeting, let him just politely wave back and keep moving on, let him drift on past her pretty young face. Don’t let him notice how cute she is, how bright her face shines, how clean her face curves and how big her eyes smile.

Oop! Too late.

Mr. Mann lived next door. Well, not in October, but a little later. In October the girl from Arizona lived next door. She moved to pursue a slightly bigger room on the other hall. There were two halls, and they met at the entrance to the kitchen.

Mr. Mann, who at some point lived next door, was short and homely losing his thick brown hair on top and grown as a beard down to his concave little chest. Each night Mr. Mann comforted himself with a double-sized wine bottle. He liked to talk but had nothing to say, and his forehead was bunched up like lamp shades fashionable in the olden days.

Mr. Mann had things to say, but he was too lonely to organize his thoughts and so just bounced them off you like a fipped-up ping-pong table. Mr. Mann studied something or other, not because he wanted to become that something or other, but because he liked being a student.

At some point, this short man, perhaps early thirties and with a glossy pate, a skilled musician and able scholar, disappeared.

A pupil–a young blue-eyed man in a loose-fitting square-cut T-shirt–of Mr. Mann’s found his way up to the hallway. His blond hair plopped beautifully on his long pale head like a bowl of angel-hair spaghetti. “Do you know where he went?” No one does. The kid looks angry. Maybe he already paid for a bunch of lessons. Or maybe he’s just sick of Mr. Mann’s shit, sick of wanting to learn to play like a man who’s never learned to live. Speculation, pure speculation. The truth is that we don’t know what made that handsome, soft-featured young fellow scowl and pout up his face into some kind of angry ashtray.

Who is Mr. Mann? Why did he come to town? Why did he leave? These questions were scarcely raised. He was there, shuffling with his professorial little wine gut out front, perpetually drunk but never noticeably so. And then he was gone. The whole thing lasted a couple months. The young American exchange student knew the most about him, but no one asked him for the particulars, and in time he would forget most of what he’d learned in their few conversations. To this day, no one from that floor of an old dorm building slated for demolition come summer knows what became of Mr. Mann. I guess he died. Actually, there’s no reason to suppose that. For most 30 year olds living in the glorious West in our prosperous era, twenty years pass amiably enough and death still looms far off in the distance, a worry but still not anything approaching a certainty.

This was Mr. Mann’s chapter. Will he get so much as another sentence?