At a crossroads
By Karl Hans Strobl 1917 (Lemuria)
Translated by Joe Bandel
Copyright Joe Bandel
Three gray women giants sat at a crossroads. One had her feet propped up against a woodsman’s cottage and was scratching the dirt out from between her toes with a dry bony finger.
“Hu—Hu” went the wind through the firs trees and shook them. The woodsman and his wife in the room inside convulsed in the paralyzing terror of a nightmare. A child in a crib whimpered softly.
The second made herself very small and cut at the wooden crucifix along the side of the road with a large, sharp knife. First she cut long splinters from the trunk and the crossbeam of the wooden gallows. She sang in a murmur, “Horum pitschor—rum…Rex Judae orum.”
Sliver by sliver she cut away at the wood of the savior’s nose until it was entirely gone and the white spot shone out of the dirty and weathered wood. Then she took the knife and scraped with the point of it on the navel of the wooden body. She turned it like a mixer in her hands, faster, ever faster, until a large deep hole was bored into the body. Then she blew the remaining woodchips and dust out of the hole…her eyes glowed in the dark like those of a wolf.
The third sat upright. Her head towered high over the tops of the black fir trees. Something squirmed in her hand, a fat, plump farmer. Snap—she bit off his right foot. She crunched and chewed pleasantly…
“Oh,..I…,” whimpered the farmer. “Let…let me go.”
With a pleasant grin she looked at the fat morsel in her hand…
“I have a wife…my children are waiting for me at home.”
“So,” said the giantess…”My wife…I can’t die…”
“So,” she grinned again. “There is your wife.”
And she set him down at the window in front of the room. It was light inside. He tried to stand up but collapsed.
The giantess reached into her mouth, “Here is your foot.”
Now the farmer stood on his toes. On the table inside was a lamp.. The table was covered, two mugs of beer, two half full glasses, two plates full of bones. In the middle of the table was a dish with a half carved goose and another with seal flesh. On a chair by the door was a riding coat and broad staple hat with two tassels in back. On a chair by the table was a jacket and lederhosen. On the floor in front of the curtain that hid the wide marriage bed was a pair of high boots and a pair of slippers. The farmer turned away from the window. He was pale as a corpse.
“My children,” he stammered.
The giantess led him to the pig stye. The farmer trembled as the giantess lifted off the wooden roof with a jerk so he could see inside. There was a fearful stink. A boy sat cowering in the corner, motionless…dirt on his face with bulging eyes. In the other corner a mother sow stood over a little girl and bored into the white flesh with her snout, tearing large chunks out of the tender body. The little body was still twitching and the warm blood made the piglets drunk as they pushed and rolled around in it. The two in the bed heard a scream, a piercing scream.
High above the black tree tops the giantess placed the fat morsel in her sturdy mouth with a pleasant grin. Snap—the hard bones broke—fat and blood ran out of the corners of her mouth.
At the crossroads the second had kindled a fire out of cow dung and dry fir branches under the feet of the crucifix. The naked feet smoldered in the hot flames of cow dung and dry fir branches. The entire body writhed and twisted in pain. The hollow of the body was stuffed with pages she had torn out of an old prayer book. When the tongues of flame reached up and the old yellow paper began to crackle and glow she jumped over the fire three times in glee. Then with a serious gesture she took the rosary from around the neck and threw bead after bead into the fire.
Then she hummed, ”Ho—rum pi—tsho—rum—Rex Ju—dae—orum.”
Large heavy black drops of blood dripped from the cut off nose, over the pale face and down the distorted body into the fire where they sizzled and died.
At the woodsman’s cottage the giantess had smashed the chimney flue with her big toe. The bricks crashed as they fell down into the fire place. With a scream the woodsman’s wife came out of the bad dream. Everything was quiet. The clock had stopped.
“Hu—Hu,” went the wind through the fir trees and shook them.
“Father,” she shook the man. “Father, what is going on…”
She shook harder, still harder, despairing, “What is going on!”
She grabbed his hand… It was entirely cold… “Jesus Maria—Josef…make me a light!”
A sudden gust of wind tore the clouds apart. The moonlight fell in its purity into the black fir forest and onto the crossroads. Tatters of fog hovered over the tree tops. They slowly rose and swam in the glittering moonlight. In the distant village a hound began to bay noisily. In the woodsman’s cottage a lamp was lit… Orum—orum— went the toads in the swamp.