Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Witch Finder by Karl Hans Strobl

The Witch Finder
By Karl Hans Stobl
Die Hexen Richter (Lemuria)
Translated by Joe Bandel
Copyright Joe Bandel

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

It was dark… pitch dark… in the bachelor’s bedchamber. The Herr Doctor groped for a match…tried to make it stay lit… finally the tinder glowed and ignited  threads of sulfur, illuminating a circle three paces wide around the unlit candle with a horrible reddish-yellow light.
The Herr Doctor had a red face—his velvet beret sat deeply back on the nape of his neck. The fur collar of his overcoat was turned inside out on the left side and on the right was in its accustomed place nestled around his shoulder…. With wide set legs the doctor bent over in order to read the glowing lines of sulfur on the floor.
The lines of sulfur had already burned an ugly black hole in the snow white sand strewn floor. The doctor muttered something inaudible… then moaned in fear… there, sitting on his table in the middle of the room, was Satan. He had his tail casually pulled tucked under his left arm and looked good naturedly at the doctor with large, round, fiery and glowing eyes.
“Ah,” thought the doctor… to much damned straw wine.
When His Majesty noticed that he had been seen he jumped down from the table… tap, went the human foot—click, went the horse hoof. With a jerk he pulled his tail down between his legs and up to the front holding it straight and stiff like a candle in front of him. He looked like a guard at the Prince’s castle that holds out his musket when his Highness walks past. The Herr Doctor was very flattered. He put his hand to his beret in a salute and waved his thanks. Then His Majesty went out onto the balcony, came in again and pulled himself back up onto the table, but immediately hopped down again… tap—click… He had seen the disapproving look of the master of the house. He went to the flower painted chest in the corner behind the wardrobe and took out a wool blanket. He knew the customs of the house. He spread the wool blanket out on the table and only then allowed himself to sit comfortably back down on it.
A suppressed laugh came from out of the darkened corner where the wide bed stood. A virginal head with a rosy face peeped out from under the heavy covers and a disheveled flood of blond curls flowed out over the pillows. When two of the heavy curls moved thousands of tiny sparks glowed and a light crackling sounded in the stillness… Under the tangle of curls two eyes looked out, so alluring and mysterious, so fearfully tempting and promising. They were angel eyes—vampire eyes… The doctor felt very strange… it was as if those two eyes were glowing balls of fire could warm and do good one moment and in the next hurt and set fire to anything flammable around them. He rubbed his temples. His head was pounding like a hammer.
He timidly neared the foot of the bed and attempted to lift the corner of the cover with the tips of his fingers. He had an irresistible urge to see the feet of this creature. He had the definite idea that these feet hand to be small, warm and white. He wanted to take them between his large, red and clammy frog hands. His horned Majesty moved over the table and across to him with a mighty leap and gave him a sound slap on the hands.
“Ow,” said the doctor and rubbed the burned spots.
“Stand there,” said the dark one. “I will do that.”
With a sudden movement he pulled the covers down to her feet. The woman’s white body lay there in its naked beauty. It seemed to the doctor as if hot water had been throw over his head. At first he couldn’t see anything. Then he sat down on the edge of the bed and taking his hand as softly as possible moved it caressingly along the soft lines of her hip.
“Don’t tickle,” she said coyly. Yet her large eyes looked at him provocatively.
At that the doctor threw himself on top of her and covered her mouth with hot kisses…she wrapped her arms around him…the last thing he remembered before losing consciousness was that her arms did not seem to be the white, warm arms of a woman, but the hard sinewy, long hairy arms of a gorilla… then he sank into her…
He awoke with a mighty grip on his shoulder. At first he didn’t know where he was, yet the shaking continued. His black Majesty had seized him solidly and would not let him go until he entirely came to. The light had burned out, an unbearable stench filled the room… that of fat and burnt out wick. The moon had risen and shown bright as day into the room—the woman lay in the middle of the rumpled bed. Her face was blue, liked that of a strangled person—her tongue had swelled up and protruded far out from her throat—her body was convulsively distorted. The doctor was entirely confused.
“I want to show you something,” said His Majesty and poked with his black pointed finger at a spot between the breasts of the woman. The doctor got agitated and didn’t feel well.
“Pfui, the Devil!” he said.
“If you please,” said His Majesty.
The doctor became quiet. The dark one poked once more and with a bang the navel flew out of the belly of the woman, like the cork out of a pop gun. A long white cord was attached to the navel. It had notches or segments like those of a tapeworm. The navel fell to the floor and pulled the white tapeworm with it. It coiled around on the floor as if it were alive. More and more of the white cord kept coming out, faster… in spirals… coiling about like snakes… the womb of the woman was inexhaustible. Already the entire floor was covered.
The doctor climbed up onto a chair. It shook underneath him. The thin white cord became thicker. It was already the size of an earthworm. The segments became deeper and limbs started poking out of each one… and still more kept gushing out of the hole where the navel used to be…. Now the cord was as thick as a thumb. The segments swelled and became almost ball shaped. Then they began to cut away from each other and separate, began rolling around on the floor very much alive.—some hopped into the air, others raced around with terrible speed between their siblings.
Then all of these round white balls assumed a new appearance. They grew feet with bird claws, a long, heavy sloping hind part and a head—a serious bearded head with a velvet beret—noisy little doctor heads. They were already the size of a fist and growing larger.
“Look at your children,” said Satan.
A red flame shot through the doctor’s head. He jumped down from his chair and trampled angrily among the quibbling masses…
“Ho, Ho!” he screamed, “Ho, Ho!”
He made wild leaps as he trampled millions of the squeaking and squealing young birds.
“What are you doing?” yelled Satan grimly.
He seized the doctor by one leg and whirled him around his head until he lost his breath. Then he put him down again. But as soon as the doctor came to his senses he once more jumped into the masses stomping and trampling them.
“Ho, Ho!” he screamed, “Ho, Ho!”
Then Satan became quiet and serious. He pulled some hairs from the tip of his pointed tail, tied them into a red silk cord and handed it to the doctor. The doctor’s eyes became glassy. He stood still and motionless. Then he made a noose out of the cord, placed it around his neck and pulled and pulled—until he collapsed. The woman on the bed sat up and looked at him with glowing eyes.
In the distance sounded the horn of the night watch. The measured steps of troops rang under the window. The fountain in the market place murmured in the moonlight. The sandstone statue of the river god with his water spewing vase straightened up and looked over across at the doctor’s window.
The next morning the Justice Commission needed his signature to justify yesterday’s burning but the messenger could not get into the room. All kinds of gossip and speculation went through the people. They had heard strange things in the house. When the door was finally sprung—the doctor lay there dead on the floor with a red silk cord around his neck—on his hands was two large burn marks. In the rumpled bed swam a putrefied, stinking slop.
“Hm, hm,” said the Elder.
“Hm—hm”, said the remaining wise Gentlemen of the jury.

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