by Karin S. Heigl
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3
original: “Das Knistern”
I don’t remember the place nor the name. Please have patience with me. You’re the first person I’m telling about this and, when I think about it, it is as if a wound in my head rips open, bleeding terribly, wanting to wash away all memory. But the images always remain the same.
Every night, I have a dream. It always remains the same. I’m running towards the house, joyful, light-footed. My grandma is waiting for me with open arms. I’m almost there. Suddenly I hear screams, gunshots, then this terrible devouring sound. Everything is ablaze and the leaves crackle dryly; they turn into smoke, it echoes in my ears, booming louder and louder.
I scream and run. But I cannot move. Ashes lie at my feet. I suck in air, but it singes my lungs. Then a hissing sound vanishes in the silence like a last withered breath. I see my brother’s eyes as he crawls out of the hiding place, looking at me for the last time. He is completely calm as they shoot him. I smell felt cloaks and death.
We had something they believed was theirs. We were different from them, and they deemed that enough to persecute us.
Every night I have this dream. It’s my loyal companion, it does not leave me. I know that if I slump into sleep it awaits me there. Always. It gives me a sick sense of security.
Every time it’s the same thing: Total darkness surrounds me. My head is burned out from the inside, it is empty and still roars with pain. My mouth is dry and tastes like ashes. My heart that first raced is now lifeless. Black.
Slowly I recognize this darkness, see the stars or the moon or the clouds or whatever is there in front of my window. I never draw the curtains, I need to look outside and smell freedom, or else I will suffocate. I’ve gotten so used to this dream that something is missing once I sleep without dreaming. There is something else I rarely dream of, and mostly I forget it upon waking.
But still, I will fight this wound in my head, and pin the memory for you. I will try. Please have patience if I mix things up. Only now am I trying to sort them out. Now, with you.
* * *
It had been a proud building, our manor house, with fields and livestock farming, with pastures and villages surrounding it. Alleys. My grandma waiting for me. Fences and yards, crops in the storm. My brother. My brother... two silent eyes... then a long time nothing.
Then two hands wrenched me hard to my feet. My knees trembled, but the hands held me. Again silence and darkness.
Next, the hem of my skirt was scraping on the ground, threads were coming off here and there. My feet were stumbling ahead. Someone was holding me fast with an iron grip. My upper arm hurt, and the blood pulsed where the hand had grabbed me. I tried to shake it off but did not succeed.
I became scared, and that enraged me; that moment when coldness and heat clashed into one another and made my guts roil, when I became dizzy and stumbled... But the hand held me, pulled me up and forced me to straighten myself.
I glanced over, into a pair of blue eyes. Around them were little wrinkles, pits, crevasses in brown skin. He was perhaps around fifty. I was afraid of him up to the moment he returned my gaze out of the corner of his eyes. I looked back to the ground and stumbled forward until night fell.
We crept into an abandoned hut, the ruins of a house. I could not sleep, it crackled. I believe that the stars were shining but I do not remember them, I cannot see them when I close my eyes even now, and I’m trying so hard. My eyes were fixed on the roughspun blanket on the opposite wall. The blanket rose and fell. That awakened odd feelings within me. To this day I cannot pin them down.
I remember I wanted to leave, but I could not draw my eyes away from that blanket. I could not move. At some point I saw the breath before my mouth, ghostlike, a vision. A thousand tiny drops in the morning silence. Does it look like that, when one breathed out one’s soul? I asked myself. That was the one clear thought residing in my mind for a long time.
Something crackled, and I sat up, startled. Morning had come and the blanket was deserted. A pair of blue eyes came before my face into the morning paleness; blue eyes with wrinkles like delicate crevasses, full of windings, ramified and deep. He gave me a nod when he saw I was awake, mumbling something I did not understand, and then withdrew. I smelled wood and stone, a dry scent that touched something from my childhood... a distant image, perhaps, a memory... but I cannot get hold of it.
The morning was crisp and could have been fair, but I felt as if I had fallen into a gorge and could not leave it. I looked up, and there was the world. I looked down, but where was I? I stood in a vast emptiness where strange beings came prowling out of the darkness, but I could not change it, for I could not leave.
And it was then that the crackling in my head began, and I have not gotten rid of it ever since. Do you hear it? Exactly here in the corner it crackles, as if something would silently smother away and, in flames getting smaller and smaller, wither until nothing is left. Only, my flames never cease. They do not accomplish their task. They keep hanging there like a falling branch, a branch that never reaches the ground.
I got up that morning and staggered, and the world went black for an instant. The iron grip closed around my arm once again and held me upright, pulled me out of the gorge and away from the strange beings in the darkness. This time, I did not resist. “Thank you.” He looked at me. He seemed to have understood but did not reply.
Or yes, he did say something, yes. But I did not understand it. It did not penetrate my skin, did not trickle into my ears. He looked back and again to me and directly in my eyes. I was startled and pulled my arm up in front of my face. With the unoccupied arm he drew gestures through the air and, in his eyes, I saw something wild emerge, only slightly, far at the edges, but it made me uneasy.
My head grew cold as if someone, suddenly, had drained it of all warmth. Whereto I did not know. I did not respond, sank back down to the bottom of the gorge, stood frozen into the darkness where crackling and coldness reigned. All was silent.
His mouth moved, but I did not see him properly in the gloom. I did not hear anything apart from a crackling that grew louder and heavier, that boomed and swallowed the emptiness. I wanted him to go away. But he now shook my arm and pointed clearly in one direction.
Then I smelled it, too. Smoke. We had to leave. Now.
But I was so slow. So endlessly slow. As if fallen out of time. Yes, I felt like that. And if I think about it now, many millennia later, I was, indeed. I was at the bottom of my gorge, and my legs were heavy. They were rocks rammed into the ground. My arms were two long stones at both sides of my body, stalactites that grew out of me; lava cooled down inside a narrow tunnel, a tunnel into which it had fled only to be washed out by wind and rain. The only things hard enough to prevail.
In awe, and from a far distance, I watched this strange being. Everything was so curious. Nothing concerned me.
But it is possible that I am mixing this up with later events, for this feeling has remained the same ever since. Look at me: I’m stiff, and people wonder why. I don’t wonder about anything anymore. I have rarely done that. And perhaps this is exactly what has saved me. Who knows?
Finally I lifted my gaze from this strange rock being that clung to me and looked into the direction he had pointed to.
A high pillar of smoke, and thick. There my friend had been living. The neighbouring estate had been beautiful as well, a broad alley leading to the main building. In my ears it rumbled. In my belly an absurd lump of heat, coldness and one sole thought: Away.
Suddenly the wind changed and the smell penetrated my nose.
The man stuffed the blankets into a roughspun bundle and dragged me with him. Far from all villages and roads we walked, through forgotten alleys covered with acorns that had seen no pigs in a long time.
At last we reached his cart.
As we arrived the flames returned, and with a power I could not withstand. They stormed and pushed themselves into my head, into my head that was far too empty and big for me, but far too small for those forceful, endless flames; and they crushed my skull, they devoured my mind, pushed me until I was nothing more than a creased little lump, and threw me into a corner somewhere beyond all lumber rooms that I hadn’t known myself. Everything was black and in the distance red and orange roared.
Then, directly in front of his cart, I crumbled into the darkness and finally dissolved.
* * *
When I woke again, I was lying underneath a soft blanket, and I smelled wood. Through some tiny cracks in the wall sank sunlight, and in it danced dust grains.
They were absurdly beautiful and confused me as they danced above my head. They shimmered... tried to tempt me... I wanted to sit up, wanted to look at them, touch them, wanted to bathe my hand in them. Ripping pain shot through my temples like a mountain torrent. It washed me away, a pain so wild I could not elude it. Pictures rushed in on me and... nothing. I didn’t feel anything anymore.
But my toes must have been there, for I saw their shapes beneath the white blanket. Their coldness rose within me, coldness not knowing if it wanted to be fear or desperation, and I grew tired.
I closed my eyes again and tried to calm down. Tried to grope for something, anything; tried to get a hold, secureness about where I could be, about what happened. But the memory withdrew each time I reached for it, and I was adrift amidst the stream of images that now, a little calmer yet still powerful, flowed through me and hurt me.
In that stream, rocks rolled downwards. I tried to reach in between them, reach for the images that were drifting downwards with me, around me, colourful and wild, but I pushed them away with my stir, and I got stuck in between two mighty rocks. Panic washed over me and I’ve had enough.
Then a tiredness and fatigue without boundaries came over me. I sank back into saggy sleep and began dreaming. Red flames crept towards me, writhed around me, nested in my lungs and singed me. I tried to scream but it burned too much, I coughed ashes and breathed fire. Something sucked me deeper into a black whirl.
I sank deeper.
Blackness suffocating me.
I screamed and thrashed, my blanket was lying halfway on the floor. My heart was racing. I was sweating. My mouth tasted like ashes and my lungs hissed.
I woke again when I felt a big, dry hand upon my forehead. Before I opened my eyes, I knew the touch was healing. I did not stir, hoped it might remain there. Then it was suddenly gone and my forehead grew cold. I opened my eyes and looked into those laughter lines.
This memory, the scent of wood, the dry hand on my forehead, its firm grip, the dust, the brown laughter lines are deeply imprinted and, until today, they are to me the smell of salvation and kindness. I’m drawn to men with laughter lines. The stronger the lines the more attractive. I know it’s like an obsession, but I can never get enough of it.
I did not see him again after the next events. But let me tell one thing after the other.
* * *
Copyright © 2016 by Karin S. Heigl