Translation Copyright Joe Bandel
I translate German Weird Fiction that was originally published in the German language over one hundred years ago. Most stories have never been translated into English before…
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Image from Der Orchideengarten Vol 1 no 1 published in January 1919. Der Orchideengarten was the world’s first illustrated fantasy magazine.
I had been sleeping and disturbed by a torturous dream. At first, when I awoke, I only had the feeling of a great, infinitely great misfortune. But then I suddenly remembered the dream. I saw it with extraordinary vividness in front of me and have written it down just as I dreamed it — I thought about it constantly: no, no, that couldn’t be, it could not be, it was just too impossible. And then I thought, without much confidence, well perhaps it might be — the dream went like this:
Someone stepped up to me and said:
“Stand up and come with me. It is time.”
I obeyed immediately. I had no idea whatsoever why it was now “time”. But I had the feeling that everything was happening according to plan, by arrangement so to say, and of necessity. My guide brought me in some unknown manner to some strange place.
We had been there once before, and I didn’t know what had happened then. Then I sensed something like a movement behind me. We were very quiet; but that didn’t seem strange to me, and I thought nothing of it. The place in which we had arrived seemed bleak and desolate to me, also cold. I believe that I was even shivering.
It was a type of countryside, a stony meadow scattered with trees. But I couldn’t see them clearly, every time I tried to look at one it disappeared completely in a most peculiar way, and that bothered me very much. I got a headache and became dizzy because of it. But there were people there, apparently lots of people. They were doing something that I didn’t exactly recognize.
Later I recognized it. My guide suddenly placed a bow and arrow in my hand and said:
“Now shoot once with it at that person over there, just for fun, try it once. You will probably not hit him at all, or only wound him a little. You can scarcely kill him, because he is almost out of range, and that would be very, very unlikely — ”
I was so frightened that I could not bring myself to say anything, but my entire body trembled.
“What is wrong with you,” continued my guide, “don’t stand there like that. You are trembling so. Just try it once. It will be alright. Now look, everyone is doing it.”
Then he moved his hand in a circle. I followed his raised arm with my eyes and suddenly I realized what these people were doing. They were shooting at each other, all in a silent kind of way, and everything appeared completely calm.
Very close to me stood a tall, well dressed Herr who was aiming carefully at someone that was somewhat distant from him and cowering on the ground. The shape was that of a Frau. I was as if paralyzed —
“Don’t be so silly,” said my guide. “If you don’t want to do it for fun; then I will tell you that it is necessary to do it at least once. The others have already believed this for a long time. So go on and try it finally!
Or shoot at that child over there. Perhaps that would please you better. See, it doesn’t have a single wound; you can be the first; or that one over there that is already bleeding. He can barely stand up from being shot so many times. None of the wounds are really dangerous, but these many small wounds have brought it about. He will soon be finished.
And look, here lies one that is so very young. She is dead, but has not been dead long. If we had come a little earlier, you could have seen the arrow that gave her peace. It was in her neck, right here, completely unintentional. It bled just a little, was really completely unintentional, but she was almost finished even then. That little wound sufficed.
Him, the one that shot her, wasn’t thinking anything evil at all, he just did it. In any case, he didn’t want to kill her, and is entirely innocent. She shouldn’t have even died.
Guilty? No one is really guilty, at least so they all say. And they have believed it now for a long time. Life is guilty they say. They are all very convinced and have their little sayings:
“It is the battle for existence.” and “That is life and destiny, it needs to be that way — ”
“But now, don’t be so boring, go ahead and shoot, just once.”
I heard all these things very plainly, and I also saw with painful clarity, those things he spoke of. But it was as if something inside of me was speaking, and I strove in vain against those words; as if something had been exposed inside of me, revealed in its entire terrifying clarity. Yet I did not want to accept this clarity, which I now unavoidably saw, did not in the slightest want to accept it.
I feared myself. The whole thing was too horrifying. Above all, the thing I feared the most, was the fear I had of myself, right then, even in the dream, I knew it most certainly.
“Never,” I screamed, and my voice came out shaky and choking from my throat.
“Never! I will never shoot. Never! — ”
But even as I said these things out loud, a terrible doubt came over me. My guide observed me, and I saw what had been hidden from me until then. He was beautiful, so beautiful, tired and sad; so terribly sad that I had to cry as well.
I clasped my hands together and cried, “Even if I have to die! — ”
“But,” he said, “they will still shoot at you. Think about that. Look over there behind you!”
I turned around quickly in terror. I saw a person behind me whom I knew well, knew so very well. He was so close to me, so closely bound to me. I saw every crease in the familiar face, his eyes were squinting together; his expression was evil and the man was aiming at me. That was decidedly the worst moment. And in that moment I perceived that it was a dream within a dream, and completely grasped and understood it in a second.
“Now you know,” spoke something inside of me. “Listen, now you know everything forever, most certainly. You will never again be able to say that you didn’t know.”
I staggered and put my hands to my face. My guide supported me and said very softly, as if fearful, in a voice that seemed far away, yet that again seemed to be coming from out of me:
“And you? — and you? — No, no. Don’t forget. Oh, never really forget!”
Then I awoke.