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Hinterkaifeck (First Chapter of Novel)[]

< “If faeries are real, why have I never seen one?” Cazilia said with the pouty indignation of a child sensing they are being tricked.

“Well now, Mäuschen, how closely have you looked? Have you put your eye right up close to the petal of a flower, so close that your little eyelashes stir the wind to move about their flowery heads?” Maria said, bending down to the patch of delicate flowers that skirted along the woodlands near the Gruber farmhouse. She put her eye up to one of the newly-bloomed blue bottles and stared at the space on top of the petals. It was the perfect seat for a tiny faery.

Cazilia watched Maria, her nanny, who was really the maid at her family’s farmhouse that lay just outside of Ingolstadt, Germany. Maria was short of stature and had a physical deformity that affected her legs. She was extremely bow-legged and walked with a back and forth swaying motion like a metronome. Moving around the farmhouse and surrounding land of Hinterkaifeck Farm did not seem an easy task for her, but she never complained. Cazilia heard her grandfather talking about Maria being mentally disabled as well, but to Cazilia she seemed more wise and empathetic than anyone she had ever known. To Cazilia, Maria was magical and she knew everything about the woods.

Maria had worked at the Gruber farm for decades, but Cazilia had only known her a few months short of a year. She met her once as a little girl when she came to visit the farm with her mother, but she didn’t remember the meeting clearly. She and her mother did not visit again after the first trip until their recent move to the farm. Even after months of adjusting to her new life, Cazilia was still struggling with the throbbing melancholy of homesickness.

Cazilia’s mother, Viktoria, took Cazilia and Cazilia’s younger brother, Josef, to live on Hinterkaifeck farm almost a year earlier. It was a decision that came in the aftermath of Viktoria’s husband, Jonas’ death in the war. Cazilia’s maternal grandparents, Andreas and Gerda, took them in under the condition that they all pitch in around the small farm. After a week of watching Cazilia sulk around the farm, the family granted Maria’s request to take Cazilia on excursions into the surrounding woods. The suggestion came under the pretense that she could teach the girl about local herbs and how to set traps for small game.

“You stay and enjoy the fresh air, Mäuschen. I hear Josef crying. I need to get him up from his nap,” Maria said. She handed Cazilia a piece of folded cloth that held an apple, some cheese, and freshly baked bread for lunch and hurried back towards the house.

Once Maria was out of sight, Cazilia looked around the woods expectantly. She had an active imagination and moving from the small, yet bustling town of Ingolstadt to the isolated farmhouse was a bit overwhelming for her. As she breathed in the sweet-smelling air and listened to the birdsong, she found herself quite at ease and chided herself for not exploring the woods sooner.

Her mother and father both grew up in Kaifeck, the small town that sat a few miles north of the aptly named, Hinterkaifeck Farm, or behind Kaifeck. They decided to move to Ingolstadt just after Cazilia was born. She wasn’t sure why, but when she asked her mother, Viktoria said it was because they had outgrown Kaifeck. She didn’t want to “live in the shadow of that old farm anymore,” she told Cazilia.

Because of Viktoria’s often ominous descriptions of her home, Cazilia always imaged that Hinterkaifeck would hold a looming dark tower with a pointy top and gargoyles staring down with sharp teeth. It turned out that it was just a regular, if not worn-out, farmhouse. It was built out of faded wood that looked gray and brittle. There was something somewhat unwelcoming about it, but she had to admit that she had been branded as overly dramatic once or twice throughout her young life, so she kept her opinion to herself. In any case, it was not nearly as scary as her mother had described it.

When Cazilia was young, Viktoria took her to visit Hinterkaifeck only once. Cazilia’s father was already serving in the military by then, but he managed to write to Viktoria and Cazilia often. Viktoria wrote Jonas to tell him of their upcoming trip to see her parents and revealed Cazilia’s fears of visiting the farm. Jonas wrote back promptly and wove a beautiful story about the farm for Cazilia to read. He really had been very good at that sort of thing.

“This is where you get your wild imagination, Cazilia,” Viktoria had said, handing her the letter. Cazilia couldn’t read all of the words at that time, but she liked to hold her father’s letters and give them a kiss before Viktoria read them aloud to her.

His letter about Hinterkaifeck farm read as such:

My Dearest Loves,

Everything is fine here. It has been quiet so far and I am devouring the books you sent me. You will need to send more before the month is out. I am so pleased to hear that you are able to embark on the grand adventure that is Hinterkaifeck farm. Cazilia, when your mother was young and living in that magical place, I used to envy her. When I came to visit, which wasn’t often, because it is a very secret and special place, I was entranced by the dazzling beauty of the surrounding forest and the friendly farm animals that live there. Yes! Animals! There were wise old goats and gossiping chickens and even a cow with big blinking eyelashes, if I recall correctly. Don’t let your mother try to hide the secret of that place. She probably says bad things about it because she is sworn to secrecy. If everyone knew about the mysterious beauty of the farm, your grandparents’ house would be flooded with tourists! No one wants that! So, listen, when you get there, have your mother take you on a tour of the place. I have provided a map for you to follow to see all the best kept secrets. There might even be some buried treasure. Write me back when you return to Ingolstadt and tell me of all the goblins you defeated and swords you pulled out of stones. Hoppla! I’ve revealed too much already. I love you both forever and ever more.

Your dear old dad,

Jonas (Papa)

As sad as the memories of her father made her, Cazilia was happy that the woods of Hinterkaifeck reminded her of her father. She looked around cautiously to make sure no one was watching and reached into the front of her dress. She pulled out a square of yellowed paper. She unfolded it and laid it on the ground, turning it to the left and then to the right and looking around the woods to gather her bearings.

The crudely drawn map her father sent in his letter showed the farmhouse as a big square, and the barn as a rectangle with one pointy end. There were one or two other buildings that looked like they could be the sheds and it was all surrounded by a nearly perfectly-drawn circle of trees.

The trees looked sparse and she thought he must have been rushing through his drawing. She didn’t blame him. It would take a person hours to draw all of the greenery that surrounded the farm.

What Cazilia was really interested in were his drawings of animals. They all had big cartoon eyes and happy little smiles. There were fat little squirrels peppered around the base of the trees and in their branches. Their tails were much too big for their bodies and she had giggled happily when she first saw them, which she guessed was his goal.

Cazilia traced her finger along the tops of the trees where a spattering of V’s were meant to represent birds in flight. The paper was filled with different creatures. There were butterflies and what looked like cats and some goats. It must have taken him a long time to draw it even if the likenesses of the animals were off.

Even at her young age, Cazilia knew her father had intentionally left out any menacing animals. Ingolstadt was not that far from the Kaifeck and although she had not spent much time in the woodlands around her hometown, she knew that there had been sightings of wolves and sometimes even bears.

Her mother had never taken her on the tour during their first visit. As soon as they arrived she grew tense and angry. Cazilia was afraid to ask her for anything while they were there. Cazilia would watch as her grandfather and mother engaged in whispered, unhappy conversations.

Now that she was old enough to explore a bit on her own, she was free to follow her father’s directions. Cazilia looked around her, trying to find a landmark that matched the map. There was an X that looked to be about ten trees away? That can’t be right, she thought. How many more trees have grown since he was here? The X was near the biggest tree on the map and it looked like there was a stream right near it. Finding the stream seemed like her only hope.

Cazilia looked at the unfamiliar wilderness around her and found that a feeling of hope was rising up inside of her. She loved the trees, birdsong, the smell of beech and spruce trees, and the twinkling sunlight. Most of all, she liked to imagine that there was a whole secret world in the woods; one that was sometimes filled with beauty and magic.

At night, however, the fantasy of the woods turned as dark as the sky did. Sometimes she would peer out her bedroom window and see lights out there, just beyond the tree line. Were they eyes, she wondered, glowing malevolently in the moonlight? Or perhaps they were her father’s happy little squirrels with enormous tails.

Standing in the sunlight on that day, it was easier to believe the latter. A solo exploration did not seem out of the question in woods like those and on a day so beautiful. She turned towards the farmhouse to look at her window on the second floor and then turned her gaze back towards the woods. She imagined her fearfulness at looking through that same window when the sun left them all in darkness. She took a deep breath and walked deeper into the woods. She thought that maybe if she saw the surrounding woods in daylight, they would not seem so terrifying at night. She was also secretly hoping to find the big tree with the X from the map.

Cazilia walked through the woods, always turning back every five steps to make sure the farmhouse was still in sight. She liked the way the ground squished under her boots. It was soft and springy with moss. It was still fall, an ideal time to see the country and get acquainted with it before the hard winter shut them up in the house.

Tall tales of cabin fever tickled the back of her mind when she thought of the farm covered in a silent blanket of snow. But now, everything was lovely. The smell of the woods was a treat compared to the cramped dwellings of the town where she grew up. She breathed in the air and felt its intoxicating purity calm her fears about walking alone in the woods. Everything was alright. Everything held the possibility of real magic.

When she reached a clearing, she looked back towards the farmhouse. She could still see a corner of the fence through the trees and that was enough to repel her worries of getting lost.

Cazilia took a few steps into the clearing and felt warm sunlight wrap itself around her like a blanket. She walked towards the center, taking in the purple flowers that were blossoming out of the short grass on the north side of the wide circle.

There was a small hump rising out of the earth near her feet. It was only about two feet high and maybe a foot across. Upon closer inspection, she realized that it was born partly of earth and partly of a fallen tree. It was covered lovingly with bright green moss. She looked down at it and touched one finger to the spongey cover at its peak. A burst of electricity rolled up her arm. It was not entirely unpleasant, but she pulled her hand back just the same.

At that moment, a shriek rang out behind her. She whipped her head around and gasped, expecting to see some kind of banshee or monster reaching for her from behind a tree. Her heart felt like it had nearly stopped until she saw the culprit. It was Josef. He was crying in Maria’s arms as they headed towards her through the trees.

“You scared me, brother!” Cazilia laughed shakily. Josef reached for his sister when he heard her voice. Maria smiled apologetically.

“I’m sorry if we scared you, dearest. The young lad wanted to see his sister. I think he was feeling a bit left out and cooped up in that old farmhouse,” she said.

“Mother let you take him? Cazilia said, quickly folding up the map and tucking it away in her dress again.

“She was in the other room with your grandfather. I thought I might give them a break from the wailing and get him some fresh air,” Maria said. She was bouncing Josef gently up and down and he was nearly smiling. She really did have a way with children, especially for someone who claimed to have no experience with them. Cazilia gave Josef a quick but loving kiss on the cheek.

“Shall we sit here and eat lunch then?” Cazilia said, pointing to the fallen tree beside her.

“I’m not sure you’ll want to break bread there without permission,” Maria said conspiratorially.

“What do you mean?” Cazilia said looking down again at the mossy mound of earth and bark.

“That there is a faery mound,” Maria said. We can’t dine there without direct permission from the King and Queen of the faeries of this region.”

Cazilia looked at Maria and then back at the mound by her feet. She looked back at Maria with wide-open, eager eyes.

“Let’s ask them, shall we?” Maria said. Maria sat Josef down on the ground and gave him a few picked dandelion heads to play with. She took Cazilia’s two hands in hers and closed her eyes. Cazilia thought she looked like any other adult preparing to pray before supper, but this was no ordinary prayer. Cazilia closed her eyes tightly and waited.

“My Lord and Lady of earth and trees, let us worship you. We thank you for the beauty of the woods and the life you conjured into it. Let us share your luminous kingdom as we break bread…” Maria was talking softly and with a slight lilt at the end of her sentences like one does when they are singing. She let go of Cazilia’s hands as she spoke and bent to open the wrapped lunch that Cazilia had placed at her feet.

Cazilia allowed one eyelid to open and watched as Maria took a piece of the bread, and of the cheese and placed them on the mound. She took a bite out of the apple somewhat viciously and spat it onto the mound as well. Cazilia closed her eye again as Maria turned back towards her and took her hands again.

“Accept our humble offerings and our thanks for letting us rest our weary mortal bodies on your soil. May you reign peacefully and prosper,” Maria finished. Now it was her turn to pop open an eye and look at Cazilia’s determined face. She had to hold in a laugh when she saw how tightly Cazilia had her eyes shut. She looked like she was in pain.

“Okay, Mäuschen, we may enjoy our lunch here next to the faery mound. Sit. Sit,” Maria hunkered down, kneeling painfully until she could get a hand onto the ground to support herself.

“Are you sure?” Cazilia said. She looked around at the tall trees watching them. She suddenly felt like she had intruded on a house of royalty and was a bit flushed from embarrassment.

“Absolutely I am sure! The Faye are a sincere and noble species. They do not play tricks like the alpen. As long as one is respectful, the Faery world is welcoming,” Maria said as she picked up the two apples from their sack and handed Cazilia the unmolested one.

“What’s an alpen?” Cazilia asked.

“Alpen means a group of alps.” Cazilia looked at her blankly and Maria let a knowing smile form on her lips before revealing the rest.

“An alps is a mysterious creature of the German woodlands, but you don’t have to worry about them. They can usually only be found in the mountains. Be glad of that, little one, for they are not such kind hosts,” Maria could see that Cazilia’s face was troubled as she considered what Maria was telling her.

“We should consider ourselves lucky to have a glimpse of this world before all the creatures go to hibernate for winter,” Maria said.

“Like bears?” Cazilia asked.

“Yes, just like bears,” Maria laughed. Once the faeries go into their winter slumber, the only beings you’re likely to see are spirits,” Maria bit into her apple and started humming to herself joyfully. Cazilia watched as a drop of juice trickle out of Maria’s chewing mouth and rested on her chin.

Cazilia stared at Maria, transfixed. She was thinking about what other kinds of creatures could be lurking around her new home, not to mention the bears. Her mind couldn’t help but think on the glowing bubbles of light she had seen the previous night when she looked at the woods from her bedroom window. She thought they were lightning bugs but…I don’t think I’ve heard of lightning bugs flying about in the fall, she thought.

Maria smiled knowingly. “There, there. No need to go to jelly. The unknown is scary. Do you know the secret to dissolving your fears?”

Cazilia shook her head, a little ashamed that Maria had read her so easily. “The trick is to learn about them. Know the unknown. I can teach you.” Maria told her more about the mysteries of the world as they finished up their lunch.

As the days went on, Maria and Cazilia became inseparable. Josef was not usually with them because Viktoria liked to keep him close. Anytime she was apart from him, her face wore a panicked frown that was only eased when she had him in her arms again.

Josef was only two and occasional crying was to be expected at that age. However, after their first few weeks at the farmhouse he had begun to wail incessantly. Day and night, his pink face screamed as if in agony. Viktoria had taken to locking herself in the bedroom with him to try to muffle the sound. Their mother did a lot of things to avoid agitating their grandfather, Andreas, who had been in a foul mood ever since they’d arrived. So, it was mostly just Cazilia and Maria, exploring the secret world of the woods together.

“Look Mäuschen, see the way these mushrooms grow all the way up the tree? In the moonlight, they glow and act as stairs for the faeries.” Cazilia took it all in. Maria taught her that ordinary things were extraordinary if you knew their secrets.

The months went on as such. Maria taught her about woodland spirits, the good and bad, and about the little devotions one must leave for them; milk on the windowsill for troublesome faeries to drink, for instance.

“If one leaves them to their own devices, they might sneak inside and disrupt the household while humans sleep,” Maria lectured with the air of a professor that has fallen for the sound of their own voice and musings. All the while, Cazilia was just happy to be away from the dull farmhouse and the cold stare of her grandfather.

Viktoria, much like her daughter, did not like being alone with Andreas. She found herself in a familiarly disturbing position with him while Maria, Cazilia, and Josef enjoyed their faery picnic. They sat alone in Andreas and Gerda’s bedroom and Viktoria found herself counting down the seconds until she could flee his presence.

Andreas had never been a warm presence in Viktoria’s life. When she was a girl, he barely spoke to her until some of the young men in town started courting her. It was at fourteen that he sat her down for a talk when her mother was at the market in town.

“Viktoria, you are a handsome young woman who will in all likelihood be wed in the next few years,” he said to her while sitting across from her at the kitchen table all those years ago. Viktoria was stunned that he was speaking directly to her and without her mother present. It was an unprecedented scenario. She couldn’t help but be warmed by his attention, but she was also unnerved by the way he was looking at her. His face bore a mixture of hate and curiosity that she had never seen on him before.

“Yes, father,” she said with downcast eyes. The room felt very hot and although it was the middle of the afternoon, it seemed dark and claustrophobic.

Her father stood and walked towards her. He pulled her chair away from the table and made her face him. She yelped when he jerked the chair closer. She sat trembling, wondering why she was so afraid.

Andreas bent a knee and kneeled in front of a young Viktoria as if he were proposing to his sweetheart. He looked into her eyes and grabbed her face between his large, rough hands.

“You’ve not been corrupted have you?” he said almost sadly.

“No, father,” she whispered, not understanding him. He pushed her face away and pushed his hands under her skirt.

“You have the look of the devil about you. I’ve dealt with such wickedness before and I’ll not have it in this house again. I’ll be checking every day to make sure you stay pure.” Viktoria looked towards the window and wished to god her mother hadn’t left her alone. She knew she would be little help to her against Andreas anyway. She closed her eyes and waited for it to be over, trying to force herself to believe that everything that was happening to her was normal.

Viktoria’s mother was a timid woman who lived in fear of her husband and sometimes even her daughter, as if she was hired help rather than his wife and her mother.

Andreas had, in fact, had a wife before Gerda. Her name had been Mariella, and she died only a year after their wedding. No one but Andreas knew for sure how she had died but it was assumed to be some kind of illness.

Andreas married Gerda very soon after Mariella was buried and grieved and forgotten. All in all there had only been about six months separating his first and second wife. Viktoria hadn’t even known about her father’s first wife until Maria let it slip on her wedding day.

It was her last night on the farm before moving to the city with Jonas and Maria hugged her tightly and swept a tear away from her cheek.

“Before you were born this farm was such a bleak, barren place. Especially after Ella died. You’ve grown up into a beautiful young woman,” Maria said.

“Ella? Who is Ella?” Viktoria said.

“Oh, I’m sorry, Mäuschen. It’s a story for another time.”

“Maria,” Viktoria said with the same tight-lipped stubbornness that flickered across Cazilia’s face from time to time.

“She was…your faery godmother,” Maria said wistfully.

After that, Viktoria could not help but be fascinated by the mysterious Ella, and she wrote Maria every few weeks asking her to tell her more about her. Maria tried to explain away Ella as one of her magical imaginings in the woods but Viktoria was relentless in her questioning.

Finally, after months of correspondence, Viktoria and Jonas came back to the farm to celebrate Christmas. One night, after everyone else had gone to bed, Viktoria went down to Maria’s room and cornered her. She asked her to tell her about Ella and Maria felt she could not lie any longer.

“Well, dearest, when I first came to work on this farm, I was only forty years old. A mutual acquaintance introduced me to Andreas and his young wife, Mariella,” Maria said.

“What was she like?” Viktoria asked.

“Ella was an ethereal beauty with long, strawberry blonde hair and skin so fair and delicate she seemed apt to blow away on the wind. She was a kind and generous soul and everyone who met her fell in love with her instantly. She moved here from a neighboring town and somehow ended up with your father.”

“How have I never heard of her before? Does mother know? No one has ever even mentioned a word of this to me. How can that be? Did he keep her hidden?” Viktoria asked.

“Everyone knew who Ella was. All of the men certainly knew all they could find out about her before she was married and even after she was for that matter. They were practically brawling in the streets when she first moved to town. Your father was just the first to get his claws in her—I’m sorry dearest. I didn’t mean it in that way.

“It’s alright Maria—“ Viktoria tried.

“Just a figure of speech. It just popped out, you—“

“Maria!” Viktoria finally cut in with some force.

“I know what kind of man my father is. You don’t need to tiptoe around it with me,” Viktoria said in a voice that belonged to a much older, world-weary woman. Maria wondered what had taken the boisterous joy out of the girl’s eyes at such a young age.

“Yes. Well…she was always very kind to me. She loved the woods. She taught me some of the faery tales that I taught you,” Maria said. Her eyes were looking at the floor but Viktoria could tell that they were seeing much more than what was in the stale little room they were sitting in. She could nearly see the memories flickering across Maria’s brain.

The tea kettle went off and Maria excused herself. They never spoke of it again. Without realizing it, Viktoria allowed that story to soften her view of her father. It should have been yet another example of his callous nature, but Viktoria held onto it as some kind of explanation for his wickedness. Maybe he was just a heartbroken man who lost his love. Maybe.

Now here they were, she a grown woman and he an old man and just as fierce and terrifying as ever. She had been conveniently left alone with him once again while her mother fed the chickens. He sat in a chair across from her, looking at her with concern and a healthy dose of distaste.

“That boy…” he started.

“Don’t you go near him,” she said.

“It’s unnatural,” he sneered. “Just be sure to keep your offspring out of my way as long as you’re here.” He got up and started to sit down on the bed next to her. She leapt to her feet and stormed out of the house towards the tree line. She nearly knocked her mother over on the way out.

“You needn’t hide outside any longer, mother. We’re through,” Viktoria said as she tore down the path and into the woods to find her children.

“Maria!” Viktoria came slashing through the woods towards Maria and the children. Pieces of her long, dark mane flew out behind her as her as it came out of its tidy pinning. She looked half mad, more suited for the wildness of the woods than the modern world.

“Where are the children? Maria!” she shouted again as she entered the clearing.

Viktoria stopped in her tracks and looked at the charming scene of her two little loves and Maria having a picnic in the sun-drenched woods. Birds were chirping and a soft breeze caressed her cheek, seeming to wipe away the tears that had burned so hotly just moments before. She could not help but smile, despite her pain.

Maria stood, looking worriedly at Viktoria’s condition and walked towards her.

“Frau Gabriel, please join us,” Maria said, taking her arm gently and steering her towards the blanket where the children sat. Andreas did not like people using Viktoria’s married name to address her but Maria knew that Viktoria preferred it so she used it whenever she could.

Viktoria let herself be led and as she sat, Cazilia threw her arms around her mother’s neck and hugged her, breathing in her sweet-smelling hair. Viktoria hugged her back and smiled. Thank God for my beautiful angels, she thought.

They all sat there enjoying the food and listening to Maria’s stories until the sun started its descent behind the trees. It twinkled here and there on the soft ground around them as its fading beams passed through the branches.

Life went on as such for a few weeks. There were moments of such beauty that Cazilia could hardly believe it. The wilderness held so many natural wonders and Maria helped them all escape from the farm and Andreas whenever she could. As time went on, there seemed to be more good moments than bad, until the snow fell.


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