Chapter 2: Shadows
Rat-a-tat, rat-a-tat. Sharp rapid bangs in the distance. Peter raises his head. He must have fallen asleep.
Another rat-a-tat, closer this time. Cannons? Not like any cannons he has ever heard. Have the imperialists returned to take over Stolp?
Peter blinks in disbelief. The beach is gone. The ocean is gone. He sits in a ditch, water seeping into his shoes. Next to him, the stinking bloated carcass of a horse. He flinches and tries to shift away. It is as if he is stuck. Unable to move, he peers over the top of the ditch at a hayfield.
This field and the gently rolling hills in the distance covered with dense stands of trees do not look anything like the land around Stolpmünde.
Where is he? What’s happening to him? His mouth is dry. The hayfield appears unkempt. Someone apparently began with the harvest and then abandoned the work, having finished just a small area and leaving behind piles of hay and a mess of stubble and dust. At least that’s familiar. All the villages around Stolpmünde suffered over the last years. Swedish and Imperialist troops took turns pillaging, burning, and looting over and over again. Many fields have the same look of neglect as this one.
Peter rubs his eyes. Everything is flat, as if taken out of the pages of a book—a world leached of all color, leaving behind just shades of black and grey.
Another rat-a-tat. A humming sound far above in the sky makes him glance up, squinting to avoid the last rays of the setting sun. Light-headed and dizzy, Peter stares at something monstrous and utterly impossible—huge, bird-like shapes, with snub noses and blades whirring in front that streak across the horizon and disappear behind a bank of clouds.
Shaken, Peter turns and gazes over the top of the embankment on the other side. People walk in a steady stream along a road. Old people, women, children grabbing on to their mother’s skirts. Heads bowed. Silent. They pass a large metal box with wheels, with doors left open. Nobody glances at it. Horse-drawn wagons with tent-like covers. Horses coated with mud, heads bent, hooves dragging. Bundles, bags, boxes held together with rope, a few handheld carts.
A young man with a dark cap, long baggy breeches, a jacket too big on his slender frame, and a bag slung over his shoulder walks next to a horse-drawn cart. With one hand, he keeps pushing a bulging sack in place as the vehicle wobbles precariously in the rutted street. A woman sits on top, the reins in one hand, the other gripping a small child on her lap, two children next to her, their faces blank. When the young man passes, he briefly turns his head in Peter’s direction, glancing at him with large light-colored eyes. Then he walks on.
Another rapid rat-a-tat in the distance. Peter feels himself slide into the ditch.
Malve von Hassell is a freelance writer, researcher, and translator. She holds a Ph.D. in anthropology from the New School for Social Research. Working as an independent scholar, she published The Struggle for Eden: Community Gardens in New York City (Bergin & Garvey 2002) and Homesteading in New York City 1978-1993: The Divided Heart of Loisaida (Bergin & Garvey 1996). She has also edited her grandfather Ulrich von Hassell's memoirs written in prison in 1944, Der Kreis schließt sich - Aufzeichnungen aus der Haft 1944 (Propylaen Verlag 1994). She has taught at Queens College, Baruch College, Pace University, and Suffolk County Community College, while continuing her work as a translator and writer. She has self-published two children’s picture books, Letters from the Tooth Fairy (2012/2020) and Turtle Crossing (2021), and her translation and annotation of a German children’s classic by Tamara Ramsay, Rennefarre: Dott’s Wonderful Travels and Adventures (Two Harbors Press, 2012). The Falconer’s Apprentice (namelos, 2015) was her first historical fiction novel for young adults. She has published Alina: A Song for the Telling (BHC Press, 2020), set in Jerusalem in the time of the crusades, and The Amber Crane (Odyssey Books, 2021), set in Germany in 1645 and 1945. She has completed a biographical work about a woman coming of age in Nazi Germany and is working on a historical fiction trilogy featuring Adela of Normandy.
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