A Scientific Career Becomes Complicated
|The Mascot of Geisterdorf|
It was 1899 and as a young Anthropologist I’d made my way through the German Zugspitze mountain range in Bavaria, studying the history and cultural development of small villages for my final university thesis. It was fall, and the weather fair.
My destination was the village of Geisterdorf, population about 300 pious souls resting in a small mountainous alcove that supported those inhabitants. Research indicated the population was a result of nature, being unable to support more due to terrain, geography and the vagaries of weather.
The citizens had developed a local industry from herding goats, milk, cheese, hides and meat which sustained the village and provided those outside comforts which most of us were acquainted. Neat and well organized, Geisterdorf possessed two curious artifacts that had been installed in the village square in times long forgotten.
Although there were several folktales that attempted to explain their existence, few could agree on a common source. My mission was to explore, and I finally arrived at the behest of the local council, which had welcomed my arrival.
What had intrigued me initially was the village name; Geisterdorf, which was an old Germanic expression loosely translated into ‘Haunted Village’. Haunted by what, I thought, and why continue to keep their namesake beyond the 19th century? Curiosity consumed me, but I meant to put the folklore to rest in scientific terms.
The two artifacts were surrounded by an ornate iron fence, ancient but now disintegrating in the high mountain air. Located on a rocky knoll, nothing grew in that cursed spot, and the villagers had grown used to avoiding that area.
The Bürgermeister had granted me rare permission to examine the artifacts past the barrier, which I did the morning following my arrival. He’d assigned me one of his stalwart contstables whenever I was in the vicinity of the plot, which I thought unnessary, but I had little choice.
Constable Stubbin was a no nonsense member of the local village police force, and was invaluable in putting inhabitants at ease during my investigations.
The first day of my research consisted of settling into my accommodations, and being led around to meet the various dignitaries a village of this size could contain, after which Stubbin led me through the gate to the artifacts in question. He had no clear opinions of his own, but informed me there had been a, ‘by dark‘ curfew imposed upon the citizenry for the past one hundred fifty years for this area.
My investigation of the artifacts was thorough, observed by Stubbin, silent but alert. The first was a shiny metal disk, nearly four feet in diameter, firmly embedded in the rocky surface covering the knoll. There was no mark upon it to form a means of raising it, nor any handle to manipulate it in any way. The shine of the surface indicated a long period of wear from the elements, and the sound emanating from it when struck suggested a great weight.
The second artifact was the most remarkable; an exquisitely constructed statue of a huge spider in repose, facing the disk. It was nearly the size of one of their largest goats, and the artwork was beyond anything I’d ever seen, appearing as though it were alive, and observing everything I did.
Closer observation disclosed large multiple eyes, and the detailed representation of the form and shape of the arachnid were the finest I’d ever seen. Even the bristles lining the legs and body were realistically portrayed, but the statue itself seemed to have been constructed of a hard, horn-like material.
Local lore suggested it was constructed by a magician long ago and placed here as a sentinal to protect the inhabitants from demons. The constable watched me as I examined the figure, finally clearing his throat for attention. He informed me that area in the moonlight seemed to come alive, thereby accounting for the fact the local citizenry never approached it after dark.
That singular statement was my cue to arrange at least one nighttime vigil at this spot prior to my departure, if Constable Stubbin could be convinced to accompany me.
On day two of my visit the weather began to turn for the worse, and the oldtimers predicted a rainstorm within a day or two resulting in my night vigil plans moving up to avoid the brunt of it. After considerable persuasion (and quite a few ales) I managed to overcome Constable Stubbins strong aversion to approach the artifacts after dark, getting him to agree to assist me in preparing the visit for the following evening.
The afternoon of the vigil was already beginning to turn a bit blustery and damp, a harbinger of the rains to come. For me, a pot of steaming tea, a lantern and a warm jacket were all the accoutrements required for the vigil, aside from my notebook. I was a bit surprised to note Stubbin had added a sizable truncheon to his uniform, although I couldn’t imagine what danger we should have expected.
I didn’t question Stubbin about the addition of his own weaponry to our preparations, not wanting to press my luck regarding his willingness to join me. He was obviously quite able to take care of himself, standing well over six foot tall and weighed about eighteen stone, and if trouble did present itself, I’d count myself lucky for his presence.
The locals all turned out to discuss our foolishness in our endeavor, having overheard my pleas to enlist Stubbin the previous night, but after the sun went down, we found ourselves inside the fence, absolutely alone. The weather was kicking up a bit, and clouds were beginning to pass over the moon, now reigning at first quarter.
Stubbin sat silently between the statue and the metal disk, idly fingering the truncheon while furtively glancing around the knoll. Myself, I’d prepared a small fire in a pot I’d brought along to heat the tea, and sat where I could get a clear view of both of the artifacts.
I had to admit the scattered clouds flitting across the moon made nearly everything seem like it had taken life, especially the likeness of the giant spider that had captivated this village through the generations. Flickering light made the inanimate seem to move, although it was relatively obvious the movement was a result of the play of shadows on the knoll.
It was quite easy to understand why the villager’s felt this particular site took life after dark, particularly in the moonlight. It was also quite hypnotic, given little light, no noise, and a stoic companion. My constable companion was silent, wary and not prone to conversation. The air heavy with the impending storm and the silence eventually lolled me into a deep sleep.
Heavy raindrops and a drunken rant from the edge of our campsite finally brought me into a groggy awareness, and I struggled to make sense of my surroundings. Constable Stubbin had thankfully kept our small fire fueled during my sleep, because clouds had nearly obliterated what little moonlight we’d had at the beginning of our vigil.
I quickly recognized one of the sodden patrons of the pub from that night, now belligerent and loudly decrying ‘superstitious fools’, and challenging the courage of the constable. While lurking outside the circle of light from our fire, he apparently had been flushed out by the onset of the thunderstorm.
Constable Stubbin had risen from his place to confront the drunken interloper, truncheon in hand, but held off for a few moments, apparently to see what he’d do. The drunk swayed at the edge of the metal disk for what seemed like a lifetime, then unzipped his trousers and began to relieve himself upon it.
“This is what I think of your superstitious crap!” he shouted, as the reeking stench of urine filled the area. While the constable and I stood in shock, the drunkard suddenly stopped, grabbed his mouth and fell to his knees at the edge of the circular artifact. With his head nearly touching the disk, he began to vomit, violently. The sour reek of vomit joined the odor of urine in the area, when we began to hear the hollow metallic grinding noise of metal against metal.
Constable Stubbin began to approach the uninvited guest when we both observed the edge of the disk begin to rise. Before either of us could react, a long, slug like figure shot out of the aperture, grasped the head of the drunkard in what appeared to be mandibles and began to ingest him with long, undulating motions. The sound of the body breaking up was penetrating and horrifying, and it took a few moments before Constable Stubbing stepped in to stop the carnage.
He was brave, and under the circumstances I’d have to admit heroic, but suddenly a figure flashed by me and struck Stubbin in the back, knocking him to the rocky surface. He didn’t move from his fall, leaving me to observe the rest of the event alone.
It was the spider, now seemingly alive and voracious. It pounced upon the larva-like figure in an instant, plucking it out of the hole from which it had emerged. The dull clank of the lid falling back onto the hole blocked its escape and ensured its doom.
The spider spent but a moment driving its fangs into the body of the larva before tearing it apart with mandibles of its own, devouring bits and pieces of both monster and man.
Rain began to pelt the whole area mercilessly, driven by a blinding wind, making visibility difficult. The savage fight was nearly silent as the butchery continued, and to my lasting shame I stood paralyzed by the sheer impossibility of my situation.
By now my fire had been extinguished by wind and rain and the sky was black as I tried to imagine an escape from this madness. Finally I managed to edge myself away from where I thought the carnage was taking place, but in the darkness it was impossible to navigate noiselessly, and I fell across the now extinguished fire pot.
The clatter brought an instant response from the battle site and I heard a scrabbling sound approaching me in the dark. As I felt the blood in my veins turning to ice water, my thoughts strangely turned to my companion, Stubbin. He must have family, I thought; how would they get along without him?
Lightning flashed brightly for a moment, and I got a clear glimpse of my pursuer; the beast was mere inches from my face, fangs extended, evidence of its feeding still dripping from its mandibles. The storm had intensified, and then …everything went dark.
Early risers found Stubbin and myself that next morning, wet but alive. Stubbin apparently attributed his incident to the wound on his head, and claimed amnesia that night, and I retreated into my own mind.
Back in the United States, safe in my den, I picked up the letter once again. In it was an acknowledgement of that adventure I’d published in a scientific journal, minus the particulars about the vigil. Due to my descriptions of the artifacts and the folklore around them, I was considered an expert regarding like subjects.
The letter was postmarked Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, from their main University system, describing a similar pair of artifacts recently discovered by a team of European Archaeologists in one of their remote jungles. Having no Archaeology departments, my humble credentials were enough to elicit their request for my help.
It’s now 1902, and nightmares still occur from my encounter with the German artifacts, but I’m told this new investigation would seal my fame as an international Anthropology researcher.
I pulled out another letter, much older, dated shortly after I returned to the U.S. It was from Stubbin, and as expected, it was short and succinct. It simply stated, “It was all real.”
I still see demons…