The murder farm, p.1

The Murder Farm, page 1


The Murder Farm

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The Murder Farm



  Andrea Maria Schenkel

  Translated from the German by Anthea Bell

  New York • London

  New York • London

  © 2006 by Edition Nautilus

  Translation © 2008 by Anthea Bell

  Originally published in Germany as Tannöd by Edition Nautilus in 2006

  First published in the United States by Quercus in 2014

  The Litany for the Comfort of Poor Souls (for private use) printed in the book is taken from The Myrtle Wreath. A spiritual guide for brides and book of devotions for the Christian woman. Kevelaer 1922.

  All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by reviewers, who may quote brief passages in a review. Scanning, uploading, and electronic distribution of this book or the facilitation of the same without the permission of the publisher is prohibited.

  Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.

  Any member of educational institutions wishing to photocopy part or all of the work for classroom use or anthology should send inquiries to [email protected]

  e-ISBN 978-1-62365-168-8

  This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, institutions, places, and events are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons—living or dead—events, or locales is entirely coincidental.


  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21

  Chapter 22

  Chapter 23

  Chapter 24

  Chapter 25

  Chapter 26

  Chapter 27

  Chapter 28

  Chapter 29

  Chapter 30

  Chapter 31

  Chapter 32

  Chapter 33

  Chapter 34

  Chapter 35

  I spent the first summer after the end of the war with distant relations in the country.

  During those weeks, that village seemed to me an island of peace. One of the last places to have survived intact after the great storm that we had just weathered.

  Years later, when life had gone back to normal and that summer was only a happy memory, I read about the same village in the paper.

  My village had become the home of “the murder farm,” and I couldn’t get the story out of my mind.

  With mixed feelings, I went back.

  The people I met there were very willing to tell me about the crime. To talk to a stranger who was nonetheless familiar with the place. Someone who wouldn’t stay, would listen, and then go away again.

  Lord have mercy upon us!

  Christ have mercy upon us!

  Lord have mercy upon us!

  Christ, hear us!

  Christ, hear our prayer!

  God the Father in Heaven, have mercy upon them!

  God the Son, Redeemer of the world, have mercy upon them!

  God the Holy Ghost, have mercy upon them!

  Holy Trinity, Three in One, have mercy upon them!

  Holy Virgin Mary, pray for them!

  Holy Mother of God, pray for them!

  Blessed Virgin of all virgins, pray for them!

  Holy St. Michael,

  pray for them!

  All holy angels and archangels,

  All holy choirs of blessed spirits,

  Holy St. John the Baptist,

  pray for them!

  All holy patriarchs and prophets,

  Holy St. Peter,

  Holy St. Paul,

  Holy St. John,

  pray for them!

  All holy apostles and evangelists,

  Holy St. Stephen,

  Holy St. Lawrence,

  pray for them!

  All holy martyrs,

  Holy St. Gregory,

  Holy St. Ambrose,

  pray for them!

  Holy St. Jerome,

  Holy St. Augustine,

  pray for them!

  All ye holy bishops and confessors,

  All ye holy Fathers of the Church,

  All ye holy priests and Levites,

  All ye holy monks and hermits,

  pray for them!

  He enters the place early in the morning, before daybreak. He heats the big stove in the kitchen with the wood he has brought in from outside, fills the steamer with potatoes and water, puts the steamer full of potatoes on a burner.

  He walks out of the kitchen, down the long, windowless corridor and over to the cowshed. The cows have to be fed and milked twice a day. They stand side by side in a row.

  He speaks to them quietly. He is in the habit of talking to animals while he works in the shed with them. The sound of his voice seems to have a soothing effect on the cattle. Their uneasiness appears to be lulled by the regular singsong of that voice, the repetition of the same words. The calm, monotonous sound relaxes them. He’s known this kind of work all his life. He enjoys it.

  He spreads a layer of fresh straw over the old one, fetching it from the barn next door. There is a pleasant, familiar smell in the shed. Cows don’t smell like pigs. There’s nothing sharp or assertive about their odor.

  After that he fetches hay. He gets that from the barn, too.

  He leaves the connecting door between the barn and the cowshed open.

  While the animals feed, he milks them. He is a little worried about that. The cows aren’t used to being milked by him. But his fears that one of them will refuse to let him milk her had been unfounded.

  The smell of the cooked potatoes drifts over to the cowshed. Time to feed the pigs. He tips the potatoes out of the steamer and straight into a bucket, and then he crushes them before taking them to the pigs in their sty.

  The pigs squeal when he opens the pigsty door. He tips the contents of the bucket into the trough and adds some water.

  His work is done. Before leaving the house he makes sure the fire in the stove is out again. He leaves the door between the barn and the cowshed open. He pours the milk from the cans straight on the dunghill. Then he puts the cans back in their place.

  He would go back to the cowshed that evening. He’d feed the dog, who always cringes away into a corner, whimpering, when he arrives. He’d tend the animals. And while he worked he would always take great care to give a wide berth to the heap of straw in the far left-hand corner of the barn.

  Betty, age 8

  Marianne and me always sit together in school. She’s my best friend. That’s why we always sit with each other.

  Marianne specially likes my mama’s yeast dumplings. When my mama bakes those dumplings I always take one to school for Marianne, or to church if it’s a Sunday. I took her one that Sunday, but then I had to eat it myself because she wasn’t at church.

  What do we do together? Well, we play games, like cops and robbers, catch, hide and seek. In summer we sometimes play shops at my house. We make ourselves a little stall by the kitchen garden fence. Ma
ma always lets me have a tablecloth and we can put things out on it: apples, nuts, flowers, colored paper, anything we can find.

  Once we even had chewing gum, my auntie brought it. It tastes lovely, like cinnamon. My auntie says the children in America eat it all the time. My auntie works for the Yanks, you see. And now and then she brings us chewing gum and chocolate and peanut butter. Or bread in funny green cans. Once last summer there was even ice cream.

  My mama doesn’t like that so much, because Auntie Lisbeth’s boyfriend comes from America, too, and he’s all black.

  Marianne’s always saying her papa is in America as well, and he’s going to come fetch her very soon; she’s sure he is. But I don’t believe it. Because Marianne does tell fibs sometimes. Mama says you shouldn’t tell fibs, and when Marianne tells another of her stories we quarrel. Then we usually each take our things away from the shop and we can’t go on playing and Marianne goes home.

  The Christ Child brought me a dolly for Christmas, and Marianne was very envious. She only has a really old one; it’s a wooden dolly and it used to be her mama’s. So then Marianne started telling stories again. How her papa is coming soon to take her away to America. I told her I wouldn’t go on being her friend if she kept telling so many fibs. After that she didn’t say anymore about it.

  Sometimes we go tobogganing in the meadow behind our farm. There’s a hill that is great for tobogganing; everyone in the village always goes there. If you don’t brake in time you shoot right down into the hedge. Then there’s usually trouble at home. Marianne has to bring her little brother along sometimes, when she’s looking after him. He clings to your skirts all the time. I don’t have a little brother, just a big sister, but that’s not always much fun either. She often makes me really mad.

  When Marianne’s little brother fell over in the snow he started crying and he’d wet his pants, too, and then Marianne had to go home and there was bad trouble. Because she hadn’t looked after him properly and he’d wet his pants again and so on. Then she was very sad in school next day and told me she wanted to go away because her grandpa is so strict and so is her mama.

  A few days ago she told me the magician was back. She’d seen him in the woods, she said, and she knows he’ll take her to her papa. Yes, she said, she saw the magician. She told me that story once before, last autumn, right after school began and I didn’t believe her, there’s no such thing as magicians, and you bet your life there’s no such thing as magicians who can magic you a papa who’s supposed to be in America. So then I quarreled with her again and she cried and said there is so a magician, and he has all colored bottles in his backpack and other colored things and sometimes he just sits there humming to himself. So he must be a magician, just like in our reading book at school. Then I shouted, “Liar, liar, pants on fire!” and she cried and ran home. And because she wasn’t in school on Saturday and she loves my mama’s yeast dumplings so much, I took one to church for her on Sunday. But she wasn’t there either. Mama said because none of them were there maybe they’d gone to visit family. Over in Einhausen where her grandpa’s brother lives. So I just ate the dumpling myself.

  Marianne lies in bed awake. She can’t get to sleep. She hears the wind howling. It sweeps over the farm like the Wild Hunt. Grandma’s often told her stories about the Wild Hunt and the Trud, an evil spirit in female form. She always tells them on the long, dark, frosty nights between Christmas and New Year.

  “The Wild Hunt races on before the wind, fast as the storm clouds or even faster. The huntsmen are mounted on horses as black as the Devil,” Grandma had told her. “Wrapped in black cloaks. Hoods drawn right down over their faces. Eyes glowing red, they race on. If anyone’s rash enough to go out and about on such a night, the Wild Hunt will pick him up. At the gallop,” said Grandma. “Just like that—got ’im!”

  And she made a snatching movement with her hand, as if seizing something to extinguish it.

  “Got ’im! And they take the poor fellow high up in the air and sweep him away with them. Up, up, and away to the clouds, they sweep him right up into the sky. He has to go with the stormy wind. The hunt never lets him go again, the hunt howls and laughs with scorn. Ho, ho, ho,” laughed Grandma in a deep voice.

  Marianne could almost see the Wild Hunt picking a man up and laughing as it carried him away.

  “And what happens then, Grandma?” Marianne asked. “Doesn’t he ever come down again?”

  “Oh yes, oh yes,” replied Grandma. “Sometimes he comes down again, sometimes not. The Wild Hunt drags the poor devil on with it as long as it likes. Sometimes it puts him down again quite gently once it’s had its fun. Sometimes. But mostly the poor man’s found somewhere the next morning with all his bones broken. His whole body all scratched and bruised, smashed to pieces. Many a man’s never been seen again. The Wild Hunt has taken him straight to the Devil.”

  Marianne keeps thinking about the story of the Wild Hunt. She’d never leave the house in a storm like this. The Wild Hunt isn’t going to get her. Not likely!

  She lies awake for a long time. How long she doesn’t know. Her little brother sleeps in the same room. The beds are arranged so that they lie almost side by side. She in her bed; he in his small cot.

  She hears his calm, regular breathing, they’re lying so close. He breathes in and out. Sometimes, when she can’t sleep, she listens to that sound in the night, tries to match her own breathing to his, breathes in when he breathes in, breathes out when he breathes out.

  That sometimes helps, and then she gets tired, too, and falls asleep herself. But it doesn’t work tonight. She’s lying there awake.

  Should she leave her bed? Grandpa will be terribly cross again. He doesn’t like it when she gets up in the night and calls for her mother or her grandmother.

  “You’re old enough to sleep alone now,” he says, and sends her back to bed.

  There’s a line of light shining under the door. Only faintly, but she sees a narrow strip of light.

  So there’s still somebody awake. Her mother, maybe? Or Grandma?

  Marianne plucks up all her courage and puts her bare feet out of bed. It’s cold in the room. She pushes the covers aside. Very quietly, so as not to wake her little brother, she tiptoes to the door. Cautiously, in case the floorboards creak.

  Slowly, carefully, she pushes the door handle down and quietly opens the door. She steals down the passage and into the kitchen.

  There’s still a light on in the kitchen. She sits at the window and looks out into the night. It gives her the creeps, and she starts shivering in her thin nightie.

  Then she notices that the door to the next room is ajar.

  Her mother must have gone to the cowshed, Marianne thinks. She opens the door to the next room wide. Another door opens out of that room into the passage leading to the cowshed and the barn.

  She calls for her mother. For her grandmother. But there is no answer.

  The little girl goes down a long, dark feed alley. She hesitates, stops. Calls for her mother again, for her grandmother. Rather louder this time. Still no answer.

  She sees the cattle in the shed chained to the iron rings of the feeding trough. The cows’ bodies move calmly. The place is lit only by an oil lamp.

  Marianne sees the door to the barn standing open at the end of the feed alley.

  Her mother will be in the barn. She calls for her mother again. There’s still no answer.

  She goes on along the feed alley toward the barn. She stops again at the door, undecided. She can’t hear a single sound in the darkness. She takes a deep breath and goes in.

  Holy St. Mary Magdalene,

  pray for them!

  Holy St. Catherine,

  pray for them!

  Holy St. Barbara,

  pray for them!

  All ye blessed virgins and widows,

  pray for them!

  All ye saints of God,

  pray for them!

  Be merciful unto them! Spare them, O Lord!

nbsp; Be merciful unto them! Deliver them, O Lord!

  Babette Kirchmeier, civil servant’s widow, age 86

  Marie, ah yes, Marie.

  She was my household help, yes. Well, until I went into the old folks’ home.

  That’s right, my household help, Marie was. She was a good girl. A real good girl. Always did everything so neat and nice. Not like the young things now, gadding around the whole time, flirting with boys.

  No, Marie wasn’t like that. A good girl, Marie was.

  Not all that pretty, but good and hardworking. She kept the whole place going for me.

  I’m not so good on my legs anymore, you see, that’s why I’m in the home.

  I don’t have any children, and my husband died nearly fifteen years ago. It’ll be fifteen years in June, on the twenty-fourth.

  Ottmar, now, he was a good man. A good man.

  So Marie came to help me in the house because my legs didn’t work so well anymore. Ah, my legs, it’s a long time since they worked well. When you get old there’s a lot that doesn’t work as well as it used to, not just your legs. Growing old is no fun, you take my word for it, that’s what my mother always said. No, it’s no fun.

  Once upon a time I could run like the wind. I was always going dancing with my Ottmar, God rest his soul. To the tea dance in the Odeon on Sunday afternoons. That was back before the war. Ottmar was a good dancer. We got to know each other at a dance, still in the Kaiser’s time, that was. Oh, he was a dashing fellow, my Ottmar, in his uniform. Ottmar was in the army then; he’s been dead nearly fifteen years now.

  Time passes by, time passes by. I had that trouble with my hip. We’re not getting any younger, are we?

  That’s when Marie came to help me in the house. She slept in the little bedroom. She didn’t ask for much, not Marie. A bed, a chair, a table, and a cupboard, that’s all she needed.

  So in January, let me think now, yes, it was January when I went into the old folks’ home, because I don’t walk so well these days. Not so well at all. Yes, that’s when Marie went to her sister’s.

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