“No,” he cried. “That is not true. She would have drown herself–”
“So much the better!” laughed Alraune.
He bit his teeth together, grabbed her arms and shook her.
“You are a witch!” he hissed. “Someone should kill you.”
She didn’t defend herself, even when his fingers pressed deeply into her flesh.
“Who?” she laughed. “You?”
“Yes me!” he screamed. “Me! I planted the seed of this poisonous tree–so I am the one to find an axe and chop it down–to free the world of you!”
“Do it,” she piped gently. “Do it, Frank Braun!”
Her mockery flowed like oil on the fire that burned in him. Haze rose hot and red in front of his eyes, pressed stuffily into his mouth. His features became distorted. He quickly let go of her and raised his clenched fists.
“Hit me,” she cried. “Hit me! I want you to!”
At that his arms sank, his poor will drowned in the flood of her caresses.
That night he awoke. A flickering light fell on him coming from the large silver candlestick that stood on the fireplace. He lay on his great-grandmother’s mighty bed. Over him, directly over him, the little wooden man was suspended.
“If it falls, it will kill me,” he thought half-asleep. “I must take it down.”
Then his gaze fell to the foot of the bed. There crouched Alraune, soft words sounded from her mouth, something rattled lightly in her hands. He turned his head a little and peered over at her. She held the dice cup–her mother’s skull, threw the dice–her father’s bones.
“Nine,” she muttered, “and seven–sixteen!”
Again she put the bone dice in the skull dice cup, shook it noisily back and forth.
“Eleven,” she cried.
“What are you doing?” he interrupted.
She turned around, “I’m playing. I couldn’t go to sleep–so I’m playing.”
“What are you playing?” he asked.
She glided over to him, quickly, like a smooth little snake.
“I’m playing ‘How it will be’, How it will be–with you and with Frieda Gontram!”
“Well–and how will it be?” he asked again.
She drummed with her fingers on his chest.
“She will die,” she twittered. “Frieda Gontram will die.”
“When,” he pressed.
“I don’t know,” she spoke. “Soon, very soon!”
He tightened his fingers together, “Well – and how about me?”
She said, “I don’t know. You interrupted me. Should I continue to play?”
“No,” he cried. “No! I don’t want to know!”
He fell silent, brooding heavily, then startled suddenly, sat up and stared at the door. Light steps shuffled past. Very distinctly he heard the floorboards creak. He sprang out of bed, took a couple steps to the door and listened intently. Now they were gliding up the stairs. Then he heard her clear laughter behind him.
“Let her be!” she tinkled. “What do you want from her?”
“Why should I leave it alone?” he asked. “Who is it?”
She laughed even more, “Who? Frieda Gontram! Your fear is too early, my knight! She still lives!”
He came back, sat on the edge of the bed.
“Bring me some wine!” he cried. “I want something to drink!”
She sprang up, ran into the next room, brought the crystal carafe, let the burgundy bleed into the polished goblets.
“She always runs around,” Alraune explained, “day and night. She says she can’t sleep, so she climbs through the entire house.”
He didn’t hear what she was saying, gulped the wine down and reached the goblet out to her again.
“More,” he demanded. “Give me more!”
“No,” she said. “Not like that! Lay back down. You will drink from me if you are thirsty.”
She pressed his head down onto the pillows, kneeled in front of him on the floor, took a sip of wine and gave it to him in her mouth. He became drunk from the wine, even more drunk from the lips that reached out to him.
The sun burned at noon. They sat on the marble edge of the pool and splashed in the water with their feet.
“Go into my room,” she said. “On my dresser is a hook, on the left hand side. Bring it to me.”
“No,” he replied. “You shouldn’t fish. What would you do with the little goldfish?”
“Do it!” she spoke.
He stood up and went into the mansion. He went into her room, picked up the hook and examined it critically. Then he smiled in satisfaction.
“Well, she won’t catch many with this thing here!” But then he interrupted himself.
Heavy lines creased his forehead, “Not catch many? She would catch goldfish even if she threw in a meat hook!”
His glance fell on the bed, then up to the little root man. He threw the hook into the corner and grabbed a chair in sudden resolve. He placed it by the bed, climbed up and with a quick pull tore the little alraune down. He gathered some paper together, threw it into the fireplace, lit it and laid the little man on top.
He sat down on the floor watching the flames. But they only devoured the paper, didn’t even singe the alraune, only blackened it. And it seemed to him that it laughed, as if its ugly face pulled into a grimace–yes, into Uncle Jakob’s grin! And then–then the phlemy laugh sounded again–echoed from the corners.
He sprang up, took his knife from the table, opened the sharp blade and grabbed the little man from out of the fire. The wooden root was hard and infinitely tough. He was only able to remove little splinters, but he didn’t give up. He cut and cut, one little piece after the other. Bright beads of sweat pearled on his forehead and his fingers hurt from the unaccustomed work. He paused, took some fresh paper, stacks of never read newspapers, threw the splinters on them, sprinkled them with rose oil and Eau de Cologne.
Ah, now it burned, blazed, and the flames doubled his strength. Faster and stronger, he removed more slivers from the wood, always giving new nourishment to the fire. The little man became smaller, lost its arms and both legs. Yet it never gave up, defended itself, the point of a splinter stuck deeply into his finger. But he smeared the ugly head with his blood, grinned, laughed and cut new slivers from its body.
Then her voice rang, hoarse, almost broken.
“What are you doing?” she cried.
He sprang up, threw the last piece into the devouring flames. He turned around and a wild, insane gleam showed in his green eyes.
“I’ve killed it!” he screamed.
“Me,” she moaned, “Me!”
She grabbed at her breast with both hands.
“It hurts,” she whispered. “It hurts.”
He walked past her, slammed the door shut–Yet an hour later he lay again in her arms, greedily drinking her poisonous kisses.
It was true–He had been her teacher. By his hand they had wandered through the park of love, deep onto the hidden path far from broad avenues of the masses. But where the path ended in thick underbrush he turned around, turned back from the steep abyss. There she walked on laughing, untroubled and free of all fear or shyness. She skipped in light easy dance steps. There was no red poisonous fruit that grew in the park of love that her fingers did not pluck, her smiling lips did not taste–
She learned from him how sweet the intoxication was when the tongue sipped little drops of blood from the flesh of the lover. But her desire was insatiable and her burning thirst unquenchable.
He was exhausted from her kisses that night, slowly untangled himself from her limbs, closed his eyes and lay like a dead man, rigid and unmoving. But he didn’t sleep. His senses remained clear and awake despite his weariness. He lay like that for long hours.
The bright light of the full moon fell through the open window onto the white bed. He heard how she stirred at his side, softly moaned and whispered senseless words like she always did on such full moon nights.
He heard her stand up, go singing to the window, then slowly come back, felt how she bent over him and stared at him for a long time. He didn’t move. Again she stood up, ran to the table and came back. She blew quickly on his left breast, then once more and waited, listening to his breathing. Then he felt something cold and sharp slice through his skin and realized it was a knife.
“Now she will thrust it,” he thought.
But that didn’t seem painful to him. It seemed sweet and even good. He didn’t move and waited quietly for the quick thrust that would open his heart. She cut slowly and lightly. Not very deep–but deep enough that his hot blood welled up. He heard her quick breath, opened his eyelids a little and looked up at her. Her lips were half-open, the tip of her little tongue greedily pushed itself out between her even teeth. Her small white breasts raised themselves quickly and an insane fire shone out of her staring green eyes.
Then suddenly she threw herself over him, pressed her mouth to the open wound, drank–drank. He lay there quietly, felt how the blood flowed from his heart. It seemed to him as if she was drinking him dry, sucking all of his blood, not leaving him a single drop.
And she drank–drank–through an eternity she drank–
Finally she raised her head. He saw how she glowed, her cheeks shone red in the moonlight, and little drops of sweat pearled on her forehead. With caressing fingers she once more tasted the red refreshment from the exhausted well, then lightly pressed a few light kisses on it, turned and looked with staring eyes into the moon–
There was something that pulled her. She stood up, went with heavy steps to the window, climbed onto a chair, and set one foot on the windowsill–awash with silvery moonlight.
Then, as if with sudden resolve, she climbed down again, didn’t look to the right or to the left, glided straight through the room.
“I’m coming,” she whispered. “I’m coming.”
She opened the door and went out.
He lay there quietly for awhile listening to the steps of the sleepwalker until they lost themselves somewhere in some distant room. Then he stood up, put on his socks and shoes and grabbed his robe. He was happy that she was gone. Now he could get a little sleep. He had to leave, leave now – before she came back.
He crossed the hall and headed toward his room, then heard her footsteps and pressed himself tightly into a doorway. But it was a black figure, Frieda Gontram in her garb of mourning. She carried a lit candle in her hand as she always did on her nightly strolls despite the light of the full moon.
He saw her pale, distorted features, the hard lines that crossed her nose, her thin pinched mouth, and her frightened, averted eyes.
“She was possessed,” he thought, “possessed just like he was.”
For a moment he considered speaking to her, to find out if–if perhaps–But he shook his head, no, no. It wouldn’t help. She blocked the way to his room, so he decided to go across to the library and lay down there on the divan. He sneaked down the stairs, came to the house door, slid back the bolt and unhooked the chain. Then he quietly slipped outside and went out across the courtyard.
The Iron Gate stood wide open as if it were day. That surprised him and he went through it out onto the street. The niche of the Saint lay in deep shadows but the white stone statue shown brighter than usual. Many flowers lay at his feet. Four, five little lanterns burned between them and it seemed to him as if those little flames the people brought, which they called eternal lamps, wanted to do battle against the light of the moon.
“Paltry little lanterns,” he murmured.
But they helped him, were like a protection against the cruel, unfathomable forces of nature. He felt safe in the shadows near the Saint where the moon’s own light didn’t penetrate, where the Saint’s own fires burned. He looked up at the hard features of the statue and it seemed to him as if they lived in the flickering light of the lanterns. It seemed as if the Saint extended himself, grew taller, and looked proudly out to where the moon was shining. Then he sang, lightly humming as he had many years ago, but this time ardently, almost fervently.
John of Nepomuk
Protector against floods
Protect me from love!
Let it strike another.
Leave me in earthly peace
John of Nepomuk
Protect me from love.