A little moth-eaten around the Edges

The_Moth_Diaries_FilmPosterNo, I’m not talking about myself here! Although, admittedly the image staring back at me in my mirror could do with smoothing out, peeling off the old and pasting on a younger, fresher smile once in a while. At least you still have a mirror image, I hear the vampire enthusiast among you cry. You are right, one should always be grateful for small mercies in life and after-life.

Actually, my comment about being a bit moth-eaten around the edges was aimed at the movie “The Moth Diaries” which I finally got around watching last weekend when I wanted a break from writing chirpy travel articles about Spain and Portugal.

Although I’m not strictly saying that the film was boring – far from it – it just took such a long time getting round to what it wanted to say that I was tempted to shout “aren’t we there yet” at my laptop screen, like an impatient child sitting in the back of a car on her way to Harry Potter World.

I liked the moth element of this supernatural tale, which of course was chosen because it mirrored the protagonist’s happiest childhood memory; only the vampire knew how to twist and pervert this life-sustaining memory into something deadly and morbid.

Bela_Lugosi_as_Dracula,_anonymous_photograph_from_1931,_Universal_StudiosWhat I found interesting was the fact that this supernatural caper went back to the pre-Dracula days in the vampire genre when vamps where emotional life suckers rather than the blood-slurping variety. These are, of course, the type of vampires one is more likely to encounter in real life than the fangy Count D.

It made me think back of my school days and how certain types of people simply cannot bear to see others being friends or lovers without wanting to insinuate themselves into the middle and sucking the life out of that relationship.

Oddly enough, elements of the Transylvanian school of thought, as I call the emotional life sucker folklore, will be creeping into my 2nd Willow adventure too, although for the moment I have put this to the backburner to finish another book.

How do you prefer your creatures of the night? Biting with gusto into a throaty, full bloodied adventure or wheedling their way into the heart of the matter like a sly maggot?

 

(picture source Wikipedia: The Moth Diaries is a 2011 Irish-Canadian horror film directed by Mary Harron. It is based on a 2002 novel of the same name written by Rachel Klein)

Message from an absent Friend

book92 with quill and inkI really must apologise for not having posted for such a long time – work commitments and moving out of my home office and into a proper office/artists’ studio have all taken their toll. I’m generally getting up at 4am and start work soon after…YAWN.

Normal blogging services will resume next month, when I’ve had a chance to write up new themes I want to tackle for this blog.

To the person”O” who left a message, wondering how to set up his/her own children’s book of 28 pages: I’ve used createspace.com to publish my first Willow novel as one can choose lots of different templates depending on what size one wants for a book. They also have templates for covers that allow you to upload your own photographs or artwork. The print quality is very good.

Before deciding on a suitable size for your children’s book, go to your library or book store and see what established writers have used for a book aimed at the same age range. Take a ruler or tape measure with you and write down the size of the books you liked best; don’t forget to count the words on each page, if you’re planning to publish a picture book for the same age range. This will make sure you won’t end up with more than 2 empty pages, which is all Createspace allows you to have.

If any of you writers out there have used lulu.com or other such self-publishing services you were very happy with, perhaps you can let us know and give us tips. Createspace have their own community of writers giving handy tips and I used that extensively, while setting up my own book.

until the next time…

Ghost_househugs from an absent friend and fellow creature of the night

(and NO, what you see to your right is NOT my new office address!)

 

Ghostly Paths through dark Forests

ghost in white sheetThroughout history unusual features in the landscape have sent human imagination into overdrive, spawning legends, fairy-tales and myths. I’d like to use the next couple of blog posts to investigate this super-charged landscape issue a little further.

 

My first candidate for natural phenomena are Hohlwege, the German word for well-trodden paths that have literally been hollowed out by generations of feet, hooves and paws as well as by rain and wind, taking several centuries to mature into their creepy and myth-inspiring selves. Such footpaths lead through fields, forests and mountains and typically connect ancient market towns and places of worship and are usually found close to popular pilgrim routes.

 

So close your eyes and imagine you’re on your way to a medieval market to sell your farm produce. Turnips, onions and beets anyone?

 

Travelling through Germany’s Mecklenburg in your top-of-the-range oxcart, you’ll come across a forested area called Hohenzieritz Woods, which sits in spooky silence between the towns of Penzlin and Hohenzierlitz. The ancient Iserputt footpath or Hohlweg snakes through the wood, where it leads overgrown and hollowed out by the weather, with deep and muddy cart tracks left by a hundred generations of market traders just like you and your team of pretty oxen, to the nearest place to sell your wares.

 

Vampire-bats-animatedMake haste and drive on your team of oxen, for at midnight twelve gleaming white men carrying a black coffin will appear out of nowhere and they just might select you as their number thirteen!

 

We can only imagine with what urgency travellers raced along the Iserputt path, their sandals flying over sticks and stones, their feet splashing through mud-filled puddles and their heads full of ghostly apparitions out to get them for whatever sin their superstitious medieval minds could conjure up!

 

Another legend has it an old man on a cart travelled on this path in the middle of the day. Without warning, the cart came to a halt and his horses refused to take another step. The old man got off his cart and went to investigate the source of the delay. He found a tall, black figure on the back of his cart, laughing wildly and terrifying the horses. The old man was furious to have a stranger mocking him, so he whacked the apparition with his whip. To the old man’s surprise the apparition disappeared and his horses took him and his cart from that place as fast as their hooves would go.

 

Ghost below the Sunset?

 

Ghosts, as one rather rude and ignorant blog reader informed me the other day, “do not exist, you idiots”. I dare to disagree! They may not be Caspar and Co. zipping down the corridor in some abandoned mansion or the Ghost of Canterbury having a score to settle with a new set of occupants, but ghosts are likely to exist in our traditions and belief systems we inherit from our forbearers and that makes them very real to us.

 

English: A ghostly Black Dog.

 

As long as humans believe in a soul surviving death, there will be talk of ghosts…they exist in our minds because they might represent our guilty conscience of unfinished business with the dear departed or our longing to see loved ones again or simply express our own hope that there’s life after death despite scientific proof that we’re just ending up as worm fodder.

 

Deutsch: Die Burg Penzlin (Landkreis Müritz, M...

Deutsch: Die Burg Penzlin (Landkreis Müritz, Mecklenburg). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Imagine you’re an uneducated peasant working the fields surrounding Castle Penzlin in Mecklenburg, bringing in your hay in medieval Europe. The drudgery of day-to-day life must have been unbearable for an intelligent, but uneducated person of the lower ranks. How better to while away the time while making hay than to invent little stories about the things that occur in our surroundings – natural or supernatural phenomena, if that’s what you believe.

 

ghostly images in graveyardWhen we see mist rising up from the heated soil after a long, hot day in summer is cooled down by sudden rain, we can easily imagine ghostly spirits are leaving the ground in protest. Morning mist swirling upwards and gathering in clouds around the summits of hills and mountains, the wind changing and moulding their shapes into fantastical apparitions, are perfect candidates for souls rising up to heaven, while pea-soupers in historic towns are bound to be a demon’s breath robbing us of our sense of direction, trying to lure us into a trap.

 

Hohlwege

Hohlwege (Photo credit: crobgun)

 

Naturally, I’m going to use this spooky landscape feature called Hohlwege in my upcoming novel Willow the Vampire and the Wuerzburg Ghosts. Are there any mysterious features in the landscape near you that might inspire a ghostly tale or two?

 

An Embarrassment of Witches

Willow pic twoI promised the real Willow, the little girl who is the inspiration for my Willow the Vampire stories, her very own New Year’s story, so here it is and hopefully you’ll enjoy reading it!

An Embarrassment of Witches

 

“You’ve got to be kidding me!” Darren’s brown eyes widened at the sight of his best friend’s costume. “You’re going to the New Year’s party dressed in THAT?”

Willow sighed. “That’s all they had left at the costume hire shop. Mum took one look at me and burst out laughing…as for Dad, he almost had a fit. I wished I could check what it looks like in the mirror. Is it really that hideous?”

“You’d be better off going as yourself…unless THIS is your real self,” Darren dropped into a comfortable rocking chair by the fire and studied the pink vision in front of him.

“Very funny, Darren Taylor! What am I going to do? There’s no time to make a different outfit by tonight. The invitation says people not in costume will be turned away. It’s my party; I can’t break my own rules!”

“You know Felicity will never let you forget this?”

Flopping into a worn leather sofa Willow buried her face into furry paws. “Don’t remind me! Botheration, I so wanted tonight to be a success.”

A grin spread across Darren’s face. Sounding remarkably like their headmaster’s daughter, he said in a squeaky voice: “Oh my, Willow Band, we have discovered a new species! Our village will be in every newspaper!”

Willow pulled a face. “All my old friends from vampire infant school have been invited. Compared to the things they’re going to say about my sudden fluffiness, Felicity’s comments will be positively refreshing.” Willow groaned, when she saw the expression on Darren’s face. “You’re right; she’ll never let me forget it. I’m doomed!”

“Oh come on, you’ve got to see the funny side. Besides, it’s only one night out of your life; it’s not the end of the world. By the way, isn’t it rather uncomfortable sitting on that…erm…thing on your back? You might want to take it off until later.”

Willow reached behind her and extracted her tail. “Oh, I squashed it. It was a lot fluffier when I put on the suit,” she wailed. “Can’t I get anything right? I’m a failure as a vampire AND I suck at being a carrot-nibbler. Just look at me, I’m a great fat, fluffy joke!”

“Hey, don’t give up before you have explored all your options. Perhaps we could make you look a little more…uh…dangerous?”

“Exactly how many Barbie-pink, blood-sucking bunnies have you met in your life, Darren?”

There was really no answer to that. Darren got up and began to prowl the room, absentmindedly fingering the ornaments on the little table by the window, pulling out books from the shelf by the fireplace and upsetting the cat by treading on its bowl of biscuits. Willow watched her pet Bartholomeaow inspect the carpet in disgust, his favourite fish-flavoured dinner now spread out all over Willow’s floor. A heavy sigh escaped Willow, temporarily halting Darren’s pacing.

“I could wear my beasty face and show my fangs…that would make me look more…grrrrr,” the large pink bunny on the sofa said wretchedly. The grandfather clock in the hallway struck 4 o’clock, only two more hours before the first guests were expected to arrive! Willow pulled off her furry paw gloves and sank deeper into the sofa cushions in an effort to disappear.

“Maybe…if I put on some bear claws instead of these things?” She said without much enthusiasm and looked pleadingly at her friend. “I’m a vampire, a blood-thirsty fiend; I can’t go out there dressed like this!”

Darren stopped his prowling abruptly. He turned the book he held in his hands with an air of surprise and puzzlement, until he realised he had picked it up during his travels around the room. His eyebrows rose when he read the title. It was a children’s book called The little Witch by Willow’s favourite writer Ottfried Preussler.

“I think I may have an idea but we’ll need our friend Rita’s help. There’s nothing like a little witchcraft to spice up a party!” An expression of mischief mingled with determination to help his friend stole across Darren’s face and for the first time that afternoon Willow felt more hopeful, her party might still be a success.

Two hours later the first guests arrived and Darren showed them into the living room, where a table groaning with yummy food and lots of lemonade awaited them. Decorated with left-over glitter from Christmas and a few shrunken heads from the novelty shop in the village, the white table cloth showed off nicely most of Willow’s favourite things to eat. Her mum had done her proud, for nobody could possibly feel left out.

There were pumpkin pies, cheese cake and chocolate muffins for Willow’s human friends, a tray with slices of fried black pudding, barbequed fingers and boiled eyeballs just right for vampires, and for her cat Bartholomeaow there was a large plate of tuna. Next to a jug of home-made lemonade Willow spotted a decanter of spiced blood wine, her absolute favourite drink. Naturally, this wasn’t real wine but cranberry juice, since her mum had prepared it for a children’s party and not for grown-ups, but the other ingredients were just the same, a dash of blood from those nasty bankers in the High Street spiced up with plenty of cinnamon, ginger and cloves from old Mrs Edward’s market stall.

Darren, dressed as a blood-thirsty pirate, waited by the front door and greeted every new friend on Willow’s behalf, directing them to the living room, where Willow waited on a small pedestal behind a red velvet curtain. She felt rather silly, standing there like a statue on a market square about to be unveiled to an astonished public, or a supermarket gimmick or juggler in a shopping mall but having mulled over Darren’s plan from every angle, she felt there was little choice but to go through with it.

Verruca and Maximilian Snaggletooth, two vampire cousins from London, entered the hallway with a flourish and much noise. They were both dressed as noblemen from Venice, with lace collars, stockings and breeches, embroidered silk coats and wide-brimmed hats to which they had affixed ostrich feathers. They felt their rich clothes made it right and proper for them to inspect Willow’s country cottage with their noses high up in the air. Their high-pitched voices discussed the threadbare carpet and medieval hall mirror of questionable origin, when the next wave of guests arrived. Willow sighed, bracing herself for more nasty comments. Her cousins had only been invited because Willow’s dad had insisted on it.

Willow’s cottage couldn’t compete with the grand houses her city cousins lived in, but it was her home and at least she didn’t have to put up with the constant noise of wailing police sirens and passers-by throwing rubbish into their garden. The day her parents had packed their belongings into a removal van and decided from now on they’d be living in the village of Stinkforth-upon-Avon had been the happiest day of Willow’s life. While Verruca discussed the lack of bathrooms in the cottage and Maximilian moaned about the faded wallpaper in the living room, Willow reminded herself that rural Stinkforthshire County had many advantages, especially its great distance from London, making visits by her cousins a rare treat.

Unable to resist the temptation of a mysterious curtain at the far end of the living room, Verruca and Maximilian peeped through a gap in the heavy fabric. When they spotted their country cousin, they howled with laughter. Impatient as ever, Willow’s cousins pulled back the curtain with an amusing cry of Tallyho.

“I annoyed a passing witch. A powerful spell, I’m afraid.” Willow said confidentially, ignoring her cousins’ toothy grins. She raised her paws in a mock gesture of attack. “Grrrruesome claws, I tell you.”

“You look about as scary as my grandmother’s bed socks.” Verruca sniffed. “Mind you, the whiff coming from your feet’s just as gruesome, I grant you that.”

Maximilian tried to pull one of Willow’s long ears but she slapped his wrist. “On the stroke of midnight things will really kick off. I’ll turn into this horrible – “ Willow raised her paws dramatically, “this horrible, grrrrrrrreat big beasty. And after that things will just go from bad to worse. What am I going to do, if I can’t break the spell? Spring’s just around the corner. Warmer weather, bumble bees, primroses and tulips, the usual dangers to our kind.” Willow sighed deeply and smoothed out her fur.

Baffled, Verruca and Maximilian said in one voice. “But we’re vampires – we don’t feel heat or cold…why should you be worried about spring time, insects and a few flowers?”

Willow shook her head, allowing her ears to flop around her chin. She gestured for her cousins to come closer and whispered: “Shshsh, not so loud…somebody might hear you…it simply won’t do upsetting the Easter Bunny. He’s the Black Hare’s best friend.” She twitched her whiskers knowingly and straightened her shoulders. “The Vampire Council of 1837 could tell you a tale that would make your blood curdle and your fangs fall out.”

Maximillian shrank back, but Verruca was not easily impressed. She snorted dismissively: “Upsetting the Easter Bunny, are you mad? We’re blood-sucking fiends; we’re not scared of anybody!”

“Oh, but you should be! I guess your parents thought you were too young to hear such a grizzly tale. Ah well, don’t say I didn’t warn you. Oh look…more guests!”

Willow turned away quickly before Verruca could think of a suitable reply; new guests had arrived in the hallway. Willow craned her neck and caught a glimpse of Felicity, dressed as a witch! By the look on Darren’s face, Willow could tell he was as surprised by this latest development as she was. Felicity stood in front of the hall mirror, straightening out her long blond hair before finally adjusting her high hat, made from black felt and sheets of thin cardboard that had once held quantities of their headmaster’s favourite breakfast cereal. The wide brim partially shaded her face, so Willow couldn’t tell Felicity’s reaction to the sight of the living room table laden with some of Felicity’s favourite cakes.

Felicity was accompanied by a tall dark-haired boy, who was dressed as a warlock in purple robes. From the way she abruptly turned her back on the boy and now hovered by the mirror far longer than was necessary, Willow guessed Milo had tried to impress Felicity with the choice of his costume but Felicity did not like what she saw. She was clearly trying to avoid entering the living room on her own, as this would give Milo a fresh opportunity to talk to her. Undeterred, Milo tried to catch her attention by waving a golden wand at every new arrival entering the hall. A bunch of spring flowers shot out from the wand’s business end whenever Milo cried the words “sim sala bim”.

Darren, who was handing out glasses of lemonade to the new arrivals, could barely keep a straight face, when two of the guests, Romanticus Spitfire and Evangeline Eagleye from Dartford, responded with a heartfelt “Gesundheit” and hurried into the living room before another bout of Milo’s floral magic could block their way.

Felicity remained in the hallway, apparently admiring her witch’s costume in the medieval mirror, leaving Milo no choice but to enter the living room on his own. Willow decided to take pity on her. Now that Willow’s curtain disguise was blown, she might as well step down from her pedestal and join her party guests. She hopped down on the Turkish carpet and waved a furry pink arm at Felicity, who turned and stared open mouthed at the vampire-turned-fluffy-bunny.

“I annoyed a passing witch. A powerful enchantment, I’m afraid.” Willow explained in response to Felicity’s wide eyed wonder. Willow strolled into the hall and linked her furry arm through Felicity’s, not forgetting to express admiration for the silver threaded cross stitching on the blonde witch’s dress, before Felicity had a chance to make a cutting remark about Willow’s fluffy white tail.

Willow was starting to enjoy Felicity’s polite refusal to comment on her costume, but the sight of Milo’s purple warlock costume and Willow’s plush generosity when they reached the living room table finally got the better of Felicity. She cocked her head to one side and studied Willow’s pink fur.

“Before Daddy dropped me off outside your house, we saw Farmer Edward’s son heading this way. He was dressed as a forester with a gun to frighten the living daylights out of Little Red Riding Hood’s wolf. I seem to remember a great big knife dangling off his belt, just right for skinning bunnies. Aren’t rabbit collars terribly fashionable this winter? You might want to change into something less…uh…tempting?”

“Don’t be deceived by my pink appearance. I assure you, a blood-thirsty monster lives within this fur.” Ignoring Felicity’s snort, Willow planted her furry feet firmly in front of her and picked up a plate. “Just wait until midnight. Then the second part of the spell kicks in. Ah…I’d better have some cake before I’m tempted to eat one of my guests.”

Willow heaped enormous slices of cheese cake onto two plates and held one out to Felicity. “A magical remedy. Apparently eating cheese cake stops killer rabbits from turning really nasty. Speaking of sorcery, I see you chose your costume to match Milo’s magical theme.  I bet he’s thrilled. What legendary people are you meant to be…Merlin and Melinda Hogroast? I heard they were a delightful couple.”

Before Felicity’s growl could transform into a cry of protest, a helpful Willow recalled a few more magical characters: “No wait, I’ve got it! You’re Magwitch the Mad and he’s Houdini’s sidekick whatshisname…Bertie the Hopeless, that’s the one! Or perhaps you’re the German witch famous for her terrible warts…no? Then you’re Hekate and Milo is Taliesin, the Welsh wizard with a taste for leaks and a wand full of daffodils!”

“I’m Demdike and Milo’s dressed as James Device. We’re characters from the Pendle witch trials, which you’d know if you paid attention in history class,” Felicity snapped. She snatched the plate of cheese cake and turned on her heels, darting off towards the velvet curtain and the little pedestal, where Willow had planned to hide until the party’s great surprise was ready to be sprung on her guests.

Darren and Farmer Edward’s son entered the living room; to her dismay Willow saw he really had dressed up as a fierce forest ranger. They were joined by Romanticus Spitfire and Evangeline Eagleye; the former was dressed like a knight, while the latter was regrettably also dressed as a witch. Before Darren had a chance to talk to them, both vampires drifted towards the table where the platter with barbequed fingers occupied their attention.

“Nice to see you again, Willow.” Georgie, Farmer Edward’s son, was far too polite to notice the colour rising on Willow’s cheeks matched her fur. He reached into a satchel on his back and produced a glass of home-made jam. “Mum sends you this. She said you like this stuff.”

“Strawberries! I adore them. Thank you very much.” Willow beamed at him. “Look, Georgie drew a picture of his parent’s farm for the label. Cool. I like the way you’ve caught the light on the barn and fields.”

Acknowledging Georgie’s drawing with a polite growl, Darren turned his attention to the latest newcomers’ costumes. Romanticus wore real armour that looked incredibly heavy and shiny. Evangeline’s costume consisted of a long black robe over a dark red skirt and shirt. Just like Felicity she wore a tall black hat with a wide brim. She carried a broom on her back, which she had attached to a leather strap and slung over her shoulder. A dead bat dangled from a silver necklace around her neck and she’d attached a fake wart to her chin. Darren sidled over to the table and stood next to her.

“So Willow’s rather fond of strawberries? Is that a fruit humans use to calm bunny-monsters?” Evangeline dug her bony elbow playfully into Darren’s ribs and grinned, the wart wobbling dangerously on her chin.

“Sometimes, but more often than not we use chocolate.” Darren tugged at Evangeline’s broom. “Good job you brought this. We may need it at midnight, when the second part of Willow’s spell sets in.”

“Don’t be silly, Willow’s not enchanted, she’s wearing this stupid pink outfit because she’s gone soft on humans. I have no doubt when the Vampire Council hears of this, she’ll be expelled or something. De-fanged probably. Ridiculous lie, who’s ever heard of witches casting spells in parts?”

“But that’s where you wrong; this particular witch does things quite differently. Compared to her you look positively cuddly, if you don’t mind me saying so. You should have seen her out there in the forest…it was terrifying. We were out for a stroll, when we stumbled into her lair.” Darren drew closer, his brows drawn together in an effort to remember every detail of his ordeal. “The forest witch wore robes made from squashed human skulls, her hat was made from a hundred live snakes and her boots were snarling wolves’ heads.”

Darren paused for effect. Other children began to gather around them. He noticed Romanticus hung on his every word, but detected a flicker of doubt in Evangeline’s eyes and so hurried to complete his tale. “The witch rode a black stallion, a brute of a horse with fiery nostrils and stinky breath that would stop a stampeding herd of buffalo in their tracks, but Willow mocked the witch, saying she wasn’t scary at all. To prove she wasn’t frightened, Willow offered breath mints to the witch’s horse. At this the witch got very angry and drew her wand; she yelled: Be cursed for your impudence, child! On the stroke of five o’clock you shall turn into the feeble bunny that you are at heart, but at midnight…I’ll turn you into the meanest, ugliest, most brutal creature this world has ever known.”

Romanticus eyed him nervously. “W-Wha-what’s that?”

“The Black Hare!” Willow and Darren whispered as one.

“The B-B-Black Hare?”

“His razor-sharp claws are so long, he can slice a boy in half with one swipe of his paw.” At the sound of Willow’s voice the room fell silent. “When the Black Hare doesn’t get his favourite food, he gets very angry…and he stops time! Just think…no more Easter…no more Christmas…no birthdays and no New Year’s Eve…EVER! Just you and the Black Hare for all eternity.”

“Wha-what’s his favourite food?” Felicity breathed.

“Children!”

“His fangs are so fearsome, they give sharks nightmares and tigers roll over like kittens at the mere sight of them.” Darren peered over his shoulders, first left, then right, before slowly turning to the curtains at the rear of the room. He raised his hand and pointed with trembling fingers to the small pedestal. “That’s the exact spot where the Black Hare will appear.”

In the hall the grandfather clock struck the eleventh hour. Evangeline and Romanticus gasped. How could this be, they’d only just arrived? Verruca and Maximilian shifted nervously in their lace collars and tiptoed away from the table to get some distance between them and the ill-fated pedestal. Milo, Felicity and Georgie, who had drawn near, repeated the terrible words to all who would listen and within moments everyone at the party knew, at the stroke of midnight the Black Hare would seal their fate!

More guests arrived. A gaggle of children dressed as witches arrived from Telegraph Hill, a favourite South East London district for vampires with an artistic streak. There were short and fat witches, tall and skinny ones, bulky, muscular witches Willow vaguely recalled from her vampire infant school days and one brown-haired teenage witch in a shabby dress whom nobody remembered at all. Ignoring the hushed whispers of her party guests Willow handed a welcoming glass of blood wine to each new arrival and wondered if Darren’s plan was really going to work.

If only she’d been able to explain about her ridiculous outfit, how she’d been so busy sorting out her mother’s birthday present and surprise party, which was to be held in January, she’d forgotten to telephone the hire shop and reserve a New Year’s Eve party costume for herself. When Willow had finally remembered, the pink bunny suit with the long ears and the white fluffy tail was the only costume the shopkeeper had left. Naturally, Willow couldn’t explain this to her guests – her mum was flitting through the room, refilling glasses, heaping more food on the platters on the table; she would most certainly catch her daughter’s words. A surprise party with all her mum’s friends! How could Willow possibly spoil that? It had taken her weeks to write all the invitations in secret!

Willow swallowed her pride and endured the mean comments every new arrival made at the sight of her silly costume. Some pulled at her ears and some took the liberty of tugging her tail. Her response to every single guest remained the same: “Just wait until midnight. That’s when the second part of the spell kicks in.”

The new arrivals would soon hear the rest of the sinister tale…and wherever Willow looked guests were huddling together, looking worried as soon as the Black Hare was mentioned.

“I think that went rather better than expected,” Darren said quietly beside her. He rubbed his hands together and chuckled. “Now for the rest of my cunning plan.”

“Except your plan didn’t involve dozens of witches turning up! How am I going to find the right one, when the lights go out?”

Darren acted surprised. “And there’s me thinking vampires have super night vision. I forgot…you’re really a fluffy bunny at heart.”

Willow rolled her eyes. “Don’t you start! I’ve been enduring comments about my cuddliness all evening. It’s enough to make my grandmother Vampira the Ferocious turn in her grave.”

Darren shuddered. “From the tone of your voice I’m guessing she’s revolving in her coffin as we speak.” He took a look around the room. “You’re right; we do suffer from an embarrassment of witches this evening. I hadn’t counted on so many people choosing the same costume.” He twirled the ends of his fake moustache thoughtfully. “Never mind, I’ll think of something. It’s time you sneaked back to your place behind the curtain.”

While Willow tiptoed into hiding behind the backs of her party guests, Darren put the second part of his plan into action. He drew the sword dangling from a broad belt around his waist and challenged the noble knight Romanticus to a duel. The sound of clashing wooden swords and the cries of the fighting boys caught everyone’s attention. The Black Hare was forgotten, and a small crowd circled the boys. The vampires cheered for Romanticus and the village children rooted for Darren to win.

Unbeknown to her friends, Willow took up position on the pedestal once more. Darren had previously arranged the curtains in such a fashion that neither the left nor the right side of the alcove in which the pedestal stood could be seen. Two large mirrors would reflect back whatever scary pictures Rita’s film projector would show on the wall behind. Willow chuckled. In the hall the grandfather clock struck the midnight hour. All lights went out. A united gasp from her guests told Willow the scene was set for her great performance. She wondered briefly how well Darren and Rita’s plan would work, since there’d been no time to try the trick before the party, but she guessed finding out was just part of the fun. Darren’s idea to put the clock forward was brilliant, Willow thought with a final snigger.

At the last stroke of the clock an eerie howl rose in the chimney and filled the house. The party guests shrieked and tried to find cover. Some crawled under the table, others climbed into the closet under the stairs. Caught in the middle of flight by a dark mass that seemed to drip from the fireplace and spread across the floor like a pool of blood, Verruca and Maximilian froze on the spot and threw their arms around each other.

“Please don’t eat us! We’re vampires and wouldn’t taste nice at all. Why not try a few of the humans, they look quite tasty?” Verruca tried to joke but the wobble in her voice gave her away.

The sinister dark thing grew in size and rose up in front of the hearth. The ghostly shadow turned into tall witch. White skulls were grinning at them from her robes; flame red hair framed a pale green face that seemed to glow in the dark. Maximilian shuddered, when her hat began to hiss and spit fiery sparks. He clung closer to his sister and hoped her broad hat would shield him from the witch’s stare.

The witch raised her arms and said in a booming voice: “I beseech you dark spirits! Bring forth the Black Hare so that he may feast on these idle children!”

Everyone screamed. Thunder and lightning followed. Ringlets of smoke began to rise from the witch’s hat, her voice still ringing in everyone’s ears. “Show yourself, oh mighty Black Hare!”

A flash of lightning illuminated Willow who, standing straight as an arrow on her pedestal, began to grow taller and taller; now she towered over her friends and her fur appeared longer, shaggier and darker. Willow raised her arms into the air and another flash of lightning revealed to her guests the unmistakable, horrible truth that long claws were sprouting from her paws.

“Blimey, Rita wasn’t kidding. That’s amazing.” Darren gasped. In his wildest dreams he hadn’t expected Willow’s friend to pull off such a fantastic magic trick! Mirrors and smoke can work wonders, Rita had said.

Judging by the screaming and shouting, he felt Willow’s party guests had probably had enough of a good thing. Darren decided to switch the lights back on, but he discovered the switch no longer worked. He flipped the switch up and down but the old fashioned chandelier dangling from the ceiling remained dark and distinctly “un-glowy”. The fireplace was the only light source in the room. Over by the curtain the Willow-monster had nearly grown to twice its size. It stepped down from the pedestal and walked with wobbly steps towards the screaming party guests.

“Make it stop!” Felicity begged and dived behind the sofa.

“I’m too young to die!” Maximillian echoed his sister Verruca’s cry.

“Don’t be silly. You’re vampires. You cannot die!” Evangeline hissed, clearly determined to show good sense. She somewhat spoiled the effect by climbing on a chair and lifting her robes to reveal two plump ankles and a hole in her socks.

“It’s the Black Hare, you fool, not a mouse!” Georgie raised his gun and aimed it at the Willow-monster, temporarily forgetting his weapon would spout nothing more life-threatening than water. “You’re not feasting on me, Black Bunny! Go back to where you came from.” He squirted water at the ghostly creature, but it simply ignored Georgie’s gun.

The Black Hare chased him around the table instead. After the second sprint around the table, a breathless Georgie reached into his satchel and produced another glass of his mother’s jam. He held it out with shaking hands. “There’s a good little bunny; you like strawberries, remember? Please don’t eat me. Take the jam!”

Grunting and growling the Black Hare ignored the jam and stumbled about the living room, upsetting chairs and knocking over the table lamp. The Willow-monster chased after her guests one by one, driving them here and there, finally cornering them in the hall. The terrified party guests tried to open the front door, but it was locked. Over the din of growling, shouts and shrieks, Darren heard the grandfather clock strike the hour. On the last stroke of one o’clock the lights came back.

Darren tried to calm everyone down. Some were crying, others were too upset to speak and simply sank onto the sofa by the hearth, where no trace of the sinister witch remained. Darren looked around – where on earth was the Black Hare?

At the far end of the room, a pink and rather dazed bunny sat on the pedestal with her face buried in her paws. Darren hurried over to her.

“Just look at it, my party is ruined! How could Rita go so far?” Willow sniffed.

“But I didn’t! This mess –“ Rita stepped out from behind the curtains and gestured around the room with her broom stick, “is not my doing!”

Willow studied her friend’s face and realised she spoke the truth. The Christmas sparklers in Rita’s hat were still smouldering but the green glitter Darren had painted on her face earlier had started to peel off. She looked just as scared as everybody else.

“Then who did this? It really looked as if you were turning into the Black Hare!”

“Darren, there’s no such thing as the Black Hare, we made him up, remember?”

Darren sank onto the pedestal next to Willow and scratched his head. “But if Rita didn’t conjure him up, then who did? There’s a whole room full of witches, anyone of them could be the culprit.

Willow stared at the assortment of witches before her and asked herself the same question. Which one of these harmless looking girls had terrified her guests and why? She studied every pointy hat and pale face in turn, but apart from ticking clueless Felicity off her list of wrong-doers Willow couldn’t think how she could possibly unmask a magical being.

At that moment Willow’s mum Alice entered the room, casually picking up a chair here and there and smoothing quite a few ruffled feathers among the guests with the promise of ice cream and pizza. Helping her clear up the mess was none other than the teenage witch with the brown hair and the shabby dress. The girl winked at Willow and Darren. Willow’s mum joined her daughter at the far end of the room.

“My New Year’s present to you, Willow. Thanks for inviting Miriam and her family to my surprise birthday party in January. They are some of my oldest friends. Miriam’s so looking forward to it…in fact, she was so excited she rang me and thanked me before she remembered it was supposed to be a secret.” Willow’s mum said quietly.

Alice ran her fingers through Willow’s brown hair. “Miriam is the finest witch in her class and I’m very fond of her. Miriam doesn’t get out much, what with her mum being ill and her twin brothers still in nappies, she has too many chores. Most people just forget about Miriam and her family, because they’re poor. But not you.”

Willow’s eyes widened. “She told you about the surprise party? And I was so careful, hiding the invitations under the stairs until they were ready to be sent and telephoning people when you were out! All my hard work wasted.” Willow frowned. “How did you find out about our magic trick tonight? Are you a mind-reader? You seem to know simply everything.”

“It’s my job to know everything, I’m your mum!” Alice said, a smile stealing across a face. “Besides, the man from the novelty shop rang and said if you didn’t reserve a costume by the 29th December, he could only give you a bunny costume that nobody else wanted to hire.”

Willow digested this news. “So…you arranged for Miriam the wonder-witch to come here tonight?”

“All part of the service. Mums-R-Us were happy to oblige.”

“But Mum…your birthday surprise is spoiled!”

Alice planted a kiss on Willow’s nose. “Don’t fret. Since I don’t know who else you’ve invited, it’s still going to be a surprise and besides, I regard this little magic trick of Darren and Rita’s as part of my birthday treat. It was very entertaining the way everybody ran for their lives.”

Willow sighed. “I wished all my party guests would see it that way, but I guess it’s a vampire thing.”

Darren grinned. “Nonsense! A little exercise is good for humans; now there’s more room for pizza and ice cream. They deserved a little scare; they were all guilty of making fun of you.” He got up and strolled over to the guests, who were each blaming the other for the mess in the living room. Darren stopped and bowed before Miriam, before introducing her to everyone, praising her for her fine magical performance that night. The young witch beamed, when a round of applause greeted her.

When Willow’s guests heard the appearance of the Black Hare had been part of the evening’s entertainment, they took it much better than expected; in fact, Verruca and Maximilian went to bed a few hours later, claiming it had been the best party they’d ever been to in their lives. As always, Felicity was the last guest to leave.

“I knew right away it was some kind of party trick,” Felicity said, when she put on her coat. Her father was already waiting in the car outside. “I mean…there’s no such thing as real witchcraft and it’s all done with mirrors and smoke.”

Willow merely grinned and handed her guest her gloves and scarf.

“Anyway, who’s ever heard of the Black Hare? It was just a ruse to stop us from making fun of your silly costume, wasn’t it, Willow Band?”

“Absolutely!” Willow said and extended one furry paw. Felicity eyed it suspiciously but shook it when it showed no sign of ferocious claws.

“Only the Easter Bunny knows the real identity of the Black Hare, but so far he’s not given it away.” Willow added with a toothy grin that showed both her fangs.

Felicity squeaked and shot through the front door with her witch’s robes billowing behind her, her wide-brimmed hat barely clinging on to her long tresses as she ran down the garden path and scrambled into her father’s car. Willow gave her a cheerful wave and turned to find Darren eating his final chocolate muffin of the day.

“You can stop making your beasty face now,” Darren said with his mouth full as he headed up the stairs. “The show’s over, Bunnikins, and I’m going to bed. Thank your mum again for letting me stay over. Maximilian had better not snore.”

“If he does, just whisper in his ear Bring forth the Black Hare so that he may feast on these idle children and I guarantee you, Maximilian will stop.”

She watched her friend climb the stairs and locked the front door, before switching off the lights in the hall. Only the dying embers of the fireplace lit her path up the stairs. Willow smiled to herself when the grandfather clock struck midnight, this time genuinely. She was looking forward to her bed and couldn’t wait to take off her silly costume. Willow reached the upstairs landing with a big yawn and stretched her tired arms above her head. At the end of the long passage her mum had left a candle burning, so Darren and the other kids sleeping over would find their way. Willow smiled. Her mum really thought of everything. Willow had just decided she’d buy her mum a big bunch of flowers to thank her for helping with the New Year’s party that day, when a loud crack startled her and she turned on her heel.

It had come from the hallway below. Willow peered over the balustrade and stared into the darkness below. Nothing!

“How silly of me, probably just the embers in the hearth,” Willow mumbled, suppressing another yawn. She turned back towards her room but what she saw rearing up in front of her froze her on the spot and made her knees shake with fear.

The Black Hare!

Shadowy and sinister it loomed to her right, its monstrous ears sticking up in the air, its gigantic paws raised as if to pounce. Willow could feel the hair on the back of her neck rising; a chill ran up and down her spine. She took a careful step back; perhaps if she retreated slowly the monster wouldn’t spot her? But the Black Hare had clearly no intention of letting her go and took a step towards her. Willow took another step back and another, now almost reaching the top of the stairs at full speed, but the Black Hare kept following her at the same pace. What should she do?

Willow peered over her shoulder and formed a daring plan. If she jumped on the banister she could slide down and reach the front door before the Black Hare had a chance to catch up with her. She’d lead it down into the garden, away from her friends and family, keeping everyone safe. After that…well, she’d often wondered what eternity would be like, so she’d probably find out tonight!

Willow cautiously swung one leg over the banister and was about to launch, when she saw the Black Hare lift one shaggy leg and copy her. Botheration!

What a fool she had been! Willow tugged her long ears and laughed. The Black Hare did exactly the same!

It was about time she went to bed, if she saw her own shadow as a threat!

heks_in_maan witch flying against moonGood night and Happy New Year to Everyone!

The End

 

The Ghost of Christmas past

log fire 1Gather around our Word Press hearth and snuggle up for a ghostly tale just right for Christmas, my little pointy-eared vampire elves. Have you all got a toffee apple and gingerbread man to nibble on, while I tell my story? So here it goes:

As we have already seen, not all ghosts are intent on creating havoc among the living. Since this is my last Willow the Vampire post prior to Christmas and New Year, I thought I’d introduce you to one of my favourite ghosts, as featured in a poem by Theodor Fontane, one of my favourite German poets. I’ve loved this piece since I was Willow’s age, because Master Ribbeck of Ribbeck Manor in the land of the Havel (River) is truly a man and ghost after my own heart. I feel sure, Willow the Vampire will whole-heartedly approve.

So listen up, my fire-side children, for this is Fontane’s story of an unusual creature of the night:

English: Lake Schwedtsee in Fürstenberg/Havel,...

English: Lake Schwedtsee in Fürstenberg/Havel, Germany. Deutsch: Schwedtsee in Fürstenberg/Havel (Deutschland. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

During his life time Master Ribbeck of Ribbeck Manor in the land of the Havel River is the proud owner of a garden, boasting many fine fruit trees and flowers. One tree in particular is his favourite. Every autumn, when the juicy pears are turning golden, Master Ribbeck plucks as many pears as his coat pockets will hold and when the clock tower begins to chime at noon, he steps out of his little realm and offers fruit to every child passing by.

“Boy, do you fancy a pear?” he asks a hungry boy who clip-clops by with his wooden clogs.

And if it’s a girl hurrying past, Master Ribbeck calls her over with a cheerful: “Little girl, come hither, I’ll give you a pear.”

Dr. Theodor Fontane

Dr. Theodor Fontane (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What innocent times Theodor Fontane’s poem describes…today the same kind-hearted Master Ribbeck would be accused of unspeakable crimes just for daring to speak to children, never mind offering them pears! But allow me to transport you back in time, when men were still allowed to show innocent affection and kindness to children without being clubbed to death by outraged neighbours or hounded by social media.

For many years our good Master Ribbeck of Ribbeck Manor in the land of the Havel River continues to delight children with a gift of pears until one autumn day the dear man realises his time has come and he must die. Seeing how the golden, juicy pears in his garden are ripe once again, he asks his servants to bury him with a pear. Three days later they do just that and his heir and neighbours, all peasants and farmers, follow his coffin with sombre faces and a pious psalm on their lips. However, the neighbourhood children scampering after the procession are heart-broken and they join the chorus with a plaintive: “The good man’s dead, who’ll give us a pear now?”

Deutsch: Schloss Ribbeck Rückseite

Deutsch: Schloss Ribbeck Rückseite (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For the poor children knew only too well, the new Master Ribbeck of Ribbeck Manor in the land of the Havel River was a miser and would keep his father’s pear tree and garden under lock and key.

You have guessed right, my festive vampire elves: the children should have had more faith in their old benefactor. When the ghost of good-natured Master Ribbeck senior heard their complaints, he felt a great wrong had been done to the local children. Suspicious of his son and heir’s true nature, good Master Ribbeck senior knew very well what he was about when he asked to be buried with a pear…for in the third year following his demise a tiny pear tree began sprouting from his silent grave and over the years it grew into a tall, strong tree with thick branches shading good Master Ribbeck’s final resting place in summer…

But when autumn turns the leaves red, yellow and gold, the pears begin to glow…

And when a boy runs across the graveyard, the leaves in the branches begin to whisper: “Boy, do you fancy a pear?”

And when a girl passes by, the tree murmurs: “Little girl, come hither and I’ll give you a pear.”

19_boom tree with adam n eveThus, from beyond the grave our good Master Ribbeck of Ribbeck Manor in the land of the Havel River found a means to give his blessings to all children who pass by in autumn, his favourite time of the year.

My very best wishes for the Festive Season and may all of you children out there in the virtual world meet a kind-hearted Master Ribbeck of Ribbeck Manor in the land of the Havel River when you’re hungry and need a ghostly friend.

For all of you lovely German speaking creatures of the night here’s the original poem by Theodor Fontane, which naturally contains some Plattdeutsch/Low German, since I’m a Northern German child born and bred:

Herr von Ribbeck auf Ribbeck im Havelland

 

    Herr von Ribbeck auf Ribbeck im Havelland,

    Ein Birnbaum in seinem Garten stand,

    Und kam die goldene Herbsteszeit

    Und die Birnen leuchteten weit und breit,

    Da stopfte, wenn’s Mittag vom Turme scholl,

    Der von Ribbeck sich beide Taschen voll.

    Und kam in Pantinen ein Junge daher,

    So rief er: »Junge, wiste ‘ne Beer?«

    Und kam ein Mädel, so rief er: »Lütt Dirn,

    Kumm man röwer, ick hebb ‘ne Birn.«

 

    So ging es viel Jahre, bis lobesam

    Der von Ribbeck auf Ribbeck zu sterben kam.

    Er fühlte sein Ende. ‘s war Herbsteszeit,

    Wieder lachten die Birnen weit und breit;

    Da sagte von Ribbeck: »Ich scheide nun ab.

    Legt mir eine Birne mit ins Grab.«

    Und drei Tage drauf, aus dem Doppeldachhaus,

    Trugen von Ribbeck sie hinaus,

    Alle Bauern und Büdner mit Feiergesicht

    Sangen »Jesus meine Zuversicht«,

    Und die Kinder klagten, das Herze schwer:

    »He is dod nu. Wer giwt uns nu ‘ne Beer?«

 

    So klagten die Kinder. Das war nicht recht –

    Ach, sie kannten den alten Ribbeck schlecht;

    Der neue freilich, der knausert und spart,

    Hält Park und Birnbaum strenge verwahrt.

    Aber der alte, vorahnend schon

    Und voll Mißtrauen gegen den eigenen Sohn,

    Der wußte genau, was er damals tat,

    Als um eine Birn’ ins Grab er bat,

    Und im dritten Jahr aus dem stillen Haus

    Ein Birnbaumsprößling sproßt heraus.

 

    Und die Jahre gehen wohl auf und ab,

    Längst wölbt sich ein Birnbaum über dem Grab,

    Und in der goldenen Herbsteszeit

    Leuchtet’s wieder weit und breit.

    Und kommt ein Jung’ übern Kirchhof her,

    So flüstert’s im Baume: »Wiste ‘ne Beer?«

    Und kommt ein Mädel, so flüstert’s: »Lütt Dirn,

    Kumm man röwer, ick gew’ di ‘ne Birn.«

 

    So spendet Segen noch immer die Hand

    Des von Ribbeck auf Ribbeck im Havelland.

 

cottage in winterMerry Christmas to vampires everywhere!

It’s not just Hamlet who’s got the Hump

While I bravely struggle on with the next chapter of “Willow the Vampire and the Würzburg Ghosts”, I’m still researching motives ghosts might have for haunting the living. Denmark seemed an unusual choice for the un-dead, but when I started reading up on one of Northern Europe’s most haunted places, I realised it wasn’t just Hamlet who had the hump with his castle existence.

Dragsholm Castle, which was converted into a hotel in the late 1930s, proudly boasts no fewer than three regular ghosts.

Two lady-ghosts who appear to remind us, I think, how terrible life was for women in days gone by and one male ghost, who was imprisoned in the dungeons at Dragsholm and has ever since had a question mark hanging over his high-born head: how did he actually come to meet his end?

Did he commit suicide during his imprisonment because he’d lost his marbles after five years of solitary confinement or was he murdered? The hapless man was none other than the 4th Earl of Bothwell, married to scheming Mary Queen of Scots, who herself was a thorn in the flesh of Queen Elizabeth I.

English: Dragsholm castle in Winter

English: Dragsholm castle in Winter (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

With such a family connection…who needs enemies? Every birthday card might contain explosives, every pair of Christmas socks might be spiked with poison and every visiting day might bring an assassin to the dungeon’s gates!

If you’d like to find out more about Dragsholm Castle’s history and its former occupants, head over to http://mariathermann.com, my regular writer’s blog. Leaving royal madness out of the equation for the moment, I feel the other two ghosts have legitimate reasons to haunt the living and may serve me well as inspiration for my own ghost story.

The “Grey Lady” ghost at Dragsholm is allegedly the ghost of a maid who once worked in the 800-year-old castle. Treated well when suffering from horrendous toothache and surviving her ordeal, she clearly has every reason for returning to repay her dentist in kind.

In previous centuries any ailment, no matter how small, was potentially lethal. A tooth infection, which was likely to have been the cause of the maid’s pain, could have killed her within a matter of days. The lovely girl’s still returning today to thank people for their kindness it seems…on the other hand she may still be owed wages, which she’s trying to collect.

English: Building connected to Dragsholm Castle

English: Building connected to Dragsholm Castle (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The “White Lady” ghost at Dragsholm Castle is a romantic apparition that doesn’t seem to be out for revenge but wants to highlight her plight, while she is still looking for her long dead paramour. Playful and charming in life, she simply wanders the corridors now that she’s dead.

As a girl of noble birth and the daughter of a former castle owner, she fell for the charms of one of the serfs working there. When her father found out about the long-standing affair, which the two lovers had kept secret, he was so angry he ordered his servants to brick up the poor girl in one of the castle’s most substantial walls. According to the legend, every night the White Lady returns to Dragsholm Castle in search of her lost lover.

The spooky twist in the last story is that during restoration works in 1930 several old walls needed to be opened up to allow for modern sanitation and plumbing to be installed. During the process workers found a small hole in one of the thickest walls; peeping through, they discovered a petite skeleton wearing a white dress cowering in a recess. A true story apparently and well documented by witness statements taken at the time.

Here’s a ghost with good reason to haunt the living daylights out of any tyrannical father who happens to cross the threshold of Dragsholm Castle Hotel in search of bed and breakfast and a family he can oppress! Yet, she chooses to be mindful of everybody’s bed rest and just glides along the deserted hallways like a wistful cloud.

The legends of the two ladies lead me to believe ghosts retain most of the characteristics they had when still mingling with the living, an interesting fact I’d like to use in my novel.

Anonymous. James Hepburn, 1st Duke of Orkney a...

Anonymous. James Hepburn, 1st Duke of Orkney and Shetland, 4th Earl of Bothwell. 1566. Oil on copper. Diameter 3.70 cm. Edinburgh, Scottish National Portrait Gallery. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While the two lady-ghosts do their haunting on foot and rather humbly, the male ghost is quite a show-off and still insists on his noble birth right today. Arriving with a horse-drawn carriage in the castle courtyard, where apparently prisoners received their judgement in the 16th century, the 4th Earl of Bothwell’s aristocratic horses clip-clop about with so much noise on cobbled paving, the castle’s guests are forced to reach for their ear-muffs night after night.

Bothwell could have just turned up in his frilly nightie and haunted the dungeon’s tour guide after the 4.00 o’clock tourists have left or taken it out on the night porter in the foyer or meddled with the guests’ food in the banqueting hall. Instead, he chooses night after night to dress up in full 16th century garb and arrive in “state” with a carriage and horses.

What does the Earl want? To tell us he was murdered or to complain about his unjust imprisonment? Or is he merely trying to book into the most appropriate inn in the Zealand neighbourhood?

Maybe his madness is the reason for his return – a caged mind rattling round and round in a tiny prison cell for five long years? Perhaps the echo of that unspeakable torture still reverberates through the castle today?

Once a sighting has taken place, the living start spinning the tale and it is hard to know what the real reason might be for the dead to return. Ghost story writers like Sheridan Le Fanu or Wilkie Collins might not be inspired by the Grey Lady, but I’m rather touched by her story; perhaps there are other kindly ghosts out there, like the Petermännchen in Schwerin I wrote about last week.

Sheridan Le Fanu

Unfinished business and revenge may be the reasons behind the Earl’s and the White Lady’s nightly appearances, but there’s no unfinished business or vengefulness behind the Grey Lady’s apparition. She merely wants to reassure herself that all’s well with the citadel’s inhabitants. Just like Schwerin’s Little Man Peter she’s retained her kind nature in death – an important point that I shall use in “Willow the Vampire and the Würzburg Ghosts”.

Perhaps it is the fear of death and the process of dying that prompts the living to ascribe sinister motives to every ghost?

I for one feel rather comforted that there may be ghosts who, unlike Hamlet, haven’t got perpetual murder on their mind but would like to look after those they were fond of in life and still associate with a specific place.

At this point some of you will cry there’s no such thing as ghosts! Show us some proof!

Indeed Hamlet, as writer Michelle Barber from Loony Literature’s Lab will tell you, was not even a ghost but a Shakespearean Prince of Denmark whom countless generations of actors have killed for to portray on stage.

To my mind that makes him a ghost, as his attention-seeking, petulant spirit still haunts us today. Didn’t he tempt David Tennant to leave Dr Who…surely sufficient proof of a malevolent spirit being at work? Today I read on Twitter that Merlin’s alter ego young Colin Morgan wants to go back on stage…undoubtedly he’s the next Hamlet-victim in the making.

What more proof could there possibly be – ghosts do exist! Well, Danish ones at any rate.

 

Ghosts in the Cellar? It’s not Caspar but a little Cavalier

Petermännchen Schloss Schwerin

While over on Maria Thermann’s blog I’m discussing the beauty of northern German Castle Schwerin, the erstwhile residence of the Dukes of Mecklenburg, here at Willow the Vampire’s blog I want to tell you a little bit about the Little Man Peter or, as he’s called in German, the Petermännchen ghost that haunts Castle Schwerin.

Visitors to Schwerin Castle, a setting as fairy-tale as it gets and seemingly jumping straight out of a Brothers Grimm or Hans Christian Andersen story, will find a depiction of the little ghost in form of a small statue that perches on the façade of the castle.

Reputedly still haunting the vaults and cellars of the castle, the little ghost was allegedly a goblin which worked as a blacksmith in one of the many tunnels that connected the castle with nearby Petersberg, a local hill close to the town of Pinnow.

According to varying legends, the Little Man Peter can fly through the air and appear anywhere between Petersberg in Pinnow and Lake Schwerin, where the castle sits on an island near the centre of the lake.

The goblin played tricks and pranks on people of ill repute. Equipped with a lantern, a sword and a large set of keys, the Petermännchen is actually supposed to be a kindly creature of the night, which deals with thieves and intruders in its own magical way.

While dishonest people are plagued with nightly pranks, good and honest people are said to receive their just rewards. Soldiers, who fell asleep while on duty guarding the castle, found a good friend in the little goblin, as the little chap used to wake them up just in time before their dereliction of duty could be discovered by their superiors. Thieves would be driven from the castle.

Schwerin Castle.

Schwerin Castle. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One legend has it that General Wallenstein, in charge of Emperor Ferdinand II.’s troops during the 30-year war in 1628, thought twice about staying for a second night at Schwerin Castle, after the Petermännchen had played so many tricks on him during the first. Sadly, in reality Wallenstein did stay in Schwerin for more than one night, in fact, he made Schwerin his preferred residence, while Mecklenburg remained under occupation.

Today the residents of Schwerin regard the little blacksmith as their lucky charm. He is the official emblem of the region and in Pinnow the motto ascribed to the little goblin reads as follows:

“Dressed in blue and with a blue hat adorned with a silver plume, the red-headed and bearded Petermännchen stands in gold and green hillsides, boasting a silver trimmed lace collar and silver cuffs on his arms, a red sash around his midriff and silver spurs on his red riding boots, holding on to silver stilts with both hands.”

Sculpture of Pertermännchen in facade in the c...

Sculpture of Pertermännchen in facade in the courtyard of Schwerin Castle in Schwerin, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The description isn’t accredited to any particular historic sources so many well originate in the over-heated  imagination of the local town council, but it suggests that far from a common-or-garden variety of blacksmiths dealing with ducal stallions and soldiers’ mounts, the Petermännchen worked with precious metals down in the dark tunnels in true goblin and fairy-tale-dwarf tradition. No living human being is able to carry the heavy keys hanging from Little Man Peter’s belt, only he is strong enough.

Perhaps he supplied the wealth to the Dukes of Mecklenburg as long as they treated their peasants fairly and stopped digging for precious stones, when Wallenstein’s men arrived?

Some local legends claim he is the legitimate heir to the kingdom of Mecklenburg, others say he is cursed because when alive, he killed a priest and now he must exist as a diminutive ghost until he is freed from the curse. Old people in Pinnow claim they could hear the hammering of pickaxes deep down in the Petersberg, when they pressed their ears to the soil and listened.

It’s interesting to note that in all the depictions – there are a number of paintings – he is shown in the dress of a cavalier, a “horseman”, a heroic figure rather than a figure of ridicule. It suggests that he may have been a real historic figure rather than a supernatural one. Was he one of the duke’s little people, a person of small statue but with the wit of a giant living inside?

The statue seen today adorning the façade also shows the Petermännchen in 17th century cavalier’s clothes; however, the statue itself dates back to the 19th century. When reading up on the history of the little ghost, I kept wishing that he gave a thoroughly deserved haunting with all the poltergeist trimmings to any visiting politicians during the nasty German Democratic Republic regime, which lasted from 1949 until December 1989, when I visited Schwerin for the very first time just a few days after the fall of the Berlin Wall (officially it ceased to exist in 1990).

Coat of Arms of Pinnow (Mecklenburg)

Coat of Arms of Pinnow (Mecklenburg) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As a firm believer in “we reap what we sow”, I’m hoping the Petermännchen will haunt any former Stasi people (East Germany’s notorious secret police) to its heart’s content, whenever they are foolish enough to visit the Mecklenburg-Vorpommern State Museum that dwells under the domed roof of Castle Schwerin today.

Petermännchen, please give ‘em a good kicking with your wee red boots and your wee silver spurs! They worked hand-in-glove with the governmental thieves that robbed all of us of so much world heritage and brought misery to millions of people for so many years.

For German speakers there’s more information on the little ghost on this “spooky” website:

http://www.spukorte.de/html/petermannchen_schwerin.html