Replications of city in Europe
Into the Hermann Strasse, I wandered, early one morning, when the light glazed the old buildings just so. The cobblestone seemed coated with a shiny rain glint, and I stared to sense whether it was real or replicated somehow.
Every sense in me warned of fakery, and yet everything was olden and crumbling under the glaze. Had it been replicated with a protective coating somehow, or was this really how things were here?
The question haunted me all day, and intensified that night, when I sat at a street cafe to eat. The waiter was perfect, the food tasted perfect, it was all too real to be comfortable.
To sleep, I knocked on a strange old house, set back from the cobblestone road, and fronted by a lovely rose garden with a lantern, and a bench. The cat on the railing stretched and purred a welcome, rubbing it's chin against my shoes.
I waited for an answer at the door. This was the first sign that this place was real. The cat.
When the door finally creaked open, I could at first see no-one there. Then a short, wrinkled old woman croaked a welcome.
"Please to come in, if you require lodgings for the night. But I must warn you, the house is not what it seems. Many people have reported disturbing dreams." "If you cannot sleep," she waved her hand at the jars of dried teas in the window sill, "please help yourself to the herbal tea here."
She stomped with heavy leather shoes up a narrow stairs, that curved twice before opening out to a landing. Here stood many dried animals that seemed to guard the doors of the three rooms. The old woman waved at these and said,
"don't mind these fellas, they are only temporarily inconvenienced by your use of the rooms. Please pick a room, which you fancy."
I stepped inside each one, and glanced at the bed. A straw mat heaped up on the floor, was the bed. I picked the one which looked and smelled the freshest.
The smallish window showed a back street leading away from the house at an angle. The other window looked out over a green trellis with grapes, and a small back garden with a marble statue. I stuck out my head and drew in the fresh mountain pine scent. Turning around, I decided I could sleep well here.
The old woman had left open the small wooden door that opened up from the landing onto a smaller staircase leading up to a third floor. I closed it to return back to the main stair. The dried animals had all vanished, and I wondered briefly at where they could have gone so quickly. Surely the old woman could not lift them all at once?
When I returned to the kitchen, I realized that the animals were now alive and eating at various food troughs placed for them around the small wood burning stove. I could not smell any animal scent coming from them, however, so began to question what they were. Was this a house of puppets?
Thinking back on my experiences in that house that night, I finally did decide that the woman was a witch-like being who kept animals as familiars, and fed visitors with hallucinatory teas to make them dream strange things.
I dreamed that a frog came to visit me in the straw-bed that night. He slipped under the covers and croaked at me till I awoke. His eyes glistened in the dim light from the fireplace.
First,he stared at me, then hopped up onto the round side table by the window. There he transformed into a beautiful maiden, who promised me gold, if I would marry her.
I could not tell if I was awake or not. It all seemed so dreamlike. Finally, disturbed by the idea of actually marrying a 'frog-princess' I scooped up the frog, and tossed him out the window.
That may have been the biggest mistake I ever made. The next morning, as I was once again stepping out onto the Hermann Strasse, into the strange glinting morning light, I reached into my coat pocket for my nose cloths. Inside that pocket, instead of the customary cloths, I found a bulbous,frog-shaped ring, engraved with a cryptic saying. "Frogs may come and go, but rings are forever."
I pocketed the ring, and turned to say good-bye to my old hostess. She had already closed the door, behind me without saying a word.
Through the kitchen window, I spied a large green, wart-covered frog, stooping at the breakfast fire, and croaking.
Writing by Regina Stemberger