CHAPTER 1 of History of von Schatt (1913-1960)
The girl had never seen a man so handsome as the one who stepped into Father’s Inn on that brisk December afternoon in 1913, and she knew he was her only hope.
Two weeks earlier, she learned that Father—The Innkeeper, as he was known in Lüneburg, famous for its salt mines and Bach’s organ—had arranged her matrimonial affairs in a cloakroom deal with one of the men from church, whose oldest son, a sweaty, obese boy named Fritz, who sang in the choir and aspired to someday take over the family stationery shop, she was now slated to wed in three months, on her fifteenth birthday, their names already inked in The St. Johannis Lutheran Day Planner, 1914 Edition, changes to which were strictly forbidden.
Most of the lodgers were men around Father’s age, broken souls draped in tattered suits traveling from town-to-town selling encyclopædias or band instruments or some other such thing nobody wanted—but this one was young, tall, and handsome, clad in a black silk suit, the kind that Father would describe as “Satan’s garb”. And he wasn’t trying to sell anything, enquiring only about the placard hanging in the front window that Father had painted in his workshop:
ROOM TO LET!
SINGLE NIGHT RATES!
So suspicious was Father of this traveler that he quoted twice the regular rate for one of the two small guest rooms at the back of the house. But the man did not object or attempt to haggle, saying only, “That would be vonderful, sir.”
The young man from Boizenburg signed his name in the guest register as “Christian Schmidt”—an alias his father suggested he use in the rural Christian towns he would be passing through on his way south. While signing the register, he felt the blazing blue eyes of his host scrutinizing his every movement, but he maintained his discipline, and pretended not to notice the girl spying him from atop the stairs, making sure not to look up at her while being shown to his room.
The girl retreated to her quarters, where, at this time of day, she should have been studying her Bible, but instead usually spent hours on the mattress concocting fantasies of handsome travelers rescuing her from this one-horse town. Today, though, she really did retrieve her Good Book and sat at her desk, opening it to the first of several blank pages at the end of Revelation following John’s warning of God’s punishment to anyone who dare add to the prophetic words of this Book, and, with her freshly dipped feathered quill, began writing—
Dear Mister Traveler,
I am being held prisoner by the people who own this house. They are not my real parents. My real parents are dead. Please help me escape. I have been here since I was a little girl. They beat me and treat me like their slave. Please meet me at St. Johannis Church at midnight. I will be hiding in the bushes. I have some marks we can use on the journey. Please tell no one of this.
The Imprisoned Maiden
Carefully she tore the page from the book, aware that Father’s keen ear could pick up the tearing of scritta all the way downstairs. Then, on the next blank page, she began another letter, this one to her parents, knowing Father would be enraged when he recognized the paper it was written on—
Dear Father and Mother,
I have been made with child by a boy from a prominent family in town, and I am no longer able to hide my shame in public. Therefore, with this letter, I must bid you good-bye forever, as I do not wish to bring shame upon yourselves or the boy’s family. Also, I have formally renounced the Church of Luther and have converted to the Roman Catholic Church. I have already been baptized by a Roman Catholic priest. By the time you read this letter, I will have already left for Poland, where I will birth the bastardly child, then send him to the orphanage. Afterwards I will enter a convent and spend the rest of my life as a Roman Catholic nun, atoning for my sins, and for being born Lutheran.
Your Former Daughter
By 9:30 that evening, long after the residents of Lüneburg had turned in, the girl, feeling her freedom within reach, could stay in the house no longer. With letters in hand and pillowcase stuffed with meager belongings and extra undergarments, she slipped out of her room and descended the stairs, being careful not to step on the creaky spots.
Downstairs, she left the letter to her parents on the dining room table and slid the other into the candlelit gap beneath the guest room door. She listened outside the room until she heard the crinkle of scritta, then slipped out to the cold, silent Lüneburg night.
At St. Johannis, she went around back to a utility door that was never locked, planning to shelter herself just inside until it was time to hide in the bushes. The old building, a prime example of classic northern German brick architecture, had originally been constructed as a Catholic church in the 1300s, still a couple of centuries prior to Professor Luther indulging his theses on the door of Wittenburg Castle and prompting the phrase “Go Lutheran!” to begin appearing on shop window placards and rear bumpers of horse-drawn wagons all over Deutschland. The most striking feature of the church was the steeple that soared 108 meters above the town, the largest steeple in Lower Saxony, but it had a slight lean to it. Local legend told that the master builder noticed his error only after the structure was fully erect, at which point he became so distraught that he ran up the steeple steps and leaped out a window—a fall that surely would have killed him, had not a hay wagon been passing on the thoroughfare below. After recovering from the initial shock of still being alive, the builder interpreted his soft landing as a sign of forgiveness from God, and so overjoyed was he that he decided to celebrate at Die Gepunktete Amphibie—The Spotted Amphibian, a popular local tavern of the day, back when there was still a vestige of nightlife in Lüneburg—and drank himself into such a stupor that he fell backwards off a bench and split his head open on the stone hearth, dying moments later to the sound of sizzling blood.
“Have I wandered into a den of monsters?” the young traveler wondered aloud after reading the letter that had materialized on the floor, written on what appeared to be Bible paper—a horrifying thought, until it occurred to him that, this being a Christian town, it was likely torn from a New Testament. After reviewing the day’s events—from the stern look the Innkeeper gave him with his blazing blue eyes, to the rather high rate he quoted for such a quaint room, to the letter he now beheld written by the girl at the top of the stairs—he concluded that this Inn was indeed a den of monsters, and that he should help her escape.
It also began to dawn on him that maybe his father had been right. He had always questioned the old man’s dire warnings of the evil that continues to linger in the soul of man, even now, 2,600 years after the Tfutza, when the Jews were forced from their ancestral homeland, and how, to this very day, they were still being persecuted as they wandered through a world in which they had no home—which never made sense to the boy, as Boizenburg had always been his home, and his neighbors had always been nice to him, and, just three days ago, they had thrown him a farewell sausage fest. They knew him as the boy who liked dysfunctional clocks, and they knew not to throw away their busted chronikers, but instead to bring them to the boy, who would take them to the little workshop his father had set up for him in the barn and disassemble it, cataloguing every piece and building a vast inventory of parts from which he would construct masterful Frankensteinian timepieces. The kid was some kind of eccentric genius, the elders said, though his peers thought he was queer and mostly avoided him. It was a hobby that evolved into a passion during his early teens, and, one day, he approached his father and said he had something important to tell him. The father half-expected his son to tell him he was one of those boys who didn’t like girls, but instead he came out as a horologist—a relief, at first, to the old man, until he had a moment to digest it, then rolled his eyes and said “oy vey”—but he did have to admit that the kid had genuine talent, so he might as well pursue it to the highest level—which is why he was now on his way to Eisenbach in the Black Forest, chasing the legacy of legendary clockmaker Johann Baptist Beha, son of master clockmaker Vinzenz Beha, best remembered for his shield cuckoo clocks, for which the young man had a particular passion. There he would learn from the best in the world and become a master, and maybe someday clocks with his own name on them would demand a premium from aficionados all over Europe.
Unsettling as it was to have encountered, in the Innkeeper, the very darkness Father had warned of, he had no regrets about disregarding his advice to take the train directly to the Black Forest to get there quickly and avoid unnecessary encounters with the gentiles. He had long dreamed of making this journey and wanted to enjoy it by visiting the clock shops in the villages he passed through, and by taking in the sights and sounds and smells of the countryside while he still could, figuring that, as soon as he secured an apprenticeship, he would be cooped up in a dusty shop for most of his waking hours and rarely get to see the light of day. Yet, he had not envisioned meeting a damsel in distress, not after his disappointing adolescence, when not a girl in Boizenburg, not even the homely ones, would give him the time of day. His mind reconstructed what it could of the blurry peripheral at the top of the stairs, which was enough to convince him that she was beautiful, and, after several more readings of the letter, he had become endeared to her unruly penmanship, and was in love—
Blinded as he was by this unexpected excitement, he knew he must be cautious, as the Innkeeper would surely come looking for the girl as soon as he discovered her gone, and would likely murder him if he was caught with her. However, the young man had another hobby that originated even before his interest in clocks—collecting the printed timetable pamphlets at the Boizenburg train station, which had long been a stop on the Berlin-Hamburg line, where, in the ticket office, there was a big wooden display stand with the timetables for various regional routes, all free for the taking—though Father only allowed him to take one of each. The smell of ink on paper made the boy pleasantly lightheaded, and the rows and columns of printed times—12:57 1:03 1:19 1:37 1:59 2:13—were what sparked his initial interest in horology. When he was little, Father used to take him to the station on Sundays to watch the trains come and go, and the boy would log them in his pocket journal with his impeccable handwriting, noting the arrival times and checking them against the timetables. Amazingly, they were almost always exactly on time, which the boy credited to the same German precision and engineering responsible for the printing of the timetable pamphlets themselves, much thanks to Johannes Gensfleisch zur Laden zum Gutenberg and his movable-type printing press. Thus, it was because of this still-active hobby that the young man knew that a southbound train destined for Hanover would be stopping in Lüneburg at 4:37 am, and would be long gone by the time the girl’s parents realized she was no longer there.
He waited until the minute hand on his pocket watch struck 11:57—a departure time he calculated would get him to the St. Johannis bushes right on time—before quietly tiptoeing down the hall and out of the house. He arrived at exactly midnight, where the bushes were a-rustle—
“Is that you in there?” he called, quietly.
“It is me,” said the girl, springing upright. “Follow me. I know where there is an open door. We will be safer inside.”
He followed her around back, then through a utility door. Inside, she took his hand and led him through a maze of dark corridors that led to the main cathedral illumined by the 99 white luft candles lit by the altar boys every evening at sunset. He had never seen the inside of a church and was astounded at how lavish it was—baroque figurines, stained-glass curtains, fancy candles, and, up on the second level at the back of the cathedral, Lüneburg’s marquee tourist attraction, the great organ that, two centuries prior, Johann Sebastian practiced on, which, like the steeple hovering askance over town, oozed Christian grandeur and dominance—whereas his own temple back home was a rectangular one-story brick building furnished with three rows of wooden chairs facing a splintered pulpit and an accordion in the corner that hadn’t been taken out of its case in seven years.
As beautiful as this place was, it paled to the beauty of the damsel’s face, which he now finally had opportunity to behold in the candlelight. He followed her up the aisle to the last pew, just below the majestic organ, where she stopped and kissed him. He had never kissed a girl and was unfamiliar with the nuances of the French tongue-style, prompting her to giggle. She giggled again when his erection rubbed against her thigh, and it felt big, considerably bigger than Father’s. Deftly, she undid his trousers, then pulled them down along with his undergarments, only to gasp when she saw that the tip of his thing looked like the head of a mushroom—
The young man had no idea why she gasped, but he was powerless to ask why as she pulled him down to the pew—
“I have never done that before,” he said afterwards, his head resting upon her bare bosom as she gently stroked his hair.
“Me neither,” she lied. “But it felt vonderful. Was it vonderful for you?”
“Yes, of course,” he said. “It was vonderful.”
“My whole life they have tried to beat it into me that this place was the House of my Savior, but I have always known that this is not true. You are my savior, and it is you who will take me from this dark hellhole forever!”
“But how did you become their prisoner?”
“It is a long story,” she said, then told a harrowing tale of how her real mother had died while birthing her, and how her real father was killed in a gruesome salt mine accident, and how she was adopted by the Innkeeper and his wife, who turned her into their personal slave and would beat her if she didn’t do her chores and Bible study. She also told him about the man from the church who had made a down payment to the Innkeeper for her to be the bride of his corpulent sweat-soaked son—
“Monsters!” the young man exclaimed, bolting upright. “But never fear, my love, I will take you from this dark hellhole, to the Black Forest!” ▪