They were Americans in Germany, eleven years after the fall of the Wall, young artistic types, setting out for a trip into the country, a night of camping and a day of hiking. Then they would return to their government-funded apartments. They would be led by an energetic very Germanic German named Marius. Marius’s girlfriend came, too: blonde and strong in the chin, bony in the body, solid stock. It happened to be Walpurgisnacht, the night of the witches, the Devil’s Sabbath, famous from Faust, famous in countries where they knew how to pronounce Walpurgisnacht.
The group of Americans and Germans met an unexpected trio of three Italian girls in the train station on their way back from another excursion. One of the Italian girls was known to the Americans from a German language class they had taken together when they were all in Dresden. The other two were her friends from back home, visiting Germany for the week. As can happen when young people are abroad and adventuring, the three girls spun on a dime and decided to join the Americans and Germans on their camping trip, going just as they were, in their shorts and t-shirts and backpacks from their last trip. The Italians knew it was Walpurgisnacht, too. They joked that they were witches. One of them said she had a copy of Faust with her that she would read to the Americans and Germans later that night.
The train into the country shook on the tracks, up the river, out to where you can look around and see only nature. It stopped and they all got off, packs swung over their shoulders, sleeping bags, water and other bottles under their arms and in their hands. They hiked into the camping area, amidst the rocks and trees and streams and found a perfect space to set up camp, an eons-old carved-out hollow surrounded by tall rock faces, empty and ready for them.
The drinking began in earnest as soon as they sat down. One of the Americans had marijuana. Another had a guitar. If anyone had to piss or shit, he or she went off into the woods. They could find a boulder to lean against or could just squat. The Americans were not so used to roughing it like this, but they pretended they were for the sake of the Europeans, who expected them to be like Americans in movies, cowboys.
Marius and one of the Americans took charge of building a fire. They hunted for sticks and branches. The Italian girls laughed and chatted happily about their experiences of the last several days. The rest in the camp listened, not understanding a word, but enjoying the melodious voices.
At dusk, they heard the first scream.
“What the hell was that?” said Stewart, an American from New Jersey.
“Coyote?” said Julie, another American.
“What’s a coyote?” said Marius.
“An evil spirit,” said Trina, the Italian girl from German language class.
“Walpurgisnacht,” said another Italian girl, who had long stringy hair and no bra on.
“I’ll go check it out,” said Carlos, another American.
“You shouldn’t go alone,” said Marius’ girlfriend Sabine.
Carlos asked if she wanted to come with him.
“I’ll go with you,” said Marius before she could answer. He had been showing signs of wanting to keep Carlos away from his girlfriend since the Americans started getting high, drunk and loud.
“Nevermind,” said Carlos. “I’ll go alone.”
Carlos walked out of the rock enclosure quickly before anyone could stop him.
“Why did you do that?” said Sabine to Marius as Marius got up.
“Do what,” said Marius, now in German, so the Americans , whose German was pathetic, could barely understand.
“He was talking to me,” she said, also in German.
“I know,” said Marius, “He’s been talking to you all day and I don’t like it.”
Marius charged off into the dusk of the woods, leaving everyone else to sit and wonder at his abruptness.
Then came the second scream. It wasn’t the same as the first. This one was definitely human. And it sounded like Carlos.
“It’s starting,” said the Italian with stringy hair and no bra.
“Already?” said Trina.
“What’s starting?” said Stewart.
“The evil,” said the third Italian girl, who was short and stocky and covered with moles.
Carlos burst upon them, sweating, eyes-wide, throwing himself onto the earth as if it were sanctuary.
“There’s something out there,” he said.
“Marius,” said Sabine and made a move to go after her boyfriend.
“Don’t,” commanded the second Italian girl, “If you leave our circle, you will not be safe.”
Meanwhile, Julie said to Carlos: “What do you mean there’s something out there?”
“I felt it,” Carlos said.
“Did you see something?” asked Stewart.
Meanwhile, Sabine hesitated before leaving the circle, looking back at them all, then called out: “MARIUS!”
“It was like something touched me, but it wasn’t a touch,” Carlos said. “It was like a darkness passed into me and out of me.”
“You’re full of shit,” Stewart said.
There was no reply from Marius out in the wilderness.
“I have to see if he’s okay,” Sabine said.
“It would be better if you stayed with us,” said Trina, whose face was now flickering in the fire. It seemed that dusk had turned instantly to night.
Sabine paused a second longer, then ran off calling her boyfriend’s name.
They were all quiet together. Then Trina spoke:
“Listen, we came along to protect you. But you must stay in the circle we’ve made here.”
“What about Marius and Sabine?” asked Carlos.
The third scream sounded out. It was Sabine.
“It’s too late for them,” said the Italian girl with all the moles.
Jim Knable is a playwright, songwriter, musician, and prose writer originally from Sacramento. His plays have been produced at MCC Theatre, Woolly Mammoth, Soho Rep, NYC’s Summer Play Festival and other regional theatres, and published by Broadway Play Publishing and Playscripts, Inc. His band The Randy Bandits has released two studio albums: Redbeard (2006) and Golden Arrow (2009). He is now shopping his novel, Sons of Dionysus.
Illustrations: Beeb Salzer