Stories from Burg Rappottenstein Part 2
Writing by Caroline Stevenson, Sandra Völker, and Mary Anglberger
When they built Burg Rappottenstein back in the twelfth century, its massive walls were designed to keep invaders out. And having never been conquered, they’ve served their purpose well. Fortunately for the Sunday Writers’ Club, all the archers on the ramparts and guards on the gates had long since become ghosts when we arrived for our writing annual retreat in April 2023. There was nothing to keep us from four days of indulging in what we love best: writing!
So, we’re very excited to present here more stories from Burg Rappottenstein. We hope you enjoy reading the following contributions:
- Graffiti from a Bygone Age by Caroline Stevenson
- Coming Home to Burg Rappottenstein by Sandra Völker
- Braving the Dungeon by Mary Anglberger
You can also read Stories from Burg Rappottenstein Part 1 here.
Graffiti from a Bygone Age
By Caroline Stevenson
She was cruising around her Pod – essentially a greenhouse, only the Pod was big enough for the population of a city to live in, complete with air con and sleek solar-powered houses, and it also floated 5,000 feet above where the United Kingdom used to be before it became submerged. On days which were less humid than average, the tips of Ben Nevis and Snowdon could just about be seen with the naked eye.
She spent more time hovering around within the warehouse itself than she had spent hovering across the city to reach its entrance; such was its magnitude. She checked her assigned pick-up code in her peripheral vision, then parked her hoverboard alongside the corresponding yellow locker which was at face height. She typed the code into the keypad. A red light blinked, and the locker remained firmly shut. She tried again twice, but with the same results. She must have been sent the wrong code. She shook the locker in a rage, and down flipped something from overhead. She picked up the item which she had just sent tumbling to the warehouse floor; a thin little rectangular block about half a centimetre thick, on which a wobbler could comfortably fit both feet. Unbelievable. Even the robot deliverers were getting lazier by the day. Couldn’t be bothered to pack the thing properly, let alone leave it in a safe spot. At times, Eleanor found herself yearning for Amazon, and not for its increasingly unreliable successor, Lumeskon. It would be just her luck if she had damaged the hoverboard with her burst of micro-rage.
She started looking for the activation switch to see if the hoverboard was already charged, but was met with a gloomy reflection of her face, her eyebrows furrowed with concentration and accentuating her crows’ feet. No hoverboard had a screen that large. Even a wobbler board.
She spied a tiny Apple symbol on the bottom left-hand corner. She had vague recollections of her school lessons with Ms Oulnesk about the Technological Revolution which had occurred before the second Great Flood of 2047. Back when there were streets and alleyways. Hills. Valleys. Roads. When Pods were called “districts” or “neighbourhoods”, out in the open air and not concealed under glass domes. When the hippest modes of transportation were clunky E-scooters, made by competing brands, until there was no competition since Konsumel became the omnipresent brand. When young children were called “toddlers” since they were free to stumble around clumsily, unsteady on their feet, before becoming reliant on hovercraft transportation. Could she really have just found a relic from that age? An… iPad?
She held it up to the sunlight. No building within the Pod had a proper rooftop. That would just be wasting potential energy stores, the Founder had stated. The gadget charged up in next to no time. The Pod protected from the sun’s intense heat, but not from its intense brightness. No wonder all Pod residents had snapped up the Skolemun SmartSunglasses when they became available within the first year of the new living arrangements. It was the shade that the wearers had been most grateful for, and not the inbuilt phones. Aside from the blinding sunlight, though, the biggest cause of injury or death in the hoverboard lanes had been drivers who were distracted by the texts or emails they were simultaneously sending on their commute. A phone whirling through the air at high velocity could also create a crack in the Pod. So it was considered for the best to just do away with that dangerous texting altogether and have audio communication. There had once been rumours of a formal vote on the matter, but this never materialised, and its absence was neither protested nor mourned. The first trials were now already underway for telepathic chips. Volunteers got extra BitCredit as recompense.
Perhaps it was the eyes on Eleanor’s T-shirt which unlocked the iPad screen. The founder of the Pod had offered every resident a T-shirt adorned with His face, His printed irises complete with a strand of His real-life DNA, at His own insistence, since He had nothing to hide.
The time on the screen was frozen to 20:47, a high-definition image of the moon providing a bespoke background. According to legend, 20:47 is precisely the time when the Founder can be sighted on a winter’s night by those who point a telescope up to the Pod’s dome, when temperatures on the exterior of the Pod plummet to a bracing 32 degrees Celsius.
Eleanor did what came intuitively with any unfamiliar technology. She swiped her finger across it.
How Pro-Climate Strategies Harm Businesses was the title that greeted her.
She mouthed the words slowly as she read them, the way she had done when learning the skill of reading as a small child. That’s something that Leon was unlikely to be burdened with. A torrent of words followed. She couldn’t remember the last time she had seen so many laid out before her. She felt like she had been confronted with a word grid to unscramble, the kind she used to voluntary try and solve whilst passing the time on a train when she was young. At random, certain phrases such as “fossil fuels” and “net profits” leaped out at her.
“How much longer are you going to be?” Noel interrupted via her Skolemun. “Leon wants his Klemsonu Krunch and we’ve run out. Can you grab some more on your way back?”
“Two days ago I bought enough for two weeks!” Eleanor snapped back into her headset. “How many bowls has he eaten?!”
She swiped to consecutives slides.
“Foreseen completion: 2047”
It was plausible that these words had in fact been typed and not dictated. Just imagine. She held her breath in due reverence. She didn’t dare besmudge the screen with an exhale. She then swiped to the final slide, which had a logo bearing a large resemblance to the Pod. It was labelled:
Elon’s Ark Enterprises
Sunday Wrters' Club member
Portrait of Caroline courtesy of Markus Raffeis
Coming Home to Burg Rappottenstein
By Sandra Völker
Johann sighed, holding on to his horse’s reins. Castle Rappottenstein he would never see again, at least not with open eyes.
“Father,” his son Richard said from close behind him, “We are almost home. You should get back on the horse.”
“I know son. Just give me a few more moments,” Johann replied.
He had not imagined his return like this. They had fought for their king and won. Johann would be richly rewarded for his service and his family would be stronger for it. But the prize he had paid was almost too high. He had always known that he might not come back to his fiefdom and his wife Gunhilde and their younger children but to return a cripple …. He had been wounded heavily and for a few days had hovered between this world and the next. When he had come out of merciful unconsciousness, he discovered that he had lost his eyesight. Life would never be the same.
Johann let go of the reins and knelt down. The icy slush felt refreshing under his hands and sent crystal-sharp bites up his arms and into an old scar between his shoulder blades. The melting snow and rotting left-over vegetation from the fall mixed with his horse’s sharp, musky sweat. At least he hoped the smell came from the horse. On their journey back to Castle Rappottenstein he had not been able to take his weekly bath. Somewhere above him he could hear the timid singing of the chaffinches, a first sign that the warmer season was close.
Somewhere to his right some crows were fighting. Johann had grown up with these carrion birds and knew all cadences of their squawking. He had never liked them and considered them harbingers of evil tidings. He thought he could make out two or three individual birds and turned his head to look but was quickly reminded by the blackness before his eyes that he could not.
Hoping to keep frustration from showing on his face, he concentrated on the cold wetness underneath him. His horse, a stallion who had kept him faithful company throughout the journey and battels, gave off warm steam. Richard and their entourage talked quietly in the back. Rustling and the sound of feet breaking through underbrush further back gave Johann a hint that some men took the opportunity to relieve themselves after the long ride.
He was on his land now and had a pretty good idea of where they had stopped. Johann was not sure if he could find his way home to Gunhilde by himself. Gunhilde, his trusted and beloved wife of 20 years, who had given him his firstborn son Richard and another boy and two girls. He would not see her face when her initial joy turned into shock and then, maybe disappointment, when she would realize her husband was now useless. He would never see her comforting and supporting gaze anymore. He suppressed a sob. Self-pity would not help the situation. Since he had woken up blind, he had not been able to answer the question if he would prefer to be dead. Johann shook his head and straightened up, ignoring some pain in his lower back. He swayed under an attack of vertigo and was not sure if it had been caused by a gust of wind or not. His left hand grasped for the reins and inwardly he cursed himself for his sentimentality. He could not afford to let go anymore. Panic seized him in his guts like an overspilling pot of burning porridge. He did not want to appear weaker than absolutely necessary. Where was his horse? As long as he held on to it he would be safe. The forest floor underneath him was not the hard winter ground anymore, its soft surface clung to his boots and pulled him down.
The crows’ screeching had increased in intensity and their hoarse and grating rattling overrode all other sounds. Johann was sure they were circling above him. The squabbling of his men and the horses’ tired snorting had disappeared. Caw, caw, caw! There was nothing around him except the shrill screaming of the birds. Like an arrow they sent their message through the wintery forest and aimed for his heart. Squawk, squawk, squawk. Something was wrong, something was wrong, something was wrong. Caw, caw, caw. Go home, go home, go home.
Johann stumbled under the onslaught, he did not know where up or down was, he did not understand what was happening but he recognized a message when he got one. Caw, caw, caw. Ever louder squawking and cawing encircled him and a terrible dread rose up inside him.
“Father, father, I am here,” Richard grasped him by the shoulder, immediately putting the world right side up again.
“We need to go home. now!” Johann took his son’s arm, clung to it like a drowning sailor. “Where is my horse.”
“What’s wrong father?”
“Nothing. Everything. We need to get back.”
Another cawing above him reminded him of the urgency. With the help of his son he mounted his horse, kicking his heels hard. He was not waiting for anybody, they would follow him. The warm steed under him had been born and raised in his stables and should know his way. Johann had been his rider and master for many years, they had been through these woods numerous times. He rode fast and hard, trusting his horse and his experience. Soon there would be a sharp bend in the trail and Johann prepared his body for the left turn. The horse’s movements shook his bones mercilessly and some of his joints sent hot, painful flares up into his head, punctuating the everlasting darkness around him with glaring bursts of pain.
Squawk, squawk, squawk. The crows were flying somewhere above him, urging him on and Johann tugged his heels even harder into his stallion’s flanks. Go home, go home. Johann had not felt panic like this even during battle, not when he lay bleeding in the deep mud nor when the field surgeon told him to bite into a dirty piece of cloth so he could remove a piece of metal from his head. His horse flew through the forest and left the other riders far behind. Johann kept tugging his heels into the sides. There was nothing now except darkness, the wind and the cawing of the crows. Soon they would be out of the forest and on the road that led up to Rappottenstein. The mighty castle was built on a rocky basalt formation, impenetrable with its seven gates and in-built defenses. Finally, Johann sensed the woods becoming less dense. He did not reduce his speed and was certain they were on the dirt road now that led from the village to the castle. On his right side, down a steep slope, he could hear the cold, rushing waters of the small river that fed the countryside around it.
Caw, caw, caw. Go home, go home.
His steed slipped slightly on an obstacle on the road or out of exhaustion and Johann almost lost control of the reins and his balance.
“Just a little longer, my friend,” he cried in determination. “Get me home.”
“Father…..”, he heard Richard somewhere behind him but did not slow down. Something was happening at home and he knew deep down in his guts that he needed to get there as fast as possible. They must have reached the last bend before the gate because Johann could hear and smell the hustle and bustle of the small tavern just outside the castle’s walls where travelers could stop and refresh themselves before visiting the castle.
He finally slowed down his horse which came to a shivering halt, panting heavily. Johann heard hurried footsteps approaching and assumed it was the guards.
“It’s me, your Lord Johann,” he called out, while jumping from the horse. The ground under him was muddy and he sank in deeper than expected. He fell to his knees and experienced the same vertigo as in the forest and lost track of time for a moment.
When he came to, arms pulled him up.
“Leave me!” he cried but realized he needed help to stay up.
“Father, it’s me, Richard,” his son said. “Let me …”
“Not now, son,” Johann interrupted him but held on to him. “Get me into the castle. Bring me to Gunhilde.”
Richard shouted a few commands.
Johann heard hectic voices and then the creaking of the heavy castle gate opening.
“Father, get up on my horse,” Richard said. “We will be faster if I lead it up to the living quarters, your horse is done for.”
Johann was grateful for his pragmatic older son. Richard did not always agree with his father but would respect his wishes, follow his orders and ask questions later when they were alone. Richard led him to his horse, helped him up into the saddle and took the reins. Johann heard a whispered conversation but could not make out who was talking to Richard. He did feel an urgent pull on the reins though and a brief shocked silence.
“What is it, son?” Johann called out. He felt a tightening pressure around his chest and wished he could see the faces around him.
“Father…,” Richard started, then stopped.
Johann realized that the damn birds had stopped their cawing and that silence had settled over the courtyard. There was only the heavy breathing of horses and the banging of a door further up the castle. Everything else was dark silence. Johann was not sure the pressure was coming from his chest or from the outside.
“Richard, damn it. What is it?”
“It’s mother … and my brother … and …,” Richard, otherwise the most eloquent of his siblings stumbled over the words. No one said anything.
“… there was a sweating disease, my Lord.”
This was Stefan, his trusted stable master.
Johann’s heart stopped a beat.
“What about Gunhilde, what about my children?”
“My brother is dead, father, my sisters survived.” Richard’s voice sounded empty.
“What about your mother?”
“She caught it, too. She is alive but it does not look good.”
“Bring me to her, son. Now!” Johann cursed his blindness and helplessness, but he did not think he could make it up to their living quarters by himself.
“You shouldn’t father, I mean, the healer says, you might catch it…”
“Bring me up to her now!” Johann screamed. “Or, by God, I will crawl on my fours until I am up there.”
Richard pulled on the reins and they went up the path to the last inner courtyard gate. The darkness around Johann became heavier and he was almost glad when the sharp smell of the horse’s urine pulled him back into the now.
Gunhilde. His anchor. The one who was supposed to be safe with his children while Richard and he went off to do battle for their king. They stopped. Richard did not say anything. Johann realized this was not just about his children and his wife. These were also Richard’s siblings and mother.
“Let me hold on to your shoulder,” he said and tried to put a calmness into his voice that he did not feel.
Richard led him up the through another smaller inner courtyard and then up some steep steps to the family’s living quarters.
Johann stumbled over a doorframe. “Sorry father,” Richard mumbled, “I did not see it.”
They stopped and Richard opened a door. Both were silent. Richard led Johann into the room and Johann heard him exhale sharply.
“Mother,” he said softly, “it’s me, Richard, and father.”
There was a quiet stirring and then, hoarse and weak, Gunhilde’s voice.
“You are here. You made it through. Richard. My love.”
Johann suppressed a violent gag. He could not utter a word.
“Oh, my husband. My son. Don’t look at me like this. I know I look different.”
Johann let out a noise somewhere between a laugh and a sob.
“My beloved, I can’t and I would give anything to.”
He let go of Richard and stumbled in the direction of Gunhilde’s voice. When he bumped into the bedframe he fell to his knees and grabbed around for her hands. He took them into his, feeling her feverish skin.
“I am here, my wife. I came back, blind and useless but I am back.”
He had not realized how much he wanted to be back here again, with her, surrounded by their children and soon grandchildren and enjoy their fall of life together.
“I am glad, husband. I dreamed about you in the forest, and birds, and they promised me to bring you home ….” She coughed violently and it took her a while to recover her regular breathing.
“I am grateful I see you one more time before I must go. This is easier now.”
She squeezed his hand weakly.
“Take care of our daughters and Richard, Johann.”
Then Johann heard her falling back into a pillow, her rattling breath going slower and slower. Then her hands went limp in his hands and he knew her presence had left the room.
Johann let out a roar which had been building in his chest since the stop in the forest. It left his heart, filled the room and then escaped through the window. It went up and up until it joined the crows that circled over the castle, their cackling and screeching having turned into a lamenting mourning song. To the people in the courtyard it sounded like “You made it home, you made it home.”
Author and Sunday Writers' Club Member
Sandra was born and raised in Austria. She studied and worked in the US for a number of years and writes in English and German.
She mostly writes short stories and other fictional texts and has taken various writing courses in Austria and England over the years. In her other life she tries to make a difference with her job at an environmental NGO.
She currently trains to become a Shiatsu practioner and would like to combine writing and Shiatsu in the future. Her website is www.koerperspracheshiatsu.at.
Braving the Dungeon
By Mary Anglberger
My grandmother was not a woman of many emotions and I don’t think she really minded, or cared, for that matter. She’d busy herself with her usual daily tasks, helping my grandfather run their sawmill right behind the house and, on those summer days, cooking to feed so many mouths.
If we’d been good, or so bad that they just couldn’t stand us around anymore, my grandmother would go to the special drawer of the heavy wooden cupboard in the living room – the one where she also kept her silver rosary – and get out some money. ‘Kauft euch ein Eis.’ ‘Buy yourselves an ice cream,‘ she would say, handing a 20-Schilling note to the oldest of her little visitors.
That person would then also be in charge of leading the gang down the village’s main road which we were constantly warned of. It had a sharp bend in it that tightly hugged the corner of a house, making for zero visibility for that single, lone car that might come speeding along. Hopefully it has been rebuilt in a more sensible way, even if it no longer has gangs of little children tramping to the village ‘Wirtshaus’ – your local restaurant, mostly meeting, gossiping, beer-drinking, sausage-eating, village-decision-making place and only on Sundays a proper restaurant, which could still easily transform into all of the above.
It was easy for any child to find, with that blue and white Eskimo flag hanging outside its door, promising a freezer chest full of ice cream and popsicles inside. The trouble with that particular freezer chest was its location.
You’d be stepping off the bright, sunny road into this dark hallway with a low, arched brick ceiling – much like a dungeon. It felt cool and damp and smelled of stale bread and browned sugar, and of left-over Schweinsbraten and apple strudel stored in the oven. In the far corner, there was a tiny, wooden bed side lamp, giving off a dim, yellow-orangey light – like a small sun trying to rise, pressed down by the thick, cool air, impregnated with the smells of all those meals long passed, cooked in the nearby kitchen for the many Sunday guests.
We could hear the promising hum of the freezer in the very back, its fan blades making a clanking noise every so often. We could hear the men roaring with laughter in the ‘Gaststube’, the room where regulars would sit around a big, square table, always finding some vital issue to discuss with great passion and sometimes audible anger. We could hear the clanging of the enormous pots in the kitchen at the very end of the hallway, the mooing of the cows in the adjacent barn, layered with great demand and urgency if the hour was close to feeding time.
We’d be standing there, gathering all the collective courage a bunch of 5–10-year-olds could gather until one would finally be pushed forward into that big, dark tunnel ‘You go!’ ‘No! You go!’
So, then this chosen victim would have to go down that hall of blotchy white walls with old, faded amateur paintings of nearby lakes and mountain ranges – feigning fearlessness, growing a few inches taller in the attempt, heading toward the little, orange light on the right and the big, raucous sounds on the left.
A particularly challenging situation would present itself, when the ‘Wirtin’, the owner of the place, could not be found in the kitchen. Usually she’d be wearing a dark blue, dress-like apron, tight around her ample hips and bosom, that gave her a regal, bossy look. We feared and loved her at equal measures.
An unstaffed kitchen meant, one would have to push one’s way into the ‘Gaststube’, often only to remain standing by the door, unnoticed and uncomfortable, as she would be sitting at the edge of a table, involved in some loud debate, hidden in a thick cloud of cigarette smoke.
Meanwhile, the rest of the gang would be waiting at the other end of the hallway near the door, trembling slightly with anxiety and anticipation, ready to get help should the brave messenger not resurface. Miraculously, he always would, with the Wirtin in tow, calling ‘Children, come in! You want an ice cream then?’
Sunday Writers' Club Member
Mary grew up in a small Austrian village near Salzburg, but decided early on she wanted to ‘move out into the big, wide world’. She moved to North Carolina aged 17 where she studied History of Art and French and then moved to Boulder, Colorado for a year.
Later travels included Burkina Faso, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Egypt and many more countries where she worked as a freelance English teacher.
While in Cyprus, she ran dinner clubs, published her cookbook ‘On Healthy Cooking - Quinoa, Chard & Co made easy’ and wrote a column and the arts and culture section for the Cyprus Weekly.
Back in Vienna since 2018, Mary is happy to be settled and has been working on her memoir to share her many adventures. The Sunday Writers Club has been a great inspiration for her, giving her confidence and encouraging her to write regularly.