Foreword and Author's Note
These are a series of short stories in progress, collectively called "The Adventures of Altenglisch Hans Cuxhaven". A long name for a little character, whom I have been given permission to feature in these stories of adventure, horror, some comedy, and a little dumb luck. An original creation of my girlfriend's (soon-to-be wife), who also has an account on this site (email me privately for details). These stories take place in no particular order at various junctures throughout Alteng's life. Any similarities between characters described herein and any persons living or dead is of course not only coincidental, it is indeed nearly impossible.
Part adventurer, spy, thief, pirate, knight errant, and misunderstood man-with-no-name, he wandered the world treating action as its own reward. Many times he actually managed to right wrongs and bring events to a conclusion that benefitted those around him, but he was no infallible superhero-sometimes the fates were against him and he was lucky to escape a setback alive. Occasionally he was even seen by the world at large as a villain, though he never saw himself that way. He was more like a knight in not-so-shiny armor, doing the right thing when he could, but accepting the reality of the complicated chaotic nature of the world- that things often can only be changed superficially, and even then but temporarily, and if one cannot cheat death then one should at least minimize suffering and face death as swiftly and painlessly as possible.
With his life's outlook learned from a combination of the sentiments of the Age of Reason combined with the thrill of adventure promised by the discovery of new lands and civilizations during the Renaissance, all held in check by the last superstitious vestiges of the Dark Ages, we find someone with a conflicting personal moral code (and an outcast from his own people) that somehow manages to rise above his imperfections and for the most part makes the world a better place.
The Golden Curse, Chapter One
The little fellow in red lay on the ground, battered and beaten and bleeding all over his fine clothing, while the group of big bullies stood around and laughed. Only the size of a child, the victim just seemed to walk down the wrong alley at the wrong time, and the thugs knew that he saw too much.
He had tried to help the old woman, and in a way, he had succeeded, for she was gone now. So, she must have gotten away when the group turned their attention to the do-gooder. To his credit, he had proved to be a tough customer for a pint-sized pain in the shins. He had stood up to the gang, and two of them were missing teeth and a third had an aching belly, but they had one thing (other than size) which he didn't have- sheer numbers. Of course, it would not be humanly possible for one so small to fight off four grown men all night. Even considering that the victim was not human (he was in fact what the Europeans would call "Kobold", one of that legendary and sometimes misunderstood and feared race of diminutive people, who had lived alongside human society for generations uncounted without truly being a part of it), and even considering the fact that he was young and fast (even immortal, unless he were to be murdered or met with an accident), he was no match for the men, who knew how to survive in these streets better than he did.
Now they towered over him and laughed their fool heads off, but this was no drunken brawl. These men were on business, and they got what they came for. The crone could go home and keep growing old for all they cared, for Schmutz (the leader of this group) now had what was once hers. Did she know what it was she possessed? He doubted it, or she would not be so foolish to display it openly. Even now he had it tucked inside his weatherbeaten shirt, where it felt right at home against his skin, but in his mind was a mild regret that soon he would hand over so precious of a thing to the man, who hired him and his friends. Ah well, Schmutz had been well-paid, hadn't he? Honest money for an honest night's work, and it beat grave digging any day.
The man in the fancy grey suit had found Schmutz two nights ago, digging a new home for a man, whom he had in fact known in life. It was steady work- the world would always need grave diggers. Schmutz hadn't any alcohol in nearly a week, and it was beginning to show in the way he trembled as he pitched the dirt up and over his shoulder, though his shaking could have been attributed to the chill of the night air. It had been wet and clammy weather for a few days now, with no hint of sun through the low clouds and fog, but he didn't complain because the dampness made the dirt easier to cut through with the shovel blade.
Schmutz reminisced about his recently departed friend as he dug the trench. An old drinking buddy he was, good at pins, had a daughter, who up and left him high and dry to marry a quarryman when she should have stayed home to mind the shack. A large man and a healthy one was Karl Ober. Then the plague took him in a matter of days. He just turned a springtime shade of greenish-yellow, lay in a delirious fever for three days, and that was his end.
"Grey suit," said Schmutz, "Why are you in a graveyard on a bad night like this? Come to pay a last respect? You're early if you have . . ."
"Yes, a last respect," replied the man.
Schmutz looked long and hard at him from down in the pit, and he leaned on his shovel, and his chin involuntarily began to jut out, just to show he was a hard man to bargain with. "So, it's that, is it? I've not done any other work than this for months now. If you know the words, you know my price. How hard's the work?"
"No harder than what you've done before for others," said the stranger, "and if you do me a fine job, you get extra for your trouble." He gave a smile that in most other places would have melted the chill from the air, but out here in the cemetery it came across as slightly over-eager and predatory. Otherwise, he was well dressed, with brass buttons in places that weren't really necessary on the kind of utilitarian clothing usually seen in these parts. He was a youngish man with dark hair combed backward that curled broadly just below the neck and ears, and he had eyes of grey that perfectly complimented his dapper attire, and though he appeared young and healthy, he walked with a long straight cane of some dark red wood which was polished to a shine, topped by a knob in the shape of a crucifix.
The stranger in the grey suit then began to tell Schmutz exactly what he wanted, more or less. Schmutz heard all he needed to know about the old woman, where she had been haunting lately, and where she lived (if it came to that). The stranger had insisted that in order to master this old woman though, Schmutz might need help. "But no more than you can trust with a secret job," he had said.
Schmutz laughed out loud. How rough could a little old lady be? And what was so special about this prize anyway? It wouldn't look valuable, and it was neither big nor heavy. He felt this would be the easiest money he had made since- well, since he couldn't even remember when. He tipped his cap backward off his forehead and eagerly met the gaze of the man. Of course he could do it. Who wouldn't for that kind of money in this town?
Schmutz had found his hired help yesterday afternoon, in the form of a cousin and two of his gambling cronies, and all were large men in a broad sense (though only his cousin Klaus was considered tall). They had all taken this job lightly. Hell, they probably wouldn't even have to beat her up or anything, just scare her a little. As it turned out, Klaus had to slap her around a couple of times, but that was all it took to get what the boss wanted. Unfortunately, a witness showed up, who decided to do more than scream. He grabbed an old board with a nail in it and drove it into Klaus' belly, and that's what started all this trouble.
"That's what started all the trouble?" The bullies couldn't believe they had to beat down a kid, or a midget, or whatever he was. Now, they decided to have a little fun with him, and they took turns trying to kick him like a street ball, all the while cackling through cracked lips and shattered gum lines. There were a few moments, where it sounded (from a safe distance) as if a bunch of rambunctious boys had found a puppy to tie a can to. The figure tried to cover up and roll into a ball, and they cheered even louder, for he was now the perfect shape for punting.
From out of nowhere the prone figure rose up with lightning speed, perhaps through the last sheer effort of willpower before unconsciousness and swung at the nearest man. He managed to hit him in the groin. The other three were instantly on him, throwing him against a wall and pounding down on him from above, driving him back down into the mud of the alleyway. Klaus got the idea of returning the favor for that two-by-four to the stomach, and he found the board laying about a dozen feet away. The others made way before him, and with sadistic glee, he began to pummel the groaning form along the backside.
With a suddenness that startled everyone, there was a flash of red light and a loud "BOOM". Two of the men (Bermann and Gort) were blown off their feet and nearly went through the wooden planking behind them. Klaus the big cousin to Schmutz fell to one knee with a foot-long sliver of board embedded in the side of his right thigh, although he didn't feel it right away. They all looked toward the fencing along one side of the alley. Perched atop the high fence, like an alley cat ready to make song, was a dark figure cloaked and booted. Its gloved hands were spread before it with fully splayed fingers, like a mad conductor at work. Eerie blue light sparked from between its fingertips, and the stink of electrical charge filled the air. Though the men were in shock and awe at such a sight, they could also see that this new threat was even smaller than the one at their feet, if that were possible.
Schmutz forgot his fear, and he advanced toward the figure on the fence. The others picked themselves up off the ground and stood behind him. "Who are you?" he yelled through the stinging haze of oily blue smoke. "Ye have no business here, ye urchin. We'll deal with you worse than him if you don't get out!" he threatened as he pointed back to the ruined form in the fine red clothes.
It was perhaps the most disarming moment for them all when they heard the voice of the "urchin". The first thing it did was laugh. They had fully expected something child-like to come dribbling out of its mouth, but this sounded like the cool menace of a calm and collected mind, and it was unmistakably the voice of a cultured, grown woman. The group could do nothing for a few seconds but stare at each other, dumb and mute.
"You have dug your own grave, dirt-slinger," the strange woman-freak uttered, as she pointed straight at Schmutz.. "Now prepare to sleep in the final bed you made!" The figure seemed to grow in power and dread. A light sprung up from under its deep hood, and all four men could now see without mistake . . .
"It wears a skull! Not human!" Bermann yelled, and crossed himself.
"Bane spiteful spirit of a murdered child!" gasped Klaus through gritted teeth.
"Kobold!" they all shrieked, nearly in unison. Then the panic and the madness of undeath's whisperings took hold of their minds, and forgetting their size and numbers, they blindly ran (Klaus stumbled) as fast as they could for the safety of the nearest brightly lamp-lit street.
"Not hardly," she smirked after them.
She didn't move for several moments after the last echoes of the street toughs' cobbled boots on broken dirty boardwalks had died. Then the light from within her seemed to slowly extinguish, and her hands and arms lowered to their more natural positions at her side. She considered the unconscious figure, laying on the ground, crumpled and bleeding. If anyone had been around to hear, they would swear that a small sob escaped from inside the hood. With little effort she cleared the top of the fence and hit the ground running toward the still small form in the dirt.
His clothing, the height of fashion in any other country, was considered strange and foreign in these parts, and they were ripped and bloodied anyway. She knelt down and tried to turn him over as gently as she could. He lay on his back, face skyward, gazing into the face of the one who had just saved him from certain death (though not from a terrible beating). His hair, ordinarily soft brown, neatly combed and tied behind with a fancy silk ribbon, now half-masked his bruised face along with a layer of mud and blood. The boyish face looked into the death mask of the grinning skull that peeked from within the interior of the hood. Anyone around to witness the scene would have waited for the victim's final curtain, the Little Death come to take him away, but he knew better.
"Narrinda, I tried ... to get the bracelet from the old lady before they did. I have failed . . ." he began.
"Hush," the little dead woman answered. "Don't worry about it right now, Deutsch. I have to get you out of here and back to the flat, but I dread to see the look on your brother's face when he hears the story. He won't be as forgiving towards those men as I was."