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 House of Empty Air
He came at last, the figure scarlet-clad,
And with him crept his little death.
In haste they hurried up the crumbling steps
To save a girl her dying breath,
Constrained within the house of empty air.
Altenglisch was renowned for many deeds.
In countless lands he made his fame,
Direct of speech, and deadly blade he wore.
Upholding the Cuxhaven name,
He fought with skill and dressed with courtly flair.
His lady fair Narrinda at his side,
Her hair and robes were flowing black.
A tortured soul repenting of her sins,
Most memories of which she lacked,
In hope that by her deeds her soul be spared.
The story they had heard not long before,
A plague or curse on household kin
Was set by spiteful forces dark arcane
As vengeance for ancestors' sins.
What secret crime was once committed there?
No one alive remembers anymore
Except the wind at winter's deep
Which blows ashore to beat upon the walls
Since time of Pthegoramnon's sleep,
In elder years of ignorant despair.
The form of death to all who took the home
Was diagnosed asphyxiation,
No weapon ever found, no motive known.
A cause without an explanation
Made occupancy, after time, more rare.
The house had stood for many years unowned
Until another lately came,
Maria fresh from university.
From mother's side she'd earned her claim
To take up residence, if she would dare.
Altenglisch and Narrinda heard the tale
Some weeks before this fateful night
While passing through on business of their own,
But they agreed to stay and right
The mystery unsolved or die, they'd swear.
They took some days researching meager clues,
And sifting fiction from the truth.
But now the answer was within their grasp,
If only they could get their proof
Before it caught Maria unprepared.
Indoors, Maria trapped without escape
Lay gasping on the oaken floor.
So young to be a victim of attack,
She was too weak to reach the door
But crawled in feeble effort to a chair.
Altenglisch beat the door with all his might,
But never did it budge a trace.
At last he feared he would not find a way
To fetch Maria from that place,
Nor save her from malevolent affair.
Narrinda said, "I may yet enter in.
For am I not the same as he?
Condemned to rue our lot in life
Until we prove ourselves and see
A hope of penitence, such fate we share."
She raised her hands against the banded door.
Her spoken word did splinter wood.
Inward it blew in many shattered slats,
A hole where once the door had stood.
Beyond, Maria lay by firelight's glare.
A blast of frigid air in fierce assault
Blew Alteng and Narrinda down.
They fought against the force to gain the room
And reached Maria, and they found
Her breathing once again with glassy stare.
Said Alteng "Deadly haunt, thou dare oppress
An innocent for wicked sport?
I've come to smite thee for thy final act,
So thou may take my name's report
To Hell where evil souls as thine lay bare."
Upon the wind they heard a chilling voice,
The bloom of youth. Cut down, or dried,
Or touch of frost- these things do kill the rose
No more so than the clown who cried.
A soul alone and cold in a world unfair.
"Do thou attempt to cheat me of my price
For children which I ever called
Descendants of usurpers to my line?
They come unbidden to these halls
So I assuage my wrath, yet wait to snare
The one who gave me life but took it back,
Because I was to him unfit
To be his namesake when I came to grow,
For I was lame and dull of wit,
And to my brothers I was ill-compared.
There was a night of howling winter gale.
A deed was done in dead of night.
I had no breath to scream, my face oppressed
By heavy weight which hid my sight,
Of cold and numb which last I was aware.
It seemed I was beyond myself, and saw
my body carried out of doors
And to the cliff. He hurled it off the ledge,
Into the sea it fell and left these shores.
But my spirit found a home in icy air.
And now I must return at snow's first fall
To my old home and find the one
Who made me what I am so I may rest,
Forgetful that I am his son,
Though he's no father worth my love or care."
Altenglisch roared "Thy torment is in vain,
For thine own father found his fate
These many years ago in gaol. He died
By hangman's rope and by the weight
Of his own crime, and said his final prayer."
Narrinda Little Death, she brought her forth
A heavy sack of mouldy reek,
And when she had unwrapped her prize, she said
"Now here, lost child, the father that thou seek
Cannot atone for sins, nor make repair
For evil that was done by his own hand.
But seest thou, spirit starkly sad,
We offer up his very bones to thee
For judgement which thou never had,
And sentence thou wast never meant to bear."
The wind had died, the spirit spoke no more.
A silence fell of muted wrath.
They took Maria up and made to leave,
And swiftly sought the winding path,
The girl led on with little warm to wear.
Maria slowly came back to herself.
Not far, the house's structure lurked.
She turned to thank them for their help.
Alteng stood guard, Narrinda worked
To straighten out her clothes and comb her hair.
A ripping grinding sound caused heads to turn
Towards the house which was no more.
The walls turned inwards, warped into themselves,
And disappeared into a core
Of nothingness, where space and time did tear.
They tarried not, but hurried into town
Where townsfolk heard the gripping news.
Altenglisch and Narrinda's names were praised
Along the coastal ports while winter blew
In challenge impotent against the pair.
Neither house nor spirit ever did return,
Just left a vacant lot behind.
Maria lived for many years beyond
The winter's night she almost died,
Where once had stood the house of empty air.