“The Horn Of The Hare” was written during the 80’s and describes the fascination awakened by the sound of the bow string. From a manuscript that lay dormant for twenty years behind the iron curtain emerges a profound little book about two men and their common interest in archery. The the ashes of a war torn Europe the men search for freedom, both within themselves and from an oppressive world under the iron fist of a communist regime. Through the ancient sport of archery an enduring bond is nurtured as they struggle in their search. One man watches as the wall comes down, has the other found his elusive freedom?
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THE HORN OF THE HARE
A NOVEL OF ARCHERY
VERLAG ANGELIKA HÖRNIG
The Horn of the Hare
© 2000 by Verlag Angelika Hörnig
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted
in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical,
without the written permission of the publisher.
Illustrations: Günther Bach
Translation: Robert Dohrenwend
Cover design: Angelika Hörnig
Lecturer: Mitch Cohen
© 2012 ebook
Verlag Angelika Hörnig
Table of Contents
“Perhaps feelings are somewhat uncertain,
but there‘s no help for it,
we have to depend on them anyway.“
When this book was written, it was impossible to get it published in the part of Germany where I lived at that time.
The manuscript lay in a drawer for almost twenty years and I only occasionally glanced at the pages while they become increasingly brittle as time passed.
From today’s viewpoint, it is hard for me to describe to an American reader the conditions under which people lived in East Germany (DDR), a state which called itself democratic, mocking those who had to live there.
When the Second World War came to an end, I was ten years old. I had grown up in a small city 900 years old with many Gothic brick churches which had escaped the bombing during the war. My father was a hunter and a man with a deep love of nature. Only poor eyesight kept him from making this passion his career. So he became a banker, weekdays in his office in a neat gray suit, quiet, friendly, and dependable, but on the weekends, he was outdoors in the woods and fields wearing an old green loden coat and an even older shabby felt hat. The hat had a spray of grouse feathers on it whose original colors were no longer recognizable.
There was only a short period in my life when I was allowed to accompany him, but it was long enough for me to become familiar with this, his most lovable side. If really lasting impressions are formed in childhood, impressions which are significant for the rest of your life, then these were mine. Even today when I go into the woods, I am silenced by a feeling of magic which I try not to disturb.
This childhood, peaceful in spite of the war, ended with the end of the war, with white flags at the windows and jeeps and tanks rumbling through the empty streets.
A proclamation by the commandant required the inhabitants of the city to bring all their weapons to the city market square. I was there when my father handed his two hunting weapons, a drilling and double barreled shotgun, to a friendly officer.
The officer laid them in a row with other hunting weapons, with the barrels on the curb of the sidewalk and the butt stocks in the street. Then he waved to a soldier who sat smoking in the turret of a Sherman tank. The soldier drove the tank forward, and my father watched with a stony expression as his expensive and cherished guns were smashed into a heap of bent scrap metal and splintered wood.
For the rest of his life, my father never again owned a weapon. The Americans soon pulled out as a result of the arrangement among the allies. They were followed by the Russians, whose arrival was anticipated with fear and terror by many in the city. And at that time, the first people began to flee to West Germany for fear of what was to come. We stayed in the Soviet occupied zone, which four years later became the so-called German Democratic Republic (DDR).
My home city lay only 100 kilometers away from Berlin, which was located in the middle of the DDR. Berlin – the former capital of the “Third Reich”, proclaimed capital of the DDR, and now finally the capital of reunited Germany, was then the only open way out when things no longer seemed to work out for people. If you couldn’t take it any more, if you could no longer pretend to be satisfied with the restrictions and hypocrisy of this police state where only members of the state party could advance, if you could no longer stand the smug self-satisfaction of the ruling mediocrity, it was good to know that you could always go to Berlin, take a tram to the West, and be free.
Then came August 13, 1961, the day the Berlin Wall went up. Before that date, many thousands of people daily had flowed out of the DDR through West Berlin into the Bundesrepublik, and it was often the best who left. At the time the Wall went up I had finished my architecture studies at the Technical University in Dresden and was working for my certification. When I finally arrived in Berlin with the certification in my pocket, the border had been sealed. A stranger in the city and without friends or anyone I could trust, I found no hole in the Wall anywhere. The way to freedom seemed to be blocked forever.
But the tighter border security became around the DDR, the more ingenious people became in their escape attempts. Many got into West Berlin through the canals or by digging tunnels; lucky ones made it in the trunks of diplomats’ cars.
Entire families entrusted their lives to homemade hot air balloons and attempted to cross the border in the air by night or in fog. Others tried to cross the Baltic in rowboats or on air mattresses to reach a Scandinavian country. All of these desperate acts were considered crimes. They were called “flight from the Republic” and, if you were caught, you were punished with a long prison term. Later the regime issued orders to the border guards to shoot at all escapees. It has never been exactly determined how many escapees were killed in this way. But some people still succeeded in making their way to freedom.
Much later, after I discovered that advancement in my professional career was blocked because I refused to join the official party, I began, like many in that country, to search for something which would repay dedicated effort. I found it in Chinese watercolors and in archery.
This is the period when my story takes place. Even today, I regard it as symbolic of a person’s inability to survive if he must reject everything around him.
Perhaps so. It is better to be for something than to reject everything. The only important thing is to find that which is worth living for.
The road lost itself in the snow behind the last houses. Up-slope, the wind had blown the snow over the side of the steep cut and buried the sweetbrier under an impassable snowdrift. Blue shadows lay in the only track which led up the hill to the only house standing at its top. The track then went on in a gradual curve toward the woods. The white surface was undisturbed all around the house. A high drift of loose snow blocked the threshold, and the windows looked cold and black in the clear light of day. A gust of wind drove a swirling, glistening banner of powder snow from the peak of the roof. The leafless birch twigs rustled as they rubbed together. A crow flew over the narrow strip of woods along the steep shore. A glance back over the village revealed white banners of smoke rising vertically above the roofs and then fading just above the scattered groups of trees. Further away in the background, the noon ship to Stralslund trailed a white wake behind it on the bay. And the light was cold which played across the surface of the bay.
It was the end of March, but it seemed as if winter had come back once more.
At this time of year it was hard not to attract notice in the village. During the summer, visitors arrived daily in their hundreds to wander over the hill, to crowd around the small number of cafes and bars, to buy cheap souvenirs in the stalls and souvenir shops, and to swim at the beach. You could remain unnoticed in the crowd.
The exposed position of the house meant that no one could approach it without being seen. It was impossible to get to it unobserved. Up to now, everything had seemed clear and simple. Just take the path behind the village at nightfall, go past the old smithy and between the woods and the hill, and then come back between the hedges of bearberry and seabuckthorn.
You would be out of sight of the village.
But now there was snow on the ground and it would betray every footstep. If the snow stayed on the ground, I had made the trip for nothing. Four days – a long weekend – that was all the time I had to find out what had happened.
He had disappeared perhaps at the end of September. It is possible that his absence wasn’t noticed right away.
He regularly spent four weeks of vacation abroad, mostly at the height of the season, to stay out of the way of the tourists who, partly out of curiosity and partly in a search for a place to spend the night, pestered him even on his own land. The low wire fence, which ran along the side of the road and then surrounded his place at the top, was ignored by many people who misunderstood the flagstone walk up to the house as an invitation to come in. So he often shut himself in and rarely answered knocks and shouts. If you wanted to talk to him, you had to make arrangements ahead of time.
The slope to the south ran down into a flat basin, then rose to fall gently again toward the village. The wooden posts of the targetstand stood in deep snow on the opposite slope. The lower crosspiece which supported the target barely emerged from the snow. A piece of blue plastic tarp, which had protected the target from rain, fluttered from the upper crossbar. In the low rays of the afternoon sun, the shadows, broken by a rise in the ground, also looked blue.
How long had it been? Three – no, four years. It had been a warm night in June, bright and still. It was one of those nights on the island when it didn’t seem to want to get dark, in which you get a taste of the Swedish midnight sun.
I hadn’t been able to sleep, so I had gone for a walk up the hill. There was a group of tourists standing on the road next to the house staring at the dark slope opposite. A square target with colored rings was illuminated by two flashlights in the grass. Remarkably, the target surface seemed to float above the black background of the lawn. Two men sat under the birch on the terrace next to the house.
A third man stood to one side unmoving, a bow in his hand with a glint of metal coming from the clumsy-looking middle section. The man had set the end of the bow on his left foot and was staring at the target, which seemed to be on the same level as his position. As he bent down, I saw some arrows sticking in the grass in front of him. He nocked an arrow and, facing the target, raised the bow, drawing it in a smooth motion. The light thrum of the bowstring as he shot was followed almost immediately by the dry impact of the arrow on the target. A black V-shaped shadow had appeared suddenly in the gold spot in the middle of the target. Before I realized that the two lights at the foot of the targetstand threw the shadow of the arrow shaft across the target at the same angle, the sounds of the shot and impact were repeated. Once more in the gold, a little lower, and now the shadows intersected to form a large W with its upper joint pointing into the darkness above the upper edge of the target.
The man nocked a third arrow. It seemed that his movements were always at the same pace. This arrow too landed in the illuminated golden spot, and the shadows of the three arrows now formed an angular gridwork across the gold.
The man laid the bow in the grass and went down the slope to the target. In the lamp light he seemed to be a small man rather than of middle size. Barefoot, in jeans and a dark T-shirt, he pulled the arrows out of the target without apparent effort. He bent down to the flashlights, which went out immediately, and then walked slowly back to the house, carrying the arrows in his hand. He sat down next to the two men on the terrace, who now bent over his bow, which he held across his knees. I stood next to the house, about twenty meters away and watched the men talking quietly. I couldn’t understand anything they said.
The group next to me, who, like me, had watched silently, was getting ready to leave. As they passed me, I asked, “Excuse me, do you know that man?” “The one with the bow?” I nodded. It seemed that they had seen this kind of thing often. “He makes those things here. But you can’t buy them.”
They went on. I looked back at the target. My eyes had adapted again to the diffuse lighting in which the target, now light gray, stood in front of the dark grassy slope. I had the impression of a staged effect as I recalled the scene which I had just seen. But it had been unusually fascinating.
I wasn’t interested in archery. On television I had seen men in wheelchairs who shot at targets in gyms. I regarded it as a sport for the disabled or for children, and I couldn’t imagine that anyone could take it seriously. It seemed to me to be a waste of time, but it fit my image of the island.
And I wanted to get to know the man who shot at the colorful target at night. And that was how it began, four years ago.
The wind picked up. It came in gusts across the bay and raised glistening clouds from the rose hedges, whose brown twigs stuck up from beneath the snow. I turned my back to the wind and pulled up the collar of my jacket. I was freezing.
Slowly I went back down the path I had taken. In the harbor inn I drank a grog, then another. Outside it had gotten dark. When I pressed my face close to the black windowpane, I could see the masts of the fishing boats sway. The halyards on the flagpole in front of the inn smacked against the wood in a broken rhythm. Fishermen drinking rye and beer sat at two tables next to the bar. When I had first come in, they had looked up at me silently. Then they began talking again. A group was playing skat at their usual table. Their black sailor caps lay on the chairs next to them. The only woman in the room was the tired looking barmaid, who was leaning on the counter behind the bar. Only the murmur of voices and the slap of the cards on the wooden table could be heard in the half-dark room.
With warmth came fatigue. I paid and went up to my room. I stood in the dark room, leaning next to the door. The light from the courtyard outside cast the tangled shadows of a tree against the ceiling above the window. In the sharply defined rectangle of light, the chaotic images of the twigs danced with the irregular gusts of wind. Waves crashed heavily against the breakwater of the mooring basin. The featherbed was damp and heavy. The room hadn’t been heated before afternoon. I got up once to put on some wool socks, which I took out of my traveling bag beside the bed. Then I went to sleep.
During the night, there was a change in the weather. I woke up when the rain began to beat against the window, and I thought of the house on the hill before I went back to sleep. The morning was overcast and gloomy. The wind had died down and it was raining. The view from the window reached only to the harbormaster’s house, then everything vanished into an ashy gray. A thick curtain of raindrops obscured the rain and the water in the harbor. I went back to bed and slept until about noon.
The dining room was empty when I left the inn. The snow was gone and black water shot gurgling out of the raingutters of the houses and ran through the gardens and across the washed-out path to collect in the ditches. I took the lane to the smith’s place and then turned off onto the narrow path from the village to the lighthouse. Then, in the valley where the path crossed the paved road to the Hermitage, I went back up through the dripping grass toward the hill. There was no one to be seen.
The cold water ran off my coat at about knee level, soaked my trousers, and filled my shoes until they made a squishing noise at each step. I was even colder than yesterday, and I would have preferred to turn back. Only the fact that there was no one watching me allowed me to keep going. I would have a chance to dry my feet at the house. A reserve pair of socks bulged one of my jacket pockets; my flashlight was stuck in the other.
It seemed like a long time before the roof came up over the edge of the hill. I climbed the slope and reached the hedge behind the yard without being seen. I found it hard to believe that just yesterday there had been snow lying where now last year’s yellow grass lay in withered bunches against the first green of the new year. The branches of the hedge blocked my way and sprayed my face with cold droplets as I pushed through them to get under the shed roof.
At that moment my reason for coming was no longer important. I wanted to get inside where it was dry before my fingers became too numb and stiff from the cold to open the lock. I felt behind the beam over the door and found the key in the knot-hole of the second rafter where it had always been.
The padlock had a thick film of light brown rust. When I put the key in and turned it, flecks of rust stuck to my hand. I wiped off the lock and opened the door.
The air in the shed seemed to be colder than outside. I put the open padlock back in its staple and pulled the door shut behind me until the hasp lay over the staple. From a distance it might look as if the lock was still on the door. There was nothing else I could do.
It was pitch black. When I turned on my flashlight, its beam fell on a rectangular basin nearly covered over by a gray, gritty sheet of ice which reflected the light dully. An area of some two by three meters had been excavated and the dirt piled up to form a wall around the hole. The hole was lined with a sheet of plastic and filled with water which occupied a narrow gap between the ice sheet and the edge of the basin and which reflected the beam of the flashlight.
A convex shell which looked like a bathtub lay in the rear of the empty shed. Four plastic containers, grease-proof paper, and a roll of fiberglass net lay in one corner. I didn’t understand it at all.
I took the grate off the light well of the cellar window, which had provided a little light to the cellar before the shed had been built. After I had hung up my coat on a nail next to the door, I let myself down into the light well. As I expected, the window sash wasn’t bolted, but just swollen from the damp. With some difficulty, I managed to get it open and shone my light inside. There were some dusty bottles on the shelf under the window, and I pushed them aside with my foot. I laid the flashlight on the shelf and jumped stiff-legged into the dark. A bottle rolled from the shelf and broke with a dull report.
I swore at my curiosity and for a moment had the feeling that I had fallen into a trap. Then I took the flashlight and went to the door. It was latched but unlocked, and the beam of the light led me to the cellar steps. The fuses had been taken out of the electric meter and lay on top of its black housing. Without looking around any more, I went up the steps and entered the hall.
Nothing was locked except for the front door. All the keys hung on the board next to the light switch for the cellar steps. There was a key in the lock of the door to the workshop. One after the other, I unscrewed all the light bulbs from the electric lights: in the living room, the floor lamps; in the kitchen, the wall lights over the stove; in the workshop; and finally in the room under the eaves. Then I went back into the cellar and screwed the fuses back in. When I pressed the light switch in the cellar, the light came on.
I shaded my eyes with my hand and sat down on the cellar steps. My feet burned. I pulled my shoes off, stripped the wet socks from my feet, and, after I had dried them off with a rag which I found under the steps, pulled on dry socks. Unwillingly, I stuck my feet back into the wet shoes.
I found the electric heater in the workshop under the tool bench. My morale rose. I took it up to the room under the eaves and plugged the extension cord into the wall outlet. The smell of burning dust reminded me of my cigarettes. The package was flattened, but it had stayed dry. I sat down with my back against the wall and pulled the heater over toward my feet. Only now, with the first drag from the cigarette, did I feel the tension which had already started to slacken.
Up to now, everything had gone smoothly, exactly as planned. I was in the house, and once here, I had lost that vague feeling of uneasiness, of doing something forbidden. At this point, I had clearly committed the crime of breaking and entering. If I were discovered, no one would believe that all I wanted was to find out what had happened to him. But I believed that he would have understood me.
The reflection of the glowing overhead heater shimmered in the varnish of the wooden floor, and as the room slowly warmed up I glanced around the familiar surroundings. On the windowsill I found an empty tin box to use as an ashtray. Water was running down the dirty windowpane. I could hear the muffled, steady sound of the falling drops on the thick thatched roof.
I felt secure and sheltered. There was still enough daylight to begin a search.
But really, what was I looking for?
I wanted to find some clue to his disappearance. Although I was much less interested in where he went when he left unnoticed than in the reasons and circumstances surrounding his departure, I suppose that they were closely connected. I didn’t know why I had excluded an accident or a crime. They simply didn’t fit in the picture my imagination had created. It had to have been something else, and I was convinced that his departure from the island was the final link in a chain of events.
Since I had known him, I found any excuse justified coming to the island, even if just for a long weekend. But I had never been here later than the beginning of October nor earlier than the end of May. Several times he had invited me to come during the winter. I had seen color slides showing dunes of snow and ice-encrusted granite boulders which glistened in the sun like crystal, with blackish green water standing between them and with fringes of prickly hoarfrost on their edges. I found it splendid, but I wanted to lie in the sand in the summer when the sun was high in the sky and I could listen to the rolling and rumbling of the stones which the surf moved about on the narrow stretch of shore under the steep cliffs.
Perhaps I would have learned more about him if I had come for a visit then, but each year I had thought that I would be able to return to the island.
It was clear to me that I knew little about him. But when I thought about it, it seemed easy enough to understand. He had never spoken of his past because for him it was over and done with. He was no longer concerned with it. I remembered a handful of unopened letters on the shelf next to the drafting table. He shrugged his shoulders when I asked him about them. The next day, their ashes lay in the fireplace, and I was convinced that he had burned them unread.
The warmth from the heater finally penetrated the soles of my shoes. I stood up and went to the low window in the arched niche of the dormer. It had begun to get dark again on the other side of the flat arched panes, although the rain had slackened.
I looked at my watch; it showed a few minutes before four, and I hesitated as to what to do next. Behind the curtain of the built-in shelves, I found a quilt, two wool blankets and the blue velvet cushion. The collapsed folding bed on which I had slept for two summers was leaning in the niche behind the square chimney which ran up through the roof in the middle of the room. At that moment, I came to a decision. It was five after four when I turned off the heater, pulled the plug out of the outlet and went downstairs to the workshop. I opened the door to the living room and edged up to the panes of the large terrace windows to take a careful look outside.
The caution was unnecessary. I had to look twice to understand. He had removed the stone flags right in front of the window and planted mallows along the entire width of the windows. They had grown into thick bushes higher than a man’s head, and now a tangle of bare stems blocked any view through the window.
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