Carpe Diem Series
Get your week started with this enticing story by Eduard Schmidt-Zorner! I was immediately pulled into his writing and transported to his forest, intrigued for the events to transpire. Take a look at his fantastic short story, The White Raven!
The White Raven
A frosty December light at dusk over a lonely nest with scattered huts, a few abandoned barns. The cabins are old, made of logs and planks, once painted blue or red, they lie low on the edge of the forest. Not a soul to be seen. No tarred road leading to it.
Is that a dog barking or a fox?
In a remote corner, hidden by spruces, stands, almost invisible, Kowalski’s wooden hut. Crows and ravens flutter up. Great white flakes fall from the grey winter sky, which merges seamlessly with the bare hills on the horizon. In the dim light of the nearing night, the forest looks desolate. Its edge is lined by willows, elder bushes, young pines, and hazel bushes. Behind the forest stretch ploughed fields – bare winter fields.
One can hear, how, deep in the forest, now and then, a broken branch, brittle from the ice on it, falls. The wind probably tries to tidy things up. The constellation, the Great Bear, can be seen on the Northern night sky. He wonders: Is the bear about to break loose to appear here?
Crows and ravens gather around the carcass of a deer, dragged across the snow, probably by a wolf.
Kowalski claps his hands. The ravens and crows fly up into the trees. When he goes back, they, again, settle down for the meal. Wolves and lynxes have been at work. In autumn they bring their prey to this place, a piece of sheep or red deer. In winter you cannot find remains, but when the snow melts, the landscape reveals the bones.
There are snowdrifts which give the landscape something substantial. His small Lada is covered with snow, became part of the surrounding, and is no longer a foreign body that alarms the animals of the forest. The snow makes everything equal.
The warm yellow light from the window of his hut forms shadows that compete with the moon shadows but soon succumb to its stronger silver shine.
Kowalski steps outside the door of his wooden hut. He has heard a sound, a wailing, plaintive sound. The temperature is near minus ten. It becomes night soon, the moon hangs as a blank disc in the sky, three stars complete the nocturnal picture, laden with symbolism. Three, is the sacred number, he remembers.
He walks around his hut. The snow is ankle-deep. He has laid out fat for the birds from his frying pan in which he has braised pork earlier. He still has plenty of cabbage, a side of bacon hangs from the ceiling, sausages are in the larder. Goose fat.
He longs for spring and summer in Kashubia, for the mild lakes, the flat landscape, the nearby Baltic sea, where ships bob on the water, fishing for cod. He hopes to see Katarzyna again.
He loves Katarzyna, the warm embrace of her strong peasant arms, the soft body, the vanilla-scented black hair, her humming songs, the melodies of Kashubia.
Kowalski breathes in the pure crisp air. The cold is good for the thinking. In frost, when the landscape is still, the mind works better. He writes weekly short stories and reviews for the magazine Gazeta Wyborcza. To conceal his irregular, unpredictable way of life, and to pretend regularity, he writes his stories in stockpiles, in bright, productive moments, and then, elegantly, fanning out his stories with feigned regularity like game cards into the editor’s in-box.
He thrives on solitude, on seclusion. It keeps him sane, over water.
As a child, he had holed up and covered his ears when his father came home drunk and beat his mother. He escaped into a dream world with hidden little houses in secluded inaccessible forests. Or into favourite imaginings of sailing through the waves of the Northern sea, through wind, frost, and darkness in the warmth of his sleep. This feeling has never left him, but has opened for him a mental exile, an emotional asylum. He often erases reality from his daily events, wipes it out. Therefore, his successful stories are full of fantasies, fancies, and bizarre daydreams.
A train sounds from afar, is it the late train from Białystok to Kaliningrad?
The pines cast a symmetrical web of shadows. The crows and ravens have retreated. The glassy snow crunches under his boots and makes an unpleasant sound. The water froze in the bucket he had put out for the animals.
He sees a deer scurry by and hears the frozen snow crack under its hoofs. A nearby stream babbles modestly, restrained. The banks are overgrown with ice.
He sees a snow-white bird, it is a raven, bigger than the others.
This white raven sits on a branch, on a stunted birch. He has noticed it because the branch is still shaking. Its beak is light-yellow. The neck and throat feathers form a frayed ruff like the collar worn by a Lutheran pastor. With his head tilted, the raven eyes Kowalski.
Kowalski speaks to him and it is as if the raven answers. He pushes the hut door open and points invitingly into the room. “Come in, it’s too cold outside.”
The raven pauses, then makes a short jump, eyes him again, and hops into the hut, flaps its wings lightly and takes a position on a stool.
The fireplace, the tiled stove, stands in the corner, filled with logs, which give heat while the icy wind beats against the hut.
In the room stands a yellow sideboard with peeling paint, a pile of pots next to the stove, on it the black iron pan with the bacon. A dresser with plates and cups. A table covered with a flower pattern tablecloth.
Overflowing bookshelves dominate the room. Most of the books are about miracles and legends, there are also items about the Freemasons, the Mormons, and dream interpretation.
He often dreamt and thought it was reality, those thoughts occupied his day. Sometimes something occurred and he thought it was a dream.
The vodka bottle stands on the table. It shines, is the brightest spot in the room on this kitchen altar. He pours a glass and raises it solemnly to the saint on the icon on the wall. Then he pours some more and toasts to the raven. The red tongues of firelight lick the walls here and there, show places where the thin plaster has fallen off and wide beams are visible.
He breaks some bread off for the raven and gives the raven pieces of bacon cut into small pieces. The raven thanks him with a clear, deep sound.
He prepares Haluska: Bacon, cabbage, and onions sizzle in the pan, he adds some leftover noodles, a few cloves of garlic. The water in the pot with potatoes begins to steam and the water in the kettle whistles.
What did this raven’s visit mean? He remembers that his grandmother told him about ravens, that they were messengers of the Otherworld. There is a lot of superstition connected to ravens. Especially the black ravens are not popular, often associated with things obscure, dark, unknown, and sometimes bad and evil.
White ravens are rare in nature, so this must have a special significance.
He remembers that if you see a white raven, it means you are about to be born again, renewed, cleansed, and healed of all wounds and misfortunes.
“Do you bring me luck, raven?”
The raven makes: “Kraak.”
Kowalski considers this a good omen, takes a sheet of paper, and continues to write his story as the due date is nearing.
“My Katarzyna is an artist,” he says casually to the raven. The bird taps his beak on the wooden stool in affirmation and approval.
Kowalski lights a Popularne cigarette. The smoke hovers like incense upwards to the low ceiling.
“And I am a scribbler,” Kowalski says half to himself and turns to the raven.
“If you want to stay with me, you are welcome.”
“Tak,” says the raven and hops onto the bookshelf.
Bacon, potatoes, garlic, and vodka have their impact on Kowalski. The raven has put its head under its wing. Soon sleepy silence envelopes them both.
In the morning, Kowalski notices that the raven has spent the night next to a book written by Andrzej Stasiuk entitled “Biały Kruk” ‘The White Raven’.
The raven has left a trace on the shelf in form of a white dropping.
Eduard Schmidt-Zorner is a translator and writer of poetry, haibun, haiku, and short stories.
He writes in four languages: English, French, Spanish, and German and holds workshops on Japanese and Chinese style poetry and prose and experimental poetry.
Member of four writer groups in Ireland. Lives in County Kerry, Ireland, for more than 25 years and is a proud Irish citizen, born in Germany.
Published in over 140 anthologies, literary journals, and broadsheets in USA, UK, Ireland, Japan, Sweden, Spain, Italy, Bangladesh, India, France, Mauritius, Nepal, Pakistan, Nigeria, and Canada.
Some of his poems, and haibun have been published in French (own translation), Romanian, and Russian language.
He writes also under his penname Eadbhard McGowan.