Part 54: A Stormy Bike Ride Through The Night

The school year flowed by without any noteworthy events. In early summer, I occasionally treated myself to a few relaxing swimming lessons with a few classmates in the well-maintained municipal saltwater pool.

The time saved by the bicycle made it possible. On the last day of school before summer vacation, I received a good report card with the note: ‘Transferred to grade 10a.’ Satisfied and with a clear conscience, I could pursue the usual vacation activities. Boredom was not to be feared, but I would not see Rosi for four long weeks.

During the first days off, the mayor sent word through the municipal servant that I would have to appear at the next municipal council meeting. I had done nothing wrong, so I went. A council member explained to me that a central event was taking place in a distant village the following weekend. This meeting, which I was to attend, was about the formation of youth groups in rural communities.

In a stern, lecturing tone, he added that I had now been studying in the city college for two years and was therefore ideally suited to take on this honorable task and I did not dare to contradict. On a hot, muggy summer evening, I got on my bike and pedaled in monkey heat toward the meeting place.

The village hall was packed with young people. All the windows were open wide because of the sultriness. At the front of the stage, a few speakers took turns vying with each other about the importance and formation of socialist youth groups in the villages. After the break, there was a call for discussion. Time passed, it became dark and weather glow could be seen on the horizon. The evening did not bring any cooling either.

There was not a breath of air. Finally, the meeting was over. The participants poured out into the open air. Everyone got on their bicycles and hurried home. The weather glow had grown stronger, and distant thunder could be heard. I joined a group of young boys because no one was riding in my direction. It was not the road I had cycled on, but even in their direction the way home was no longer.

In the next village my companions said goodbye. I pedaled on alone for the last three kilometers on a dirt road. The weather lightning had long since turned into lightning, and the thunder rumbled mightily. Here among the fruit trees, parallel to the path, ran the long-distance electric line. I thought of the supposed ball lightning, which often put the transformer house out of operation.

I pedaled hard because I wanted to be home before the storm broke. A bright flash of lightning flashed across the sky. Suddenly I saw the almost man-high, rough sandstone cross with the weathered year under the lime tree. Suddenly I remembered the story that people told about this place: Sometime many, many years ago, a journeyman butcher was said to have gone home from the house slaughter with his dog.

There, where the sandstone cross now stands, he was attacked. A stranger snatched a butcher’s knife from the quiver the young butcher was carrying on his belt. Because both men loved the same girl, the murderer plunged the knife into the butcher’s chest out of jealousy. The mugged man bled to death and died. His big black mastiff lay down next to its master and kept watch.

When the body was found the next morning, the dog had disappeared. Since that time, it is said, the Great Dane has been wandering around the scene of the crime at midnight with glowing eyes in search of its dead master. Despite the sultriness, I felt cold, and the hairs on the back of my neck stood on end. Whether I wanted to or not, I had to pass the cross. I pedaled like mad.

Wind freshened, which quickly became a storm. Thunder and lightning merged into one. I reached the village. The sky opened its floodgates. I was cold and shivering. Suppose a startled deer had crossed my path, and in the eyes of the fleeing deer, for a split second, there had been the reflection of lightning, I would have believed the story. 𝓣𝓸 𝓑𝓮 𝓒𝓸𝓷𝓽𝓲𝓷𝓾𝓮𝓭

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