Der Kinderstoed

*Written By Gale*

No one went to the house at the end of Brier Street, in Neuhause, neither to deliver mail nor even to visit. Those living on Brier Street kept to the other end and far from its perch at the top of the hill, as though it were some black, looming monster that might pounce upon anything that ventured close to it. The house itself was a very large and handsome looking building made of stone. The grounds were huge, dotted with blackened shrubs and wiry, foreboding looking trees that'd been dead too long to sport leaves even in the early spring. On either sides of the cobbled and now mossy walkway were neglected gardens that'd spread with thorny, clawed fingers all about the area, even along the walls of the house, itself. Most of the windows were boarded up, all save for those on the top floor and the tower at the center. Even on the bluest days, the sun never shined on the house; the only light that ever touched it was that of the moon.

The reserved skeptics of the town would tell passerby that it was abandoned, and no one'd moved into it for generations, but there were those that had their suspicions.

The older citizens spoke of a monster that lived within, and of curious strangers that'd gone inside, never to return. It'd been said that if at night, one chanced a look over the cast-iron and stone fence surrounding the place, that person would surely see children wandering the gardens. Their cries would be heard carried on the wind during the colder seasons. Parents wishing to scare their children into good behavior would tell them that if they were not good, they would surely be taken away to the house and kept there forever.

"…And that is why the mysterious inhabitant of the house at the end of Brier Street is called Der Kinderstoed." Hans Krupel shot an encouraging glance at his two companions, each on either side of him. "Interesting, no?" Hans was a gangly young man, and like the others had sandy blond hair and sea-colored eyes. He was much smaller than the other two, and more relaxed in stance. It'd never served him to be terribly serious when out of sight of a commanding officer. "Sven? Wolfgang?"

Sven and Wolfgang Schott were both lucky to be brothers and belong to the same company. They were twins, although one could not always tell. Wolfgang was the taller of the two, but he was thin and wiry, while Sven was squat and heavily built. Somehow they managed to hold the same face no matter how close or far away from one another they were, and the expression at the present time was one of cold indifference - not the type of reaction Hans'd been hoping for after his remarking of the tale he'd heard from the citizens in town.

"What's the matter with you two?" he demanded.

"That's the house we have to clear out?" Wolfgang nodded toward the building in question.

"Ja," he returned, finally giving up. The Twins were the only friends he had, despite their hardness. "The citizens have been evacuated from the main part of the town, and this is the last street, but orders are the check the house and see to it that it's in proper condition for Kommandant Schneider to live there."

Sven wrinkled his nose, "And the townspeople were superstitious of this place?"

Hans nodded and reached up to scratch his noise. "Rather interesting story. Makes me wonder what we're going to see once we get up there." The Twins could only stare flatly at him. Yes, he found himself to be the more enthusiastic of the group on numerous occasions, so this was no surprise. He couldn't help but feel a little excited; a real haunted house!

"This reich is for true countrymen, not giddy schoolboys, Hans." He wasn't sure which of them'd spoken, but Sven was the one to clap him on the back. "Best you get your head out of the clouds before Schneider gets here. You don't want to embarrass yourself."

"Thanks for the encouragement, but you needn't worry for me," he said listlessly. "I'm just curious, is all. This is the first interesting assignment we've gotten in a long time."

Sven was the harder to convince in just about everything. He stood there, hand to his chin, examining the house in the distance with a critical eye. It always puzzled Hans how he did this whenever something fanciful was brought up, like it took a great deal of thinking and simply looking in order to decide whether something was real or not. "And we're just going to clean it out."

Hans smiled. "That's right. Simple thing. Since it's so close to sundown, we might as well stay the night there as well."

"And you call that interesting why?"

The younger German shoved his hands into the pocketsof his coat and hunched his shoulders. "You can't say you've never enjoyed exploring these houses we go into."

"But you keep going and seeking your ghosts and goblins, Hans. It's hardly becoming."

He shrugged. "Everyone has to believe in something," he said.

"Then believe in the cause for once," Wolfgang put in, fed up with the idle chatter. He jabbed a bony finger in the direction of the house. "We go, we move out any people living there, and we clean up the place. No rollicking. No games. No ghost hunts. Understood?"

Feeling as though he'd been run through, Krupel bobbed his head up and down in dejected approval and proceeded to follow the Twins down the way. The street itself was empty save for random litter lying around, dropped by the previous owners of the currently vacated little houses dotting either side of it. Save for a whispering breeze, there was no sound, and as the three drew closer to the house, they realized that signs of life were becoming more and more sparse.

The grueling climb up the hill brought them to half-ruined gates. One of the doors had come loose of its hinges and now lay in the path leading on. The Twins continued over it as though it were not there at all, but Hans could not help but tread lightly and step off it as soon as he could, as though the barred door itself were an animal that might awaken and bite him if he caused it any discomfort. Sven and Wolfgang looked back at him and shook their heads at his timidity. Hans knew that they were not ashamed of him. If they were capable of laughing they would do so right now. Deep down they surely found his child-like antics amusing, and that was why he did it anyhow.

He followed them up to the granite landing before the doors, which must have been luxuriously polished in their own time. That, and the crawling ivy just over the entryway gave the place a grand, mystical -- if not ominous -- feel. Hans knew that his companions only saw these things as problems that they had to clean up, and the thought itself made him sigh, almost regretfully. He could not help but wince when Sven roughly dislodged one of the wooden slabs from its resting place. This house was different from the others that they'd explored, yet Sven and his brother failed to realize it. Hans had his little feelings now and again about supposed haunts, and all came up with no results. This time, he was sure. There was something in this old place, and it probably did not appreciate its home being disrespected in such a manner.

Krupel paused on the steps and risked a glance back the way they came. The sun was barely a squint of light on the far horizon, and the already existing shadows in the yard stretched out toward him. Surely the same kind of darkness crawled across the land in the village down below, but somehow, outside the gates, everything seemed lighter. Everything glowed. A lump caught in the young German's throat, and he swore to himself that it had to be the sheer excitement of the upcoming exploration that made him shiver.

"Come on, Hans," Wolfgang drawled back at him impatiently, "You were the one who wanted to come up here so bad."

"Ja," he murmured, almost in a daze as he watched the last of the sun disappear. His feet inched backward, toward the house, but he hesitated upon turning to face his fellow men. "Ja, I'm coming." A resolved breath, and he found the courage to look upon them again.

They were just inside the door, now. He could barely see the outlines of their bodies on the inside, but they were there, and that was assurance enough to move on.

He passed the threshold and felt a curious draft come about him. It wasn't necessarily cold -- just a tingle that nipped at his arms, fingertips, knees, and the bottom of his feet, making it impossible to stand still once the door creaked shut.

A spark of light to his left started him out of wonderment, and he turned to see Sven lighting a candle. "Place is ancient," he said. "I don't know how much Schneider is going to like living without electricity." He picked up the now illuminated ivory cylinder and nodded to the front of them. "There's more. Get your own light, and we'll split up. It's too late to start cleaning, but we can at least get rid of any squatters."

Hans and Wolfgang each grabbed up the nearest candle they could find, then lit the wicks on Sven's own flame. The room now lay before them in a golden haze. A carpeted staircase wound upward, and to its right a corridor moved further into the house. Sven was the first to notice a door just beneath the rise, and he strode toward it. Hans Krupel felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand up, and he held his breath, waiting and listening for anything. There's something behind the door, he thought to himself, pulse quickening. It could have been Jews hiding from the raids. It could have been a cupboard hiding nothing but a bookshelf. But then again -- it could have been....

Sven Schott grasped the small pewter handle, and twisted. Hans squeezed his eyes shut before he could see the door be opened. When he heard nothing following the strained creak of the hinges, he risked a look through one eye.

What had been revealed had not been people, nor a bookshelf, or even ghosts. He took a step closer to get a better look, and he blinked with surprise. A rickety line of stairs descended downward into the same kind of blackness everywhere that the candle light could not touch.

"Strange," Wolfgang mused.

"What is?" his brother questioned.

"I've never seen a cellar entrance indoors before -- not in houses like these."

Sven nodded, then placed a foot on the first step, testing his weight on it. It criiiick-ed for an instant, then went quiet. "Still strong. I'll look down here. Wolfgang, you get upstairs, and you --" He shot a meaningful look at Hans, who pouted when he realized that they'd taken all of the spooky places for exploring. "-- Start with this floor, and don't play around. If there are people hiding here, then they went to a lot of trouble to keep from being removed. Have your gun ready, just in case." He indicated the pistol on his belt, which each of them posessed. "That goes for you too, Wolf."

The taller twin brought his firearm to bear immediately following, "Understood. Take care of yourselves, you two."

Hans had to stop himself from half-heartedly muttering "Whatever" in response. He watched longingly as the twins went their seperate ways, listening until the creaks of the cellar steps ceased and the footing on the second floor had gone too far off to hear. Might as well get started, he thought blandly, his fun officially ruined. But who knows? Just because all the stories say that ghosts lurk in attics and cellars doesn't mean I won't run into one up here on the ground floor.

Another chill caught him just as soon as he began to make his way down the hall.

Are you sure that's what you want? another part of him asked.

He shook his head to clear it and brought his candle closer to himself, as though it were some medallion that might protect him from harm. That was how it worked when you were young, after all. The light chased all the bad things away. So it wasn't really so stupid to feel like it had some kind of power over this house, was it?

To keep his mind off of how silly he felt, he focused on his reflection in the hardwood floor below him, as well as the sound his boots made when he walked. Reflections of light made him glance to his sides now and again, and he had to pause to admire the paintings that lined the walls. He remembered suddenly why he hated old portraits so much when he got the distinct feeling that the eyes on each one he passed were following him. Things kept moving out of the corners of his own, and he did not dwindle long on the fact, assuring himself that it was the flicker of the candle playing tricks on him and nothing more. Meeting an apparition here in this corridor would not have been pleasant. It was too narrow, much so that despite the tall ceiling, he felt almost suffocated by the dark that closed around him.

Relief was too simple a word to describe what he felt when he came his first doorway. Orange light spilled into the room as he entered it, revealing lush furniture and a cozy but unkempt fireplace. If there had been a few lit lamps, it would have reminded him of the sitting room in his father's house. It was very still. If there were any people hiding in there, they were doing a terribly good job. The chairs and the sofa were entirely too small to conceal any people of any shape or size. Heavy drapes covered the windows, and he wondered what the point was, since they were boarded up on the outside. Then again, he doubted that whoever had done that would have made any plans to come inside and take the curtains down, just for sensibility's sake. However, he supposed they were large enough to hide things -- like human beings.

He swallowed hard. "I-is anyone in here?" he said softly. If there was, they certainly would not have heard him. Frowning at himself, he took a deep breath and repeated the question, louder this time. Nothing. The echo of his voice stood for a moment, and it seemed to make the silence all the more thicker, like he'd just startled the room itself. Muscles drawn tight in apprehension, he brought himself to the closest line of curtains. The floor croaked every second or so in disapproval, showing that it hadn't been tread upon in a long time. He shifted the candle into his other hand, then stretched toward the drape in question. His fingers shook uncertainly -- if there was someone behind there, he could not necessarily go for his gun in this position, not unless he set the candle down, which he was not prepared to do.

Silky cloth pressed into his palm, and he grasped it hard, shut his eyes, then tore it back. No sound; just a faint breeze from the movement. Hans looked.

Nothing but the boards showed through the other side of the glass.

His lungs suddenly remembered to release the air inside, and he shook his head. Now for the other ones.... And he strode toward the next one with a bit more confidence in his step. A metallic shink sounded as he drew it to one side. Once again, no people. Finally, the last. There won't be anything there, he assured himself, and yet he could not stop himself from checking. He twisted his fingers over the embroidered cloth -- Nothing there -- bit his lip in concentration -- Not a thing -- yanked and "AAUGH!"

Hans jumped back, heart hammering so hard in his chest that an onlooker could have seen the vibration. His now free hand scrambled frantically for his pistol, forgetting the fact that it wasn't loaded, and aimed tremulously at a -- Wait... He arched an eyebrow and took a step closer. It wasn't necessarily the Jew in hiding for the ghost that he would have shot at -- but it wasn't quite nothing either. It was a mass of -- something. In better light he might have known right away. All he knew was that without the curtain barring it from the rest of the room, the entire chamber smelled. Brow furrowed, he nudged the small dark ball on the ground with his foot. When it turned over, he retreated a few steps, repulsed.

A dead rat. It wasn't quite whole either. One of its legs had been gnawed off and there was no skin on its tail. Its dark, beady eyes were glass-like, and its mouth gaped in a sickly manner.

Perhaps that means there's a cat somewhere, he thought. Or there was one. Either way -- ghosts don't eat rats. That did not stop it from smelling, unfortunately, and with his nose wrinkled, Hans turned and stalked toward the hall.

He paused some distance from the doorway, his whole body jolting when he caught sight of a light ahead of him. What his already spooked eyes had first seen was that of a Death's head carrying a candle through the passage. He slid his thumb over the catch of his gun and had been prepaired to aim again, and he stopped. A curious kind of ghost it was, to just stand there and stare at him. He tilted his head to the side -- and it did the very same. He raised the hand holding the candle; it followed suit. In fact, as the light got closer to its face, it looked a bit less horrendous.

Just as I thought! Hans stepped closer to it, not at all surprised, now, when it mimiked him exactly.

A mirror. He'd not noticed it in the hall, being eager to get into this room as it was.

The young German chuckled haughtily as he holstered his weapon, "Handsomest ghost I've ever seen," he jested. He reached up to whipe a new sheen of sweat that'd found its way to his face and turned out into the hallway. As the light crawled further ahead, he could see he was coming on a corner. That would be a nice change; besides, he wasn't sure how far into the house that one passage had gone, anyway. "Certainly is much bigger than it looks outside," he said to no one in particular. It wasn't like someone could nod and say mhm in response, but he wished there was, even if his last two scares had proven to be less than extraordinary. Partly, he hoped that wherever the Twins were, they were more frightened than he was. He wasn't sure if he could stand getting teased when they asked about what he saw during his search. But I won't be, because they're both in the really scary places of the house while I'm safe right here on the boring first floor. That thought, he rounded the corner with a bit more speed and bounce in his step.

In that instant, his eyes had sensed movement. Perhaps he'd thought it was the candle playing tricks on him again, but he felt his heart leap into his throat again when there was a harsh bump as he crashed into something flexible, and an uttered squeak of surprise to go with it. Having his balance jarred spilled some of the wax onto his hand, and he hissed in pain and switched it in his palms again, dancing on his feet and trying to shake the burning fluid off. He did not realize that the thing he'd bumped into was still sprawled on the floor, not until he got the smart notion to whipe the wax off on his coat. A third time, he grabbed for his gun, this time with his injured and less steady hand, and he took a shaky aim again.

The minute form was crawling backward, away from him, therefore successfully escaping most of the strands of light. He could see the sparkle of two large and very human eyes and the light shine of hair, and the first thing his mind told him was that it was either of the Twins, but again, it was too small.

He blinked with realization.

It was a child.

For a moment, he could not find words, but the little one had stopped crawling, and it (because he could not tell if it was a boy or girl) sat close to the wall, knees tucked upward, eyes still huge and startled. "What are you doing in a place like this?" he asked, finally, venturing forward.

He could make out a very long, black mass of hair, now, over a laced robe. A she, then. But before he could get close enough to make something of her face, she scrambled backward some more and crawled around the corner.

"Ach, no wait!" He started after her, wanting to kick himself for frightening her. If she was all by herself in this place, then it was no wonder that she was scared. Does she fear the Third Reich more than the stories of this house? he wondered. "Please, wait," he bade her, coming around the bend now, "I'm sorry I -- "

His breath caught in his throat as a light that was very much a twin to his own came toward him, kept by a hulking figure that lumbered in a fast, deliberate manner toward him. When it was nearly upon him, he leapt back and nearly collapsed. He might have cried out in fright if it weren't for the fact that his poor heart hadn't stopped thundering from the two things to jump out at him from before.

And this time it was just as relieving to see it up close. "Sven!"

"What are you carrying on about?" the larger Schott Twin demanded, out of breath. "I heard you cry out twice just now. And who were you talking to? Is Wolfgang with you?"

"Wolfgang?" he echoed, feeling the blood rise up to his face in humiliation. "I haven't seen him since he went upstairs. I just saw --" He tried to gaze past Sven, but it was too dark in the hall behind them. The little girl was gone.

"You just saw what?" Sven heaved a disappointed sigh. "Are you looking for your spirits and demons again, Hans?"

"No!" Well, yes, he had been, partly, for lack of anything better to do aside from actual work. "I bumped into a little girl. But she ran your way. You must have passed by her."

Sven Schott shook his head. "I take up most of the hallway, myself, Hans, and I didn't see anyone come by me."

"But -- that doesn't make sense...." Krupel stopped himself and straightened his coat. "The sitting room," he said firmly, "She must have run in there." He inched around the larger German and back toward the doorway he'd come from. He stopped there, holding his handle out so its light would reach further. The curtains were still drawn back, the rat was still dead and stinky, and there was still no one hiding in there.

"I think your imagination is running away with you," Sven muttered. "Have you checked the rest of the floor?"

"No, where you found me is the furthest I've gone."

"And yet I'm not surprised."

"Well what about you?" Hans queried, "The cellar cannot be that small!"

"Part of it's blocked off. It's too late to try clearing it away until morning."

Hans raised a brow; Sven and his brother were not superstitious types, but there was a certain sharpness in the bulkier Schott brother that said he was not too sure about this house. So much more confident when it's not nighttime, isn't that right, Sven? the younger soldier thought with a smile.

Sven scowled and grasped is arm, "Let's go find Wolfgang and get settled down somewhere. We'll start cleaning up in the morning."

"But I haven't checked the --"

"We'll worry about it tomorrow, Hans. Now hurry up!"

And so Hans Krupel found himself being dragged back to the front of the house. Sven paused near the stairs and closed both the door leadning to the cellar and the front door, which they'd all forgotten about and had been tossing itself against the side of the house with the wind. He then mounted the foot of the stairs -- just as stubborn and noisy as the cellar ones, even with their decoration -- and stared up toward the top.

"Wolfgang!" he barked.

Hans strained his ears, praying for a response. There was some movement above -- if it was on the second floor, it was further into the house, because it was too faint. Footsteps. The floorboards could not be heard, just a rapid thumpthumpthumpthump, as of someone running.

Maybe he heard him and is coming, he offered himself.

But they were getting no closer.

"Come on, Wolfgang!" Hans called, feeling the need to make himself useful. Neither wanted to go up. "We have to--"

"Shh!" Sven held up a hand to silence him, and he whispered, "Listen."

The sound was just as muffled and distant as the footsteps. Almost like a groan, only it resonated.

"Is that --"

Both went stiff at the sound of gunshots being fired.

Despite his earlier nerve, Sven saw no trouble in dashing up the stairs, driven obviously by the thought that his brother was in trouble, and Hans was not far behind; their candles practically grimaced as their flames were thrown back with the speed. They tore into the hallway at the top, then stopped again to listen. The house was big enough that they could get lost long before they found Wolf, even if they were on the same floor.

The groaning they'd identified eariler was louder now, and could be recognized as a cry. There were words, but they were not yet close enough to decifer them.


Hans and Sven turned their gazes up to the ceiling, then looked at each other.

"There are only two floors, aren't there?" Sven breathed hurriedly, eyes wide with alarm.

"The tower." Hans wondered if the Twins paid as much attention to the overall look of the house when they were outside; now he felt he had an answer.

Again they were moving.

"There has to be another set of stairs near here," Sven seethed anxiously. "That was directly above us." He looked up again. "I'm coming, Wolfgang!" he bellowed.

Hans Krupel wondered if that was such a good idea, but he, too, kept his eyes open. "There!" He pointed to the end of the corridor, barely visible in the light. A door lay open, and just beyond it, he could see the outlines of stairs. He started toward them, but Sven grabbed his shoulder and nearly knocked him over.


The calling had ceased, as had the shots and the footsteps. Hans swallowed hard, his throat dry, and he opened his mouth to call out to the other Schott twin, when the silence died on its own. His blood ran cold.

A faint whimper, the sound of something heavy dragging across the floor. It would start and stop again every few seconds, like the one carrying it was having trouble. Hans blanched and felt his teeth chatter upon hearing something scraping against wood....

"Hurry." Sven pulled him on, and might have gone just as fast up the stairs had they not appeared as rickity as they did. It was amazing that in his hysteria he'd thought to be careful on them at all, but quickly enough, they wound their way up the spiral stairs and came to a stop on a wooden floor that truly befit the age and condition the house should have been. Hans could feel the boards quiver under his feet as Sven released him and moved further into the large room. There were crates everywhere, and again, drapes over the windows of the circular room. These were not the same fine curtains he'd seen in the sitting room downstairs. These were faded and torn and riddled with cobwebs. Some furniture, covered in sheets of white linen, were left untouched between some of the boxes.

But there was no one. Not even Wolfgang.

"This is impossible," Sven uttered.

"We heard him up here, didn't we?"

"He has to be here. Look around. Find him!"

Hans nodded and moved closer to the center of the room. There was nothing in the middle; kept bare for whatever reason. But wait.... He stopped near the edge of the clear space and pushed something out from under one of the sheets with his foot.

"I found Wolfgang's gun," he said, even if it would not help very much in the long run. But something else on the floor caught his eye, and he edged back toward the middle. A line, not going in association with how the boards had been laid. Diagonal, a slash, almost, and it glistened in the candlelight. From where he'd been, it started out thin but progressed to about an inch thick. At the end of the line, something -- something was sticking out of one of the boards. He frowned and knelt next to it. Ignoring the mark, now, he reached down to pick it up. It was thin, whitish, and splintered -- felt strange on one side, moist...

He turned it over to examine it in the candle and bit back against another cry as he dropped it to the ground. It landed and bounced once off the ground with a soft click. It was a human fingernail. Broken off. Bits of skin and blood still clung to one side. He then realized what the small trail was and screamed.

Sven heard him and came running, surprised to see him sitting, shocked, on the floor. "What? What is it -- ?" He didn't see the mark, nor the fingernail. The heavy German stopped and turned his gaze to something above Hans. The younger man, still shaken, somehow convinced himself to look as well.

There was no actual ceiling to speak of -- just the rafters holding up the steeple. But something else was up there was well. It swayed, like some sinister pendulum, throwing its shadow back and forth on the walls. Something wet touched Hans' hand, and he glanced through his harsh breathing at a droplet of crimson.

"Wolfgang!" Sven roared in anguish.

His twin hung from one of the rafters, high up, by his ankles. His hands stretched downward as though begging for rescue. One had a missing nail -- the other was covered in his own life-fluid. His tongue lolled out of his mouth, and his eyes were wide open in terror, but cloudy. Whatever had done this would be in those eyes forever.

Sniveling, the last Schott brother held his candle up higher, examining his brother's face for any signs of life, all the while muttering to himself that he was okay, asking who'd done this and trying to find a way to cut him down. Hans could only sit there shaking, unable to find words, unable to believe what was taking place.

There were people here -- there must have been. Ghosts couldn't do things like this. They were dangerous people, and that little girl --

Hans Krupel gasped and stared toward the door.

A small familiar form padded her way into the room. Her feet made no sound as she moved. Hans could see her face clearly, now. She gazed up at the slain Wolfgang with a pitying look in her sparkling eyes, then spent only a fraction of that time examining his grieving brother. And then Hans found her looking back at him. "Go away," she said. Her voice might have been charming had it been less hoarse, less -- mature for her age.

Sven went quiet when she spoke, and turned toward her. His eyes flickered to Hans briefly, probably remembering what he'd said about a little girl, but outrage replaced surprise. "You," he growled at her, pointing to the hanging body, "who did this?!"

"Just go away," the little girl repeated, still directing her words at Hans alone, and she never seemed to realize that Sven was stalking toward her. "You shouldn't be here. You have to --" She yelped when her neck was grabbed.

"Tell me!" Sven hissed through clenched teeth.

The little girl turned her sad black eyes back to Hans again, a little pout curling her lips, and she did not flinch when Sven's grip tightened. He faltered when she looked at him, finally, and Hans might have as well, for it was not the look of a child. It still pertained some semblence of innocence, but there was power there, and it startled Sven Schott enough that he could not react in time for what came next.

Sven screamed and pulled back, dropping the candle, but the hand that had been on her neck would not follow. As he struggled, straining with all his might to free himself, Hans had to stand and shine his own light to see what was happening.

The little girl's eyes remained the same, unaltered by the sound of Schott's terror-stricken shrieks. Her little white hands had hold of his arm just above and below the elbow, and a faint growling sound emanated from her mouth. That was what had changed, in fact. Wicked, yellow fangs extended from beneath her lips and were clamped upon Sven's flesh, just under the thumb. Blood dripped down her smooth chin, and as the German continued to thrash, Hans felt his stomach turn in revulsion when he could clearly see that her knive-like teeth twined between several of the bones and joints in his hand and wrist. Some had even come detatched, and yet through the pain Sven frantically pressed his effort to free himself, too shocked to even think of going for his gun. And for all that these two brothers had meant to him, Hans could not bring himself to do anything.

Just as suddenly as she'd taken hold of him, the little girl shoved him away as though he weighed nothing at all. Sven, not quite through his round of screams, dragged himself back away from her as far as the crates would allow, muttering the Lord's prayer between sobs, eyes as wide and mad as his dead brother's were.

When she turned to him, Hans could feel his mind urging him to move, and yet he was frozen to the spot. This is it, he thought. I think I'm going to die. He drew out his pistol shakily and brandished it in a warning manner.

The little girl's face had returned to its former sad, solemn demeanor; it took on a whole new light when there was a smear of crimson running down the front of her robe. Getting shot didn't seem to frighten her in the least; in fact she continued toward the still stricken Sven Schott. She glanced back at Hans, that sorry look still in her eyes, "Go away," she said.

Somehow, he found the strength to speak, "Y-you killed Wolfgang, a-and you're going to..."

"I didn't kill the man up there," she turned her eyes upward for an instant before looking back at Sven, who'd pressed himself about as far against the crates as he could go and could not regain the use of his legs. "Unless you want to meet who did, then go away. He doesn't like strangers."

"B-but Sven..."

"Hans, run away!" A sharp pain dug at his heart to see his friend look so emotional in the dim light, tears streaming down his face, voice high and cracking.

Hans turned an entreating look toward the little girl, "Please...."

"It's too late. His children cannot be touched. You're nice. You're not bad. But His children cannot be touched. Leave before he finds you."

"H-his? Who--"

"Go away!"

As though the invocation of those very words had magic in them, Hans Krupel sprang to his feet and made a mad dash for the door. His candle, having given its all, finally blew out, and he ascended the stairs blindly, stumbling as a few snapped in his wake. He nearly crashed into the door leading out into the hall, but he had no time to care. Even as the little girl's repeated command faded further and further away, he felt that something was at his heels. The light was no longer there to play its tricks, nor to protect him. He could hear nothing but his own thudding footsteps; even the sound of Sven's groaning and whimpering was drowned out. He felt his way blindly to the front corridor, where moonlight spilled in from the windows, and through those, he felt safe. He knew these; the stairs leading down were not far. But his breath was failing him. If he could only press on -- push himself just a little further....

With the light there, he felt confident to risk a look back, his mind screeching and sure that something would be there, but no. Only his dancing and panting shadow as he kept running. He turned his eyes forward and could see a silvered figure ahead of him. A mirror. That meant he was near a corner, where the stairs were. He was almost there. Almost there. Just get to the mirror and you're almost free. Don't slow down now.

He was nearly upon the corner when cold revalation swept into his body and made him lock up. His feet skidded against the floor as he tried to stop.

The figure did not mimic him. Instead it smiled, and very easily caught him as he collided with it. The figure was not made of glass. He felt long fingernails dig into his shoulders, and he tried to call out -- to Sven, to the little girl, to God, anyone. But his voice had left him again, as had the strength in his limbs.

The figure still smiled, almost kindly. He did not stand in the moonlight, and yet he seemed to give off his own luminescence. He had dark eyes and hair, like the little girl, but the eyes -- the eyes were not the same. Hers had been those of a child's: innocent, and in the case of this time seeking refuge, solace, even. The figure had eyes so black and so deep that they could almost be passed for gaping holes that somehow reflected light. They were cruel and hungry and not as hers had been. In the place of innocence, they held something else, something still as tempting, and upon seeing this, Hans felt himself fall limp in the figure's hold. Assurance. A promise.

"No one touches my children...." the figure whispered, lifting him closer, the smile never leaving his lips. As he spoke, Hans could see a similar set of jagged teeth, white as the moon themselves. And Hans still could not cry out. His head fell upon the figure's shoulder, and he could see the mirror on the other side.

He could feel his coat being pushed away from his neck, but he wondered if his own sight decieved him.

The mirror told him that nothing was there.

The figure's hold shifted. "...No one but my children."

Nothing to be afraid of, he found himself thinking.

Teeth pushed gently against his neck, and something warm and moist touched his lips. He winced at a coppery taste in his mouth. There was an instant of pain that was just as quickly abated by a feeling of coolness.

Growing weaker and more tired with every instant, Hans was surprised to find that something dawned upon him in that moment, as his eyes began to slowly flutter closed against the image in the mirror, as his own image in it began to fade:

He'd come to this house seeking ghosts. It'd been very un-German of him to forget about Vampires.


(Note - Der Kinderstoed can be roughly translated as "child death.")