The Children of Old Leech: Excerpt: “Walpurgisnacht,” by Orrin Grey

Our third excerpt from The Children of Old Leech comes from “Walpurgisnacht,” by Orrin Grey. Traditionally, April 30th marks the feast of Saint Walpurga, an 8th Century German Abbess. But it’s also held to be the night that witches meet and revel on the Brocken, the highest peak in Germany’s Harz Mountains…

On the train, Nicky told me about the Brocken Spectre. “It’s a sort of optical illusion,” he said, leaning forward, his elbows on his knees. Nicky was younger than me, and prettier, and his dark hair fell in front of his face whenever he slouched, which was often. “The sun casts a giant shadow of you on the clouds below, right, and your head gets this prismatic halo. Like an angel.”

“I hear the sun only shines here like sixty days a year,” I said. “Besides, it’s night.” I was only half-listening anyway, my head lolling against the cool glass of the window. I’d had more than a few drinks at the airport bar, and I could feel a headache trying to force its way out past my eyes. Outside, I could see our destination looming up out of the darkness, the two towers of the Sender Brocken, old and new. Like Tolkien’s Minas Morgul and Orthanc. The sun was still going down, and the towers stood out like shadows against the gloaming, their lights already on. Gleaming yellow ones in the windows of the old tower, now the Brocken Hotel, and blinking red ones to warn planes away from the new tower, a candy-cane-striped lance that jutted skyward from the peak.

“It doesn’t look terribly inviting,” Nicky said, noticing my inattentiveness and nodding at the towers.

Now to the Brocken the witches ride.” I intoned, and then, without bothering to glance and see his puzzled expression, explained, “It’s Goethe. From Faust.”

That was why we were going, of course. It was Walpurgisnacht, the night when the witches and devils gathered on the crown of the bald mountain to welcome the spring. Nicky and I, and whoever else was on the train with us, were the witches in this equation, and we were all gathering on the Brocken to kiss the ass of a black goat.

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