Before Ukraine, I thought the following kind of writing from a European standpoint might remain in the realm of historical fiction. THE MAN WHO FEEDS THE SWANS is a completed novel, as yet never offered to any publisher. In my lifetime, Hitler was still alive. To think another despot of such callous ambition could rise again in Europe seemed stupid. But the stormy years of the Third Reich will always be a fertile orchard for writers with a yen for history, and I’m such a writer. So my imaginary horrors now step from the fictional shadows via Moscow and Kyiv. I feel despondent and almost ashamed.

The Man Who Feeds The Swans Prologue/Chapter 1

“If there is a sin superior to every other,

it is that of wilful and offensive war. . .

He who is the author of a war

lets loose the whole contagion of hell,

and opens a vein that bleeds a nation to death.”

THOMAS PAINE

P R O L O G U E:

They always thought, and they were usually correct, that the wave of death and destruction they generated encompassed every living enemy. They were the blowtorch battalion, and did not fire consume everything? So it seemed. To them, their victims were simple entities, biologically the same as the animals they kept, of scant use to this coveted landscape. Their houses were considered as little more than highly inflammable pig-stys. It was an easy prospect; day after long, hot day, rolling forward across the endless corn, through dark woods, scorching, destroying. The smell of burning petrol, the crackle of blazing thatch, the smoke, the hot, comforting  barrels of their guns, the joy, the close camaraderie as night fell, sharing a mess tin, smoking a cigarette, ignoring the twisted, blackened cadavers on the side of the road.

There had, of course, been some stiff resistance. Some comrades had died. The enemy had an army of sorts, yet it was ill-led, its ranks filled with the same sub-humanity which seemed to occupy every hovel they had torched. Yet they were retreating, dispirited, stunned by the ultra-efficient bulldozer of death which crushed them like ants. 

In the first faltering hours of their historic mission their task had sent a shock through their ranks, perhaps, in those youngsters who still harboured a pale, illicit trace of conscience, even a glimmer of shame or discomfort, but this would pass. Killing was undemanding, and as the glorious, victorious days turned into weeks, their training and indoctrination triumphed. Conquest was easier without pity. They would survive and those in their path would not. It was a simple rule. They were fire, they were steel, and fire destroyed, steel dealt death. Was there an easier, more primeval and joyous way to spend one’s young manhood than this? They did not seek love. They sought fear, and the more they had it, the headier a brew it became.

On the fifteenth day, in a village of about twenty dwellings called Kharitzelov, after an early muster and breakfast they began their work again. It was the last house they planned to burn, a more distinguished, more sturdy, stone-built, edifice than usual, yet it would be the exception to the rule of destruction. They shot the old woman, her stout daughters, their father, the two pigs and three bullocks. They took the chickens and rang their necks – a treat for the camp fire that night. But as they ranged confidently through what they imagined might be the home of the village elder, they heard the crying of children and entered a darkened room where two small boys, possibly under five, and a girl of around 8 years old, were cowering beneath a tiny window by the side of a tall, wide wardrobe. It was a fine piece of furniture which seemed incongruous in this primitive peasant world. For the quartet of young conquerors who faced these innocent infants, this was a test of nerve. Their superior pointed to the whimpering trio, then looked at his men. He spoke their names, one by one, thorough, clear and deliberate.

“Well? You know the orders.”

The oldest of the three invaders could see the slight flicker of indecision on his younger comrades’ faces. This was obviously to be a re-evaluation of their courage. They had been used to killing at a distance. Yet this was close-up, a scenario where the true horror of their presence was reflected back at them in the faces of their victims. The older member steeled himself, the dark, wide innocent eyes of the children blinking in terrified anticipation. He raised his MP-40 machine gun, pressed the trigger and gasped in shock as the shattering noise filled the room, the bullets raking across the children’s chests, blood gushing through their cotton shirts.

            The quartet stood back from their handiwork; three crushed, crimson-spattered broken dolls, lying in a heap like a trio of ragged, collapsed puppets. In silence they left the house. Outside, the warm June sunlight sliced through the smoke and dust. Flies were already swarming around the corpses on the dry earth road. Their unit was in motion, moving on. Why no-one had torched the house, or thrown a grenade inside, did not concern the young victors. They were making history, moving like laughing, chattering gods across their imagined pages of glory. Nothing before this mattered, nothing this day, or tomorrow; they revelled in the moment, in each new progressive, promising day. As they marched away from the stone house, how could they ever realise that this lapse in total destructive thoroughness, this strategic error, had been such a bad mistake?

When darkness fell that night, the summer heat had given way to the chill blanket of night, and the mechanised, clattering rumble of the conquerors had subsided; they were now another five miles to the east of smouldering, destroyed Kharitzelov. As the bitter moon rose over the silent remains, in the stone house of the murdered children something moved. It was hard for Andrey Shiropilov, pushing the wardrobe door open. His limbs ached and he was exhausted, his mouth and lips dry with dehydration. In that dark, polished wooden box, constructed with pride by an unknown craftsman, perhaps a century earlier in some unfamiliar city many miles away, breathless terror had ruled for several hours, a dread so great as to prompt involuntary urination and defecation.  As he pushed yet harder, something was blocking the way. He shoved harder and then stepped out in the darkness onto the lifeless head of Josef, his youngest son. Stiff and short of breath from their cramped confinement, Andrey’s wife, Natasha, unwound herself from her constricted, agonising posture. She tumbled out through the wardrobe door onto her husband’s arched back.

They lit a candle, and threw caution to the wind. Their sobs of abject grief could well be heard miles away, yet they no longer cared. Perhaps death would be a relief. Their shame was part of their tragedy; why had they not had time to try and cram the children into the wardrobe? Why had they survived? Yet Andrey had been convinced that they’d be safe, that true men at arms would never harm tiny children. This would now be a stupidity he would have to live with for the rest of his bitter days.

Natasha sat by the wardrobe, cradling her dead son’s head in her lap. Andrey held the candle over his crumpled daughter’s face. To his utter amazement, her eyes flickered.

“Katya? Katya? – Natasha – she’s alive!”

Markenburg 1989

The swan, like the soul of the poet,

By the dull world is ill understood.

Heinrich Heine (1797-1856)

Markenburg sits on the north bank of the Mosel River between Koblenz in the north and the ancient city of Trier in the south. There is a special quality to the sun here, its soothing warmth trapped above the flowing river, pleasingly imprisoned in this deep, abundant valley.  Here the lush vineyards stretch up the lofty hillsides, various shades of vibrant green, clinging in the genial sun to patches of fertile soil which nestle between the rugged, dark brown outcrops of rock. The wine comes late in its Reisling autumn from tight, hard tiny grapes, their eventual essence bursting with floral flavour.

In such a place of natural beauty the rigours of history and mechanical advance can sometimes seem irrelevant. Perhaps it is only electricity and traffic which separate Markenburg from its simple past. Where horses and coaches once clattered along the black cobbles, sleek Mercedes, Audis and BMWs are parked. The dark green, metal street lamps are ornate, Parisian in style, and along the promenade red and white banners bearing the town’s crest flutter in the balmy breeze. Markenburg is a tourist postcard, a colourful rectangle of pastoral German beauty to send around the world.

            Below the tranquil, bee-buzzing verdant vineyards, the town trades on its medieval memory, a magnet for visitors who arrive each summer in their thousands to stroll down narrow, cool cobbled streets shaded by towering timbered houses. The brochures tell no lies; this is, indeed, a classic Mosel wine town, and has probably looked this way for centuries. As summer turns to autumn the annual wine harvest is celebrated with a week-long festival, a noisy riot of brassy, oompah-driven music and ceremonial parades wherein this year’s Wine Queen is elected, forever a pretty young Teuton, not necessarily catwalk thin, more of child-bearing hips, fresh of face and bright in personality. On the afternoon of the last Saturday in August, preceded by lofty proclamations by the Burgomeister, her appearance is heralded by the primeval drumbeats of a troop of guards bearing lances, their red and green 17th century costumes all adding to the colour of the spectacle.  Following behind, like ageing vestal virgins in flowing white gowns, come the wine queens of previous years, from the still attractive twenty-somethings to those, now matronly, who once matched their beauty, now portly mothers or ancient grandmothers. After toasting the crowds with her green wine glass, the fulsome Wine Queen stands behind the microphone on the bandstand and impresses everyone by making her inaugural speech in German, French and English. It has been this way in Markenburg for as long as anyone can remember.

High on the hills above the town stands the castle, from which Markenburg takes its name. It was in this towering, turreted monument that ancient kings and Teuton knights fought and squabbled over blood-stained local valleys. Today, with its silent cannons, colourful flags and reproduction suits of armour, it exists to prove to tourists that when it comes to elaborate, embellished history, Germany has the real thing – no-one needs the ersatz Disneyland pastiche.

            A popular highway, the B49, runs from the town of Wittlich all the way north to Koblenz, hugging the banks of the Mosel for almost 70km. As it passes through Markenburg, it comes closer to the river bank than anywhere else along the route. Along this 2km promenade the Mosel pleasure boat jetties jut out into the placid water upon which hundreds of pleasure seekers will cruise on the numerous triple-decked boats. On board they are served good, cold German beer, bottles of fine Rhine and Mosel wine to accompany their schnitzel, wurst, frites and sauerkraut. On the larger boats, at night, beneath festoons of multi-coloured, twinkling light bulbs, the river revellers will be regaled with musical selections provided by a variety of live acts, some young and disco-flavoured, others specialising in that peculiar middle-aged brand of German popular music, a mix of stein-raising jollity and sentimental ballads about sailors missing their loved ones.  These ships of sheer delight share the ancient waterway with long, low and slow cargo vessels plying their trade from Trier all the way to the mighty Rhine and beyond. This is a waterway where pleasure and profit cruise side by side. However, there is one small Markenburg jetty, which the boats no longer call at. At nine in the morning and around seven at night, a broad assortment of river fowl, ducks and swans, assemble here. They know that at these times someone will appear at the end of the old, rusting pier with two large paper bags of bread. He is an old man. His hair is thick and white with the odd streak of blonde, a reminder of his youthful days.

Over the years he has become such a regular fixture that local people no longer notice him. In fact, according to some of the much older Markenburgers,  this aquatic wildfowl attendant is simply part of a ritual which goes back further than they can remember. Someone has always fed the swans. The legend is that the custom was initiated by some kind of mythical river maiden, her identity lost in the mists of time. Although slightly stooped, his frame bears a hint of a once powerful body. His eyes are icy blue, his jaw square, and his face ruddy from an outdoor life. Morning and evening, he is there. He may be seen occasionally in one of Markenburg’s shops, yet he rarely speaks. Sometimes, on summer afternoons, he can be spied half way up the hill in his quiet corner of the castle’s beer garden, enjoying a cold Bitburger pils and smoking a cigarette. Only a few people know his name, yet they never engage him in conversation. He is known only as ‘the man who feeds the swans’.

            Tourists staying in the nearby Promenade hotels often come out onto their balconies when the old man appears. The swans lead the charge, surrounded by a flotilla of noisy ducks. The elegant, snowy beauty of the swans with their long, undulating necks is contrasted by the scurrying, busy brown flock of raucous mallards as they dip, dive and fight for  tasty, man-made morsels. The old man plunges his strong hand into his carrier bags and spreads the carefully portioned bread far and wide around the pier with a gentle wave of his arm, reminiscent of a man sowing seed in a field. The tourists, shielding their eyes against the low rays of the setting sun, holding their glasses of chilled wine, make comments.

            “Ah…how nice…” and “Oh…. look at that kind man…” Whether or not they ever stop to wonder if there is anything beyond a love of wildlife or kindness in this continuing convention seems immaterial. Like a carving, a statue, a famous waterfall or any other tourist attraction, the man who feeds the swans is simply … there.

Chapter 1:

Munich, 1978

The Cog

‘Life can only be understood backwards;

but it must be lived forwards.’

Sren Kierkegaard (1813-1855)

In Germany they used to call  prisons Gefängnis or Knast. Later, they became known as Justizvollzugsanstalt, which, roughly translated, means ‘institute for the execution of justice’, known simply by their initials, JVA. However, to the gaunt, elderly prisoner waiting in the draughty, echoing corridor outside the Governor’s office on the cold, late October day in 1978 such semantic niceties were of scant interest. Some of the later inmates had expressed their view that compared to the jails of old, this place was a hotel. Yet to the lone waiting man, a prison was a prison, an encirclement of impregnable walls where life ebbed away and liberty remained as a cherished daily dream.

In Giesing, just south of Munich, Stadelheim prison had cast its brooding shadow over Stadelheimerstrasse since 1894. Many of its inmates knew a little about Stadelheim’s history.  Dark places breed curiosity. The area is surrounded by two fences: a 3 meter high outer wall to prevent break-ins, and an inner fence to prevent break-outs. On each corner is a watch tower.  In 1,033 single cells and 177 doubles, all manner of miscreants have spent their time. Rowdy drunks from the annual Oktoberfest, paying for their excess with a vomit-stained night, a fine and a stiff lecture; burglars, fraudsters, murderers, misguided political extremists, and others, long-time internees whose records were far more complicated. Like most penitentiaries, Stadelheim exceeded its official capacity for inmates. Very few had the privilege of a single cell. However, the character in the corridor, one of the ‘complicated’, was one of these.

            Today was a day he had long dreamed of, yet he wondered, after 20 years, how he would handle the sudden break in his daily routines. Breakfast served at 6.30am, white bread, butter and marmalade. Lunch at the unorthodox hour of 10:30am and dinner between 3 and 4pm. Everything washed down with watery tea. Lights out at 10pm. Way back in 1958 he had thought that this manner of incarceration could never be his fate. Things had gone too well. Yet a man’s past is like his shadow; it never leaves him. He’d been in the wrong place at the wrong time. Those distant days still haunted him.

Now the undercurrent of cold air wafted around his ankles as he stood patiently at attention outside the Governor’s office, waiting to be called in. The dullness of the iron grey late autumn sky outside had made Stadelheim’s interior seem even more dark, bleak and doom-laden than usual, yet he was relieved that the cold harshness of the night-time fluorescent lighting was absent.  He hated those lights, their stark, inhuman, economic functionality, the way they made him feel as if life was being spent in a warehouse full of bankrupt human stock. Other thoughts ran through his head – if this is the day I have dreamed of, then what will the rest of the dream – the unwritten, obscured chapter, be like? What was life like out there in Germany? Could that alien, gaudy landscape he’d seen on television, that place where strange rhythmic music pulsed, where girls now showed their thighs, where outlandish men in peculiar clothes had shaggy hair, offer him anything at all?  How would he cope with the sudden end of the unrepentant rhythm of Stadelheim life? Who would provide the white bread, butter and marmalade?

From his cell window he had been able to see the stark, skeletal black treetops surrounding adjacent cemetery in the Perlacher forest. With its neat rows of tombstones and carefully tended graves, all accessed by a latticework of radiating paths, the cemetery seemed to go on forever. He saw it as a symbol; perhaps his cell was God’s waiting room; perhaps there wasn’t any Germany out there at all, just that forbidding graveyard. Maybe he was in some kind of paranormal borderland between what had once been life, with all its hopes, joys, past and potential future, and that waiting desert of death beneath the groves of spidery trees. The cold fingers of other dark thoughts often encircled and gripped his mind. Prisons were also places of exit. Although there had been unforgettable times in his life when the daily possibility of sudden death in a blaze of glory had seemed invigorating, the thought of an anonymous end within these walls seemed to offer the ultimate insult. His only consolation was that the ice-cold, churning world of his distant past had softened. It was a small comfort to know that his would not be the fate of many who had met their end here. He had had the time and the curiosity to learn about them all. He had immersed himself in history, yet the deeper he delved the more he agreed with Voltaire; “History is nothing but a pack of tricks that we play upon the dead.” And the dead were all around him, their ghosts not only in the prison confines, but roaming in their eternal grief across Europe.

Stadelheim’s cells were the bloody pages of a grim chronicle compressed between brick and concrete covers. It had been here, between June 24th to July 27th, 1922 that Adolf Hitler was imprisoned for breach of the peace. Stadelheim had also loomed prominently on the so-called ‘Night of the Long Knives’. In cell 70, Hitler’s brown shirt comrade, Ernst Röhm, former Sturmabteilung Chief of Staff, refusing to commit suicide, was shot on 1 July 1934. Career Nazi Peter von Heydebreck was imprisoned and murdered here by the SS here during the same so-called ‘Röhm-Putsch’. Hans and Sophie Scholl, both members of the White Rose resistance movement were guillotined on 22 February 1943.

The man waiting in the corridor knew all their names. He often thought about what that day in 1943 must have been like. Christoph Probst, Alexander Schmorell, Kurt Huber, Willi Graf, all sadly misguided members of the White Rose. How could these kids have been so naïve to think they could stand in the path of the juggernaut which was the Third Reich?  He knew that some of their graves were out there beyond the perimeter fence. As he stood in the corridor, shifting his weight from foot to foot, he recalled the previous year, 1977, when Ingrid Schubert of the Bader-Meinhof gang had hung herself in her Stadelheim cell. Despite his own dread of an incarcerated death, he had vivid memories of how her suicide had inspired him. Her expectation of Germany was so empty that life itself had no further value. He had no sympathy for her cause, yet envied her courage and the utter sense of release her death must have brought.

The office door opened, causing him to flinch from his reverie back to reality. The guard looked him up and down and gestured with a wave of his hand.

“He will see you now. Enter.”

The prisoner was familiar with the Governor’s office. The broad, oak, leather-topped desk, the green filing cabinets, the electric typewriter, the telephones, one green one red, the hefty glass ashtrays courtesy of the Lowenbrau Brewery, the collection of  pens in an old Bavarian bier stein. The previous governor, Herr Gluckmann, was old enough to understand the plight of this quiet lifer. It had been Gluckmann who had arranged the single cell, and helped with his charge’s academic rehabilitation. He’d even allowed him a TV set, and praised his work in the prison workshops. Yet the new governor, Franz Drecker, was too young to appreciate the history of the silent figure that stood before him. Drecker was one of the new Germans, born in 1943, not in the greater Reich but to emigrant parents in faraway Canada. The Drecker family’s heritage was light years away from that of his older prisoners. Astute, ambitious and highly educated, the new governor’s lofty moral grasp of his parents’ homeland’s history set him bitterly at odds with the morose individual who had entered his domain. The prisoner was tall, square jawed, blue-eyed, with thinning steel grey hair and a two day stubble. His shoulders were broad and Drecker wondered what this man would have looked like three decades earlier. Today, as if to impress the governor, with admirable discipline, he stood to attention as rigidly straight as he could.  Drecker studyied the prisoner’s file, a bulky manila folder containing many pages of yellowing documents.

“You may sit down.”

The man dragged the tubular steel chair into position and sat there quietly waiting as Drecker traced a well-manicured finger across lines of typed text. He looked up.

            “So. Your day has come. How does it feel?”

The prisoner shrugged. “I feel nothing. Not yet.”

            “Not … yet?”

            “How will I know what I feel until I am free? I am still sitting here, in Stadelheim. My feelings are the same as they were when the bell rang at six this morning.”

The governor looked bemused and nodded slowly.

            “And what are your plans?”

The man shook his head.

“Plans? What plans can a man of 71 have after twenty years in this place?”

            “Well, you are educated now. For a man of your age, I’m impressed with the amount of time you’ve spent in the gym. You are remarkably fit. You could enjoy another 20 years and make something of yourself.”

The prisoner laughed gently.

“The optimism of youth. ‘Make something’ of myself? What – a vegetable in a wheelchair? I am old, Herr Drecker. The only exercise which has kept me supple has been within the confines of Stadelheim. I know how long it takes, how many steps, to walk from one end of the compound to the other. But out there the roads go on forever. I am old and I feel it. I relish neither aspect of the future; the slow march to death in here, the slow march to death out there.”

Drecker shook his head and sighed.

            “Such unwarranted negativity. This is a land of opportunity. We have found you a hostel, and your rehabilitation officer will help you to find ways to run your life. Surely liberty is something to be celebrated?”

The prisoner looked past the governor through the large barred window, where a hefty black crow was hopping along the top of the high perimeter wall.

            “Yes. As you say, liberty is a cause for celebration – that is, of course, if liberty is the reason for this meeting.”

            “Ever the damned pessimist. You know quite well it is.”

Drecker snapped the file shut, stood up and walked around the desk, then perched on its edge looking down at the morose figure before him.

            “I suppose you heard about Peiper?”

            “Yes. I heard.”

            “Does his fate concern you?”

            “No. It was justice of some kind. Cruel but inevitable.”

            “What do you think now, looking back over your life – has it been wasted?”

The prisoner bridled at what he regarded as sanctimonious moralising.

            “No more than yours.”

A flash of annoyance passed over Drecker’s face.

            “But we are not here to discuss my life. We’re here to establish your release. What about your family? Do you have someone to contact?”

            “I had a brother.”

            “Are you in contact? Do you know where he is?”

            “No. I don’t even know if he’s alive. Even if he is, I doubt if he’ll give me a warm welcome. It’s been what … over thirty years since he visited me in Landsberg.”

Drecker took a packet of Pall Mall cigarettes from his pocket and offered one. The prisoner took it eagerly and they lit up. The blue smoke swirled around the room, inducing a more relaxed atmosphere. Drecker exhaled, went back around the desk, sat down and opened the file again.

            “I see they released you from Landsberg in 1949. You were free for nine years. It must have been quite a blow when they arrested you again. Surely, during that time you were free, you must have developed some friendships, some acquaintances. Are you in contact with anyone from that time?”

            “No. ”

Drecker sighed and closed the file again. He sat back, took a long draw on his cigarette as he regarded the taciturn man who was once again staring past him at that persistent crow on the wall.

            “In a few minutes you can go down to the main office and collect your belongings. They’ll provide you with some funds and the hostel’s address. Your rehabilitation officer is a nice woman – Helga Lorenz. She’ll meet you there.”

The prisoner savoured the cigarette and tried to imagine what lay ahead. A woman, trying to guide him to rehabilitation. It all seemed like a pointless exercise. Drecker leaned toward him and with narrowed eyes said                                                             

“Of all the cases in this establishment I have always found yours one of the most fascinating. I suppose, in the final analysis, you only had the good of Germany in your heart of hearts.”

The prisoner stared long and hard at the governor, stubbed out his cigarette in the Lowenbrau ashtray and gave a sardonic chuckle.

            “Huh. Heart of hearts … I only had one heart, unfortunately.”

“But, misguided or not, you gave it to Germany.”

“What could you possibly know about Germany, growing up in Canada? Your parents must’ve been crazy, bringing you back here.”

            “Well, the fatherland is always the fatherland.”

The prisoner turned his head to one side and grimaced as if he’d smelled something bad.

“I’ve heard that somewhere before. The ‘fatherland’. Hah! Some father. Some land. Look where it got me.”

 “Well, I’m sure you’ve had time to reflect on it all and twenty years adds up to a lot of redemption. But before you go, I’m curious; looking back, how do you feel about your former life and your incarceration? Do you still have any guilt?”

The man stood up and pushed the chair away, then leant on the desk, both hands spread out on the rich leather. He looked long and hard at Drecker.

            “You remind me of a little kid who looks at a racing car or a helicopter and thinks ‘how does that work?’ You think that people like me are some kind of workshop manual to help you discover how the history machine functions. Well I’m not. I’m a piston ring, a carburettor, maybe a spark plug, a cog in the works. Can a cog feel guilty? Oh, yes. Does a spark plug experience remorse? Damn right I do.        I was in the wrong engine, the wrong vehicle, on the wrong autobahn. But I wasn’t driving. Guilt? Guilt?  You have no understanding of the word. You probably feel guilty if you fart in company, or steal someone’s parking space. But that’s not guilt. Real guilt is toxic, corrosive – it eats into your heart, it shreds your conscience, steals your sleep. The cardinal points of my life’s compass were branded upon my aching brain with the hot iron of youthful stupidity and crass ignorance whilst you were still shitting your diaper in Toronto. Yet there were others with much more guilt than mine who have not paid this price. They’ve had abundant lives behind their smokescreen of re-invented history. Ask them the same question and see what answer you get. Now – issue my release documents and let me get away from here.”

            Thirty minutes later the heavy gates of Stadelheim opened and the tall figure in an ill-fitting, dark blue double breasted overcoat, carrying a leather hold-all, stepped into freedom. He glanced at the buff card the warden had given him.      Helga Lorenz, 148b Jacob-Geld-Platz. Catch the U-Bahn from St. Quirin Platz to Candidplatz. These were civilian activities he’d only seen on his TV screen.

The oppressive October sky had cleared, and he stood on the pavement casting a long shadow in the bright autumnal sunlight. He flinched at the passing traffic, his mind awash with competing emotions. He began to feel like a drowning man. Old and deeply-buried memories were materialising. His past, sealed away, locked down and subdued in his prison cell, now began a steady cranial parade which he could not stop. Kharkov. Bullingen. Honsfeld. Ligneuville. Why this torture, why now? With each faltering step forward, his heart raced. Above him, high on the wall, the crow was still there; it made a cackling sound, as if some evil witch was casting a spell. He began to walk a little faster now, as if to escape his own conscience, and then realised; despite the card and the instructions, in the greater scheme of things, he had no idea where he was going. 



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