Hexe - Skadi Winter : AuthorHouse

Hexe - Skadi Winter : AuthorHouse

Germany, 1945. The inhabitants of a small villagge near the French border struggle to regain normality after five years of war, but at what cost? Ten-year-old Frigg learns from her beloved grandmother the mysteries of the spirit world that guide them through the horrors of the post-war backlash against her family. A dark, poignant and sometimes shocking tale reveals a world twisted by fear, hatred and racism. Can love overcome it all?


Historical fiction


Skdi Winter (United Kingdom)

“The poet cannot invent new words every time, of course. He uses the words of the tribe. But the handling of the word, the accent, a new articulation, renew them”
(Eugene Ionesco)

Chapter 1
That winter was one of the coldest my grandmother could remember. It was minus 15°C and snow covered the little houses which huddled around the ruins of the village church near the German-French border, as if seeking shelter from the wind. The air smelled of peat and wood, collected by the women in the nearby forest and used for heating and cooking - if they had anything to cook, in those tough, war-time days.
It was January, 1945, almost my 10th birthday. I was a ‘winter child’, as my grandmother used to say. Country-born people believed cats born during the coldest months of the year were often weak and sickly, but if they survived they grew stronger than the others.
The little stove in our kitchen gave out so much heat that my cheeks were burning. My wet clothes hung on the washing line strung across from one corner to the other. It was the only room in the house with a stove, which was why my grandmother had made me a bed on the old sofa, along the back wall. The other rooms were freezing.
I loved my bed. I cuddled down, listening to the comforting sound of my grandmother knitting by the light of the kitchen lamp drawn down from the ceiling. By time she went upstairs, I was always sound asleep, so never felt afraid to be left alone in a dark room. After the front and back door were secured, my grandmother and her sister – who had been bombed out of her house the previous year – sat mending old socks at the kitchen table. It had become routine to barricade homes in the village, after rumours spread that runaway prisoners of war, mostly Poles and Russians, had escaped their SS guards, fled the approaching allied forces and were rampaging through the area, searching for food and women to rape. As a young girl in that tiny, remote village, I had no idea what ‘rape’ meant. The older children loved to re-tell these rumours, using words that were more frightening to me than Grimm's fairy tales of the big bad wolf.
One evening, as I pondered all these things and listened to my grandmother’s mumbling and grumbling above the noise of the crackling fire, a loud knock at the door made us all jump. We stayed silent, hardly daring to breathe, hoping that by just ignoring the battering it would go away. I felt the tension rise in the room, even though I could not really understand it. Instinctively, I pulled my tattered blanked up to my eyes and tried to fight my fear, by focusing on the crackling fire in the stove.
After what seemed a long time, my aunt, always the braver of the sisters, got up and slowly walked across the room. As she moved the old chest of drawers blocking the door and opened it, there was nothing but an awful silence. Once I felt I could breathe again, the word ‘rape’ was spinning in my head. Whatever it meant, it seemed the most dreadful thing was going to happen.
Nobody in the room moved – me under my blanket; my grandmother on her chair, sitting as upright as if she had swallowed a stick; my aunt in the doorway. We were all frozen in time, either from the icy blast blowing into the room, or from fear, or both. All of a sudden, my aunt raised her right arm, the old sock with a needle stuck in it still in her left hand, and shouted ‘Heil Hitler’ in a loud and brave voice. Immediately, my grandmother jumped up and hissed ‘you stupid fool, you'll get us all shot!’ My teeth began to chatter, fear choking me like a thick cloud. My aunt started to walk slowly backwards into the kitchen, followed by a huge shadow on the wall. I closed my eyes and, when I opened them again, saw a tall, black soldier in an American uniform emerging from the shadows, like the genie out of Aladdin’s miraculous lamp.
None of us had ever seen a black man, or an American soldier, let alone such a giant.
My aunt started to talk, breaking the spell by babbling incoherent, silly words. She said we were kind people, not Nazis – at least not the ones fighting against the rest of the world. The soldier did not seem to understand a word she said. Neither did I, but he must have felt the desperation and fear in the room, for he made comforting noises, as if talking to a small child, raising his hands in a defensive manner and saying, ‘shh, shh. All is OK. OK. All right’. Then he started to smile, exposing the whitest teeth I had ever seen. I thought: anything is better than rape!
The excitement of this encounter subsided and after that life continued pretty much as usual. Hordes of soldiers of different nationalities and colours hurried busily through the village, confiscating paintings and books relating to Hitler; objects considered too valuable to remain in the care of their German owners. As the weeks passed, the white bed sheets which had hastily been put out of windows, or flown from roof tops as makeshift banners of peace and goodwill, friendship and trust, disappeared from village homes. A flu epidemic killed the weak or malnourished, the rest survived, despite shortages of food and other essentials. Suddenly, everybody was building, mending, or clearing broken stones which had tumbled all over the streets and alleys during those last bombing raids.
It was then that I first heard the word ‘hexe’, not in a fairy tale, not as a swear word directed at an old crone who had upset some of the younger children. It was while I was out with other children looking for pots, clothes, or chairs in the houses which had been left empty when their owners fled, or died, during the last days of the war, that the word flew into my face like a fist.
‘Your mother is a whore and your grandmother is a hexe’, the girl said again, sticking her little nose up into the air, like the Führer when he spoke to his people. I blinked and stared at her. What was she talking about? We were friends, we went to school together, we played together, we lived in the same village. Yet at this moment, she might just has well have arrived from another planet. I took a step backwards and nearly fell over a broken bucket, dropping the cup containing? the rose ornaments I had found. I held my breath in the cold air. Silence.
Hexen existed in fairy tales. Even I knew by now they didn’t really exist. OK, so my grandmother had no teeth, she wore her grey hair up in a bun underneath a black head scarf and had deep wrinkles around her mouth and eyes – but a hexe? Was the girl mad? Should I laugh, or ignore it?
I had no idea what the word ‘whore’ really meant, except that it was a very bad word, never to be said to a girl or a woman. My grandmother had told me my mother had left in the last days of the war, to search for work to keep food on our table. Nobody knew where she was, or what she was doing. Did my grandmother know? Whenever I asked her, she simply said, ‘The gods know. Bad times’. My grandfather and my father were also still away, somewhere in Russia.
The word ‘hexe’ was different. I had a clear view what a witch was. A hexe was evil. A hexe gave the poisoned apple to Snow White. She fed Hansel, fattening him up so she could cook and eat him. Hexen put bad spells on people and danced around the Devil’s Rock near the village on Walpurgis Night and turned children into ugly frogs.
I was angry and hurt that anybody would dare to call my beloved grandmother a hexe and I took a step forward, my cheeks burning. I lifted my arm and slapped the girl who had called her that awful name. Then, feeling relieved to have done something to defend my family’s reputation, I turned on my heel and started to run … across the rubble, past the school house, past the sad church which had lost its bell tower. I ran home to my grandmother. As I ran, I saw the world through a veil of tears, although I did not let them flow.

Competition: June 2015 Pen Factor, Round 1


Read Reviews

Review 1:

Compelling hook?


Strong characters?


Attention to Mechanics
  • The grammar, typography, sentence structure and punctuation would benefit from a further round of editing to avoid distracting from the quality of the story.
Mechanics - Narration Styles
  • You handled the story’s narrative modes appropriately and accurately, making it a clear and enjoyable read.
  • You write powerful inner monologues. You introduce these effectively by allowing the reader into the character's head and hearing their direct thoughts.
Narration and dialogue: Balance
  • The balance between narration and dialogue might need to be reviewed. Dialogue can diffuse long claustrophobic text. You can show the reader by using natural-sounding dialogue. Remember not to overdo the narrative.
Narration and dialogue: Authentic voice
  • The protagonist didn’t always respond believably against the backdrop of the story. Ask yourself if people would really answer to a situation in that way. Think about whether the character’s voice could be more convincing for their age, background, gender, time period, genre, gender and ethnicity. Dialogue should be natural and consistent throughout the story.
Character Conflict
  • The reader’s experience of the novel is heightened when the first chapter exposes some of the characters’ goals, conflicts and purpose. I found that this aspect of the story wasn’t as strong.
Authentic setting
  • The setting was realistic and vivid. The characters’ moods and emotions were conveyed successfully through the believable setting.