They’re Shooting Again

By Elisa Wächtershäuser

Translation Helen MacCormac

 

They’re shooting again. This morning I found the leg of a deer. It was lying on last years’ leaves not far from the shelter. The leg had been severed just above the knee joint. I thought it was a stick at first.
When Jan went out to have a look, the leg was gone. Lia laughed at me. But I know what I saw. Things have started to change now that they’re hunting in the woods. They come out at dusk. I don’t know how many of them there are. I can hear the shots and voices and footsteps in the undergrowth. I don’t leave the shelter unless I have to.

We set off in the summer after Jan and I finished school. Freedom, Jan had said. A simple life. I could imagine it, Jan and me roaming through the woods, swimming in rivers, roasting fish over an open fire at night. I couldn’t stand the walls closing in at home any longer, or the feeling that someone was watching me all the time.
She’s a friend, Jan said when he brought Lia along. We took the S-Bahn. Jan and I both had rucksacks. All Lia had was her dress and the shoes she was wearing.

I don’t have a watch anymore and I can’t tell the time by the sun. When it starts to get dark, I hear the first shot.
Nothing to do with us, Jan says and puts a branch on the fire. The wood is damp. A pall of smoke hangs under the ceiling. Lia spits chewed leaves into the cup of her hand. Are you scared, she asks and licks her green stained teeth. I shake my head. Lia drops the chewed leaves into the fire. It hisses and spits. I move closer and hold my hands over the heat radiating from the flames. It’s cold, I say.

It’ll be a lot colder in the winter, Jan says.
Lia grins. I’m growing a winter coat, already, she says and spreads her legs wide open, grabbing hold of her thick, dark pubic hair.
Later, when the embers have died down and Jan and Lia lie panting on top of each other, I sit in my corner, away from the glow of the fire, fingering my body.
I’ve noticed something under my skin for a while. A creeping sensation, as if something were forcing its way through the different layers of my body, as if skin and muscles were being torn apart, as if something was starting to grow inside me.
I don’t know how long we’ve been here. I notice the different seasons, but the days are a blur, I can’t count them backwards. The first night in the woods it didn’t get dark. We slept outside in front of the shelter. Our campfire smoked and soon went out. Lia threw her clothes onto it and then Jan did, too. Jan told me to take off my clothes and join them. I didn’t want to. Lia called me a coward and wrapped her skinny thighs around Jan’s waist. I listened to the woods and to Lia and Jan. I counted my breaths till the morning. 5000 times.

Since they started hunting outside, I can’t stand the nights. They’re not even close, Jan said. But each shot resonates inside my head. The fire has died down, Jan and Lia are restless; the leaves rustle beneath them when one of them tosses or turns. I lie on my side, twisted up like a fox in its den, plucking out hairs from my armpits.
I’ve grown my own coat of fur. When it got colder, thick black hair started to sprout on my arms, stomach, and chest; on my back and around my penis. Even my backside is covered in long dark curly hair. Each night, I try to get rid of it. I grab bunches of hair between my finger and thumb, pulling slowly and steadily. The hair is rooted deep inside me. My skin burns. Later on, a drop of blood forms. They’re still shooting outside.

I am constantly looking for food. I’ve learnt that you can eat birch leaves and oak leaves and sorrel. You can roast beechnuts on the fire and chew the bark of a willow. I walked for miles today. I found a hazel tree next to a stream. Most of the nuts were hollow; I chewed the shells for ages. Then I tied my t-shirt into a bundle and picked every nut on the tree. I knelt down in the leaves and collected all the ones that had fallen there, as well.
We eat together. Lia eats most of the nuts. She cracks open the shells with her teeth and spits them out into the fire. Her arms are as thin as sticks, her bare skin is still dark from the summer; I stare at her nipples; they look like knots of wood.
Jan can’t get enough to eat. I carry on chewing long after we have finished all the nuts. Lia and Jan devour each other next to the fire. I double over and tear at the hair on my stomach. Later on in the night, a bird breaks out of a nutshell inside me and pecks a hole in the wall of my stomach.

They are drawing closer every day. In the mornings, I find footprints on the frosted ground. There is a mound of feathers in my stomach. One catches in my throat. I spit it out.
Jan asks me what I’m doing. Nothing, I say. My throat hurts, that’s all. I’ve got no idea where all the feathers came from. My stomach is stuffed full of them, but the feathers can’t still my hunger. Jan says there is blood on my lips. I must have bitten my tongue in my sleep.
We set off as soon as it gets light. It’s getting harder and harder to find anything to eat. We split up. I head back to the stream where I found the hazel tree. I follow the stream as far as I dare. The ground is frozen and the trees are bare. It gets dark early.
I don’t manage to find anything to eat before I go back to the shelter. The feathers are forcing their way through my innards. Lia and Jan sit close by the fire. They are wearing clothes. Lia is wearing a pair of my jeans and two of my t-shirts. She must have taken them out of my rucksack.
I couldn’t find anything, I say. When I sit down beside them, there’s a stabbing pain in the pit of my stomach.
We found this, Lia says, and holds out a piece of bark. There are maggots stuck to the bark, grey, slimy half-eaten maggots writhing where Lia’s bitten off a piece. I bend over. My stomach cramps. I start to wretch, coughing up feathers. Jan and Lia stare at me. Saliva and little feathers stick to my chin. I crawl to my corner holding my stomach. The pain slowly subsides. I hear them whispering by the fire. Then I fall asleep.

The next morning, Jan and Lia are gone. So is my rucksack. I burn the feathers in the fire. There’s more blood on my chin. I don’t feel hungry but I go out all the same. I need to gather food for the winter.

It’s going to snow soon. On some days I go hungry. On other days I find something in the woods. Jan and Lia haven’t come back yet.

Yesterday I found an arm. It lay outside the shelter on last year’s leaves. It was very thin. There were a few hairs on it. It could have been a stick.
I’ve stopped going out. They’re shooting again.

Draußen schießen sie wieder,  Allitera Verlag 2017.