Anna Cates


In the middle of life’s journey, somehow I lost my way and strayed deep into dark woods.
—Dante Alighieri

           “. . . And so, I believe the soul is like a tiny twinkle of light, caught in infinite night,” Lise ended with a cringe, realizing her intention to sound upbeat had failed miserably. Yet her relatives betrayed no interest in what she had to say. Onkel Otto was loading China plates with steaming cabbage leaves stuffed with cod and bread. Tante Ilse was shining a spot from her silver spoon, pink fingers tremulous.
           “And there is apple strudel for dessert!” Tante Ilse announced, finishing her polishing.
           But Lise didn’t feel hungry. The moment she’d set eyes on her cousin, Wolf, seated across from her, a lightning bolt of dread had torn through her. How different he seemed from the ruddy cheeked boy she remembered. The silver skull on his Waffen SS hat, resting beside his plate, glinted from the chandelier’s artificial light. Why had he invited her to dinner, urged her, in fact, on the event of his return from Waffen SS military duty?
           “Have you heard from that girl you were getting serious about? The one in the Faith and Beauty Society, the nursing trainee from Berlin? What was her name?” Onkel Otto squinted at Wolf, trying to remember.
           “Berta?” Wolf shook his head. “It’s over between us.”
           Tante Ilse peered up from her stuffed cabbage. “What happened?”
           “She changed,” Wolf said. “Something beautiful inside her died.”
           Onkel Otto’s brows rose with surprise. “Perhaps she grew troubled by these dark days.”
           “Or darkened by them.” Wolf huffed. “I’m not one to judge, but not everyone can kill children. It takes a truly exceptional person.”
           Tante Ilse gasped. “Does she serve in the mercy killing?”
           Wolf placed his fork back on his napkin. “If I were a better person, less hypocritical, I’d still court her. But I find myself like the village girl, willing to eat the meat but not marry the butcher, if you’ll pardon the analogy.”
           Onkel Otto chuckled gloomily then shrugged and forked a potato. “Too bad. She had some charm.”
           Wolf laughed. “No matter, Vater. I suspect I may end up a kissing cousin!” He grinned at Lise, exposing his chipped tooth.
           So that was it! Lise gazed into Wolf’s gray eyes and beheld an inner darkness. Inside those cavernous depths, lurked some evil entity. At such a monstrosity, not made of flesh, Lise’s mind reeled. Like a giant tick, embedded in and feeding off its host, the demon had hooked into Wolf’s spirit. Yet he wasn’t the type to seek an exorcist. A devotee of the new Nazi religion, he nibbled at his food, oblivious.
           Lise shivered, though her cheeks burned. She averted her gaze, unable to bear the demon. “Excuse me. I’m not very hungry.” She rose from the table, nearly tipping over her water glass, and exited the room.
           “Oh, my goodness,” Tante Ilse gasped, fingers to her lips.
           “What’s her problem?” Onkel Otto asked.
           “Perhaps my cologne is too overpowering,” Wolf’s voice carried . . .

leaking from a syringe . . .
darker sooner
a stranger’s footfalls
pass slowly into the mist

Anna Cates resides in Wilmington, Ohio with her cats, Freddie and Fifi. She teaches college writing and literature and graduate education as an online instructor. She is author of the following collections: The Meaning of Life and The Frog King (Cyberwit Press), The Darkroom (Prolific Press), The Golem & the Nazi (Red Moon Press), The Journey (Resource Publications), and the forthcoming Love in the Time of Covid (Wipf & Stock).
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