I squirmed on the floral lazboy as my great-aunt Marie handed me a cup of tea. I still didn’t understand why I was growing a tail at all, never mind how to sit down with one comfortably. The first part, at least, I hoped Marie could help me with.
Marie settled down on the equally soft and floral chair across from me. Hers creaked when she sat down on it. “Well, where shall I start?”
I had so many questions. They flew around my head and blended into one another like the blobs in a hyperactive lava lamp. Why was this town so strange? What was with the rabbits? What was in that stuff Marie gave me, and my rabbit, if it was the same stuff? And perhaps most importantly, what had it done to me?
Finally I decided, we might as well begin at the beginning, or something close to it.
“What are we?” I said.
“Human,” said Marie. “Well, almost entirely human.”
“I see. And the other part?”
Marie picked up a picture frame from the side table. After gazing at it fondly for a few moments, she handed it to me.
The photo was a black-and-white of two solemn-faced women in old-timey plain dresses, with a young girl standing between them.
“As you may know our ancestors came over from Germany during the 1880s. Two of them are what we used to call wolpertingers, but now we usually just call them the ancestors or the elder folk. They are sisters and one of them — Marie-Annika — I was named after her, and she also brought her daughter Hannelore, who was half human.”
Marie reached out and tapped the young girl in the photo, indicating Hannelore.
They did look human. But their eyes were large and too round. Their noses were too small, and their ears were prominent and pointed. All of these fell within the range of normal human features, but taken together they produced something of an uncanny valley effect. Something was different about them.
Or was I just seeing it because I’d been told they weren’t human?
“Wolpertingers?” I said. “I’ve seen those on video games. They looked like squirrels with fangs and wings.”
Marie shrugged. “They are a diverse people. They usually take the form of various forest folk. But they can also take human form if they wish to.”
“Which is how a human and a wolpertinger could…get married.”
“It’s not very common of course. Marie-Annika and her sister are quite unusual in that regard.”
My brow furrowed. “Are unusual? Don’t you mean were?”
“Oh no, they’ve both remarried to humans.”
“They’re still here?”
“Yes. Well, not here. They live much longer than we do, of course. But they live in the Black Forest now, “Marie sighed. “They went back to the Fatherland to help rebuild after the Berlin wall came down.”
“As one does.”
“Things were going so well before this year, some of the townsfolk were wondering if they might come back. They’re revered in this town, as you might expect. But with the way things are going now…well, who knows.”
“So, the festival. What is it, exactly? What happened? You can tell me now, surely.”
“Echart does go a bit overboard with the mystery of it, but he likes. Normally people ask questions, and we explain it all at the pond.” She sighed. “When you didn’t, I thought someone had told you.”
Marie clasped her hands and brought them to her mouth a moment before continuing. “It is a celebration of our past, to put it simply. For one month we bring back the old ways our ancestors knew with the root from the Old Country. It changes us and our companions, so that for a little while we know something of their home.”
“Wiat, so this is temporary?”
“I suppose I should have mentioned that sooner. But what you have experienced is a great gift. I hope you realize that, even if your introduction to it was…unexpected.”
“Sure, it just..took me off guard. A carrot from Germany did all this?”
“No, leibchen. Not the Fatherland, the Old Country.”
“Do I want to know what that is?”
“Perhaps not. At least, not yet.”