Oberammergau, Bavaria 1880
The oil lamps made dancing shadows like a ghost puppet show on the brick walls and stage curtains. Thunder rumbled outside the small theater. Back stage the little girl waited patiently by the stage door for her Papa, loving the shadow shapes which seemed to be playing out stories for her. Minutes before Papa’s leather and brass trimmed Centurion’s costume had been removed and hung with care while she had stood dutifully by holding the plumed helmet, in the dressing room Papa shared with Pontius Pilate – Franz the cheese maker – and Caiaphas the High Priest – the mayor of Oberammergau – and Judas Iscariot, who the other nine of every ten years was Johan the horse doctor and dentist of last resort.
The oil flames flickered a bright yellow light on the little girl’s thick white-silver blonde hair, making a dancing halo of light, as though she might be a angel girl from a child’s book of prayers. When at last Papa came over, dressed again in his farm clothes he took her hand , caressed her soft hair which was his delight. “Did you see me?” he said.
“ ‘ He truly was the son of God.’ “ she said, and he laughed.
“You have a good memory,” Papa said. “Someday you’ll have to be in the Great Passion Play too. “Who do you want to play?”
“No. You’re too pretty for a donkey.”
“I like Veronica, the lady with the kerchief,” she said. “She does a kind thing to wipe the Lord’s face, and she doesn’t talk too much.”
He caressed her hair again. “I can see you playing her. It’s late, the storm is coming. We have to go.”
He kept her hand and pushed the door open. The air was cold and a strong wind was rising. They clambered down the stairs. The big man waited on the street, and paused to examine the sky with his farmer's eyes, thinking. Lightning ignited the clouds, in ocean waves of rolling light.
“I’m hungry,” whined the girl. “Grandma is making dumplings.”
He hoisted her up on his great shoulders that only a while ago had been draped in red velvet and armor as he stood in the hot spotlight beneath the makeshift cross holding a spear. He ran a brisk trot for the cart. “It’s not the lightning that worries me,” he said.He trotted up to the cart and froze. The horse was prostrate on the ground. From its neck, behind the ears was a sheen of black blood trailing to the cobblestones.
"Tanzer!" The girl striggled to get free and run for the fallen horse. "Tanzer's sick!"
"Nixie - Tanzer is dead." Papa stood holding her on his shoulders. He looked around wildly almost dropping her. “The worst,” he muttered. “Pieter’s come back. It’s the worst. We’ll go to the church. Hold tight.” He tucked the girl down close to his neck, no longer trotting, he ran. His wooden shoes clambered against the stones, splashing through puddles as the clouds let go sheets of freezing rain.
As they turned the corner to the little Peter and Paul church, lightning blazed throwing the village street into stark glares of silver and black. Papa looked up at the bell tower in the blaze of light and saw. He dropped the girl roughly on her feet and quickly crossed himself. The rain was soaking them.
“Papa!” The girl held up her arms.
He threw himself into a shop doorway and pulled her in after. Holding her tight they crouched low in the door, and he hid her with his body. “Don’t let it see you,” he whispered, and the girl realized he shaking. She had never seen her Papa afraid.
Lightning exploded across the sky and she looked up and saw what he had seen appear and vanish in an instant.
On the top of the Church of Peter and Paul, on top of the bell tower was a great iron cross. In the instant of fierce white light she'd seen a tall thin man standing, leaning his body against the iron cross with his arms outstretched as though being crucified.
“Who is that?” she cried and pointed.
“He's the one who killed Tanzer. Don’t let him see you!” Papa pulled her arm down and threw his broad palm across her eyes.
“Who is he?”
“A lost soul.”
“Why does he do that? He should come in.”
“No, darling. That’s not what he wants.”
“But he’s all wet and the lightning!”
“He was drawn by the Passion Play. His kind are. Now he repents. Now he wants the lightning. ”
The lightning blazed and high above came a shower of hot sparks. When Papa took his hand from her eyes she looked up at the tower. But the storm man had vanished.
“He’s a nosferatu, Nixie. He wants God to kill him.”