I was in my last university year, preparing for a master in German Literature and History. Beside my academic work I enjoyed exploring the country, once called eastern Germany – Ostdeutschland sounded so much better – on my bike. At weekends I used to cover long distances, on the wonderful cycling tracks, or, sometimes off those well marked routes. My home was in the oldest, slightly wild, part of the city, in a beautiful pre war building that had miraculously escaped from the “Sanierung”, the destructive renovation craze that swept the city for decades. There, I inhabited a spacious fourth floor apartment that was ideal for a romantic, yet busy, student and sports addict. At that time, there was no woman in my life, part from my sister and a distant aunt who both lived far away. I was reading intensely, and had started publishing short stories in local literary journals.
That weekend I had done a long loop to the North and East of Brandenburg. It was late autumn, still warm during the day, and luminous. But I had left the beaten track, and followed an ancient path, evidently not much used, that snaked through a thick forest. The trees were old and magnificent. I was in love with the woods, and enjoyed listening to the many birds and small animals who lived there. It was getting late, at the time of year when the sunset suddenly explodes, and darkness comes quickly. I stopped for a little water and to rest my legs, in a small clearing. Soon I heard an owl. It was unmissable, but the owl was not hunting nor flying, she sounded like she was talking to someone, in a low voice, very closed to where I stood. I located her voice coming from a large oak tree nearby. The light was beginning to fade, but I managed to see the owl, sitting still on a high branch and looking down at the foot of the tree. There it was dark, but I finally located, in the grass, pretending not to be there, an old magpie who looked somewhat annoyed at my presence. But there was another shape, bigger, in the shadow: it looked as if the owl had been talking to two creatures.
It was a woman, a small woman, dark haired and wearing a sort of cape, also sitting cross-legged and looking up at the owl, or so I guessed. As I approached slowly, she must have heard my steps, and turned her head towards me. Her face was amazing, a young face, yet looking much wise, with pale green eyes that fixed me with intensity, and lips of bright carmine. Her hair was dark and flowed in waves around her shoulders. She was no tramp, but a well dressed young lady who wore old-fashioned but elegant boots, and was displaying very shapely legs above them. I was surprised, but managed to smile. The owl was silent. The magpie had disappeared. Then I heard her voice, a melodious low voice, speaking the local dialect, which I understood well enough:
“It is late for a city dweller to haunt these woods, stranger. Are you lost?”
I was not sure what to say. I came nearer, my mind a mixture of curiosity and amazement. “This is very kind. Yes, I got a bit off the track. But I heard the owl, and saw the magpie. Were you three talking? In which case I must apologise for the disruption.” She laughed, evidently amused at my speech. “Not at all. My friend up there, and I, are always interested in meeting new people…” I came closer and sat next to her. “But, she continued, don’t wait too long, I will show you how to get back to the main road, for soon it will get very dark.” Her voice was enticing. She was looking straight at me, turned toward me. Her penetrating eyes were catching the dying light. I knew this was a special instant. Who was she? Did she live in the woods? Was she really talking with the owl? We stayed silent, and I cannot tell now for how long. The night was soon all around us. I heard a rustle of small feet, then I must have fallen asleep for some time. When I came back to reality, it was pitch dark. I felt I had been bitten by some insect on the side of my neck. The young woman was no longer there, but there was a note pinned to my shirt, a carefully drawn small diagram showing which way I should go from where I was. I stood up, my bike was where I had left it, my rucksack still hanging from it. I looked at my watch: I must have been in the clearing for not longer than one hour. I had good lights and followed the diagram. It was very precise, and half an hour later I was back on the path I had to take to get home.
I felt hungry. I cooked myself some eggs and mixed a salad. I had a glass of wine. I was pondering my experience in the woods. The face of the young woman in the woods was still in my mind. I went to the bathroom for a shower, and I used Teatree oil on the skin of my neck. It wasn’t hurting. There was a mark, as if small but very sharp teeth had bitten the surface of my skin. That night I slept soundly, without dreaming. The following morning the mark had disappeared.