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From the very first verses of our history men have told tale of inhuman creatures and sardonic entities stalking the intangible world of night. One such aberration has been observed for centuries, possibly millenia.
It's first known identity is 'Der GroBmann'. "The Tall Man". Many historians and scholars formed theory that Der Ritter was a representation of the Holy Wars or Plagues sweeping across Europe at the time of his depiction.
Many more, however, versed in Germanic mythos and legend, insist Hans Freckenberg was attempting to depict Der GroBmann,'The Tall Man', a faerie entity that resided in Schwarzwald, 'The Black Forest'. Folklore dictates Der GroBmann would relentlessly stalk bad and mischievous children who wandered into Schwarzwald at night, only ceasing pursuit until the child was either caught or admitted wrongdoings. Klaus had gone hunting in this part of Baden-Württemberg before. On his last hunting trip he had learned from the locals the name of forest he was in, Schwarzwald. He and his friend Friedriche had received many strange looks and a vague warning from an emaciated old woman before they first ventured into the belly of the twisted wood.
Klaus had felt unwelcome the moment his boot touched the blanket of damp, decaying leaves obscuring the dirt floor of the forest, and after five minutes Friedriche had put into words Klaus' feelings. The sunless, gray sky and cold fog served only to deepen the forlorn feeling permeating the air. Nearly inaudible over the muffled thump of the two mens footfalls, the screeching ring of silence began to grow.
As they scaled small rises and dodged between deformed, snaking boughs, Klaus experienced a mounting discomfort clawing at his back. Where were the birds? Why was the chittering clamor of insects absent from the air? The air. It wasn't moving. It was stagnant, heavy and moist like a sauna. It smelled of rot, assaulting him with the stench of decay and wet earth. Klaus offered his distraught friend what words of solace he could muster, all the while questioning their presence on this trip. They decided to wait for 10 minutes, anticipating the stags reappearance. When it did not, they ventured in the direction they saw it. As they came closer to the spot, Klaus fell deeper into a sense of cold dread.
Remembering it even now, back in this forest where two years ago Klaus had his life forever altered caused him to descend into a feverish sweat. As he now traced back along the path he had walked two years ago with his friend, he was now terribly alone. As he crept closer to the resolution of his present troubles, his mind wandered back to that day.
They had arrived at the spot they last witnessed the stag. It was a small clearing, maybe ten feet across at its widest. They began scouring the ground and surrounding shrubbery for tracks and tufts of fur. After searching the area twice, they came up empty, upon a third inspection, Klaus discovered a small circle with an X gouged through it. For some inexplicable reason, this symbol filled him with an indescribable fear. Friedriche also began appearing in distress, anxiously shifting his weight on each foot like an impatient child. Klaus wanted to scream. He wanted to look away. He wanted to run.
He couldn't even breathe. The feverish terror that gripped him wouldn't let him move, save a slight trembling. The creature was still as the forest, save the innumerable black limbs flailing and undulating from it's back.
Klaus' eyes became dry. An eternity spent locked in a terrorized gaze at the aberration before him. Klaus needed to blink. A small part of his mind was amused that he could be bothered by something so trivial while this thing stood before him. The rest of his consciousness was consumed with terror, more than it should be, he realized. Whatever it was, it had done nothing to cause him this much fear, save posses an appearance as it did.
As he mused this in his head, he began to blink. Suddenly he froze, just as he was about to bring his upper lids down over his eyes. Every voice in his head, every modicum of his existence screamed at him not to blink. Klaus became as annoyed as he was unnerved, and forced his eyes to close. When he opened them again, it became clear why he shouldn't have closed them. In the deafening silence of Schwarzwald, the creak emitted as Klaus squeezed the trigger echoed explosively as if it were the first sound to ever grace creation. The report of their rifles as the bolt drove home was jarring. Klaus barely managed to keep his eyes open as he shot. A lesson hard learned, but a lesson learned well. Do not blink.
As the acrid smoke of gunfire cleared, Friedriche emitted a startled whimper as he observed, to his horror and bewilderment, the malevolent figure standing unscathed before them, defiant and somehow with more presence, mocking their attempt to fight. Something in Klaus' companion came loose. He could see it in his eyes. He could feel it pierce the air.
Friedriche charged forward shrieking high hell and murder as Klaus struggled to process his situation. The atmosphere changed around him at once, it became thick and heavy with malevolent glee. A feeling of torrid pleasure permeated the air around him. He felt the creature glower in twisted joy. This was a game to it, he realized. He crumbled. He ran. Klaus immediatley recognized it as he came upon the twisted and battered conifer standing defiantly atop the familiar little butte. He stood there a moment, suppressing the roiling despair welling in the pit of his stomach. As he caught his breathing, he shot a glance to the clearing in which he encountered the entity.
Fear clawed anew from the dark bottom of Klaus' mind as apparitions that did not exist began to dance at the corners of his vision, sounds resonated through the haze from all directions and no direction at once. The forest came alive to him like a reanimated monstrosity, pulsating with breathe borne of his nightmares.
Klaus stumbled toward the clearing, shivering and gasping as he grasped and swayed from trunk to trunk, falling into unconsciousness as he reached his destination. As he slept, Klaus descended into a fitful nightmare. He was back home with his family. At first, he was unaware anything was wrong, save a feeling of intangible anxiety. As he walked the cobblestone pathway to the house of his childhood, the perverse atmosphere of the scene before him shocked him to his core. The first historic evidence of Der GroBmann came from two woodcuts uncovered in 1833 from the abandoned Halstberg Castle, crafted by Hans Freckenberg in the 16th century.
Hans freckenberg was known for portraying anatomically correct renditions of humans in his woodcuts. The two woodcuts recovered from Halstberg Castle depict a tall, skeletal and faceless entity with multiple, elongated limbs clad in armor dubbed as 'Der Ritter', 'The Knight'. In the first woodcut, Der Ritter is shown dueling a germanic knight, in the second he is depicted invading a womans home, and stealing away her youngest child. Romanian folklore contains a prominent legend of The Tall Man, with the following description:
"The tall man stood in a clearing, dressed as a nobleman, all in black. Shadows lay over him, dark as a cloudy midnight. He had many arms, all long and boneless as snakes, all sharp as swords, and they writhed like worms on nails. He did not speak, but made his intentions known."
Legends have described entities similar to Der GroBmann across Europe, Russia and the British Empire throughout history. Hours had passed with nothing but the rhythmic thud of boots on soggy leaves. Klaus clutched his rifle in a white knuckled death-grip, slowly losing an internal war to the anxious feeling overtaking his mind. If Friedriche was suffering as Klaus was, he showed no signs.
As the pair rounded a particularly twisted spruce atop a small butte in the forest floor, they simultaneously observed distant movement to their right. It was nearly impossible to miss in the death like stillness of the wood, even through the hazy twilight now permeating the trunks of Scwarzwald around them.
Klaus felt a cold ball of steel set in his gut, tightening his grip on his rifle to the point he thought his fingers would dislocate. Why was he so afraid? He had no true reason to be so on edge, but this primal anxiety gnawed at him all the same. He had not observed any life in hours, no movement, no sound. Whatever was moving was out of place, yes, but nothing to truly fear. So why?
Friedriche had taken aim at the movement while Klaus was taken by his thoughts, and upon his return to the present, he heard his friend swear under his breathe as what he assumed to be a stag dashed from view. Friedriche fumed, stating between vehement fits of profanity that he had blinked, only to find his target gone. What made Klaus equally if not more uneasy, was that aside from the symbol there was nothing here. If what was here not 20 minutes ago were a stag or a bear, there would be prints, there would be fur, there would be something here. But there was nothing, no trace of life passing through the area.
As Klaus scanned the immediate ground for tracks, a strange and unnerving surge of ice hot sensation danced up his spine. He inexplicably felt the need to cough, his head became light. He was overcome with a disorienting vertigo. He was pulled back into focus by the cold adrenaline rush to his over worked heart as he heard his friend let loose an inhuman shriek. He whirled around to find Friedriche slumped between the trunks of two trees that had twisted themselves together.
He felt the ice cold sensation begin to dance upon his skin once more, permeating from his left as if it were being projected at him on a mist of inky darkness. Klaus quickly directed his gaze to the source of the feeling. He immediately wished he had not. His skin became taught and a sweat broke out from his brow. Klaus lightly shook where he knelt, tightening his grasp on the rifle with an iron grip.
What he saw was perverse. Thirty feet away towered a tall, slender entity with withered, elongated limbs vomited forth from it's emaciated frame, as twisted and ghastly as the boughs of the trees cursing the forest around it. Most unnerving of all, perched atop the narrow shoulders of this apparition, was a blank white nothing. Where a twisted visage of demonic aberration should have been, there was smooth, translucent skin, pulled taught across the angled features of a faceless skull. To Klaus' immediate dismay, the creature had closed the distance between them in the instant it took to close and reopen his eyes. But how? Did it matter now? What did it want? Nothing good, Klaus was sure.
The terror and unease Klaus had previously quelled came flooding back like a violent tsunami, fear squeezing his racing heart with a hand of cold iron. As his mind raced, Klaus remembered Friedriche on the ground in front of him. Without taking eyes off the thing before him, he stirred his companion using the butt of his rifle, to no avail. Klaus thumped his friend in the head, hoping the jolt would wake him. Friedriche lurched to his feet and stood frozen at the sight of the tall man towering above him.
Slowly and with deliberation Klaus lowered the business end of his rifle towards the thin giant, an obvious show of intent to his friend. Klaus caught an imperceptible nod from his peripheral vision, and tentatively held his gaze on the menacing figure as Friedriche took aim. Klaus inhaled sharply at the memory. Dashing and stumbling through the twilight haze, dodging the deformed hulks of lifeless spruce wood. The adrenaline surging through his veins, turning his blood to ice. The rage, burning in the pit of his gut as he frantically lurched forward.
He was so angry at himself for leaving Friedriche to whatever fate the creature had for him, he was angry at Friedriche for foolishly charging at it. What could he have done differently? Did it matter anymore? His dear friend was surely dead, and Klaus may have failed to save him then, but he would be damned to the 9 circles of hell if he didn't correct that mistake.
He shifted forward off the crooked trunk on the ball of his heels, tentatively listening through the thick blanket of moist haze for a break in the muffled silence of this corner of damnation. It was midday, Klaus could tell by the pale grey glow of the mist overhead. Striking all thoughts from his mind he set off at a brisk pace on the path he had retraced time and again in his mind. The forlorn wall of mist all around him, bent and gnarled boughs of unmoving spruce strewn haphazardly across the landscape, the smell of wet rot and the soggy earth giving way beneath his feet, burned in his memory like hot iron in a festering wound. Darkness loomed in the windows of the house like ink. Corruption and filth clung to the field stone masonry of the country home as if it were diseased. The sky. Where was the sky? In it's place hung a thick grey mist, darkening to black where it met a rotting layer putrefied vegetation .
This wasn't right. His father had built this home, the stone was new. Their lawn had grass, but here it was akin to what lay across the Schwarwald. Klaus turned in confusion, glancing across his childhood domain, corrupted and twisted before him. His gaze drifted over the faces of his family standing behind him. The heart in his chest went cold.
Their faces. Where were their faces? Klaus screamed, yet no sound came. Klaus put a hand to his forehead, he felt strange. There was no brush of hair at his fingertips. Horrified, Klaus ran his hand down his face. His face. Not his face. Not a face. What?
He must be going insane. Klaus laughed, he couldn't stop, no sound came forth, but on he laughed. What was this farce? This perverse joke being played on him? As he observed a figure in the distance, standing behind his family, he quickly realized he was not going insane. He realized this was no joke.
Klaus awoke with a start to see the tall man standing above him. He shouldered his rifle. He took aim. He fired.