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The Blindenkralle

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When I was a kid, I was never all that good at doing what I was told.

It's true: I stayed up past my bedtime, snuck cookies from the jar when nobody was looking, and sometimes, if I was feeling particularly cranky, I'd rip the head off a Barbie doll or two. Thankfully, I didn't end up like Jeffrey Dahmer - as my dad so often suggested - but my bad behaviour started to warrant a slightly more unconventional method of parenting.

A method that a lot of people might argue went a country mile too far.

You see, my mum and dad are both German, born and bred, but they moved us to Australia when I was still young enough to pick up the accent. G'day mate and all that shit, you know?

Not that I can remember exactly why we emigrated. The topic was only ever brought up in hushed tones, and dismissed just as quickly. It had the staying power of smoke in the wind.

However, at some point in my early childhood, my dad realised that his encyclopaedic knowledge of old German folklore might come in handy with his parenting problems.

And that's when it all began.

Like all terrible ideas, it started with the best of intentions. My parents weren't strict people (honestly, it broke their hearts to punish me) so they figured that in this case the prevention of bad behaviour was better than the cure.

And so first the Zuckerhexe was born.

One evening, after I'd finished my dessert, my dad came over to me with a sombre look on his face and said, "Evelyn, I wouldn't eat so many sweets if I were you."

"Why not?" I asked, the impudent little child I was.

"Because if you do, the Zuckerhexe will come after you."

"Zuckerhexe?"

My father gasped in mock-fear and held a trembling hand over his mouth. Just like that, he had me entranced.

"The Zuckerhexe," my dad said, edging a little closer and affecting a tone equal parts sinister and darkly whimsical, "is an evil witch who eats children of all shapes and sizes, but her absolute favourite treat is a child who eats too much sugar - for it makes them extra sweet, and when she catches them, she'll bake them into a pie for supper!"

It seems comical now, sure, but to a five year old this was no laughing matter. The calibre of my dad's storytelling made it feel almost like the Zuckerhexe was breathing down my neck.

I didn't have any more sweets that night, and decided I'd skip dessert for the rest of the week.

This was a pivotal moment: I think it was the success of my dad's first ploy that set them off, not realising that eventually they'd fly too close to the sun.

It seems lazy, doesn't it? Getting monsters to do your parenting for you. But I guess when you're raising a misbehaving child you take your opportunities when you can get them.

Next came the awful Nachtauge, who was born from dad's imagination after I was caught reading under the covers one too many times.

Dad told me that he hid under children's beds and slept during the day, but at night he opened his big, orange eyes and unfurled his long, wispy arms. When you were asleep, he couldn't hear you, so you were all safe and sound. But, if you were awake after bedtime, the last thing you'd feel were those bony fingers sifting through your hair before he pulled you under the bed.

I spent a lot more time sleeping after that.

This whole ordeal felt like a breakthrough to my parents, like they were reinventing the wheel before they flattened me with it. Most kids got their lessons from mum and dad, I was getting mine from the Nachtauge and the Zuckerhexe, and spent whole nights scared out of my skin while my parents chinked glasses to their marvellous success.

Please don't think of them as bad people, though. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and they never figured that their little fairytale monsters would ever stretch beyond the time when they were needed.

That was mostly true, for all but one.

You see, out of all my little indiscretions, the worst in my dad's eyes was what I did to the mosquito screens.

We discovered when we first moved to Australia that bugs were a much bigger problem here than they were back in Munich. If you left your window open at night, you woke up with a spider-infested bedroom and a body riddled in itchy mosquito bites. Ergo, my frugal mum and dad got their hands on this heavy, cheap mesh that they draped over all the windows to keep the bugs out.

For Evelyn, age six, this presented an issue.

Of course, we never had these nets back in Germany, and I found that having them there was an eyesore - it disrupted my view of the garden, after all, and made it feel like my eyes were forced into a constant squint.

Dissatisfied with all this, one night I took a pair of scissors from the kitchen drawer and sliced a gaping hole into the mesh, giving me a better view.

The next morning, as expected, my legs were throbbing with a plethora of mosquito bites.

Dad went ballistic; he knew that I'd figured out the child locks on the windows, so there was no keeping me away now.

Having just moved to the country, we were low on cash at the time. Neither of my parents were eager to keep replacing the mosquito nets, and they certainly weren't in the position to be paying for new windows. It was the straw that broke the camel's back.

One day, while I was sitting on my bed, my dad came and sat next to me with an expression that looked like it'd been carved out of granite.

"Have I ever told you about the Blindenkralle, Evelyn?"

And that was where the real nightmare began.

"The Blindenkralle has no eyes, you see, so it can't spot you, but it's got a rather extraordinary sense of sound and smell," my father began, his tone far more serious than it had ever been when he spun me a tale about the Nachtauge or the Zuckerhexe, "and every night it goes from street to street, flapping its big, leathery wings and sniffing in the air with its piggish nose."

I remember gulping and shuddering as my fragile imagination began to stitch the beast together.

"The Blindenkralle likes to eat little boys and girls, and when a little boy or a little girl leaves their window open at night, it can smell that they're afraid, and hear their tiny heart beating," my dad pointed to the window, ever the showman, "it flies down to their window and reaches in with its razor-sharp claws - claws as long as your arm, Evelyn, perfect for snatching up children."

His voice remained commandingly firm throughout the entire story. The only time I'd ever heard him speak like that before was when he told us we couldn't live in Germany anymore.

"Once it smells its prey, nothing can stop the Blindenkralle, Evelyn. It's bigger and stronger than any mother or father, and when it has your scent, it'll lean in through the open window and find you with its long, black tongue." As I became more and more quietly distressed my father seemed to push on, "its teeth are bigger than a crocodile's, Evelyn, and its breath smells like coal fires. There is only one thing that you can do to keep out the Blindenkralle, and that is to make sure it doesn't ever find you."

With this, my dad stood up and gently closed the window, clicking the latch into place.

"So don't open these windows at night, darling. We only say it because we love you."

On some level, I suppose I always knew that the Zuckerhexe and the Nachtauge weren't real, but my young mind understood the way they resonated as cautionary tales. This was not the same for the Blindenkralle, no, the fear I felt for the eyeless, winged creature my father described to me was more deep and palpable than any sensation I'd ever experienced.

Whenever I closed my eyes I could hear those awful wings beating, and the sickening slurping noise I assumed that long, black tongue would produce.

Even on the hottest nights, I wouldn't open my window for fear of the Blindenkralle tearing through the mosquito net like I had done weeks before. When my parents assured me that I was safe, I would close the window after they left; the hideous Blindenkralle cackling proudly in the dark corners of my mind while I did it.

It's madness, being held hostage by a creature I'd never even seen.

I spent nights wide awake, no fear for the now-puny Nachtauge with the threat of the Blindenkralle looming over me.

What if I closed my eyes and someone opened the window? No, I couldn't do it, I just kept picturing those terrible, ten-inch claws curling around the inside of my window frame, while the monster peered in through the gap.

Eventually, mum and dad cottoned on to the problem. I heard them arguing about it downstairs on one of my sleepless nights: my mum chewing my dad out for telling "that awful story" while my father, in what sounded vaguely like shame and embarrassment, insisted he never knew it would come this far.

The wax wings had melted; we were in free-fall, and the Blindenkralle was waiting with open jaws below us.

No amount of encouragement, heartfelt speeches, or positive reinforcement could erase its presence. They pissed away hundreds of dollars on drowning it with pills and therapy but it always swam back up to the top, as healthy and prominent as ever. It was them who let the monster out of its cage and now there was no way of forcing it back inside, it'd grown too big.

It took over a decade to get the Blindenkralle out of my head, to scrub every trace of it from even the darkest little crevices in my mind.

By the time I was seventeen, I'd found freedom from what I finally realised was some dumb story my cheap dad had told me to avoid buying new mosquito nets. I was furious to begin with, but even that waned over time. The monster was becoming a distant memory.

The seven years between then and my 24th birthday were the happiest of my life. I found some great friends, a boyfriend or two (and a girlfriend, once) and discovered my passion in physics, pursuing it to degree-level.

I think it was the empirical nature of it that gave me comfort; the security of being able to base life on concrete observation rather than silly superstitions.

Of course, I wouldn't be writing this if the story ended there, would I? There's probably a million messed up kids who took a childhood story too seriously in Australia alone, and I'm not arrogant enough to assume that my story of childhood trauma was any sadder or more interesting than any of the others. But more recent events have coloured my perception of the past a little differently, and made this story worth telling.

A few weeks back, Sydney was facing a heat wave, the worst in the last five years, easily. If you cracked an egg and flopped some bacon on the sidewalk you could cook breakfast.

I live in a modest flat in one of those huge filing-cabinet buildings the eighties shat out - it's nothing special, but the rent is reasonable. The one issue is that it feels like a pressure cooker when the heat is on outside.

I was laying in bed, tossing and turning with my covers balled up at my feet, my nightgown soaked in sweat. The air was so humid it felt like a blanket of its own, squeezing the breath out of me. The whole room both smelled and tasted stale, like an old gym sock.

It was in this state of intense heat that I leaned over and opened the window a fraction, feeling relieved at the sudden circulation of air.

For years I'd never really undone that window at night, though at the time I couldn't for the life of me remember why. It was all just a haze, some mirage cast by the heat. When the breeze finally started drifting down onto me I wondered why I'd wasted so many years without it.

When the temperature reached a happy medium I found myself drifting off to sleep. For a moment or two I was in a cool, blissful silence...

Until the rattling started.

The rattling was a whisper at first, just some distant ambient noise, but as the seconds passed it grew louder and closer - until it sounded like a metal ball-bearing rocketing around inside an oil drum: grinding and clunking. I found myself jolted awake by such an alien sound.

I heard this soft tearing noise, something I was sure I'd heard before.

It took me a moment to put my finger on it, but it soon came back with absolute, brutal clarity. It was a sound I hadn't heard since my childhood, when I took a pair of scissors from the kitchen and opened my window.

It was the tearing of mosquito net.

My entire body tensed up in fear as the ripping continued, then abruptly ceased. Something was outside, moving, rustling, clinging to the side of my fifth-floor apartment with startling ease.

My eyes began adjusting to the darkness when I saw the tips of three scythe-shaped claws sliding through my open window. The hand they jutted from was a raw pink, like burned flesh.

The creature's skin was almost translucent, with a network of veins and arteries pulsing visibly underneath.

22 years of repressed memories hit me like a bullet, and it took every ounce of restraint to suppress the urge to scream.

There it was, the embodiment of my childhood nightmares: the Blindenkralle made flesh.

My muscles turned to stone as it fastened itself to the windowsill, a second, clawed hand chattering through to accompany it. The monster leaned in, its disgusting, wet snout wriggling, its huge ears hanging slack, the thousand jagged teeth clicking.

Where a normal animal's eyes would be, the Blindenkralle had an stretch of veiny, pink, skin that stretched back over a domed cranium - the colour of putrid luncheon meat.

Sweat was pouring in twin rivulets from my hairline. The monster - whose throat was making that awful rattling noise, like the final gurgling croak of a person on the brink of death - opened its jaws wider than any creature I'd ever seen, and made way for the legendary tongue.

It was as thick as my arm: a monstrous, fleshy cable that forked at the end, coated in a thick, viscous liquid - like melted liquorice, oozing its stifling musk of burnt coal. Droplets of hot, black spittle fell from the tongue and stained my bed as it gently flailed and probed the air, almost autonomous in its resolve, tasting for my fear.

Part of me knew that if I stayed there for a moment longer it would find me, then devour me as it had in so many dreams before. I looked at those sharp teeth, those terrible claws, that awful tongue...and thought of death itself.

I fully believed that I would meet my end at the hands of the Blindenkralle, but I refused to accept it.

In what I can only describe as a purely adrenaline-fuelled feat, I rocketed out of bed and onto the carpet.

The Blindenkralle gave a guttural roar and slashed wildly, tearing my pillow into ribbons in a single strike. I saw the great wings beating behind its skeletal, almost gargoyle-like body, before settling like a cloak of flesh on its back.

I bolted for the door, grabbing at the handle with my slippery, sweat-drenched fingers. The Blindenkralle lunged for me, loping forward on its muscular, marsupial hind legs, the flesh cloak trailing along behind it.

The beast cleared the room in half a second, and I was out the door a fraction of an instant before it reached me.

I slammed the door behind me, trapping it inside, and began bounding across my living room to the front door of my apartment. I hoped in vain like a child that reaching the "safety zone" of the hall would protect me from the monster, but my foot caught on the carpet and snagged.

My stride was broken, and I came tumbling down to the ground with a twisted ankle.

Aside from my quiet, pained moans as I gripped my aching leg, the whole apartment seemed suffocated by disquieting silence. Hot tears mixed with sweat and ran down my cheeks. I kept my eyes on the door, still closed at that point, and sobbed quietly. It was only a matter of time before the Blindenkralle came to finish me off. I had finally accepted it.

Everything was going dark again, but I saw the door begin to creak open, and that awful rattling sound started to ring through the air.

The Blindenkralle's hands and feet made these strange, meaty thudding sounds as it padded along the floor towards me - the thuds and the rattling became more intense by the moment, but I still couldn't see the creature.

Then, I felt a hard claw press into my shoulder and force my back tenderly to the ground. I looked up and saw it staring down at me from above, its eyeless face twisted into a cruel parody of a grin.

I whimpered as its mouth opened with a quiet hiss, and its hot, moist tongue dragged across my cheek.

I think now is probably the most tasteful moment to end my story, which is - to this day - the only first-hand account of a person's experience with the Blindenkralle. I can only hope that it'll be the last one, too.

There's not a day that goes by that I don't run the scenario over in my head again, with the same clarity and futility as rewinding the end of a movie. When this happens, I always find myself wondering the same thing: whether it would have played out differently if I hadn't opened my window on that hot September night.

And, I know that you're probably wondering how I survived my close encounter, whether by luck or skill or some last-minute divine intervention. I'd love to tell you any of those things were the case, but in truth the real answer is far more simple. It's the same reason I typed this on a Braille keyboard.

As it turns out, the Blindenkralle only eats eyes.

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