This is the English translation of ‚Die Donaunixe‘.
Thomas was sitting by the kitchen table and was lost in thoughts. In front of him was a piece of paper and a pencil in his hand. Without thinking too much he had started drawing. He usually did that. He was good at drawing. In everything else he wasn’t really talented. Maybe he was good at reading too. He loved to read about mythology. His favourite story was the one about Odysseus and the sirens. Those creatures of the deep sea that, when you got too close, would sing the most beautiful dreams into your ears. There was no escape, you had to be seduced by those dark-haired women of the ocean who would then devour you. He also knew the other stories about sirens and mermaids. Afterall, he lived in a little town, just outside of Vienna, by the shores of the Danube. He knew the fable about the rivermaid Isa who was a precursor of bad luck. But she was also a protecting spirit for all mariners. Then there was Undine, a water sprite who would only receive a soul when a mortal man would fall in love with her and married her. And as long as she remained a river spirit, she would drown unfaithful men in the depths of the Danube. Besides, there was of course also Anderson’s famous story: The Little Mermaid and the Sea Witch.
When he thought about all those mermaids, out of intuition, he had sketched a woman with a tail who was resting on a rock. Once, he had seen a similar picture of the rivermaid Isa in Upper Austria.
‘Always those fishwomen! Mermaids are bad luck! Everybody knows that. Tomorrow is your birthday. You don’t want to have bad luck on your birthday, do you?’
His mother had come into the kitchen to get dinner ready. Thomas only shrugged with his shoulders and went into his room with pencil and paper. He put the drawing on his desk and picked up his sketchbook. He hoped, tomorrow on his birthday, he would get a new sketchbook. His old one was nearly full. With pencil and sketchbook, he went outside, walked down the forest pathway and down to the Danube. The sun was setting, and golden light glittered on the quick current of the stream. There was no ship in sight. There were only waves, reflecting the light of the sun from gold to red.
Thomas sat down in the sand and opened his sketchbook. His gaze followed the current along the shore. He looked for something to draw. Suddenly, he froze. He had seen something in the waves. It could not be. It was impossible. He looked closely to make sure. But she was still there without a doubt. A young woman with extraordinary beauty looked at him. She didn’t move. Stunned, Thomas was unable to do anything, he just looked. Her hair was of a pale, almost white blond. Her skin glittered in the setting sun golden and red like blood, that continued into a shimmering tail that was covered in green scales. From the middle of the Danube, she swam towards Thomas, close to the shore, her tail half underwater. But it wasn’t the green tail that enchanted him, but her eyes that captured him. Deep storm grey eyes that looked at him full of sadness. They appeared as if something more was within them. Almost like a spell they captivated Thomas entirely. In her eyes there was a storm. But there was no wind and rain but flames and blood. Dust and ashes swirled around, skulls paved the streets, next to them were only ruins. And above all stormed flames and fire. They could have looked at each other for a second, or an hour. Thomas did not know.
‘Come to me! Come swim away with me in the Danube! I can show you all the wonderful and quiet places of nature. The charm of a green and blue kingdom. One kiss and you will be able to breathe under water forever. One sweet kiss! Maybe you will even become immortal like I am. But where you are, everything will be over soon. Turn away from land! There life will soon cease, and death shall reign. You are so young, but death is already standing behind you. You’ve seen it in my eyes.’ She sung.
Her voice reached him like a wailing of the waves. No enchanted music but almost like a melody of a dead march. Thomas almost wanted to walk into the water, give away to the cool stream and meet the danubemaid in the depths when suddenly, he remembered all his stories. She was a rivermaid, a water sprite, and not to be trusted. Here on land he was safe among humans.
Thomas shock his head and screamed: ‘No!’
But the danubemaid was not angry. She simply looked at him with sadness and desperation. Then she turned away. Thomas was proud of himself. He had been able to resist her! Just like Odysseus he had listened to a siren. But he was also able to break the spell with his very own willpower.
The rivermaid dived down. Thomas came back to his senses. The last thing he would ever see of her was her green tale whose scales glittered bright in the final rays of the sun. Then the sun too disappeared in the Danube over the horizon. Thomas could not believe it. He had seen a real rivermaid! A siren of the Danube!
In the moment, when he gained back his senses, in the moment when the rivermaid had disappeared, he realised that his hands had dug deep into the sand, as if they were grasping for something.
He stood up, still a little bit disorientated, he reached for his pencil and sketchbook and marched back home. Almost motoric, step by step, he walked like a soldier away from the Danube. Suddenly, it hit him! He had been so excited about sighting a rivermaid in the Danube that he only realised now what a bad omen this actually was. In all stories he had read about sirens or mermaids, they had been precursors of bad luck. But what should happen? Afterall, at the same time he had been able to withstand the siren. He decided, this was not an unlucky event but a temptation he had been able to resist. Tomorrow was his birthday. The best day of the year.
He was pulled out of his thoughts when he heard something rustling by his legs. The wind had carried this morning’s newspaper in front of his feet. He picked it up. It was quite dirty, but Thomas could still read the date and the headline:
14th March 1938, Arrangements for Austria’s Great Annexation to Germany are in Full Progress!
Now Thomas remembered! Tomorrow was the big celebration on Heldenplatz! The same day as his sixteenth birthday! The 15th of March could not come soon enough!