This tale is a retelling of an untitled poem from Heinrich Heine’s Buch der Lieder (1827), also set to music by Franz Schubert as Der Doppelgänger.
Harvest Moon (Part I of III)
The hour is somewhat after 3 o’clock. Tonight I could not sleep. As usual at this season my mind is filled with that disagreeable mix of wanderlust and nostalgic longing, so that the past and future seem well taken care of while the present is foolishly neglected.
I have written of these things before. But as I have intimated, tonight they invaded my mind and occupied it with great tenacity, so that eventually I abandoned any vain thought of sleep and took again to looking out across the roof tops in my customary direction. The harvest moon was high, as I gazed on the blank slated roofs of the old town, towards the place which was (to my enduring frustration) invisible from my vantage point. And yet, to me it always seemed tangible at a distance, out of sight maybe but never out of mind.
I felt the call very strongly tonight – drawing me on, pulling my consciousness back into the warmth of past memories which surround and enclose me like one of my father’s velvet lined coffins in which I used to lay myself in as a boy. I took my hat, coat and shoes, and stepped out into the night.
Harvest Moon (Part II of III)
The night was clear, and eerily still, such that any occasional breath of wind as there might be sent a chill down my spine. I looked around; I was alone. There was no need at all to think about where I should go or which way I should take. My feet seemed to divine a purpose tonight which, as yet, I do not comprehend in my mind. These were steps of destiny, I feel sure, but there seemed to be no urgency. I paced slowly down the street, noting the grand and multifarious forms of the great knockers on those Georgian front doors which are such a part of my boy-hood recollections.
I passed through the churchyard, where the moon shadows play games of chase with nameless nocturnal things among the headstones, and where the dew lies heavily. And I came to the place where I presently stand, looking across the road to the little cottage. My beloved once lived here, and though she is long gone the house still stands. Often I come here, and linger pathetically, and write in my diary as I do now.
Now, I seem to feel her presence more closely than ever. Inhaling the damp autumn air I scent her perfume, untarnished through the intervening years. I remember the flowers she used to tend, under her window. Grief and yearning overwhelm me as I look on the forsaken wilderness which has usurped their place.
The windows are dirty, and one of the panes is shattered. The place is altogether dark. Dead. Why did I come here, where there is only despair?
Harvest Moon (Part III of III)
The clock is striking four now. My legs are stiff and my body chilled. I believe I must be suffering from hypothermic hallucinations, for I seem to see a figure at her window. Tall, pale and horribly thin; wringing its hands as if to mirror my own pain. Oh pale vision, why do you stand there in mockery of my misery?
The moon is moving slowly round. I am shivering so much that it is becoming difficult to write. But I feel no desire to seek warmth or comfort, all I need is here and where else would I go? The figure still stands there, half in shadow, half in moonlight, face hidden in the gloom.
The hour is now half past four. I feel a strange and sudden weariness and reluctance to look up to that window, which by now may be revealed in the light of the moon. But I must.
My God! I look up to the window, and suddenly I see what no man would of his own will endure. The moon shines full upon a ghastly face; hollow, parched and spectral…
And the face is my own…
‘Police are still seeking information on the identity of the man whose body was found over the weekend. A post mortem revealed the cause of death to be hypothermia. The death is not being treated as suspicious.’
[Extract from a local paper]