Gerhard Wagner steps from his warm living room onto a freezing front porch. He fills his lungs with frosty air and watches as the darkness becomes white from his exhale. The only intrusion into the night comes from three lanterns flickering through two large windows and from an impressive three-quarter moon over the tops of imposing pines. He’s lived in the same small log home located deep in the Black Forest for sixty years. His grandfather built it by hand, and Gerhard took ownership when his grandfather passed away. He never married, and his family consists of three large Bouvier des Flandres.
The weather-beaten porch provides a front-row seat to the sparkling diamonds set in the ebony sky and the long dark shadows from the surrounding forest. He takes another deep breath and appreciates the sweet scent of pines in the light breeze. He debates how long he’ll remain in the brisk air when the dogs become agitated. This is not unusual given the abundance of wildlife found in the woods, and it is typically the scent of wolves that aggravate the dogs. Gerhard watches as their pacing increases.
Glancing skyward, he sees it. Streaking across the sky is a silent fireball. He’s never seen an airplane, and the lack of formal education means the possibility of a meteor never occurs to him. The flaming object comes closer and loses altitude as time stands still. He doesn’t move until the object disappears below the silhouette of primeval evergreens. Seconds later there is an explosion, and for a moment daylight replaces the night. Soon a distasteful odor fills the air, a combination of burning rubber and sulfur. It is the same sort of rotten egg smell produced by paper mills, but with a burning scent thrown in for good measure. He enters his house and slips into a worn woolen plaid coat, grabs a leather hat complete with ear-flaps, puts a pistol in his belt, and picks up his shotgun along with additional shells.
Gerhard enters his primitive barn, lifts a battered leather saddle, and places it on the muscular back of the Schwarzalder Kaltblut, better known as the Black Forest Cold Blood. The workhorse breed is Gerhard’s pride and joy, and he rides it everywhere. Its stunning dark chestnut coat is offset by a flaxen mane and tail. Gerhard finishes tightening the saddle and mounts his steed.
The combination of a clear night with an assist from moonlight provides a shimmering semblance of visibility, but he brings along a kerosene lantern for additional light. He guides his mount slowly into the woods with the Bouviers following closely. Gerhard knows the forest topography like most people know the inside of their homes. He can navigate blindfolded through the many game trails and his pathways sculpted over the last fifty years. He is comfortable in the woods, but his awareness is heightened at night. Having the Bouviers along reduces his anxiety given their famous sense of protection.
Once he enters the forest, its blackness increases, but the lantern provides enough light to maneuver on the path. It takes only about ten minutes to find his way to the site of the explosion. As he gets closer, the odor becomes stronger, and an eerie glow shows through a myriad of branches and evergreens. The horse slows to a walk and resists as he closes in on the clearing and the dogs stop short and move abnormally. Gerhard dismounts and ties the reins to a branch so his transportation won’t decide to bolt.
He comes to the edge of the impact area and is astonished by its appearance. The thick forest has been flattened into an oval shape, where trees and undergrowth seem to have vaporized. He gingerly tiptoes into the midst of smoldering fires, carefully avoiding anything burning. The ground is devoid of organic material as something burns in the middle of the newly created clearing. Gerhard, wary with each step, slowly saunters to the remnants of the craft. It is in the shape of a German Helmet, is silver in color, and even though the fires have been burning for some time, the exterior of the craft looks smooth with none of the soot residues one would expect.
A hatch appears to be open at the top of the craft, and as Gerhard walks around he is stunned to see three small bodies in shiny metal suits. His heart pounds as he changes from spooked to afraid. The size of the bodies are those of small children, but the uneducated man from the Black Forest knows these are not children.
Gerhard is a product of an environment where werewolves and vampires are regarded as real, and stories like Hansel and Gretel and Little Red Riding Hood are believed throughout these woods. He notices the metal is thin, and curiosity gets the best of him as he removes his glove and picks up a piece of something shiny. It is lightweight and cool to the touch, despite its proximity to the fire. He doesn’t want to go near the bodies, but he feels compelled to stay.