I know you to be a person who is interested in social history and societal developments from the perspective of the common people, so I thought you might be interested in reading this document which I came across in the local archive recently.
I’m finding it extremely difficult to date, and as I know you have far more specialist knowledge than me in this subject, I thought you might be able to help me pin down when such a document would have been written, for which I would be very grateful.
It’s a curious deathbed confession of some kind which provides multifarious insights into the superstitious ideas of common people in what I guess to be the early modern period. In addition, it also provides incredibly interesting insights into the development of ideas towards teabags across the centuries, something which could blow all the old sociological ideas about teabags out of the water. Because of its importance in this regard, I hope that you could help me date it. I have copied the document and its contents below for your convenience, since I understand that you’re very busy. If you could reply as quickly as possible I would be very grateful. I value your advice.
BEGINNING OF THE DOCUMENT.
I was ambling recently through an antique bookstore which I have frequented often in recent months, scanning the shelves for any infamous or intriguing titles which might take my fancy – whilst also keeping an eye on the price – when I came across a queer little title which most intrigued me. The slim volume was wedged between a dusty old English dictionary and a rather dry looking old book on horticulture and was therefore all the more surprising for its placement. The title – in faded golden letters – ran thus: “The rogue cracovian, his monstrous powers and all mysteries or evils thereby pertaining to his demonic influence.”
Such a frightful gothic title attracted the worst of my perverse curiosity, and so I pulled it out of the dusty old heap of antiques to check its price. Finding that it had no price scrawled in the inside cover, I enquired after the proprietor as to why there was no such marking, and at what price I might be able to procure it. The proprietor, though not the liveliest chap I profess to having known in my life, usually had a flicker of wit or humour behind those sleepy eyes of his. I suppose the mildness and meekness of his manners came from working in such a placid environment for so long, and one could hardly blame the fellow. But when I showed him the title of the book and enquired after its price, his countenance became very grave indeed. It was a while before I could get any words out of him about the volume at all, and I noticed that the old man was making signs and muttering under his breath. I had to wonder what the devil could be so frightful about such a benign little volume as this, and yet I continued to enquire about the pricing. I finally – after some wrangling – managed to get out of him that the volume had been dropped off at his shop many years ago. The person who had dropped it off had a mysterious air, with a red cross branded upon his head. He did not give a reason for dropping the book off, but only asked the poor man to swear on his life never to sell it, which he had done. This was many years ago.
“Why,” I said, “if I take it from you for free you haven’t sold it, have you? You’ve still stuck by your oath, and I get the book for free.”
I was always one to sniff out a bargain, a virtue which I pride myself on to this day. The old man nodded and seemed to see my reason. He let me take the volume, and I walked out of the shop without having paid a penny and the queer old thing tucked under my arm. However, I was disappointed upon returning to my lodgings that despite the English title of the book, the entire text contained therein was in Polish. Luckily, being a man who’d received a vast and wide education over the course of his life, I could understand the language. In fact, I thought it would be a fun little project for me over the next few weeks to translate such a volume, before the next school term began and I was launched back into the drudgery of the classroom and the faces of all those apathetic children. And so, as the evening set in I sat myself down with a pen and some parchment and began to work.
I must admit that, despite my prodigious knowledge of the Polish language, the text was particularly abstruse, the language being ancient and esoteric. But as the seconds turned into minutes and the minutes into hours, with the sun setting outside my window, I began to make progress with the translation. It went something like…
“For many centuries in Poland it has been strictly forbade that any man, woman or child venture out on country roads after the Sun has set and the people are asleep, for in this mysterious darkness lies a force which is beyond our human consciousness, and beyond all that man has experienced. To outline its origins, its desires and its purposes would be futile, for nothing can be known of this figure. But the young boys and girls have been informed of his presence from generation to generation, so as to prevent any from encountering his malevolence. When the night comes, and all is silent, make sure that your doors and windows are shut. But especially the windows. The windows are the point of access which this force always makes use of. The appearance of this creature varies wildly from account to account and therefore, much like those accounts of witches and demons which vary from man to man, there is no consensus as to the aspect of its horror. But from the many eyewitness accounts of this creature, some of which are as old as the soil of this land, certain details can be settled so as to enable any man or woman to identify the creature. It appears in most aspects to take the shape of a mortal man or woman, except it is hunched over and covered in rags and shawls so as to shadow its countenance.
As for what lies within the depths of that shawl, no mortal has ever discovered such a horror and managed to live out the rest of his days in sanity or good health. The creature travels only along country lanes in the depths of night, so that from far away this rogue beast may seem to be a poor peasant woman making her way to the next village, perhaps with some teabags to sell at the local market. But mark its movement! For the movement of the creature is the most unnatural that has ever been descried upon God’s Earth, as every person who has seen the thing from afar and lived to tell the tale so attested. Despite having all the limbs of a normal living mortal, such as legs and feet, it moves without need of these appendages. To put it bluntly, it moves along the ground without raising a foot, almost as if it hovers. Yet all the time, as several eyewitnesses have attested, it never raises its feet from the ground. It simply moves with its arms outstretched, and at so unnatural a pace that it has caused many a frightened Polish man or woman to run in the other direction, abandoning all prospects of getting to the next village and selling their teabags. But the most horrifying aspect of this creature is yet to be described –”
I had to break away from my translation for a second, chucking at the ridiculous gothic fancy of the whole thing. It all read rather like something from The Monk by Lewis or some other bloody degenerate text. Yet these people believed in such stupidities. I was midway through this little chuckling fit of mine when a sudden bang jerked my head up away from my parchment to somewhere in front of me. But it was only the window. I had left it open earlier so as to let in the evening breeze, but the night was now howling with wind, and this had led to the window making a little noise as it flapped open and shut in the squall. But this was no bother to me. If anything, I like such noise as I work. It created rather a nice ambiance within which I could focus. Putting all thoughts of the window out of my head as it continued to slam against the catch, I returned to my work with enthusiasm.
“The most horrifying element of this creature, which the townsfolk of Cracow have named the “Rogue Cracovian”, is what it does when the window of a poor working Polish lad or lass is left open in the night. It is most harrowing. Many a Cracovian boy or girl, just as they are drifting off into the oblivion of sleep, have heard the dreaded and infamous words “Window is opportunity” exclaimed in a vaguely Eastern European accent, something which every eyewitness account has attested to. Then, they have rushed to their windows to lock them, before being paralysed with fear at the sight below.
The creature squats as if to jump extremely high, but then simply moves slowly and directly upwards in a straight line as if on a string until it is directly in line with the window, before moving slowly, again as if on a string, horizontally towards the window. It creates a perfect ninety-degree angle, as it were. All the time as it does this, the squatting position which was assumed before the jump is maintained, as if a figurine being moved in the air by some ghostly hand. By the time the rogue cracovian is in line with the window the poor lad or lass has usually fainted. They then wake up, only to find that every single one of their teabags is gone! None to sell at the market, and none to make a stew with! It would not be necessary to name how many poor Polish men and women have been ruined by such an occurrence. One can tell if he is present by the biting cold which invades a room before he enters, something which is no doubt the influence of devilry. The rogue cracovian has therefore become as feared in the town of Cracow as all the ignoble hordes of Lucifer himself, with the famous teabag scarcity of 1532 being ascribed directly to his influence. But it is not only the Cracovians who fear him, for reports of him spread across the globe, stealing teabags from the homes of innocent victims as they slumber. It is only the wandering Jew who could banish such an evil from this globe. Therefore, lock up thy windows and trouble thyself not with country roads after dark, for therein lies the rogue cracovian.”
After having finished my translation, I couldn’t help but chuckle again at the absurdity of the thing. Yet I also couldn’t help but steal a little look to my right to check that my teabags, which I had stockpiled over the previous few months, were still there. Indeed they were. Yet I did feel a little chill that I was sure wasn’t there before, and I noticed now that the window banged open and shut with more rapidity, with the gale seeming to reach a howling, screaming crescendo. Before long the window was banging with more volume and rapidity than my skittish heart. Of course, this was all silly superstition! It was only my overheated imagination which made the window seem to slam so and the wind seem to howl so. What need had I to shut that window which banged so incessantly? And what need had I to shiver as the cold enveloped me? And what need had I to whimper a little as I heard the words “Window is opportunity” pronounced above the squall? I rushed to the window, looked down, and saw the hunched figure in his rags squatting down as if to leap, before slowly ascending towards my flapping window until he was directly across from it. Yet I did not faint. I would defend my teabags with all my life and would let no blasted Polish demon or whatever the hell he was obtain them! But as I was rushing back to my teabags, the door burst open in a burst of wind and light and a figure stepped in. He was dressed all in black robes, with a crucifix branded on his head. But of course, the wandering Jew!
I collapsed onto my knees in awe, shock, reverence and whatever else as he stepped into the middle of the room, his robes fluttering around him in the apocalyptic breeze. I crawled over to my stockpile of teabags, only to turn back to the window and see the rogue Cracovian levitate in through the window in his infamous squatting position. It was as he floated in through the window that I saw his face. It is for many years that this face has driven itself into my nightmares, and I am surprised that, as I write this confession upon my deathbed, I have never yet gone mad with the thought of it. Suffice it to say that there is no way in which I can use the language of mortals to describe such a horror as that face. But it was only an instant, and soon his face was again swathed in shadow. The wandering Jew took up a position in the centre of the room, faced the devil directly and pronounced some syllables of which I’d never heard the like. All I could do was tremble with fear with corner. As these syllables were pronounced, the rogue Cracovian froze mid levitation. He began to convulse and writhe, with his limbs starting to contort and stick out at odd ends I didn’t think possible. He seemed to twist in on himself, folding over again and again, his size diminishing with each twist and crack. Before long he had twisted himself into a tiny ball which hung in the air, which then promptly burst into flames. As it burnt in the air, the Wandering Jew watched in silence. When it was done, he stooped down and collected the ashes into a small box, the design of which I couldn’t make out. So, the Cracovian was gone, back to whatever hell from whence he sprang. He promptly left, without having said a word throughout the whole ordeal. I owe that Jew my life, as well as my teabags. Soon after, I continued my work of teaching, translation and a little bit of teabag vending on the side, and all seemed normal again. I have never told a soul of my ordeal with said Rogue Cracovian. I burnt that blasted book long ago. Now I am on my deathbed, and I leave this confession to the world as a warning of the realm beyond us of which we know nothing, and how it is prudent never to meddle with such things. For the calmness of one’s mind and the safety of one’s teabags, leave such things alone. But hark, is that a tapping upon the window? And is that the window opening? Did I just hear the word “opportunity” whisper’d?
I may leave this world sooner than I think.
HERE THE DOCUMENT ENDS.
Again, I would be incredibly grateful if you could help me date this little fragment, as the insights that it might provide into the development of ideas concerning teabags in English and Polish societies from the sixteenth century onwards in particular could potentially help to create a new and exciting historiography on the subject, the fruits of which we would both enjoy. Get back to me as soon as you can.
Gregory is an eighteen-year-old who’s been writing for some time, yet never tried to have work published before. He is hoping to get something published before University.