Extract from Michael Mitchell's translation

Matthias Mander's The Cassowary

Preliminary Report One: The Chase

The chase started in Annenstrasse where the mill-race emerged from its underground bed, frothed round the basalt wall of the Annenkeller restaurant and, from the third house in Elisabethinerstrasse, followed the southerly line of the sidewalk, separated from it by railings. Here we pulled our satchels off our backs and tore sheets of paper out of our exercise books, white, empty pages, which fluttered awkwardly down into the water by the kiosk on the bridge. They shone vividly in the dark tunnel. By the time the current had caught them, sweeping them in a swift curve out into the light, three or four of us – Schläffer, Bergles, Rupp or Fischl – were already standing on the narrow walk leading to the Annenkeller and had started the bombardment, screaming, bright-red and trembling.

The first stones splashed into the water. Standing, legs jammed between the railings, kneeling, bent over them or squatting down, we aimed our missiles at the patches of white. Shallow spouts and low-flying spray leapt up round them. But every time, at the beginning of every chase, these paper islands assumed the characteristics which drove us wild in our urge to hit them: the sheets took on a soggy but tough consistency, held firm by the suction of the persistent waves: silent and dogged, defenceless but sublime, they swirled along their dark course. Our first shots hardly made them twist or bob at all.

But already we were rushing along to Kernstock Bridge, hurling our missiles sideways into the millstream. We dug into the gutter, scratched at the soft asphalt, pulled nails and pieces of tin off wooden fences, broke off bricks from half-demolished walls, purloined pieces of iron, rivets, clamps, wire; even cobblestones succumbed to our little claws. Clutching our ammunition, our hands and faces smeared with dirt, we took up position on Pranker Bridgacross the broad curve of the stream. Rupp even ventured out onto the sloping gas-pipe, that crosses the mill-race a stone's throw above the Stag Inn, and lay down flat, just above the surface of the water. His rubble gave the islands a massive pounding as they silently floated along.

Some of them leapt up with the spout of water, twisted in the air but then once more settled down calmly on the surface as the channel quickly composed itself again and flowed on. Load after load our arms poured onto the gentle fleet. As each of our shells sank, we looked for the pure ships which continued their aloof course without quickening or deviating.

Some sheets, when a light nail or a fistful of soil landed on the middle, would begin to sag, to subside. Others would carry a load by the edges or in the corner for a few moments before it slipped to the side, pressed a slim crease into the raft, then was brushed off with a nonchalant tilt and sank. The paper, however, bobbed undamaged on the surface among the others that had not been hit. They floated through light and shade, down the stream as if they were waving and nodding in the waves. Our attack continued to rain down on the scattered herd, a clutch of gravel, or viciously aimed shots with drain gratings, spokes from cartwheels and cow-chains, but among all the missiles the white boats calmly floated on …