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The Secret History Of Fritz Lang* by David Luntz

I. Death in Venice (Hollywood), August 2, 1976


Fritz Lang is dying in Los Angeles. But outside his window, he hears from all of forty-six years

before, Mimi, the African elephant, screaming. Her hooves pound down the Unter den Linden,

seeking acacia trees to rub her sores against, the savannah’s long cool grass to shelter in. Further

down, Roger, the albino rhino, bellows in the Brandenburg Fountain, churning water into frothy

rainbows. Morris, the parrot, now cageless, sings giddy canticles, cartwheeling through Roger’s

rainbows. His eyes blaze brighter than sunlight bouncing off tips of birring blades.

The shirtless zookeeper, Hans, woken up too early, is hurling abuse at the escaped

creatures, cracking his sjambok. His thin mustache is combed as finely as sand in a miniature

Japanese garden. Frau Lisbet, his wife, hovers gingerly behind him barefoot, her nightgown

billowing like a silk parachute, a dandelion swept off on an abrupt breeze. Frau Lisbet has

stepped in Brie cheese on her flight out the house, and, as she floats by Fritz Lang, he knows

what angel feet smell like.

A lorry full of Brown Shirts arrives. A firetruck of firemen in black lederhosen set up

barricades behind them. Fritz hears a shot, like a starter pistol. It’s Hans’s whip striking Morris.

Morris shrieks and flies off into the early morning summer light. A flurry of gold, violet and

black feathers settle over Fritz like a peacock gown.

Fritz is hiding behind some bushes, much as he does behind his camera. He wishes he’d

brought it along. The day before he had stolen the keys to the Zoo, and, early this morning, he’d

let the animals out as a lark, as a midlife crisis prank. As a chance to turn a zoo into a fleeting or

fleeing circus. To make something horribly cruel a little less cruel. To have a good laugh, too.

Or, so he thought. Now he sees it was his first act of sabotage against everything he detested.

He’s not sure how he never saw it before. Perhaps, the distraction of making movies

blinded him. Or, all the awards he won. But he dies happy in this final knowledge. The crowning

achievement of his life.

The last thing he hears is Morris singing “The Queen of the Night” and the bleeding

colors of the setting sun pitter-pattering like soft rain on broad coconut leaves. 


II. Berlin Zeitgeist, Afternoon Edition, July 27, 1930

(Reprinted in The Times of London, Associated Press, and The New York

Herald Tribune)


Early this morning, the gates to the animals in the Berlin Zoo were mysteriously unlocked. Most

of the animals escaped. They wreaked havoc on the Unter den Linden and other nearby

thoroughfares. Damage to private and public property is expected to exceed 1,000,000

Reichsmarks. Foul play is suspected. A reward of 10,000 Reichsmarks has been established for

any information leading to the person or persons responsible for this criminal mischief.

The fortuitous arrival of a marching band of Hitlerjugend and local firemen coming off

their night shift, however, resulted in the quick and efficient capture of the animals. All of them

are now safe back in their cages and the Zoo is expected to reopen to the public tomorrow.

Only a rare and much beloved Fijian parrot named “Morris” remains at large. Morris is

believed to be 80 years old and sings popular opera arias in German, French, English, Italian

and Russian. Sightings of him have been reported in Nuremberg and Munich.

Contacted by telephone, Professor Gerhardt Mauser, Director of the Zoological faculty

at the University of Heidelberg and a world authority on Psittaciformes, stated, “Parrots never

forget where they come from. Morris is trying to fly home. I wish him the best of luck in this

endeavor.” 


III. Excerpt from Fritz Lang’s Diary, January 7, 1965, Los Angeles

(Written with parrot quill taken from “The Great Berlin Zoo Break” of 1930)


…dreamt again of that damn bird. Maurice. Christ, I hope he made it. Damn long way, Berlin to

Fiji. But maybe not impossible. If the Soviets can put a man in space, why not?

Sometimes, I sense some music in me but I cannot hear it. It’s like some other life is

living through me and I wander through mine in night and fog,

[scratched out, illegible]

…ach, foolish ramblings from an old man, but I wonder if maybe there is a secret history

to my life…and what I was really put here to do was to free a bird who sang opera and, in this

way, put Mozart in the jungle…


* Friedrich Christian Anton "Fritz" Lang (December 5, 1890 – August 2, 1976) was an Austrian-German-

American film director. He fled Nazi Germany in 1933, first to Paris and then Los Angeles. He directed

many cinematic classics like Metropolis, The Testament of Dr. Mabuse, Scarlet Street and The Big Heat.


Originally published by Fiction International 2022


Work is forthcoming or appeared in Pithead Chapel, Vestal Review, Scrawl Place, Best Small Fictions (2021), trampset, X-R-A-Y Lit, Rejection Letters, Atticus Review, Heavy Feather Review, Variant Lit, The Bureau Dispatch and other print and online journals.

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