by Frank Martin
Limping slightly, I stepped out of the evening sunshine and into the darker interior of the bar. I immediately saw that Tony and the rest of the guys were already there. They stood, as usual, around the high table by the rear door, which was our favourite spot for a Friday evening, after work drink. Each of them had a creamy-topped pint of Guinness in front of him. The only other customers were a few men occupying barstools along the counter.
“Ah, Frank, the usual?” enquired the barman.
“Yes, indeed. Thanks Thomas,” I replied.
I sat on a high stool, listening to ‘Cool for Cats’ by ‘The Squeeze’ playing in the background, as I waited to be served. On receiving my pint, I went over and joined my friends at the table.
“How are the men?” I asked.
“Welcome back Frank. How was Germany?”
“Grand, just got back yesterday.” I took a sip from my pint before putting it down on the table.
“What part did you go to?”
“Down around the Black Forest region, we love that part, been there a couple of times before. It’s one of my favourite touring spots.”
“Sounds nice. What happened to your hand?” John nodded toward the fresh scar on my right wrist, where it joined the hand. The stitches had only been removed that morning.
“Oh, that’s not all,” I said, pulling up the left leg of my trousers. The four of them looked at the centimetre wide crusted scab, bordered by an outraged patch of red, inflamed skin, running down the shin.
“Jaysus, you were in the wars. Did you have an accident with the motorbike or what?
“No, not at all.”
“What happened?” The four of them looked at me, holding onto their pint glasses as though afraid someone might take them away.
“Well, it’s a strange story.” I said. “We were touring around the Black Forest and, as we like to get off the beaten track at times, we booked two nights in a remote cottage up in the mountains. It was just outside a little village of no more than a few hundred people or so. Apart from the village there was very little around, mostly just dense wooded hillside. Lovely nature, but miles from anywhere.” I took another sip before setting the glass back on the table.
“Anyway, the first evening, after we settled into the cottage, we walked into the village, which was only about half a kilometre away. There wasn’t much to the place, a church surrounded by a collection of those nice, traditional, German houses. It was very quiet. Needless to say we ended up in the only pub in the place, a typical old-style Gastube, with heavy wooden beams and furnishings, and handles a metre long for the beer taps.”
“My kind of place,” Tim said.
“It was fairly full when we went in,” I continued, “being the only place for people to go in the evenings I suppose. There was a great buzz of conversation going on, but it died down fairly quickly when we arrived I can tell you. You could tell they weren’t used to tourists in these parts, as all eyes were on us as we made our way over to a little table by the window, where we sat down on a simple wooden bench.”
“Just a moment,” Tony said, turning toward the bar. “Will you set up five more pints for us there, Thomas,” he called. “It’s thirsty work listening to this fella.”
“Comin’ up.” Thomas abandoned his conversation with a customer at the far end of the bar and headed towards the Guinness tap, reaching for a fresh glass as he did so.
“Go on,” Tony said, turning his attention back to me.
“Now, my German isn’t great,” I said, “but I can hold a basic conversation. So, when this oldish man, whom I believe was the owner, came over to us, I ordered a large beer and a glass of red wine for herself.”
“Decent of you,” Tim raised his glass and poured the remaining contents down his throat before setting the empty glass back on the table.
“By the time the owner brought our drinks to the table the villagers had mostly stopped staring at us and returned to their conversations. We began to relax a bit and enjoy the warmth and atmosphere of the place.”
“Here ye are lads,” Thomas placed the fresh pints before us and disappeared immediately, taking the empty glasses with him. All eyes returned to me.
“Well, to make a long story boring,” I continued, “we stayed for a while and had a few more drinks.”
“I’ve no doubt ye did.” Tony said.
“At a certain point, seeing our glasses were empty again, I got up and went up to the counter to order another drink. Now, I had had a few at this stage, and this caused me to be a bit braver with my German. So, after successfully placing the order for the same again, I decided to say something funny to the owner. I don’t exactly remember what it was I said, but I must have gotten it wrong somehow. I certainly didn’t mean to cause any offence, but there was a look of shock, even horror, on the owners face. After a moment of raging silence, he turned his back on me and stomped away. I was probably a bit loud as well, because the whole room seemed to hear, and all conversation died instantly, for the second time that evening. They all turned and stared at me, with what looked like a combination of disbelief and fury on their faces. The atmosphere had turned ice cold and it was dreadfully uncomfortable. I collected the drinks and returned to my seat. From there on it was clear we were no longer welcome.”
“What the hell did you say?” The four lads were all leaning in, perceptibly closer now, around the table.
“I told you, I can’t remember. Anyway, it became so uncomfortable that we decided it was best to leave, and so we did. We got our coats, and on the way out I said ‘aufweidersehen’ to the owner. I got nothing but hostile glares in response, from both him, and the remaining villagers. It was about midnight at this stage, and it was very dark outside. We walked out of the village in the direction of the cottage, still quite confused as to what had happened. The road out of the village was pitch black and we had a job even finding the little cottage. It was really eerie. We were both shivering.”
“Jaysus”, John said.
“When we finally got into the cottage and settled down we decided to have one for the road.”
“As you do,” Tony said.
“I opened a bottle of wine and poured out two glasses. At this stage we were sitting on a sofa in the front room. It was ink black outside and the night was very still. We were just sitting there, chatting and sipping our wine, finally beginning to relax again, when suddenly I became aware of a strange sound. It was like a babbling sound coming from a good distance away. It didn’t sound natural like the usual sounds of night-time. I couldn’t make out what it was. But it was getting louder, that was for sure. I set my glass down and went over to the window and pulled the curtain aside to look out. To my right, in the direction of the village I could see a large area of bright light, moving in the unrepentant darkness. It was moving toward us, down the road from the village, and the noise was getting louder and louder. Rooted to the spot, I watched it approach, totally puzzled and more than a little nervous. Then I managed to discern what the light was. It was a crowd of villagers with fiery torches, held high, moving in unison in our direction. It looked like the whole village was coming. I could now more clearly make out the shape of the mob, getting noisier and noisier. I was honestly filled with terror at this stage, as it was clear they were headed for the cottage. Closing in on the cottage they spread out, and surrounded it. I could now clearly make out the pitchforks they also carried. Herself, having joined me at the window, was gripping onto me, shaking with fear. I looked around for anything to use as a weapon. There was a heavy oak table which we pushed up against the door. ”
“Jesus,“ Tony said, “Are you serious?”
“Actually no I’m not,” I replied, standing up straight, and taking a long swallow. “I’m just joking ye. I injured myself by tripping over a flower pot coming out of the hotel.”
“Well, feck you,” Tim said, “I much preferred the other story”.
“Put on five more, Thomas,“ I called.