Cold Hilarious Fate
By B.J. Mendelson and Bram Stoker
I’m on my way to Romania to see a client on behalf of Carlin, Prior, and Hicks. It’s my first trip abroad, and since I’m footing the bill for my travel, I decided to take a minor detour through Germany. I’ve always wanted to travel across Europe, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to do so.
My detour took me to Munich and the Hotel Beckenbauer Palace, where they offer complimentary drives around the German countryside.
Noticing the hotel manager, I walked to my designated vehicle as fast as I could. I hoped he didn’t see me, but Mr. Jonathan P. Heidenreich saw everything. He stared at my ride with a look similar to what the Nazis must have given Poland moments before invading.
Heidenreich was an odd character. Each night, I heard him roam the halls of Beckenbauer Palace, knocking on every door under the guise of checking in on his guests. When the guests answered, Heidenreich would then say in pitch-perfect English, “May I read you my latest poem? It is about my cat, Ilsa.” He would then go on for some time about his aging cat’s matted fur, missing eye, and endless supply of spit.
When I saw him making his way toward my car, I rolled up the window and said to the driver, who had introduced himself simply as “Johan,” “I hope he’s not going to read us any more of his fucking poetry.” Johan did not respond in any discernible way. He had no sense of humor, and it seemed the very thought of laughing was repulsive to his inner nature. I tried to smile at him, which was greeted with a frown. I guess smiling is also prohibited within the confines of this vehicle. Although truthfully, if I drove a Yugo, I wouldn’t be smiling either.
Instead of molesting our ears, Heidenreich curtly wished me a pleasant trip. Perhaps this was his way of saying he knew I warned some of the guests about his unsolicited acts of literary aggression. Heidenreich then said to Johan, “Show our amazing American Bavaria’s beauty but be back before early evening. You know what nasty night it is.” Johan, not impressed at all with excessive alliteration, or life itself it would seem, answered Heidenreich with an emphatic, “Ja.” Johan Schulz: Man of many words. I liked him.
As the Yugo roared to life, I asked Johan about what Heidenreich was referring to. What was happening tonight? Johan simply crossed himself as he answered: “Walpurgis Nacht.” I replied in classic American fashion: I laughed out loud and then asked incredulously, “What?”
Johan snorted in response to my inquiry and looked at his watch. His eyebrows gathered together as he gave me an impatient shrug. I didn’t push any further, but I should have.
An hour into our trip, I got tired of seeing what was apparently “the touristy” areas. Then, almost as if the universe had read my mind, I saw a little-traveled road. It looked so inviting that I asked Johan to stop the car. He did so with a heavy sigh, and a cross look. “What if we just explored this road before we continued on our way?” He shook his head. “Ok, well” I continued “what if we explore this road, and then you can turn around and take us back to the hotel?” There was a pause. Then another. And then another.
After some time, I told Johan I would like him to drive us down this seemingly unexplored road, which prompted an endless barrage of excuses delivered in broken English. Many of which were followed by Johan crossing himself at the conclusion of each statement. His reluctance to make a simple left turn piqued my curiosity. I am a lawyer after all, and so I know all the signs of when someone is trying to conceal the truth and Johan was displaying all of them.
I started to ask various questions to see if I could get to the facts. But Johan answered fencingly, and repeatedly looked at his watch in protest as he did. Frustrated, I then told Johan I wanted to get out of the car. But before I could even take off my seatbelt, he had opened his door and raced out in front of mine, blocking it with his sizeable Aryan frame.
Johan towered over me by at least a foot and had 200 pounds of muscle to my 162 pounds of lank. He made an impressive roadblock. If I were in a more joking mood, I would have said something witty to break the tension here, but I wasn’t feeling very funny. I was pissed. What was the big deal about this stupid road? There weren’t any signs, and no indication anywhere that there was something to be avoided down it.
There was an awkward moment that followed between Johan and I. I, in the car looking up at Johan. He, peering down at me with all the menace you’d expect from an angered German. It crossed my mind to inform him that my mother was Jewish, just to see what would happen. In my mind, I pictured Johan flipping out, putting his fist through the window, dragging me out of the car, and then shaking me like a doll to see if any “Jew Gold” came loose from my pockets.
What can I say? I have my mother’s paranoia.
At an impasse, I rolled down the window and informed Johan that I wanted to exit the vehicle. He finally sighed and took a step back.
Once I got out of the Yugo, Johan implored me not to go down the road. He always seemed about to tell me something — the very idea of which must have frightened him; as each time he would trail off, cross himself, and say mysteriously, ‘Walpurgis-Nacht!’
And each time I would reply to him by saying, “I still don’t know what the fuck that means!”
I tried to argue further with Johan, but it’s difficult to argue with a man whose native tongue is German. Even the sweetest things said in that language can sound like a chainsaw attempting to cut through vibranium.
A couple of horses from the nearby farm had apparently heard our argument and moved closer to eavesdrop. At one point standing a mere several inches away from my face. Man and beast only separated by the farm’s white picket fence. Soon after, the two horses started to sniff the air. At this, Johan grew pale and looked around in a frightened way.
The next thing I knew, Johan picked me up over his shoulder, which prompted me to inform him that I did not, in actually, possess any “Jew Gold.”
Johan opened the passenger door and threw me into the car as if I weighed less than a feather pillow. He then got in and drove a few feet down the road to get away from the horses. “Johan, I feel you’re overreacting!” He said nothing. When I asked again for an explanation, he again crossed himself and pointed to the spot we had left. “’Body” he mumbled in English.
Finally, we were getting somewhere. “A body? Like a human body?”
As Johan was about to respond, we heard an odd sound. One that was not made by the horses. Johan, for the second time, went pale, and said, “Circus bear.” I laughed, which caused Johan to glare at me until I stopped.
“Abandoned,” Johan added. I got out of the car, informing Johan, “I have got to see this.”
Johan emitted a deep sigh as he again followed me out of the vehicle, but this time nowhere near as fast as before. Perhaps he decided it would be best if a hungry circus bear devoured me. At the very least, he’d return home with a good story to share. Perhaps Mr. Jonathan P. Heidenreich could even write a poem about it.
I noticed dark clouds started to swirl across the sky. The sunshine passed, and a breath of cold drifted past us, sort of like that creepy feeling you get when you’re talking about someone who died and then the room gets cold. It was only a brief breath, however, and honestly, it felt more like a warning than anything else as the sun soon came out.
Sometimes the universe gives you a hint, and sometimes that hint isn’t very subtle.
Johan looked under his lifted hand at the horizon and said: “Snow.” Then he looked at his watch again and got back into the car. This time, I didn’t join him.
I was now towering over my monstrous German friend as he rolled down his window. “Where does this road go, Johan?” Again he crossed himself and mumbled a prayer, before he answered, “Unholy.” ‘What is?’ “Circus.” Curious, I asked, “ You guys have a circus down there?”
Apparently annoyed by my nonchalant retorts and eagerness to push the issue, Johan burst out into a long story in German and English, so mixed up that Google Translate could not understand everything, but I did gather a few things:
-There was a famous circus located just down this road many years ago. I didn’t catch the name. Something happened that caused the circus, and the town next to it, to shut down. Something bad.
-The bears and other assorted animals have managed to survive through their wits and abundant water and food supply thanks to the local wildlife. Bears in Bavaria, as it turned out, were not so abnormal an occurrence.
-The circus and all of its employees were from Romania.
He was afraid to speak those last words.
Johan was now looking around as if expecting some circus bear would manifest itself right then and maul him to death. All while wearing a silly hat.
Finally, in an agony of desperation, he cried: ‘Walpurgis Nacht!’ and started the car. I’m ashamed to admit, I lost my temper here. I could only take so much of this “wild rumpus” crap.
I’m an American after all. Nobody tells me what to do in a foreign country!
“For someone of your size, you should be ashamed of yourself, Johan. “Rumpus Room” doesn’t concern me, and it shouldn’t concern you either!”
Johan excitedly implored me not to do anything foolish. He was genuinely in earnest, but all the same, I turned and walked away as he continued to jabber on in German. With a despairing gesture, Johan began his journey back towards Munich without me.
I watched as he drove off. He went slowly along the road for a while until there came over the crest of the hill a husky, dark-skinned man. When the man drew closer to the vehicle, the horses began to jump and kick about, then scream as if the farmer had arrived to send them to the glue factory.
Johan must have heard the commotion as well. His car’s engine roared again, leaving my view entirely. I looked at the horses and then back for the stranger, but found that he too was gone.
I was now alone, left with nothing but guilt for my rude treatment of Johan and irrational behavior. Just what was I thinking? I’m not an outdoorsman by any means. The last time I spent any significant time in the woods was when I was eight. I was stung by a bee, I cried, and I never went outside again.
What was he trying to warn me about? And why did I feel this sudden attraction to what was down that road?
I was about to find out.
– Jonathan H.