The blue Ford drove along the unpaved country road. It started
to get dark and Ralph Curtis turned on the headlights. He was
on a business trip to sell the products of a company called Molton
& Frew, located in London, in northern Great Britain or Scotland.
He wanted to avoid traffic and didn't follow the highway but instead
took the side roads north. He didn't have a road map and much
to his chagrin got lost in the night and the fog. For hours already
he drove along this straight road without ever seeing the lights
of a town. Concentrated he guided the vehicle through the darkness
that was only cut by his headlights. The nights here were cold
and he hoped that he wouldn't run out of fuel. With the exception
of a rabbit that jumped over the road Mr. Curtis had not seen
any living creature here yet. Now he drove though a pine forest
and prayed that a human settlement would follow. Only once he
saw the faint glimmer of a light. But he could have been wrong.
One couldn't say that Ralph Curtis was scared but he couldn't
deny a certain uneasiness.
After a quarter of an hour the engine started making a suspicious
noise. The suspicion became reality. The car moved only in spurts
and then stood still. Ralph had run out of gasoline and was alone
in the dark night in an area unfamiliar to him either still in
England or already in Scotland. Lost he looked around. First he
saw forest to the left of the road. Then he looked to his right
but there was nothing but darkness. Then he looked down the street.
Wasn't there in some distance a hint of a chimney sticking out
of the pale moonlight that had penetrated the mist? Weren't there
the outlines of houses? Ralph was filled with joy. He slipped
into his coat and wanted to walk down there as he remembered that
there was a little bit of fuel left in a canister in the trunk.
It was half a liter at the most that he put into the tank. He
turned the ignition and the car started. Carefully he pushed the
accelerator. After 600 meters though the car came to a stop again.
The village wasn't very far now. He already sighted some lights.
He pushed the vehicle. Then he got lucky; the road started going
downhill and he could let the car roll. After a turn lined by
bushes he arrived at an old, unreadable sign. Only the syllable
"vil" could be made out. The paint was peeling off and
decayed wood was exposed. Past the first houses the road straightened
out again and Mr. Curtis pushed his car to an old, wooden building
that featured the word "Inn" on an overhanging sign.
The light was on inside but he didn't hear any voices. Here and
there he saw faces peeking out from behind curtains. They exclusively
were faces of old men and women. The village appeared dirty and
the architecture was sloppy. Ralph Curtis grabbed the handle of
the inn's door and opened it slowly. The door joints squeaked
as if they were badly lubricated. Yet it was surprisingly easy
to open the door.
Even though there were glasses on all of the wooden tables and
smoke in the air, not a soul to be found. Ralph Curtis looked
around and then shouted: "Hello, is anybody here?" Behind
the bar was an open backdoor that lead into a dark hallway. Mr.
Curtis believed to see shadows moving around there. Then he heard
heavy steps and a fat man with an apron and distrusting face expression
entered. He seemed to be the landlord and barkeeper. Mr. Curtis
figured it would be best to order a drink first: "A whiskey
soda, please," he said politely and sat down on one of the
bar stools across from the landlord. Without saying a word, the
landlord poured the drink.
"By the way, my name is Ralph Curtis, I'm from London and..."
"Pleased," the barkeeper interrupted.
"Well, is there a gas station in town? My car ran out of
The strange barkeeper looked at him briefly and started arranging
bottles on the shelf.
"I asked if there is a gas station here!?" Mr. Curtis
"Yes," the barkeeper said laconically. With great impatience
Mr. Curtis slipped a coin to the landlord. After a short moment
the barkeeper had considered: "Just follow the main street.
Turn left at the first intersection. It's the first house on the
Ralph Curtis downed his drink, exited the inn and walked in the
appropriate direction along the dark, unpaved street. At some
spots the road was slightly lit by the lights from the houses.
Whenever he looked up to a window he saw a head quickly disappear
behind thickly woven curtains. Unintimidated he continued on.
After all he was a stranger here and in such a remote village,
that probably had its own ancient traditions and was without the
civilization and advances of modern cities, the people just had
their own customs. He thought about how the products of Molton
& Frew, unknown to the people here and of great advantage
to them, would sell here.
Finally he had reached the intersection with the side-road. It
was very dark there because there wasn't a single light. Yet he
could recognize the outlines of a gas station and walked there.
However, there was no attendant or mechanic on duty and he knocked
on the door behind the pumps. At least the invention of the car
was not unknown to them. Something moved behind the door, he could
hear that, but no one opened. Mr. Curtis decided to walk back
to the inn and rent a room there. He turned around and returned
the same way he got here. As he entered the main street all the
lights were out and it was completely dark now. Still he felt
as if he was watched from behind the windows. In some distance
he saw a single light which came from the inn. He steered towards
Suddenly he heard a dull thud then he stumbled over something
hard and felt a stinging pain in his leg. He straightened himself
and walked on. The invention of the knife was not unknown to them
Before he entered the inn, he checked his car. The door wasn't
locked. He opened it to get his papers from the glove compartment.
At that moment a thin figure rushed out and disappeared unrecognized
in a nearby house. Mr. Curtis didn't know what to think of that
and locked the car doors.
The landlord was still standing behind the bar and removed half-empty
glasses from the counter. People must have been here in the meantime.
Ralph Curtis inquired if he could rent a room here. The landlord
assigned him a room and guided him upstairs right away. The landlord
opened the door to the small chamber and went back down. The chamber
was tiny and had a single, dirty window to the backyard. The bed
was covered with fresh sheets. In the closet was a suitcase and
a few men's clothes hung there. In brief: The room looked, with
the exception of the bed, as if it was occupied or at least as
if it had been abandoned in a hurry. Ralph Curtis examined the
nightstand. In a drawer he found a note, probably from his predecessor:
"I believe that today those crazies have reached their goal.
I hear their steps on the staircase."
Ralph Curtis was neither gullible nor superstitious and he didn't
pay further attention to the note. He went back downstairs because
he had another question for the landlord.
He ordered a bottle of wine and offered the landlord some of it.
"By the way," Mr. Curtis began, "I didn't find
the gas station attendant but I hope to have better luck tomorrow.
Say, are we the only ones in this place?" The landlord didn't
respond. "Where is the gas station attendant? Away? On vacation?"
"No, he's not here."
"But where is he? What happened to him?"
"We killed him," the landlord said calmly.
"Sheesh, are you trying to make fun of me? I don't want to
settle down here, I've got places to go. Tell me now where the
gas station attendant is!" The landlord remained silent.
"Is there another town in the area?"
"Is there a post office? I will call for help!" Mr.
"There certainly is a post office, but we've killed the postmaster."
"Don't act like a bloody fool!" Snorting with rage he
retreated to his room.
He went straight to bed but he couldn't fall asleep yet. He contemplated
the situation and the events that lead to it. Tomorrow everything
would be fine and he could resume his travel. Then he fell into
a deep sleep and didn't wake up again until the early morning.
He got dressed and went downstairs to have breakfast. Today a
different landlord was behind the counter. Ralph asked, where
the other one was.
"We killed him," the landlord said.
Mr. Curtis left for the gas station. He saw a few people on the
way that checked him out but didn't greet him. The gas station
still looked closed which it actually was. At least no one opened
the door. He started to realize that he was on his own here. He
went to the post office. Of course there was a postmaster, contrary
to what the landlord had insisted on. He submitted a telegram
to his office, describing the unlucky situation. However, telling
by the postmaster's behavior, he wasn't so quite sure if the telegram
would ever arrive. After he had left the post office, which didn't
have the name of the town on it either, it was noon and Ralph
went looking for a grocery store. He found one but that was closed
and he was forced to have lunch at the inn. "I hope the landlord
doesn't attempt to make me believe that they killed the grocery
store clerk," Mr. Curtis thought. Lost in thoughts he strolled
down the dusty street. He decided to go for a little walk. He
disappeared behind the turn in the road that twisted up a slight
hill between blackberry bushes and was followed by the woods from
where he had come from. He wondered why he didn't just walk away.
In the other direction his line of sight stopped at the horizon
that was made of a rocky hill. He contemplated the tire marks
that were somewhat erased from the wind and followed them back
into the village. Soon the tracks would be all gone. He thought
his situation through again.
Eventually the tracks ended at the inn and he studied the old
menu next to the entrance. He noticed it when he first arrived
but the car blocked access to it - not so now. And now it dawned
on him: His car was gone. He didn't even notice at first but now
he realized finally that he would never get away from here. Depressed
he went to have lunch. The first landlord was here again, much
to his relief. When the landlord served the vegetables and meat,
Mr. Curtis asked about the grocery store clerk.
"Him? We killed him a long time ago and haven't found a replacement
yet. Would you like to take his place?"
"He's probably not to blame for his idiocy," Curtis
consolidated himself and quietly finished the meal. Then he went
to his room to have his after-lunch nap. But he couldn't quite
fall asleep. Too much went through his head. He dozed and started
at a picture on the wall. It showed an old, wrinkled man who swept
the street, it was the local main street, with a broom and erased
tire tracks. Ralph Curtis tried to make sense of the picture as
he suddenly was reminded of the note he had found: He heard thumping
steps on the stairs that came closer and closer. The door handle
wiggled carefully and the door opened mysteriously. Two old, wrinkled
men stood in the doorway. Ridden by panic, as he now saw the context,
Ralph Curtis wanted to jump out the window but realized that it
was too high.
"Making our job easier, mister?" one of the men mocked.
The other grabbed Mr. Curtis with such strength that he couldn't
have opposed and skillfully broke his neck. Together they dragged
the body downstairs and disappeared in the dark hallway past the
Ambrose Holloway drove north. He was employed by Molton &
Frew in London and was ordered to go look for the missing Ralph
Curtis. A telegram from him had been received but it was vague
about the location and the situation. Ambrose Holloway didn't
like the crowded main roads and drove straight ahead through lonely
countryside. "Maybe Mr. Curtis had come through here too,"
was his thought. He passed through a forest and after a turn he
arrived at a village, probably one of these holes that were common
here. He welcomed the sight of the inn ahead as he was thirsty.
He ordered a lager and asked the landlord about Ralph Curtis.
He supported his inquiry with a photo. Gravely and slowly the
landlord replied: "We killed him."
"Don't tell me any bull," Ambrose said. The landlord
was quiet and Mr. Holloway drank up and, shaking his head, left.
He didn't see Mr. Curtis' car anywhere so he wouldn't be here
dead or alive or otherwise. He made a turn because he spotted
a gas station. He asked for the attendant who promptly appeared.
It was no one else but Ralph Curtis. "Hey, hello, Ralph.
What are you doing here being a gas station attendant? Finally
found you," Mr. Holloway said with a sigh.
"How are you, Sir."
"Don't you recognize me?" But the attendant just took
the money and went back into the house. Mr. Holloway thought he
had to get to the bottom of this and wanted to get a room at the
inn. He signed into the guest book and noticed the name Curtis
above. Just then the landlord yelled: "You can pick up the
grocery store clerk!" Confused Mr. Holloway looked at the
backdoor from which several men leaped. Ambrose Holloway felt
the deadly blow to his neck. From then on the unknown village
in northern Great Britain, somewhere in Scotland, had a gas station
attendant and a grocery store clerk again but there were still
positions to be filled.
A red Austin Mini Cooper just turned around the corner, watched
by faces behind windows, and left deep grooves in the ground that
would have to be covered again. The car had run out of oil and
smoke came from the engine. From the windows curious eyes looked
down on the future street sweeper.
Copyright © December 1980, Wasty, Another Place, Another Custom
German title: Die seltsame Reise des Ralph C.
Reading time: approx. 17 minutes
Last updated February 12, 2001 by Martin Mathis, e-mail lastbandit.com