Wasty Presents: Choice Of Your Pain

Another Place, Another Custom

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 gas."
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 repeated impatiently.
"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 left."
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 it.
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 either...
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. Curtis threatened.
"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 backdoor.
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.
231 lines
Reading time: approx. 17 minutes


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Last updated February 12, 2001 by Martin Mathis, e-mail lastbandit.com