As I stood at the foot of that mountain – known as The Brocken or Brocksberg – I wondered whether I was doing the right thing. Trouble was; at that moment, right and wrong were a little blurred.
I could see the mountain soaring up before me, seemingly looking down and laughing – silently mocking me.
“It’s alright for you,” I said, even though I knew it neither heard nor cared.
The thing is; right and wrong are concepts that tend to change depending upon which side of the equation you’re on. What’s right for one needn’t be right for another and what appears to be wrong might actually be right…
Sometimes, there is neither ‘right’ nor ‘wrong’. Sometimes, it’s just what is and what isn’t.
Then of course there’s the downright weird…
* * *
David Richards and Peter Ward had been best friends all the way through school and even though they were now part of the big, wide world, that friendship hadn’t changed.
David had just received his eighteenth birthday present – his mother’s old Volvo – which Pete suggested they take on holiday.
“Where did you have in mind?” David asked, thinking his friend would suggest places like Cornwall, the Lake District or at a pinch, Skegness, but apparently, he had other ideas.
“Europe,” he said.
“Europe?” David exclaimed, blinking and looking at the somewhat worn-looking motor. “You do realise that she’s over twenty years old, don’t you?”
“What’s the problem? It’s not going to break down. If it did, I’m sure you could fix it and anyway, I’ll be there to help, won’t I?”
David thought for a moment. “Just the two of us?”
“We-ell,” Pete began. “I actually had you, me, Ros and Ros’s friend, Anne in mind.”
“Yeah, she thinks you’re cute and it’d be really cool, me and you and a couple of girls.” He dug David in the ribs with his elbow while giving him an exaggerated wink.
“I can understand Ros, she’s your girlfriend, but why Anne?”
“She’s Ros’s friend, plus she thinks you’re cute.”
“But I hardly even know her.”
“What better way to get to know her then; just you, me, a couple of pretty girls and the open road – excellent!”
David spoke to his parents about the trip.
“I want to go on holiday,” he said.
“You’re eighteen now. You don’t need to ask our permission,” said his father.
“I know I don’t need your permission,” he said, noticing the dangerous arch of his mother’s eyebrows. “But I would very much value your opinions.”
He was surprised and pleased at the positive effect that last line had, but didn’t have time for self-congratulations. “Pete’s said Europe, but that’s a pretty big area, don’t you think?”
“I do,” said his mother. “So why don’t you just pick one place. The Harz Mountains in Germany for instance. Your father and I went there when we were courting. It was absolutely spectacular.”
“I remember it well,” said his father, his face full of nostalgia. “We watched the sun rise while sitting on top of The Brocken.”
“Remember that barn we slept in?” said his mother. “They were such a lovely couple.”
Before his parents could trundle further down memory lane, David cut in. “So you’re saying the Harz Mountains then?”
“Definitely,” said his mother. “Very romantic.”
So, having narrowed the area considerably, David got in touch with Pete to run it past him.
“You’re cool with that?” asked David.
“Sounds great,” he replied.
“And you’re all cool with chipping in for petrol and stuff?”
* * *
On the night of the crossing, David checked over the essentials he would need for continental travel, like the bulb set, warning triangle, light converters and a small set of tools, and a can of WD40. When he was sure he had everything, he went to pick Pete up.
“Where are the girls?” he asked.
“Oh, I said we’d pick them up,” he replied.
“Nice of you to tell me,” grumbled David.
“It’s alright, it’s not far,” his friend assured.
“That’s not the point, Pete and you know it.”
That wasn’t the kind of start David was hoping for and when they eventually arrived at Ros’s house, Anne was nowhere to be seen.
“She’ll be here soon,” said Ros.
David looked at his watch and huffed.
“Look, don’t start on me, alright?” she complained. “She phoned and said she’d be here.”
Forty-five minutes later, Anne pitched up and when she did, she didn’t have any concept of what being forty-five minutes late might mean.
“Finally!” said David with some relief.
“Never mind. Just hurry up, the boat leaves at eleven.”
“Alright, a couple of minutes isn’t going to make any difference is it?” she stated.
David threw his hands in the air and stomped round the rear of the car, Anne’s hard stare following.
“What’s that?” she asked, looking at the Volvo.
“My car,” said David opening the boot for her to put her backpack in.
“We’re not going in that, surely?”
“Why, what’s wrong with it?” he asked.
“It doesn’t look as if it will get us to the ferry, let alone Germany.”
“Well, it’s this or walk. It’s up to you. Take your pick.”
“Way to piss off the driver, Anne. Just get in the car,” said Ros from the back seat.
Anne shot David a look of disgust as he opened the driver’s door, which didn’t improve when she opened the passenger door and looked inside. The car was old and the interior, whilst fairly well looked after, showed evidence of the nearly twenty years of bums and God knows what on its seats.
Anne brushed the seat and then started coughing as dust rose, waving her hands around in front of her, trying to dissipate the cloud.
“Anne!” snapped Ros, shaking her head.
“Well, who knows what’s been on those seats?” she grumbled, pulling the door shut and after a fair amount of squirming, which ended with all three of the others in the car staring at her, she clicked the seat belt in place.
“Hallelujah!” said David sarcastically, throwing his hands in the air. Then to another hard stare from Anne – which he ignored, he started the car.
They got to the port just in time to get on the ferry and it was the first time that David had been able to relax since he left for Pete’s house. Now he had seven hours to chill out and get into the holiday spirit, although he and Anne did not appear to be getting along as he’d hoped.
When the Barfleur docked, the foursome headed down to the garage to begin the continental leg of their holiday.
“I suppose I’d better get in the front again,” said Anne.
David ignored that as he was busy studying the road map, making a mental note of the big towns and cities he needed to head for or through on the trip across northern France, into Belgium and then into Holland.
“I‘ve got most of the route until Belgium, but you’ll need to keep your eye on the route when we get there,” he told Anne as they inched their way off the ferry.
“What?” she exclaimed.
“You’re the map reader.”
“What? Me? Navigate? I don’t think so,” she retorted hotly.
“Whatever,” David said with a sigh and headed out of the port.
The plan was to head for Arnhem in Holland, to stop in a guest house there and continue on the next day to Goslar in the Harz Mountains. There, they had a half-board hotel booked and that was to be the base for the holiday.
Anne’s moodiness didn’t improve and she was a true backseat driver. David was either driving too fast, too slow, or the car was noisy or uncomfortable. By the time they hit Belgium, they were all starving and stopped at a roadside café for something to eat, drink and a visit to the toilets. David was just looking forward to a bit of a rest from the constant drone in his left ear.
While the girls headed straight into the café, David took the opportunity to fill up with petrol.
“You could make a bit of an effort,” said Pete.
“What? I am making an effort; an effort not to strangle the bitch. She’s been on my case since we left Ros’s and it doesn’t look as though she’s going to let up any time soon,” David said.
“You have to treat girls like her a bit differently.”
“Differently?” he asked. “Okay, I won’t strangle her, I’ll just dump her at the side of the road and we can carry on without her. Is that different enough?”
“Arse,” Pete muttered and headed for the car, leaving David to pay for the food, drink and petrol. This wasn’t what they’d agreed at all. They were supposed to be splitting the costs equally, but that didn’t happen. He let it slide – this time, but wasn’t about to do it again.
They continued through Belgium with David trying hard to find the sign for Knokke Heist, but without success.
“Okay, where do we need to head next?” he asked.
“You’re asking me?” Anne asked.
“You’re the one with the map.”
“You said you knew where we were going,” she said.
“All I know is that we need to find Knokke Heist and from there follow the signs to Arnhem.”
“Huh, some driver you are.”
“Look, I can’t drive and read the map at the same time, can I? Pete, can you help here?”
“Don’t look at me, I can’t read a map. Remember that orienteering thing we did at school…”
David’s heart sank. The situation was just getting worse and worse.
“I’ll do it,” said Ros.
She moved into the front and Anne seemed more than happy to sit in the back. Between them, Ros and David worked out where they needed to go and the journey once again got moving. David felt much more comfortable with Anne in the back. It definitely didn’t look as though they were going to hit it off as he’d hoped and as for Pete’s suggestion that she thought him ‘cute’, well, he didn’t even want to go there.
* * *
It was early evening when they pulled up outside a coffee shop called ‘Africa’ in Bergen Op Zoom, Holland. They all got out to stretch their legs and get some drinks.
It turned out that ‘Coffee Shop’ there didn’t mean café – although this place did serve some refreshments. The problem was, not all of the refreshments were what they expected.
“Hey, have you seen what he’s doing over there?” asked Pete quietly. “That’s no roll-up, that’s for sure.”
“It’s legal in Holland – as if the smell, the huge portrait and almost deafening sound of Bob Marley weren’t a dead giveaway,” said Anne, rolling her eyes heavenward.
“I didn’t know,” Pete said, with a hungry look at the joint that the man two tables across was drawing on. “I wish I had.”
“We’ll head off after we’ve finished our drinks,” said Dave, trying not to give Pete the chance to go and buy some of the grass or other goodies he could smell before he’d even got inside. “We need to get to get to Arnhem before dark.”
With obvious regret, Pete trudged out after the others, to head back to the car. David was feeling a little light-headed already, just from being there and since they had most of Holland to cross, he didn’t need it made any more difficult.
It was starting to get dark by the time they got to Arnhem and each time David looked in the rear view mirror, he could see Pete and Anne getting closer in the back; stealing the odd touches here and there.
He said nothing, just kept driving. Ros didn’t seem to have noticed and he didn’t feel it necessary to alert her to the fact that her boyfriend was getting snugly with her girl-friend in the back. Things were strained enough as it was.
By Arnhem, they were thoroughly drained and were relieved when they pulled up at a comfortable B&B for the night, where they all slept like the proverbial dead as soon as heads touched pillows.
The next day though, it rained and finding their way onto the E30 wasn’t easy.
Anne wasted no time getting vocal about it. “Can’t you get anything right?” she demanded.
“Don’t blame us,” said Ros, though David was sure she meant him. “We’re not used to the way they do things here.”
“At least she’s helping,” said David, feeling that this was starting to sound like something out of the Simpsons – Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet…?
“I knew this was a mistake,” Anne muttered.
Once they got into Germany, Ros and David were getting along better with the road systems and were making good progress, but as they got to the high regions closing in on the Harz Mountains, the rain fell more heavily and the car started misbehaving. It wasn’t long before David had his head under the bonnet.
At first, it was just a minor tweak here and there, a spray of the miraculous WD40 and the car was running again, but as they got higher, the rain got even heavier and the breakdowns became a lot more frequent. Coincidentally, so did the comments, grumbles and groans from the back of the car, from both Pete and Anne.
The fifth time it happened, David again found himself under the bonnet, getting grease under his fingernails and rain down the back of his neck.
He stood up and saw Pete clowning around with the WD40, holding his lighter up to the nozzle and spraying huge sheets of flame into the hedge by the side of the road, much to the delight of Anne, who was actively egging him on.
“Hey!” David shouted. “That’s for the car, not for playing with.” He immediately snatched the can away from his friend and took it back with him to the front where he went to spray the electrics, but before he’d even covered half the wires and fuse boxes, the can ran out. He tried to get the car to start, but it wouldn’t. He was furious.
He went to the back of the car, brandishing the empty can. “You fucking idiot!” he shouted. “That’s what has been keeping this car going and what do you do?”
“I was just having a little bit of fun. It’s so boring,” Pete whined.
“Huh!” said David. “As if that makes it alright.” He didn’t comment further, although there was plenty he would like to have said. He went back to the front to try wiping everything down, dry it off and hopefully get the car going again.
It was successful, but thanks to the rain, some three miles further on, the car died and it was only by sheer luck that they managed to pull into a lay-by.
“I’m sorry,” he said to Ros as he climbed out of the car, to more moans from the backseat drivers.
He had removed the distributor cap and was drying it out with a cloth when Ros appeared beside him.
“Anything I can do?” she asked, standing close and leaning under the bonnet to avoid the rain.
“Yeah, you can ask those two in the back to stop their griping.”
“I’ll try,” she said, grinning. “But I’m not promising anything.”
David continued to nurse his car and heard Ros trying to reason things out with the other two.
“It’s not my fault,” said Anne petulantly. “I’m surprised we got this far, I mean, look at this thing.”
“It’s not my fault either,” Pete chipped in.
David walked round to the back door, angry that his friend was being so childish. “Perhaps it’s not your fault, but you haven’t been the help you were supposed to be either,” he commented, wiping his hands on the cloth.
“It’s not my bleedin’ car, is it?” Pete grumbled.
“And I didn’t ask for this,” Anne added. “I thought we were going on a holiday.”
“We are on holiday… we’d be more ‘on holiday’ too if we had some WD40,” David said, shaking his head and walked off. He could feel his temperature rising steadily as he returned to the front of the car.
The bonnet slamming down followed by the driver’s door opening then slamming shut again was enough to restore quiet.
“That’s all I can do,” David announced, resignation sounding loud and clear in his voice. The lack of anything from the engine made that obvious.
“What do you mean ‘all you can do’?” asked Pete. “You said you’d be able to fix it.”
“I probably could have done too if you hadn’t wasted all the spray.”
“I was just having a bit of fun.”
“Yes, so you said, and now we’re all having fun, aren’t we?”
The two girls sat silent as David, red in the face and just about at the end of his tether, continued.
“Anyway, I never said I’d be able to fix it; you did, just like you said you’d help – oh wait, that hasn’t happened either.”
“What did you expect me to do?”
“Oh fuck you, Pete. This happens all the time. You promise a lot and when it comes to it, you do nothing… you don’t even offer. You haven’t even offered to pay towards the petrol or the food – I’ve paid it all so far.”
“Well if that’s the way you feel...”
Pete threw open the door and got out, slamming the door behind him. The next thing they heard was the boot opening and after some rummaging around, the lid slammed down. Pete was next seen stomping off up the road, towards the exit of the lay-by with his backpack.
“Aren’t you going to do something?” asked Ros.
“Like what?” David asked, wide-eyed. “He was the one who suggested this. He was the one who said he’d help and didn’t. If he wants to bugger off in the pouring rain, good luck to him.” He folded his arms with a “humph!”
“I knew this was a bloody mistake,” Anne said, shaking her head. “Some holiday this is turning out to be.”
“Well if you don’t like it, you can fuck off too,” David growled from the driver’s seat, folding his arms still tighter. “You haven’t exactly been scintillating company either you know; you started complaining before you even got in the car and haven’t stopped. Between you and Pete, you’ve managed to make this an absolute nightmare for me. This was supposed to be an adventure, not fucking torture. So if you don’t like it, fuck off.”
“I’ve had enough of this,” said Anne haughtily, opening the door and slamming it shut behind her. The boot opened and closed again as Anne got her backpack out of the car.
David just sat quietly, staring straight ahead, saying nothing and fuming. Moments later, the passenger door opened and closed as Ros got out and started after the other two.
He wondered what on earth he was thinking, agreeing to this holiday. His inner voice had told him that it wasn’t worth it, that he couldn’t trust the car or Pete either really and yet he still allowed himself to be talked into it – just like he always did.
Pete had promised a lot and delivered nothing. The petrol stations were a prime example. So far David had paid out approaching a hundred pounds on petrol and food and contrary to Pete’s assurances; no-one else had so much as offered to chip in – least of all Pete. He hadn’t even coughed up his share of the ferry – which David’s parents had paid and were expecting back.
And where had Pete’s help been while he was out in the cold and rain, trying to get the car going? He’d been sitting in the back of the car, warm, dry and snug, making snide comments. He hadn’t even been prepared to try map reading or help with the luggage.
Really, he was glad to be rid of them – well, perhaps not Ros. She at least was handy with a map.
* * *
Ros ran off up the road after Pete and Anne, splashing through the puddles and cursing as the cold water seeped into her shoes.
“Wait up!” she called. “Shit!”
The two ahead stopped and turned.
“What are you doing?” Ros asked, breathlessly as she tried to shake the rain from her feet.
“He said fuck off, so we have,” said Pete with a shrug. “No skin off my nose. If he’s going to be like that, I for one don’t want to spend any more time than I have to in that car with him. The atmosphere is horrible.”
Ros was gobsmacked. “And you?” she asked, looking at Anne.
“No way am I getting back in that car with him.”
“That’s it?” Ros asked aghast, her hair getting wetter and wetter by the second, with rivulets of water starting to run down her face. “You’re just going to piss off and leave us, in this?” She held her hands out and looked pointedly at the rain splashing off each one. “Are you out of your minds?”
“Oh come on,” said Pete. “Did you hear the way he went off at me, just for using a bit of that spray? It wasn’t as if it was even a full can to begin with for God’s sake – Jeez!”
“Pete, grow up!” Ros exclaimed. “It’s pissing with rain; he’s had his head under the bonnet trying to fix the engine umpteen times in the last few miles. Not only that, but you knew he had less than a full can left. Wouldn’t you have said what you did was something that only an idiot would do? That was like chucking all the life jackets off a sinking ship.”
“Hey, easy. Whose side are you on anyway?”
“Right now? Not yours. Look; David was right. If you two want to bugger off on your own, then go.”
“You’re not coming with us?” Pete asked.
“How can I? We can’t just leave him there on his own. You’re the one who’s out of order – in fact, you both are and you’re probably better off being out of the way at the moment. Perhaps when we get to the hotel, he’ll have cooled off. Maybe I will by then too.”
“Suit yourself,” said Pete and he and Anne carried on up the road.
Ros sloshed back to the car, the cold raindrops seeping further and further into her clothing and her mood darkening with each drop.
She wondered about this holiday. It was supposed to have been a time when she and Pete could spend some quality time; a bit of freedom away from the ever watchful gaze of the parents.
Instead, she ended up in a car with two people who evidently couldn’t stand one another and a boyfriend who didn’t seem to care less whether they were together or not.
Lord alone knew how David felt.
It was obvious that Pete was behind the idea and as usual, he’d managed to talk someone into something by offering something else in return and then failed to deliver. How many times had she heard that one?
She had to take her proverbial hat off to David though. He’d stayed relatively cool right up until the last minute. She was surprised that he hadn’t blown his stack long before now considering the amount of shit those two in the back had been ladling on him, and no matter what sort of a person Pete had said he was, that wasn’t who she was seeing right now.
Nevertheless, she was angry at David, at Pete and at Anne for bringing the holiday to such an abrupt and unhappy end.
* * *
David had calmed himself – more or less, anyway. It helped that he was starting to warm up and dry off.
The passenger door opened, which made him jump and a rather bedraggled Ros, flopped onto the seat, closing the door after her. David looked at her, her dark brown hair, plastered to her face, her t-shirt and jacket clinging to every curve of her body. She looked at him through smouldering brown eyes as small rivulets of water cascaded down that beautiful face and for some reason, it seemed funny.
David started laughing.
Ros didn’t look impressed. “Don’t say a word; not a fucking word – do you hear me?”
Were those tears or was it just the rain?
“AH!” she snapped, sharply raising her index finger to stop him.
“Stop. Just stop.”
He turned and continued to look through the window, frowning as it misted over. He reached up and rubbed a hole in the condensation, making several high-pitched squeaking noises in the process, which made him chuckle. He looked over at Ros, who was looking daggers at him and the smile evaporated from his face.
About fifteen minutes elapsed and David hadn’t figured out whether to say something, not say anything, try and apologise or just stare out of the window, which required demisting every few minutes.
Try as he might, every time the window fogged up and he tried to clear a spot to look through, it made that squeaking sound and it was all he could do not to laugh.
* * *
Pete and Anne were soaked through to the skin. It was unlikely that they could get any wetter and even between them, the atmosphere was becoming strained. An old four-by-four pulled up and stopped by the side of the road.
“Trouble?” the man asked in a thick German accent.
“Yes,” said Anne. “The car’s broken down and we need to get to Goslar.”
“Get in,” he said amiably. “I can take you right there.”
Pete and Anne threw their bags in the back of the wagon and jumped in. It was warm and dry inside and the car throbbed with the beat of its working engine.
“Now that’s what I’m talking about!” laughed Pete.
The man looked in the rear view mirror and smiled as he pulled out and took off up the road.
“How did you know we were English?” Anne asked.
“The car has a “GB” label and an English number plate. It was not difficult.”
“Oh,” she said.
They pulled up outside the Hotel Kaiserpfalz in the centre of Goslar to check in and the man gave Anne a hand with her backpack.
Inside, the man placed Anne’s pack in front of the reception desk and said something in German to the man behind the counter, who smiled and turned his attention to Pete.
“I’m sorry sir,” he said. “You should have had two adjoining rooms, but we had problems with the other guests. Your friend’s room will not be ready for another hour. We will ensure that there are complimentary drinks at the bar for you, by way of compensation. I do apologise.”
“What?!” said Anne. “I don’t believe this. First the car… What are we supposed to do?”
“It’s alright,” said Pete. “I’m sure we can muddle through for an hour.”
They went up to the room and Pete offered her the shower first, which she accepted.
While Anne was cleaning up and warming through, Pete peeled himself out of his wet clothes, wrapped himself in a blanket and sat on the bed, waiting for Anne to finish.
“Hey, don’t take all the hot water,” he called and heard something muffled in reply, but just grinned.
When she had finished, she returned to the room wrapped in a towel. Pete blushed.
“It’s not like I’m showing anything, is it?” she asked, coyly.
“Er no,” Pete squeaked and tried again, lowering his voice by a couple of octaves. “Er, no I suppose not.”
“I can if you’d like,” she added, batting her eyelashes at him and letting the towel drop. It took no more than thirty seconds before the two of them had found their own form of entertainment.
* * *
“D’you fancy that drink?” Pete asked.
Anne looked up at him and smiled.
After Pete had showered and they had finished dressing, they were in the hotel bar enjoying some food, a couple of drinks and being warm and comfortable for the first time that day – well, perhaps the second.
It had got to about nine-thirty and Pete started to wonder where David and Ros were.
“You think they’re still there?” he asked.
Anne shrugged. “Don’t know and don’t much care. We’re here, it’s warm, there’s plenty to eat and drink…”
Pete was a little taken aback by Anne’s response. He was under the impression that Ros and she were friends. Then again, after what happened in his room earlier, he didn’t think that likely now.
“To being warm and dry,” he said, raising his glass. Anne chinked hers with his and they each took a drink.
Anne needed something from her backpack and decided to go and see if the room was ready. She slipped off the stool she was sitting on and stood right in front of Pete.
“Thanks Pete,” she whispered, slipping in closer still.
She laughed. “What do you mean, ‘what for?’ You know exactly what for.” She draped her arms over his shoulders and stared into his eyes.
Pete shrugged and smiled as they kissed; a kiss that he responded to quite vigorously.
Some other young people had entered the bar while this was happening and one of them, a young man named Stefan spoke to Pete.
“She is very pretty.”
“Yes, she is,” Pete agreed as they watched her walk across the foyer.
“Are you on holiday?” Stefan asked.
“Yeah, we just arrived a couple of hours ago.”
“Just the two of you? Romantic.”
“I don’t know that she would agree with that,” said Pete with a touch of irony.
“Perhaps, but she looks happy.”
“Anywhere out of that rain or out of that car,” laughed Pete.
Anne returned from her errand and immediately stood close to Pete, threading her arm through his.
“If you do not mind being in a car for half an hour, I would like to invite you to join us,” the German said.
“Join you? Where?” Anne asked.
“It is not so far, but I think you will both find it better than here.”
“That’s very nice of you Stefan, I think we’d like that,” said Pete.
Stefan spoke to his friends and they all started to head out of the hotel.
“What about Ros and David?” Anne asked. “I mean what are they going to do when they come back and find out we’re not here?”
“Dunno,” said Pete with another of his famous shrugs. “Find their own damned party?”
* * *
David and Ros had sat in the car since Pete and Anne had left, hardly saying a word to one another. Several times, David had tried to start the car and on each successive try, the starter motor got slower and slower, but the engine failed to fire.
“For God’s sake, David. It’s not going to start is it?” Ros pleaded.
“I suppose not,” David replied and turned off the ignition.
More time passed and for most of it, Ros was staring out of the side window, pointedly ignoring David. The next thing they knew, flashing lights illuminated the inside of the car and the police were knocking on the window moments later. When he wound down the window, David was sure he could smell smoke, like a bonfire or something.
Good evening,” said the policeman, peering through the open window and taking his time to look at Ros and David. “What is the problem?”
“The car’s broken down,” David said, wondering whether the frosty atmosphere in the car could be felt outside too.
“Repeatedly,” grumbled Ros, without turning from the side window.
The policeman looked at Ros then David and shrugged, making a painful expression and shaking his head slightly.
“We’re kind of hoping it would stop raining and maybe the car would dry out a bit. Then we could get going to Goslar,” David informed him.
“I do not think it will stop so soon,” the cop said, squinting up at the sky. “The time of year, I suppose… What will you do if this does not stop?”
“I don’t know.”
“Well, you must not stay here. This place is not for camping.”
“We weren’t planning on staying, officer,” David answered politely. “We have a hotel to go to – if we can get the car going that is.”
“Does that seem good?”
“Not at the moment. I think it’s got waterlogged and needs to dry out.”
“I can radio through and see if we can get a breakdown truck. Do you have insurance?”
David guessed the cop meant cover – like AA, RAC or something, but no, he didn’t.
“Not a wise choice to have made,” the cop said. “Especially in a car that old. Breakdown trucks out here are very expensive. I do not think you have the money, do you?”
“Not really,” David said, shamefaced.
For whatever reason, the cop seemed to take a shine to them. “I will see if I can do something here,” he said. “It may not be the best thing, but it will get you out of the rain and maybe you have somewhere warm to sleep.”
“You have no idea how much we appreciate that, sir,” David assured.
The policeman smiled and after a brief conversation on the radio, he smiled again. “A man will come here soon. He is Franz, a good man. He has a farm close. I do not know what you can do with him, but it better than staying out here tonight.”
“Thank you so much,” said Ros.
“You are welcome,” the cop replied. “I hope the rest of your holiday is better.” He headed off with a wry laugh.
About an hour later, a slow-moving tractor pulled up in front of them out of the gloom.
* * *
Franz, it transpired was every inch a farmer. A battered old hat with a feather in one side was perched on top of his head; large, bushy eyebrows framed twinkling blue eyes and an equally resplendent moustache barely disguised a seemingly permanent grin.
He spoke no English whatsoever yet he and David seemed to be able to communicate, which clearly amazed Ros. It was mainly down to Franz, but David picked things up quickly and with much waving of hands, pointing and other gesticulations, they managed to hook the car up to the back of the tractor and were soon being towed at a sedate pace along behind it. A short time later, they were heading down a farm track towards a large building, surrounded by barns and the distinctive smell of manure and bonfires.
A large blonde woman in her late fifties ran out with an umbrella to meet them.
“You come – eat, get warm,” she said, waving them inside.
“We don’t want to put you to any trouble,” said David, despite the fact that his stomach was rumbling noisily. It didn’t make any difference, as the woman didn’t seem to understand.
“I no speak English good… you eat, ja?” she said, nodding vigorously.
Ros and David nodded and were herded into a brightly-lit, spacious kitchen that was warmed by a large Aga-style range on one side.
“Oh, I’m David and this is Ros,” David informed her.
The woman pointed at Franz. “This Franz, my husband, and I am Kristen. Hallo. It cold ja?” Kristen stated, pointing outside.
“Yes, and wet,” said David.
“Not worry. You eat then you will sleep. Tomorrow you fix, ja?”
“Yes, hopefully,” David assured. “Thank you, both of you.”
“Oh, pah,” she said, looking slightly abashed, waving away David’s thanks. “No trouble.”
They ate in a somewhat embarrassed silence, with Ros trying her best to ignore David. The hosts, spent the majority of their time, looking from one of them to the other and then to each other, grinning broadly.
The food was warm, filling and very tasty. They were even treated to plenty of beer during the meal and afterwards, both David and Ros felt more than a little merry as Franz and Kristen led them through to the barn.
“It not much, but it warm and dry,” she said, handing them a thick woollen blanket and as usual, Franz just stood to one side grinning from under his moustache.
“Thank you,” Ros replied nodding. “It’s definitely better than the car.”
“Better than car?” Kristen asked. “Ah, ja, ja. Much better than car!” Laughing, Franz and Kristen disappeared, leaving Ros and David in the half-light.
David flopped back onto the straw. It was a bit spiky and not as comfortable as he had imagined, but it was dry and warm.
“I’m sorry about today,” he said. “I let the situation get the better of me.”
“Yeah, well…” she said as a wolf howled in the distance. “What the hell?”
David sat up and Ros jumped back, almost curling up behind him.
He chuckled. “It’s just a wolf,” he said.
“What if it comes in here?” she asked, worriedly peering over his shoulder.
“I’ll make sure it gets you first.”
“Don’t you dare!” she said, slapping him across the shoulders. She came out from behind him scowling, but then her stern face softened.
“I’m sorry too,” she admitted. “Those two were being a royal pain in the arse and more than once I thought how much better it would be if they weren’t there.”
“You and me both. Trouble was I felt worse when they’d gone than I did when they were with us. Now I’m worried for them.”
* * *
Anne and Pete stepped out of Stefan’s Audi and faced a large old house and barn complex with several cars parked outside.
“Wow!” said Pete. “Is this yours?”
Stefan laughed. “No, it belongs to a friend. We just use it sometimes. Come, it is cold out here.”
They went inside and found the spacious hall to be virtually barren of any furniture. Lights and a sound system had been set up and immediately they stepped through the door, they were handed drinks.
Stefan introduced them to some of his friends who all seemed pleased to meet the newcomers.
“You must excuse me, there are things to do. Make yourselves comfortable,” he said and wandered off.
Pete and Anne looked about them and what obviously seemed to be the preparations for a party that was going to be huge.
“This is awesome,” Pete said grinning. “I almost wish David and Ros were here.”
“I don’t,” said Anne. “I wouldn’t have you all to myself then.”
Pete laughed and gave her a squeeze. In no time at all, they were back to kissing passionately.
As the time went on, the place started to fill up and the music got louder. Stefan appeared and handed them a glass each.
“A special drink for our special guests,” he said, smiling.
“Thank you. This is brilliant – much better than staying in that stuffy old hotel,” said Anne and she reached up and gave Stefan a kiss on the cheek.
“My lady, you honour me,” he said, bowing.
They laughed and again Stefan melted into the crowd.
Pete and Anne moved into the crowd, dancing away together as the place filled and the music got louder.
By midnight, the place was throbbing.
“Peter?” called Stefan. “I have something for you and Anne.”
The two of them went over to their new friend.
“Just an ‘E’,” he said.
“I’m game,” Pete said with a grin. “You?” he asked, turning to Anne.
“It’s a holiday, why not?”
Within the hour, sweating and buzzing like crazy, Anne and Pete fell out into the cold night air, their faces glues together and their hands ripping clothing off each other.
“Not here,” said Anne and within minutes, they were ensconced in a small outhouse where nature took its course.
* * *
Ros and David sat opposite each other on the straw.
David was silent, thinking about Anne and Pete as they walked away from the car with their backpacks in the rain. “What do you reckon they’re doing?” he asked.
“After what you said earlier, I’d rather not think about it.” Ros admitted. “I think for us, sleep would be the best thing right now. Things have a tendency to look better in the morning, or at least, that’s what my mum always used to say.”
She picked up the blanket.
“Hey, Kristen’s only given us one blanket.”
“You have it,” said David.
“Don’t be stupid, we’ll share.”
So, both facing in opposite directions, they snuggled under the blanket as best they could and no matter how spiky the straw might have been, within minutes, they were both fast asleep.
The next day Ros woke up first, spooned against David, her arm about his waist. Her first reaction was to pull away, but she thought about it and realised it wasn’t too bad. In fact, it was very nice. She felt warm, comfortable and more importantly, safe. It was something that never even occurred to her when she’d been with Pete. She snuggled closer.
David woke up shortly after and gently lifted her arm from his body as he slid out and stood up.
He looked a bit like a scarecrow with bits of straw sticking out of his hair and other places too. He turned round and she quickly closed her eyes, pretending not to be awake. To her surprise, he tucked the blanket around her, brushing some odd stalks from her hair before leaving the barn.
It was quite some time before he came back and when he opened the barn door, sunlight flooded in.
“You awake?” he asked, placing Ros’s backpack that he’d retrieved from the back of his car, just inside the door.
“I am now,” she replied, somewhat curtly, but he didn’t bat an eyelid.
“Well, get your arse out of that pile of straw, get changed and come and get some breakfast.”
Bleary-eyed, Ros headed into the kitchen. There sat Franz and his wife and a veritable feast of epic proportions had been spread out on the table. Hot coffee, heavy German bread, cheeses, pickles and all sorts of other things sat before her.
“Guten Morgan,” said Franz and Ros answered with a nod. Franz grinned as his wife filled several large mugs with steaming hot coffee.
“Oh, this is so good,” Ros said taking a long drink.
“Thank you,” said Kristen, bustling around the kitchen.
After they had eaten their fill, David spoke to the busy hostess.
“Is there anything we can do? I mean, you rescued us, we’ve invaded your home and you’ve fed us. The least we can do is help out before I get to work on the car.”
“No, no. No need. Good for us having you. You make good together.” She brought her hands together and smiled.
Ros almost choked on the remains of her coffee. “Sorry, it went down the wrong way,” she explained, wiping her mouth. Even David coughed and looked a little embarrassed as he shook his head grinning.
There wasn’t really much for them to do. They helped Franz feeding the few animals and chickens they had and then Franz led them back to David’s car. He pointed at it.
“Reparieren?” he said with a nod and a huge grin. He then led David round to an outhouse, opened the door and gestured inside with his hand. Inside, there were all manner of tools and best of all, a large can of WD40 sat on a shelf.
“Thank you, Franz,” said David, shaking the German warmly by the hand.
“Okay,” said Franz, who disappeared still grinning.
David set about getting things dried, cleaned and working with Ros helping wherever she could and within the hour, the car was running perfectly. Kristen and Franz both arrived, smiling.
“You fix? It good, ja?” Kristen asked.
“Yes – er, with help from Mr. WD40 that is,” David replied, holding the can up.
Franz said something to his wife and she turned to David. “You keep that. Franz thinks you will need it again before you go.”
After saying some heartfelt goodbyes to their host and hostess, they got in the car and set about heading for Goslar.
“Nice people,” said Ros as she waved at the two new friends they’d made.
“I know. It’s a shame there are too few like them isn’t it?”
* * *
They arrived at the hotel and checked in.
“Are our friends here?” Ros asked.
“I’m sorry, Miss,” the receptionist said. “But they have been gone since last night.”
“At least they found something to do,” said David. “Come on, let’s get upstairs. I really need a shower.”
They unlocked the first door and as soon as it was opened, Pete’s clothes could be seen on the sofa opposite the door, as could his backpack.
“Looks like this is me,” he said and entered the room he was to be sharing with Pete – although after the last couple of days, he didn’t feel quite as well disposed towards him as he had.
It seemed to happen every time Pete was involved in anything. Everyone else would end up running around after him. This was no exception and so far had been no fun whatsoever. All the way through his shower, all he could think about was the fact that once again he had been duped into being Pete’s gopher and unwilling financial backer.
Well no more, he thought as the hot water played like so many tiny pleasure needles on his head, down his back, across his shoulders; the stress of the last couple of days taking that downward spiral through the small chromium grate and down the drain with the soap bubbles.
He stepped from the shower, grabbing a towel and rubbing his face then his hair before stepping into the room and rooting through his backpack for something clean to put on. Pulling out a ball of socks and underwear, he dropped them on the floor beside the bed as he sat down to dress.
“I’m not doing it anymore, Pete,” he said aloud, but it was more for his benefit than for Pete’s. After all, while he and Ros were shacked up in a barn, sleeping on spiky straw, Pete and Anne had been out enjoying themselves. But that was so typical of Pete. He did so very little for others yet seemed so often to expect others to do so much for him.
David reached down beside him for his sock-ball and knocked it, making it roll under the bed and when he knelt down to retrieve it, he noticed something else under there with them.
Pulling the item out, it turned out to be a pair of panties.
Well unless Pete had a secret, it looked as though they belonged to someone else and the only person that was likely to be was Anne.
David found it hard not to jump to conclusions, but there were the panties and he didn’t know whether he should say anything or keep it to himself. After all, he had no proof that those panties hadn’t arrived under the bed by completely innocent means.
Nevertheless that didn’t stop his head exploring the possibilities; mainly that Pete and Anne had got it on… and those images were just starting to get to the very graphic stage when there was a knock on the door.
“Just a minute,” he called, hopping across the room with one foot through the leg of his boxers and one that he was desperately trying to get into them – without much success, whilst simultaneously moving haphazardly towards the door.
With a ‘thud’, he fell against the door and yanked his underwear up to where it needed to be. Having calmed himself with a deep breath, he opened the door just enough to see Ros standing in the hallway.
“Where are they?” she demanded, barging her way into his room.
“Excuse me?” he said, trying to cover himself up.
“Like I haven’t seen it all before,” she said dismissively.
“You haven’t seen mine,” he said defensively, looking across the room at the pale lavender skimpies he discovered not two minutes previously, next to his shoes. “You were the one who said that under the circumstances, you wouldn’t have expected them to leave a note or anything.”
“That was then and this is now,” she muttered. “I would have thought they’d have left some form of a message. I mean, we haven’t seen them since yesterday afternoon and now we have no way of knowing where they are or even if they’re alright.”
David looked at Ros. There was definitely something else on her mind. “You don’t trust him do you?”
She sat down next to him on the bed and the only thing David could see were the panties on the floor just in front of him.
“I do trust him,” she said. “I just don’t know how far. You don’t though do you?”
“I trust him…” he said with a long pause. “No, not really.” He shuffled the panties back under the bed with the heel of his foot, hoping she didn’t notice.
“I guess he’s taken advantage of you before hasn’t he?”
“More times than I care to remember,” he replied. “It’s my own fault though. You’d have thought I’d have learnt by now, but every time he seems so genuine, yet…”
“Don’t tell me: you get left doing everything?”
“Pretty much, yes. It’s like this holiday. I mean he knows that my family’s not rich, yet not once has he offered to pay or even split the difference. I’m angry because I thought that was what was agreed. I’m angry because he’s managed to leave me carrying it all - again.”
They sat in silence, David’s brain screaming at him to tell Ros what he suspected, but he didn’t want to make things worse than they already were.
“Do you fancy doing some sightseeing?” he asked.
“Yeah. It’ll help me clear my head.”
They wandered round the town passing many shops displaying little figurines of traditional-looking witches, with some on broomsticks, some with little black cats and some had even been made into marionettes.
“They’re amazing aren’t they?” David asked. “They really like their witches round here don’t they?”
“Oh, hey, look at that,” she said pointing at a wood carving that looked like a whole jazz band with a saxophonist at the front and the rest of the musicians in a line behind. It was very caricature, but brilliant, roughly yet at the same time, beautifully carved and painted in bright primary colours.
“I wish I could afford something like that. They’d look brilliant on a shelf or even just as they are on the floor.”
They made their way back to the square and found a bustling market.
“I could do with a coffee,” said David. “What about you? We can have a look round the market afterwards, can’t we?”
“Sounds good to me,” Ros replied.
They headed towards the market place and were in absolute awe of the spectacle. The architecture seemed to be a mixture of baroque and renaissance – sometimes gothic or in some cases, all three, but whatever style they looked at, it all seemed to have that ‘Hansel and Gretel’ look about it with the shape of the rooves and the tiling.
Strange corbels adorned many of the buildings, showing grotesque men climbing rooves and walls whilst defecating, but then as they found in some of the gift shops, the locals seemed to have more than a passing interest in what people passed.
They found a small café that had a couple of tables outside and sat watching the market.
“It looks as if they’re closing up,” David observed.
“No matter, we still have plenty of time before it’s gone.”
Their coffees arrived and as a special surprise, David had also ordered a couple of pieces of cherry cheesecake – which turned out to be huge.
“Blimey,” he exclaimed. “They don’t muck about with their portions here do they?”
“Not by the looks of things. I’m not sure I’ll be able to eat all that.”
“Psych!” Ros called and they laughed.
They sat and watched the world – or at least a good part of Goslar go by while they leisurely ate their slices of cake and drank their coffees.
“This is wonderful,” said David.
“I know. It’s just a shame that the others aren’t here too.”
“You sure?” David asked, his mind going back to the day before and all the tantrums.
“Not really. I was kind of hoping that we’d get to do some hiking and such, but I have an idea that Pete only said that to get me to come.”
“Hiking isn’t something Pete’s best known for – unless it can be done from a bar stool or armchair,” laughed David, polishing off the last of his cheesecake.
By the time they had finished – which didn’t take that long – the market stalls were gone. The only thing left was the man on the little electric road sweeper.
“That was a bit rapid,” said Ros.
“Yeah, I’ll say. They didn’t even give us time to eat our cheesecake and drink our coffees. That’s German efficiency for you.”
They took a much shorter, direct route back to the hotel and found that Anne and Pete had still not returned.
“Thanks, I enjoyed that, Dave,” Ros said, smiling broadly as she opened the door to her room.
“You’re welcome. It was fun.”
* * *
Dinner that night was a quiet affair. They ate a simple but delicious dinner in the hotel restaurant as neither wanted to go anywhere in case there was any news of Pete and Anne.
More than twenty-four hours had passed since they had last seen or heard from them. David – and probably Ros too – wanted to believe that they were a) alright, b) safe and c) keeping their paws off one another, but after the business with the skimpies, David didn’t know what to think and feared the worst.
Ros put on a brave face, but he could tell that she wasn’t comfortable with the situation, probably thinking pretty much the same as he was. Although they were getting along very well, there was an underlying tension between them due to their two missing friends.
“It’ll be alright, I’m sure,” he told her.
“I don’t know. It’s true they came back here, but why would they stay out all night and all day without leaving us any kind of message?” she asked.
“I don’t know. I’d like to say something positive like the receptionist lost their message, but judging by the German efficiency we’ve seen elsewhere, I doubt that. I think they probably just forgot or didn’t realise they’d be gone for so long.”
“Still, it’s not fair,” she said, her eyes welling with tears. “What if they’re not alright?”
“Look, don’t think like that. Let’s get some sleep and like your mum said, it’ll look so much better in the morning.”
“I hope you’re right.”
They went back to their rooms and outside his, Ros caught hold of David, gave him a hug and kiss on the cheek. “Thanks David,” she said and disappeared into her room.
David entered his, lightly touching the spot she had just kissed. It felt nice. Of course, he’d kissed other girls and used his tongue on many an occasion, but somehow those kisses didn’t feel quite like Ros’s had and he went to sleep with a smile on his face.
He was woken early the next morning by the sound of giggling outside the door.
“Shh. You’ll wake them up,” said someone sounding like Pete, who was also giggling.
“So?” said someone with Anne’s voice who giggled again. “Come on lover-boy, just one more before we go to bed? Please? Pretty please?”
“Just the one then,” said Pete.
Shit, thought David. Could they be any less subtle about it?
He looked at his watch. It was a quarter to five in the morning.
He slipped out of bed and crept to the door, opening it as quietly as possible, only to be greeted by Pete and Anne with their tongues half way down each other’s throats and apparently oblivious to their surroundings. He stood and watched for a couple of minutes as the sighs and groans continued, when he became aware of someone else.
Standing in her doorway, her face a picture of pure anger was Ros.
“Ahem,” she said and the smooching couple broke apart. Ros looked at the pair, her eyebrows rising and a look of “well?” written all over her face.
Anne giggled again and brazenly kissed Pete one last time before sauntering into hers and Ros’s room, giving him one final “night, lover-boy”, a giggle and a wave of her fingers.
Pete looked guilty as hell and much the worse for wear, still obviously under the influence of what he’d taken. Anne looked much the same, but didn’t seem to share the guilt.
David quickly grabbed him and yanked him into their room.
“Hi Davy-boy,” Pete said, stumbling across the floor and flopping down on the bed, snoring almost instantly.
David stood looking at the recumbent figure lying on the bed. He so wanted to give him a piece of his mind, but there he was, sparko and all David could do was wonder whether he should cover him over or just leave him be.
Before he had the chance to do anything, there was a very gentle knock on the door.
“Ros?” he whispered. “What are you doing here?”
She had put on her jeans, a jumper and her jacket and was standing in front of him with her backpack. “I can’t stay in that room with her, not after that,” she said, her face tearstained.
“Wait a minute.” He pulled on some jeans, hurriedly put on his trainers, a sweatshirt and stuffed everything else into his backpack. “Can’t let you go on your own,” he said.
Outside in the hallway, Ros was starting to have second thoughts.
“We can’t just pack up and leave,” she said.
“Why not?” he asked.
She looked at him and he decided not to argue.
“Okay, let’s not leave, but I think I know somewhere we can go where you can at least clear your head.”
“Clear my head? There’s nothing to clear. He cheated on me, she was supposed to be my friend and cheated with him and that’s that.”
“Trust me,” he said and led her down the hallway to the lift.
Once outside, he put the backpacks in the boot of the car and the two headed for Bad Harzburg. Then it was on down to Schierke to start the walk. Of course he hadn’t told Ros that, but he figured it would be a nice surprise. He was also hoping to get to the top of The Brocken by sunrise, but that was looking increasingly less likely.
The four mile walk from the base of the mountain was not easy. The Brocken is not the biggest mountain in the world by a long chalk, but walking that far up-hill, meant that after about the first half-mile, talking petered out noticeably and apart from the odd pause for breath, they walked in silence. This suited David and seemed to suit Ros pretty well too.
David had the chance to think about what nearly happened back at the hotel. Would he really have left Anne and Pete there? Would he really have absconded with Ros and headed back to England without his two friends?
Firstly, neither of them are really friends, are they?
Not really. They hadn’t been particularly ‘friendly’ in any shape or form over the last couple of days. They made the journey to Goslar pretty uncomfortable and then just went off on their own without so much as a note – they could have been in real trouble. If that wasn’t bad enough, they stood outside the hotel rooms kissing and canoodling right in front of Ros.
Friends wouldn’t do stuff like that…
True, but then it didn’t appear as though either of them put much stock in real friendship and seemed to get their way walking over whoever they pleased to get it.
What goes around comes around…
“Jesus! I didn’t realise it was such a hike,” puffed David as they paused, still nowhere near the top. “How are you doing?”
“Fine. I’m a bit out of breath, but nowhere near as bad as you. This is really excellent, thank you.”
“You deserve it. I think we both do. That pair of numpties back at the hotel haven’t exactly made this the holiday I thought it was going to be.”
“True, but at least we’re not wasting it.”
“How are you feeling, I mean… you know?” he asked.
Ros shrugged. “Don’t know really. Out here it’s a bit like they don’t exist, but the truth is that they do and we can’t really just leave them. I suppose I owe Pete a second chance.”
Is she mad?
Hasn’t she learnt anything?
David said nothing, despite the thoughts that were screaming at him to tell her that as much as she may feel that a second chance would probably sober Pete up, he was still going to be Pete and no amount of ‘second chances’ were likely to change how he behaved or treated her or others.
They continued up as the sun rose.
“That’s that then,” said David despondently.
“I was hoping we’d get to the top to see the sunrise. It was supposed to be this big romantic thing that I felt you deserved, since I’m pretty sure Pete would never have done something like that.”
“I’m sorry,” he said with a shrug.
“Don’t be,” she said, grabbing him and kissing him soundly. “It’s the nicest thing anyone has ever done.”
David blushed and didn’t know quite how to handle her response. “Thanks,” he said, feeling like a schoolboy after his first kiss.
“You plonker! Come on, let’s head back. I’m starving.”
They marched back down the hill again, which curiously felt every bit as difficult as climbing up.
“Have you thought about what we should do about Pete and Anne?” he asked.
She didn’t answer straight away and he wondered whether she had heard him or whether she was in one of those ‘worlds of her own’.
“Don’t know,” she said finally. “What d’you think?”
What he thought was that they should just get in the car and go home or elsewhere, but then when he was with her, things were just fine. It was only when you added the other two to the equation that things got awkward – earlier on being a classic case in point. The bigger problem of course was whether they went home or went elsewhere. Either way, it meant leaving Anne and Pete to their own devices.
“I want to say let’s just leave them to it…”
“Okay,” she said, took his hand and smiled at him.
But I don’t know whether that’s the right thing to do…
They got back to where the car was parked and David looked back up at The Brocken.
It was supposed to be this really romantic place but although Ros had kissed him – and he still felt a bit tingly after that – it didn’t feel as romantic as he thought it should. Perhaps it was because it was marred by the thought of leaving Pete and Anne to fend for themselves.
“It’s alright for you,” he said.
“What is?” asked Ros.
“Nothing, I was just talking to the mountain.”
She looked at him and then up at the mountain before them. “What did it say?”
“Nothing. Singularly unhelpful in fact,” he replied, squinting up at it.
“Hmm,” she murmured. “Perhaps you’re not asking the right question.”
“I’m having enough trouble with right and wrong as it is. It never occurred to me that I had to ask the right question too.”
“Of course, those are the rules,” she said and linked arms with him, leaning back on the wing of the car. “Let me guess, Tweedle-dum and Tweedle-dee?”
“I hadn’t thought of them like that, but yes.”
“Maybe if we weigh the pros and cons, we don’t need to ask the question.”
“O-kay,” David replied cautiously.
“Right, ladies first. Anne’s a right high maintenance bitch, has been snogging my boyfriend and God knows what else. She’s rude, unhelpful and has given you more shit than you deserve.” Anne paused, looking thoughtful. “Oh, and she doesn’t pay her way.”
“Pros?” David inquired.
“None that I can think of. Okay, now you do Pete.”
“Alright,” said David. “He’s been my best friend for as long as I can remember.”
“That’s one point in his favour. Anything else?”
“Not that I can think of.”
“He’s caused more trouble during the last couple of days than I care to remember. He’s been unhelpful, despite promises to the contrary and hasn’t paid up what he owes me. He’s cheated on you…”
“I’ve done that one, since it takes two.”
“I know, but that affected me too, so he gets it twice and frankly, the idea of sleeping in the same room as him is enough to turn my stomach.”
“Hmm,” said Ros, theatrically rubbing her chin and looking skywards. “I think the cons have it.”
“Unless you want to make it more complicated.”
“Not really, but leaving them here and just disappearing?”
“People have done worse for less,” she replied.
“You’re serious aren’t you?”
“Deadly. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.”
“So you’re saying that if we were to go elsewhere or even home, you wouldn’t be upset or in the least bit bothered?”
“Of course I’d be concerned, but no more than I have been and you’re much better company than either of them has been.”
“So which is it to be?” asked David. “Home or elsewhere?”
“Can we go home?”
“Home it is,” he said and they both got in the car.
* * *
They stopped at a petrol station en-route and filled the car up, then went to use the restaurant.
People say that German cooking isn’t the best, but Ros and David had no complaints. The food was reasonably priced, fresh tasty and in the kind of quantities that no-one could possibly complain about. A souvenir shop allowed them to get one or two keepsakes, one of which was a bottle of Schnapps that he thought his mum and dad might appreciate.
Back on the road and they had just left Goslar when David realised they were on the same road as they had arrived on. He started scanning for minor roads and when he found what he was looking for, he made a left turn.
“Where are you going?” she asked.
“Elsewhere first,” he said.
Ros looked a little confused, but then realised, it was the road that led to Franz and Kristen’s home.
“Nice touch,” she commented.
“I thought so.”
They slowly made their way down the uneven road towards the farm, but when they arrived, not much remained.
Charred and blackened beams stood at all angles and lengths, protruding from the underbrush, with weeds growing all around. Stone and brick lay in random piles, but no sign remained of the structure that was there.
“Look here,” said David. “These are our tyre tracks from yesterday.”
Neither of them knew what to do as they sat on the bonnet of the car, surveying the scene before them.
“This has been like this for years – look at the growth around the piles of rubble.”
“This is creeping me out,” said Ros, taking hold of David’s hand.
A voice caught their attention. They looked round as a man walked towards them.
At first he spoke in German, but as they didn’t respond, he changed to English.
“Hallo, what are you doing here?”
“We came back to say goodbye to Franz and Kristen. What on earth happened?” asked Ros, looking about her and shaking her head in disbelief.
“It was a fire a long time ago, perhaps twelve years,” the man said.
“No! That’s can’t be possible. We were only here yesterday morning talking to them over breakfast. They were such nice people,” said David.
“You are mistaken,” the man said dismissively. “Please leave.”
“But they did live and work here, yes?” Ros pleaded, describing the pair to the man, whose eyes grew wide.
“Yes. How did you know them?”
“We broke down on the road to Goslar and a policeman asked us if we needed help. He called Franz who came up on his tractor, towed us here. We had dinner with them and stayed the night in their barn.”
“This is not possible,” the farmer said, paling slightly.
David and Ros were in shock. It didn’t seem real and yet, this was reality, what had happened the day before was the part that wasn’t.
“We just came back to say goodbye,” sobbed Ros.
“Come this way,” the farmer said and walked off shaking and scratching his head.
“Anna? He called when the trio reached the next farmhouse some five hundred yards across a field. “Anna!”
A white-haired woman came out of the house in a pinafore with a flustered look on her face. She stopped when she saw that there was company.
The man spoke to her for a moment and then turned back to Ros and David as Anna went back inside. “You must see this,” he said.
Anna returned with some newspaper cuttings, which she handed to David. The pictures, now slightly faded and yellowed with age, showed the fire.
The man retold the story of a fire that had swept through a farmhouse outside of Goslar and how a policeman had been first on the scene. Along with neighbours, he had bravely tried to fight his way inside to get to the people trapped by the blaze. Sadly, while he was in there, the roof collapsed killing all inside.
“You were there?” asked Ros.
The man nodded solemnly.
“I’m so sorry,” said David as Ros cried into his shoulder.
“This is very strange,” the farmer said.
Shell-shocked and distressed by the news, Ros and David returned to the car, but before they got in, David opened the boot. Inside amongst the bags and tools was the can of WD40 that Franz had let him keep.
Ros burst into tears again.
“After hearing about Franz and Kristen, not to mention the policeman, I’m not sure I want to leave Anne and Pete the way we were going to,” David said, staring straight out of the windscreen, the burnt remains of the old farm staring back at him.
“Perhaps we shouldn’t after all,” replied Ros.
* * *
Before lunchtime, they were back at the hotel in Goslar. Pete and Anne were in the lounge area drinking coffees.
“Where’ve you been?” demanded Pete when he saw them.
“Out,” said David.
“Well, you could have told us.”
“You leave us in the hotel and when we get up we find all your stuff gone and you’re nowhere to be found.”
“That’s rich,” Ros said. “Like you were so considerate.”
“Anyway, you’re back and safe,” said Pete with obvious relief and quickly changing tack. He went to give Ros a hug, but she stopped him before he got anywhere near.
He looked as if she’d just punched him and his expression was one of hurt. “Ros?”
“Don’t Ros me, you bastard. Things have changed and believe me, you don’t figure anymore.”
“You don’t think that cheating on me is reason enough for me to dump you?” she asked, her eyebrow dangerously arched.
“Cheating?” he asked, though his face showed clear signs of guilt.
“Yes. You and Anne.”
“But…” he said.
With an air of total disinterest, she turned away from him.
“What’s going on, David?” he asked.
“We had a bit of a chat and we’re not happy with the way things have been. We decided we wanted to go home.”
“What?!” Pete exclaimed, followed closely by Anne.
“Well for a start, we’re not happy with the arrangements here and neither of us wants to sleep with either of you in the same room. It’s up to you if you want to stay on for the rest of the week, but you’ll have to make your own way home.”
“That’s ridiculous, you can’t do that,” said Anne.
“Actually, it’s my car; I bought the ferry tickets and booked the hotel rooms, so I can pretty much do what I want.”
“See, now it’s that kind of thing that brought Ros and I to the conclusion we have. Right now, I don’t feel in the least bit interested in having you in my car with that mouth and attitude of yours.”
“Fine!” she growled. “I’ll make my own way home. I’ll get daddy to send me the money for a plane ticket.”
“Better make that two, because I don’t want the journey home to be ruined by having that snake in the same car as me either,” said Ros.
“You c-can’t be s-serious. You can’t decide who does or doesn’t go in the car, can she David?” Pete stammered.
“Yes she can. I don’t think it’s fair that Anne should be to blame for something you both did.”
“I thought you were my friend.”
“And I thought you were mine, but I have to be honest and say that I don’t think the way you’ve behaved over the last couple of days has been very best friend-ish.”
“Fine, if you’re going to be that way about it… Anne?”
* * *
With their stuff already packed, Ros and David left the hotel, jumped into the car and began a journey that as of this day is still ongoing. True, they’re not still trying to make their way back from Germany, but they are still travelling through life, bound by the love and respect they have for one another and a very strange set of circumstances that did not fully unfold until they got home.
Something that David’s mother said when they were first talking about the trip popped into David’s head on the ferry as they returned home. It was something about sleeping in a barn…
“Were their names Franz and Kristen, mum?” he asked, Ros sitting beside him, waiting on the next words from David’s mother’s mouth.
“You know, I believe they were. He was such a charming man with…”
“An old hat with a feather in, big bushy eyebrows, a bushy moustache and a big grin?” Ros supplied.
“You know, that’s him,” she replied, stunned that she and David should know them too.
David and Ros looked at one another before they told David’s parents the sad news and then explained how they came to find out about it.
* * *
I can still remember trying to deliberate over what to do for the best about Anne and Pete, but in the end, it wasn’t a case of right or wrong, it was simply what is and what isn’t.
As for the downright weird, we will never forget Franz and Kristen, neither will my parents and it may be stupid, but I still have that can of WD40.
Thanks to my better half, Penny, for editing and polishing
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