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A Bad Night in a German Tavern
by M. L. Steger
I had been traveling to various cities in my ancestral land——visiting the more well-known ones Frankfurt, Bremen, Munich. Finally, I started making my way to eastern villages——places that were closed off to westerners during the Cold War. I wanted to learn about how the natives of my ancestral land lived and wondered if I could make any connection to how they lived and to what I longed for——some sort of peace outside the consumerism and greed of the western world. I took train or bus for the longer distances and hiked for the shorter ones. Hiking not only allowed me to be alone with my thoughts, but it also allowed me to get to know that land better——on a more intimate note, than passing through it quickly by vehicle.
Once I got to the small town of Zschornau I heard rumors of an ancient crypt with my surname engraved on it. It had been there for ages for the cemetery where it was located was very old itself.
Though I was due in Kamenz five miles south of my current location, I thought I could take a picture of my surname on the crypt.
If I was quick enough in finding this cemetery, I could reach my destination by early evening.
I traveled through brush and some deep mud before I found the overgrown path to my destination.
Though many of the old headstones had since crumbled, a small stone crypt in the corner of the cemetery peeked above the tall grass. And though it was considerably weathered, there appeared my last name on the crypt. I took a few pictures of it and realized the sun was getting lower. I looked at my watch. It had taken me longer to find the cemetery than I thought.
I again found the path out of the cemetery; however, I was unable to find the road again. The sun seemed to be against me as it pressed against the top of the trees, threatening to set.
For a brief moment, I felt panic coming on; however, it was only brief as I almost stumbled across the road I was to take. It seemed that I found my way to the road much quicker than it took me to get to the cemetery.
I quickened my pace, realizing that it would probably take me an hour or more to get to Kamenz.
Despite the fact I was in a foreign land on an unknown road, I found the night walk pleasant. It was somewhat warm and I could hear distant owls hooting at each other. My sense of security diminished when I heard a howl from a distance, then another answering almost right away. I quickened my pace. For several minutes I heard neither hooting nor howling but flapping wings overhead——a bird looking for its resting place as I was heading for mine.
As I walked the unknown road, I came across a deserted house, then a little further on, a house with a light on. As I continued on my journey, I came across more and more buildings until I saw one with a neon sign in the window advertising a familiar beer brand.
At this point, I was thirsty from my hike, and not adverse to the thought of eating something.
It was a pleasant enough tavern with about twenty or so patrons at the time.
I sat down at a table where I was quickly waited on. I voraciously ate a sausage and drank the local ale. However, I found myself in a bit of a predicament when it came time to leave.
It appeared that the door where I had entered the tavern was now heavily barred, but not just barred——it had a heavy wooden cabinet resting in front of it.
I tried to ask the waitress in my best broken German how I exit the establishment. She somberly shook her head.
I looked over at the bartender. "Sie bleiben hier heute a bend." He said, shaking his head.
One of the men I was sitting next to steered me back to our table.
I tried to protest and explain that I had to be somewhere, but it didn't seem to matter. None of us were going anywhere that night.
In fact, no one else seemed in much of a rush to leave the little tavern. I thought I might have been kidnapped, but no one else seemed to care or think anything about leaving. It was at that point that I had wished I spoke more German.
There were hushed conversations around the room, but I didn't notice anything out of the ordinary. Perhaps they closed the road after dark and a person pretty much had to stay where they were once the road closed. It was at this point I regretted my side trip to the cemetery but there was little I could do about it now. So, when in Rome, do as the Romans do, or when in Germany, do as the Germans do. I decided to make myself comfortable until I could leave. This was made quite easy for me as the waitress kept pouring more ale.
As the conversations continued, my eyes slowly got heavier. It didn't help that my glass was constantly refilled whenever I took a sip. When I realized how easily I could be robbed if I was not careful, I hung my bag over my knee and gripped it tightly.
However, the warmth of the fire in the corner and the monotonous tones of the other patrons did me no good——I fell asleep in my chair.
It must've been several hours when I finally awoke. What awoke me, I do not know as the whole group in the tavern sat silently——many just staring at their drink.
I looked around. It was as if they were frozen in time. No one moved. I got out my language book and was about to ask for the restroom, when a bang was heard at the door. One of the men who had sat motionless jumped at the sound. The bartender looked over at the door. The heavy cabinet was still there, but the bartender was not taking any chances. He motioned for some of the men to help him move a table that would back up the cabinet that was blocking the door.
A shot of concern went through my head. Was it really me they wanted to keep in, or something they wanted to keep out?
Again, a knock on the door——not a knock but a pound. The door vibrated with a "bang."
The men pushed the table up against the door. "Johann." A soft voice was heard from the other side of the door. If I didn't know better, I could swear the ruddy complexion of the bartender turned white.
The group of men who had moved the table held it in place.
The pounding started again. These men were definitely trying to keep someone out.
"Johann Steiner," the voice - a female's - was louder this time. "ich bin es. Ihr Helga."
Several of the men looked at the man sitting by the fire. He huddled closer to it.
"Lassen sie mich innen. Ich bin so kalt."
The men who still had drinks huddled closer to them. No one was making eye contact.
I wanted to ask what was it that frightened them so, but I dared not speak——for no one did.
The light above our heads, though dim before, slowly became dimmer. The fire played strange tricks of light on the tavern patrons' faces. I looked at my sixth or seventh glass of ale——I had since lost count. I didn't have to speak the language to know I was not in a happy situation. Something was very wrong.
Then, a pounding hit the door so loud, I felt the vibration from the chair I was in.
"Johann." a voice - not the woman's, but that of a beast yelled outside the door. "Johann, lassen sie mich innen!"
Another pound, then another. More men got up to brace the door and the furniture in front of it. Another pound. Another. Another. Another. Pound! Pound! Pound! Pound!
We heard the frightening sound of wood splintering as one of the hinges started to pull away from the door jamb.
In an instant, every one of us in the tavern was bracing the door.
I could feel the hair on the back of my neck stand on end.
"Auggh!" The beast screamed unholy fury outside the door. I shivered as the sound chilled me to my insides.
Pound! Pound! Pound! Pound! Pound!
Fortunately, the hinge and door stood in place. Whatever it was that wanted in, stopped for the moment.
After a moment or two, we all relaxed a little. I turned to the man next to me, "What was that?"
He shook his head.
Just then, a loud thump was heard on the roof. Then steps, as if someone were walking on the roof.
The walking stopped. Then, the pounding started. Pound! Pound! Pound! Pound from the roof. The bartender started yelling something toward the roof.
The beast screamed again. Then it pounded some more. Then, it stopped.
None of us spoke a word. In fact, I'm not sure if any of us were breathing.
It took several minutes for most of us to relax. I didn't repeat my question. I was afraid what the answer might be.
Again we all sat down in silence after about ten minutes. Unfortunately, my bladder couldn't wait any longer.
"Restroom?" I whispered quietly to the man next to me. He pointed to the door on the far side of the bar.
I nodded and quietly went over to it. I wasn't sure I wanted to go by myself, but my bladder told me I had no choice.
I did my business and came out to wash my hands. It wasn't until then that I noticed I heard crickets——the noise was coming from outside. Up above the sink about ten feet high was a small four by six inch window that opened to the outside.
At first, I didn't notice the two wild eyes staring back at me through the opening, but when I did, I jumped with a yelp away from the sink.
"Johann?" a woman's voice whispered through the window.
I ran out of the restroom. I stumbled across the floor and back to my seat where I was poured another glass of ale.
It wasn't ten minutes when the creature started pounding on the walls. Pound! Pound! Pound! I looked around at the others. They all looked as frightened as I felt.
Pound! Pound! Pound! "Johann!" The beast growled.
I kept thinking how the eyes were just staring at me in the restroom. There was no movement. It was as if the eyes were part of statue——something inanimate. Yet, there they were, staring at me. I shivered in my seat. How was it that they creature could see me from ten feet above the ground? What kind of creature was it? I didn't want to think about the last bit. I didn't want to know what it was or if such a thing could exist.
Pound! Pound! Pound! Pound! "Johann, kommen zu mir." Pound! Pound! Pound!
The man at the fire got up. The bartender put a hand on his shoulder, trying to comfort him.
Pound! Pound! Pound!
The sound kept hitting my ears. I couldn't process it anymore though. I was too frightened.
Pound! Pound! Pound! "Johann, Kommen zu mir. Ich bin so kalt."
The man by the fire, who by this time I had assumed was Johann, sat back down and put his hands over his ears.
"Die Sonne ist oben bald." the bartender whispered to him.
The man beside me said quietly, "The sun will be up soon."
"Good," I whispered back, though I wasn't sure if it was good or not.
Pound! Pound! Pound!
Johann stood up, "Weg gehen Sie schlechtes Geschopf. Gehen Sie zuruck zu Ihrem Grab, in dem Sie gehoren."
"Johann! Johann! Johann! Lessen sie mich innen. Lessen sie mich innen!"
The creature screamed, "Lessen sie mich innen. Lessen sie mich innen. Lessen sie mich innen. Lessen sie mich innen. Lessen sie mich innen. Lessen sie mich innen. Lessen sie mich innen. Lessen sie mich innen. Lessen sie mich innen. Lessen sie mich innen." Pound! Pound! Pound! Pound! Pound!
"Gehen sie weg!" Johann sobbed. He buried his face in his hands as he crawled back to the fire.
"Bitte Gott, holen die Dammerung." The man beside me whispered.
Pound! Pound! Pound! Pound! The pounding kept on for over ten minutes. However, it was getting weaker——less urgent. Finally, it stopped altogether.
Another ten minutes passed. Nothing. Then another. Then another. I started to feel the effects from the little sleep I had. My eyes grew heavy again with the quiet. Until someone spoke, "Dammerung."
A shaft of light from above the door penetrated the tavern. The sun had risen. We survived the night. The group started to stretch and mutter amongst themselves. Many patted Johann on the back, speaking comfortingly to him in low, gentle voices.
The bartender and some of the men started to move the furniture away from the door. When the door finally swung open to meet the new day, I couldn't believe how glad I was to see the bright light illuminating the bar.
"Thank God for the sun." the man sitting next to me said. "Evil cannot live where there is light."
I smiled and nodded. I was about to get up when one of the men asked me, "Did you see her?"
I shook my head, not understanding the question at first, then, realizing that I might have seen her——peeking through the restroom window, I nodded.
The man gave me a look of concern. Then the man next to me asked, "Did she see you?"
I wasn't sure how to answer that. Did she see me? I could swear she was looking right at me.
"I think so." I said. "Does it matter?"
"We will hunt today. By tonight, be very far away."
"Who was she?"
"Johann's wife. She was buried a week ago yesterday."