Submitted by: Jay Rohr

Roadside Realizations

In the past I have said that I left the tavern because I did not care for the mood that had developed. Additionally, the behavior of the patrons and the proprietor, Herr Wirzt, had begun to make me more than uncomfortable. However, I feel that for the first time I can say with ease there was another element that contributed to my immediate egress. Despite whatever rationalizations my mind applied to the story of Elimar Scherer, some part of me felt it a reality. The affect it had on those in the City Wall was too extreme for a mere ghost story. Still, youth has a way of ignoring any hesitation, especially when accompanied by a gut full of strong drink.

So I set my feet back on the road to Eggenstedt. Although it was night, the moon was so near to full I had no trouble finding my way. Rounding a bend, I lost sight of the tavern. Before it disappeared completely I glanced over my shoulder and saw Herr Wirtz along with a few others standing outside the door, watching me leave. One man clearly made the sign of the cross then pointed in my direction. I felt a chill that turned to a shiver, which I cannot wholly attribute to the wind.

Once the tavern left my sight, I tried not to think about it or what had transpired therein. My thoughts first turn to Eggenstedt, where I hoped my friends had acquired rooms for us all. There were still a few miles to travel, and I was certain a bed would be my first visit in town. From there I attempted to devise some way of playfully revenging myself on my friends. As much as I enjoy a good joke (even one that leaves me left by the roadside) it must be understood, as a matter not much unlike a moral imperative, that all pranks must be returned in kind to those who first dealt them. Several plans were forming in head when I heard a branch snap.

It caught my attention but did little to hinder my progress. The forest closed in on most of this portion of road, and branches break often enough. The second sound, something like leaves crunching underfoot, did slow my pace.

As I continued along, I tried to peer through the thickness of the woods. Though the moon shone light on the road, it had no strength to penetrate the forestís shadows. I could only make out vague forms that suggested little, if anything, to me. Still, as the wind stirred the trees, I found my thoughts returning to Herr Wirtzís tale. Another crunch of leaves started my heart on a hammering pulse that vibrated my chest. Despite the instinct to move down the road more quickly, my feet began to stall. When a nearby bush rattled, my whole body froze.

Images of gnashing teeth, tearing claws, surging rivers of blood, and shredded skin ran with demonic frenzy through my mind. I tried to swallow, but my mouth had gone dry. As the bush shook again, I braced myself for whatever Hell born thing might come forth. A rabbit. A small, gray, long eared, run of the mill rabbit bounded out of the bush, hopped along to the opposite side of the road, and vanished into the woods.

Taking in a deep breath, I let it out in a sigh that turned into embarrassed laughter. I was glad no one had been present to see my display, while I mopped the rivers of sweat from face. With a firm grip on the reigns of my imagination, I continued along the path.

I passed the time by singing snips from the HMS Pinafore. At least, the selections I could remember. I began as Captain Corcoran, and took on the chorus parts when necessary,

"Though related to a peer,

I can hand, reef, and steer,

And ship a selvagee;

I am never known to quail

At the furry of a gale

And Iím never, never sick at sea!

What, never?

No, never!

What, never?

Hardly ever!

Heís hardly ever sick at sea!

Then give three cheers, and one cheer more,

For the hardy captain of the Pinafore!"

I donít profess to have a professionalís handle on singing, but I have not yet heard a complaint. Perhaps primarily because I tend to sing when I am alone. But such considerations are hardly worth mentioning. The time was passing delightfully along with the miles, and I dare say I was, at times, dancing my way to Eggenstedt.

My spirits were so high in fact, I completely ignored the sounds of snuffling my ears had begun to register. Assuming they were the product of another woodland creature, most likely a larger cousin of the rabbit, I sang louder to drawn them out. However, sounds soon started to accompany the snuffling.

"A British tar is a soaring soul,

As free as a mountain bird,

(Leaves and branches crunching, snapping underfoot)

His energetic fist should be ready to resist

a dictatorial word.

His nose should pant, and his lip should curl,

(Something akin to a low, steady growl)

His cheeks should flame and his brow should furl, (the rustle of leaves by the side of the road)

His bosom should heave and his heart should glow,

And his fist be every ready for a knock-down blow."

As the last note dropped off, I heard a noise like a dog panting. Keeping my imagination on a tight leash, I allowed myself a glance in the direction of the sound There was nothing there, save for the trees and the shadows wrapped around them. Then, as I turned to face forward, I caught a glimpse of movement out of the corner of my eye.

ĎSimply the wind,í I thought to myself. It was a rational conclusion, but not enough of one to slow my pace, which had quickened. Even with my imagination reigned in, I still kept an eye on the side of the road. It was fortunate that I did so, because if I had not, I never would have seen them. I can say now, after long years of reflection, that I am almost certain I saw a pair of shining, yellow eyes flash for an instant in the darkness. As soon as I saw them I broke into a dead run.

Save for the wind rushing past my ears and the pounding of my pulse, I couldnít hear any sounds. I remember saying the Lordís Prayer, some parts in my head, others aloud. The brush by the roadside shook as my pursuer raced towards me, hindered only by the wind. I can walk for miles with little fatigue, but I am not of the athletic variety. So it was only a short distance before I could feel my pace slowing. I tried to pump my legs harder but instead of speed, produced more sweat.

They say your life flashes in front of your eyes at the curtainís close, and I think that it does so to help you recall all that youíve done wrong. That way you can absolve yourself fully before the finale. It also reminds you what you have yet to do with your life. Although, looking back, that could just be a youthful impression.

My muscles started to grind to a halt. In the midst of contemplating whether to face the thing I knew was chasing me, or let it take me from behind, I saw a light coming round a turn in the road. It spilled out down the path, then emerged from behind a veil of trees. My heart swelled and a new energy returned to my legs. It was a lighted carriage, piloted by my friend, James. Considering how late it had become, as well as the storm earlier, he had, most likely, come back down the road looking for me. Running with my new found vigor, I waved to him with both arms.

As the carriage neared, he slowed and called out to me, "Hello, hello. I thought you might be lost or wanting a li..."

"Turn around and drive," I shouted, leaping into the seat next to him. For a moment he was confused and started pulling the carriage to a dead stop. I can only imagine what he thought at the sight of me. I was gasping for every ounce of oxygen I could breathe in and dripping with sweat from exertion and fear. I repeated my command, as it was not a request, and finally got him to turn the carriage.

As James whipped the horses to a faster gait, I ventured a look back down the road. I will swear to my dying day, I saw a silhouette slinking along the edge of the road, following us for a distance, before vanishing back into the woods.

When we reached Eggenstedt I told my friends all that had happened. To be kind, I will say only that they did not believe me. For a time I did not want to believe myself, but I know what I saw. Thank God James had been on his way back to find me. Thank God even more that Herr Wirtz had told me what to be on the lookout for, otherwise I might not have known to run Then I would not be able to tell you this story now. A tale Iíve only told because, I feel safe assuming, you believe me.