Story Excerpt – “The Wary Traveler”

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Free offer ends midnight (Pacific Standard Time) Sunday 8th December 2013!

It’s midsummer in Europe and Jim, a young American who has just finished college, is one of the many tourists traveling through the alps.

In this excerpt, Jim is sitting in a crowded bar, when he senses a mysterious presence across the room. After his friends leave the bar, Jim finds their seat has been suddenly taken by a stranger, the charismatic young Gunther. Gunther engages Jim in conversation:

“So where are you going?” Gunther said.

“To see the alps.”

He glanced at my map, “Zurich, Salzburg, Innsbruck. A good trail.”

His smile suggested he wasn’t that impressed.

“Always the tourist trail,” he said, “But where are we really going?”

“To see something -”

“Something more than this?” he tilted his head at the tavern, with its garish decorations and tourist posters. I knew what he meant.

“My friends want to stay for the festival.”

Gunther waved his hand, “That festival is sponsored by a beer company. A Dutch beer company. There were never any traditional festivals down here in the valley.”

He took a sip of his drink. It wasn’t a beer. He had two glasses, a smaller one, which he cut with the water in the taller glass. It was one of those cool European things I never understood, but had always wanted to know.

He fixed his eyes on me and added conspiratorially, “You have to get off the tourist trail.”

“Yeah I know,” I sipped my American beer.

“But it’s all about the easy path, isn’t it?”

“There’s not much around here that isn’t on the tourist trail.”

“Oh there is,” Gunther’s eyes scanned the room.

A d-jay had replaced the oompah oompah band, and was playing eighties music. Some English tourists were singing along, drunkenly and slightly off key. Gunther looked tired and glared over his shoulder. I had a sudden fear he was going to get up and leave me here, among the package tourists and the beer festivals that weren’t real.

Although I had no good reason for feeling this way, I had the crazy thought that Gunther was my connection to a new world, that he had the answer somehow and would push open the doors to real life.

He was scrutinizing me, that’s for sure. He hesitated, then leaned forward, “There’s a place in the mountains that is amazing.”

I nodded casually, even though this was exactly what I’d been hoping to hear.

“I’m meeting my friends there, in a village up the mountain, a place called Himmeldorf. There’s a festival there – a real festival. There’s hardly any tourists – in fact they don’t want tourists. But if you know someone -” he shrugged.

My eyes strayed beyond the beer advertisements, to the vista of mountains above the town.

Gunther continued, “My friend Arethusa’s father has a house there, huge old place, right at the foot of the mountain.”

“That mountain?”

Gunther leaned over, following my line of vision, “Yes. The Himmelberg. It’s the tallest peak around here. Arethusa’s a great girl. She’ll be at the festival tonight.” Gunther glanced at his watch. He had a serious watch with a thick band and lots of dials. The type of watch you’d wear when you were skiing or deep sea diving or doing something exciting, “Starts at sunset. I tell you, if you want to see more than the tourist trail, it’s worth going.”

“I told Kelly I’d meet her tonight. She might want to go to the festival too.”

A frown crossed Gunther’s face. His smile was pleasant but forced, “Sure. Your friend, Kelly. You can ask her. Anyway, the train to Himmeldorf leaves at seven o’clock. Maybe I’ll see you guys at the railway station.”

“Will I get back tonight?”

“There’s no train until the morning. And believe me, I don’t think you’ll be sleeping.”

Unable to persuade Kelly to join him, Jim joins Gunther on the mountain train. Arriving in Himmeldorf at sunset, they find the old town strung with elaborate and macabre decorations. Jim and Gunther join the revelers at the festival, which Jim discovers is to ward off the mysterious ancient spirits of the mountain. These ice-bound spirits are said to venture into the towns to entrap humans.

His memory a blank after meeting the beautiful Arethusa, Jim wakes to a blazing dawn, reluctantly agreeing to accompany Gunther further up the mountainside…

Get the full novelette here:“The Wary Traveler”

Free offer ends midnight (Pacific Standard Time) Sunday 8th December 2013!


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