The Stuck Village
I visit my family in Crankleford every year, usually around the year’s end. Christmas provides a good opportunity for that. I’m not religious though, and for me it’s really about connecting with family when the world is at its darkest, literally.
So at the end of 2016, I’m on the long journey to my mum’s place in Crankleford. The journey from my home in Knutsham is extensive: a solid 11 hours, on four or five different trains. The last leg of the journey is a train from Launtington.
It was around 5 or 6 in the evening when I arrived at Launtington central station. I got off the train, and headed to the main station hall to look at departure board. The train I was supposed to take my mum’s village wasn’t on there, though. The information desk told me that there was no train, but there was a bus service, leaving in 40 minutes. I texted my mum that I’d be half an hour late, as the train wasn’t running as I expected.
I hung around in the station hall for a while, watching people come and leave. I got on the bus about 5 minutes before departure. There were a few dozen people on the bus, and I remember thinking it was odd that an entire train, with multiple carriages, fit into a single bus. Also, I recognised none of the faces on the bus. The years previously, I’d see at least two or three familiar faces on the train, the regulars on this line — not this time though.
The bus left the station and headed onto mostly empty streets. It was entirely dark outside by then, and the orange light from the street lamps didn’t illuminate enough of the surroundings to tell where exactly we were. I knew the train journey quite well: for about a decade, I traveled up and down that line nearly every day.
But this bus was taking a different route. I recognised none of the stops. Maybe I just hadn’t done this journey in a while, I thought, and had forgotten the details. I knew I had to get off at the seventh stop, and so I simply counted all the halts.
The bus had been entirely quiet up to the first stop. After that, as the bus was driving through a landscape I was unfamiliar with, some people quietly started speaking. Now, this line isn’t used by anyone who doesn’t live in any of the villages ahead. You see all sorts of people, but they’re all unmistakably from around the area, with their distinct dialects. The people on this bus, though, were speaking a language I did not understand. I couldn’t even tell what language it was — or even whether it even was only one language.
I counted the seventh stop, but the area looked foreign to me. I asked the bus driver where this was the Crankleford stop. He turned his head towards me, slowly, stared at me for what felt like an entire minute, and then said “yes,” in a slow, indecisive, unsure tone. That was the only word in the past half hour that was spoken in a language I understood.
I got off the bus, and as the bus drove away, I realised I was at the opposite end of the village from the train station. I started walking and texted my mum that I’d be at the station in five minutes. It was at this moment that I realised that there was not a single sound in this village. The rumble of the bus’ engine had died off, and I could not hear any sound apart from my own breathing and my footsteps. No sound of birds, or wind, and even the little stream that crosses the main road was silent. Most of the houses on the main road were empty, their lights turned off. Some of them had lights on, but I couldn’t discern any movement inside.
I got to the station and walked around the parking lot, looking for my mum’s car. I didn’t immediately spot a car with headlights on, which is how she’d usually stand out at night. I walked through the parking lot twice. Nothing. I texted my mum that I had arrived, and waited a couple of more minutes, but still no sign of my mum. She’d always be ahead of time, but maybe the different train schedule, or rather bus schedule, shook things up.
The strangeness of this village was getting to me though. I’ve always known it as somewhat busy, but now it felt… hollow. As if this town was stuck. As if I was not supposed to be there.
I still hadn’t received a message from my mum. I didn’t wait any longer and called her. My phone rang… and rang… and rang… with no answer. I was getting worried. I hadn’t seen a single sign of life in the last 20 minutes. I was not feeling comfortable and I had no idea what was going on.
Then, suddenly, my phone rang — it was my mum. Finally! I picked up, but it’s not my mum speaking. Instead, there’s a deep male voice, yelling at me, in German: Hans? Hans? Wo bist du? Hans?! — and right away the caller disconnects, and my phone goes beep-beep-beep-beep-…
The eeriness of this whole situation is too much for me and I’m about to panic, but right then I get another phone call. It’s my mum calling — genuinely my mum this time — and she asks me where I am; she tells me that she is worried because she has not heard from me the entire day. I start to explain that I’ve been texting her all along, but I interrupt myself and ask her to please come pick me up at the station right away.
As I end the phone call, a gentle breeze picks up in the village, and creates a rustling sound. I notice the noise of cars in the distance. There is light and movement behind the windows in the village now, too.
Two minutes later, I see familiar shape of my mum’s car approaching. She pulls over and I get in. I notice I’m shaking. She asks me what happened, and I say it doesn’t matter. I’m cold, I’m hungry, and I want to be home.