Claudia Strauss lives in Freiburg, Germany with her mother and studies theology at the local university. One day she gets a cryptically written ticket inviting her to an unusual address to the heart of the Black Forest. She goes, but lives to regret her decision as the situation soon escalates into a nightmare she can't get out of.
29 October, 2012
Claudia Strauss pulled her red Volkswagen into the driveway of her family home, yanked up the handbrake and sighed as she glanced up at the dimly lit house. It had been a long, boring day and the last thing she felt like doing was coming home and facing her mother’s disapproving looks as she served up supper.
But it was a cold October evening and she had no desire to meet up with her Irish friends who preferred, instead of mingling with the locals at biergartens, to frequent O’Kellys and drink Guinness till late no matter what the temperature was outside. The icy weather always made her depressed. It had snowed earlier and there were still several inches of it covering the lawn. She noticed her mother had already diligently swept the pathway to the house and sprinkled salt on the stone slats to prevent people from slipping.
The front porch light came on, blinding Claudia for a second. It was a clear sign that her car had been spotted in the driveway and she knew that if she sat out in the cold any longer her mother would know she wasn’t keen on stepping inside. Although she wasn’t one to give into what her mother wanted she had vowed to take it easier on her ever since her father passed away last June from a heart attack.
She put on her gloves, picked up her handbag and got out of the car. There was no wind but the icy chill went right through her bones and she exhaled deeply as she walked briskly up the path. Claudia fumbled for her keys in her handbag. She unlocked the door and as she slammed the door shut shouted a greeting and ran upstairs to throw down her bags and change into more comfortable clothing.
“Hello schatz,” trilled her mother from the kitchen as Claudia stampeded down the stairs again. Claudia made her way to the kitchen where she saw her mother busying herself over a pot of steaming spaghetti. Thursdays were usually ‘bolognaise nights’ and her mother was humming a tune, which generally meant she was in good spirits.
“There’s some post for you on the dining room table,” sang her mother as Claudia planted a kiss on her cheeks. Claudia smiled and breathed an inaudible sigh of relief. If her mother, Gretchen, was in a good mood it meant she’d either had at least three glasses of whiskey or she’d had a visit from her best friend Wilma, who she’d known for almost 30 years.
Good. That meant she would not be grilling her about her master’s thesis. Claudia was studying theology at Freiburg University. It wasn’t a subject she was particularly keen on but since she’d left school she didn’t really know what she wanted to study. Her parents were religious and signing up to theology seemed like the right thing to do. However, when she chose “The place of the occult in the modern era” as her thesis topic at the beginning of the year and stuck by it, her mother made it her mission to let her daughter know how much she disapproved of the topic.
Claudia grabbed the post from the Oregon dining room table and sorted through it. There was a letter from the university, a postcard from her boyfriend who had gone on a business trip to London and some pamphlets promoting specials from the local hypermarket. As she shuffled through the pamphlets a golden ticket fell out from between them and fluttered to the floor. Claudia scooped it up, glanced at the writing and frowned.
In neat, Gothic style handwriting was the most unusual ditty. “To Claudia...This is a ticket for you from me to invite you to be otherwise occupied from the stroke of nine o’ three. Follow the signs in front of your face from the darkness of night past the red on my mace where the path begins the story starts so don’t be fearful or ignorant of the skipping beats of my heart.” The ticket was dated 29 October 2012 but the date of the invite was for the Saturday on 31 October 2012. An address, ‘66 Schlesinger Strasse, Black Forrest’ ended the note.
“What is it?”
Claudia took fright. She hadn’t heard her mother come up behind her.
“I don’t know mom, it’s strange but it appears to be some kind of invite.”
“Oh are your Irish friends going to have a Halloween party?”
Halloween? She hadn’t through of that. But then again none of her friends would send her an invite this way. When they did invite her to booze ups, it was generally via email or Facebook.
“I don’t think so mom. Nobody said they were doing anything for Halloween. I also don’t recognise the address,” shrugged Claudia.
“Let me see that.” Gretchen frowned and shook her head. “How strange and sinister. Ominous even. Ask your friends tomorrow who it’s from. Come now, supper is ready. And after that we can watch some old movies together, how’s that?”
Claudia smiled. Perhaps her mother was putting her reservations over the thesis behind her? “That sounds good mom,” she said as she scrunched up the ticket and threw it in the bin.