Monday, April 11, 2011

The Road to Grafenwöhr excerpt by Edward C Patterson

In this excerpt from The Road to Grafenwohr by Edward C Patterson, PFC Quincy Summerson begins his military adventure in 1968 in Bavaria realizing that his presence stirs the paradigm - the thin line between twilight and night. His hyperactive imagination gets the better of him, and soon the world enlists him for a predestined purpose - to travel on the road to Grafenwoehr, where the wood is alive with myth and folk lore. Set in a tense Cold War atmosphere during both the invasion of Czechoslovakia and the Vietnam call to arms, The Road to Grafenwoehr is one man's emotional journey to square nature's justice with humankind's disregard for it. It’s a summons for a least likely and reluctant champion. But those called to service rarely choose where they serve. They just answer it, ripening to their purpose. For Quincy Summerson, a hero’s life is not his choice, but can he ignore the call? Can he stay off the road once the twilight snares him?

The Road to Grafenwöhr
CreateSpace (March 2, 2011)
ISBN-10: 1460973860
ISBN-13: 978-1460973868


Chapter One

Journey to Somewhere


“Ausstiegen!” the bus driver shouted. “Ausstiegen das Bus!”

PFC Quincy Summerson had a notion that he had reached his destination — the first in a string of places that his travel orders specified. Although he knew no German, he assumed that the open bus door and his comrades-in-arms’ scurry meant that they were being dumped into the bustling plaza. He slid across the seat, while other soldiers madly jostled for their duffel bags. Because Quincy couldn’t stand erect in this crunch, the low luggage rack nearly knocked off his barracks cap.

“Ausstiegen! Ausstiegen das Bus!”

“Some deal,” said the troop who had sat beside him on the trip out.

Quincy didn’t know this soldier. They had swapped few words since leaving Rhein-Main Air Force base, a departure he scarcely remembered, because the sergeants had herded them like bulls into this old contraption. A dark dawn then. But soon the sunrise kissed Frankfort’s ample skyline — a sight that roused PFC Summerson to sit up and take notice.

In 1948, when Quincy Summerson was born, Frankfurt-am-Main was a war ruin — gray rubble chilled to silence. Now, twenty years later, Frankfurt was alive again — noisy, prosperous and in motion — the great German metroplex.

“Why aren’t we moving?” Quincy asked, his duffel bag balanced precariously.

“Jammed up,” said the soldier, who stretched over his neighbors and yelled, “Hey, what’s holding things up? You don’t need to tip the driver, you know. Nix Trinkgeld.”

A chorus of shut ups and fuck yous rumbled up the aisle.

“Same to you,” he snapped, and then shrugged. “Some deal, eh?”

Quincy just shook his head, hoping not to keel over. Suddenly, the cork was pulled from this bottleneck, a sea of men in olive drab dress uniforms surging forward. Summerson staggered down the aisle, dragging his duffel bag at his heels.

“Vorsicht deine Kopf!” the driver barked, tapping his noggin.

Quincy nodded, and then tumbled out onto the busy Bahnhof Platz.

Dizzy from the trip, he stood bewildered in this strange German world. With his duffel bag tottering on his shoulder and arcane orders in his hand, he stayed close to his military comrades. Still, he couldn’t help drinking in the plaza sights, especially the Bahnhof — a three arched cathedral of a train station. However, this was the Hauptbahnhof — the central train station — the station of stations.

As Quincy beamed at the architecture, his attention was drawn to a statue that capped the station’s apex. Impressive. Classic. Two bronze figures, muscles rippling in the sun, held a great globe between them like a basket of wash. Quincy imagined that the orb spun, perhaps a trick of the sunlight. However, he had a vivid imagination that sometimes carried him away on flights of fancy. He even imagined that one of these figures waved to him. He blinked to reset his mind.

Quincy wanted to record these sights in the notepad that he always carried in his top pocket for such occasions, ideas for later recall — a primer for a short story perhaps. Writing may have been his vanity or just an exercise to fill in the empty hours, but he had scores of ideas captured in that notepad to play out in that vivid imagination.

Damn, he thought.

He had packed the notepad in his duffel bag. He couldn’t juggle for it now. The soldiers were already dispersing; and he was still clueless of place and time. His only guide was this bill of goods — the travel orders, which flapped in his hand. Because these were unintelligible to him, he quickly regrouped with the soldier who had been his seatmate on the bus.

“Where are we supposed to go?” he asked.

The soldier gave him the fish-eye.

“I think we go into the station,” he snapped. “You know, where they keep the trains and the tracks. Toot toot.”

“Very funny. I’m serious. I mean, how do we know what . . .”

The troop waved his own travel orders.

“We look for something called the RTO.”

“Then what?”

“How the fuck should I know? Do you speak German?”

Quincy did not. Dazed and bemused, he entered the cavernous Bahnhof. It astounded him. The Bahnhof — no, the Hauptbahnhof, was a hub with seemingly endless rows of tracks and locomotives, bustling with thousands of travelers, all sure of their destinations — all except this band of American soldiers, who wandered about looking for a hint — for a mysterious shrine called the RTO.

“Sprechen sie English?” the other soldier said to a uniformed porter, who shrugged and then answered with a loud, Nein! However, when showed the papers, he was more helpful.

“RTO,” he said, pointing to a large sign that read RTO.

“Thanks. Danke!”


Quincy nodded his thanks also, and then followed his crass guide toward the RTO office, where they found a long line of soldiers, each clutching travel orders and duffel bags.

Efficient. The RTO officer was efficient. Dressed in a blue uniform and topped with a braided cap, he appeared mechanical, reviewing each set of orders in turn — reading them, stamping them, and then issuing tickets. He also distributed written material, which would have been helpful if they hadn’t been written German. He translated each with his near-English.

“Herr Sommersohn,” he snapped, handing Quincy tickets, orders and instructions in that order.

He hesitated, blinking at Quincy. Quincy thought he was going to ask him a question, but the man just shook his head, and then recomposed into his official stance.
“You are going to Grafenwöhr. You vill go to gleiß sieben zum Nürnburg. Make change there for the train zum Weiden. Then zum Vilseck. Then warten . . . vait. Someone vill catch you. They do so alvays.”

Quincy waited for the rest, but that was it, except that the man blinked again. Quincy didn’t find the reaction strange. He just wanted clearer directions than those in his hand.

“Next pleaze, bitte,” the officer said.

Quincy took the tickets, the orders, the instructions and his deep desire for further clarification (in that order). He was journeying to somewhere, but to where he had not a clue. He waited for his newfound friend (if he could call him that), but when the soldier emerged from the RTO, he rushed past Quincy, said a quick goodbye, nice shooting the shit with you, and then ran to catch his own train.

Quincy was stranded — disfranchised — afloat in a bustling sea of people, who couldn’t or wouldn’t help him on his way. Where to begin? Where? He looked toward heaven for help, his glance shooting up to the vast, vaulted ceiling. There the statues with their globe cast a long shadow down over the tracks, settling to a specific spot on a word that Quincy recognized from his papers. Gleiß — track, despite the funny, squiggly ß, which he supposed was the way the Germans wrote their double S’s. (He had heard the RTO officer pronounce the word).

Gleiß sieben, he thought. That’s seven, I think.

He glanced up again to the statue, but it cast its shadow no longer.

“Thanks,” he said.


Quincy wandered to what he hoped was the correct track — Gleiß. Several placards heralded times and destinations. The times were in military format and understandable, but the destinations were mysterious:

München — Venedig — Rom – Nürnburg

“Do you need help?” came a voice.

Quincy turned. A conductor. A conductor who spoke . . . English.

“Yes, thank God.”

The conductor chuckled as if he had heard this response many times. He perused Quincy’s ticket. He shook his head, and then read the travel instructions.

“Easy,” he said. “You are here.” He pointed to the sign – Gleiß sieben. “Number seven. The correct track. And this train is for Nürnburg.” He pointed down the track line. “It is the fifth car. You will see the sign.”


“Ja, Nürnburg. But you must hurry. Schnell.”

“Thank you,” Quincy said, with a slight nod, and then, after hoisting his duffel bag and hesitating said, “Danke.”

“Bitte, Herr Yes, Thank God,” the conductor chuckled. “Have a good journey. Willkommen in Deutschland.”

Quincy smiled. A good journey. A journey to somewhere, to where he still hadn’t a clue. He wanted a good journey. He had looked forward to his arrival in Germany for weeks. Before he left the states, he tried to decipher his orders, trying to pinpoint his specific destination. No luck. He tried to match APO numbers, but that only confused the issue. He finally guessed that he was going somewhere in Bavaria that showed on no known map — a town he couldn’t pronounce until a few minutes ago, when he heard it drip off the lips of the RTO officer. Before that, he called it Grafenwhore — quite a titillating mistake. Now he knew it was pronounced something like Grafenveer, although those funny little dots over the o had made the difference, much like the curious letter B that everyone pronounced like two S’s — the hiss of snakes. Well, this Grafenwhore or veer or wöhr, was small and out of the way. Yes. Out of harms way, or could he pronounce a Vietnam destination better?

Quincy found his train, the sign in the window of the fifth car — zum Nürnburg. Why it had to be the fifth car, he couldn’t fathom, but he was in no position to disobey. He tossed his duffel bag up the stairs, and then hopped on board.

The car was full — dark and noisy. He spotted a few vacancies, but his gear would be a nuisance. He flopped it behind him, dragging it past a few seats until he stood beside three comely, elderly ladies, who smiled at him. He returned the smile, and then shouldered his duffel bag meaning to hoist it into the overhead compartment. He did not want to crowd the women, so after stowing his gear, he looked around for another seat. The women fluttered. One patted the empty seat.

“Ist frei,” she said.

Quincy shrugged.

“She says that the seat is empty,” said a young man who sat on the opposite side. “You may sit there.”

“Danke,” Quincy said, sitting.

This started a flurry of smiles from the women. All three sported hats — fedoras with duck feathers tuck in the brim band — a different color each — red, green and yellow. They smiled at him through various shades of dentures. Quincy thought they were going to eat him for dinner.

“It is customary,” continued the young man. “In fact, it is proper etiquette to ask if a seat is free before sitting. But these schöne Fraüen recognize that you are a stranger im Deutschland and so it is also etiquette to extend an invitation.”

Quincy smiled.

What luck. Someone who spoke English; and right at his side.

“Thank you,” he said. “Kind of you to help. I don’t speak German.”

“Not necessary,” the lad said. “You have already initiated a conversation with them and they speak no English.”

The ladies chortled, pointing to Quincy, and then consulting one another.

“I’m glad they approve.”

“Yes, they do. They are taking your features into account.”

Quincy smiled. Perhaps they were discussing which one would have the first dance at some German ball. It amused him.

“Are they calling me a dumb American or an ugly foreigner?”

“No,” the lad said. He cocked his head, reached across and tapped Quincy’s cheek. “They are discussing your unique . . . how should I say it . . . chevron.”

Quincy frowned, bringing his hand to his cheek and covering this . . . chevron — a birthmark — an inverted V with a tiny tail, which the kids at school called a hairy carrot and his father sometimes called the volcano. It was probably the source of the RTO officer’s blink. No surprise. Every new encounter drew a stare. Quincy was self-conscious of the blemish. It had denied him many dates, and although he wasn’t the most handsome specimen in the pack, this little delimiter often spelled the difference between favor and the back of the line.

“I cut myself shaving,” he snapped. “Tell them that.”

The lad, who was no more than eighteen, widened his eyes. Quincy could see that he didn’t believe a word of it. Still he leaned into the tittering Fraüen spiel and tapped his own cheek.

“Eine Rasierapparat schnitt,” he said.

“Eine Rasierappaart schnitt?” the red duck-feather lady said. “Nichts glaube.”

They laughed, and then allowed their conversation to trail off just as the train began to move.

“What did they say?”

“They . . . they like your chevron and hope you are more careful in future.”
Quincy grinned, but knew they said no such thing.


Soon the train pulled into the daylight. They had traversed through a tunnel, which reminded Quincy of a subway ride, only with German chatter. Then when the train emerged from the depths, the Frankfurt skyline burst into view. It made Quincy homesick, although the sight of New York from the Brooklyn side was more impressive. But this one wasn’t shabby. It was hard for him to imagine that there were other places, other skylines competing with his own experience with urban sprawl.

He smiled as he watched the sun dance on the skyscraper windows like mirrors to the sky and a thumb on the nose to the past. He felt the eyes of the young man and the ladies upon him. Were they enjoying his blissful expression, his eyes admiring their country . . . or were they still intent on the volcano — his razor nick — his chevron?

“Did you see my city?” the young man asked.

“No,” Quincy said. “I only arrived yesterday — actually, last night. They woke us up at the crack of dawn — before dawn. They tossed some breakfast at us, and then shoved us on a bus to the station. And here I am.”

“It is a shame that you could not enjoy my city. It has many modern wonders, you know. Very metropolitan. Maybe the next time you pass through you will see it.”
Quincy smiled, and then peered toward the window. On this side of the river, the scenery was more industrial than metropolitan, reminiscent of New Jersey. However, this soon gave way to classic German architecture.

“Offenbach,” the green duck feather lady said. “Ist Offenbach-am-Main. Ist eine schöne Platz. Sehr alt.”

“She says that this is Offenbach, a pretty place and very old. We are in Hesse.”

The ladies laughed to hear the young man’s words. He extended his hand to Quincy, who shook it firmly.

“I am Luddy,” he said. “Ludwig.”

“I’m Quincy.”

“Glad to meet you, Quincy. Is it Mr. Quincy?”

“No, it’s PFC Summerson.”

“Glad to know you. I go to school in Fürth bei Nürnburg. I see many soldiers there. I have studied English. How is it?”

“Your English is perfect,” Quincy said. “I wish I knew German.”

“No need. If you knew German, I could not practice my English. Where are you stationed? O’Darby Kaserne?”

“Actually,” Quincy said, “I’m not sure. I mean, I know the place name, but have never found it on a map.”

Quincy unfolded his travel instructions and gave them to Luddy. As he perused it, the ladies leaned forward following the silence. He turned toward them.

“Sie kennen Grafenwöhr?”

The ladies looked to one another, and then collectively shrugged.

“I do not know this place, and neither do they,” he said. “You go on this train as far as Nürnburg. Then you will ride a Bahnbus to a town called Vilseck.”

“Vilseck,” said the yellow duck feather lady. “Ich kenne Vilseck. Ist bei Weiden. Sehr schöne Platz.”

“Ah. This lady knows Vilseck. It is near Weiden, a place which I do know. But here it says, you go as far as Vilseck and then, somehow you must get to Grafenwöhr.”

Quincy laughed.

“Did I tell you a joke?”

“No. It’s just before this morning I was pronouncing the place Grafenwhore.”

Luddy roared, but the ladies didn’t, looking to him for a translation.

“Er Ausspreche Grafenwöhr . . . Grafenhure.”

The ladies exploded into gales of laughter, turning many heads in the car. Their faces glowed bright red. They gasped for air.

“What?” Quincy asked. “What have I said?”

“Your pronunciation has made them funny.”


“You said that you were going to Grafenhure — the Duke’s Prostitute.”

Quincy laughed now also, although he didn’t know whether he was ridiculed or just given a good dose of the old Willkommen. Still, he made a mental note to start learning this language before he slipped and said something that wouldn’t get him a laugh.
To purchase, click here

1 comment:

Victor J. Banis said...

an intriguing opening, as is to be expected from Edward - as to the language confusion, been there, done that, and some of my mistakes were far worse.

Thanks for a good read,