With the second blue moon of October beginning to rise larger every evening, and our Ten Thousand Islands becoming more enchanting with every moonlight shadow, our latest episode in the Beach Boy Chronicles once again travels overseas to the remote mountains and castles of Germany.
After the ghostly fog and stuffed werewolf encounter at Burg Hotel Schloss Gotzemburg, our little troop of two rental cars and seven adventure seekers was on the road again and traveling south toward the German Alps. The next castle hotel on the itinerary was Jagdschloss Holzberg. This was the most remote castle on the roster and came with the warning that Holzberg did not have electricity or hot water. We were also advised that after entering a tiny village in a valley, there was only a rough track leading up to the distant castle waiting on the mountain.
The German Autobahn is fun and exciting, and a must for driving enthusiasts. There can be no doubt. For our little band, however, we much preferred the “B” roads that travel through the winding countryside between the farms and foothills and the towns and villages that truly are brimming with so much charm and character.
Having two cars and traveling to the same destination did not mean that we always stayed together. Quite often, one group would indeed choose the autobahn searching for a quick arrival to the next destination. This was the case on the route to Holzberg when we watched our travel mates climb the on-ramp for the autobahn as our car continued for the back roads, the woodlands, and the villages that seemed to get smaller and more remote with every kilometer traveled.
Our scenic and lengthier excursion was also hampered later in the afternoon when the rain began to fall and low clouds gathered. Our map at sunset showed the township of Wildflecken ahead with the promise of another more distant village further along on the woodland route.
After Wildflecken was passed, the rain began to come down harder and lightning flashed across the sky. It is important to understand lightning in Florida for the Marco Beach Boys is very different from the lightning in Germany. Our lighting is the cloud to ground lighting that is fierce, violent, and sudden, followed by an abrupt crash of thunder. The lighting on the stormy night traveling to Hotel Holzberg was of the Frankenstein variety. This is the German lightning that streaks endlessly across the darkened sky like so many reaching fingers in a skeletal hand. The booming thunder seems to begin even before the delicate bones are illuminated giving a warning and fanfare to the upcoming events of the storm.
As we continued slowly with the windshield wipers on full, we rounded a mountainside and saw in a distant valley firelight from what must have been a huge bonfire. The distant flames rising into the heavy rain awed everyone in the car and we all voiced our disbelief that such a fire could still be burning on such a stormy night. When the fire disappeared around another mountain, we entered a tiny village windswept by the rain and then started up a nearby mountain track. The route was slow and treacherous. Rainwater was rushing down on either side of the graveled road and from time to time, the wandering path would switchback, showing the mountainside etched in the fingers of lightning. When the gravel track leveled out, the forest became thicker until pine boughs, heavy with rain, brushed the sides of our car. Just as we were beginning to consider that we might be on the wrong road, the forest opened into a clearing and we arrived at Jagdschloss Holzberg.
With the thunder and lightning ongoing, and the sheets of rain visible in the headlights, we saw our travel mate’s rental car parked beneath a pair of lofty twin towers and a Gothic portico.
With no umbrellas on hand, we parked beside the only other car and ran up to the castle gate. Fortunately, we were sheltered from the rain by the entranceway, but the big double doors were locked. After pounding on the heavy wooden entry, our group was rewarded a few minutes later when one of the big doors cracked open. When the door opened fully, we did remember there was no electricity, but when we saw the majordomo of the castle holding a kerosene lamp, we were almost ready to head back into the storm.
The lamp he was holding cast away the darkness and illuminated the castle keeper at the door. Waiting before us was a tall thin man with a very pale complexion dressed in a tuxedo. His one hand was holding the lamp but his other bandaged hand and arm were resting in a black sling that hung from around his neck. His slicked–back hair was black like his tuxedo, and beneath the dark hair and thin strap on his forehead, was a black eye patch covering his left eye. Even in the dim lamplight, everyone at the castle doors could see that the tuxedo was threadbare and from another generation.
With a strong German accent, the majordomo asked, “You are with the others?
After a pause and no answer, he tried again. “The others? You are with the other auto?”
Someone must have muttered, “Yes,” over the rumbling thunder, and then we were ushered into a large central room where the only lighting was from the flickering flames of a very large fireplace and a few kerosene lamps.
To our delight, our travel companions were waiting on large comfortable leather chairs facing the fireplace. There were sausages, roasted potatoes, bread, and a variety of cheese and cold cuts waiting on a sideboard. There were also several bottles of apple schnapps and beer. After our host saw that we were agreeable with our travel partners, he offed a good night before he clicked his heels together and disappeared down a dark hallway.
As we settled in and attacked the sideboard for food and drink, one of the earlier arrivals pointed out a series of large portrait paintings hanging on the wall. When we finished the food and were relaxing by the fire in the darkened room, the shadows started.
At first, it was only a fleeting sense of movement from the corner of the eye. Then the shadows became more pronounced. More than firelight dancing off the old portraits, and more than we really wanted to think about but something was there—something moving like shadows around the corners of the room.
After we noticed the definite movement, we all remained quiet and simply watched. Soon it was clear, the very young man so evident in the portraits was the figure moving around us in the shadows! There was nothing terribly frightening, but a forlorn presence was there.
With the storm still raging outside, our travel mates showed us to our rooms. The next day the sky was clear and the dining room of the old hunting castle offered some of the best food ever cooked over a wood-burning hearth. We never saw our stormy castle keeper again.
The following day, we set out again in search of more adventure and the next haunted castle in the Marco Beach Boy Chronicles.
Tom Williams is a Marco Islander. He is the author of two books: “Lost and Found” and “Surrounded by Thunder–the Story of Darrell Loan and the Rocket Men.” Both books are available on Kindle and Nook.