As the day reached noon, Richard Wellman was very much lost. He thought that since he had come from the north, returning north would take him back to where he’d begun. After an hour he still didn’t see anything that he recognized. For days he’d been coming to the lake just south of the inn where he was staying. Today, however, the lake was not where it had been yesterday and nothing looked or for that matter felt the same.
He’d left the inn this morning, just as he’d done on the previous three days, but this day he found nothing the same. The road to the lake seemed different somehow and after traveling the same distance there was no sign of the lake. He turned around and began walking back on the same road, but could not find the inn where it should have been.
Just what he was to do next was a complete mystery. Where he was and how he got there totally escaped him, but he knew it was a puzzle he must unravel if he was ever to get back home, again. The first thing he must do is figure out when it all had changed. “It had to be after I got on the road to the lake,” he thought. “Everything was just as it had been when I left the inn. The road was the same up until after the left curve. Every time before there had been a long straightaway before making a slight turn to the right and then the fork in the road.”
“This time after the left curve, there was a right turn and then the fork in the road. And when I returned it was the same. First the fork in the road, a left turn and then a right turn. After that, it should be just a little way to the inn, but it’s nowhere to be found. I almost suspected to see Rod Serling at any moment.”
Without anything to go on Richard decided to do the next best thing and that was to find anything he could use for landmarks. Anything that he could use to find out where he was and how he was to find his way back home. “There must be something, a town, a house, a person that I can find to put me straight again,” he thought.
The tallest place he could see was a hill off to the west. “I’ll bet I can see for miles from up there.” Deciding that was his next move, Richard climbed to the top of the hill and surveyed the countryside. Lush and beautiful as it was, it was lost on him just now, as it was also devoid of any man-made structures, that he desperately needed to find.
Even a traveler on the road would be something, but he saw neither a traveler on foot or on a horse or in a car. There was nothing. No sight of anything living. Not a bird or animal could be seen or heard. From the top of the hill, he could see the road as it wound its way through the valley of rolling hills. Then he saw it. It was hardly noticeable at all, but there it was just the same, a stream of smoke as if it were coming from a fireplace chimney.
Seeing the only sign of life lifted Richard’s spirits and he quickly embarked down the hillside and across the road to the hill opposite of where he’d been. He scrambled up the second hill and soon was at the top. Down below he saw the inn for which he’d been searching and relieved he ran down the second hill to the inn.
When he reached the front door he entered and was glad to see the familiar interior. Going to his room, he found everything just as he’d left it. His clothes were still in the dresser and in the closet. His muddy boots from the day before were still sitting in the valet depository inside the door waiting to be cleaned.
Richard decided to check out the road again to see if it led to the lake as before or if it went back to the twilight zone. Leaving the inn, the road was just the same then when he got to the left curve he knew he was at the moment of truth. After the curve was the long straightaway and the curve and the fork in the road. The right fork led to the lake, but the left fork was completely unknown.
When walking the previous days, Richard had only gone to the lake. Today he wondered what might be found in the other direction. Would he find himself back where he’d been earlier when he was lost, or would it take him someplace new? There was only one way to find out and that was to take the left fork to see where it went.
A half hour later he saw a small village in a dale. It was a typical highland village with a market square where the farmers and town merchants would all bring their wares to sell. Right now the market square was bustling with activity, but as soon as Richard entered the square all activity ceased. Everyone became motionless and stared at Richard like he had two heads.
Immediately, Richard felt very uncomfortable, so much so that he retreated and left the village behind. Walking along the road he soon came to the fork and made his way back to the inn. Then he noticed something was different. The trees and the bushes just weren’t the same. When he came to the long straightaway he saw the curve in the road up ahead and was glad for its familiarity. Rounding the curve, he made his way through the last leg and found himself back at the inn once more.
Richard didn’t even pause in the foyer; he just went upstairs to his room. There he sat on the bed and reflected back to the village. What was it that wasn’t right? Why did they stare so much at him? How was he different? All these and other questions swam through his head, but his worst thought was he knew he had to go back and he had to do it now.
Gathering up his courage he left the inn and followed the familiar road. Soon he found himself just outside the village. He walked to the market square and once again everybody stopped and stared at the stranger.
This time Richard held his ground and just stared right back at them. Then he spoke, “Hi, I’m just staying at the inn and I’ve been out walking. I didn’t bring enough provisions and I see that you have ale for sale. I’d like to buy a pint.”
“Have ya money to pay fer it?”
“Yes, here see,” said Richard as he held out a fist of bills all going this way and that.
“I don’t deal in paper money. Don’t you got any coin?”
“Yeah, I got some change. How much for a pint?”
“Here ya go,” he says as he hands him the coins.
The man stood and looked at them for a moment before the other men began to crowd around to see the coins. Richard walked over to the barrel, filled a pint mug and took a big long drink. The men were still all looking at the coin.
One of them finally said, “It’s close enough. Where da yeh cum free, stranger?”
“I’m from Colorado.”
“In the United States?” the man asked with a pause.
“Yes, yes, in the United States. Right smack dab in the middle of the whole thing, that’s where Colorado is. The west, where Horace Greeley said to go. You know, cowboys and Indians, bang, bang, shoot ‘em up. The wild, wild west.”
“Yeah, we heard about the wild, wild west. Any Indian attacks on the settlers, lately?”
“No, the Indians don’t attack anymore. They live on reservations for the most part.”
“That must be a big relief not having to worry about getting ambushed when you’re out in the middle of nowhere.”
“I’m curious about why you all stared at me when I first arrived?”
“We don’t get visitors here, much.”
“Even with the inn so close?”
“We don’t have much to offer city folk and we like to stay by ourselves.”
“Well, I can certainly see why. What you’ve got here a lot of people would pay for.”
“Why? What have we got here that’s so valuable?”
“The simple life, where it’s calm and peaceful. Obviously, you care a lot for each other and that means a lot. People in the city don’t even know their next-door neighbor a lot of the time. Take me for instance. I have my friends that I hang out with, and we’re close, at least the center hub of six of us. As far as my neighbors I don’t even know some of their names and there are only a few of them that I even say hello to when we meet outside of our apartments.”
“Apartments? What’s an apartment?”
“In cities, there are people that can’t afford to buy a house or don’t want to live in a house, so they rent an apartment to live in. There are large complexes and small complexes, I live in a very big complex of over five hundred apartments.”
“How many people live there?”
“Two or three thousand I suspect.”
“That many. The population of our wee village is just over 200. That means there are 10 times that amount living in your apartment complex. How many live in the city you come from?”
“Over a half a million in the city of Denver, but a couple million in the metro area.”
“Do most of them live in apartments?”
“No, most of them live in houses, It’s still the American dream to own your own home.”
Richard spent the afternoon in the village, talking to and learning about them as a people. They lived simply and didn’t want for much. They knew very little about modern things and were totally taken by surprise when Richards cell phone rang. It was a classic example of an arrested culture like it was plucked out of time and brought to the future.
Walking back to the inn Richard thought of the people in Connelmore and how he envied their carefree lifestyle. Living and working together in harmony. Each one responsible to do his or her part for the community, like a beehive and he believed he who the queen was, at least she seemed like a queen to him.
He didn’t have the chance to talk with her much as the villagers monopolized his time. Still, there was hope in the way she looked at him when he surprised her by looking her way. She would quickly turn her head whenever he gazed upon her. He definitely would go back tomorrow and this time he’d make sure he spent some time with her. At least find out her name and if she’s married.