A large coach pulls up in a quiet street in a small village somewhere in Central Europe. Through the gently falling snow, the words “German Literature Month Tour Bus” can be seen on the side facing us. A door opens, a man steps out, struggling to get into a large fur coat, and walks towards the only building in the street with lights on, “The Bridge Inn”. He crosses the street and opens the door…
Tony: [Turns to face the bus and shouts] Tell the driver to keep the engine running Gary, I’ll just ask someone for directions. [He walks into the inn and sees the Innkeeper] Ah, good morning!
[The Innkeeper looks at him blankly] Good afternoon?
Innkeeper: Hurry in, hurry in. We have been expecting you, your room is ready, please, take a seat, warm yourself by the fire, you must be tired after your long journey, and cold, very cold, after all, it is winter, and the winters here in the village are extremely bitter, something a stranger like yourself will have to get used to if you are to adapt quickly to our small community.
Tony: [Confused] Erm, well, I actually just wanted to ask for directions to the castle, you know, the one that’s used in Kafka’s book – a few of us are on a bit of a literary tour. Do you know it?
[The Innkeeper’s wife, sitting behind the bar, breaks out in laughter. The Inkeeper grins wryly and, turning to his wife, raises an eyebrow.]
Innkeeper: Do we know the castle? Hah! [Turns back to Tony] Of course we know the Castle, everyone knows the Castle, the Castle is why we are here, the Castle is, if this is not too much of an exaggeration, the only reason for our, for my, for your existence. [He looks expectantly at Tony]
Tony: [Nervously] OK, so… could you give me some directions up there? You see, we’re a bit lost…
[The Innkeeper visibly flinches, and his wife stops laughing, gets up and runs out of a door at the back of the inn.]
Innkeeper: You want to go to the Castle? You think you can just decide to go to the Castle? You honestly believe, you naïve young man, that you can just make your own way up to the Castle, ignoring the secretaries and assistants and just wander in, unannounced, simply stroll into the Castle? Do you? Do you really?
Tony: [A little cowed] Well, no.
[The Inkeeper is relieved]
We’re planning to buy entrance tickets, of course…
[The Innkeeper slaps his hands over his face, and presently a sound of sobbing can be heard. After standing around awkwardly for a minute or two, Tony starts to look around the inn, and, almost immediately, a telephone catches his eye. He wanders over, having forgotten the innkeeper – who is now banging his head, slowly, but firmly, against the wall -, and reads a sticker attached to the wall above the phone. It reads: “Castle Hotline – 371883. Twenty-four hour connection to your lords and masters all year round (except Christmas Day and Shrove Tuesday)”. Tony picks up the receiver and dials the number.]
Automated Menu: [A woman’s voice speaks] Thank you for calling the Castle Hotline. This call will be recorded for quality assurance and legal purposes. If you are not happy with this, well, tough luck. So that we can best answer your call, please choose from one of the following options. If you are looking for a job as a messenger, press 1; if you have a complaint about one of our friendly officials, press 2; if you would like to know our opening hours, press 3; for directions to the Castle, press 4…
[Tony presses 4]
There are many roads to the castle. These roads are ever-changing and sometimes impassable, and each is accessible only to the person it was created for… [Tony sighs] …to return to the main menu, press the ‘star’ key… [Tony presses the ‘star’ key, immediately followed by 3.]
Our opening hours are infrequent, inconstant, whimsical and unknowable for the common man. Thank you for calling the Castle Hotline – a transcript of this call has been added to your file.
[There is a click, and the line goes dead. Tony bangs the receiver against the phone (once, hard) and then replaces it.]
If you'd like to know how the story continues, click through to Part Two...