Just then a car pulled up. "Jump in!" called a young woman in the front seat.
John did. His rescuers, a friendly middle-aged couple, spoke English fluently, and agreed that it was fortunate they had happened to be passing the station when he needed help. But when John told them where he was staying, the woman looked doubtful. "That's on the other side of the city," she said. "We live in a different direction."
"Oh, drop me anywhere," John said quickly. "I don't want to take you out of your way."
"Why don't you just come home with us?" the man suggested. "We've plenty of room, and we can bring you back to the bus station tomorrow morning on our way to work."
John protested but the couple assured him he would be no bother at all. They seemed completely sincere. Weren't Europeans noted for being hospitable, perhaps more casual and trusting than North Americans? John felt calm, and decided that this too was part of his adventure; he would relax and enjoy it.
Their route became increasingly deserted into a forest on the outskirts of town. The stretch they now traveled was dark, surrounded on both sides by tall trees and dense vegetation. But this serene and attractive couple—by now Frieda and Hans—chatted comfortably, dispelling any doubts. John asked Frieda where they were, and she mentioned the name of the forest. "It's a bit on the quiet side," she told him, "but we love it here."
Eventually the car stopped in front of a charming house. Frieda and Hans escorted John to the kitchen. Hans whipped up a quick meal while Frieda arranged the guest room. The three of them sat comfortably together, eating and talking. John had never felt so warmly welcomed.
John slept blissfully, enjoyed a tasty breakfast the next morning and rode with the couple all the way back to the bus terminal. "You've been wonderful," John told them as he got out of the car. "I'll never forget you." Quickly he scrawled the address Frieda gave him in his notebook—he would certainly keep in touch—and watched until their car merged into the busy traffic.
John returned to Canada, and immediately wrote a thank you note to Hans and Frieda. He was disappointed when they didn't respond, but he was busy with other things. Memories of the trip, and his special rescuers, receded.
The following December, John again vacationed in the same area of Germany. While there, he told people of his previous encounter, only to be greeted by suspicious looks. "There's no house in that forest. No one lives there," people told him. But John was adamant. Finally, he drove to the post office that serviced the area where Hans and Frieda lived. On the way he recognized the deserted route, and the dense forest road.
But when he reached the post office, officials confirmed what John had already been told. The address he had written in his notebook was non-existent. There was no house at all in the forest. Nor, to anyone's recollection, had there ever been.
John's thank you note was never returned to him. He thinks his hosts received it—in one way or another.