Sunday, June 7, 2009

This is what happens when Ken works nights

The girl stood at the window, gazing out at the quiet, empty street. It was a warm day for early May, and the curtains moved lazily in the scant breeze. It was a Monday, and she should have been in school;  she'd developed a very sore throat over the weekend and was running a fever, so her mother decided to keep her home. Her parents ran the grocery store downstairs, so they could come up and check on her occasionally. She felt better, anyway, and had grown bored with laying in bed. Of course, there was really nothing to see from her window, other than the abandoned gas station across the road.

She'd asked her parents about it once. They told her that it used to be a busy place when the main highway came through town. When the new interstate was built about a mile away, business for the gas station dried up, and although the owner tried to sell the place, there were no buyers to be found in a town that had maybe a tenth of the traffic it used to--and that was on a good day. It seemed to be happening to a lot of the businesses in town. Mr. Crum's cigar shop closed up a few years ago, and the Lechleitner sisters' millinery store closed not too long after that. She was 12 now...not too young to notice the uneasy glances her parents exchanged and the hushed tones that they used when going over the books for their store, or to realize that she did not see as many customers in the store when she helped out with cleaning and restocking on the weekends. She hoped they wouldn't end up like the gas station. It was a sad place.

Tattered curtains It had been empty for as long as she could remember, and in the time since it had registered in her girlhood consciousness, the place had become increasingly forlorn and weed-choked. A large family of barn swallows had set up camp underneath the stucco canopy, and the dirt-filmed windows allowed no glimpse into the mysterious interior. She wondered sometimes what might be inside; shelves full of mysterious cans and bottles? Strange equipment hulking in the corners? Or was it empty, save for floating dust motes and the explosive smell of old motor oil?

None of her schoolmates shared her fascination with the gas station; they thought it was just an ugly old building. Of course, they didn't live right across the street from it, or see it every time they looked out their bedroom window. She didn't even mention it much anymore, because children can be cruel, and she was sometimes ridiculed for her interest in the station. How to explain to them the feeling she got when she looked at it? The feeling that she was transported to another time, when the place bustled with activity...the ding ding as the cars drove in, one after the other, and the attendants ran out to fill 'er up, wash the windshield, and check the oil. The cars filled with families from other places--maybe even exotic places she'd read about like New York or Florida--on their way to unknown adventures. Maybe some of them even stopped at her parents' store to buy bread and sliced ham and cold Coca Colas for a picnic down the road.

This happened before she was even born, but instinctively she knew it to be true. Even at 12 years of age, she had a lively imagination. When she was bored, as she was today, she liked to gaze out at the station and make up stories about her imaginary travelers. Sometimes she pretended that she was the girl in the back seat, on her way from one exotic locale to another, passing through this small town in search of adventure...although adventures were few and far between in this little burg. As she looked out at the station today, a slight movement caught her eye. She squinted her eyes against the glare of the sun, certain that it was a trick of the light, or of her still-feverish mind. There it was again, and there was no mistaking it. The side door had opened a crack, and as she continued to watch, it opened inward over two feet. Her eyes widened, wondering what manner of creature might step out of the shadowed depths. She placed her hands on the windowsill and leaned her head out of the open window to get a closer glimpse....

*****

"Dad! STOP!"

The man in the driver's seat--Dad--slammed on the brakes, sending them all into a violent forward lurch, followed by a backwards slam against the seats.

"What? What is it?" he asked his 12 year old daughter, who was now crouched against the front seat, shaking the arms of both her father and mother.

"I saw someone!"

"Where? Did I almost hit someone? Did a kid start to run out in front of me?"

"No, not in the street. Up there."

"Where? In that building?"

"Yeah, up on the second floor. At that window. I saw a face. And it looked like an arm, too."

The father gazed over at the building to their left. His wife leaned over and lowered her head to look out his window. They exchanged glances. Their daughter had a very active imagination, often describing the faeries she saw sitting on rocks in the forest, or the large, not unfriendly monster that stood watch in her closet and kept the rather unfriendly monsters under the bed out of mischief. They were used to this.

"Punkin, that building is all boarded up. It looks like no one's been in it for years. For Pete's sake, I thought you saw someone run out in front of me." He drew a shaky hand across his forehead.

"No, I told you, up on the second floor. It's not boarded up up there."

The slow breeze picked up a bit, and caught a bit of tattered curtain in the broken window on the second floor.

"See, honey, you just saw that curtain, that's all. I can see how it might look like a face, or an arm, but it was nothing but curtain. You can tell no one lives there."

"But Dad, what if someone needs help?"

"The building is boarded up--no one lives there, honey. Maybe that window isn't boarded up, but everything downstairs is. How would they get in and out? Listen, if I thought someone needed help, you know I'd stop. But no one lives there. It's an abandoned building."

He put the car back in gear and they moved slowly onward through the quiet town. He glanced over at his wife. "You didn't see anyone, did you?"

She hesitated, perhaps a moment too long, but said, "No. It was just the curtain. I'm sure of it." It had been a long day of driving after a bad pileup on the interstate had forced them onto the old road, and they were both anxious to find a motel, preferably one with a pool. It was unseasonably hot for early May. She also wouldn't say no to a cocktail.

Their daughter sat in the corner of the back seat behind her father, looking out the window as they quickly passed through the little town and into wide expanses of prairie grass. "I know what I saw," she whispered.

*****

The woman opened the side door of the station and stepped out into the warm spring morning. It was awfully warm for early May, and the slight breeze was very welcome. Business had been down lately, and she was hoping it would pick up today, with the warm weather. Everyone loves to hit the road when it's warm and sunny.

As she stood outside the station and took in the breeze, she glanced around her adopted town. She wondered how long the town would survive, because it seemed to be shrinking day by day. The station was a labor of love, the product of months of cleaning and renovation. When she bought it, the interior contained a heaped mound of trash, fallen plaster and drywall, tangles of wire, and old automotive equipment. The odor was a combination of years of accumulated dust and dirt, wet plaster, mold, and an almost explosive smell of old motor oil. A lot of cleaning supplies and elbow grease later, she had herself a shiny showplace on the old road, and although some days were good and some were bad, she didn't regret a moment of it. It was something she'd dreamed of since she was a little girl, taking road trips with her parents. Perhaps a strange thing for a young girl to dream, but she was far from the average young girl. Her parents still talk about her active imagination, and although she laughs, she's secretly pleased by their pleasure in remembering her flights of fancy.

She is fairly certain that at some point, she and her parents passed through this very town. It's certainly off the beaten path, but they drove everywhere on their vacations, and some of her fondest memories are of those trips. When she told her parents of her plans to buy the old gas station and renovate it, they weren't entirely surprised. They are quite familiar with her love of travel and especially her love of the old and forgotten (her father likes to joke, "That's why she still loves us so much!"), so it seemed to be a natural, if ambitious fit for their dear daughter. When she told them the name of the town, her father said they probably had gone through there at some time or another, but couldn't recall for sure, or when that particular trip might have taken place. She asked her mother if she remembered the town or anything about it, and her mother merely shook her head and would say no more about it. A strange reaction from her normally talkative mother, who also usually has an excellent memory, but she knew better than to press.

Tattered curtains2 She steps closer to the street, which is empty for the moment, and glances to the right. A dog, tail lowered, walks down the sidewalk and vanishes between two buildings. She glances to the left, and sees a crow fly over the street (as the crow flies, she thinks) and land on the roof of the building that used to be a cigar shop. "Busy day in town," she mutters. Her gaze turns forward, to the abandoned building directly across from her station. It's been boarded up for years, although some of the boards are leaning now, and one has even fallen most of the way off one of the downstairs windows. The concrete steps that led to the front door are long gone; someone has placed a concrete block in front of the stoop, although no one has entered or exited the building for years. The brick fa├žade has begun to crumble as of late, with small pieces littering the sidewalk beneath. She wonders how long it will be before the building is condemned.

Considering her fascination with the old and forgotten, she has wondered about this building, going so far as to do a little research at the county library in the next town over. For some reason, she seems to have a special affinity for the building, and her eyes are drawn to it several times a day. She has a definite feeling that she has seen it before, but she often feels that way about old buildings, and believes that it is probably just her famous imagination at work. Public records turned up very little, only that it was a grocery store for many years, thriving when the old road was the only road, and like so many other businesses here, drying up when the interstate passed the town by. Not an unusual story at all, one that was repeated in many towns across many states.

The locals were able to fill in only a little more information. The family that had owned it last were able to make a good go of it, although things became tight when the interstate was built. They were still doing good enough business when their only daughter became ill and died of rheumatic fever. After the loss of their beloved girl, they didn't seem to want to carry on with the business, or so the locals said. It wasn't too long after she was in the ground that they packed up and moved away, unable to stay in the store or the living quarters above, as it was too raw a reminder of their girl's too brief life. The recounting of this tale is always accompanied by a sad shake of the head, and a somber “Tragic…just tragic.”

The woman glances upward, to the second floor of the abandoned building. The breeze catches a bit of yellowed and tattered curtain, and it flutters out of the broken window, looking almost like a pale, beseeching arm. She gazes at the window for a moment, then turns and walks back into the station, closing the door behind her.

THE END

A big thanks to Laurel for posting the picture taken by her friend Ron...it's what fired my imagination and made me think of this story. I lay awake for some time the other night, thinking of the possibilities and logistics, and once I got going tonight, I couldn't stop! Good grief, it's after 4 AM here! I hope you enjoyed my amateur foray into some creative writing. I know I had fun writing it!

16 comments:

  1. Oh, wow! "Wow" for many reasons! I've never inspired a short story from someone else's pen, and I love the feeling of doing so. You've managed to round out the story of the window across the street, and I'll never look at it in the same way again. You're GOOD, lady!
    Just a quick P.S. - You've linked the wrong Ron to the photo. It was Ron McCoy, not Ron Warnick, who took the picture. Ron M. is at www.collectingbuzz.com.

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  2. Great job honey, and this was only day one of my nightshift, what's next :o)

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  3. keep this up and i will add you to my other favorites: King and Koontz.

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  4. Now, Beth, why do you hafta go tryin' to a'scurr me so early in the morning?
    Fer shame!




    Good story!

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  5. And all I did last night is argue with a group of men who think Title IX is just a quota issue.(not at all, but that is a whole entry so...)

    I've found a lot of good writing since I came over to blogger, & I've remarked that I feel I've found much better writing than when I was strictly reading AOL journals, true, but this is the second(I read part~of a book Sheria was writing, that is still the best writing I feel I have come across thru blogging)best thing I've ever read posted to a blog.

    When Ken is through with the night shift you'll have a 350 page winner.~Mary

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  6. Good story Beth. Kept me riveted until the end. Wow I could almost feel the creepiness, of someone being in there. Lucy

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  7. Beth, This is brilliant. Riveting. As the agents say, I'd definitely keep reading or ask for more pages. Are you planning on keeping it as a short story or building it into a novel? You've already got some great characters (alive and dead!) and the town is a mysterious character as well. I'm duly impressed and a bit humbled.;-)

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  8. Cor Beth,,,that was a great story. Please keep thinking them up you have a real talent.
    :Love sybil xx

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  9. Ahhhhh rip off.............

    The End? Seriously? Here you go, being a damn writer and leaving us just hanging. Hanging I say!

    You could keep going you know. Kick poor old Ken out for a few (many) evenings and keep going. Do that and you won't get any hate mails from say....me (grin)
    Well done, extremely well done.

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  10. She hesitated, perhaps a moment too long

    I really liked that line, and was looking forward to finding out what was going on ... I guess I am going to have to play in my mind what I think happened ...

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  11. WOW!!! That was GREAT, Beth... GOOD JOB!!!! Can't wait for the next one!! = )

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  12. Very, very good Beth. I thorougly enjoyed it :) I greatly look forward to future "jaunts" into the imagination. Hugs, Teresa

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  13. That was SO good! Very well done, and I hope you do some more!!

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  14. Hi Beth,
    Great job ... I could imagine something like this on TV!
    Best,
    Marty

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  15. You realize that was torture for someone like me? My mind is going to wonder for the rest of my days where that story went from there. Where exactly was the writer leading us? TORTURE. I didn't even want to read it because I knew it was open ended. Rest of my days... tsk tsk. ;)
    Love,
    Jamie

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I'm funny how, I mean funny like I'm a clown, I amuse you?