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Wednesday, January 9, 2013

January 9, 2013 Short Story Challenge: "AROUND HERE"


January 9, 2013 Writing Prompt:

"You're a long way from home, boy."


“AROUND HERE”

“You’re a long way from home, boy.”
       The grizzled oldster watched the platinum-haired skinny youngster whilst continuing to whittle away on some as yet unrecognizable piece of wood. At least it was unrecognizable to Sam, who tried to look at the knife’s movements and at the wood instead of glancing at those strange, pale grayish eyes; that was like looking at a storm cloud with the sun hidden behind it, so that just when you were thought you vision was protected, you realized that heat you felt behind your eye sockets was your eyes burning. THAT was eye contact with the old guy felt. Painful—like having your soul flayed.

       And how did the old fool know anyway? Sam wasn’t out in front of this raggedy desert gas station alone; his folks were inside paying for the gas, using the soiled restrooms, and scarfing up snacks for the next loop of the trip. Gosh, the blue minivan was right out there on the far side of the pumps, where Dad had gassed up. So what was this Coot on about?
      
       Then he had to go and mumble it again: “You’re a long way from home, boy.”

       What? Did Sam have some kind of invisible symbol identifying him as a snowbird? Sure, his family came from Canada, but so what? Everybody came from somewhere, everybody on Earth, anyway. Sure, Saskatchewan saw a major ton of snow every winter; so maybe a trip to the desert could be just tourism, just getting away from it all. The van wasn’t overpacked; almost everything was inside the moving van, which was probably two days ahead, since everything was going to storage until Mom & Dad found a house. Anyway, the windows were tinted, so Old Goat couldn’t see in anyhow, so no reason to think Sam’s family were anything more than tourists—or lost, which they pretty much were.

       “Wh-what do you mean?”

       “You’re not from around here, I mean.”

       Seriously duh—“around here”? There was no around here: a lonely, crappy, falling-in gas station (two pumps, no service bay, three or four shelves of goods inside-at least two of which held oil, and a few plastic gas cans for anyone foolish enough or unlucky enough to run out in this desert, two restrooms (both not cleaned since JFK’s administration—Sam was an avid student of American history), a counter with a cigarette display behind it on the wall, a register, a really old woman at the register. So just what constituted “around here”? Sam thought it would be just as likely to watch a Mothership land in the tumbleweeds on the far side of the road, as for there to be actual human life anywhere nearby.

       The boy glanced down at the whittling once again; now it seemed like something not just unrecognizable, but distinctly weird. First off, the man was carving from what seemed like an actual piece of driftwood—here in the heart of the desert! Second, the shape was like nothing Sam knew of on this planet. Yet the old coot carved away as if his heart was in it; or as if his sorry life depended on it.

       Sam just wished his folks would hurry up. He was hot (of course), tired of riding (of course), but worse he was becoming very, very leery of this just-plain-wrongness the old man exhibited. It wasn’t swampy, and it wasn’t the South, nor the Appalachian foothills, so Sam guessed he might not be headed for a reprise of “Deliverance,” but it was very unsettling, very out-of-joint—well, very wrong.

       Sam had been the first one to stop in the restroom, and on his way out, while Dad went in, he handed his Mom a couple small bags of chips and a soda, then headed outside to wait. He wished now he’d asked for the keys, so he could wait in the hot van. Glancing in the window, he saw the old woman at the counter—probably she was Mrs. Old Coot—but the sun’s glare blocked his view of most of the store, and he didn’t see either parent. Now he decided maybe he ought to go back in, check on ‘em, pound on the restroom doors (yes, both of ‘em), just in case they got overwrought from the heat or something. As he stepped to the smeared glass door, Old Coot spoke up yet again.

       “Not from AROUND HERE, boy; not none of YOUR KIND from AROUND HERE.”

       Sam spun, staring at where the old man had been sitting, and screamed.


******************************* [addendum Jan. 09-10]

              A dusty, begrimed, silvery-blue minivan crouched in front of the antiquated gas pumps, overseen by their funky round heads. Desert sand had piled up around the pump step to several feet, due to the almost constant heavy wind. Beyond the concrete apron sat an old abandoned store, its falling roof collapsed into a V whose point indicated the glass door. The door itself appeared to have been shattered from the inside out, as shards of sharp glass gleamed here and there amidst the sand blown onto the concrete stoop, when the sun was bright overhead. The wide window to the right featured cracks and potholes, and the narrower, higher window to the left of the door, out of which the clerk had once watched the pumps and that neverending desert vista, had a diagonal crack running from upper right to lower left.

Inside, vermin footprints stepped across the dust of the once-white counter, and along the four sets of shelves. Two sets of shelving remained untouched; those that had contained oil and a few power steering and transmission fluid containers. The farther two shelves, however, had been decimated: all the bags of chips, Twinkies, Hostess goodies, and other sweet-and-perishable had been torn open and ransacked by rats. Cobwebs festooned the single narrow soda cooler, inside and out, and danced a silent ballet in tandem with the cobwebs covering the minivan out front, on the roof and sides. Inside the van, where nothing was visible because of the tinted windows, each window and the windshield sported its own lovely web collection, as did the several suitcases and packed boxes stranded in the hatch.

Only one sign of activity remained, in a location that clearly had not seen life in many years. An old, desiccated, bleached by the desert wind and sun to nearly beige, wooden rocker stood in front of the wide window, in the center. Gently it rocked to the tempo of the desert wind, never once dislodging the long knobby driftwood resting in its seat.

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