Painful Memories – Shoe Factory Road Episode 3
By: Chris Darkes - February 2, 2016
Category : Shoe Factory Road
As with all of these short stories, they’re best when read late at night. I didn’t want to overwhelm by writing too much on one continuous page, so like last time, I am going to reveal it in parts. Enjoy!
Part 1 —
The day burned by for Steven Northrop as his shiny Mercedes belted down the highway, heading out of the city. The car was a small price to pay for freedom to travel on the company’s dime. Four star hotels, expensive dinners, the image of success. Oh, Steve was all about image.
Eyeing the clock on the instrument panel, he was making excellent time. The company had set up a meeting for him in some small town he’d never heard of, that somehow had a 200 year old patent on a medical instrument. It’d be a great customer, and would cement his status as top dog in the commission department. Still about 600 miles out from his destination, he looked out the window and gave a smug look to the endless wheat fields half hunched over in the summer aridness. The car continued to zoom down the sunny, one lane road.
His thumb clicked a button on the wheel, catching the opening part of some 60’s rock and roll tune from the speakers, making the most of an otherwise boring drive. The song had brought him back to the first time he took his 1972 Dodge Charger out on the open road. It had been his first car, which he later ended up giving to his younger brother. (Who had taken equally good care of the beauty.) The song began to cut in and out slowly, before finally settling on overwhelming static. “Company should have coughed up the dough for satellite radio,” he thought. Impassively, he flipped to the next station. Highs and lows of static. Next. Static.
He continued flipping, this time more impatiently until he settled on the onestation that was playing anything. It was news from a local radio station. Better than static. This time though, the news cut out and a voice came on. “Take the next right.” His eyes flicked towards the GPS screen, but the screen said to stay on this road for the next 80 miles. He began to think maybe the grind was getting to him. A flick of the switch to the next station.
“Terrific,” he heard himself say out loud. But this time the static stopped abruptly, and a voice came back on. This voice was not the news, it was not a song — it was different- and one Steve hadn’t heard in years. It was the sound of his younger brother, who had gone missing 10 years earlier. Steve’s eyes looked glossy like cellophane wrap, as his brother’s voice echoed through the honeycombed speakers. He was hypnotized on the voice, and for a long moment forgot he was going 85 mph. He was transported back to the memory; reliving the two of them throwing the football around in the backyard at their parent’s lakehouse. He caught himself and snapped back into the present, realizing he was still driving. He compensated the steering wheel, but surprisingly, was still in his lane. His foot eased off the gas, and flicked off the radio.
There was nowhere to pull over — the curbs next to him were nothing but steep ruts with gravel pits. It didn’t matter though, he hadn’t passed a car in the last two hours. So he slowed down to a complete halt, right in the middle of the one lane road. Perfectly center of nowhere. He threw the transmission into ‘park’, and looked out the window a long moment. Gazing out over the crops, the sun was outlining eye-watering shards of light over the fields in sort of a halo effect. The whisper of summer wind gently swaying the fields. His eyes crossed back over to the radio.
Slowing turning the radio back on, the sound of static filled the air. The voice had vanished. Oddly, this was more comforting to him. He glanced in the rear view mirror at the long road behind him. He thought about heading back that way, just to see if there was indeed a road that veered off. On the other hand, it was a painful memory and he had a schedule to keep. He gripped down on the shift lever, and clicked each notch until it rested into ‘drive.’ He eased off the brake, and the car tugged toward.
The hissing of static continued on the radio, but Steven had tuned that out ever since he turned the knob back on. He was focused on the drive now. The view was picturesque to say the least, and looked like it was ripped out from some farm photography magazine. All that was missing was the artists signature on the lower right corner. But his thoughts began to chew at him.What made him think of his brother? Why now? Each thought was ping ponging back and forth until something caught his attention —
A rundown gas station sprang up in the distance. On his right. Harsh winds had faded the wooden facade. A Coca-Cola sign pinned at the top and bottom was hanging on the corner of the building, spinning freely in the wind. Two antique gas pumps stood side-by-side like soldiers, sharing the same shade of orange rust the roll-up door on the station’s garage had displayed. Despite all of this, it looked extremely quaint from the outside. Steven slowed down to catch a better view. Not only was it the only sighting of anything beyond corn for the last 50 miles, but there was something particularly odd about it.
While everything else had pretty much been rusted all the way through, the pump read outs themselves had been almost brand new looking. The numerical display on the meter was sparkling. Steven jerked the car into the station’s entrance at the last second, the car fishtailing. Driving up to the gas pump, getting a good glimpse of the meter. The meter read “This sale .86.” That was the year his brother had been born. “Maybe?”, he thought. He glanced below — a sign that read “gallons” with a “3.4” listed. He reached over and scribbled the numbers on his planner. Shuffling through his memory like a rolodex. What could represent those numbers? Maybe they don’t mean anything, he second guessed himself. His eyes shifted from the antique gas pump, directly behind it to the single service station door.
There were three window panes to see inside. The yellow grime from years of dust covered the windows. He fetched a deep sigh, pushed the button that unlocked his seatbelt, and opened his car door. The methodical ding from the keys left in the ignition faded out to a quiet background noise, as Steven walked to the dirty garage door. He wrapped his hands on the sides of his face, while squinting through. The garage had pieces of car parts that looked like most were from the 1950’s. Old signs, and oil cans neatly placed on shelves. Several bumpers were hung against the wall. He pulled his head back, and turned his attention to the convenient store attached to the station. He ascended the two wooden steps, one breaking at his weight. An “ICE” freezer sat empty against the building.
The bell jingled, and the door opened. When he entered, the store wasn’t the dim and dirty place he was expecting. Instead, it had been fully stocked with items nobody had seen since the 50’s: original blister cards; cans of corn with 5 cent price tags; glass soda bottles on shelves. Across the room, there was a twinkle of light reflecting back at him. It was the antique cash register. Two price flags at the top displayed the sale price of “$3.40.” Steven’s eyes narrowed, as he maneuvered around the L-shaped counter. He stared for a moment, regarding the register. He took one more glance behind him listening and back to the register—
He paused a moment before stabbing the button marked: NO SALE. The one button in faded yellow. The classic “ch-ching” of the drawer was heard, and the register itself came slapping out.
A few Morgan dollars, old currency, and a slip of paper was stuffed under one of the bills. Steven pulled it carefully, revealing a receipt to a second hand store, Ted’s. Dated 10 years earlier. Odd, considering there was nothing in this place less than 50 years old. There was an address on it. Old Orchard it said. He placed it in the front pocket of his dress shirt, took one more look around, and raced for the door —
The door came flying open, as Steven shot out like a bullet. Jumping over both stairs — he sprinted to the the car door, still chiming. Stopped for a moment, dead in his tracks. Spinning back around at the gas pump, getting one more glance at the numbers. “$3.40″ — he was all but sure now. He felt it was a message. A voice calling to him. The phone ringing in his car broke his focus —
While doing 90 mpg back on the one lane road, he was in mid-conversation with his boss. “Yeah…yeah. Just a little car trouble that’s all. Got a flat tire 80 miles from nowhere. Still making good time, though.”
“If you can secure this deal, Steve. Good things are coming your way.” Steven cracked a smile. “But if you can’t, just prepare for the transfer rumors to start. Steve’s heart sunk. But that fear was washed off quickly. There were bigger things at stake.
Out the window, a patinated sign that read: “Old Orchard: 3 Miles.” His eyes followed it until it whizzed past him. He quickly fished the receipt from his shirt pocket. Double checking. Yep, it had been Old Orchard. Dropping the receipt over his planner. “Look, the deal will go through, Gary. I’ll call you when I reach town,” he said before pressing the button on his wheel. Cutting off the call.
A quaint little sign appeared, “WELCOME TO OLD ORCHARD.” Beyond that a small row of headstones, maybe 50 in total, enveloped by a small white fence. There had been a groundskeeper: a pudgy, silver-haired man in his 60’s sitting on a ride-on mower methodically striping the grass. His name was Walter Tandy. He paid no attention to the car zooming past. Steven had given a glance over, trying to get a date or a name on any of the headstones, but his speed made it impossible.
His car drove through the lonely road, snaking through the summer-kissed countryside a few more miles, before his tires rushed over a remote intersection that was unpaved, and unloved. He looked down the desolate, single lane strip as an old wooden sign hung above: “Shoe Factory Road.” His car wavered side to side, before hitting pavement again. Beyond that the smell of pine trees overtook him, as he felt he was being sucked into a gloomy, forest-filled lane; a single sliver of road paved just for him. It was a lonely road. Then again, it had always been for a traveling salesman. He glanced on the GPS which didn’t really help (since he didn’t know where the hell he was), although it told him he’d be approaching a cluster of town less than a mile ahead.
The town came into view almost magically, almost majestically. The main street had small shops and old-fashioned architecture. The kind you’d expect from small-town Americana. A few cars passed on and off of the four or five intersecting streets that made up the downtown. A handful of pedestrians strolled the sidewalks. The parking spots were the slanted type, and Steven quickly cut across the street after seeing Ted’s Thrift Store — We’ll Sell It If We Got It. He jammed the transmission into park. A few onlookers glanced his direction. But he didn’t give a shit. Even if part of him didn’t know the outcome, he was on a mission…