Painful Memories- Part 2
For Part 1
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!
He looked down the street, seeing a red-white-and-blue barber pole, a pharmacy a little closer, and now staring right in front of him, Ted’s. He grabbed the receipt and headed towards the door. Looking back down at the receipt, his shoulder caught a thin man in a trucker hat. ( Allen Caldridge.) “Ay! Watch where you’re going buddy,” Allen fired off. His wife (Jill), and 4 year old daughter (Lily) looked on. “Okay,” Steven continued forward without giving too much thought. He entered the thrift store…
A potbellied man with straggly hair sat at the counter. “Ain’t seen you roun’ these parts before. What can I do ya’ for?” Steven realized his designer suit was the equivalent of a clown suit in this town. He fixed his tie, and moved forward. “Looking for some information. I’m not sure if you can help. Name’s Steven.” He handed him the receipt in one hand and extended his hand out with the other. “Ted. Lemme see here.” He shook his hand, and then thumbed through a booklet. “Seems this was written some time ago. Lucky for you, I keep excellent records.” Steven smiled. “If I still got it, it’d be over there…” He pointed, as Steve’s neck craned over his shoulder to a coat rack. His heart plummeted.
If he wasn’t sure before, now he was positive. His brother was sending him smoke signals. His body moved forward, before his brain could catch up. Pushing the other clothes away, he feverishly ripped a Letterman jacket from the rack. “Oh my god,” he barely choked out. Confusion and shock collided together across his face, folding him to the floor. Tears began to well up in his eyes.
“Hey, I’m not entirely sure what you were looking for, but if you want the jacket…this one’s on the house.” Steven didn’t even respond to the gesture. He’s was still recovering from the slug to the gut, pinching the bridge of his nose. “It’s my brother’s…” With that, Ted deciphered the rest. For a moment, neither said anything.
Steven regained composure. Held the jacket up with both hands. Looking for any clues on it. He began feverishly pulling out both pockets. In one, a bunch of lint. In the other…a half ripped ticket.
He studied it, holding it up to the light, and saw a faded type-face on it.
It read: “air Grounds”.
“Do you know what this could be from?” Steve whipped back towards the man behind the counter. “Lemme see here…” Eyeing the ticket. It took only a split second before he responded. “Sure…this right here is the biggest carnival this town has. Have it every weekend here in the summer. Old Orchard Fair Grounds.” The mustard yellow ticket was as unmistakable as Willy Wonka’s golden ticket.
The clock ticking was like a beating hammer through Steve’s mind. It being only Thursday meant two things: One) There was no way he could push his meeting until Monday. Two) He would have to spend a night in this strange town, wondering the whole time if the trail of breadcrumbs lead him anywhere.
The thoughts slammed around his head, but… he needed to find out what happened to his brother. “Do you remember who gave you this?,” Steve sharply asked. The potbellied townie licked his finger, before thumbing through the page where he last left off. “Madame Valsip. Usually brings in a haul of stuff people left at the carnival.”
“Any chance I could get an address?” Bill said as he fished a pen out from his pocket. Scratching his thick beard, “Sorry, she lives out of town. But if you plan on staying for a few days, look for the fortune-teller booth. Can’t miss it.”
“Sure.” Steve’s face was wearing a look of sarcasm, but the pain crept back up. He clutched the Letterman jacket tenderly, the way you’d hold a dying relative.
“Well thanks for your help, really.” Steve swiftly moved towards the exit as if to distract himself from breaking down again. As he was inches from the door, he caught a picture framed on the wall. The photo was of a group of lumberjacks holding saws and pickaxes, sitting in a row. Stone-faced. Circa 1800's.
For a moment Steve thought he recognized someone in the photo. It had been the same man who was cutting the grass on Steve’s way into town. He paused on the face. Taking note in his mind, before quickly moving on. “Thanks again,” Steve said.
As Steve threw open his car door, he glanced across the street. His eyes locked with a lady who was watching him from the windshield of her own car, parked across the street. For a moment, Steve’s sadness was replaced by an utter fear. He tried to shake it off by hopping in the car, tossing the jacket on the passenger side. Stabbing a button on the wheel — sending it to the car’s speakers.
As Steve drove off, he glanced in the rear-view mirror, making sure he wasn’t being followed. The car drove off too — but in the opposite direction.
The motel was just a few block up the street, perched on the town’s highest hill. The phone rang. Went to voice mail. “Hey this is ___ unfortunately it’s just an answering machine. I wish I were more but I’m just an answering machine.” “Hey Brian, Steve here — something big came up. Call me back.” As he hung up, Steve couldn’t shake that feeling like he had struck a match, with the flame inching towards eventuality.
The car aggressively navigated around the town square, before heading up a thin, inclined street. The few roads in between were littered with the occasional house or two, but mostly thick forests and corn fields. As the car kept climbing, Steve turned his attention towards the sky which had become a orange-crimson dusk — like wild embers in a campfire. He wondered how long he’d been in that Thift Store.
The shiny car slowed just shy of the “OLD ORCHARD MOTEL.” The rusty sign “VACANCY” meant little to him, as he guessed this was the last place on someone’s vacation destination. Steve took one more glance down at his brother’s Letterman jacket, which was sitting on the passenger seat.
Climbing out from the car he took two steps before a big gust of wind hit him, planting him dead in his tracks. A thin breeze rushed around, fluttering his tie softly. The distant echos of a crow cawing, before everything fell silent.
Then, something snapped in the background.
He turned around cautiously, ready to duck back into the car at the first sign of trouble.
His eyes turned towards the valley in front of him. Catching the unexpected view of the whole town, laid out in front of him. A carnival could now be seen looming in the distance. The giant Ferris wheel jutted into the sky. Pretty, yet somehow ominous. Catching a thought, he hopped back in the car and sped down back the way he came.
Originally published at Shoe Factory Road.