The first thing we noticed when we moved here is we had to bring bags with us everytime we went shopping. Gone were the days of Walmart plastic bags. I no longer store a giant plastic bag of little Walmart bags at the house. It took a while but we got used to it. Humans are creatures of their environment. Set the conditions right for them and they will adapt.
Second, we no longer found the fountain drink stations at the local gas stations. Those were practically gone too. They were replaced by water or coffee. We noted people are generally skinnier here too. Perhaps this is correlated.
Not a lot of people throw trash outside their vehicles here either we noted gladly as we live on a country road now in the mountains.
We started recycling more too. Most folks here haul their own trash and recycling apparently to the dump and station on Saturdays. We weren’t that motivated yet. So we paid the extra for trash and recycling pickup. At first, we piled a lot into the recycling bin. The recycling company had to send us a flyer more than once to be more discerning on what we kept. I think I’m still learning on this cause my husband now sorts through what I put in the bin and corrects it. Adaptation can be slower for some creatures than others.
The state of Vermont pays grants for homeowners to go solar energy. Other than that, we noted folks around here like outdoor activities: fishing, hiking, kayaking, etc. There’s a real pretty lake 9 miles away that has a beach for swimming but gone are the recreational boats like pontoons and ski boats. They must have some environmental law against them or something.
There are a few places with windmills but nothing like the quantity we saw in Kansas. As far as I know, I didn’t see the use of nuclear energy plants up here either.
Overall Vermont is quiet and peaceful. There’s a general feeling when you move here of do not disturb this pristine place. Now I understand why Vermonters are not superfond of tourists and especially folks from Massachusetts for some odd reason. The only Mass folks they seem to like up here are the Afflecks and Matt Damon. Everyone else…not so much.
Generally folks here seem proud of Bernie Sanders. I noted there’s not a lot of political discussion or angst or ire towards one party or the other. People are polite about differing political views. Being from Kansas, my background gravitates towards more conservative on the spectrum but I do appreciate Sanders fervor and passion to protect the working class folks’ wages and his fight against rising pharmaceutical costs. Just this last week, I was told I had to pay 1,400 for a drug for my husband for 1 month’s supply just because our annual deductible rolled over. Fortunately we used Good Rx but it still cost 560 out of pocket which was awful. I’m 5 miles from Canada. I wish I could go there to get my meds.
Yes, the only real downside here is also the upside….if you work from home. The snow and snow storms make daily commutes a challenge. But if you are a remote worker, you might love it here. Vermont has remote worker grants now and they are increasing their internet access across the state. If you like the environment and the outdoors and work from home, this just might be the ideal place to live. You can get reimbursed up to 7500 dollars to move here if you work for a Vermont business or work from home. Not bad. Not bad at all.
Working with folks from Vermont is ok so far. The work ethic is a little different from Kansas. Maybe it’s just me but people seem more chatty and less nose to the grindstone which is good and bad. Work seems less organized and at times on the verge of chaotic. Maybe it’s just me. When I am home for the weekends, I absolutely love this place but when I return to work…I sorta miss the easy functionality of work operations in Kansas. There’s less oversight there for business, less regulations, less extra red tape and bureaucratic slowdown, and paperwork filing. Working here feels like trudging through snow uphill all the way…a little frustrating and exhausting.
That being said, the worker laws are better here. We have something called state guaranteed sick leave. You can’t do random drug testing on employees without giving them plenty of notice. There are more union activities. I guess that’s good. My sister works at a labor law firm in Kansas City. She says Kansas is the “wild west” “anything goes” in terms of employer rights vs. employee freedoms. I think she might be right based on what I’ve seen in comparison. You wouldn’t know it because it’s not broadcasted much but the region of Kansas I came from, southeast, has some of the poorest counties in the nation cause worker wages are so low there. I’m talking lower than even West Virginia.
My husband loves the snow here. He’s a remote worker. On his days off, he just sits inside on the lazy boy in the warmth and watches it fall like we live in a snow globe. Yesterday we tried cross country skiing and rented a snowmobile. He’s dropped 25 pounds since our move from the Midwest. Me, not so much, maybe 5 lbs. But we are starting to adapt more, slowly but surely…him faster than me but we’ll get there eventually.
It feels great to be published at the Chamber Magazine online! I love the artwork they attached to the story! The Chamber Magazine publishes dark fiction genre in the form of poetry, short stories, etc. I submitted a story named Stull based off the real abandoned church site near Lawrence, Kansas. According to urban legend, this place is considered to be a secret gateway to the underworld. The story was published on April 2nd. Another story related to this one will subsequently follow on April 9th and it is called The Cold Spot and features a haunting at the Strawberry Hill Mansion in Kansas City. Both places are believed to be hot spots for paranormal activity. The woman in the stories is a sensitive, or a person that has the ability to sense paranormal activity around her not through sight but through intuition. These two stories are works of fiction.
Check out the stories at their online site at https://thechambermagazine.com/. Disclaimer: The stories and poetry are for an adult audience. Also, if you love to write as well, consider submitting your own work to the magazine. They are seeking works from authors all over the world and have a global audience.
I am super excited today! I submitted 2 ghost stories about a young woman who is a sensitive, or someone capable of feeling the presence of paranormals. The first story called The Cold Spot will be published on April 2nd at 10:00 am. The second story will appear on April 9th in that next edition online. It is simply called Stull. Stull is the name of a paranormal mecca, a gateway to the underworld located outside Lawrence, Kansas. Both ghost stories are works of fiction but inspired by true locations in the Kansas City area.
Here is the link to The Chamber Magazine. They are seeking submissions like poetry or short stories that involve horror, dark subjects, gore, ghosts, monsters, etc. To learn more, check out their site:
We visited Galena, Kansas yesterday. It is along old Route 66. Galena was the town that inspired the Pixar Cars animated movie with Lightning McQueen. When you visit the town, you can see Luigi, Towmater, and all the gang from the beloved movie. This is a great place to see with family and also is just a short distance from the Joplin waterfalls. Remember the waterfalls scene in Cars? Here are some pictures from our trip:
The Joplin tornado hit in Southwest Missouri on May 22, 2011. I can still remember it like yesterday. We were living 20 minutes drive from Joplin. Everyone was in shock at the devastation. The walls of the Home Depot collapsed inward. The Walmart was just a torn up mess of debris and dangerous wires everywhere. A huge swath of the Rangeline shopping district had been ripped apart. The St. John’s Hospital was completely destroyed. Cars were crushed and tossed here and there. People were stuck in their basements trying to get out. Homes were wiped out. Bodies were here and there. It was bad. Unlike anything I’d ever seen since 9-11.
My friend Jordan and her husband Dr. Fox headed down there immediately to help triage patients. My husband Dennis drove as fast as he could to Joplin to help Kelly, his brother-in-law. Their house was obliterated, all but the bath tub pretty much. They survived. Alot of people did not.
There were stories told. Awful stories like a mother that heard about the tornado too late and went to get her daughter who was playing outside only to find the girl had been swept away by the winds. Then there was the story of the boy that was sucked through the sunroof of his car while his Dad tried desperately to cling to him to no avail.
Yes, I have lived in tornado alley most all my life. We sorta scoff at them naders as we call em. Ain’t scared a no nader. But the truth is we all remember Joplin. It will be something we will never forget. Some of us still can’t even communicate our feelings fully about that day.
Tornado season is approaching. This weekend, we’ll clean up the basement a little and put pallets down in case of too much rain. We’ll put the usual chairs and table in the storm shelter and leave the back door open for any neighbors that need to seek shelter underground quickly with us. The storms have grown more frequent and harsher than I remember as a kid. Perhaps it has to do with climate change.
I, myself, have only encountered a severe wind storm tottering near level 1 tornado. But it was enough to scare the heck outta me. There was no time. It came up very fast. The lights went out. I ran from my bedroom to my children’s room. Things were hitting the house. Lots of things. Very loud. I pulled my sleeping children off their beds. I put them underneath me in a pile. We were all suddenly scared. I remember the sound of the wind in the dark as I looked up at the popcorn ceiling. There was no time to pray or for sirens. There was just a tremendous sucking noise as if something was gonna lift the roof clean off. My only thought was, “This roof is gonna come off us.”
It lasted maybe thirty seconds. I heard the timbers busting in the roof. I heard stuff hitting the house. Big stuff now.
And then it was gone. Just like that. We sat in the dark huddled together and in the distance a lone tornado siren began to sound a few minutes later. It was eerie.
The power came back up the next day. My Dad came to our house about 2 am with a lantern. He said, “Don’t go outside until the morning. You’ll step on something.” I don’t know how he managed to get through all the debris to us. The first thing he asked is if we were okay. I nodded. The kids had gone back to sleep.
The next day I saw the neighborhood. Whole trees were uprooted and tossed into homes or sheds. Trampolines were all bent and twisted up and thrown around. Alot of roofs were busted up, including ours. We had several broken timbers in the roof and there was a dent in the ceiling above my bed. The mall was a mess. Signs were thrown everywhere or toppled over. Even stuff was busted up in the cemetery. I had never experienced a night like that before and I hope to not again in the future. They say when you might die, your memories flash through your mind but all I could think in that moment was “dang, this roof is about to come off.” Anyway, we moved from that place. Found a place with a basement shelter and we love living here. If we can just only get through that dang tornado season….
I have one more tornado story to share. A few years later, we were heading to Colorado in an old RV bumper pull. We had two flat tires back to back. It was getting dark in the sky and the winds were picking up. We were on our way to Dodge City. We had to limp the RV slowly into a little town called Kinsley, a place I’d never heard of. There were tumbleweeds blowing strongly across the road as we made our way there. We stayed in the only spot we could, a little park on the outskirts of town where the Farmers’ market would be held the following day. That night the winds really picked up strong and rocked the RV back and forth. We eventually fell asleep.
The next morning we opened the door of the RV and the people from the Farmers’ Market were set up with tents and wares all around. They helped us get the tires repaired and gave us breakfast. They were very kind to us, especially my children. They told us we were lucky to find Kinsley. Some semi trucks further on down the road to Dodge City had been picked up and thrown off to the sides of the highway overturned. We asked why Kinsley was important. They said it was an old Indian settlement surrounded on three sides by a ridge. It was near Greensburg. They said tornadoes hit all around Kinsley but never hit the town. It was protected. It was a special place. I guess those flat tires were a good thing after all.
Here’s some old footage of the Joplin tornado. It will be 10 years this May 22nd.
This is my Valentine’s Day gift to you! I wrote a piece for a love contest. Here is the entry. It is supposed to be a heart-warming story about love in a Midwest bowling alley. Picture Kingpin meets Romeo and Juliet.
I hope you have a wonderful, romantic Valentine’s Day! Stay warm too, my friends!
Imagine Me and You
by J. Speer
In 2018, there was a little bowling alley in Hot Springs, Arkansas. It was a popular locals’ joint and featured 12 open lanes for 12 unique teams on league night each Friday evening. People loved going to the little bowling alley to unwind from a long week of work.
The bowling alley manager was named Bill Casey. He had owned the bowling alley since 1987, the year Patrick Swayze dirty danced with Jennifer Grey having the time of her life. Bill had three great loves in his life: the game of bowling, his deceased wife Maria, and their one daughter she had named Jennifer.
Jennifer worked the bowling alley counter. She also was the top bowler on a league team named I Can’t Believe It’s Not Gutter. Jennifer was a vibrant woman though still unmarried. For years, she had looked in vain for that one true love of her life. Her team of friends was several fun colleagues from diverse occupations who shared the one commonality of being from different minority groups. They all agreed on one thing. They disliked the other competitive league team at Lane 1 called Split Happens.
Split Happens consisted mostly of what some might call “a redneck hillbilly crowd.” They were dang good bowlers. The best player on the team was a handsome eligible bachelor named David Huxley. Every Friday night, the team at lane 1 and the team at lane 2 would spar good-naturedly trading continuous barbs or pranks at each other’s expense.
Every year, inevitably, these two teams would face off against each other in the annual Championship for the Big Balls trophy, a much-esteemed achievement. For the past three years, Split Happens had held the title of Champion on the grandmaster board. This was dedicated to all the great bowling league teams through the years since 1987.
There were other teams in the league too that stood a chance at winning a prestigious spot on the leader board. The group in Lane 3, for example, was a hardy team of independent feminists. Their team was named Got Ya By the Balls. In lane 4, likewise, was a team of fun-loving LGBT friends named The Sexy Strikers. There were other lesser teams as well, such as the comic book fan team called the X-men at Lane 7. They loved all things high tech.
David Huxley and Jennifer Casey had grown up together, attending the same classes at the same elementary school and high school. David had always admired Jennifer from afar. Jennifer, for her part, held in high esteem David’s ability to hit multiple strikes. He carried his team to victory again and again. They, however, were adversaries on opposing teams. For some reason, through all the years, the two had never really dated. But that all was about to change…
It was a cold, blustery Friday night in February just before Valentine’s Day. The league games had just ended. Split Happens and I Can’t Believe it’s Not Gutter both defeated their opponent teams. The sore losers for the night were taking off their bowling shoes and turning them in to Bill at the counter. They were heading out the door.
Jennifer wandered over to the old arcade that held the ancient Atari games and racing games. David was already in there with a few friends. She took some quarters out of her pocket. She eyed the old air hockey game to the side of the room. David looked over at her mildly with interest. He always seemed to notice her. She caught his glance and smiled. Cocking her head towards the air hockey, she asked him, “You up for a game of this? Haven’t played it in a while.”
“As I recall,” he said, “You used to be pretty good at this one.”
She laughed. “I’m a little rusty, I’m sure.”
They put the quarters in the slot and the air hockey game commenced a humming noise indicating it had started. The two squared off against each other on opposing sides. Jennifer scored the first point and grinned. David grinned back. He quickly scored the second point. Jennifer rolled up her sleeves to try again.
Several minutes of aggressive play continued with David scoring three more points to Jennifer’s frustration. She eyed him coolly at this point. She set the hockey puck down on the table ahead of her. She rapidly scored the next point.
David watched her more intently. He noticed every little detail about the way she bit her upper lip as a tell that she was getting ready to strike or the way she squinted when he would come close to scoring again. The hockey puck went back and forth more urgently. David noticed too that she looked quite pretty that night with her curly black hair tied back at the nape of her neck, her crew shirt, and slim jeans accentuating her appearance. She scored another point and he let out a slow whistle.
“Damn,” he said under his breath. The game continued. He ended up winning and smiled mischievously. Although defeated, Jennifer had to admit to herself that she loved that smile. David had always been handsome and loved to have a good time.
“Alright, I guess you won this time.” She admitted. They both shared a brief moment. She figured she needed to help clean-up so she started to turn away to leave the arcade. David frowned just a little. He finally said the thought that had been in his head through most of the air hockey game.
“You doing anything later tonight?” Jennifer blinked. She looked around at the others in the arcade for a moment.
“No, no plans. Why?” She said bluntly surprised.
They agreed that night to maybe go out to the local coffeehouse after she finished work.
Later that night, they sat together at The Bluebird coffee shop downtown and pretty soon were exchanging fun stories and engaging in entertaining banter. Jennifer felt comfortable with David, although they both worried a little that at any moment, they might be seen sitting at the same table. They agreed to go on a few more dates after that. The romance started out a little slow and then quickly picked up steam. One date was a dinner, another was a movie, and soon they were spending a lot of secret time together while still bowling as adversaries on League nights. It soon became obvious to both parties that they might be falling in love.
The secret rendezvous exchange continued. It led to passionate embraces and nights spent lovingly in each other’s arms. Neither one was sure what to say to their other team mates. They agreed to keep things hush for the time being.
Then, one night as fate would have it, they were discovered. Jennifer had another secret admirer, a pretty woman from another team named Leslie Shaw. Upon encountering the couple holding hands in the mall parking lot outside a local delicatessen, Leslie dropped her jaw in shock.
“Holy cow,” she muttered under her breath. This is interesting she said to herself with a slight twinge of jealousy.
Leslie Shaw wanted her team, The Sexy Strikers, to win the leader board position too. She devised a plan to blackmail the two lovers, threatening to expose them to everyone unless they both agreed to throw their games in the semi-final matches, allowing Leslie’s team to move forward to the Championship game. Jennifer and David reluctantly agreed.
Split Happens went first in the semi-finals and Jennifer watched sadly as David “accidentally” threw gutter ball after gutter ball forfeiting his team’s place and frustrating all his teammates to no end. They shook their heads in disgust. Some team members from Lane 2 scoffed at the losers with delight.
As the second semi-final game commenced, a sudden fight broke out in the nearby lounge room between Team 1 and Team 2 players. This spilled over quickly to an all-out brawl in the crowded league night bowling alley. All the divided teams were fighting and carrying on. David searched for Jennifer across the crowded room. Jennifer tried to keep her sights on him too.
Somehow in the midst of all the quarreling, David got hit by a thrown bowling ball. Jennifer called out to him in alarm over the ruckus. She rushed towards him. She quickly helped him back to his feet.
“You, ok?” she asked with concern and the two embraced. All around them, people noticed and the room went still.
“What?” she said defensively while looking around. She reached hesitantly for his hand. His fingers enclosed around hers too.
“What the heck?!” said a few shocked onlookers. David and Jennifer looked around awkwardly.
“Yes, ok, we’ve been dating…” David began. He then proceeded to explain the story of their relationship and what happened with Leslie. Leslie looked down embarrassed. She slinked off to the side a bit.
David looked around and back at Jennifer holding his hand. He smiled at her.
“I know we all have our differences,” he said hesitantly. “But the truth is I love this woman. Jennifer Casey, will you marry me?” He asked her as he started to get down on one knee.
The crowd completely stopped fighting. Everyone waited for the reply. When Jennifer said, “Yes!” her teammates were among the first to clap alongside the team mates from Split Happens.
Soon the folks that had been looking to start trouble were ashamed of their behavior. The whole room clapped then, even Bill Casey who clapped the loudest. It was decided that the couple would get married at the bowling alley later on that month.
Bill Casey disbanded the league teams. He took down the leader board which had caused so much animosity among the different groups. There would be no more league nights, no more winners and losers. Everyone would play as equals.
On the wedding night, David Huxley and Jennifer Casey married at Lane 5. He wore a tuxedo. She wore a white wedding dress. They kissed happily. She tossed the bouquet. Leslie Shaw managed to capture the bouquet too alongside a beautiful bowler named Sara. Leslie and Sara smiled shyly at each other. For Leslie, it seemed fated. That’s how Leslie found her new love interest in life.
That night, the bowlers at Bill Casey’s little bowling alley in Arkansas all bowled together as friends in a big diverse party. Bill Casey turned the lights down low. He set everything to Cosmic Bowling. He turned on the music. Happy Together by the Turtles filled the air and everyone was truly happy in that moment, especially David Huxley and Jennifer Casey.
I’ve found a great place to submit your work! It is a little newspaper called The Webb City Sentinel located in southwest Missouri in the Joplin area. The submission process is simple and free. If your work is approved by the poetry editor, it will be shown on the online portion of The Webb City Sentinel. Here is the announcement on their site. I love this. I love what they wrote:
“I’m a great believer in poetry out of the classroom, in public places, on subways, trains, on cocktail napkins. I’d rather have my poems on the subway than around the seminar table at an MFA program.”
Billy Collins, 2001-2003 United States Poet Laureate
We want your poetry. We want poetry from your children and your grandparents.We want poetry from seasoned poetry veterans and those just putting ink to paper (or, finger to keyboard).
We want to feature them here in Webb City’s “newspaper.” Then, we want you to print them out and slap them on your refrigerator, carry them in your pocket, give them to someone special. We want your poetry on the school bus to Mark Twain and Eugene Field, while you’re waiting in line at Crazy Llama and the Sub Shop, and while you’re walking around King Jack and the Frisco Greenway Trail.
We can’t wait to see what you’ve got.“
Here is the link to the submission board:
I was super fortunate to be listed on their site recently. Here is the poem I submitted:
by Janea Speer
My whole life, I admired the King and Queen. Serene, graceful, and applauded. Powerful and strong….aggressive.
Yet hiding behind the defenses of the lesser pieces. As I became older, I pondered the knight or the bishop, how they could think outside the box and level the playing field.
But, in my older years, I admire the pawn. The one to first enter the fray with honest courage. Who risks much although so little….. One by one, swiped from the board unceremoniously and yet… Relentless, undeterred, defiant against odds so stacked heavily against.
Yes, some days even the little pawn sees glory when faced with such intimidating adversaries.
With this blog, I also wanted to do a shout-out to the poetry editor there. I met him in Fall 2019 at the Joplin Writers’ Fair at the Joplin Public Library. There were many great local authors there showing their books. He was at a table across from mine and was nice and friendly. We talked about publishing books and Ray Bradbury and joining writing clubs. It was fantastic to meet someone with an avid interest in reading and writing and helping other authors. He recently published a new work to help authors too.
His name is F.C. Schultz and here are a few links to some of his books. Type in his name on Amazon and you will find, on his author page, a large group of books he has written or co-written.
My daughter read the book titled The Rose Weapon and she did think it was quite good. It is a Viking story about fire-breathing dragons. There is a sequel to this book as well called When Embers End.
A few years back, my husband picked me up in his truck with our kids sitting in the back seat. It was on a Friday after a long week of work and it happened to be Valentine’s Day Weekend. There were suitcases packed in the back seat with the kids and there was a red card on the passenger seat. He said, “Hop in!” He smiled at me with a hint of mischief in his eyes as we headed mysteriously down the road to an unidentified destination point.
I settled into the passenger seat, curious to see what he was up to. I opened the Valentine card and a paper fell out. It was a small printed off map. It looked like a route with a blue line through various places in Oklahoma. I later learned from him that our family was going on a waterfall adventure trip through Oklahoma and each spot designated on the map signified a special place to visit to see gorgeous and musical sounding, calming rushing waters.
It turned out to be an awesome and fun 2 -day family trip through Oklahoma. My favorite destination on the excursion was Turner Falls. It was really pretty and a great place to wade in the waters with family or take photos together by the waters. There were hikes for exploring and other tourist spots to see.
Most states have these type of tourist routes on certain websites online. Here is one for Kansas with various routes for ghost towns, rock/geology adventures, chicken restaurant routes, and other topics. And yes, this one in Kansas has the waterfall adventure too.
So if you are planning something for Valentine’s Day……consider a weekend road trip route like these. Just Google your state and type in road trip routes. The waterfall trip is very family friendly and sorta romantic too. Or maybe your partner is more interested in things culinary or things paranormal or science related destinations.
I highly recommend these ideas as great “spontaneous” and fun Valentine gifts. Trust me, your partner will like it. I know I certainly did! It didn’t seem to cost too much either since most of the destination spots are free to visit. The only costs are gas for your vehicle and overnight stays somewhere. This would be fun to do with an RV too.
In college back in the late 90s, I worked at a large call center near the downtown shopping district and river. The call center was a large grey building with many small cubicles and monitors. There must have been around 200 telemarketers working there. The walls were covered with motivational posters and there were dry erase boards at the end of every aisle gauging sales performance of each worker group.
The entry level employees were hired at Christmas time for the holiday season of October, November, and December. Basically, if you performed well and made it through the holiday season, you would be hired on from the temp agency to work full-time at the higher levels of the call center. The second level was a phone repair line and the tiers above that were various cold calling projects.
The first level was an easy and fun job. Back then, we didn’t have a lot of online businesses and their websites. So, people would call us to place their Christmas orders in various catalogues that were sent to them in the mail. So the job went like this. A person would call in. You greet them and check their personal info as well as what catalogue they wanted to order from. Then together you flip through the catalogue and help them shop. Fun, right?! Who doesn’t like to shop??
Once they decided what they wanted, you placed the order on a computer (data entry stuff). Then you take their payment and process it. In the end, you wish them Happy Holidays and they hang up happy that their Christmas shopping is done.
A lot of times, you could also talk to the customers about their day or their job or home. Some were from NYC, some from California, some from Florida, etc. etc. You were also expected and encouraged to try to pitch a sale or two to the customer, recommending other items they might be interested in.
Around late October, all the telemarketers for this department were called together for a staff meeting to discuss ways to improve sales for the company. A large table was brought out displaying prizes you could receive for getting top sales.
I was in my second or third year of college and dating a ROTC cadet. On the prize table was a DVD set of military movies including Saving Private Ryan, a popular movie my boyfriend really liked.
I worked extra hard that Christmas season trying to get that DVD set. I took on more shifts and tried to do a couple of sales on each call. I really wanted to be a top performer just to get that DVD set and I told a couple of people including my supervisor that I intended to win that item from the table to give my boyfriend who was joining the Army.
Weeks and weeks of hard work and college went by. One day two days before Christmas, I walked into work and the prize table was gone. We were called together for a staff meeting. It was announced that the winners received their items they won from the table due to top sales performance. They thanked us for our hard work and wished us a Merry Christmas. The meeting was over and we got back to work.
I felt pretty down about it. I asked a couple of coworkers if they won and they said no too. We worked a long eight hour shift that day. I clocked out and bundled up in my coat and scarf to trudge out in the snow in the parking lot to my car.
It was dark outside and cold. I could see the steam from my breath as I walked out to my old Nissan Altima. There was someone standing by the back of my car. I recognized who it was. My supervisor was standing there. He was an older guy, good-looking and about 28 years old. He was from the coast, maybe Jersey or something like that cause he had an accent.
Anyway, I walked up to him and smiled but shivered some in the cold. I was curious why he was there.
He said, “ You’re a good kid. I know you worked hard this season and wanted this. Tell your boyfriend thank you for his service and Merry Christmas.”
He handed me a bag and started walking away in the snow. I looked in the bag and it was the DVD set. I looked up at him walking away. I said, “ I didn’t really win this, did I?”
He turned and looked at the building and he said, “ Nobody ever wins. They set that table out every year just to drive up sales.”
With that, he turned and kept walking. I hollered, “Thanks and Merry Christmas.” I had realized with a smile that somehow he had snuck the item off the table without others seeing. He lifted his hand to say goodbye and I got in my car and drove to my boyfriend’s apartment. He was pretty happy about the gift and I remember that we had a good Christmas that year.
They had come back early from camping at Lake Clinton but it was now dark outside. It was late October and the autumn breeze was cool on her face as they drove the Jeep Wrangler down the highway. She held her brown hair back as the curls whipped here and there wildly in the wind. They were listening to Red Hot Chili Peppers. The volume was turned up quite a bit so they failed to notice anything out of the ordinary when they stopped at the little town named Stull. No one lived there anymore. It was just old buildings, forgotten and faded with time.
They had heard the rumors about this place but they didn’t care. They were young. Why should they care? As they pulled into the little gravel parking lot behind the abandoned old grocery store, she looked hesitantly, however, around in the dark. He turned down the music. She looked off to the north past the road to the crest of the hill where the ruins of the old church sat solitary and still in the dim moonlight. She looked again at the dark around them and she shivered a little.
“We might want to hurry..” she said with a twinge of uncertainty. With the music turned off, she listened for any small noises around the vehicle. It was hard to see much past 30 or 40 feet to her right. Everything was so dark over there, pitch black almost. The beams of the headlights shone on the exterior back of the old store. Once again, she looked at the church, the 7th gateway to hell……..that’s what the locals said it was. It was a secret portal according to the rumors. Supposedly, if you threw a bottle against the wall of the church, it would not break. The devil’s portal….just an urban legend she thought to herself.
He got out of the jeep and rummaged among their bags in the back looking for his cell phone.
“I know I left it in here,” he said as he dug through a camo green backpack. He found it and returned to the driver seat.
“Maybe we should put the hard top up,” he said to her.
She just shrugged, hugging herself a little. “I’d rather not do it here.” She smiled feebily. “Perhaps down the road a bit.”
He smiled at her then and nodded towards the old church. “Nervous?” he asked with a slight smile.
She didn’t say anything. Just shrugged.
“Relax, there’s nothing to worry about. It’s just a dumb story. Nobody even goes up there anymore. It is fenced off.” He grabbed her chin and tugged her head slightly to the left. He grinned at her. “Calm down.”
She smiled bigger this time and leaned in to kiss him. She closed her eyes as she felt his warm lips on hers. He cupped her face in his gentle hands. She placed her hand on his waist and he pulled her in deeper. They pulled away for just a moment, enough for her to lean her forehead against his and say softly, “I had fun last night.”
He grinned. “I did too.”
They embraced again. This time with more youthful urgency and passion. Eventually, he pulled reluctantly away and grinned. He licked his lip slightly and took her hand in his. He said, “We need to get back.”
She just watched him in the darkness. She loved him. She knew it.
He turned to start the ignition of the Jeep. She looked forward to the hill once more. She shuddered. As the engine started up and her boyfriend shifted gears, she looked casually to the right.
That’s when she saw it…in the darkness beyond….maybe not twenty feet from the car. There in the darkness she saw the slight red light. It was very small. Silently, it was there…suspended in air. She blinked. She looked closer. It was still there. She knew instantly what it was. She watched it more intently. She kept watching. She was staring now without blinking and she felt a sudden fear. And then… it moved. The light moved with intention, as if making its presence known only to her. It was just a slight movement but just enough to let her know, they were not alone.
A cigarette. It was the light from a cigarette. Someone was watching, had been watching them silently in the dark distance as they kissed. Someone was standing right there.
Her eyes flickered swiftly to the church and then back to that same spot. The cigarette light was now gone. Her boyfriend pulled the jeep out of the gravel parking lot and back onto the main road. She watched that spot, the spot where the cigarette light emanated briefly. She watched for it as long as she could until Stull and its eerie presence faded into the dark distance behind them.