The Jolly family grow wheat and corn under a pale blue empty sky out in the middle of Nowhere USA
No kidding, the town they live in is called Nowhere.
The Jolly family have taken pride in the fact that their family settled Nowhere back in the” Pioneer Days ” and that over the years as Nowhere grew and other people moved to farm Nowhere, the Jolly Family took their place as the founding family of Nowhere and if anything happened in Nowhere- from the Easter Egg Hunt to the Harvest Festival and the 4th of July Parade, to the lighting of the Christmas tree in their little town square, the Jolly family had a say in it.
I’m sure you are wondering if the Jolly family lived up to their name- well, they did.
They all had round red ruddy faces and their eyes were the same pale blue color as the sky above Nowhere. They all had the same smile and when they laughed- they’d squish their eyes up and wrinkle their noses and they’d flash their big white teeth but one thing needs to be made clear.
their eyes did not smile.
Their eyes were not Jolly at all.
Nowhere is just as vast and endless as the sky above it and with not as much as a tree to break up the flatness of Nowhere, it might look like the Earth was competing with the sky for how much space it could gobble up and swallow.
It was a strange race to anywhere and if you lived in Nowhere you might wonder if there would ever be a winner-you might also wonder what happened to the places Nowhere reached in that race, but more likely then not you would not care.
And there is one reason one very big reason for that.
Out behind the Jolly family home, there is a picnic table and picnic benches in the center of the yard and next to the kitchen door is a wheel barrel that has been turned into a planter, but all of the plants in in are dead.
The plants are brittle and dry and covered with cobwebs. Sometimes a bee or a fly gets stuck in one of the webs and anyone from the Jolly Family who walk by the planter can hear the bees buzzing as they struggle to free themselves.
The buzzing can go on for days. Once a bird flew against the kitchen window, broke it’s wing and fell between the planter and the house. It’s chirped and squeaked for exactly eight days before it died.
I’m sure the Jolly family heard the bird and they’ve heard the bees and the fact is- I am sure that they like hearing those sounds.
There are Tikki torches set up around the yard,but they’ve never been lit and there are even lawn games set up but no one has ever played them and there’s a swing set that’s covered with mold and rust.
Sometimes the wind pushes the swings back and forth and spins the seats around a little too. That is pretty much he only time they get used.
Now we come to the reason that the people who live in Nowhere USA don’t ask why they thought that moving to Nowhere was such a great idea or why staying out in the middle of Nowhere is an even better idea and why it is that you’d let a family called Jolly who seem to enjoy the suffering of Bees and birds with broken wings organize your Christmas Parade is this-
In the Jolly’s backyard is a big shiny yellow and green wood chipper.
It’s not like the lawn games or the swing set or the picnic table, it actually is cared for, it gets used and it is so loud that if you live in Nowhere it’s all you can hear when-
you start to wonder for as much as a second or two, if it might not be such a good idea to leave Nowhere and go…
Just above the railroad tracks that lead into the town of Mount Prefontaine is a Gardener’s Shed.
The windows are caked with dried mud and pine needles and above the door of the Gardener’s Shed, which is not locked, is a sign that reads:
“Mr. Gooseberry’s Gardening Shed.”
That’s all the warning you’ll get to stay away.
Arnella Day, Julia Barnwell and Cynthia Stevens all rode the commuter train that ran through Mount Prefontaine.
They’d sit in the passenger car and drink their flavored Lattes and “Ooh” and “Ahhh” over each other’s shoes, and laugh way too loud at each other’s jokes, and of course they’d try to comment on the passing scenery, so that it would at least appear they cared about what went on outside of their world.
Then one day Cynthia pointed out the little green and white Shed that was built on the stone outcrop above the tracks.
She pointed the shed out because it occurred to her that you could only say so much about trees, and shoes, and makeup, and tell stories about the bottomless lake that the train crossed over, before people just tuned you out altogether, just so that they didn’t have to hear another one of your dull stories.
If there was anything Cynthia really hated it was being ignored.
So instead of talking about the Devilbit Lake, she decided to say something about the little shed and when she opened her mouth and spoke, she was as surprised as anyone else at what came out.
What she said was this: “I wonder if there are any dead bodies buried in there?” Cynthia looked up and around, and then she realized those words really did come out of her mouth, and she took a long drink of coffee to keep herself from saying anything more.
“I guess,” Arnella said, “you can’t really find any live ones buried there, right?”
Julia felt like she was standing next to herself, and watching as that someone who looked like her, and sounded like her said, “I guess there’s only one way to find out – I guess we should come back and see for ourselves.”
So they did.
The three of them met at the “Prefontaine Park and Ride” early the next Saturday morning, and they were all dressed in the newest word in day hike gear from “Lady Olympus Sportswear” at the Bellmark Mall, and each one of them had little backpacks that had those special pockets for your cell phones.
Arnella brought the camera and some Granola snacks and little bottles of water, which was good, because all the other two remembered to bring was their make-up and sunscreen.
That’s how their day started – it was bright and sunny and all was right with the world. They chatted about shoes, about what shows were on TV the night before, and how ugly the new guy in the accounting department was.
So, as the three women made their way up the trail, none of them really noticed how quiet it was all around them. There wasn’t a sound, not a bug, not a bird, you couldn’t even hear the cars drive by from the road that ran right in front of the trailhead.
It only took them twenty minutes to reach the hill and when they got up there, they looked down at the tracks their train passed over every single day, and they stood there and wondered if Devilbit Lake was really bottomless, and then they turned around and read the sign above the door that said:
“Mr. Gooseberry’s Gardening Shed.”
Arnella slowed down and then she nearly stopped walking and she asked her friends, “Why do you suppose there’s a Gardener’s Shed up here? I mean, look around, there isn’t a house to have a garden for – so what’s the deal with a Gardener’s Shed?”
Julia and Cynthia stopped at the door and turned back as Arnella kicked at the ground. “See, it’s all rock. You can’t plant anything up here.”
The three of them still didn’t notice the silence, or the cold that was creeping out from under the Shed’s door, and they only paused for a moment before Julia reached out and pushed the door open.
The smell that rushed out the door wasn’t bitter and dusty and old, it didn’t smell like earth or fertilizer.
All three of the women thought they could smell wet leaves and somewhere in there they picked up the faint scent of rubbing alcohol and antiseptics.
They could have turned back and headed down the trail, and after a short drive, they could have been at “The Floral Hills Mall”, drinking iced coffees.
But they didn’t.
They went in.
The Shed was humid and cold, and everything on the shelves, and leaning against the wall, was covered with a dark mold that looked spongy and soft.
Arnella went in first, and she started looking at the little jars on the shelves that lined the east wall and at the ones that were arranged neatly on the workbench – she couldn’t tell what kinds of plants and powders were inside dusty containers, but she understood what the little symbols drawn in ink on the labels meant.
“These are all poisons…what the Hell kind of Garden Shed is this?” She thought she was saying out loud: “There’s enough poison here to kill an entire city.”
Cynthia was looking at the shovels that were leaning in the corner of the Shed and she was thinking: “I wonder how it would feel to actually dig a grave.”
And Julia, who was standing next to Cynthia, wanted more then anything to reach for the pickaxe that was leaning against the shovel. She could actually feel how right it would be if she picked that axe up and swung.
Arnella felt the Shed get smaller and the air became more acrid and her skin started to crawl all over her muscles and bones and she left her camera, her backpack and her friends in that Shed.
They found her around the back of the Shed leaning over a ruined fence, vomiting onto the hard rocky ground.
“Why did we come up here?” Arnella asked her friends, “We don’t do hikes, we don’t camp, the closest we get to nature is the flower kiosks at the Mall. So why are we here?”
“It just seemed like the right thing to do today,” Julia said.
“Whatever, I’m going back in to get my stuff and then I’m leaving.”
Arnella went back into the Shed and as she crossed the threshold, she saw, just as clearly as she could see that shelf full of poisons, Julia and Cynthia wanting and planning the trip to this Shed. She could see the way they enjoyed their little stroll up here and she thought she could hear them out there laughing, right next to the place she had just vomited.
“They really hate me,” she said into the cold acrid darkness, and the darkness seemed to agree and the air seemed to warm just a little.
She went to the workbench and picked up her camera and put it inside of her backpack and when she turned around…
The shovel and the pickaxe were gone, they weren’t there, and she was sure that when she ran out, they were right there in the corner.
Arnella could see, clear as a day, the way Julia and Cynthia were drooling over them when they let her run out of the Shed sicker than a dog, all by herself.
And then, the image of her friends laughing at her turned to another image of them digging a hole just before the trail head, and Arnella was sure one thing.
She wasn’t going to be standing there with them, she wasn’t going to be digging or snickering.
“Damn them…” she hissed into the warming darkness, “damn them both to Hell…”
Arnella went back to the work bench, unzipped her backpack and when she was done, she opened the Shed door with a bang, and called out: “Let’s go…”
Then, as she slammed the door after herself.
Behind her moldy dust fell away from the window by the shelf full of glass jars and there in the new light, leaning against the shelf, was a shovel, and a pickaxe and-
a smooth clear round spot on the workbench where a jar used to be.
The Bakery is on the corner of Washington Street and when Oakley first started to work at the Haunted Bakery an employee named George told him about the ghost of a woman who stands in front of the display case where the cookies are displayed and asks if the train will be on time today.
” You’re kidding right?” Oakley asked.
George shook his head. ” I wish I were. I’ve never seen anything sadder then that Ghost Lady, waiting on that train.”
” So what train is she talking about?” Oakley asked. Oakley was new in town and as far as he could tell there weren’t any trains running through it now so guessed the ghost lady and her train were form a long time ago.
George, unlike most people who seemed to enjoy telling a good ghost story looked around to make sure the bakery was empty and then he told Oakley, ” she’s talking about the 377.”
Oakley could see something very wrong had happened to the 377.
” Yeah? So what happened to it?”
George was looking like he regretted bringing the story up. But it had to be done. The Train Lady had scared away customers and employees for years now. She was easier for to deal with if you were prepared.
” If you go out to Devilbit Lake you can still see the tracks . If you know where to look you can still see Bridge, well the place where the Bridge used to be.”
” So what happened? Did it jump the tracks and end up in the Lake or something like that?”
” Well. No. See, this was the Morton Mill Station Train Station and the 377 used to come through at around eleven. And one day it never showed up.”
Oakley waited for George to continue and George looked towards the door wishing the entire time that someone would walk in and he could get out of Train Story Duty. ” The train left Everett on time, it went through Terrace Lake at it’s usual time and just before it got to Devilbit Lake it disappeared.”
” Just like that?” Okaley asked.
” People saw her Oakley, they saw her round the bend not even a quarter mile from the lake, they even heard her and she just never came around that corner. She never made it to the Bridge at Devilbit.”
” She just disappeared into thin air.”
Oakley wasn’t sure what to make of the story he had just heard.
” So what’s up with the Ghost Lady?”
” Well, to understand her, you have to understand something else.”
” And that is…”
“George leaned against the cookie case and said, ” The 377 was first train around here to disappear on route to Devilbit Lake. After the 377 dissapeared there were six-“
” Six trains disappeared into thin air?” Oakley asked ” Are you kidding me?”
George said ” Not six. Sixteen. The 377 was the first of sixteen trains to disappear near Devilbit . The first of sixteen trains to never arrive here in Duwamish Bay.”
” How many…I mean, how many people-“
” Hundreds Oakley. Hundreds.”
” That is messed up George. What happened next?”
” Well, people took it into their heads that something was happening to the trains when they got near the Devilbit Lake Bridge so people came in from Waremount and Appleton and burned the bridge down and then they tore up the tracks.”
George looked relived, he was nearing the end of his story. ” So right after the 377 was lost this woman started to show up at the station asking after it and years after they shut the station down and it was turned into a diner she still showed up asking for the 377 and she does it now.”
” So is this Ghost Lady waiting for someone on the train? Was she supposed to be on it? Did she have something to do with the trains disapearing? Because I’m willing to bet that train is in the Lake-probably its on top of 15 other trains at the bottom of the Lake.”
” There’s no Trains down there. One of those Ghost Hunting shows sent cameras down there- even one of those History shows did the same thing. Nobody found any trains. But last year they found this car and what was left of this Mortician who owned it at the bottom of the Lake. For years people thought he had run off with this singer from Bronson Park. Let me tell you, that was a let down. I used to love that story-.”
Oakley leaned his back against the Cookie Case and looked up at the menu on the wall. ” So who was she?”
” No idea. The thing of it is. A few months ago she started to show up at the airport up in Lister… and she’s asking for the 377 there too.”
” I don’t like the sound of that.”
” Nobody does.”
” That’s a weird story George. I sure wish I could figure out what the Ghost Lady wants. I would really like to know where all of those missing trains are.”
” You could try and ask her Oakley.”
Oakley laughed. ” Sure I could. Have you ever asked her about the 377 George?”
” Lots of times. But she doesn’t answer questions Oakley, she asks them . It wouldn’t hurt though-you could ask her.”
” I might. “
” No really Oakley, you could ask her.” George was pointing over Oakley’s left shoulder. ” Go ahead.”
There is a little store around the corner from where I lived called Myrtie’s.
Before I tell you about Myrtie’s I will tell you straight up that you will swear you’ve been to Myrtie’s because there is a Myrtie’s in every single town in the world, swear to God.
But this is a story about my Myrtie’s.
The cashier working at the counter wears a light green smock with Myrtie’s stitched in red over the left hand breast pocket, the customers wear t-shirts advertising beer or a very happy looking Cheech and Chong smiling at you from their van or the band Foghat ( Slooowww Riddeeee ) and sometimes KISS, they all wear blue jeans with iron on patches that are curling at the edges and in their hands are six packs of beer or maybe a soda. Someone was always a dollar short and there was always an argument about that.
Myrtie’s walls are lined with coolers and the counter where the cash register sits is crowed with dispensers for cigarettes, packs of gum and breath mints.
The newest addition to Myrtie’s ( established 1949 ) is glass counter that used to be full of fancy lighters and cards of mood rings and butterfly yo yos. It’s empty now and Myrties uses that case to stash their non working telephones and aged dusty phone books.
There are a few shelves where you could buy bags of almost expired cookies, chips and beef jerky, but I wouldn’t recommend that because once I saw the door to Myrtie’s swing open and the top row of Chips Galore Cookies were moving and when I stopped to take a look at the rippling bag a chips a rat popped it’s head up. Saw me and it hissed.
Seriously, I’ve never had a rat hiss at me from a cookie shelf before, have you? It’s not an image you can get rid of and it comes back to haunt you- mostly when you are reaching for a cookie.
One day Myrtie’s closed down.
The coolers were lined up against the building’s outside wall in the alley and the shelves were stacked against the back wall in the store waiting for their turn to be taken out.
My Aunt Sharon told me that when she was a kid Myrtie’s used to sell penny candies and comic books. They sold ice cream and cigarettes and road maps and postcards too.
I can’t imagine that. She was right though, in one dark corner of the small store there is a spiner rack that may have held comic books and jammed next to it is one that could have held postcards.
They use the racks to stuff cleaning supplies on, which is funny because I don’t think Myrtie’s is the kind of store that cares about things like polished windows and rust free metal fixtures. There’s wads of invoices jammed in some of the slots too.
There’s a poster near the back door with a clown holding up a bag of peanuts.
He looks happy and even though clowns don’t creep me out the way they do some to some people, there’s no way in Hell I’d eve take a peanut from him.
And then a month or so later, Myrtie’s windows had been ( sort of ) cleaned and you could see into the store and there were the same grungy coolers were back and the shelves once again stocked with the almost expired food.
The cashier was wearing the same green smock and the customers were wearing the same t-shirts and the same patched blue jeans.
The clown poster was back, but to honest I’m not sure it had been taken down.
The rats were back too.
It’s funny, but I was relieved to see everything back in place.
As rule, I tried to not shop at Myrties. There were lots of other places I could buy Soda. But sure enough, I’d find myself walking through the door almost everyday.
I don’t like how dark it is, even though the windows let in the full sun and there were those long metal fluorescent lighting fixtures hanging from the ceiling pumping out bright greenish light. I don’t like the empty faces of the customers, I don’t like knowing rats live on the cookie shelf and I don’t like the cashier becauses she glares at the customers like she wanted to climb across the counter and throttle them.
But every once and awhile I’d go in and buy a soda or some chips and I’d stand in line with the guys in faded rock and roll t-shirts and the girls who bathed in Babe perfume and wore Strawberry Flavored lip gloss. I’d stare at the floor until I got to the cashier.
One day the cashier looked a little less homicidal then usual and I said, ” My Aunt used to shop here when she was a kid. ”
She looked at me. ” Oh yeah? Is she here? ”
I paid for my soda and she reached into the register for change.
She looked over my shoulder.
” No, no. That was a long time ago. When Myrtie’s sold Penny candies and comics. Stuff like that.”
” But she’s not here, now? ”
I fought the urge to turn around and look. ” No. She died a few years ago.”
” And she’s not here? ”
I took my change.
She glared over my shoulder again. ” Good for her. Some people keep coming back
because they don’t have a freaking clue, you know? ”
I reached for my Soda. ” About what? ”
” That it’s time to move on. ”
I took my Soda and I didn’t turn around, why should I? I wasn’t going to see anything new or surprising.
All of the customers have my face-even the Myrtie’s cashier.
Instead I looked down at my faded KISS shirt and peeling knee patches and I said to Myrtie’s cashier, with my angry and scowling face glaring right back at me, ” I don’t know where to go. I just don’t know where to go. ”
Myrtie’s cashier looked right through me and I looked right through her and after a few minutes-
I find myself walking through the door into Myrtie’s.
Myrties is a store around the corner from where I lived and where I think I died when I was running across the street against the light.
I ran for it because I had seen my friends standing on the corner and I wanted to get to the other side of the street. I wasn’t thinking about speeding cars.
On that day, I was thinking about KISS ,the hottest band in the world, they were even better then Foghat and I knew that patched jeans were the height of fashion and girls wore flavored lip gloss.
So I get my soda and I get into line because I always do.