The small grey 4-door car went into the self-service automatic car wash.
A high-end super car (Bugatti Veyron, Lambourghini, Ferrari, McLaren…whatever, your choice) came out. What’s the deal with the car wash?
This just seemed to be made for the Big Messy Project, with its dream-logic surreal juxtaposition of kid dream-world and adult nostalgia. It fits immediately after the "Town Hall" scene that I put up a few weeks ago.
I'd forgotten just how dark Henning was at night. Some of the houses had porch lights on, but those pale yellow bulbs didn't provide much illumination on the sidewalk. Even with the full moon shining over the treetops, there were an awful lot of dark areas. Given the state of the sidewalk, I took every one of those dark areas more slowly. At least I wasn't hearing any pursuit.
In the dim light there was no way to tell whether the railroad tracks might be still in use. However, it was clear they were still here – something they weren't the last time I'd visited. Nobody had ever mentioned when they'd been torn out, and I'd found myself disinclined to ask.
When I was in grade school, the track had been fairly busy with trains of hopper cars for the elevator. Sometimes they'd stretch all the way past US 136, although I'd heard the spur down to Jamesburg had fallen into disuse to the point they didn't even use it for parking rail cars. I did know for certain that the tracks around the elevator were busy enough that they had a switch engine to move the hopper cars back and forth.
Curious, I paused long enough to look up the line toward the grain elevator. Although there were lights on around its main tower, they didn't shine onto the tracks well enough for me to see just what might be there. And I had no intention of walking alongside the tracks to get a better look.
Ahead of me I could see the lights at the intersection with US 136. Energized, I lengthened my stride, although I didn't actually run. When I was going to school here, I probably would have.
I don't know what I expected to find when I got back to the Primary Building. However, when I got there and discovered my car was nowhere to be seen, it came as a shock.
On reflection, I knew it had broken down right where the buses always pulled up. If I'd been in Sly Fox's underground realm long enough to get to a school day, my car would have to be moved. But I'd expected them to just push it to the side. This was a small town, not the big city like Des Moines where there were dozens of tow truck companies hungry for business.
Except they wouldn't know by looking that you grew up here, went to school in this very building. All they'll see is the Iowa license plates, the faculty parking sticker from Grinnell College, and figure it belongs to some random driver who broke down while passing through.
Still, my heart was most definitely beating faster in alarm. Where would the school district have had it taken? Especially considering it had my purse and briefcase in it. I was going to be in a bad way if those just vanished.
By willpower I forced myself to stop and take several deep breaths. Not just to keep myself from hyperventilating, but to get my racing thoughts back under control.
Hadn't there been a little garage and gas station just west of the church? It had been long gone the last time I was around here, and I wasn't sure that it hadn't already been torn down by the time I was in high school. But I definitely remembered it being in operation when I was a little kid. My dad never bought gas there because we always bought our fuel in bulk for the farm operation. But I'd see it when we drove past on the way to various places.
At least the parking lot in front of the church was bathed in light. The church and the sign in front of it both looked the way I remembered from my youngest days, without any of the additions that had been put in by the congregation that had taken it over recently.
Had the gas station been east or west of the restaurant? I remembered being in the restaurant when the club held 4H meetings there, and I thought that we could walk straight from the church to it. But memories fade as the years go by.
Although a "closed" sign was hanging on the door to the restaurant, I could see lights on in the back. Remembering my own days working in food service to help stretch the money over break, I wondered whether some of the staff might be staying late to clean up or do prep for tomorrow.
However, I doubted they'd answer the door if I knocked. Even if I went around to the back door, they'd probably have orders not to open it to anyone they didn't know. And even if it was still run by the family that had a daughter in my class, they'd be thinking of me as a kid, not a history professor.
In any case, I was looking for my car. Just keep walking until I either found it at the old gas station, or I determined it wasn't there.
The gas station was pretty much as I remembered it – two old mechanical pumps in front, and a building with a single service bay and a business office. The pumps weren't so old they had the glass globe at the top, but they were old enough it was pretty clear they were before the days of self-serve gasoline.
And then I realized there was another building just beyond the gas station. Had they decided to add another service bay and decided it was easier to build a separate building?
As I got close enough to look inside, I could see it wasn't a service bay. It was a car wash – and not the manual kind where you walked around your car with a wand and brush. No, this was a full automatic one, complete with the big sprayer frames and rotating brushes. The kind they called a robo-wash back then, because robots were cool and futuristic.
Except Henning was way too small to support even a manual car wash. Bismarck didn't even have one, and it was big enough to have two gas stations when I was a kid.
"I'd stay away from that place if I were you."
I turned to find an older man looking at me. He seemed vaguely familiar, but I couldn't place him. "Is there something wrong with it?"
"The place is weird." He gave it that narrow-eyed look I'd seen far too many times growing up. 'It just popped up a few weeks ago. Dick says it ain't his." A nod toward the little country gas station. "And weird things happen around it."
"Weird things?" Now it was my turn to cast an uneasy look at the car wash. "What kinds of weird things?"
"You know Terry Best, don't you?"
"Not personally, but I do know the name." No, it probably wouldn't be wise to mention that one of his kids was one grade ahead of me, not if I had somehow been thrown into a topsy-turvy version of the past. "He's the mayor, when he's not working at the grain elevator."
"Yeah, that's him. His kid's been jonsing for a 'vette for ages, so Terry goes over to Biggles' in Potomac and picks him up a used Chevette. Somehow that wasn't as funny as Dad thought it was. But anyway, a few days after that place shows up, Kit takes his little gray Chevette through, and by gum if it doesn't come out the other end as a brand new canary-yellow Corvette."
"OK." Now that was definitely weird. A magic car wash that turns ordinary cars into people's dream cars. It was the sort of thing a kid would dream up, not really understanding what kind of skill it took to drive a car with that much power. Kit had been something of a character, if not an outright bully like Todd Adams, but I would never have wished him to get hurt driving a car that was too much for him to handle. "Does that kind of thing happen with every car that goes through?"
"No, and that's the really weird part. Most people, a dirty car goes in and a clean car comes out, and that's it. It's just some people. The sort who think they're going places, that they're just too big for this little town."
I also got an entry in for the Indies Unlimited Flash Fiction Writing Challenge. It's a space opera 'verse from the POV of one of the working stiffs who make all the cool stuff possible.
As usual, if you'd like to participate in next week's Odd Prompts challenge, just send your prompt to email@example.com. It can be a snippet of prose or poetry, a song, a video clip, a photograph or computer graphic. Just make sure to make it evocative.
Indies Unlimited will have a new word and picture prompt up on Saturday. In the meantime, voting opens tomorrow for this week's Readers' Choice Award.