Issue #8
October 29, 2013

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by Georgia Ruth


My headlights illuminated a narrow path directly in front of my truck. Through the wispy fog I could barely see the asphalt burrowing through dark outlines of trees that might be impressive in the daylight. Surely I’d been this way before, but nothing looked familiar to my weary brain. I was afraid I’d missed my turn back where an abandoned van could have hidden helpful signs. There was nothing else to indicate my location, and so I pressed onward.

A small green arrow pointed to the right towards Rutland, a town I never heard of. But the Blue Ridge Parkway passed lots of small towns I never heard of, and I had to exit to get to any of them. I thought I would try to find a crafts shop or fruit stand where I could ask directions. The chances of finding an open store in the mountains were getting slim and slimmer as light withdrew from the forest.

Up ahead, a tiny glow through the ethereal wall gave me hope for civilization. A twisted half-mile later, I nosed my Jeep Cherokee towards the unpainted side of a general store with two gas pumps dying in the weeds. The old man peering at me through the dirt-splattered window watched me get out of the truck. I hoped the feeble floodlight at the corner of the gravel parking space made me appear harmless. I turned the knob and scraped open the door, bringing to life a jangle of bells overhead. The musty smell of stained hardwood floors reminded me of my grandparents’ store in Tennessee tobacco country. Years ago, they ran a business like this down the road from their farmhouse, providing the necessities to a close-knit community.

I looked around at the merchandise and felt the past come back to haunt me. A low table near the front door was covered with a variety of yard-sale items ranging from pink pressed glass dishes to slightly used playing cards. Worn sweaters and blue jeans hung on short racks at the end of rows of flour, sugar, coffee, and soap. The back corner was hidden by a black drape.

A clatter caught my attention before I could approach grandpa drooping behind the scarred counter. Maintaining surveillance on me, a teenager slid open the top of an ancient drink cooler and bent over to capture a soda. Nearby a wrinkled matron swept the center aisle in slow motion. I watched my step around her dust piles and moved to the candy shelves, making a quick selection.

At the cash register, I held up the Snickers bar and gave my sweetest smile. “I think I missed the turn to Johnson City. Could you give me directions?”

“Anythin’ else?” He stared at me, one eye travelling alone to the left.

“No. Just directions.”

I paid for the candy bar, but he didn’t volunteer information. Maybe he was hard of hearing. I turned for assistance from the woman with the broom.

“Excuse me. I think I missed my turn to Johnson City. Do you know which way I should go?”

She only shrugged. No help there. Maybe I needed to drive on; I might be safer in the wilderness. The interior store lights dimmed as I walked out the door. Closing time and they were locking up, I guessed. No time for strangers. From the glimmer of the sputtering red neon Royal Crown sign, I could distinguish the girl near my Jeep, sipping her Mountain Dew. The cicadas produced a loud background chorus, unafraid in the dark. I opened the driver’s side and tossed my purse to the passenger seat.

“I’ll show ya,” she said. The dome light helped me see her ragged black fingernail pointing into the night.

“Go down this road here ‘bout three mile and get back on the Parkway.  Turn right, travel maybe two mile more and look for the sign to Erwin. Get off there and go north on 23.” She took another swallow of her soda.

 I reached for my wallet to give her a reward for helping the lost, but she waved me off.

“No problem.” She hesitated, a sly smile spreading her black lipstick. “Saw a wreath in the backseat, with a star in the center. I’m partial to anythin’ with stars, ‘specially black ones.”

“I was at a meeting where that was a table decoration. Do you want it?”


I didn’t ask her why she snooped in my window. Evading a conversation in shadows, I pulled out the wreath and adjusted the black ribbon. She accepted the centerpiece and backed away, flitting a glance behind me. I scooted under the steering wheel, anxious to find my way home. The neon sign went out as my headlights came on. I locked the doors under her somber gaze.

As soon as I put the truck in reverse, I heard the crunch and stomped on my brake. In the pale halo of the security light I saw the girl hustle behind the Jeep. I had never seen combat boots move so quickly.

“Mamie! Mamie!” She kneeled down next to my back fender.

When I got there, the broom woman was standing, shoulders hunched, cradling her elbow.

“You backed right o’er me without lookin’. Knocked me offa my bike.” Her raspy voice was a great asset for a gypsy reading fortunes, but it lacked strength. I could spot an amateur. My grandma wore an aura of authority wrapped around her like a cloak.

“Don’t be silly. If I backed over you, you’d still be in the dirt,” I said.

“Why’s my bike under yore car?” Beady eyes glowed behind a dark curtain of tangled hair.

The old man came to stand beside her, closing ranks in silence. Neither eye glanced at the bicycle or her arm. His hands were hidden in his pockets. I was outnumbered and felt uneasy before their united front.

 “Look. I’m sorry I was rude.” I tried for diplomacy, not my strongest attribute. “Sorry about your bike. Are you hurt?”

“Think my arm’s broke.”

“Let me see.” She let me gently pull it forward without a whimper. “You can move it.”

“But it hurts sumpin’ fierce.” She glared at me, lips pursed below a crooked nose.

“Well, I’ll take you to a doctor.” I was nervous. What would Aunt Miranda do?

“Can take myself.” She shifted her eyes to grandpa and back to me. “’Cept I ain’t got no money for no doctor.”

“Ahh.” I rummaged in my purse, thankful I was not running on coins off the floorboard as usual. “Even though your arm looks fine to me, here’s twenty bucks.”

“Need more ’n that.”

“Okay, okay.” The girl was admiring her new wreath, now unconcerned about Mamie. “Here’s another five. That’s all I have.”

“That ain’t enuff to buy me a tire.”

I could feel myself losing control. I started to retreat but reconsidered. “I know your bike was torn up before you threw it behind my truck. I catch on to your little scam, but I’ll give you a break here, because I am a good person.”

Against my better judgment, I waved my hand over the darned thing and straightened the spokes, repaired the ripped seat, and eliminated the rusty scars with a fresh paint job. I had to concentrate to get the metallic green I had in mind.

They were speechless.

Before they could react, I hopped into my truck to speed away from that godforsaken hole.

But then, the accumulation of stress erupted. My trademark flash of rebellious spirit consumed me. Earlier today, Aunt Miranda had chastised me to “improve this perpetual deficiency.” I could hear the echo of her self-righteous croak, and I gritted my teeth. That witch always liked my sister better than me. Just because I don’t know my mushrooms. My little finger had more creative energy than all their wands. They were jealous do-gooders.

Now I was thoroughly agitated, and I waved my hand again. In my rearview mirror, I saw that liar Mamie trip over her new bike and break her leg. Justice served.

I would have to confess at the next Witches Anonymous meeting. Whatever. I felt better.



Georgia Ruth retired to the foothills of North Carolina to indulge a lifelong passion for the written word. Management of a family restaurant for ten years and a sales career for fifteen years did not leave her much time to write but provided many experiences for a fertile imagination. She has a short story coming out soon in Mystery Times 2013 published by Buddhapuss Ink. She has been a member of Sisters in Crime for three years.