“Curse you, you treacherous heap of nuts and bolts! I curse you straight to the Devil‘s lair!
The furious man shouted, as he kicked at his broken down automobile. “This is the last time you’ll strand me! When the tow truck gets here I’m going to have it haul you straight to the crusher!
I curse the day you ever rolled out of Detroit!”
It was turning out to be a miserable year for Daniel White. Everything that could possibly turn sour for him did. His work let him go due to downsizing, forcing to sell his house to appease his creditors and finally his wife ran off with the neighbor. All the things he’d worked so hard for were gone, filling him with bitterness and confusion. His only possessions were a suitcase filled with clothes, a gold watch and the used automobile he’d purchased with the pittance the vultures missed.
The car transported him many miles in their brief time together and it also broke down many times since it’s purchase. The car came “as is, with minor problems”, said the salesman. This turned out to be a blatant, deceptive understatement on the dealer’s part. The automobile sat disabled, along the roadside now, billowing steam and making loud hissing noises from the hot water escaping through a large hole in its radiator, where the evidence of Bars Leaks oozed out. The dealership obviously applied a “quick fix” to the cooling system.
The autumn air held a crisp bite to it today and it was the twenty-seventh of October. Fall was starting to surrender to winter, the landscape lay covered in a beautiful spectrum of vibrant fallen colors where the dead leafs littered the ground. In two weeks, Daniel would turn thirty four years old and he felt hollow and drained inside, with nothing to show for the last ten years of his life. Storm clouds rolled ominously overhead causing a noticeable drop in air pressure as their water laden bodies cast huge shadows, shaped like manta, which appeared to swim across the earth in an ocean of sky. The sun randomly flickered from a break in their cover giving off a strobe light effect. Its strobe effect caused Daniel to shield his blue eyes with his forearm, as his dark brown hair fluttered in the breeze.
Scanning toward the horizon Daniel calculated the distance to the nearest place he might find help.
The road he’d been traveling was an offshoot of the late, great route 66. Daniel wasn’t sure just how far back in the woods he’d driven, but realized at least one hour elapsed since leaving the major highway. He did remember seeing a gas station, about two miles back and also seeing an old wooden farmhouse, with what appeared to be headstones in its backyard? One rarely saw a house with its own private cemetery. Churches yes but not houses. Daniel remembered families once buried their dead right on the property where they lived but that practice stopped long ago, after local and state legislature banned it due to health regulations. What the exact reasons were Daniel wasn’t quite sure.
He’d been dwelling on that very thought when his automobile began to sputter, hiss causing him to pull off the road. Suddenly he was overwhelmed, with feelings of hopelessness. Even after his car coasted to a complete dead stop the house with the graveyard remain in his thoughts.
Its facade was in severe disrepair and years of the sun’s intense light bleached the last hint of painted color from its clap-board siding. There was also a tall, wrought iron fence surrounding the old cemetery, this caught Daniel’s eye too. The barriers menacing looking speared rods amazingly still held their jet black color, without any hint of giving way to the rust surely plaguing the metal day after day, year after year. They appeared to have just been painted. Based on the modest amount of architectural knowledge Daniel possessed and what he’d observed
as he drove pass the old place carbon dating of the house came to mind…
The wind now picked up creating gusts, making the thousands of stray leaf skated along across the ground, on their way to nowhere. The land rustled with the sound of their collisions, as each one demanded passage from the other, as if chased along by unseen autumn demons. Sunset would be upon him soon and Daniel knew he had less than an hour of daylight left. Afterward the darkness would come along, with the cold that accompanied it. The countryside looked huge as he walked along the roadside and the woods appeared to go on forever, ending only on the far horizon, where farmhouses could be seen dotting the scenery in the distance. The only trouble was those farmhouses were at least ten miles away from him.
The landscaped was beautiful from Daniel’s perspective and the ground looked like a giant patchwork quilt of paled greens and creamy, dried out yellows flowing up and down across the rolling valley. Farm country was all around him and he could see miles of corn and what looked like pumpkins to the east. The woods seemed to go on forever and he wasn’t sure of what lay up ahead in them. The logical thing to do was to back track toward the open countryside and seek help somewhere he’d seen along the way. The old house, or gas station he’d passed would probably have a phone so he could call a wrecker and get his broken down automobile off the roadside.
Faced with walking a few miles to find help didn’t bother Daniel quite as much as the thought of having to walk through the woods, at night. He had no idea how far they went, he also didn’t know where they came out; but he knew he might find himself just deeper into nowhere if he tried crossing through them and it seemed like a foolish thing to do. ‘Besides, with his luck he’d probably run into a misplaced bear that would eat him,’ he thought with a chuckle. No, it was a wiser choice walking back toward the gas station and the house he’d driven by earlier. He estimated it to be between two or three miles away, he was sure he’d seen somebody outside at the gas station near the pumps. That was the only apparent sign of life he’d seen in over two hours.
Daniel was between nothing and nowhere to go now anyway, so after rolling up all the windows and locking the doors on his traitorous, mechanical monster Daniel started the long journey back down the road looking for anyone that could help him.
Not only was the wind unusually cold on his face but the daylight was vanishing quickly. The woods the road ran through seemed to slowly creep up toward him as he walked back looking for the buildings he’d seen earlier.
At one point the paved road appeared to vanish altogether under the dense overgrowth choking its cracked surface.
Daniel also noticed that the asphalt appeared to be the kind he remembered from his childhood days, not the high tech grading asphalt that is used today but the poorly mixed, lumpy kind, with large stones, from an era gone by.
Suddenly the woods felt uncomfortably wrong as if someone or something was watching him. Its trees reached skyward, like the great Sequoias of the west-coast.
Their earthy, overpowering smell of autumn blistered his senses with the sweet aroma of dead leafs. On the distant horizon Daniel could now see the squared outline of a building coming into view. He couldn’t wait to ‘be out
of the woods,’ he thought.
Daniel knew the only means of payment he possessed was a credit card already near its limit.
If the auto repair costs exceeded this maybe he could work out a deal with the owner paying the remainder of his debt later. Daniel hoped it wouldn’t come to that but the only other thing he owned of value beside his car was a gold pocket watch his father had left him years ago. He would never part with it though, even if it meant walking a thousand miles.
His feet were starting to hurt now, he estimated that he’d put about two miles between himself and his broken down car. The gas station was getting closer and closer with every step he took. It occurred kind of odd to him that with darkness now here the station owner neglected to turn any lights on yet, he hoped it wasn’t closed. He did remember seeing a huge Dino the dinosaur sign, with a Phillips 66 logo on it as he’d driven by it earlier but that was all he remembered as his attention had been on the old house.
True, it was years since he’d seen a retro Phillips 66 sign but it wasn‘t that unusual. He’d seen many old gas station signs while driving he didn’t know existed anymore in the mid-west. He was in a part of Illinois he’d never been, new sights were to be expected. ‘People are drawn toward nostalgia these days. It’s probably owned by some old fart that collects gas station memorabilia, thought Daniel. He could collect dinosaur shit for all Daniel cared, as long as he accepted credit cards.’
Suddenly it dawned on him that not a single car drove pass him, he’d been walking for over an hour and not a single car. ‘He must really be in the sticks’, he thought. Then he imagined a farmer on a tractor, bouncing along toward him offering him a ride. The possibility of it made Daniel grin from ear to ear. Suddenly, like fireworks on the horizon the sign of the big green dinosaur named Dino became illuminated with bright light. ‘Glorious, rescuing light,’ thought Daniel, as his pulse raced with excitement.
Daniel strained to walk faster toward the oasis of salvation that lay less than a quarter-of-a-mile ahead of him, the night air even started becoming warmer and he could think of nothing else other than a drink of water and something to eat.
As Daniel drew closer to the gas station he could hear the faint sound of music coming from its direction. Its beat felt strangely hypnotic, drawing him closer and closer with every musical note it made. He recognized the melody now, it was a tune from the late 50’s entitled Chantilly Lace, by a long deadmusician that called himself the Big Bopper. Daniel remembered the song from his childhood, back when the world seemed so much better to him.
He listened as the music seemed to drift on the air along with the firefly that floated magically above the tall grasses. Their tiny greenish lights appeared to be blinking in unison with the notes. It looked like a scene from Shakespeare’s A Mid Summers Night Dream, the closer Daniel got, the clearer the lyrics
became. The song seemed to call to him like a siren calls to a sailor at sea. Chantilly Lace had a pretty face, had a ponytail hanging down, had a wiggle in her walk and a giggle in her talk… -The Big Bopper-
After what seemed like an eternity Daniel finally arrived at the edge of the gas station’s graveled lot. He could hear the small rocks crunching under his feet with each step he took toward the front door.
Daniel could see bottle caps littering the ground everywhere he looked from Coke, Seven Up and just about every other pop ever made. Then something on the ground caught Daniel’s eye, something he’d not seen in a long time.It was a bottle cap from a Mr. Willie’s soda.
This discovery absolutely delighted him, so after stooping down, while feeling quite silly he quickly picked the cap up, pocketed it, before anyone saw him doing so. The cap looked new but Daniel knew this was quite impossible
since nobody produced Mr. Willie’s root beer, in over twenty years. Not only did they not make Mr. Willies pop anymore, but this particular kind of bottle cap was also obsolete, having been replaced by twist offs years ago. Then
Daniel started noticing other strange things that seemed out of place.
There was the super-service sign attached to the island pole next to the gas pumps. ‘Now there’s a novelty, he thought. It was hard enough to get a gas station attendant off their lazy ass just to check your oil,let alone to expect super-service these days.’
Gas station owners across the United States realized years ago that it was much more profitable to cut the payroll down by offering a self serve option to their customers, this also eliminated the impatient and irritated customer that just couldn’t wait for a slow attendant to come forward and whom after honking their horns for five minutes, simply drove away, causing lost business.
Now those customers had an option of pumping gas without assistance or paying a slight bit more for an attendant to rattle his ass. Either way the customer was still buying the gas they came for…
Besides the out dated bottle caps dotting the parking lot and the unbelievable signs Daniel noticed something else he hadn’t seen in years. Air hoses stretched across the driveway that rang a bell whenever a car drove over them alerting the attendant that a customer had arrived. Daniel knew some places still used these but for the most part they’d disappeared, along with super service and Mr. Willie’s soda.
He purposely stepped on one to get an audible reaction. Immediately he heard the bell’s loud ding echo from somewhere inside the station. Everything here was retro but the thing that struck him as being really odd was the gas station owner still offering a collectable coin game that Daniel knew had been over since his early teens. How could this business continue to offer prizes? Not to mention it had also turned out to be proven a scam, perpetrated by the big petroleum companies, on their unsuspecting customers in the late fifties.
Daniel saw more outdated things everywhere he looked. Fly strips hung here and there as if they made up the front lines to the greatest bug war to ever daunt the planet earth, then there were the punctured, empty oil cans, with the old fashioned spout holes in the tops overflowing from the trash cans at the islands. Even the pumps appeared ancient with their flip number readouts and glass bubble filters on top. If this weren’t enough he also spotted a 1950
gold colored Rambler, in mint condition parked in the garage. It even had matching year tags that he could see through the service door’s bay windows. This must be some kind of roadside museum, thought Daniel. Everything was just too preserved and staged looking. Even the neon dinosaur light in the window appeared strange and out of place as it buzzed and flickered while spelling out OPEN!
“Can I be of service to you?” A voice from behind Daniel asked. This caught Daniel by surprise and after spinning around he found himself face to face with a little old man, wearing oil stained coveralls.
“We don’t get many folks up around these parts anymore, said the old man. Not since they bypassed old sixty-six with that new highway.”
The old man took a step backward creating more distance as if out of respect for Daniel and then said,
“Yes sir, I saw you earlier off in the distance, hiking up the road. I would’ve drove out and offered you a lift but my cars on the rack, as you can plainly see. After saying this, the man turned, motioned toward the Rambler on the lift with one hand, while he scratched at his scalp full of white hair with the other. I figure your car probably broke down somewhere… That right?”
Daniel could see that the old man bore the marks of a hard life, from the wear and tear on his face.
The man seemed like a kind person, in spite of his rugged, weather beaten features. Daniel quietly estimated the old man’s age to be closer to seventy than sixty and was amazed by the good shape the senior citizen was still in.
“Names Augustus Jackson, but my friends just call me Gus,” he said. He then extended his hand toward Daniel in a friendly gesture.
“And you might be?” The old man asked, while shaking Daniel‘s hand.
“Daniel White but my friends call me Danny,” he replied.
“What’s a fellow like you doing wandering around at this time of night on foot?” Gus asked.
“My car overheated about three miles up the road,” replied Daniel, as he pointed toward the direction from
which he’d walked.
“I knew it! Gus said, as he slapped his knee. I just knew it! He repeated. There’s not much up that way anymore except woods and weeds. I figured you broke down. I remember a time when people use to motor through these parts, like there was no tomorrow. Those air hoses would ring non-stop all day and night.
Now the only time they make a sound is when I jump on them to break the silence. These days the only traffic
I really get through here is an occasional tumble weed, or a lost jack rabbit,” said the old man, looking very
After saying this Gus spit out a large plug of chewed tobacco he’d neatly tucked away in his jaw and then proceeded to kick it across the gravel with the toe of his boot. Then he stomped on the rubber hose laying stretched
between the two men producing another loud ding from somewhere within the building.
“Dog gone it I love that sound!” He said.
Then he reached into the pocket of his coveralls and pulled out a pair of horn rimmed glasses.
Gus slowly put the glasses on, while indecisively adjusting them. After eventually reaching satisfaction with his eyewear he plunged his hand into his back pocket and pulled out a yellowed, crumpled road map. Then he slowly unfolded it like it was the map to some great, lost treasure. After scanning the map very carefully he pointed to its middle. “That is where we are.”
Daniel looked at the spot to which the old man pointed and could see the name Pleasant Valley.
“There are no outside signs marking us physically anymore, because we’re unincorporated and all the residents sold their property’s years ago to move where there are better pickings. There’s only one business left here and one house, they both belong to me,” explained Gus.
“I saw the house on my way through, said Daniel, it has a wrought iron fence around it right?”
“That would surely be my place, replied Gus, now smashing the air hose with his foot again. My great grandfather built it with his own hands, then handed it down to my grandfather, who handed it down to my father, who handed it down to yours truly, said Gus, sounding proud now. My family’s been residing in it for over one hundred years now, Gus added, while tilting his head way back and laughing.
There’s four generations of Jackson’s buried out back in the family plot behind the old place. My great grandfather opened this gas station way back in the days of the first automobiles, it’s been here ever since.”
Daniel wanted to mention the strange feelings the old farmhouse gave him when he had passed it earlier but after careful thought decided not to, fearing he might insult Gus. No sooner than this thought crossed Daniel’s mind when Gus piped up with a confession about the condition of the property, as if he’d read Daniel’s mind.
“I’ve been meaning to paint the old place one of these days but my legs just aren’t able to take standing on a ladder anymore, said Gus. The house use to be a pale shade of yellow but the Sun has faded all the color right out of the wood. Anyway enough about my troubles, tell me how I can help you?”
“I need my car repaired but I don’t have very much cash, replied Daniel, sounding stressed now. I do have a credit card but I’m not sure if it would cover the repair cost.”
“Well young man, said Gus, I can’t tow it for you because I sold my tow truck years ago due to the towing business drying up around here.”
“What I can do though is repair it for you, if we can get it here to my garage. It sounds like you might have thrown a belt or ran out of water, or something simple like that. I’ll get my car finished and down off the rack in about thirty minutes if you want to hang around that long and wait for me. I was changing old Betty’s oil, giving her a long overdue tune-up when you came along,” said Gus. “I would be forever grateful, said Daniel,
I’ll wait as long as it takes. I have nowhere to go anyway and all the time in the world to get there, added Daniel. I just need my car running to get there on time.”
The old man started to walk away but now stopped and turned toward Daniel upon hearing this. His face looked angry and Daniel was afraid he’d somehow said something wrong to the old man. Gus stopped walking toward Daniel when he was less than two feet away from him, he then proceeded to look Daniel over, as if taking a deep study of the much younger man. Then he took a handkerchief from his rear pocket and after thoroughly blowing his nose all over the red paisley cloth said… “Son, we all have somewhere we belong and a time to be there. May not seem like it sometimes but we do.
You just remember that and you’ll be all right. Trust old Gus on this one, you’ll get along just fine.” Then he turned toward the garage and began to walk back in a very deliberate, fast pace. This caused minimal alarm for Daniel,because he didn’t know what the old man was going to do next.
Daniel looked for a place to sit while the old man finished the Rambler. He spotted a wicker chair near the entrance of the station and headed toward it. After sitting down in the chair, he noticed something just inside the front door that brought back very old memories and a kind of unexplainable joy from within.
It was an old soda pop dispenser. On the red front, in big, bold, white letters it read: “Drink Mr. Willie’s.”
What were the chances it held within itself the cold beverage which was revered and enjoyed like “the nectar of the gods” by Daniel and his friends so many years ago?
Daniel stood up and made his way toward the soda dispenser. Slowly he lifted its lid, to Daniel’s amazement it contained ice cold “Mr. Willie’s” root beer. Daniel regarded what he saw within the iced chest in the same manner a diver would upon finding a sunken treasure. Daniel looked everywhere for a coin deposit slot but couldn‘t find one.
Then he noticed an opened can sitting on the service counter that read: Soda pop fee 10 cents.
Daniel dug deep within his pockets and after some searching retrieved a dime and dropped it into the can. He then positioned the bottle into the opener on the side of the dispenser and with a jerking motion he opened up his childhood and the best drink ever made. Daniel slowly tipped the bottle to his lips and drank of its liquid heaven. It was a perfect night out, the sounds of a thousand crickets filled the air. Daniel soon finished his root beer and after settling deep into the chair fell fast asleep.
“She’s all done!” Was the first thing Daniel remembered hearing and the voice seemed to come from very far away. Then he felt a hand violently shaking his shoulder.
“I said she’s all finished Danny! The voice repeated, we can go take a look at your car now!”
Daniel slowly opened his eyes and remembered where he was now. He’d been having the greatest dream about being back with his children, laughing and playing in the park they used to enjoy together. Now the crisp smell of the fall air snapped him back to reality. The old man stood in front of him, wiping and wringing the oil off of his hands, onto an old rag.
“I must have dozed off,” he told Gus.
“You were snoring like a buzz saw! Gus said and you looked like you needed a nap anyway. Start shaking the sand out of your eyes, before some cat comes along and craps in um. Let’s get going so we can find out if that tired car of yours will start. I have a good lantern we can take along so we’ll be able to see. Those woods can get awful dark and cold at night. We’ll see if we can get your car running long enough to get it back here, so I can work on it properly. There are some water jugs, gasoline and jumper cables in my car’s trunk.
One of those should be the ticket to getting your car back here tonight, as unpopulated as it is around here you still don’t want to leave your car unattended for too long. You never know what could happen to it, some punk kids might come along and tear it up, or something like that,” said Gus, sounding very concerned now.
Daniel rose from the chair he’d been so comfortably sleeping in just minutes before and started to follow Gus who was already getting into the gold Rambler. Daniel walked around to the passenger side, opened the door and slid into what looked like a brand new car. It even had that new car smell. Gus turned the ignition key and the motor roared to life.
Gus then turned on the headlights and after pushing a square button with a letter D on it they were on their way toward the darkened woods and Daniel’s mechanical thorn. “So where are you from son?” Gus asked Daniel, as the two drove away into the night.
“Originally I’m from a small place in Illinois called Waukegan. I was born and raised there. My father died when I was only nine months old, leaving my mother to raise me and three other siblings. After she died and my second child was born I moved to the south side of Chicago. I left all I ever knew behind me to start a new life, with my new family, in a new place. We were happy for a while but it didn’t last very long. My wife became estranged to me and all that goes along with the responsibility of being married. Trying to make ends meet in today’s world is rough. I was always exhausted and soon she began sneaking around with other men. I had no idea at first and tried to work things out with her but she didn’t want too, so we got a divorce.”
“Time has taken its toll on my life and just about everything, or everyone I knew has either changed or moved, or died. After going back to Waukegan the only thing I found was memories. I visited all my old stomping grounds and reflected on my life gone pass me so far. After re-energizing all the good memories and old places I decided to leave, hoping to find a better life for myself. I really have nothing to lose anymore, because I feel I’ve already lost
it all. My life feels ruined and I believe things can only get better, no matter where I end up…” Daniel said.
“Do you miss your kids?” Gus asked.
“Yes, I miss them something awful, replied Daniel. I plan on visiting them as soon as I get myself back together, I love them with all my heart.”
“I just don’t know what’s wrong with some people these days, said Gus. It seems like a lot of people think everything on the other side of the fence is the most important thing in the world anymore. They trade the ones that love them for people that don’t and the sad thing is the traders always get left behind in the end.
By then everything is way too late to reverse, the damage is done. Children grow up without one parent in the home while some other strange joker moves in. It’s just all wrong! I don’t think that’s the way God wants things when he joins two people together and blesses them with children. I just don’t see it.”
“Each married person makes a promise to God in the beginning to honor their mate, before you know it, that promise is all too quickly forgotten. It’s at that point that God stops blessing them and the devil starts laughing.
The good Lord has a plan for each and every one of us, it never includes the destruction of love, or families. That’s the sole result of moral absence in this world,” continued Gus. People need to go to church, stick together and work out their problems when they come along in a relationship, not call it quits. If you really want to make something work it does.”
“Everyone has dreams and God helps us to fulfill the good ones. When a person becomes petty and screws those dreams up out of selfishness it comes back on them sevenfold and the children suffer too! Yup, I just don’t understand where some people’s brains, or values are anymore. Hanging out in the bars, taking drugs to alter reality and cheating on their spouses like a dog running around off its leash! Some say it’s the sign of the times,” concluded
Gus, very disappointed.
“Well my ex-wife has put me through an awful lot of misery and I need to step way back to get my perspectives balanced again,” said Daniel.
“Sometimes we all need to do that Danny. Yes sir! Sometimes we all need to,” Gus said, in total agreement now.
“What about you Gus? Daniel asked, as they rolled along the darkened highway. Do you have family?”
“I do but they don‘t live here anymore, replied Gus. They moved on to another state, leaving me here.”
“So you live by yourself in that old farmhouse and run your business at the gas station alone too?”
“That’s about the size of it, answered Gus, with a loud laugh. My beautiful wife of twenty-five-years suddenly left me and our daughter followed her soon after. It’s a terrible thing when a man loses his family, it causes one to
wonder where it all goes, for what reasons I guess,” answered Gus, sounding very distant and sad now.
“Did you ever feel like just lying down and giving up sometimes when you get real lonesome Gus?”
“I think we all do sometimes Danny but the laying down part never appealed to me. You have to go on to see how it all turns out, Heck you never know you might hit the lottery or something, just when you think your life has all turned to slush,” said Gus, laughing again.
If I’d hit the lotto in my younger days I’d have sailed around the world, on my own yacht,” Gus said.
Suddenly the Rambler’s lights shined on the car Daniel abandoned earlier that evening.
“That your beast?” Gus asked, knowing perfectly well it was.
“Yup that’s my temperamental little jewel sleeping by the roadside,” answered Daniel.
“Well let’s go see if we can wake her up!” Gus shouted, grinning ear to ear now.
Gus popped the hood on the old Crown Victoria and unscrewed the radiator cap, then while holding his lantern in one hand and the cap in the other he proceeded to look deep within its aluminum bowls.
“She’s bone dry alright! He announced, in a loud all knowing voice. Get that water jug out of my trunk and we’ll fill her up,” instructed Gus. Daniel retrieved the water jug from the already opened trunk.
“Do you still have gas left in her?” Gus asked.
“Yes, it should still have about a half a tank,” answered Daniel.
“How was the battery holding up last time you cranked the motor?”
“It was about dead and barely turning the starter,” replied Daniel.
“Then get me those jumper cables and we’ll have a go at her again.”
Daniel retrieved the cables from the Rambler’s trunk and watched as Gus hooked them up. Gus then connected the other ends to his own battery under the Rambler’s hood. “Let her charge for a minute, then we’ll give her a whirl, Gus instructed, over the drone of the Rambler’s motor. Minutes later he said, try her now!”
Daniel sat down in the driver’s seat of the Crown Victoria and turned the ignition key, the sleeping motor instantly roared to life.
“Give her time to charge up more, then I’ll escort you back to the station,” Gus told his new friend.
Soon Daniel was driving toward the gas station again with old Augustus Jackson trailing close behind. Upon arriving Gus removed the sign he’d hung on the door prior to their leaving and unlocked the station once again.
Daniel climbed out of the Crown Victoria and followed the old man into the building.
“Let’s get her up on the rack, so I can have a look at the motor with better lighting, said Gus, then we’ll figure out where we’re going to go from there.”
Daniel pulled the car inside the service bay, onto the ramps like instructed. Then Gus activated the lever, raising the automobile up, on the lift, so he could better inspect the vehicle. Gus then disappeared under the car while Daniel waited in the front of the station. During this time Daniel found himself drinking three more Mr. Willie’s root beers. After about an hour Gus reappeared and announced the car was repaired.
Apparently a hose had worn through and burst along with a plugged hole causing a gradual coolant loss, which brought the great metal beast to a halt. Gus replaced the hose and repaired a few other minor problems, hopefully avoiding anymore breakdowns in the near future.
“What’s the damage Gus?” the younger man asked.
“Well, with parts and labor it comes to about one-hundred-seventy-five dollars giving, or taking a few bucks, answered Gus. Seeing how you don’t have that kind of cash on you and I don’t take that there credit card you mentioned I guess it will have to be on the house! Besides I don’t charge my good friends anyway…” Gus added, as he smiled a toothy grin again.
“I don’t know how I can ever repay you Gus,” said Daniel.
“Don’t sweat it kid, just remember there’re still people that care about other people in this world, even though sometimes it doesn‘t feel like it. You’ll find your inner strengths when the world seems to team up on you if you remember that.”
“I’ll remember it my friend.” Daniel assured the old man.
“Good! Would it be asking too much in return for my labor tonight if you stayed the night as my guest and helped me clean up the family plot behind my house in the morning? Gus asked. It’s supposed to be a nice autumn day tomorrow and I’ve been meaning to get it done.
“No problem Gus, after the way you helped me tonight I’ll paint your house for you come next summer if you want me too!”
“No need for that anymore but I really appreciate your offer, said Gus. No sir. Just a good weeding and some cleaning up would be a great help to me son. We all need a good weeding now and then, even old Gus!” He said,chuckling.
Then he started flicking a row of switches, turning the service station’s lights off for the night.
“Let me lock up and pull your car around to the front, so we can go get some supper and a much deserved rest tonight. Gus said. It’s been a long day and old Gus’s bones are very tired now.”
Daniel stepped outside the gas station again and waited, while Gus backed the Ford out of the bay.
After doing so he stopped it in front of Daniel, got out and tossed the younger man the keys.
Soon Daniel was following his new friend back down the road from which he’d originally came.
Five minutes later, both vehicles were turning into the driveway of the old farmhouse. After pulling his car all the way to the end of the driveway Gus got out and motioned for Daniel to come inside. Gus entered ahead of his new friend and turned the porch light on illuminating the way for his welcomed guest.
Daniel could see the lights going on throughout the house as Gus went from room to room flipping on the switches.
Stepping inside the door of the old place was like stepping into a time machine. The first room Daniel entered, was the living room. Gus offered him a seat on an old chair with the springs showing. Gus covered these up with a folded newspaper and motioned for Daniel to sit down.
Gus had very little in the way of furniture or anything else in his house. An old couch sat pushed up against the far wall. It too looked weather beaten and terribly worn like its owner. Daniel plopped down in the seat offered by his gracious host and quickly became very comfortable. The old man then stepped out of the room toward a hallway and disappeared somewhere into the house. Daniel could hear him whistling a tune that Daniel’s own father use to whistle when she worked around the house.
The song just endeared Daniel to the old man even more. Daniel thought about how nice it was for someone that had so little, to share so much. Shortly afterward, Gus reappeared in the living room from somewhere in the back of the house and announced that supper would be ready in less than five minutes. Furthermore they would be eating canned stew that Gus had opened in honor of his special guest. The old man then left the room again heading for the kitchen to resume preparing their meal. No more than five minutes could have passed when Gus returned with the stew flanked by crackers and announced that dinner was ready.
Gus then motioned for Daniel to help himself and soon Daniel was eating the best stew he‘d ever tasted, even if it was cold. After filling his belly Daniel felt totally at peace within himself. He’d made a new good friend, ate a delicious dinner and his car was repaired. ‘What more could he ask for at this point?’ After dinner, the two remained in the living room for some good old fashion conversation and relaxation. Gus reminisced about times that passed in his life, while Daniel listened intensely. He found the old man very interesting and especially liked the way Gus laughed at everything. He seemed to be about the lightest hearted and most friendly person Daniel had ever met. Daniel was enjoying Gus’s company to no end. It seemed like a long time since Daniel felt this happy. Life looked bright again and he felt true grace.
Finally Gus looked at his watch and announced it was almost midnight, which was his time to retire to bed because “when you became an old coot like him you needed all the beauty sleep you can get!”
Daniel laughed at this and considered Gus as a kind of parental figure now.
He’d forgotten all his troubles for the first time in months and actually felt like somebody now. Gus stood up and left the room briefly but soon returned with an old pillow and a tattered blanket.
“It’s not much but it’s all I have on such short notice, said Gus, it looks like those damn moths have been eating it for lunch again. I’ve owned this blanket for many years. It’s full of little holes but still a good ass warmer. It should keep you warm enough tonight.” He then tossed the articles toward Daniel and instructed him once again “to make himself at home. He would have a big day ahead of him in the morning weeding and cleaning up that old family plot! It was years since it had been attended too.”
Daniel looked forward to doing something nice for the man that not only had helped him out of a bad situation but been a true friend to him too.
Immediately after lying down on the couch Daniel fell into a deep asleep. The next morning he awoke with the sun shining directly into his face through a tear in an old tattered shade. He could hear what sounded like a mob of crows outside cawing at each other. ‘They’re probably fighting over a ball of tin foil or something else shiny,’
Daniel thought as he sat up on the couch. He then looked around for signs of Gus but didn’t see him anywhere.
Daniel was sure the old man was still sleeping.
Daniel would let the older man rest, without disturbance and start the task of weeding alone.
‘Maybe he could get it all done before his friend woke up and surprise him,’ Daniel hoped.
Somehow the house looked totally different when Daniel stood up. The furniture looked much more worn than it did the night before. Daniel simply dismissed this as something he’d failed to notice due to being over tired and poor lighting. Then it hit him like a safe falling on his head. The house was empty except for the chair, the newspaper and the couch with the old pillow and blanket on which he’d slept.
Daniel then started a room to room search for his friend Gus. All the rooms were empty totally empty.
No furniture, no Gus, no nothing. Daniel walked toward the backdoor of the house and then stepped outside.
He could see the twisted, rusted shell of a car that appeared to be a gold Rambler, like the one Gus drove, resting next to a dilapidated garage. Daniel looked around the yard of the farm house, still hoping to see the old man somewhere on the property. ‘Maybe Gus awoke before him and was either already out back weeding or down at the gas station.
After failing to see Gus anywhere on the property Daniel decided he would drive to the station where Gus must be. He looked at his watch to check the time and realized it stopped, at exactly twelve-o’clock.
There was no way of knowing how long he’d been asleep now. In all probability much later than he’d intended. He hoped Gus wasn’t mad at him, or thought him lazy.
Daniel started his car and headed toward the gas station, the car seemed to run much better than it ran before. He was very grateful to Gus for that. Hell, he was grateful to Gus for everything the old man had done for him. Then the gas station came into view but something was terribly wrong. Its windows were boarded up and the building was abandoned. Daniel brought the Crown Victoria to a sudden halt and jumped out as fast as he could in total panic. The place was right but everything else was wrong. The Dino sign had holes through it where somebody used for target practice and only bolts remained where the gas pumps once
stood. The gravel lot that was littered with bottle caps the night before now was just a field of weed choked land. ‘This can’t be right thought Daniel. It just can’t be! He must be having a nightmare or perhaps went the wrong way on the road. How else could he explain it? It couldn’t be the same gas station that he’d spent nearly four hours at the night before.’
Daniel’s head was starting to spin and in his panic he decided to drive back to the farmhouse still hoping to find some explanation. ‘The old man would show up and explain everything to Daniel eventually,’ he hoped.
After arriving back at the old man’s place Daniel made one last sweep of its interior in an effort to locate his friend. He found nothing. Then he spotted the old newspaper which lay neatly folded on the chair. After picking it up Daniel read the headline “Family killed in terrible collision.”
The paper told how one Augustus Jackson, his wife and a daughter all died after a truck driver fell asleep and lost control killing Gus and his wife instantly, it said that the daughter died later.
The story also mentioned “no living next of kin” and that all victims were to be buried in their family plot, with a service handled by the county. The paper was dated October twenty-seventh, the year was 1950.
Daniel felt his legs becoming weak and he stepped outside to the back yard once again and began walking toward the graveyard, looking for anything, or anyone for that matter to explain to him just what the hell was happening. He traveled only a short distance into the cemetery when every question he had for his friend
Gus was suddenly answered. For there in front of Daniel stood three tombstones, each with photographs of the interred member that read: Daughter Chloe Jackson 1938 to 1950, Mother Amy Jackson 1897 to 1950 and Father Augustus Jackson, 1895 to 1950. A memoriam on Gus’s tombstone read: “A friend to all.” Upon seeing this Daniel finally understood what Gus had meant when he said “there is always someone that cares…”
Daniel also understood now that he should never give up on hope, never give up on dreaming and especially never give up on love, no matter how dark things seemed.
After sitting near Gus’s headstone for about an hour Daniel picked some fall wild flowers and placed them on Gus’s grave. He then spent the remainder of the morning weeding the Jackson family plot.
When he finished he walked around to the front of the old house and climbed into his car. On the front seat lay four dimes and a Mr. Willie’s bottle cap. Daniel put these items into his pocket, he then proceeded to drive away toward a better life, with a renewed understanding of it…
-David S. Lewis-