SETTLING IN SETTLER
By Shah Wharton
Not sure how I came to be in Settler, but I’m glad I did. I’d been driving through an electrical storm and lost direction. Although, I’d been coasting for over a month by then. A rundown old service station appeared on the long, solitary road that threatened to wrench me into slumber and swerve my car into a ditch. So I pulled in then ran inside to escape torrential rain and harsh winds.
The jaundiced, ragged fella behind the counter noticed the bags under my eyes and advised me to lodge for the night at the Leeds Motel in Settler, the only town for miles. Sounded like an idea. After paying cash for gas, cigarettes, and a stale corn dog, I told him to keep the change. It wasn’t much. Besides, his fingernails hadn’t seen a nail brush in decades. Still, I tipped an imaginary cap before leaving to follow his inebriated directions.
When I arrived, boards covered the windows of the motel, and a for sale sign reached out of the ground, trembling in the wind to mock me.
Old bastard needs putting out of his misery, sending me here.
Couldn’t afford Blacke’s pricey resort and spa when I got there, and although they suggested the RV Park, I didn’t drive no goddamn RV. Turns out, tired as a working dog, I found myself stuck in Settler without a bed, at least until morning. My car offered the only accommodation me for yet another night. But first, I needed a drink.
If there’s no bed, there must be beer.
The storm couldn’t have reached Settler. Although the ground glistened with a covering of dark rain, the streets should have been flooded from downpour that’d soaked me moments ago and a mile away. And in spite of the wind speed I’d experienced on my way in, nothing appeared out-of-place in Settler. No fallen trees, no trash cans in the middle of the road, no litter tossed across the street, like confetti. Felt as though Settler lived enclosed with its own atmosphere, adjacent to but outside of the rest of the world.
Told myself sunset caused the change in atmosphere as I parked up, locked up, and left the car to explore. My legs longed for movement and my belly begged for sustenance.
A misplaced hazy moon moved higher overhead as the sun died. Both set in one of the most awe-inspiring skies I’d ever seen. Strips of gold, black, and silver merged, imitating frenzied Maypole ribbons, and together, they led my prowl through the weird town.
Dogs barked at me as I walked by, but they always did that. They knew instinctively not to come too close.
Noticed several for sale signs stood erect outside various businesses on my way to The Sparrow Roadhouse, also open for business and for sale. Positioned at the upper end of Brucker Avenue, across from the library and near one of those fossil digs I’d heard about, I smiled as I arrived. I’d done a little digging myself, though not for fossils.
After ordering a beer and a whiskey chaser, the barmaid snubbed me. Tarts hate when I don’t stare at their breasts, despite their best efforts to thrust and adorn them. Imagining her with a bloody nose helped me to smile as I thanked her for the drinks.
Behind me in a booth, four smokers polluted the air I breathed and I wanted to hurry them on with their own suicides, but there would be time for fun once I’d gotten my bearings. The dim street lantern bled in through uncovered windows, allowing me to survey my surroundings. People fascinated me as much as they disgusted me, but most offered something I needed if I dug deep enough. Sally hated that about me, along with every other thing I’d stopped her whining about.
Several stressed town’s folk huddled together close by, whispering their concerns a little too loud to be private. My head down, I drank and listened, making mental notes. Their whispers suggested a few folks in Settler had disappeared, while others died without warning. I chewed my gum so as not to grin.
How ’bout that? No wonder everything’s up for sale.
After finishing off my drinks, I ordered another round for the road. But this time, I winked at the brazen barmaid. She offered a predictable, flirty response. The bloody nose could wait awhile. All too easy. As she poured and nattered to herself, I glanced over my shoulder and out the window, inhaled my heady good fortune, and silently thanked the storm for leading me to Settler.
Guy like me can make a killing in a place like this.