HEADING FOR DILLABOUGH
By Paul Finnigan
A yellow convertible sped by a cattle crossing road sign on a lonely country highway. Aaron Gelately speed shifted into fourth gear as his twin brother, Scott, sat next to him, their hair blowing in the breeze.
“Don't give me any crap,” Aaron commented. “You haven’t had a date in weeks. The truth is that neither of us could buy a date right now.”
“Okay, okay, so I’ve been in a bit of a slump lately.” Scott shrugged.
“A bit of a slump!” chuckled Aaron. “Let's call it a slouch.”
“What is it with women anyway?” said Scott. “No matter how cool you play it, they can still sense your desperation.”
Aaron geared down as they rounded a sharp curve and drove out of the wooded area and into open country.
“What did you bring us away out into the country for?” mumbled Scott. “You think we’re going to meet some beautiful farmer’s daughters or something?”
“You did mention the word desperation,” Aaron added jokingly.
The convertible continued to cruise down Highway 11 and passed by a dilapidated one bay garage and gas station.
“Classy,” remarked Scott.
Suddenly, Aaron began to squint and shaded his eyes.
“What do you make of that up ahead of us?”
“It’s hard to say. You’d better slow down just to be safe,” Scott advised.
Aaron pulled the car over onto the gravel shoulder and alongside a middle-aged man who was dressed in a pair of blue coveralls and riding a bicycle. The man was picking through a brown paper shopping bag hanging from one of the handlebars. The character made his way over to the passenger’s side and peered in with a toothless grin.
“How’s she goin’?” he asked cheerfully.
“Good, good thanks,” Scott replied.
The man extended his hand.
“Wilmer Fouts. Pleased to meet yuh. You fellars lost or somethin’?”
“No, no we were just out touring around and spotted you from a distance,” Aaron replied. “We weren’t sure just what it was crossing back and forth over the highway.”
Wilmer reached back into his shopping bag.
“Well I’m just out on my daily run, pickin’ bottles. That’s my garage ’bout a mile back. Don’t operate it no more though. Not since Arnie passed on.”
Aaron and Scott glanced at one another.
“Oh, I’m sorry. Arnie was?” Scott queried.
“Arnie was my older brother but he’s been dead these past two years,” Wilmer explained. “Yep, Arnie was the best damned mechanic in these here parts. Me, I’m just sort of a hammer mechanic so I ran the gas station. But even the pumps don’t work no more.”
Aaron looked at Wilmer sympathetically.
“That’s too bad. Look uh....you’re a busy man. We don’t want to hold you up in longer.”
“No, couldn’t call me busy anytime soon. ’Cept maybe busy doin’ nuthin’. Oh I collect a few bottles here and there. A little scrap metal now and again, just to supplement my main income.”
“Your main income?” Scott inquired.
“Welfare. Yeah, welfare,” Wilmer replied. “Good thing Arnie doesn’t know anything about it though. He’d roll over in his grave. Arnie never had much use fer welfare. Called it farewell. Don’t care much fer it myself but a fellar has got to get by somehow.”
“Well, Wilbur,” said Aaron, glancing at his watch.
“Wilmer! Wilmer! I’m sorry,” Aaron responded quickly.
“That’s okay young fellar,” Wilmer replied with a chuckle. “You was pretty close. Besides, I’ve been called worse. Come to think of it, Arnie used to say to call him anything but late fer breakfast.”
“Look Wilmer, it was nice meeting you,” said Aaron. “But we’ve got to go.”
“Hittin’ the dusty trail are yuh? Where you fellars off to anyhow?”
Suddenly, Wilmer began jumping up and down with excitement.
“Wait, wait don’t tell me! Bet you’re headin’ over to one of those dances in Dillabough?”
Aaron and Scott exchanged glances and paused for a few seconds. Suddenly Wilmer began doing a jig.
“Knew it, I just knew it! Arnie and I used to head over there every second Friday night. We’d stop in at Wolsey and pick up a two-four and a couple of packs of smokes. Arnie was always bent on pickin’ up a few bottles of that cheap red wine too. I think they called it Sentinel but I can’t figure out why ’cause Arnie always referred to it as panty remover.”
“Just hang on a minute,” Aaron said eagerly. “These dances in Dillabough... I mean....could you expect a lot of women to attend?”
“You kiddin’,” boasted Wilmer with a gleam in his eye. “There are all kinds of ’em and they usually outnumber the men 4 to 1. They’re all gorgeous too. Perfect tens. Specially that Betty Ann Kluzak. She was my favorite.”
Aaron turned his head to one side and looked down into the ditch.
“Look at that down there! Beer bottles. There must be a dozen of them.”
Wilmer twisted his head from side to side.
“In the ditch down there, laying up against that culvert,” answered Aaron, pointing.
Wilmer grabbed his shopping bag and hustled down into the ditch.
“Good work,” said Scott. “Let’s get out of here.”
“Just hold on a minute,” Aaron suggested. “This could be our big break. You heard him. Dozens of women! I mean...if Wilmer could guide us to Dillabough.”
“You mean bring him along with us? Are you crazy! That poor simple soul!” Scott exclaimed.
“C’mon Scott, he seems like a harmless guy, and really lonely. Maybe we could reacquaint him with that Kluzak lady he liked so much,” Aaron reasoned.
“Yeah, but Aaron, c’mon, the guy smells like an armpit.”
“Don't worry. I’ve got an idea,” said Aaron.
Suddenly, Wilmer scrambled up from out of the ditch.
“Any luck?” asked Aaron.
“Nope. There was a few bottles down there but they was busted up, not worth nuthin’” Wilmer panted.
“Sorry about that, Wilmer. I could have sworn that I...Look, Wilmer, how long has it been since you were at one of those dances?”
“Haven’t been back since Arnie passed on.”
“How would you like to go back there?”
“I’d be back there in a minute, if I could!” Wilmer exclaimed.
“Why don’t you come back with us then?” Aaron offered with a smile.
“You mean I could ride along with you fellars?”
“Yeah, we’ll take you along with us. We have a bit of a problem though, Wilmer. You see the back seat was just steam-cleaned this morning and it’s still wet. Would you ride in the trunk?”
Wilmer scratched his head and pondered the idea for a few seconds.
“Yeah, suppose I could, if it’s the only way.”
“We really don’t have much choice,” said Scott.
“Wilmer, give me one of those pop bottles and hide the rest with your bike down in the ditch,” Aaron urged. “We’ll pick them up on the way back.”
Wilmer placed the bottles and the bicycle at the bottom of the ditch in amongst some tall grass then made his way back up and out of the gully. He then quickly drew up a small map on a scratch pad that Aaron provided with detailed directions to Dillabough. Aaron led Wilmer to the rear of the car and opened the trunk.
Wilmer climbed into the trunk, stretched out and clasped his hands behind his head.
“Here, take this bottle,” said Aaron. “If it gets dusty or you have any problems, just whack it here on the side several times. If we hear you banging, we’ll pull over.”
“Okay then,” said Wilmer with a smile. “Guess I’ll see you fellars in Dillabough.”
“Right on, Wilmer. Bon voyage.”
Aaron slammed the trunk shut, jumped into his seat and drove off northbound on Highway 11.
“Strap yourself in tight and get ready to boogie, Scott,” Aaron announced with a grin. “We’re heading for Dillabough.”
The two Gelately boys didn’t waste any time making their way across a prairie-like stretch of country before being met by some steep mountainous terrain. Within an hour they’d turned off onto a side road and eventually approached a small village. Scott caught a glimpse of a sign marked Wolsey.
“We’re almost there, Aaron! Remember Wilmer mentioned that he and his brother used to stop here in Wolsey to pick up booze. It’s just a few more miles to Dillabough.”
“That’s right,” Aaron agreed. “Maybe we should check on Wilmer now.”
“No, no. Wait until we reach Dillabough. He hasn’t made a sound. Probably having a nap.”
The boys continued on and the convertible eventually cruised into a dull, gloomy looking community of dilapidated businesses and boarded-up homes.
“This has got to be it,” Aaron declared.
“I don’t understand. This place looks like a ghost town,” remarked Scott.
As Aaron swung the car around onto the main street, the boys heard a clatter coming from the trunk. They pulled over immediately.
“That’s got to be Wilmer.”
Aaron jumped out and quickly opened the trunk. Scott could see a pained look come over his brother’s face.
“He’s gone!” gasped Aaron.
Scott quickly joined Aaron and stared into the empty trunk. The only thing that remained was the empty pop bottle. The boys stood motionless for several seconds. After a brief pause, both peered in the direction of a rundown building which displayed the faded words “Dillabough Community Hall.”
“The place is deserted,” said Aaron with a bewildered frown.
“We passed by a general store back in Wolsey,” Scott recollected. “Maybe we can get some information back there.”
Aaron took his place at the wheel and Scott climbed in beside him. When the brothers reached Wolsey they located the general store and upon entry were greeted by a tall, pleasant-looking man.
“Can I help you gentlemen with anything?” asked the man, as he stepped in behind the counter.
“Just need some information, sir,” Aaron replied.
“We’re confused,” said Aaron. “We just came back from Dillabough and the place seems abandoned.”
“That’s right. Dillabough has been closed down for years,” the man assured them. “There was a gold mine that operated on the outskirts of the town for years, but once it went out of business the town just fell apart.”
“How long ago?” Scott asked
“Over twenty-five years ago.”
The boys paused to stare at one another.
“Was there a certain address you were trying to locate?” the man asked.
“Not really,” Aaron replied. “Actually we were looking for a friend of an acquaintance. You wouldn’t happen to know the name Betty Ann Kluzak by chance?”
“Betty Ann Kluzak! I remember her well. I went to school with Betty Ann. Actually she was the best looking girl in the school,” the man said thoughtfully.
At this point the man appeared to lose focus momentarily. Regaining his composure, he began to recount details of a car accident years before that involved Betty Ann Kluzak.
“Both she and the driver were killed instantly. He failed to negotiate a turn and rolled it into the ditch,” the man concluded.
After thanking the storekeeper the boys hurried out and into the car.
“This just keeps getting freakier by the minute,” Scott murmured, as they burled out of the parking lot.
“We’ve got to find Wilmer,” Aaron asserted, as he shifted into third gear.
The boys were eventually rolling along Highway 11, closing in on Wilmer’s property. Suddenly Scott motioned to Aaron.
“That’s it, you just passed it.”
“What do you mean? That’s an empty piece of property,” yelled Aaron.
“I know, but that’s it. I remember the entranceway.”
Aaron carefully made a U-turn, then entered Wilmer's property. At that point the boys heard a whirring sound and caught a red flicker in the rear-view mirror.
“Shit! It’s the Highway Patrol.”
Aaron looked nervously over at Scott as the trooper made his way towards the convertible.
“Don’t you know that it’s illegal to pull a U-ie on a state highway, son? Can I see your license and registration?"
Scott removed the documentation from the glove compartment and handed it to the officer.
“Devon! What you big city boys doin’ way out here in the country?”
“Actually...we were looking for the Fouts Garage,” said Aaron hesitantly.
“Well you found it. Or should I say, where it used to be.”
“I don’t understand,” Aaron replied.
“The old Fouts Garage has been closed down for twenty-five years or more,” the trooper responded.
“But Wilmer...” Scott interrupted.
“Wilmer Fouts? Wilmer Fouts has been dead and gone as long,” the trooper snorted.
“Are you sure that...?”
“Listen, son. The Fouts brothers have been dead for years. I used to drop in here for coffee back when I was a young patrolman. Yeah, they were great guys. Arnie went first. Ticker. Then Wilmer was killed in a car accident over on the other side of the mountain.
The boys listened in astonishment as the trooper continued his story.
“Yeah, Wilmer was cruisin’ around in his convertible with a gal he’d met at a dance in Dillabough and rolled it. Probably would have survived it if they’d been drivin’ in a hardtop.”
“But the buildings that were here?” asked Scott.
“Yeah, they stood here for years but were leveled ten, twelve years back. Some big corporation was supposed to build a gas station and diner here, but it never happened. Ground was too contaminated with gasoline from Arnie and Wilmer’s old station. They figured it would cost too much in remedial work so the place has sat vacant ever since.”
“We saw the old garage on the way in though,” Aaron insisted.
“There’s an old station that was similar lookin’ just outside Kinsey, ’bout forty miles back. Maybe you....”
Just then a call came in over the patrol car radio. The officer responded, then returned.
“I gotta take an urgent call. Guess I could let you boys off with a warning this time. Just be careful from here on.”
“I just didn’t know what to say,” sighed Aaron, as the cruiser departed.
“Don’t bother, nobody would believe us anyway. Let’s just get out of here. And by the way, next time you decide to go looking for dates, can you keep it confined to the city.” Scott pleaded.
“You know, now that I think of it, a new girl just started in Finance last week. Single too. Well, no ring anyway.”
“Good looking?” asked Aaron, wide-eyed.
“Yeah, slim brunette, with legs up to here,” Scott gestured.
“Developed enough nerve to ask her out?”
“I’m working on it,” Scott replied.
“Well, if it does work out and she has a good looking sister, will you put in a good word for me?”
“I’ll think about it,” Scott replied with a wink.
“Amen, brother!” howled Aaron as the boys turned out from the old Fouts lane onto Highway 11, and towards home.
Paul Finnigan’s short fiction has appeared in Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom. Some former publishers of his work include Boston Literary Magazine, Feathertale, The Short Humour Site, and Every Writer the Magazine.
Copyright © 2018 Paul Finnigan. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of the author is prohibited. OMDB! and OMDB! logos are trademarks of Over My Dead Body!
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