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Small Town Creek Road

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Chapter 1

The road ran straight in both directions. Crickets and cicada sang happily in the tall grasses, amongst the white wild flowers. The trees had been pushed back away from the road, leaving open fields along the edges.

No houses or buildings of any sort were here, as far as the eye could see in either direction. The trees and rolling hills didn’t help with that, however. Squirrels and other animals skittered amongst the trees. For all its peace and beauty, this scene brought no comfort to Karen.

The bubbled rust had flaked away the paint in many places. Scratches, scraped, and dents joined the rust to convey the age and use. This car was almost as old as she was. It was clearly not her preferred choice for transportation, but it was all she had. She knew she had been lucky to even have it, but it looked like those days were just about over.

The drive here had been too much. Faithful Bess made the first two hundred miles without a complaint. At the low point between two hills, just miles from her destination, according to the GPS on her phone, the old mule finally quit. With a bang and a clank, a hiss and a blast of smoke, she died right there in the middle of the road.

Karen was barely able to move her from in the street, not that it would have mattered much. Who even used County Route Seventeen, anyway? Wild animals rustled in the trees, and she had read that this was bear country. “I’ll probably be joining you soon, Bess,’ she thought cynically.

The smoke continued to roll out from under the hood. She knew that there was water nearby, she could hear the babbling of a small brook nearby. That didn’t help much. She had no idea which set of jungle it would be through, how far, or how to look out for snakes or dangerous animals. She slumped her face into her hands as she sat on the fender, wondering what she could possibly do now.

As if things couldn’t get any worse, one of the local hillbillies had made his way onto the road. Karen jumped when she caught glimpse of him; he had not been along the road when she drove by. He wasn’t what most people would expect of a hillbilly in the boonies.

He was tall and athletic. His muscled form cut nicely under his red and tan convenience store uniform. His hair was short and tightly curled, and he was clean shaven. Oh, and he was black. Most of the hillbillies on TV are white. He really didn’t fit the mold, but he was out here in the middle of nowhere. He had to be a local.

Karen’s nerves started up again, pushing images of being robbed or worse into her mind as the young man looked at the car and smiled. When he hastened his pace, it only made things worse. Maybe it wouldn’t be a bear, but this absolutely out of place stranger who would be her end. Who could tell. Her father insisted she keep pepper spray in her purse from when they lived in the city, but what good would it do if something happened? There wasn’t a store or a home she could run to if anything happened.

Her mental demise dispelled itself as his cheerful humming gave way to words. “That a steam powered car, or you having trouble?” She blinked at him, surprised. His speech as very clear and well paced. It lacked both the country accent she expected of people here and the ebonics she had come to know from before. “This isn’t so bad, actually. I can probably patch it enough to get you where you’re going, but you’ll need to replace the hose as soon as you can. I could hear it buzzing when you passed me back there.”

“Passed you? I haven’t seen a living being for miles. Nothing but wilderness and trees. Where’d you come from, anyway?”

“Work. And home before that. Go back far enough and I could say my mom.” He grinned and chuckled. He had started talking when he was about thirty feet out, and slowed down at that point. “Listen, if you don’t need the help, I can let Mark know where you are and be on my way. I’m not here to bother you.”

“Mark? What? Some guy just appears out of nowhere, says he can send people for me, and… Gah!” Karen’s frustration was getting the better of her. She watched as the young man started crossing the road on his approach, that goofy grin still lingering on his face. “Listen... I’m… I don’t know.”

“I was in the trees. You get less sun that way and it’s a long walk. Mark’s the local mechanic, and his truck has a tow rig. I get that you don’t know me. I’m Frank, by the way. A stranger approaches and city folk like you get nervous. I’ll let Mark know, and tell him Sue should come with… unless you want the help.”

“Well… I guess.. I suppose. I don’t know, I’m sorry. I’m just so… frustrated.”

“Didn’t even ask who Sue was. She’s the deputy. We do got law out here in the boonies.” Despite herself, Karen’s scowl gave way to a light smile as the snicker tried to escape. “So, what you have there is a water hose. That’s not smoke. If your car was burning, it’s be black. That’s mainly steam, but a little oil also set off, so there’s a bit of grey to it.”

“Karen,” she said, trying to remain annoyed. “And how’d you know I was from the city?”

“You said, ‘Nothing but trees’ earlier.” Frank answered as he crossed the street again, approaching the car. “And you show the city-folk suspicion. It’s normal. A tip; if you get approached by someone that makes you nervous, snap a picture. You got your phone in your hand. Send it to yourself. That way, there’s a record.”

Karen blinked again with surprise. She lifted her phone and tapped the camera active, but lowered it without snapping the shot. Why would a robber tell her how to protect herself? “I’m sorry. I’m just so frustrated! Why did we even have to move out here, anyway?”

“Because both your folks got jobs at the canning plant,” Frank said with a shrug. He tapped the hood and nodded at Karen.

She stared at him in shocked surprise. “How did you know that?”

“It’s the only reason anyone moves out here,” he answered with a broad grin. “Everyone here that doesn’t work there is looking for a way to move out.” Karen nodded. “Pop it,” Frank added.


“The hood. Pop the hood.”

“Oh!” Karen jumped up, flushing from embarrassment. She rushed to the cabin to pull the latch. As she returned, Frank lifted the hood and started following the lines with his eyes.

“You have it the worst,” Frank added as he examined. “Moving away from your friends… maybe a part time job. Your school.”

“Thanks,” Karen snapped. “I really needed to be reminded of that. Even the car didn’t want to come… that’s why it died on me. Worked great the last three years, never an issue. Now… it’s dead.”

“No, this is minor. You have a great car here, actually. Rebuilt six, transmission looks fairly new. This car should hold you for years. The plugs… most of the wiring… belts… and some of your hoses might need to be replaced.”

“Yeah,” Karen muttered. “All I got left of home.”

“Nah,” Frank smiled at her as he pulled out his own phone. “You got your folks. I’m sure they’re great people. They’re really just trying to do their best, you know? Times are hard. And you’re in luck. You’ve already made a new friend.”

“I did?” Karen puzzled, still fighting the frustration.

“Yeah,” Frank answered. “Me. I mean, if you want. I got a few friends I can introduce you around to and you’ll be back to your social life in no time.” Tapping on his phone, he answered the message. ‘Going to be late. Start game night without me. New girl. Fixing car.’

“Social life. Yeah. A deer dance-off and a possum party, right?”

“Don’t forget the squirrel semi-formal, raccoon races, and bear ball. Oh, you probably heard we’ve got bears around here. Lived here my whole life, never saw one. Not unless you count Harris.”

Karen’s frustration never stood a chance. The smile fully emerged as the laugh broke its way through. “You’re alright, Frank.”

“Eh, this is a cannery town, not the real deep woods. Most of the people here moved in, just like your folks. Good consistent work and always hiring. Most of the folks here have city roots. And you’re not so bad, either,” he smiled. “Just… you’re a nameless Miss.”

“A what?” She leaned against the car as he started pulling at banding straps in the engine.

Frank let go of the straps and pulled up his phone again. ‘New girl? Cool! Make sure she’s welcome, just like you did for me. You’re a gem, Frank. See you soon at game night.’ As he retrieved his Leatherman, Frank smiled.

“It’s... uhh... Karen,” she answered, puzzling over if she had mentioned it already or not. “Who’re you chatting with?”

Frank folded the pliers out of his knife toolkit and worked at loosening the hose. His face lit up at the question. “Liz. She’s great! I welcomed her out here when she got here about ten years ago. She’s one of those friends I said I could introduce you to. You play games?”

“Like.. board games? Sports?”

“Try Red Dead or Last of Us. We’re not completely backwards out here. Anyway, she’s always looking for more people to join her teams. She’s into like, a dozen MMOs and we have a regular squad for Titan Fall. That’s where I’m heading now, actually.” He finally worked the hose loose and stuffed a plastic shopping bag through it. He cut a hole in the end and wrapped it in electrical tape. He returned to trying to place it back in after. “Because of the culture clashes, most folks our age are a bit strange but… they all got good hearts, you know? Hey, get ready to start her up.”

Karen nodded and headed to the driver’s seat. “That’s pretty cool of you. I mean, helping her then... and me now. You’re alright.” Turning the key, she squealed with joy. The engine cranked a few times, but turned over nicely. Frank pushed down the hood, a massive smile on his face.

“That’s what you do out here. You help folks out. I mean, we’re all stuck here together. May as well make the most of it. Liz and I know some people. We can get you in with some friends. Probably also get you a job. She got me into mine. She hated the same stuff when she got out here. Mad at her folks, frustrated, missing her friends. I think you two are going to get along great! Anyway, glad to get you running. We’ll see each other around.”

“No, wait,” Karen called out. “Let me give you a lift. It’s the least I can do. Oh my god. Thank you so much. I was so scared. I had no idea what I was going to do. You’re a life saver.”

Frank shrugged. “It only cost me a few minutes. I’m always glad to help. Even the people I don’t get along with are worth helping. That smile you got; that’s going to brighten someone else’s day. It pays itself forward. Besides, I’m going to need some help one day. I got a lot of folks who remember stuff I did for them.”

“Yeah,” Karen said shyly. “I guess being a good person... well, it pays you back in time.” She took out her phone and swiped to her contacts. “You got a number?”

“Oh, yeah. You know, you can send contacts by Bluetooth, right? Let me show you.”

As he demonstrated, Karen added, “I think things won’t be so bad. I guess I’m already off to a good start. Maybe Faithful Bess knew who you were and broke down to help me out.”

“Frank chuckled. “Yeah. My reputation precedes me.” He checked the information his phone received. “Got it! And you better use it. If you don’t, I will.” He grinned.

“Oh, you’ll be hearing from me,” Karen said, blushing. “Now get in the car. I already made you late. It looks like… three miles out. Hey! We’re on the same street!”

Frank chuckled. “We only have three streets and two stop lights. Creek Road, eh? You’re going to love this place!”

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