A Journey Off The Beaten Path
by Barbara Lynn Terry
After a full night's travel from St. Paul, Minnesota to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, David came to a very abrupt halt. No, there was no stop sign, or train coming, or stop light, or pedestrians; well, not as you could tell they were pedestrians. They were shapes alright, but they were transparent. They didn't seem interested enough to stop, but David watched them just the same, just in case. They seemed to cross the road going from one field to the other. Some of them had picks, axes, shovels, and sledge hammers. Who, or what, were these shapes. They had miner's helmets on, and seemed determined to get to some destination. David looked around and couldn't see anything that even looked like a mine shaft entrance. In fact, the fields on both sides of the road were flat and there were no mountains around or even hills.
As he traveled through Black River Falls going down toward Warrens, Wisconsin, he stopped at a gas station in a little unnamed town that wasn't even on the map. But the sign had said it was incorporated. It is odd not to have an incorporated town on the map. I mean Osseo isn't that big and it is on the map. He got out of his car while anolder man with a white beard started filling up his gas tank. He went in the station to wait for the attendant, and when the attendant didn't come back, David walked to his car. When he turned the key the gas tank said full. David went back in the station and the same old man was behind the counter.
"Yes sir, what may I do ya fer?"
"Didn't you just fill up my gas tank?"
"No sir, ain't left the station all day. Gas you say. Let's have a look."
David and the old man went out to David's car, and David showed him that the tank read full. David told the man he just came from St. Paul, on his way to Milwaukee, and he had stopped here with a half a tank of gas.
"Oh there sonny, you must be mistaken. I ain't filled up no car with gas today, and taint intend to. Now I have work to do, so you had better git."
"Well, is there a restaurant in town that is good?"
"Yes, there is the Dutch Man on Main Street. Just go the same way yer goin' now and you can't miss it. The Dutch Man Restaurant. It has wonderful home cooked meals."
David, seeing he didn't owe the man anything for the gas, he left to go to the restaurant. There was a likeness of an old sailing ship with the name Flying Dutchman on the bow, and David parked his car and went inside. As he walked in the door, there was a musty smell to the place. Like no one had been there in ages. He looked around and saw a few customers enjoying their repast of coffee and whatever else they were eating. David sat in a vacant booth by the front window, and when the waitress came over to take his order, David saw something strange about the waitress' uniform. It was a floor length dingy gown covered by a white apron, like they would have worn in the days the famous Flying Dutchman supposedly sailed the seas. Maybe that was the point, the staff had to wear period clothing to make the atmosphere of the Flying Dutchman as real as possible.
David ordered a roast beef sandwich with a cup of coffee. The waitress went to fetch his order, and when she came back with it, she didn't leave the bill. After David finished his sandwich and coffee, he had asked the waitress for the bill.
"Bill? Bill for what? You just sat down, I haven't even brought you your order yet."
David got a big chill down his back, and goose bumps all over his arms. There was something very strange going on in this town, and he wasn't going to stay long enough to find out. But when he got outside to his car, he started yawning, and looked for a hotel or motel. He found the Edge of the Water Motel on the edge of town right on the banks of the river. He went in and got the key to his room, and went and laid down. The next morning he was up at ten thirty, and as he was putting his things back in his car, the county sheriff stopped to talk to him.
"Hi, I'm deputy Stevens. I patrol through here several times a day. I got a couple of strange phone calls yesterday about a man who claimed he owed money for gas, and then a sandwich the waitress said he didn't even have yet. May I see your identification, please?" Carl Stevens has been a deputy sheriff for eighteen years, and he has seen just about every dysfunctional behavior of people. Until now, that is. He looked at David's identification, and had a very surprised look on his face. "Is this you? Sure looks like you. It says here your name is Kathleen Anna Sparks, and you're from Sparksville. What did you name the town or something?"
"No, the town's name was changed to Sparksville to honor my great, great grandfather who help found the town, and had opened a prosperous bank and real estate company. Because his two companies brought in most of the revenue, they decided to honor him."
"I see, well, that is an honor then. This also says that you are female. Why are you going around pretending to be a man?"
"Because, my name is now David Allen Sparks, and my family supports me one hundred per cent."
"So, you had the operation to become a man, then?"
"Yes, I did, a year ago. But deputy Stevens, when I stopped for the gas last night, I had a half of a tank of gas, and when I went back to my car, the tank read full, but the old man that was there said I didn't owe him anything."
"Old man? What did this old man look like? "
Well, he had white hair and beard, he was kind of heavy around the middle, and he spoke with a kind of yooper accent."
"Alright, and what about the waitress?"
"She was young, had on a floor length gown that was dingy in color, covered by a white apron, and spoke with an Irish brogue. When I asked her for the bill for my order, she said I hadn't even gotten it yet."
"I see. David, I'm wondering if you will follow me to the sub station. I want to show you some photographs of the people you described. But I want to warn you, that what you might see, may shock you."
"Alright, I will follow you."
We got to the sheriff's sub station about a mile out of town. We went in and deputy Stevens offered me a cup of coffee.
"Please, have a seat, and I will get the photo book." He came back with a photo book that was twice as thick as most. "In this book are all the residents from the time this town was founded til now. I want you to look very carefully at all the photos and pick out the ones of the people you talked to."
David looked through the book, and as he did so, he saw birth dates and death dates. Suddenly the chill he had gotten in the restaurant came back to him.
"Did you find something?"
"Yes. This is the man I talked to at the gas station, but it says here that he died in 1927."
"Yes, he was from Houghton, Michigan in the upper peninsula. He actually opened that gas station and made it into a thriving business. Since they built the interstate though, not many cars come through here any more."
"What do you mean? I was still on I-94 east when I came to your town."
"That's impossible. The interstate is five miles west of here."
"What are you telling me? That I was too tired to know which direction I was going."
"It is possible, I have seen it before. We get drivers in here that think they were on the interstate when actually they made an unconscious turn and came here. I want you to come back to the gas station with me. I want to show you who runs it now."
David followed him to the gas station, and they went inside. Behind the counter was a man of maybe about forty, with a full head of rich brown hair. Deputy Stevens asked the clerk if he had filled up any gas tanks lately.
"No, not since last week when that semi came through."
"Have you seen this ... person before?"
"No. Are you just passing through?"
"Yes, but yesterday when I stopped here for gas, there was an old man here with white hair and a beard, kind of heavy around the middle."
"Is that the man," the clerk said pointing to a picture on the station wall.
"Why yes, yes it is."
"That is my great grandfather, who started this station when cars were still very new yet. You aren't the first one that said they had seen him and that he filled up their tanks. May I see your gas gauge, please?"
David took him out to his car and showed him where the needle on the gauge read. It was at the half way point. David had a shocked look on his face.
"I don't unerstand. It read full last night."
"Would you like me to fill it up for you?"
"Yes, please. I have business in Milwaukee tomorrow, so I will need a full tank." Turning to deputy Stevens David wanted to make sure he had heard right. "You said the interstate is five miles west of here?"
"Yes. Go back the way you came yesterday, and turn left at the first road you see. It will take to straight to I-94. After he fills your tank, you can leave your car here, and I will drive you over to the restaurant. I want you to meet the owner and the two waitresses that work there."
David go in the back of deputy Stevens patrol car, and they went to the restaurant. They went in and sat at the same booth that David sat in the night before. A young woman in a red shirt, black skirt, and red, flat shoes came over.
"Hi Carl. Who's your friend?"
"Hi Lisa, this is David Sparks, and he said he was in here last evening and ordered a sandwhich and a cup of coffee, but didn't get a bill."
"Where were you sitting, when you were in here?"
"Right here, in this booth."
"You couldn't have. Not last night at any rate. We were closed."
That familiar chill returned, and David got really pale.
"Sir, are you alright? You look as though you have seen a ghost."
"I have, two of them, last night."
Deputy Stevens thanked the waitress, and took David back to his car. David drove out of town like it was on fire, and when he got back on the interstate, he drove all the way to Milwaukee without stopping. After what he saw, he didn't even remember to ask about the miner's shapes that had crossed the road in front of him.
Watch out for those last minute turns because they just may take you on a tour of the Twilight Zone.