Jackapo County has Greece beat for ruins. Forgotten houses and stores, burnt out shells of places that no one owns – or no one will admit to owning. Claimed now only by the night birds and the kudzu. The old store in this story, and its odd decorations, is a real place. As far as I know, there’s nothing inside but empty shelves and cobwebs. Not that I went in, mind. The door was unlocked, but it wasn’t what you might call inviting.
Sometimes I wonder if it’s still there.
The store has been closed now for close to fifty years. The paint has all curled off, like strips of dead skin and the tin roof is full of flyspeck holes that make a whimpering sound during the lightning season.
In the back room, fifty years ago, something happened. Just something, nobody knows what. Not really. A baby was born. Or a baby died. Maybe it was knives over cards, and blood dripping on an ace of spades. Some folks, when they were younger and more honest, said there was a woman there, in a cage, who’d tell a story for a taste of something, but she wasn’t really a woman, because what woman has eyes that yellow, or hands that rough, with palms so thick they might be pads? What woman has wings?
She killed a boy, who couldn’t answer her question. That’s what they said. Now they don’t say anything. Children’s stories. All of them. Just ideas. Something happened, we know not what. It doesn’t matter. Not now. Not after sixty years.
Trees grow close on all sides now and crowd the road that runs in front. You miss it, if you blink. Just a ghost of a place that once was. Something happened, but it doesn’t matter. The windows are barred with iron and pregnant with dust and pollen residue and spiderwebs that stretch from crack to crack like tiny ladders.
The door through which the smell of pork cooking and sweet sodas sweating in the hot air once drifted is closed and barred and locked triple-tight with iron and there are curled yellowed pages from a book stuffed in the cracks and corners. Sometimes, they wriggle loose and whip and writhe across the road, plastering themselves across the thick, black-barked trees, revealing their skin-names to the world.
The storm season boils through, sending old, crumbling pages flying high and tumbling low, pulling them from door and shutter, sending them away into the deep woods. Leaving the door bare and blank. On the windows, the iron rusts softly, crying red tears through the dull years.
They say, that sometimes now, you can smell those old-timey smells coming from the door and from the windows again.
They say, sometimes, you can hear a woman laugh, in the wind. Or the rustle of great black wings against the bars of a cage that is rusting away into nothing as the tide of years laps against the shore. Waiting.
They say, under the moon, you hear a voice, asking a question. One that nobody has answered yet. One that will never be answered, because we’ve forgotten how.
They say these things, sometimes. But usually, no one says anything. Just children’s stories.
No one goes there anymore, though.