Local Brew: Part 1
The road stretched out like an infinitely reaching serpent; a monstrosity long dead and half-buried in earth not deep enough to conceal the hideous carcass. On either side of the ancient behemoth lay oceans of corn, dried and brown in the afternoon sun. The fields rolled into hills so that the horizon was swallowed by the dying stalks.
Trevor squinted against the harsh sunlight glancing off of the aged blacktop. It was approaching 3 p.m., and he could feel his eyes growing tired as a dull ache nestled in the center of his forehead. Jesus, how much of this can there be? He had driven the 2017 Corolla over the state line into Indiana that morning and had passed one town before diving headlong into the maize. The radio was no help as only country, classic rock, or gospel radio could be found. After his phone failed to find an internet connection, he had opted for the classic rock.
To fill the void of his wandering mind, he had taken to imagining he was sailing through an amber sea and that he was attempting to outrun the horrid monster that dwelt within its depths after they had stolen its treasure. Trevor found that he enjoyed the idea enough to file it away in his mind to perhaps flesh out further once he made it to Winston-Salem, NC, where his newly signed publisher awaited. He had picked away at writing for years and finally landed a contract for ten children’s books with Contos Publishing House. He signed the dotted line through email and received his advance the following day. Now he was enjoying a long road trip to meet up with his agent at CPH to formally meet his new partners.
He had framed their response to his inquiries and had it hanging above his desk back home. Reading it had filled him with a deep pride he feared he would never taste in those dark days of toiling away at the computer while his (now ex) wife would cast disparaging glances from the hall into his office. “We find that your stories can provide a bridge, or a stepping stone, to our adult offerings as they treat the reader with the same respect any piece of literature should, regardless of their age or presumed comprehension, while offering easily digestible tales that captured the child inside of us here at CPH. We would like to welcome you into our family and hope that this will be the beginning of a long and fruitful partnership.”
Rita had left six months prior to that response, and he had all but given up on the idea. The thought of returning to his day to day grind at the hardware store was like an augur in his gut that left only darkness in its wake. She had never outright stated that she thought his idea of becoming an author full time was foolish, but he could hear it in her tone when she asked how the book was going. The cold series of shallow questions about his day that held the judgment at the lack of anything “productive” being done. But that was all gone now, and he didn’t have to think of the dark days anymore. We’re only going up, Bruce, his agent, had told him after forwarding CPH’s message.
A green road sign emerged on the right side of the road that said “RICKLEDGE 10 MILES” as static began to encroach over Steve Perry’s rasping vocals. “Oh come on, not when they finally play Journey.” Trevor reached over and fiddled with the tuning dial, hopeful of finding a similar frequency, but it was no use. The static totally enveloped the music. “Well great.”
His finger poised to hit the power button but stopped as a passionate voice broke through the noise. “And I say unto you, dear traveler; Paradise awaits you at the end of your journey.” Something in the man’s vaguely southern accent and words made Trevor stop. “You have toiled for far too long and endured far too much sorrow. So I say again, Paradise awaits.” Static emerged again, like waves onto a shore, and the radio preacher was gone. For a brief moment, he thought he could hear another voice take its place. He strained to hear what it was saying beyond the din and turned up the volume. It was a single phrase, repeated in the same tone, like a record skipping. He increased the volume again, to the max. The phrase continued, clearer, but still with a mask of static to obscure it. “In the corn…in the corn…in the corn…”
Trevor quickly shut off the radio and tried to concentrate on the buildings appearing ahead of him. He had to have been mistaken in what he heard, or perhaps it was a farmer’s CB he had intercepted. Even if it had said that it’s nothing to get worked up over. Yet still, the question lingered; what was in the corn?
The town of Rickledge turned out to be little more than a main street of boarded-up shops, stray dogs, and seemingly abandoned farmhouses in the distance. A lone silo stood on the horizon, its original color lost to ages of neglect and rust.
Trevor found himself enamored with the ghost town. Yeah looks like a paradise, alright. Architecture and various advertisements posted in the windows not covered in plywood indicated a mid to late-nineties aesthetic. He thought of the endless fields and wondered if their dried neglect was due to whatever economic failures had befallen the town.
After passing through what remained of the main drag, the road found its way to a roundabout with a monolithic fountain at its center. Years of disuse had left the stone muddied and stained, chunks missing, and distinct features eroded away by countless rainstorms. What was left was a suggestion of a child standing well over 20 feet high. A loincloth hung loosely across the child’s waist, and its tales trailed out behind it as they were caught by a perpetual, nonexistent wind. In the child’s hand was a long serpentine creature with ram-like horns protruding from its head, just above the child’s hand. From within his car, Trevor could see the mad smile etched into the child’s face. The eyes were little more than hollowed sockets, but the mouth was terribly clear.
The effigy gnawed a hole into Trevor’s stomach and a mild pain nestled behind his forehead. Something else hid within nausea, though. Was it…nostalgia?
He sped the rest of the way through the large roundabout and made considerable effort to not look in his rearview mirror once it was behind him. He then found himself driving through a housing district that held a bit more life than the downtown area. Though there were clearly inhabitants in most of the houses, the buildings still sat in a state of disrepair. Cracks in windows were covered over in duct tape. Mold crawled up the discolored siding of residences while grass and weeds alike grew wild in the front yards. Not a single roof held all of its shingles in place, either sagging out of alignment or outright missing with only exposed and withered tar paper left behind, like a wound unable to scab over.
A small gaggle of children rode by on rusted out bikes with flattening tires. They paid the car no mind, which Trevor found to be at odds with the blank look of boredom on their faces. A few of the houses had lights on in their windows, and he was sure he could see the drawn blinds in a few of them turn down as unseen eyes watched from within. He rounded a corner and saw two men on a front porch, smoking. They sat in rocking chairs that lilted back and forth and stared at him with a healthy dose of malice. He pressed the gas a bit more, eager to put their gaze behind him. A chill ran up his spine as he felt more unseen eyes from within houses crawl across his car with the same disdain of the two men.
The houses began to dwindle around him, giving way to more corn. The sun had begun to descend behind him, and the sky beyond the fields took on a deep orange that, again, made him long for something in his past. Trevor rarely found himself to be the sentimental type after 18 years of growing up in foster care. There had been some good homes, but more not good ones. He had taken to his imagination to hide from the neglect or abuse, diving into books and, eventually, writing them. He wondered if his lack of sentimentality had been part of the erosion in his marriage often.
A neon sign caught his attention. It stood in stark contrast to the heavily rural and natural environment, along with the massive building it was attached to. LOCALLY BREWED flashed atop a brick structure with giant metal vats on its rear. Below the brightly displayed claim, in smaller lettering, read “Best Beer, Ale, And Bourbon In The State.”
“Can’t say no to that, I suppose.” The clock on his dash read 4:47. He had a small bourbon collection himself and felt enticed by the idea of getting to try a kind that not many else would have the chance to.
He swung the Toyota off of the main thoroughfare and into the parking lot. After stepping out, he noticed the large hotel across the street from the brewery. Like the brewery, it seemed at odds in its design with the state of the rest of the town. It felt as though he had passed through a window into a small piece of what Rickledge might have been when (and if) it had been in its prime. The hotel’s roof rose into two peaks that framed a third, larger spire behind them. Long windows sat, dark, on its face, surrounded by a warm looking stone. The front doors stood tall and were, in the setting sun’s light, a rich crimson. Its frame made Trevor think of a cathedral. A place for the weary to lay their heads… Paradise. He smirked and turned back to the brewery. He shoved his hands into his pocket and looked to the corn around him. It swayed silently. The brittle leaves tittered against each other, as if the stalks exchanged funny little secrets that were hidden within the fields beyond.
In the corn.
Trevor shivered and walked quickly to the brewery’s front door. As he pulled it open, he realized there was no wind to move the corn.