I’m not sure what county or city The Town was located in, because I was just driving through when I encountered it. I was heading through the Northeast Ohio area on country roads trying to make it back onto Interstate. I passed an older man walking and stopped to ask him the nearest town, where I could stop and get some food and stretch out for a few minutes. I could’ve used my G.P.S. system, if I had one. I’ve had no need for one in the past since I never traveled far from my home, but as luck would have it, I finally got my one break in life by finally getting my book published and had to go to a university book store for a signing.
As pleased as I was finally seeing another person on the side of the road, after driving for over an hour, the old man looked at me funny when I asked him how far the nearest town was.
“The next town is about 100 miles North. There’s nothing around here but a few bars and farmland.”
Looking back now, I should’ve asked the man why he was walking down the road by himself and where he was going if there was nothing for 100 miles. Then again, looking back at the events, I should’ve kept driving…
No more than five minutes passed after my encounter with the man did I come to a wooden sign on the right of the road that read “Welcome to The Town.” I decided the old man must have forgot his sense of distance in his senile age, because this was nowhere 100 miles ahead. Nevertheless, I started to drive into the small country flavored town and started to look around for the nearest food establishment.
The houses had the normal Americana feel to it, with fences in the yards and a few people walking down the small street. This was definitely properly named “The Town” with its smallness and peaceful feel to it.
I pulled over to the side of the street and parked my car. There were no parking meters or painted sections for where the cars parked like in a normal town. I sensed a come- as -you want aura to the place.
I walked over to the newspaper machine and found it empty. I walked a little farther to the next machine sitting near the local diner and it too was empty. I looked around me to get an overview of the town and realized there were no signs describing the buildings, no mail boxes near the houses, and no advertisement in the windows of the shops. Everything was the same as the next building, the same color, and the same designs.
I headed towards the diner (which I did not know it was the diner at first) and saw several people walk into the door. I decided to follow them to find someone who could get me home.
I walked into the diner where several people sat at the booths eating, but there was little conversation going on, and the place was eerily quiet. There was no music playing, like most old time looking diners would normally have, in fact there was no jukebox in the place, nor pictures or photographs hanging on the walls. The walls seemed to be as blank as the stares that gravitated towards me as I walked in.
I found an empty booth towards the back of the room, and sat down on the padded cushioned seat. The waitress walked over to me a few moments later. She was a blonde haired woman, who I guessed was near hear late 40’s.
“I haven’t seen you before. What can I get you?”
Since there were no menus lying around, I asked her what she suggested.
“You want the coffee. Everyone likes the coffee here.”
“Coffee it is then, thank you.”
She came back a few moments later with a cup and a carafe and sat them both on the table. “I’ll leave this here, so you can help yourself. So you’re a newbie here?”
“ Yeah, I’m just passing through and needed a few minutes of rest. I seem to be lost and looking to find my way back to the Interstate.”
“Sorry to tell you, but once people stop here, they don’t want to leave here. In fact, most of the people stay here forever. What do you do?”
I replied while I kept my eyes on the coffee that I started to pour into the cup.
“I just started a career as a writer. I have a book published. I’m also a drummer back home in a local band that does pretty well.”
She grinned at me before she started to turn and walk away. “A writer and musician huh? Interesting. I knew you weren’t from around here. Enjoy the coffee. I guarantee it’s nothing like you’ve ever had before. It’s on the house.”
I took my first sip of the coffee, and knew she was right. It had a strange aftertaste to it. It was nothing I’ve had before, but could not describe what the taste was. I added some sugar and took another sip.
I looked around the room and saw that the people were staring at me, and I decided that me being a foreigner in the area was not a good idea, and leaving might been my best option. I started to head for the door, left a tip, and thanked the waitress for the free coffee. She smiled as I walked out the door and started to head back to my car.
As I walked back to the car, I started to feel sick to my stomach, and felt a little faint. Was it the lack of sleep from traveling while being lost, or something else? Was it the coffee?
I arrived a few feet from my car when I heard a voice behind me “Hey writer!”
I turned around to see a uniformed man similar to a police officer standing in front of me. Behind me I heard another set of footsteps and then I hit the ground….
My eyes opened and tried to adjust to the ceiling overhead made of stone. I looked around the dimly lit room, which looked like an old dungeon, like the kind I watched in those old horror films where the hero was captured. I felt restricted in my movement as I tried to sit up. There were chains wrapped around my wrists that connected to a wall behind me. Where was I?
As I started to struggle with the chains, I heard a girl’s voice from the other side of the room.
“Don’t bother trying to break loose. It’ll just make your wrists hurt more. “
I could see a young girl, probably in her early 20s, on the opposite side of the room shackled just like I was.
“Where am I,” I asked.
“You are in the basement of the town hall, at least for now. What did they get you for?”
“I don’t understand what you mean,” I replied, as I looked around the room to see that we were in an old-fashioned prison cell, not a dungeon.
“ When you get sent down here, you had to have done something wrong. This is where they hold you until they start the Re-program process.”
“The re-what process?” Asking this made my voice crack, as I had a sudden urge for something to drink.
“The Re-programming process. The city counsel does not like those who are different and challenge their authority. So they re-program you. What did you do to challenge them?”
“I didn’t do anything. I was just stopping through to get rest. Then I went to the diner.”
The young lady smiled. “That’s where everyone hangs out, so somehow you must have done something. Did you sing a song or something?”
I was now getting irritated over the fact that I was being chained up like a run away dog. “ I didn’t do anything. I am just a guy coming through the town after coming from my book signing. I don’t sing anyway, I’m a drummer.”
“Did you tell anyone this,” she asked as if a light bulb went off and she understood what I was saying finally.
“What do you mean did I tell someone? I was chatting with the waitress and she asked if I was new here. I told her I was starting my career as a writer and was also a drummer. Is that a crime?”
She looked at me sternly as she replied, “ Yes it is. Those are crimes in the town. This town does not allow dreams.”
“I’m sorry, but I am confused. What do you mean that this town does not allow dreams?”
She stretched out her legs on the floor, which was also chained by her ankles towards the wall behind her, but had plenty of room to maneuver around. There had to been a good six feet of chain of slack for her to be somewhat comfortable.
“ This town frowns on anything creative, which includes dreams. When you walked towards the diner, did you notice that there were no signs in the town? That is because there are no trades or careers, except the few people that work in the diner and coalmines. Other than that, the only other career so to speak is the counsel, which is only for the select few. There are a few of their enforcers, which do the counsel’s bidding at will. They would be considered police in a normal town, except very corrupt police officers.”
“I did notice that I could not find a newspaper to list where I was at. Does this town have a name, Miss..?”
“My name is Abby. This town does not have a name because that would have to be decided on by the counsel, which in turn means that someone would have to think of something visionary. When you were in the diner, did you see how everyone there was almost stone-like? There were no laughter, expressions, or any other kinds of emotion? Emotions will turn into things like anger, sadness, happiness, and those things can end up as causing something creative. Look at all the arts. People that read, write, sing, draw, build. They all originate by emotions. The people here don’t have jobs, besides those select few, so why should they “better themselves” by writing, reading or have hobbies? The few that do work do not have any job advancement because laziness is encouraged. If someone has motivation, they may want to work harder and start their own business or create a new venture. That is why there are no schools either.”
“If there are no schools, how does the town keep going? How do people learn?”
Abby stood up and stretched her arms as best she could. “They are taught enough to get by. The diner is the only place to get food, which food is grown in the fields in the back of the diner.”
“Who does the gardening and plowing of the fields?”
“The children for a time, but the conditions are horrible. After they finish their day, they are so tired that they will not have time to think about playing with others. They go straight to bed after they eat.”
“This is unbelievable. What about the police? Don’t they have any enforcement for the working conditions, or crimes?”
Abby stared out the small window that faced to the right of her and replied, “ There are no police, per say. There are a few that do the bidding of the counsel, which is probably the ones that brought you here.”
“What is this Re-program process that you talked of? What is that?”
“They keep you down here until they reprogram you to think like the rest of the townspeople. When they spend a few hours in the Re-program room, they bring you back here to see if it worked. If it doesn’t, they keep bringing you back until you are able to go back out into the town. I was brought back here after the Re-programming attempt when I saw you laying there.”
“How long have to been in the room?”
“I don’t know,” Abby looked down at her bracelet on her right hand and then looked up. “This is my fifth time, I think.”
“You’ve been through this five times? What did you do to get here?”
“I was painting on a piece of wood. I was told many times to stop, and then I was brought here.”
“How long ago, and where are your parents?”
“I don’t remember. It seems like years ago, but I’m not sure. The last time I was in Re-programming, I was there for I think a few days. I have no idea where my parents are now. I probably won’t see them again, especially if they are being punished for not keeping me under control.”
“So you are going through all this because you wanted to be a painter?”
Abby nodded and smiled. “I wanted to be a painter or an actress. I refuse to hide my love for the arts.” She touched her bracelet again.
“I looked down at her wrists and said, “ We’ll you’re definitely pretty enough to be an actress. How old are you, and what is that on your wrist?”
Abby got a gleam in her eyes and continued, “ Thank you. I think I am about twenty-two, but age is not a factor here. It’s kind of hard to determine because all the days run into each other here in the town. This is my hope, I guess. It’s a bracelet my mother gave me when I was younger and it says ‘Believe.’ It’s what keeps me from letting the counsel getting to me and making me conform.”
As soon as she finished, the door to the basement slammed opened as four big men burst into the room and drug me to my feet. They unchained me from the wall, with the other chains still on me, and lead me out the door. As I walked past her, I looked at Abby as she said “Believe” while she smiled.
Out the door I went…