another pSecret pSociety pshort pstory
Gallivanting in Galax by Mike Bozart (Agent 33) | JANUARY 2017
Gallivanting in Galax
by Mike Bozart
Copyright © 2017 Mike Bozart
The Main Street shadows were growing longer by the millisecond. A chilly dusk was starting to settle on the idyllic Blue Ridge town of Galax (VA, USA). It was Christmas Eve, and it was very quiet as far as the ear could see from the 2nd floor, south-facing Rodeway Inn balcony. [_ I wonder if there’s any magic tonight in this little mountain town. Did I have that same thought back in 2012? [We stayed in Galax in October 2012 and a shorty story, ‘Galax_ Galaxy’, was the result.] _]
I then looked down and noticed that there were only two other vehicles in the parking lot. Who stays in a hotel on Christmas Eve? People like us – that’s who! [We had our family Christmas the previous Saturday.] I had an internal chuckle that went external.
“What are you laughing about now, Agent 33?” Monique, my Filipina wife, asked as she came over to the metal railing. Agent 33? Hmmm … I wonder if Monique is using her new digital audio recorder.
“Oh, just reveling in the invisible yet detectable, small-town holiday cheer, Agent 32.” Ok, he knows that I’m recording.
“You’ve been reveling in that jug of [Cabernet Sauvignon] wine for the past half-hour, Parkaar. [my ailing alias] I’m bored. Is there anywhere that we could go? Is there any place that is open?”
“Well, it is Christmas Eve, you know. It is going to be slim pickings, 32.” Slim pickings? Must be some Americanism.
Monique then did a Yelp search on her smartphone with the keywords: best restaurants, Galax, VA. She studied the first result. Ah, this looks perfect! “Hey bana, [husband in Cebuano] they have a craft brewery here that has good pizza. It got four and a half stars out of five. It’s called Creek Bottom Brewing. It’s on Meadow Street. Are you up for it?”
“Sure, sweetie. But, are they open? Do you have a phone number? I’ll call them for you.”
Monique recited the phone number to me, and I called them on my not-that-smart phone. The guy who answered said that they were indeed open, but would be closing early. I told him to hold the door lock, as we were on the way.
“Agent 32, how far is that joint from here?”
“Let me check Google Maps, Parkaar. One minute.”
“No rush. Do you have the distance yet?” I then laughed.
“Just like your dad.” She chuckled as she looked at the route on her screen. “It’s only .7 miles [1.13 km] from here. Want to walk it, Agent 33?”
“Sure, Agent 32. That will increase the short-story potential.”
“And, it will be more adventurous. Life should be an adventure!”
“No argument here. Let’s go now, before they close.”
Soon we were walking south on the east side of North Main Street. After crossing Washington Street, we came upon a tall evergreen tree, perhaps a spruce or fir, decorated with large, solid-color ornaments. Monique demanded a video. My on-location report (now on Facebook) with hands under a couple of six-inch orbs: “Is it on? [Monique: “Yeah.”] It’s Christmas Eve, and we’re in Galax, Virginia, just by chance. And, look at this tree. This tree has got some big balls. Over here. Hey, you’ve ever heard of the dream of the blue balls?”
Bathroom humor, I know. I can do better. My apologies.
Next, we passed a most likely closed (but maybe open?) Macado’s, a sub shop. We kept walking, as Monique is not a sandwich fan. Maybe next time for me.
We then crossed Center Street. We walked past a series of closed boutiques and offices. Next Generation. People put us duh-duh-down. [sic] Just because we get around. Things they do look awful cuh-cuh-cold. [sic] I hope I die before I get old. Well, too late for me. I’m ancient his-his-history. [sic] Talkin’ ‘bout the next gen-uh-uh-ration. [sic] Next generation, baby. / Wonder what nonsense he is thinking right now.
We then passed The Galax Smokehouse and arrived at an intersection: Grayson Street. We turned left and soon passed the Visitor’s Center, which unfortunately, too, was closed. I bet they have some nice brochures.
Next, we crossed a little side street: Rex Lane. The nearly dark streets were completely deserted now. We continued a downward trek towards Chestnut Creek. I noticed the old Rex Theater on the right. Wonder if ‘Casablanca’ played there. Maybe it’s not quite that old. But, that building sure has character. Hope the wrecking ball doesn’t get it.
Then we came upon a sheet-metal-clad building that came up flush with the sidewalk. The most striking feature: a couple of exterior doors that opened about three feet (one meter) above the sidewalk. There were no steps. Wow! That is one Paul Bunyan step up – or down. I don’t think that would pass ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act). I had a low-volume chuckle.
Monique noticed me studying the doors. “Where are the stairs, Parkaar?”
“They must have reeled them in for the holiday weekend.” He’s just spouting inanities for the recorder.
“Why did I have to ask?” Monique asked with exasperation.
“I don’t know right now, lovely Agent 32, but maybe it will come to me.” Whatever!
Monique just sighed. Hope he doesn’t drink too much at the microbrewery.
We then crossed Depot Avenue and passed by the USPS (United States Post Office) building. A desolate Railroad Avenue followed. And then we were walking under the Vaughan Bassett (a furniture plant) over-street connector. It was quite wide. Wonder if they can run forklifts through it. Is there a conveyor belt in there? Wonder how the safety guy – or gal – manages.
We stopped in the middle of the bridge over Chestnut Creek, a shallow brook, and looked downstream. A New River volume feeder. Fries Junction. Yeah, that’s the confluence.
“Well, not much farther, Monique. The brewpub is probably right over there.” I pointed north with my right index finger. “Probably just .2 miles (322 meters) to go.”
“I bet that water is really cold. Do you think it is 33 degrees, [Fahrenheit; 0.56º Celsius] 33?”
“Not that cold, 32. It’s probably in the 40s. [Fahrenheit; 4.44º to 9.99º Celsius] But, still way too cold to wade.” To wade?!
“Yellow card to Parkaar. One more ridiculous comment and I turn the recorder off.” Oh, no!
“That’s not much leeway, dearest ref.”
Monique didn’t respond. Soon we were making a rounded inside-corner left onto North Meadow Street. The galvanized steel guardrail on our immediate left ended, and then the sidewalk did, too. Glad that Monique didn’t wear high heels. She would be hating it right now.
We marched on the grass next to the road, passing various industrial businesses. Then we passed a lone residence and arrived at East View Street. We safely crossed Meadow Street, waving a car by. And then as we crossed View Street, I looked back southwestward across the creek. If there were a pedestrian bridge – or even a low-water weir – connecting Webster and View, it would cut the distance nearly in half, I bet. Would also be a good bike link. / Lord knows what he’s thinking of now. Won’t even ask.
We immediately saw the brown wooden sign in front of the PRONETS Building:
Creek Bottom Brews – Craft Beer Store & Tasting Room
We noticed several cars in the gravel parking lot and made our way to the front door of their building, which was an annex of the PRONETS Building. I pulled on the door handle. It opened. Yee-hee! They’re not closed. I’m so hungry for some pizza / Yey! We made it in time. Can’t wait to taste their beer.
We walked in and stopped near the register. A middle-age Caucasian couple, who were seated near the door, had just finished eating, and were getting up to leave. They chatted with the staff as they made their exit. Must be locals. They seem to know each other.
We were quickly seated in the back area by a late-20-something, brown-haired, bearded, white dude. Prerequisite no. 1 for being a male craft brewer: Full beard.
“Thanks for staying open for us,” I said to him.
“Ah, that was you,” he said. “No problem, man. You guys got in under the wire.” He then headed back to the kitchen.
I then studied the walls, which were lined with tall shelves of assorted craft beers, while waiting for our waiter. This was the perfect stop tonight.
A blonde-haired Caucasian lady of about 25 years soon took our pizza order. When she asked me what I would like to drink, I told her to surprise me with something dark. The pint of Porter Wagoneer that she brought back really hit the spot. Nice chocolate aroma. Great brewski.
Monique sipped on a Sprite as we waited for the pizza. We could see the stone oven from where we were seated. Wow! A real stone oven. / This pizza should be good.
The pizza landed twelve minutes later. It was delicious. The dark beer complimented it perfectly.
“We picked a good place, Parkaar,” Monique said as she finished off the next-to-penultimate onion slice.
“We really did, Agent 32. We could have done a lot worse.”
“We could have been eating at a convenient store tonight, Agent 33.” So true.
“No doubt, 32.”
Then the waitress walked up. “Is everything ok?”
“Yes, everything is fine,” I replied as Monique nodded.
“Would you like another beer, sir?”
“How much time do we have?” I asked, fearing that closing time was fast approaching.
“Oh, probably twenty minutes. We won’t run you out.” That’s very nice of them.
“In that case, sure!”
“Where are you all from?” the short waitress then asked.
“Charlotte,” Monique quickly stated.
“And what brings you up here on Christmas Eve?”
“Our health,” Monique replied. Ah, Casablanca. I’ll play along, too.
“We came to Galax for the waters,” I added.
“But, neither of you are drinking our fine mountain water,” the waitress stated. I wonder if she got the Casablanca reference. Her reply is ambiguous. The mysteries in this life.
Seventeen minutes later we had consumed all the food and beverages. I paid the bill with our credit-union debit card. And, par for the course, I left a Gold card (a coupon for a free e-copy of my 2013 novel, Gold, a summer story) under the tip. He sure is dispensing those cards rather quickly.
However, we didn’t get out the door before the waitress pulled her tip – and saw the card.
“Didn’t you write a science-fiction short story that was based in Galax several years ago?” she asked me as she approached us.
“I did. I’ve learned to stay away from that genre. It certainly wasn’t my best. It has a one-star rating at last check.”
“Oh, I was fine with the sci-fi theme. What distressed me was the thoughts of my fellow townsfolk. It was quite negative and dark.”
“Sorry about that,” I said. “The next short story about Galax will be much more positive. I like this town.”
“Ok, I’ll look forward to reading it,” she said. “Goodnight and Merry Christmas.”
“Likewise,” Monique and I replied in unison.
We decided to perambulate back, so as to form a rectangular loop, since the northern return route was approximately equal to the distance of the way we had come. Also, I wanted to include a few more sights and site-specific thoughts in the future short story. (The one that you are reading now.)
Monique and I walked north-northwestward on North Meadow Street. We cut through the CVS Pharmacy parking lot to arrive on East Stuart Drive (US 58/221). It was dark now.
Traffic was sporadic on the four-lane highway as we walked over Chestnut Creek on a narrow sidewalk. We hurried so that we would be off of the bridge before a large, whole-right-lane-wide truck got there. We made it by a step. Whew!
As we crossed T. George Vaughan, Jr. Road, I looked over to the right and saw an old red NW (Norfolk and Western) caboose. It was at the beginning of the Galax branch of the New River Trail. I pointed to it.
“Monique, that’s where our rail-trail bicycling adventure started 50 months ago.” Fifty months? Why doesn’t he just say ‘a little over four years ago’? Because the recorder is on.
“Yes, it was a perfect fall day, Parkaar.”
“Indeed it was, 32.”
“I wonder if anyone is on that trail right now, 33.”
“Well, there are some 57 miles of fine crushed stone. There’s probably some lost soul out there somewhere. Maybe between Draper and Pulaski.”
“Why would you guess there, 33?” Monique asked as we crossed Madison Street.
“Just a hunched-over hunch, 32.” What?!
At the corner of East Stuart and North Main was a gasoline station that had been converted into a community church (Hearts United). The sign on the brick wall said that they accepted everyone – Muslims, Latinos, Asians, African Americans, and LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual) folks. Pretty impressive for a small town in Appalachia. Wonder if they get harassed. / I just know that my bana likes this.
We turned left. Two blocks later, we were crossing East Webster Street. Monique then pointed to a wooden sign:
Galax Police Department
She snapped a pic of me standing next to it (posted on Facebook). It’s reassuring that the police station is right next to us. / Glad that we’re on foot. I’m probably under 0.08, [blood-alcohol concentration] but I know that I have alcohol on my breath. Smart move leaving the car parked.
Seventy-seven feet (25.67 meters) later, we were climbing the exterior steps to our room. A charming South Asian family of four passed us. I wonder if they are related to the owner. [who appeared to be of Indian descent] / Glad we’re not the only ones here tonight. That would be creepy.
We rounded the balcony corner and were safely back at our hotel room. I unlocked and opened the door. Monique immediately flopped down on the queen-size bed. She was exhausted.
I then told her that I was going to take a few nighttime pics. I closed the door and walked to the eastern end of the second-floor exterior corridor and noticed the sign on the adjacent building:
A make-your-own-message wall sign stated that all utilities were included. Nice views. Cheap rent. This would be it.
And then a 60-ish white guy in a green army jacket staggered out of the shadows below. He appeared to be extremely impaired.
“Merry Christmas!” I yelled down to him.
“What’s sooooo [sic] merry about it?” he slurred out as he wiped his disheveled gray beard with his right cuff.
“Well, we’re both alive in America. We’ve still got a chance.”
“I aint got no chances left. And you don’t, either, pal. It’s over. We lost.” We? Such an incorrigibly optimistic chap.
“Ok, well, enjoy this nice night anyway.”
“What’s so nice about it?!” he shouted. Bitter always?
I didn’t reply. I just strided back to our room. While unlocking the door, I noticed a sign to my left:
Knights Inn 4 Blocks
I looked up the hill. Wonder if anyone ever found that note.
Once inside, I sat on the side of the bed and began to take off my heavy, brown, steel-toe hiking shoes.
Monique then rolled over. “Did you encounter anything interesting?” she sleepily asked.
“Just an impromptu story-closer, 32.”
“I’ll transcribe the recording for you tomorrow.”
“Salamat, ang akong matam-is nga asawa. [‘Thanks, my sweet wife’ in Cebuano] Very much appreciated. I think we’ve got another story here.”
Monique quickly fell back asleep. Twelve minutes later, I heard a man stomping past our door. Wonder if that’s the homeless-appearing guy.
Then all was quiet for the rest of the waking night. After the weather segment on the 10 o’clock local news (out of Roanoke), I turned the TV off. Sleep crashed down on my consciousness within minutes.
Just before dawn, an intense dream took hold. The sound of the microwave door closing awoke me. Monique looked at my shocked face. I immediately felt under the pillows. But, nothing was there.
“Wrong story, Parkaar,” Monique stated.
Agents 32 and 33 of the psecret psociety return to Galax (Virginia, USA) on Christmas Eve 2016 to make amends for a previous short story. They go on an evening walk through the nearly deserted town, finally alighting at a cool craft brewery across from a creek. Their conversation is recorded, and their thoughts are revealed. When Agent 33 awakes the next morning, he realizes that he has his stories mixed up. Approx. 2700 words. If this little tale were a movie, it would most likely be rated G (ok for all ages).