Tattoo: The Books of Glory

a webserial about people who are not like us

Tattoo Book 6, part 2.5

Posted by harmony0stars on July 14, 2010

The road to Centralia apparently didn’t exist. Heat from the coal fires had made route 61 buckle and crack years before, and the Pennsylvania Department of Motor Vehicles eventually got tied of repairing it. Rather than continuing to lay down new tarmac, the state made the rerouting of the highway permanent and closed the road.

“I don’t know why you’d want to go,” Glory told Robert a little annoyed after the umpteenth whining request to join her. She had initially thought to bring everyone before worry about the coal fires and reports of sinkholes and bad air quality made her rethink her plan. “From what I’ve read on the internet, most of the houses have been torn down. It’s just a bunch of broken streets, a lot of dead meadows, and a few houses where diehard locals refuse to be removed for their own good.”

“There’s a videogame called Silent Hill that was actually set there, and the movie was pretty good too. I want to be able to tell my friends online that I was there,” he replied stubbornly with a air of wounded pride, as if his reasons for wanting to go should be self evident.

“You play entirely too many videogames,” she replied sourly.

“I wouldn’t mind checking it out, too,” Ann spoke up from where she sat on the floor with Edgar. She was trying to get him to draw with the crayons, but he wasn’t very interested. “I saw a documentary about it called The Town that Was. I’ve been curious about it ever since.”

Glory rolled her eyes as Robert snickered in triumph. “Fine. I don’t really care. It’s the weekend, so you’re not missing any school. Just don’t neglect your homework.”

“Score!” he shouted in delight, punching the air.

Saturday came, and they all climbed aboard the motor home to aimlessly drive around Pennsylvania, looking for an entry point into Centralia. They stopped in Ashland for lunch at a small diner just outside the outskirts of the former town. The place was little better than a dive, but Edgar wasn’t picky about where he got his meat. A few locals sat at the tables, grimly drinking their coffee and eating blackened burgers on soggy buns.

They could have eaten food from their own fridge, but as Robert pointed out, “When you travel, you eat out. It’s tradition.”

So they sat in the diner and nibbled on barely edible food. Glory was actually grateful that she wouldn’t have to worry about heartburn later. She picked at her bun, nibbling to make it look as though she was eating, but she passed the remainder of her burger to Edgar when everyone was nearly done. He ended up with everyone’s burgers in the end. Only the fries were really edible… with a ton of ketchup. Even Robert hadn’t been adventurous enough to try gravy fries, and he picked at the melted mozzarella covering his cheese fries with listless disappointment.

“Excuse me,” Glory said as the waitress plodded past, her eyes glassy with exhaustion or disinterest. The woman stopped and began to flip through her pad, looking for their bill. “Can you give me directions to Centralia?”

The waitress stopped looking for their bill long enough to stare at Glory as if she‘d been startled awake. There was only one word to describe her expression…. appalled.

“There’s no way to get up there by car anymore,” said a wizened man at a nearby table. “Not unless you’ve got four wheel drive. Even then, I wouldn’t trust the roads. You go up there with something too heavy and you may end up cooked in a sinkhole.” He smiled slyly, showing the stubs of only a few yellowed, pitted teeth. “I got a ATV you can rent. Fifty bucks and you gas it up when you come back down.”

“Don’t encourage them, pop,” the waitress snapped, tearing off the bill and slapping it onto the table. “Don’t go up there. Not with the kids,” she snarled at Glory before stalking away.

The old man snorted and stood up from his table. He limped over to where they sat, wincing and stiff legged. At a guess and based on the diner‘s menu, Glory would have said he had gout. “Don’t mind Sarah. She lost her little brother up there when he was ten. Lots of kids go missing around here. Sinkholes open up when kids are out playing in the woods. We don’t find the half of them. The ones we do find, well, mostly we wish we hadn’t. Name’s Jack, but everyone round here calls me pop. Don’t know why. Never had any kids of my own.”

Glory gingerly took the man’s hand, almost expecting it to be oily. Jack, or pop, was all gut with stick figure legs and arms. He had the air of a used car salesman, and she wasn’t impressed by his easygoing demeanor. Jack mentioned the missing and dead children as easily as one might mention a cloudy sky. To him, they seemed merely to be an interesting story to tell. She regretted bringing Robert and Edgar along more than ever.

“That your motor home?” he asked, giving a nod out the front window where the big vehicle was parked. Glory tried to remember if he’d been in the diner when they came in, but she hadn’t really been paying attention. She didn’t suppose it really mattered. A town as small as Ashland, people were bound to notice strangers and be able to pinpoint which vehicle didn’t belong. “You’ll never get up to Centralia in that. Why don’t you follow me back to my place. It’s near where old route 61 used to run through so it won‘t be too hard for you to find your way.”

She scowled but nodded. “Thanks.”

Without another word, he clumped out the door. Glory paid their bill, and they followed the old man up to his ramshackle home. The front yard was overgrown and littered with fallen slate from the roof. The siding on one side of the house was hanging away from the structure and slapping into it with every errant breeze that relieved the oppressive heat of the unseasonably warm day. Or maybe it was the coal fires lurking under the ground, maybe under their very feet, that kept the entire area warmer than it would have been otherwise.

“It’s in the garage,” he announced as Glory climbed out of the motor home. He pushed away from his rusted powder blue Cadillac and staggered through the dead yellow-gray grass towards a building that was much more shed than garage.

***

Centralia, PA Silent Hill

***

to Book 6, part 2, page 6

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