The wooden sign on Scenic Road (Virginia Route 94) read:
Where the Trail begins … FRIES
I pulled off on the gravel turnout and immediately saw the 15-foot-tall (4.57 meters), stone, turn-of-the-20th-century, cotton mill dam on the New River.
“What’s the deal with this stop, Parkaar?” [my ailing alias] Monique, my Filipina wife, asked from the passenger seat of our 2005 Kia Rio. I just know that he’s already recording.
“Oh, I just wanted to look at this old dam again, Agent 32.” Agent 32? Yep, he’s definitely recording.
“Why, did someone go over it and die?”
“Not sure. Maybe when it was a waterfall.” [The dam was built at the site of Bartlett Falls.]
I stepped out of our warm, gray car, and into a cold, gray December day. There were patches of hardened snow here and there that crunched under foot. The temperature was below freezing, even at the four o’clock hour.
Monique then got out and walked over to the edge of the little plateau. She glanced down at the narrow pond that was adjacent to the river.
A brown sedan then slowly drove by. I guess we are already on the radar.
“What is the purpose of that dam, Parkaar? Was it built for flood control?”
“No, it was built for hydroelectric power for the textile plant. See that old building down there.” I pointed to a brick, four-story powerhouse.
Monique stared at the old building that had large, arched, bricked-in, top-floor window insets.
“The water flowed through it, 32, turning large turbines for electricity. The guy who got the mill up and running was from North Carolina. The town has his surname.”
“Oh, I thought that it was because this town had good French fries, 33.” She then had a hearty laugh.
I chuckled. “And, get this, the correct pronunciation is freeze.”
“How do you know this, 33?”
“I remember reading it in a pamphlet about the New River Trail.”
“Yep, yep, yep.”
“Oh, not the Malloy [a semi-fictional character who appears in numerous short stories and in the novella Mysterieau of San Francisco] shtick again. Give it a break, Parkaar.”
I just grinned and rubbed my right eye.
Monique then gazed at the wide river section below the dam. This little town is in the middle of nowhere. Not sure if I could live here. Though, I’m sure my husband could.
For some reason I recalled a day in the mid-1990s when I saw an elderly trout fisherman standing on a mid-stream rock, casting away. Wonder if that guy is still alive. Maybe he died quietly in his sleep in 2009. Did he ever win a mid-level scratch-off prize? Did he once work in the mill? Was work hard to find after 1989? Did he have a rival for a certain local lass? Did he win out and marry her? Did she die tragically on the river? I doubt that he would have ever expected to surface in a short story.
“What are you thinking about, 33? You seem awfully pensive over there.”
“Oh, just thinking about mortality, I guess.”
“In a fey way again, are you?”
“Well, no one lives forever, 32.” Gosh! He can be so morbid.
“Ok, enough of that, Parkaar. New topic: This famous trail – where does it start?”
“Less than a mile [1.6 km] from here, Monique. It’s right beside the river. A great photo-op.”
“Ok, let’s check it out.”
We got back in the car and motored into town. After passing the post office, I made a right onto Firehouse Drive. Soon we were entering a gravel parking lot for New River Trail State Park. Our vehicle was the only one. However, the sign said that you had to pay at all times (by cash into a lockbox), and for any amount of time. So, no free parking here. Not even on this fatalistically forlorn day. We’ll just stop for a minute.
I parked the Kia so that we were facing the grayish green river. I kept the engine running.
“Well, want to snap a quick pic, Monique?”
We got out of the car and she took a series of photos of the broad river.
“So, how new is this New River, 33?”
“It’s actually a very old river, 32. Thus, the name.”
“You Americans are crazy!” She laughed.
Then I heard a car entering the parking lot. It was a white sedan that slowly passed by us, looped around, and summarily exited. Whew! Glad it wasn’t a cop or someone from State Parks. I need a parking ticket like another hole in my head. [I have a shunt behind my right ear.]
“Who was that, Parkaar?”
“Just some tourists from Ohio. I think that was our important portent: It’s time to leave.”
We got back in the car and rolled up to the trailhead. This jogged Monique’s memory.
“Oh, yes! I remember this place. We rode our bikes here a few years ago. We got drinks at that red caboose. I rode 37.3 miles [60 km] that day! My personal best.”
“Yeah, that was one fine ride. No doubt about it. We should do it again sometime. Maybe next spring.”
We then exited the parking area and headed back towards the dam. As we went by the former mill site, I thought about the people who worked there over the decades. It must have been devastating to this little hamlet when that mill closed. And the high school closed, too. But, this place sure has potential. So much natural beauty. If I had the money, I’d open an inn here. Oh, what am I thinking? What do I know about innkeeping? Nada. [Nothing in Spanish] In keeping with innkeeping. Words.
Then Monique looked at me as we passed the dam and headed for Galax. “The water just keeps going down.”
“Yeah, that’s what it’s paid to do, 32.”
“Paid to do?! Have you lost your last marble, 33?”
Suddenly we heard the rumble of the right-side tires on the gravel shoulder. The car had drifted off the pavement.
“Ok, turn that digital audio recorder off now!” Monique demanded. “Start focusing on the matter at hand: safely driving us to a warm hotel in Galax.”
I removed the thin recorder from my shirt pocket and switched it off. Wonder if I got enough material for a short story. Seems a wee thin. There’s always the fluff factor, though. And, the form factor. The fluffable, [sic] formable factor. The lost sinker.
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