Our town is an ever changing on. The cotton mills have been torn down for town homes so close you could wipe your own neighbor’s rear or they have been transformed into museums or gyms. One such that should have been torn down from a horribly history has been dedicated to African Americans in the region, a bitter sweet purpose nonetheless.
Another building which is named as part of the pearly pink car brigade, still sits in the town like a looming creepy uncle. Across the train tracks sits a city treasure with various flavors of ice cream. Sometimes when we go there, I look across the tracks at the dark brick building. The brightest day or the hottest day, it doesn’t matter, it always leaves a chill of someone walking on your grave. The clouds never seem to part for the sun to shine on it.
I imagine back in the day it was a prosperous brick and mortar of underpaid workers and mass productions of… something. I have no idea of its history, nor can I find it. I ask my parents about it who grew up when it was still a functioning building but they have no idea what I’m talking about.
Mom knew a lot of the history from around here. The fact she didn’t know about the old mill across the train tracks left me with an unsettling feeling.
Last night we decided we wanted some ice cream. I felt like I had rocks in my gut. When we pulled up with the truck and I climbed out, I slammed right into a brick wall. The parking lot we were parked in never had a brick wall this close. The business next door is a print shop and has side walk and cement gardens around it to keep people from driving too close. The ice cream shop is a stand alone with barriers around it for the same reason.
I pressed against the wall to slide from between the truck body and the wall. Jason started walking inside without me. I called out for him, but he didn’t respond. I yelled out his name, he just looked around and kept going in. I got around the end of the truck bed and started to move away from the brick still yelling at him.
I felt something reach out and grab me. I fell back into a dust covered cement floor with the air knocked out of me. It took a minute to figure out where I was and what happened. I looked up the height of the massive wall at the old mill windows and the handmade bricks that was now keeping me in.
As I rolled over and got to my feet, I noticed the amount of old leather boots that stood around me. I followed the overall and coverall clad legs up to the dirty faces of grey told men and women. I stood there and stared back at them with the rocks in my stomach feeling heavier and heavier. I was truly afraid to speak first.
The leader, I assume, pointed at me and crooked his finger for me to follow him. As he turned to leave, regardless of me taking a step or not, the group parted but continued to stare. I dusted myself off and listened to the sound echo throughout the cavernous place. As I looked down to clean myself off, I noticed that my prints were the only ones in the dust.
I took a deep breath and exhaled the cement dust and followed.
The faces of the group were eerie in their gray tones. Hands reached out to touch me as if they hadn’t seen anyone in a millennium, much less color of any kind.
The leader lead me to the center of the room where a cavernous hole was opened in the floor. I stopped abruptly. The hole had pieces of the ceiling falling into it yet it never got any bigger. He pointed at the hole and then held out his hand. I wasn’t getting any closer.
The gaping mouth in the floor seemed to exhale musty air. I felt the press of bodies against me as they tried to herd me toward the hole. I turned around and grabbed people’s shoulders to swim through the group. Like a cliche, I tripped and fell. As hands stooped to grab at me, I crawled across the floor until I broke through the forest of legs and scrambled to my feet.
I ran as fast as I could across my footprints to the wall. I slammed headfirst into it. Darkness.
I woke up to Jason shaking my shoulder and threw my arms around in surprise. We arrived at the ice cream place. I let out a breath and climbed out of the truck. I looked across the train tracks at a building that seemed to be breathing. Somehow the windows held faces staring back.
Addition: Since then people have been disappearing in that area. They’ve become forgotten faces that only close family members seem to remember. I remember them too. The faces that flash on the news that last just brief moments in the headlines and never spoken of again.
34 years of life below the Mason Dixon line leads to a lot of stories of old and new.