This is the fourth in a series of short stories written to music. This Old Town was written while listening to The Flying Burrito Brothers’ album The Gilded Palace of Sin.
“Jill…this town is freaking killing me.”
Jill sighed through the phone.
“You don’t have to stay,” she said.
“But I’m so close to a discovery,” said Sarah. “Like one that actually might mean something.”
“I’m just saying,” said Jill. “You know I’d come down if it wasn’t for work.”
Now it was Sarah’s turn to sigh.
“Hey I watched that episode of Louie last night with the fat girl.”
Sarah leaned back and reached for her glass of wine.
“Yeah that actress really like. Really made it… I don’t know.”
“Yeah, I got you. They got it right.”
“Yeah that’s definitely one of the best episodes ever,” said Jill.
“Oh oooh. Just wait till you get to the rest of the season.”
“Fuck me. God dammnit. I wanna go watch those right now.”
Sarah drank deeply.
“How’s the weather over there,” said Sarah.
“Its, uh. Cold. Why?”
“Just hurry up with that dig, OK?”
Jill hung up first. Sarah stared at Jill’s contact picture on her phone before it blinked away.
She put the phone away and moved to the cardboard box sitting on her floor. Dirt was rubbed into the carpet around it. She hoped the landlord wouldn’t mind. He was a weird one.
She opened the box, and pulled out a bubble wrapped rock. She stared at it, turning it over and over in her hand. There was something to this rock. On the surface it wasn’t anything special, but this rock was older than human civilization. And it had writing on it. Not english or any other language Sarah knew about, but it was definitely writing. If there hadn’t been repeating characters Sarah might have discounted it as some lucky scratches, but they weren’t. Someone had put them there.
The box was full of them, all alike and all different. She wanted to find all she could before someone else found out about her dig site.
The etchings were feint. She dragged her finger across the indentations. She looked at the clock. Unsurprisingly, two hours had passed since she’d opened the box. It had only felt like four minutes. Exactly four minutes.
Sarah careful wrapped the rock back up and it in it’s container. She fell back into her bed. It was stiff, and springy. She hated it. And the blankets were that weird shinny smooth fabric that always felt a little cold. She wanted something soft and fuzzy.
She had trouble falling asleep, again.
Sarah’s jeep bumped along the canyon landscape to her dig site. It was four in the morning.
The horizon here was endless. If there was one thing about this place that was nice it was the horizon. Golden cascades of rock. It made you believe anything was possible. Plus you could always see someone coming.
This early in the morning there was no one else out. Not in town. Not out here.
She’d started leaving this early for two reasons. One, it was nice and cool out, and the light was still good. Two, there were no people out. That was the main reason. If she left at any reasonable time, she was accosted by locals at every turn. Gerry was always asking her to come to bingo night. Sarah didn’t know how many ways she could say no.
There was one boy, named Alex who walked around barefoot in a speedo, and she had been the first person to tell him that he was weird. And now she got crap for it everywhere she went. It was like Alex was some sort of local hero for being a complete freak bag.
And the dogs. God dammit those dogs. They were everywhere. Everywhere. On top of houses, in the gas station, in the gas station bathroom, in and around the post office and how could she forget the dog that came out of the dry cleaner in a smart looking suit. Someone laughed and said Ol’ Gerry’s dog was doing it again. Seriously. What the fuck.
She parked above the pit and went around to the trunk to find her things. She pulled out her toolbox, and the big hammer that wouldn’t fit in said toolbox. She couldn’t risk any more dynamite blasts, so she had to go old fashioned.
She stopped at the crest of the pit. She heard herself squeak in response to what her eyes saw. It wasn’t possible.
Soot covered a good portion of the previously rock red pit. Disgusting, awful, jagged, black holes dotted her dig site like pimples. It had been pristine last night when she left. As pristine as a dig site can be anyway.
I hate this place, thought Sarah. She almost turned back there. She almost went home, but that same rage compelled her to stay. Obviously there was something here. Someone didn’t want her to find it.
She hopped into the pit and opened her toolkit. She started brushing at one of the damaged areas. The black soot was charred into the rock itself. She went around and checked each sabotaged spot. Nothing too bad seemed to have happened. Then again, the blasts could have destroyed any number of priceless artifacts revealing the history of mankind and she’d have no real way of knowing.
She suddenly doubted whether or not she’d remembered to lock her door. Alvin, the man who’s guest room she’d rented was the only other one with a key, but he wasn’t the mischievous type. But if someone had done this, that meant someone was gunning for her, and was watching her.
“Hey there, Miss.”
Sarah jumped, and turned. A man in a cowboy hat stood ten feet above her at the top of the hole. The sun was directly behind him, making him nothing more than a dark outline of a body.
“Hello?” she called.
“Yes?” It was five in the morning. What the hell was anyone doing out here?
“Just came to check up on ya, out here.”
She recognized his voice now. It was Sherif Sparks. That would explain the hat too.
“Hey, do you know who would have done this? I mean someone just came and vandalized my dig site.”
“Boy, well I know I sure am sorry to hear that.” He said it like a game show host. “Boy I don’t even know what I would do if something like that happened to me.”
“That’s because you’re not an archeologist.”
“That I am not. That I am not!”
“So. Do you have any ideas?”
“Not a one! Well. I do have one idea, since you asked.”
Sarah waited, but it appeared he needed some prompting.
“I recommend you going to Gerry’s bingo night! Best damn time you’ll find round these parts.”
Sarah laughed and waited for the Sherif to laugh along. After a few moments it became clear that he wasn’t going.
“Wait,” said Sarah, the smile dropping from her face. “That’s your idea?”
“Yes sir, and if you think me telling you about bingo night is a hoot just wait till you get there. Boy almighty some of the things I see there aught to send people to the penitentiary. And I should know!”
This time he chuckled. Sarah shook her head. Whatever. She didn’t need these people. She could do this herself.
“I’m going to go back to digging,” said Sarah.
“Have a good day,” said the dark figure.
She moved back to the ground and started removing her tools. When she looked back up he was still there, watching her. She stared back. It was starting to creep her out, the absolute motionlessness of his stance. And of course she couldn’t get over the fact that she couldn’t make out his face. It was like a staring contest except she couldn’t see his eyes. Eventually she figured it would be better to just ignore him.
She went about her work and at some point he left. She didn’t hear him go, and to think of it she hadn’t heard him come either.