The problem with The Barrel was, the menu was too damn complex. Burgers and fries and ice cream, just like you’d expect, right? But also pizza, fried chicken, and six kinds of popcorn! The greasy kids working there could barely operate the cash register, so you could just about bet that your order was getting screwed up. I went there one night and ordered a slice of pepperoni and a Coke. What I got was a half-cooked corndog and a soggy hamburger bun. They might have just been messing with me because I was drunk at the time. They probably were, too.
Nick Overton owned the place, but he didn’t like to show up unless it was absolutely necessary. He’d stop by now and then to make sure the place wasn’t on fire, but that’s about it. The upright citizens of the community were upset about the lack of supervision, but they still let their kids work there every summer. They shouldn’t have.
The customers were mostly locals, but every so often a passer-through would grab some food for the road. The Slow Man was a passer-through.
I call him the Slow Man because that’s what the kids called him afterwards. They said he talked like a record on the wrong speed. Slow and deep and distorted. He tried to order something, but they couldn’t make out what he was saying. They started laughing at him. They shouldn’t have.
They said he went back to his car and came back with something that looked like a skeleton’s hand holding a candle. As soon as they saw it, they fell asleep, right on the spot. When they woke up, they noticed that Bill McAllister was missing. Whoosh. Gone.
They looked all over for him. No luck. They went outside and looked around. Still nothing. Then Jenny Wyler noticed that something was coming out of the downspout, which was all wrong because there was a drought. She got closer and saw that it was red.
Joey Smith boosted Deputy Mark Green up to the roof of the place and when he saw Bill up there, gutted like a deer, his blood draining into the gutters, he threw up all over himself, which is saying something considering how many car wrecks that guy has seen.
No one ever found the Slow Man. I don’t know who he is, but I know what he’s got in that car. And if I ever run into him, I intend to take it for myself.
Random Nouns: community, complex
This is the first story in my Random Roadside series. In this series, I pick a random image from John Margolies’ Roadside America photography collection at the Library of Congress and use it as the setting for a story. I allow a computer program to randomly select the genre I will write in and two nouns, which I must work into the story.