28 April 2007
As you drive east, along one of the ways between Youngstown and New Castle, there is on one road a location where you pass out of Ohio about a hundred feet before you pass into Pennsylvania. No map shows a distinction here, and it only exists in this one location; but the signs that welcome you to each state are spaced accordingly, and no one owns or collects taxes on the small shop that sits directly between them. For years at a time, the shop looks abandoned. There are no signs on the front or on the broken post at the edge of the road, the grass grows through the gravel parking lot unhindered, the windows and door are boarded over and there are never any lights that shine on the property. What it used to be, if it can be certain to have ever been anything, is unclear. It has the general look of a convenience store, though admittedly one without gas, but the wood lattice creating a small hallway in front of the store resembles something generally found on a farm store or small grocer. The roof slopes slightly down toward the back, and the building seems longer than could really be accounted for without some additional purpose. It definitely seems designed to sell something, but no one who lives nearby could tell you what.
Not that they would think to. People drive past it all day, never glancing at it or making remark. The trucking company next door, squarely within Ohio state borders, never parks any vehicles on its lot or turns its lights to illuminate that side of their property in a way that would cross over the line to the shop's property. It is one of the only buildings nearby with no graffiti of any sort, certainly the only abandoned building to claim such an honor.
Rick was driving east down that very road, on the way back from a final errand before his weekend away with some friends at Alice's family cabin. He was on the phone with Matteson, confirming plans, when he realized how thirsty he was and how much farther he had to go. With a promise to see the others soon, he hung up the phone and began watching for somewhere to stop for a bottle or two of pop. As he drew near the Pennsylvania line, he noticed, for the first time, a shop on his left. It looked warm and inviting, the gravel parking lot well maintained and the windows covered in signs that advertised some unspecified sale. "Gob's Market," the sign above the latticework read. He pulled into the lot and got out, glancing to the "Welcome to Ohio" sign facing him from one direction and the "Pennsylvania Welcomes You" sign facing him from the other. With a chuckle, he walked toward the door, reminding himself to only buy what he needed for the drive since he and the others had already stocked for the weekend.
The inside of the store was brightly lit, but small. Across from the door was a short and lanky man, standing behind a metal office desk with a till on it that looked like it was newly made, but of a style that hadn't been in use for nearly a century. The desk looked second-hand, like it had been dropped at a donations shop after an office determined the spots of rust were unsafe for their space, but the till had fine gold filigree covering its edges. The man gave Rick a toothy smile and waved him in.
"Come, buy!" he said.
"Yes, thanks," Rick answered, looking at the man with concern. "I just need some-" he turned to where the merchandise would be and found only one cooler, a single glass door between him and the store's entire stock of four kinds of pop; all of which were common picks for Rick at stores that had more variety. "-uh, yeah. That." He turned and opened the door, grabbing out two bottles of Dr. Pepper, and walked over to set them on the desk. The man nodded as if they were sharing a secret, and began typing quickly on the till. The price popped up, and Rick pulled out his card before looking around at the desk. "I don't suppose you take credit here?"
"No credit. You buy," the man said, slapping the desk. Rick raised his eyebrows and took a deep breath as he shook his head slightly, then pulled a few dollars from his wallet. He handed them to the man, who looked over them for a moment, sniffed them, and then counted and huffed. He opened the drawer of the desk, and Rick noticed an assortment of gold coins and foreign-looking currency and a gemstone. The man threw the bills into the drawer and dug around for a bit, pulling out two quarters, giving them a bite as if checking them, and then handing them to Rick with a nod.
"Uh, okay. Thanks!" Rick said, picking up his drinks and leaving. He paused at the door and gave one last glance to the man, as if making sure he wouldn't follow, but the man seemed preoccupied with typing into his till again. Rick shook his head and left. After the sound of tires on gravel moved away from the building and was replaced by the roar of an engine entering traffic, the man absently reached up and pulled at an invisible string above his head. There was a click, and the shop went completely dark. Outside, it looked just as abandoned and unmarked as it ever had, the grass in the gravel lot swaying in the wind.