The town was everything Derrick had promised. Even if it hadn't been raining, John could hardly make out anything that promised more than his everyday needs. He spotted an arcade that was probably the only form of entertainment anyone got around here, but the faded paint and the flickering neon sign wasn't an indication that anyone really cared much about it. He had seen a movie theatre on his way into town, but he hadn't recognized any of the titles playing.
Just you and the senior citizens, Johnny boy.
He pulled up to what looked like a market, the sign outside barely visible in the dying light and rain. He raced into the protection of the striped awning, shaking himself as he quickly looked at the used paperbacks on display in the window. His eye caught his own book, blasphemously dog-eared, the pages wrinkled as if someone had dropped it in a toilet. He knew people had certain reading habits, but he had never felt comfortable with the knowledge that someone might be reading his words during their morning routine.
John pushed into the store, the chimes above his head ringing ridiculously. He scanned the small market, mentally taking in the rows of goods as he tried to decide what his immediate needs might be. He had tried writing a list of things to stock the refrigerator, but that had been shot down when he realized the thing didn't even work.
Canned goods it would be.
John grabbed a cart and spent the next hour filling it up, stacking up on beans and tuna, cereal and instant coffee, throwing in a boiler for good measure. He'd have to get a microwave if he wanted to avoid the hassle of cooking.
You're here for six months, Johnny boy. Accept it already.
He pushed the voice aside.
"Getting ready for a storm?" the older woman at the cashier asked, looking at the items he was setting next to the registry and smiling at him.
John smiled back weakly, wondering if he was actually required to engage in any form of conversation.
"Passing through?" the woman asked, not letting up.
John shook his head. "Staying," he said, his voice hoarse. This was a small town, and word spread quickly. He didn't want to leave a bad first impression with the one place he could get food from.
"Oh? Related to anyone in town?"
John shook his head again and forced a small smile. "I'm staying at the Victorian out on Steel Lane."
The older woman squinted, her hand hovering over his canned tuna as she looked at him over the rim of her
glasses. "Now why on God's green earth would you do that?"
John frowned at her as she went back to beeping his groceries across her small screen. "A friend said it was a good way for me to get away." He didn't even know why he had said that.
"Haven't heard of anyone who willingly stayed at that place," she clicked her tongue. "Should be torn down, if you ask me."
"Why? What's wrong with it?"
The woman shrugged. "Nothing, really," she said. "It's been empty for so many years you start to wonder why the hell it's still there. Kids around here use it as a Halloween dare. The Greens next door wanted to buy it just to tear it down and extend their yard."
"That seems like a colossal waste of money," John observed.
"Not for the Greens," the woman winked. "Money grows on trees when it comes to them."
John smiled. It was amusing being part of small town gossip. He looked over the woman's shoulder at the lines of bulbs. He pointed to them and she immediately grabbed half a dozen and added them to the rest.
"Do you know anyone who would be willing to help me clean the place up?" John asked. "I don't think I could handle the place on my own."
The woman placed a hand on her hip and gazed up at the ceiling, thinking. She suddenly nodded and took out a pad and pen from under the register. She jotted down a name and number, ripped the paper from the pad and handed it to him.
"Gina Andrews," the woman said. "Give her a call. The old bird might not have a lot left, but she's tough as a nail, that one. She'll have the place sparkling in a few hours."
"Wow, that's great," John said, pocketing the number and helping her bag the groceries. "I owe you one."
"Forget about it," she said with a smile and wave. "Tell Gina that June Summers gave you the number. She'll give you less trouble that way."
John smiled and thanked her again, carrying his bags towards the door.
"Do you mind me asking you something?"
John turned to her, shrugging. "Shoot."
"I've seen you before," she said, leaning on the counter, eyeing him closely. "Just can't place it."
John smiled and gestured with his chin towards the book stand. "You have my book on display," he smiled.
June's smile made him smile even more. "Right, that's it," she said, waving a finger at him as if he had swindled her. "I knew I'd seen you somewhere before. I'm not good with names, but I never forget a face."
"John Krik," John said, curtsying.
"Well, welcome to Cafeville, John Krik."
John gave her a thumbs-up and shouldered back out into the rain. He was beginning to think he might actually enjoy it here.