The following is a work of complete fiction and is in no way a depiction of the real Ramona, Kansas. From what I've heard, it's actually a lovely place.
In the line at the post office, everyone faces the back of heads, or shoe gazes. Except one, and he's looking to his left at an old bulletin board riddled with colourful tacks, and missing children posters. The man wonders why some are even still there, as the “last seen on” date was more than twenty years ago. As always his eyes eventually settle upon one child, over to the side. Something washes up and crests in the back of his throat. The man wipes his tears on the absorbing cotton of his sleeve. The entrance door jangles a bell, lifting these old eyes up to meet hers.
And now we're pretty much the only ones in this little bar. There's a slouch on a stool, his head curls down and hangs over his beer. He's really thin and the bar maid, who is nice looking, tells him softly that she can't serve him any more beer. He nods accordingly. The bar maid then cracks fresh ice with a pick, maintaining her casual ease.
A small band can hardly be contained by the even smaller stage. Their instruments of euphony poke out into the rest of the bar like pins from a cushion. The drummer's suit shakes dust from itself whenever he moves. A microphone stands in front of the stage, waiting for Pearl's “right quick” bathroom break to end. We can hear a faint flush and moments later she walks out into the open. Pearl is probably close to 50 years old and her hair needs to be dyed again as there are flecks of gray throughout. The one piece dress that clings to her noticeable belly folds is blue and sparkles and it's like she's a queer specter floating across the bar towards the stage. She speaks to her band for a moment and then sings with a great confidence that her average voice shouldn't allow. We can't make out the words but it's probably sad as she hangs her head and holds onto the stand.
Excerpt from The American Standard, June. 14th, 1986. Interview with Winston Gale, self proclaimed eccentric billionaire and man behind the much talked about “Gale Towers”.
AS: Thank you again for taking the time to talk to us. We realize you must be pretty busy right now.
WG: Oh, no problem. I think I read your magazine everyday, actually. I love it.
AS: I think you know what the first question is. Why build these enormous parallel towers in Ramona, Kansas of all places?
WG: (laughs) Well, yes everyone's been asking or curious about that now, haven't they? I'll tell you, as a foreigner in this country (born and raised in London, England) with a wealth of funds I've taken every advantage to see and breathe in every crevice of this land. In Ramona I found this wonderful little place that was like no outsider had laid eyes on it. Like an undiscovered island in Fiji. It seems like any other sleepy little town, but I felt something in Ramona. The people and the town are alive in a way that few things are.
AS: Well that narrows down Ramona as a locale. Now why these infamous towers?
WG: What better way to give back to this little community that has been so nice to me. To my understanding things are not so well there. Financially, that is. Many men were able to have jobs in constructing the towers. Now that they're done, people will maintain them and work in the gift shops. And ultimately, my friend, all this attention being deservedly brought to Ramona will kick their economy into a fever pitch.
AS: Why specifically towers?
WG: (pause) Well, why not towers?
AS: That's a point, I guess.
AS: The Gale Towers open in only a few more weeks. There's rumors of an extravagant opening ceremony. Can you go into any details?
WG: I can tell you that there will be an unforgettable act or stunt or what have you involving the towers. It will take your breath away. Also, that there will be a very special guest. One of the most hilarious and genuine women I've had the pleasure of meeting while traveling the country, the lovely Miss Audrey Hepburn.
The American Standard, June. 14Th, 1986. All rights reserved
Behind Grace is the little homely looking gas station where she filled up before making the last trek across the steaming highway to her mother. The road is just a black tar run cutting through a wheat field. In the way that Oz was visible to Dorothy from a distance, Grace can easily make out Ramona. This is entirely thanks to two tragically large towers that stand faded blue into the sky with the tiny bumps of a town sitting beneath.
The town seemed like it was ready to be blown out into the blank surroundings. The vibrant paint that was once put on the downtown buildings in preparation for the towers was now chipped and weather beaten. The towers themselves, Grace observed as she walked between them, were fairly thin, about 100 feet apart and 70 stories high. In coming up to Ramona, the towers didn't look so bad. Strange, out of place, but powerful. Now, being this close, Grace could see them for the incredible eye sore that they truly are. Held together by weak stitches from crooked masons, their entrances boarded up and graffiti tattooing the sides.
While on this sidewalk, cracked and breached by weeds and dandelions that came up for air, Grace travels in her mind to the night before the towers opened. The town being walked on by foreign feet, everyone and everything painted in a midnight blue on account of the sun signing off. Each store and restaurant like a glowing orange box to the outside. The carnival, like many of its kind, only looked nice and appealing at night. Everyone walking towards technicolor swinging steel. And all these people never to come back, just leaving behind wrappers and hysterically quiet days. When the media coverage on the towers fizzled out and Gale lost interest so did tourists, that was about ten years ago. In that time Ramona's face lift fell off and Gale had went and shot himself along with his boyfriend. That's how he died.
When Grace opens the door to the bar, it's like opening a coffin for a cigarette and beer corpse. Her eyes adjust shakily to the new found darkness, stumbling over some leg of a table before finding a seat. Her mother, a swaying blueberry disco ball, putting the last vocal brush strokes on a tune from her own pen.
Pearl finishes and can see her Grace sitting alone clapping. She giddily hops off the stage and over to her daughter. Grace stands up, arms open. She's gotten heavier since last time. Pearl tells her this after the hug.
“Mom.” sighed Grace.
“Always were real cute in the face, though.”
“Do you wanna just go home? How's Sam?”
“Oh, Jesus.” spat Pearl.
A green fence fingers out of the snow and winds around the rotting baseball field. We can hardly see through these big fat flakes, but there are two kids trudging their way through snow that goes past their knees. One is in a pink suit and she screams “Sam!” at the one in blue after he shoves snow down her neck. Sam laughs and throws his head back as he tramps towards the fence, leaving her behind to fish the cold stuff out.
Sam dives for the fence, managing to throw most of his weight over. For a brief moment he seesaws on his belly, feeling the fence's arrow points painfully. He quickly falls over to the other side, face first into the white hump which gives away like paper. Sam quickly jumps up, face frozen, he looks back at the pink object in the distance pointing and laughing at him. “Megan! Shhhh!” Sam tries to say more but trails off as he presses the mittens against his face, the snow was already melting off.
Megan stands in front of the fence, a little tornado of flakes blows about in front of her. Sam taunts, splashing snow at his sister. Megan waits for the tornado to find new ground and then makes to climb the million year old fence. A rumbling in the skies draws Sam's head up. He stands, mouth open, a few snow flakes land on his tongue. His eyes scan the clouds. Looking back at Megan, who's on top of the fence now, he asks if she hears that noise. No response. Sam looks up again, turns from Megan and starts walking towards the deeply buried pitchers mound. Yellow and red lights flash warm and dull through the clouds. Sam stops in his tracks. The lights guide over to his sister, who's distorted and occasionally visible though flakes. It looks as if she is floating against the fence. A chest quaking rumble makes Sam cover his already muffed ears. The lights hover over Megan, her collar is yanked to the flashes and bursts above. Sam takes two steps forwards but turns and runs as the rumbling grows higher. He doesn't stop running until he is through the woods and grabbing his mother while she shovels the front steps.
“Where this time?”
“Outside of Randy's one night...Saturday.” said Sam
“Does he still have that meth lab?”
“Nope, it blew up”
“Seriously? That was in his garage, was anyone hurt?” Grace wanted know.
“Muffin lost her front leg. That's his cat.”
Sam sat in a swivel chair, leaned back near the window. A breeze picked up, trembled the light curtains and blew his dark thinning hair. Grace sat on the edge of his unmade bed. Her brother smelt like sour milk. That's mostly what she kept thinking about. Years from now and until Grace passed on to the lord, sour milk would always remind her of this moment with Sam.
Her brother talked of patterns in the skies, weather and economic sequences that are all pointing to an external other worldly force. Grace walked over to the window where Sam sat, leaned over and poked her head out the window. A bird on the branch adjacent only said tweet-tweetin' then shuffled off to find a less scrutinized tree. Grace asked her brother if he still had his telescope. He did. She asked him if, tonight, he could point out the constellations, the buckle of Orion's belt and where the saucers cruise the galaxy fantastic. Sam said okay. They dug the apparatus out of the closet and sat assembling together. A breeze blew the instructions under the bed.
Outside the door to the bedroom, Pearl stood for a moment and then walked away downstairs. She sat cross legged next to her bed, surrounded by pictures, albums, the beaten report cards and scholastic macaroni pictures. This is exactly what Pearl would do when Grace came to visit, which was rare now. She held a dog eared photo in her hands. Running fingers across it, the gloss now ceased to exist. It's just old and has a deep crease in the middle, separating the gone from the here. To the left, Washington and Megan. Herself, Sam and Grace on the right. Pearl can remember her sister took the picture at a family reunion. It was the second take because grampy walked in front of the lens on the first try. You could see a lake behind them all, and trifle on the picnic table. Leaving Washington after Megan disappeared didn't make sense but it was the most sensible thing Pearl could think to do. Ramona is small, but she still managed to avoid him mostly. Until today while going to mail a letter, and he was standing in line. They spoke and managed to maintain something Pearl thought would have been lost. A genuine respect and interest in one another. Maybe he would stop by to visit later, with her and the kids. They could all eat and be good too.
Up in the air a jet tore through clouds and just missed colliding with another. Two more jets joined in, racing neck and neck before looping over one another, trailing puffy white exhaust like thread. Way, way down on the ground fingers pointed upwards, kids' eyes widened and their hands quickly covered their ears when one would roar over their heads.
Winston Gale stood on a stage with his hands shaking over the crowd. He stamped his feet with the exuberance of a faith healer whipping the sick out of the sickly. An older but none the less beautifully classy woman put her slender hand on Gale's arm to try and calm him down. She had said some nice words to the town earlier. People were surprised at how short she was in person.
The roars from the sky eventually ceased and Gale shifted focus upon a thick red rope connecting the two towers. What he said into the microphone brought out gasps and and excited chatting. Washington and his family had decided this would be a good thing to go to. Grace was catching the 4:30 bus out of Ramona and almost half way across the country to school.
They all stood together, Sam eating a hot dog Washington had bought, and Pearl dabbing the ketchup off his shirt. Gale yelled something out like “from France” although no one could really hear him, but they all took notice when a woman appeared in a window on the left tower. She stood in front of the rope, above them all, in a red body suit. Now that she was more visible, the audience clapped and cheered down below. A red cape billowed out from behind her and ripped around in the wind. The people of Ramona went silent as this red woman removed her cape and put her arms out like a T. One step out. Two steps. Soon she was towards the middle of the rope. Not a word from the crowd below. Grace felt Sam squeezing the back of her leg. She looked down as he looked up, completely neglecting his hot dog. Grace put a hand on his shoulder and joined his gaze upward.
The red woman looked straight up, now in the middle of the rope. She paused and breathed deep several times. She brought her head back down and maintained eye contact with her manager waiting at the other end.
Now resting in her manager's arms, the red woman teared up and began to cry as she heard the huge response from the crowd. This was, after all, only her second time with no net and she had performed flawlessly They applauded louder when she stuck her head out of the window, waving and blowing kisses. Later, on stage, as the ceremony came to a close she threw her cape out to Ramona like a bridal bouquet.
The family said good bye in front of the bus. Pearl probably cried the most. They watched and watched as the bus got smaller and smaller into the blue.
There's a restaurant 'slash' bar grand opening in a couple of hours. That sounded pretty good to Washington. Although, Pearl had requested to be able to sing with a local band they had performing there. He didn't know how that'd be.
It's just Washington and Sam later on, driving in the car from their home to city hall. Then they had to stop off at the rec center and post office before meeting Pearl at the bar. Sam, in the passenger's seat, is quietly staring out the open window as they drove. In the back of the vehicle, on the floor, are pictures Washington had taken of Megan at the park one summer ago. Distracting from his child enjoying that wonderful day was the giant MISSING looming over her head. Five months she had been gone. Only a week since Pearl had yelled at him about wanting to go on with everything and took all the MISSING's down. But what is the harm in having them up anyway? None harm. The car made its way to their second stop, passing people in line for the towers with kids in their arms and dogs at their sides. An hour ago a woman had walked above them on thin air.
And now we're pretty much the only ones that can see Sam's face as he gazes into the side car mirror. He's watching a boy, about his age, who he recognizes from school. The boy has his arms out like a T as he walks along the edge of a curb. Not nearly as sturdy as the red woman, he wobbles and catches his balance. That magnificent god damn cape is around his neck and licks the air. Sam starts to lose sight of him as the car goes down hill. The boys' balance is shaken once again as he sinks out of view. The cape waves good bye and Sam wishes the boy caught himself.
RAMONA, KANSAS earned an Honorable Mention in the 2008 Competition.
Matthew Adams was born and raised in the small town of Summerside in Prince Edward Island, Canada. He has had a keen interest in story telling since a young age. In elementary school he wrote many sequels to the popular 'Gremlins' films. All were well received by teachers and classmates. It was only within the last year that Matthew became interested in writing again and is currently working on a novel. Matthew has a diploma in digital filmmaking and hopes to make a go at a profession in that industry in the not too distant future.