March 18, 2005

Fresh Bait,

By Julia Vettraino © 2005

Tumbleweed the size of my car rolled brazenly by, mingling with the asphalt and potato farms as though they owned the land here in the middle of Nowhere, Idaho. Several times I had to swerve to avoid catching their twisted extremities in my grill. The sun had almost set, and the fog showed no sign of dissipating. My headlights highlighted the wisps, making them ghostly in appearance as they danced across my hood. Trying to ignore the fuel light that had been blinking at me for the past ten minutes, I scoured the side of the highway for a sign indicating that a town was nearby.

Twenty miles up the road I found one. "All Services," the sign proudly boasted. Relief flooded through my body and I slowly exhaled, thankful that I was not going to have to pull over to the side of the road until morning.

I made the exit, pulling into the parking lot of what barely resembled a gas station. There were weathered old signs everywhere, meekly attempting to advertise what the shop had to offer. Though the building was small, the signs indicated that a restaurant was contained within. Noticing about a dozen other cars, I couldn’t help but think that this must be the place to be on a Friday night around these parts.

As I topped off the tank and made my way inside, I spotted another sign that read “Fresh Bait.” This raised my curiosity, as this was not exactly fishing country. Visions of rabbit snares and rat traps entered my mind, and I decided I was probably better off not knowing. If nothing else, it certainly eliminated any chance of me trying the daily soup.

The door creaked and a little bell chimed, announcing my arrival. Every head in the place turned to see who walked in, then just as promptly returned to what they were doing. I was nothing but a tourist to them, a passerby. A nameless face that none of them would recognize if I showed up on a missing persons poster tomorrow, taped carelessly beside the sepia-tinted sign that read "Biscuits and Gravy, $1.50."

I did gain the attention of one man, however. He stood up from the congregation of locals, drained the contents of his coffee mug, and slowly made his way to the register. He was obviously the clerk, hell, he was probably the town mayor as well. I could feel his leer burn through my skin as I walked around the aisles, trying to stretch my legs a bit before I returned to the car. The tiny hairs on the back of my neck stood on end as he stared me down, and unpleasant shivers ran throughout my spine. If he was afraid I was going to steal something, I could have easily set his mind at ease. For the same reason I can't buy food at a dollar store, nothing would make me purchase anything from the meager candy aisle here. You just never know how long the stuff has been sitting around. Even the pine air fresheners for your car looked like they had been here since 1942.

Knowing I needed to get out of there, I made my way to the till. "Just the gas, thanks" I said quietly. I could feel his eyes roaming up and down my body, and I cursed the shower I took that morning and the make-up I was wearing. I knew my perfume cut through the stale, smoky air, and I wished that I had thought to wear a ball cap and an overcoat instead. Handing over the money, I tried to avoid looking into his yellowing eyes or at the chipped teeth that hid behind his smirk. I was certain I could make out the sound of banjos dueling and pigs screaming somewhere in the distance.

Exiting as quickly as I could, I glanced over at the sign I noticed on the way in.

Fresh bait, indeed.

Julia Vettraino is a writer and poker player from Calgary, Canada.

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