Jesse’s beast of an auto complained one last time, cresting the hill north of Gloaming Gap. The engine swore like a sailor and farted exhaust through the driver’s side air conditioning vents. Jesse’s gags from the stench stifled his salty reply to the foul air. He pounded the controls to roll down all four windows. Three of them cooperated. At the tip of the incline, the view of the town of Gloaming Gap smacked into the windshield, and Jesse’s beast of an auto stalled dead.

“What now, you ungrateful monster?” Jesse roared at the dashboard. “I just changed your oil last week!”

The aroma of roasted chicken materialized like a specter directly outside the open driver’s side window, then reached inside the car and slapped Jesse’s nostrils.

“Owww!!!” Jesse held his stinging nose as he watched the smell race down the hill towards the town below. On its own accord, his car engine roared to life and sped down the hill after the impertinent smell. He wished his car would stop chasing everything that moved.

“Slow down! You’ll get us killed!” Jesse screamed, as he pounded on the dashboard. The car increased its speed. Jesse arm-wrestled the steering wheel as they sped past the city limits sign — “Welcome to Gloaming Gap”.

Jesse struggled with the car as it continued to chase its roasted chicken-scented prey through the town. The car refused to slow down and Jesse reached for the emergency brake when . . .

Kerchunk! Whirrrrrrrr – Bang! The beast inexplicably shifted from 5th to 3rd gear. Jesse retaliated with a swift uppercut to the gearshift and a kick to the brakes that slammed the car sideways into a parking space along the main street. Jesse sprang from the car onto the sidewalk. The door clawed at his leg as it slammed itself shut, ripping a small hole in Jesse’s khakis.

“You want a piece of this, huh?” Jesse bellowed at the rust-orange vehicle. “You think you’re so bad? Bring it on! I’ll take you down, you ignorant pile of toaster parts! Your mother was a single-slice toaster, and your father was a tire iron! You don’t have enough real metal in your whole body to make one recycled paper clip!”

Jesse nearly tripped over a woman with a stroller hurrying past him, and utterly failing to not notice his tirade. He continued screaming at the top of his lungs at the vehicle.

“You know what I’m going to do? I’m over you! I’m calling a taxi and going home without you! And I’m taking the new tire with me! How are you going to get home then, huh? You’re so ugly, tow trucks blow out their headlights so they don’t have to look at you!”

In the distance dogs began howling.

“No! No! No! You know what? Forget the taxi! I’m taking the BUS home. Yeah, the B-U-S! You’re the whole reason they invented public transportation! You . . .”

A finger poked Jesse sharply behind his knee, and he wheeled around to see who was there.

“What!!”

A skateboard-toting young boy in baggy jeans and a black skull-and-crossbones t-shirt lifted his head up to meet Jesse’s gaze.

“Excuse me, Mister!”

“Huh?”

image by Jeannine Burkholder

“Excuse me, Mister. You’re stepping on my gum.”

Jesse stepped back and looked down at the gooey mess sticking to the concrete. The boy peeled the gum from the sidewalk and popped it in his mouth. Before Jesse recovered from his surprise the boy was sailing away down the street on his skateboard.

“Man! Some people are just weird!” he muttered to himself.

Jesse stooped to examine the small tear in his khakis, but the savory roasted chicken smell unexpectedly reappeared, pinched his nose, and started dragging him down the sidewalk.

“Ow ow ow ow!” he protested. At next intersection, the wind mercifully shifted and the smell lost its grip on Jesse’s nose. He stood up straight and peered at the street signs. He was almost at his destination.

Smack!

The persistent olfactory apparition of roasted chicken had returned to slap Jesse’s cheek.

“Oww!”

Smack!

Jesse broke into a jog, then took off like a gazelle fleeing a hungry lion as the ephemeral beast began slapping him at will.

Smack!

“Oww!”

Smack!

“Oww!”

He sprinted around a corner and down an alley, where salvation appeared in the form of a faded yellow trash dumpster. No wily smell could compete with the visceral odor of fetid garbage! Jesse whipped open the lid of the trash dumpster and flung his head inside with all the grace of a charging hippopotamus. One long, deep breath filled his lungs with the stench of rotten garbage. The assault on his tender nose and cheeks stopped. Never before had Jesse even imagined he could be grateful for the odor of soiled diapers baked under the pounding sun.

Oh no. No! No! The evil smell of roast chicken was tapping him on the shoulder. Jesse’s body went rigid with panic. He opened his mouth as wide as possible to inhale more smell of putrefied garbage.

“Excuse.”

“What?”

“Excuse.”

“Um what oh wait . . .”

“Excuse. I am taking out trash.”

The tap on Jesse’s shoulder had not been a physically manifested olfaction. There was a real person standing behind him. Jesse stumbled his way upright, banging the back of his head on the edge of the dumpster door.

“Oww!”

A huge plastic bag of trash landed in the place Jesse’s head had occupied a second ago.

Jesse looked up in time to see an impossibly large man throw a second bag of trash on top of the first with one hand, and close the dumpster lid with another. Then the giant of a man turned and walked away without uttering a word. Rubbing his sore nose, Jesse walked behind the man on his way out of the alley. In a few long paces, the man crossed the alley and entered the rear door of a pink concrete building. Jesse stopped and read the small black lettering stenciled above the door. “Muffin and Stuffin – Please enter in front of building”.

“Bingo!” Jesse had reached his destination.

Around the front of the building hung a brightly painted wooden sign in the shape of a muffin. The lettering on the bright pink muffin sign proclaimed, “Muffin and Stuffin” in large curly letters. The dots above the i’s were sparkly gold stars. The sign’s garish cuteness made Jesse smile.

In seconds, his camera had snapped several photos of the unapologetically brash building and its sign. Despite his recent encounter with the foul contents of a trash bin, Jesse’s stomach growled and did a happy dance at the anticipation of eating warm muffins with creamy frosting. His write-up about “Muffin and Stuffin” would be the first bakery covered in his food blog. It would also be the first establishment he had ever written about in the town of Gloaming Gap.

Jesse was going to be a famous food critic. He visualized himself in dark sunglasses and a baseball cap, sidling into a 5-star restaurant in New York City to avoid being noticed. The disguise, of course, necessitated by the wild success of his popular food television show . . .

Jesse shook his head to clear the fantasy and to concentrate on the task at hand. He would do this piece about “Muffin and Stuffin” and then maybe next time, his car would consent to taking him to a big city like Scranton. His sojourn to Gloaming Gap would be but a pebble on his path to international fame and acclaim.

The town, however, had its own ideas.

To be continued…