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The Loser of Cole County

Do they see what he sees?

By Robyn ReischPublished 3 years ago 4 min read
The Loser of Cole County
Photo by Ales Dusa on Unsplash

Kershaw was an abbreviated map dot - more of a dash, really. Damon only knew it because of their gas station, right off the highway, which was the only one for thirty-two miles. On summer road trips, his family would stop there to fuel up and stretch their legs. The boys could choose a snack if they'd behaved in the car. His mother, somehow, was always surprised to find the restrooms cleaner than they were at other road stops. 

The gas station was flanked by a gun shop and a long abandoned chapel. Across the street, illuminated by the glow of a green neon sign, was Fred's Bar and Grill. 

As far as Damon could see, Kershaw didn't have the means to support such a place by merit of its own residents. It was situated on the far edge of a dry county, though. Dry counties were a dying breed, but they took the prohibition of alcohol seriously. As the nearest place the citizens of Cole County could by booze, Damon suspected Fred's accounting never went into the red.

By Joe Lavigne on Unsplash

Damon himself hadn't had the same luck. No, not luck, he scolded himself - foresight. He'd always struggled with that. Damon always seemed to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, not for ill intent, but rather because he hadn't thought to put himself in the right place - not like Fred's Bar and Grill.

That's exactly how Damon had ended up here - solidly past his high school graduation, and still paralyzed, staring into a deep void ahead of him. Damon hadn't applied to any colleges. He had no job prospects. He had no real interests aside from playing music, which Damon knew he lacked the courage - if not the talent- to pursue on a professional level. 

Damon thought of the way he had always stayed far from the frozen pond at the edge of his parents' property. He never fell through the ice - but he never learned how to skate, either.

Damon knew he should enroll at the local HVAC trade school with his best friend Josh. Josh had bought a ring last weekend for his girlfriend, Annie. She'd said yes, and clasping hands they'd willingly passed into the void together.

By Jake Pierrelee on Unsplash

It was in this spirit Damon found himself headed to Kershaw to purchase some beer. His oldest brother, Jackson, had let him borrow his ID. Jackson wrote down directions to Fred's Bar and Grill, which sold beer by the case.

When Damon pushed on the wooden door, a century of dust and smoke flew up to tickle his nostrils. The building was stale, but its residents still very much alive. The patrons had an odd green glow to them, thanks to the décor. The green neon that constructed their sign also echoed through the interior. Several smaller signs spelled out happy words in the same neat writing: Luck! Drinks! Spirits! Celebrate!

By Stéphan Valentin on Unsplash

Damon slid onto a stool at the end of the bar. Nobody openly acknowledged him. The bartender was mid conversation at the far end of the worn and splintered boards. 

He didn't go entirely unnoticed, though.

A man three stools down stared at Damon. He had clear grey eyes and leathered skin. Damon was unnerved. He offered a nod, but the man's gaze didn't waver. He seemed to look straight through him, into his very bones.

Damon felt a chill.

A couple days ago, Annie caught Damon staring at her. She gave him a strange smile - a little too wide in the teeth, strained at the corners of her eyes, oddly weak in the jaw. It was a couple days before Damon placed it, with a punch to his gut. It was pity. 

Annie Nelson pitied him.

Annie was the kind of girl older women referred to as "plain". She wasn't ugly, but she had a wide nose and tiny, close set eyes. Her coarse brown hair was short, and felt in clumpy tufts by her ears. The overall effect made her look a little bit like a bear. Josh and Damon had known her since preschool. The fact that she could pity him turned Damon's stomach.

Annie Nelson had worked at her family's bakery all through high school. She loved it there - and Josh loved how she always smelled like vanilla cakes and rising bread dough. Now Annie had a ring on her finger and her eye on a three bedroom house in a safe neighborhood. She and Josh talked often about adopting a black lab, buying a home, and someday starting a family. 

By Jordane Mathieu on Unsplash

Damon wondered if they talked about him, too. His cheeks burned at the thought. He saw the words in his own green, loopy neon writing: Deadbeat. Loser. Dud.

Could the grey eyed man sense it, too?

Damon flagged down the bartender and made his transaction as quickly as possible. He knew the ID would work - he and Jackson were often asked if they were twins. As Damon carried the beer towards the exit sign - also green neon - he felt the grey eyed man's gaze follow him. Spooked, he turned his neck to confirm.

The grey eyed man was staring at the spot right above Damon's empty bar stool - through it, in fact, to a muted TV set just above where Damon's head had been. It was tuned to a football game. 

He'd been looking behind Damon the whole time.

The grey eyed man hadn't noticed him at all, Damon realized with an embarrassed grin. He had his own business to concern himself with...and maybe Annie Nelson did, too.

Short Story

About the Creator

Robyn Reisch

Robyn Reisch spends her days cooking, writing, and raising three gorgeous little hooligans. She is married to the world's greatest man.

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