As part of my funding campaign for Steel in the Blood, publishing December 2021, I wanted to share this piece. I’ll publish it over the next few days. I wrote this around Halloween of last year, after a trip to Dismal’s Canyon in Alabama. If you enjoy it, I would appreciate you checking out the campaign for the book and maybe making a contribution. Every dollar goes towards producing the book, and there are some awesome perks planned. Looking forward to having you on the journey!

All Those Perfect Moments

By N.T. Narbutovskih

The air was that perfect balance between crisp and humid; cool enough to make you think you might need a jacket, but not just yet. The night sang with cicadas and crickets, the constant chirping chorus of background music that set off everything that happened after dusk this time of year in Pleasant.

Population 452, the town was located conveniently at the crossroads of what had promised to be two major highways; the dilapidated facades on Main Street testament to promises of the past long since left unfilled. Despite the lack of following through on the American Dream, Pleasant had done its best to support the few folks who doggedly remained to build it into home. The surrounding land was fertile, and farms had sprung up in small areas between the rolling hills that dominated most of the countryside. Timber was plentiful, and as the loggers did their work, the ranchers followed behind, hay and sorghum and cattle whipping by in the view of the drivers on the highway, evidence of lives and livelihoods. The town sported a general store and the co-op gas station and garage, and as such, was still where most people came to get what they needed. Some years back, Mabel and Clint Harris had bought the old bait store and hunting supply from Frank Kimmel, spending some money they had and some they didn’t on an old restaurant gas range and deep fryer. They furnished the rest of the space with the odd card table and folding chair. Over the years they’d replaced these with matched sets of tables and chairs as the place became a popular gathering point, but Mabel refused to replace the original red and white checked tablecloths, citing a mixture of monetary efficiency and nostalgia any time Clint brought it up. The faded squares, once crisp and happy, seemed to embody the weariness of the rest of the building more effectively than even the rusting wagon wheels and ancient plowshares that decorated the outside. The restaurant was never more than a place to stop on the way to somewhere else; local kids worked there while waiting to take over the farm, people who claimed Pleasant as their home town gathered there on the way home, and the occasional traveler stopped in to eat on their way wherever. Tonight there was a party at Mabel and Clint’s, at least until the party moved on too.

Over the singing cicadas, the voices carried muted through the doorway, occasional bursts of laughter punctuating the dull scraping of chairs against the linoleum floor. Massive mylar balloons in the shape of one and a six floated past the lit window, the figures inside waiving their arms to bat them along the long table. The regulars on the other side of the closed door to the main dining room spoke to each other in low tones, glancing towards the door as it opened, servers carrying in trays of slow-cooker pork shoulder and sweet barbecue sauce. Each time the door swung open the energy of youth spilled out, the loud voices of the teenagers carrying their laughter and exuberance to wash over the quiet patrons in the main dining room who hunched their shoulders against the onslaught like fishermen against a rising storm.

Eventually the gale of happiness and hormones reached a fever pitch and spilled out of the doors to the parking lot, each knot of kids bursting out into the silence of the night and immediately retreating to hushed tones as they became aware of the sharp contrast their voices painted on the quiet dark. Now the loudest sound was the crunching of gravel underfoot, boys and girls separated into little circles standing by their respective vehicles; sedans for the girls, pickup trucks for the boys. The occasional messenger flitted across the divide amongst the sexes like the chemicals between neurons. Negotiations were made, messages passed. Cars began to depart, first in pairs and trios, then singly. Finally the last two groups merged, the boys trying to stand casually and the girls with crossed arms and single legs locked in what they believed was a graceful line. The discussion on where to go and what to do wandered, then finally someone consulted a phone. The drive-in, reopened for a Halloween double feature in Conradville, was floated as the destination. Other ideas were tossed around, narrowed down. Votes were made and tallied. The results in, a few dissenters emerged and were convinced or shouted down. David lingered near the edge of the group, speaking up only when necessary. He voted for the movies, the title the least important thing. He could stream The Lost Boys or The Shining any time he wanted, but this could be his chance to sit next to Nancy Williams for maybe the better part of three hours, packed into the back of the bench-seated pickup thigh-to-thigh. Maybe luck would be with him and he could even put his arm around her. He could see it now, her head resting against his shoulder as she leaned over to get a better view of the screen, sharing a bucket of popcorn. This was the night when it might happen. It was about as far as he could think, but he knew that if she accepted his arm, then they were officially dating, and that was pretty cool.