Last Exit to Nowhere

By Kevin Joseph Reigle

The disturbance call comes just before the end of my shift. I’ve been waiting for something to happen since the Mud Bowl ended an hour ago. Tonight, is the most important night of the year here in Campbell County. Believe it or not, the Mud Bowl between Jellico and LaFollette is even bigger than the FFA donkey basketball game they have down at the armory.

Diane’s voice crackles over the radio. A group of kids are up on Mingo Fork burning wood and making enough noise to incur the wrath of the old spinster across the way on Hyde Creek. Anytime kids go up there for a little fun, she always calls the station.

I have the local AM station on, listening to the high school football recap show as I pull off 75 onto the exit ramp. The interesting thing about Mingo Fork is that it doesn’t exist. It was a big development project that everyone around here was excited for about ten years ago. 

A restaurant, hotel and golf course were slated to be built at the top of the hollow. The only thing the development group needed was an exit off the interstate. They lobbied the local politicians and when that didn’t work, they threatened to take the project somewhere else.  Well, the exit got built, but the development group went bust. So, here we are, with an exit to nowhere.

The only thing off the exit is a winding dirt road designed for construction vehicles that never came, and a cellphone tower at the top of the ravine. That’s where the kids go and build their bonfires, under the glow of the blinking tower. 

Eight years ago, when I was a senior at Jellico, some of my classmates started racing up and down the dirt road. That’s how my friend Sean died. I wasn’t there when it happened, but earlier that day, he forgot his jacket in my car. One thing I’ll never forget was having to give it to his mom.

I let the squad car slow to a crawl as I go around the final curve before reaching the top of Mingo Fork. Below the tower, a bonfire burns, and six or seven teenagers drink and dance to music blaring from a pickup truck. As I park, the flashing lights get their attention. 

They look over as one of them turns down the music. As I get out of the cruiser, a voice calls out. I recognize it right away. It belongs to Mark Truman, star wide receiver of the Jellico High School football team.

“Didn’t I tell you guys not to come up here anymore?” I ask him, realizing right away my voice is a little too stern. 

At his feet are three girls, two of which I recognize as cheerleaders. An offensive lineman leans against the pickup truck and the kicker is in the cab with a girl, trying to hide a beer.

“What did you think of the game tonight?” Mark asks as I approach.

“You know, beating La Follette doesn’t mean you can come up here and do whatever you want.”

“Of course, it does.”

“Listen guys,” I say to everyone. “The lady across the hollow called this in. I need you to put out the bonfire and move the party somewhere else.”

Collectively, the group groans and starts shuffling around, putting out the fire and collecting their things. The wind picks up a little and the November breeze has a chill to it that’s been lacking. For some reason, it’s been warmer than usual for this time of year.

Across the hollow, I can just make out the old woman standing under her porch light. When I raise my hand to wave, the light goes dark, and she disappears into the house. The sound of metal reverberates as Mark throws a rock at the base of the cellphone tower.

“Is it true a prom queen was killed up here, like a million years ago?” he asks.

“She wasn’t the prom queen,” I answer. “She was the homecoming queen, and no it’s not true. It’s just a story.”

Mark nods as he tosses a rock underhand into the air and lets it fall to the ground. “So, it’s like an urban legend?”

“That’s exactly what it is.”

“But if it didn’t happen, why did you say she was the homecoming queen?”

“Because that’s how the story goes. We used to tell it when I was in school.”

We start back to where the group is still packing their stuff into the pickup. One of the truck’s headlights is out. I lean closer and give the cover a smack with the heel of my hand. The light flickers back to life.

“Do you miss it?” Mark asks, kicking dirt over the glowing embers of their makeshift bonfire. 

“Playing?” I ask, rising and pointing at the ring on my right hand.

Mark looks around. “I mean all of it.”

“Every day,” I say returning to the squad car.                                      

*   *   *

Kevin Joseph Reigle’s short stories have appeared in Beyond Words Literary Magazine, The Pensworth Literary Review, The Dillydoun Review, Bridge Eight, Prometheus Dreaming, TDR Daily, The Yard, and Drunk Monkeys. His short story Early Bird Café was longlisted for the Dillydoun International Fiction Prize. He teaches at the University of the Cumberlands.








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