Thursday, March 11, 2010

Time Train - Chapter 8

Rhubarb and Columbus find themselves stranded and hunger-stricken in an unfamiliar town.

The sun glared down on Rhubarb T. Porterhut and his ever present hound-in-waiting, Columbus, as they shambled through town looking for some place where they could stave off their appetite. Although it was nearly noon, Winter’s chilly breath ensured a crisp, encompassing air. Since it was too late for breakfast but too early for supper, there were not many food options available save for the general store or the bar, the latter of which Rhubarb hoped to avoid.

Rhubarb had been walking around for less than several minutes when he felt an aching in his back and shoulders. At first attributing the pain to hunger and old age, he finally settled upon releasing Columbus from his confinement, hoping not to exacerbate his health issues any further. Columbus, for his part, was overjoyed at being able to walk on his own four feet, rather than being attached to his master’s back, so to speak.

“I am famished, Columbus, but it looks as though we picked a dilly of a place to stop. Perhaps we will have better luck the next street over.” But Columbus could answer not—he was simply too hungry to even sigh.

After several minutes of navigating the quiet streets of downtown Decatur, the two hungry travelers found themselves in front of a cluttered, but promising general store. And as if on a breeze, both Rhubarb and Columbus wafted in through the doors.

The store was filled to the rafters, with odd knickknacks and thingamabobs. Not a corner was empty, and not a surface unoccupied. The thick layers of dust belied the business of the establishment.

“Excuse me, sir,” Rhubarb addressed the store manager, “but what might I ask do you have in the way of victuals? For my companion and I are in the midst of our travels and are in need of some sustenance.”

The manager, taking the unlikely pair for more vagrants, was about to shoo them out of the store until Rhubarb produced his billfold, whereupon the manager eschewed his stuffy demeanor for opportunity. The pathetic huckster launched into a routine that would embarrass the simplest of charlatans, and began working to reel in Rhubarb.

“Are you in luck then, as you’ll find no finer, no better stocked establishment than Finny’s Country Store. Our store offers the finest in tools, supplies, and ornaments with which to embellish your house and home, or ... wherever you might reside. And I’ll challenge you to name any other store in the next hundred, nay, five hundred miles that can present to you a better price. Why ask and ye shall receive, and if it exists under the heavens it will surely exist in here. My name is Finny and I am glad to know you.”

“I have no mind for tools or challenges ... but what have you in terms of food?”

Finny’s mind was spinning with ways to make a sale. In reality, he didn’t have much food stock except for a small batch of stale day-old biscuits.

“Well today is your day, my lad, as we just baked a batch of our famous biscuits this morning. Fresh as can be, and my are they tasty.” Finny gestured toward a stack of pale biscuits under glass.

The thought of biscuits was not particularly appetizing to Rhubarb. However Columbus, had he any saliva left, would have been salivating. Instead he resorted to kind of a dry heave akin to that act that dogs perform before vomiting.

“Might you have anything else perhaps? Pemmican, or some such?”

“Why, these biscuits are quite good, and seeing as how you’re the twentieth ... no, make that the twenty-fifth customer today to come in and inquire of them, I can cut you deal,” The manager emphasized and lingered on the last three of his words, each one separately.

Since they had spent the majority of their time wandering, the engine was near ready. Needing to hurry back to the train platform, Rhubarb did not wish to quibble. “Fine, fine, I will take the biscuits,” and he absent-mindedly handed the store manager some bills.

Stifling his joy, Finny snatched the money and stuffed it into his pants pocket without counting. Hoping to usher his customers out before they had enough time to rethink the transaction, Finny hurriedly dumped the remaining biscuits into a sack.

“And one last thing. Do you have a jug? I’ll need to fetch some water before I go.”

“Yes, yes, over there, in the corner. Grab any jug you like. I’ll throw it in for free.” When Rhubarb turned his back, the store owner smiled to himself.

Handing the sack of biscuits over to Rhubarb, Finny just about shoved them out the door while pointing towards a nearby water pump. As Finny disappeared back into his cave of a store, Rhubarb thought he heard him laughing.

“Well, Columbus, we have what we came for. First the water, then a biscuit.”

As Rhubarb pumped the water into the jug, Columbus looked up at him with soulful eyes. In brief flash of understanding, Rhubarb removed the jug and allowed Columbus to quench his thirst. After a minute or two of furious lapping, Rhubarb handed a biscuit to his furless friend. And for a moment, Columbus was the happiest he had been in a long time.

Even Rhubarb had to admit that, while the biscuit was the furthest thing he could imagine from being delicious, it filled an emptiness that needed filling at the time. With their hour nearly up, both adventurers headed back toward the station with renewed vigor.

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