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The Intersection

By Edward A. Rinderle
Posted: 02/25/2022
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The Intersection

By Ed Rinderle

 

It's five p.m. on Wednesday, and following his usual practice, Henry Simpson leaves work and heads for the Piggly Wiggly on the outskirts of town. The purpose of his trip is to purchase of carton of milk. Yes, he can get the same milk at any downtown store, but if he did he would have to pay ten cents more. Every penny counts to Henry; much of his job at the accounting firm of Simpson & Son involves counting them. So driving to the PW to save a few cents comes naturally to him. Simply put, to Henry, it is the right thing to do.

 

Henry drives a 30-year-old VW Beetle. He’s had it since it was new. He has become quite attached to the old vehicle, whom he calls Henrietta. He could buy a newer model, but that would cost money. Besides, while Henrietta has accumulated a variety of quirks over the years, she still runs just fine. Obviously, keeping her is the right thing to do.

 

Henry and Henrietta clear the business part of town and soon approach the intersection that marks the city limits. A signal light, mounted high over the intersecting roads, presides over traffic coming and going from north, south, east, and west. Henry is headed north; the PW is just about a mile away.

The light glows red, and Henry eases Henrietta to a stop. Traffic is usually light here on the outskirts, but today he sees no cars at all in any direction. He is glad for that, since he knows his wait at the light will be short.

 

He lapses into a daydream. He has lived here all his life. He has never ventured more than a few miles out of town. He doesn’t even know what lies beyond the PW. He is content where he is, but he does sometimes wonder. He has glimpsed the outside world on TV, and sometimes his curiosity is peaked, but only slightly.

 

Henry “wakes” with a start. He wonders if he actually fell asleep. The light is still red. Maybe he missed it change. He will have to be more attentive. 

 

He looks around. The landscape seems different this evening. He recalls some slightly rolling hills, a few trees, some widely scattered houses. But now all he sees is flat land barren of trees, houses, or even large rocks. In every direction, he sees only short grass and dirt. The muted twilight seems to cast an eerie mustiness across the tabletop landscape. 

 

Henry eyes the signal light again. It is still red, but now it appears to be ominously bright, almost as if it were angry. He is sure that several minutes have passed under its constant stare. He checks his old Timex and watches the second hand circle the dial. He watches for a full minute; the light is still red. The second hand begins a new circuit. At its end, the signal light persists in glaring red down at him. Henry can almost hear it snicker.  

 

Fear begins to creep into Henry's gut. What should he do? Is it time to take action of some sort? Or should he just sit there? But he has no idea how long it will be for the light to change. Should he run the red light? He could, but that just wouldn’t be the right thing to do, would it? Well maybe the light is malfunctioning, and if so wouldn’t running it be OK? 

 

Just then, another car roars up from behind. One of those new-fangled muscle cars, An Impala perhaps. The intruder doesn’t seem to be slowing down. The blast of the Impala's horn sends Henrietta rocking. Henry squeezes his eyes shut; he hears the squeal of brakes but feels no impact. Henry claps his hands over his ears and leans forward in agony. The horn suddenly stops; the Impala’s tires squeal as it skids around Henrietta, nearly taking her right tail light with it. The Impala lurches through the intersection, and within seconds disappears into a haze of exhaust fumes and dust.

 

Henry, sweating profusely, heaves a sigh of relief. He lifts his head and opens his eyes. The signal light, a cyclops against the darkening sky, glares back at him malevolently. 

 

Henry realizes he must do something. Perhaps it is time to forget about doing the right thing. He is actually considering running the light. But if he does, wouldn't the police suddenly appear, stop him and give him a ticket? But they didn't stop the Impala. Why not? Could be that they are lying in wait just for him. 

 

In spite of his fears, Henry starts to inch Henrietta out into the intersection. He looks to the east – no cars in sight across the flat plain. He looks to the west – no cars . . . oh wait. Is that a car? It’s coming closer . . . closer . . . was is that? Could it be . . . a tumble weed? In this part of the country? But it is surely a tumble weed, and as it bounces by, a fanged face appears in its tangled branches, spewing hideous growls directly at Henry.

 

Henry has had enough. He stomps on Henrietta’s accelerator. She shoots across the intersection. Continuing to speed up, Henry glances over his shoulder expecting a police car in hot pursuit. No police in sight. 

 

Taking a deep breath, Henry returns his attention to the road ahead. The road seems to be disappearing into a gathering mist. Henry’s fear returns, and as the mist thickens, his fear turns to terror. But then, Henrietta silences her engine. She opens her windows, and a cooling breeze wafts in. Darkness descends, and the silence is profound. 

 

Ahead at the Piggly Wiggly, it’s business as usual, as shoppers stop for groceries on their way home from work.

 

About a mile to the south, at the intersection, the stoplight, now emerald green, stands watch. 

 

 

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