By Paul Stansbury
Autumn’s wireless headset blared ‘You Made Me This Way’, causing her throbbing headache to tremble in magnitude. Shouldn’t have had a good-luck-with-the-interview party all by myself.
She tapped the button. “Hi, Mom.”
“Is that you, dear?”
“Yes, Mom, who else do you think would be answering my phone? Make it quick, I’m on the road.”
“Don’t tell me you’re still going to that interview.”
“Okay, I won’t.”
“But it’s so far away and you’ve got such a nice job already.”
“Mom, I’m tired of being the weekend weather girl and doing remotes on Pilates classes at 6:00 am. I’m 28 and this may be my last chance to get an evening anchor job.”
“It’s so far away.”
“Burlington’s only a three and a half hour drive. Right up I-89. It’s not that far.” But, far enough. “I bet you’d love Lake Champlain. Might even see Champy when you come up.” Why did I say that?
“Don’t have time to explain, Mom. Did I mention I’m on the road? Distracted driving and all that.”
“What about David? Are you going to leave him behind? I thought you two might. . . “
“Mom, we’ll just have to see.”
“Well, I hate to see you pass up such a good prospect.”
Such a good prospect he thought I wouldn’t mind if he was doing the horizontal bop with my former BFF Sarah. “I’m saying goodbye now, Mom.”
“Love you, dearie.”
Autumn tapped the button on the wireless, yanked it off her ear and tossed it in the backseat. Now for a little peace and quiet. She dug a finger into her jeans pocket and retrieved the Trazodone tab her hair dresser had given her.
“Just in case you need a little calm-down help,” she had said.
Autumn washed it down with the last tepid drops of her Caramel Macchiato. Should be smooth sailing from here. The fall foliage was at its peak. To enjoy the color, she had left the interstate an hour ago, driving her white Toyota rental west through the Green Mountain Forest. Autumn had plotted a route to take her down roads with the least interruption of the forest. The colors were as vibrant as an over-processed chamber of commerce brochure. Boston is so gray — my life is so gray. The trees closed in on the pavement, leaving a narrow band of deep cerulean sky above. A never ending supply of leaves filled the roadway, swirling in the car’s wake. The green of Summer had been replaced with every conceivable shade of red, yellow, purple, black, orange, pink, magenta, blue and brown.
Autumn opened the fresh air vent, allowing the scent of leaves to fill the Toyota. She remembered the visits to Gramma and Grampa Silva’s farm in Pennsylvania. They would rake leaves into a huge mound, then she would jump in. The sweet odor of the leaves tickled her nostrils as she floated down into the sweet, soft darkness. She would lie still while they walked around the mound.
“Where did Autumn go?” they asked. “Autumn, where are you?” they called.
She would lie still as long as she could before jumping up, throwing armfuls of leaves into the crisp fall air to their feigned cries of relief. Then, they would grab the rakes and start again. Afterward, they would sit on the porch sipping spiced tea and eating apple turnovers.
She remembered when she was eight and Gramma helped her collect every type of leaf they could find. They searched for the best and brightest leaves, rejecting any blemish. Gramma would say the name of each one as they carefully placed them in a pillow case. By the time they returned home, Grandpa had set up the old ironing board on the porch. Gramma got out her iron and a roll of wax paper. Grandpa tore squares off the roll while Gramma helped her write each leaf’s name on a snippet of index card. Using the iron, they sealed each leaf and label between two sheets of wax paper. Grandpa punched holes in each laminated sheet and helped her put them in a binder.
The road narrowed significantly while Autumn drifted between driving and daydreaming. Leaves covered the pavement. She saw a tattered white sign at the side of the road which read:
THE VILLAGE OF BOSK
Home of the world’s largest leaf pile.
I don’t remember this place on the map. Why didn’t I hook up the Garmin? While she searched for a spot to pull over, she felt around the passenger seat for her phone. A quick check of Google Maps would solve the mystery. Beyond the sign, the road curved to the right and opened into the town square. It was ringed with Victorian era buildings, each painted in a different muted earthy color to enhance the bright fall foliage.
People with rakes were everywhere, filling baskets, bedsheet bundles and anything else that could hold leaves. In some places, the leaves were up to their knees. Ahead, on the right, Autumn saw a sign for the Falling Leaves Café. A lady was sweeping leaves from around the tables on the front sidewalk. She was loading them into a bushel basket. Autumn could not see the curb, so she eased the car over until she felt the soft bump of the front tire against the leaf covered concrete. She was fumbling with her phone when she heard a tap on the passenger side window. Autumn opened it.
“You look like a pumpkin pie latte and an apple fritter,” the lady said, leaning on her rake.
“No thanks. I think I missed my turn. Just trying to figure out where I am.”
“Well you’re in the Village of Bosk, home of the world’s largest leaf pile. Perhaps you’re right where you’re supposed to be.”
“Is this Vermont 125?”
“Oh no, you’re quite a ways from there,” the woman said. “Come on, have a sip and a snack and we’ll get it all sorted out.”
Autumn checked her watch. She had allowed for a leisurely pace and pit stops. The Caramel Macchiato she finished two hours ago was letting her know now was a good time.
“Have you got a public restroom?”
“Inside at the back on the left,” said the lady, nodding toward the café door. “I’ll have your latte and fritter ready when you get back. I’m Molly.”
“That’s a pretty name. And so appropriate for leaf season,” said Molly.
“Thanks. Okay to leave my car here?”
The sidewalk under the tables had filled with leaves by the time Autumn returned. Her latte and fritter were waiting. She sat down. Leaning forward, she inhaled its rich aroma before taking a sip. Wow, this is good. Molly had started filling another bushel basket. She leaned the rake against the wall and sat down across from Autumn.
“It looks like you’ve cornered the market on leaves,” Autumn said, watching the townsfolk busily raking. “The trees still look like they haven’t dropped a leaf.”
“Maybe we just got the most prolific and fast leaf makin’ trees,” said Molly. “What brings you here this day?”
“I’m heading up to Burlington to interview at Channel 3. They’ve got an evening news anchor spot open.”
“We don’t have nothin’ like that, but we sure got a nice little radio station: WAUT AM. You ever listened to it?”
“Can’t say that I have.”
A steady line of people walked past carrying leaves, eventually joining lines entering from other streets around the town square. Autumn found the gentle sound of their conversations punctuated with laughter comforting. They were all headed to a ramp which lead up to a platform. It gleamed white against the blue sky. Reaching the top, they dumped their leaves into a chute which sent them cascading onto the largest pile of leaves Autumn had ever seen. The medley of colors, ranging from bright tangerine to deep red, glowed in the sunlight.
Too bad I couldn’t get a gig here. “You guys weren’t kidding about the largest pile of leaves in the world, were you.” said Autumn. “How tall is that thing?”
“Oh, it gets about 30 feet high, I guess.”
“Doesn’t the wind play havoc with a pile of leaves that high?”
“Then what do you do after you pile up all the leaves?” asked Autumn.
“Then someone jumps in.”
“You get someone to jump into a 30 foot high pile of leaves?”
“Now, you’re pulling my leg. Have a good laugh at the expense of the city girl.”
“No so. It’s like jumping into an old fashioned downy feather mattress. Besides, it’s a great honor.”
“I’ll take your word for it.” Really? Like a feather mattress! Autumn took a bite of her apple fritter. Its sweet flavor with a hint of cinnamon reminded her of Grandma’s apple turnovers. While watching the various lines of townsfolk converge and march up the ramp, she traced the outline of the bright red maple leaves embedded in epoxy on the table top. After adding leaves to the growing pile, they worked their way back down to join the growing crowd around its base.
When the end of the line reached the Falling Leaves Café, Molly stood up. “Time to take our leaves to the pile,” she said, hefting a bushel basket overflowing with leaves. “You coming?” she asked.
“I guess so,” said Autumn, scooting her chair back from the table. She drank down the last of her latte, then started to walk toward the pile.
“Aren’t you forgetting something?” Molly asked.
“Leaves! You haven’t got any leaves. You can’t go to the pile without your leaves. Grab a couple of handfuls and put them in that,” she said, pointing to the half-filled bushel basket.
Autumn scooped up some leaves and dropped them in. She picked up the basket and followed Molly. They caught up with the end of the line at the base of the ramp. A steady flow of people with empty containers were descending as Autumn and Molly made their way to the top.
“This is Autumn,” Molly repeated to each one coming down. “She just got here.”
Autumn acknowledged each cheery ‘hi’ and ‘hello’.
By the time they reached the top, the townsfolk had formed a wide circle around the leaf pile. Molly dumped her leaves into the chute and they disappeared over the lip, a few floating momentarily in the afternoon breeze.
“Now you,” Molly directed.
Autumn edged up to the chute and turned her basket upside down, shaking it to make sure every leaf was dispatched. The townsfolk cheered wildly. Autumn waved to more cheers.
She turned toward Molly. “What now?”
“What did you say?”
“You jump. Didn’t I tell you the last one to add her leaves to the pile is the one who jumps?”
The crowd below began to chant, “Jump, Autumn, jump!”
“Oh, my bad,” said Molly. “I thought I did. Nevertheless, you are the last one, you have to jump.”
“No, I don’t!” Autumn protested.
“Jump, Autumn, jump!”
“Don’t worry,” reassured Molly. “It’s just like jumping into the leaf pile at your grandparents’.”
“Jump, Autumn, jump!”
“But I’ve got my interview. . .” pleaded Autumn.
“I’m sorry, you won’t make it. You’re right where you’re supposed to be.”
“Jump, Autumn, jump!”
“No, no,” Autumn whispered, backing away from Molly. Her foot landed on the down slope of the chute.
“Jump, Autumn, jump!”
Trying to right herself, Autumn backpedaled furiously. She fell backwards into the crisp fall air. A cheer arose from the townsfolk. She felt only a gentle nudge when she hit the leaf pile — Molly was right. Just like falling into a feather mattress — then sank down into the sweet, soft darkness.
Autumn looked down into the ravine at the end of the pavement. The crushed and burned out carcass of the white Toyota was now fully covered by the leaves. Smiling, she headed toward the town square for a latte and an apple fritter with Molly.
About the Author: Paul Stansbury is a lifelong native of Kentucky. He is the author of Inversion – Not Your Ordinary Stories; Inversion II – Creatures, Fairies, and Haints, Oh My!; Down By the Creek – Ripples and Reflections, as well as a novelette: Little Green Men? His speculative fiction stories have appeared in a number of print anthologies as well as a variety of online publications. Now retired, he lives in Danville, Kentucky. www.paulstansbury.com
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