Who'd Ever Come To Woodsmere?

Submitted into Contest #59 in response to: Set your story in a small town where everyone is suspicious of newcomers.... view prompt


Drama Funny

If you had asked me this morning what the town of Woodsmere was to me, I’d have said it was a convenient pit stop on the way to my parent’s place upstate where I filled up on gas and road trip snacks. I’d never spent more than 15 minutes in the place, partly because my asthma couldn’t take the dry heat of the valley, but mostly because the only thing worse than this barren wasteland of a town, was the people in it. 

Every interaction I’d had with a Woodsmere local was unpleasant. Once, while filling up with gas, I smiled politely to the person filling up next to me, to which he responded by grunting and turning to face the other way. Another time, I told the cashier at a convenience store to keep the change after I paid with a large bill and he ignored me, muttering something like, “I don’t need anything from you,” and then gave me back my change anyway. In general, Woodsmere citizens didn’t make eye contact, they were rude, and they gave me the cold shoulder whenever possible. In the grand scheme of things, it didn’t bother me too much. Like I said, I never spent more than 15 minutes in the place. So when my car’s engine sputtered, and then smoked, and then stalled, I wasn’t too pleased that I just so happened to be passing through the wonderful town of Woodsmere. Continuing on the same stroke of luck, the towing company told me they wouldn’t be able to make it out until mid-afternoon. I was stuck.

After I accepted my fate (and got bored of kicking rocks), I made my way to a gas station just down the road. I was hesitant. The only thing that might have been less appealing than waiting in the sun was having to deal with the people of Woodsmere, but the temptation of gas station snacks won in the end. 

The bell above the door rang listlessly as I pushed the door open. The air inside was still, stuffy. A warning of the weather to come, and I groaned softly as I remembered how much longer I’d be stuck in this dust bowl. On one end of the store, a man sat behind the counter reading a newspaper. At least, I thought it was a man. The newspaper obscured most of his face and  body. I walked up and down the aisles, grabbing a bag of chips and a cold drink before heading to the counter. 

“Morning,” I said. I set down my things and went to fish for some cash in my pocket, but when I looked back up, I was greeted by the same black and white letters on the headline of the paper. TEMPERATURES RISE AS CLIMATE CRISIS WORSENS, it read. The man hadn’t moved.

“Um,” I paused. Maybe he didn’t hear me? I cleared my throat once. Then a second time, louder. Finally, one corner of the paper fell, revealing a large, bald man, whose hair appeared to have gotten sick of being on top of his head and decided to make camp on his eyebrows and upper lip instead. The man looked at me with hard eyes, then looked down to my items on the counter.

“Um.” I pointed to my wallet. “I’m ready to pay.”

The man said nothing, only closed the paper and then, without changing his position on his chair, reached a heavy hand across the counter and tapped some keys on a cash register.   

“$2.50,” he grunted, then snapped the newspaper back up in one motion.

I pursed my lips. Classic Woodsmere. I dropped the money on the counter and collected my things before turning on my heel and walking towards the door. I grabbed the handle and pushed, but a thought crossed my mind and I stopped. I groaned softly, not wanting to ask, but then I remembered how long I’d be stuck here and turned around. 

“You guys got a bathroom?” I said. The newspaper didn’t move. I waited this time. It stirred, then the man’s face peeked out from behind it.

“Back here,” the man gestured behind him where a rack of postcards stood just around and behind the counter. I made my way back across the store wondering why in the world this place would sell postcards. When I was almost to the restroom, the man piped up again.

“Wait.” He put the newspaper down and reached underneath the counter, pulling out a plastic water bottle. “You’re gonna need this,” he said and tossed it to me. 

I caught it, confused. A water bottle? I furrowed my brow. I must have stood there a second too long because I heard him laugh. I looked up. He had a mocking grin on his face.

“What’s this for?” I asked. The man waved his hand before returning to his paper, saying, “You’ll find out, City.”

My patience was running short. I left my items back on the counter and half-walked, half-stomped past the postcards into the restroom. I closed the door behind me and wrested the lock shut. The quicker I could get back to the sanctuary of my dead car, the better. That’s when I turned to the toilet and stopped dead in my tracks. There was no water in the toilet bowl.

“Oh.” I turned to the sink and tried the handles. Nothing. I waved my hand underneath the faucet as if that would make a difference.

 “Oh,” I said again, and turned my attention to the water bottle in my hand.


I left the restroom equal parts annoyed at the man for being rude and thankful that he didn’t just let me use his restroom without being able to “flush.” 

“Thanks,” I said sheepishly as I grabbed my things from the counter. “Did they, um, shut off your water?”

The man straightened in his seat, “Can’t shut off something that’s not there,” he shrugged. “The drought is worse in the summers. We get by.”

“Huh,” I said. “I didn’t know.”

The man scoffed.

“Naw.” He shook his head. “You wouldn’t.”

His emphasis on the word “you” piqued my curiosity 

“What do you mean?”

He didn’t answer immediately. He gave me a look first, as if deciding whether to trust me or not.

“Let me ask you something. How long has the state been in a drought?” he asked.

I wracked my brain. A year or two? I couldn’t remember. I never thought about it. It was just something the news reminded me of every so often. The most it affected me was via annoying PSAs about turning off the tap while I brushed my teeth. To be honest, I always felt like they were exaggerating. Sure, maybe it didn’t rain as much anymore, but we still ran our sprinklers. We still filled our pools in the summer. We could still flush the toilet.

“Yeah. I thought as much,” he scoffed, interrupting my thoughts. Annoyance bubbled up inside me. I don’t know why, but I felt defensive. So what if I didn’t know the exact date of the drought? Why would I? I wasn’t the keeper of all the water in our reservoirs. Who did this guy think he was giving me a hard time over it? I opened my mouth to say something but was interrupted by the ringing bell at the front door. The man turned his attention to behind me and his face lit up, a kind smile spreading across his face.

“Claire!” He greeted the customer with a wave. “Good to see you. How can I help?”

The woman at the door was older, with deep brown skin from years of working in the sun. She was shorter than me by several inches, but stocky with broad shoulders and calloused hands. The papery wrinkles around her eyes and mouth deepened as she returned a smile. Funny, I never thought the people of Woodsmere were capable of emotions outside of anger and contempt. As she walked inside, her heavy boots tracked dust into the store, but the man didn’t seem to mind.

“Hiya, Vic,” she said with a wave. Then her eyes darted my way. Her smile tensed. “You have company.” It wasn’t a question.

“Just stopping by,” I replied neutrally. Or at least I tried to say it neutrally.

Claire pursed her lips. “Best get a move on soon, then. Don’t want to be late wherever you’re going.” She squared her shoulders and turned her attention to Vic. “Listen, I came to ask if you had any news about the water trucks.”

Vic’s smile faltered. “I wish I did, Claire. I’m sorry. It looks like it’s going to be another couple of weeks.”

“Damn.” She started to chew her lip. “They were supposed to come last week. I’ve already had to shrink my field to half. That’s only enough revenue to make it to next season, and that’s assuming I don’t lose any more.” She drummed her fingers on the glass countertop.

“When they come, you’ll be the first to know,” Vic said.

She nodded, then let out a long sigh.“Hey, maybe ask City-” she jerked her thumb at me, “-where we can get some water, huh?” she laughed humorlessly. “Thanks anyway, Vic.” With that, she walked out the door.

Now I was confused. What was she talking about, water trucks? I didn’t even know what that was. And why did they keep calling me City? I didn’t want to stick around to find out.

“Thanks again,” I said to Vic dryly. “I’ll be on my way now.”

Vic snorted. “Don’t take it personal, kid.”

I rolled my eyes. “You people act like I took the water myself.”

Vic shrugged. “You may as well have.”

“I don’t control the weather,” I retorted.

“The weather? It’s not the weather that’s doing this.” He shook his head. “What, you think happens when water supplies are short? The state has to prioritize where the little water we do have goes. They redistribute it to the places who need it ‘most.’” 

He made air quotes around the word “most” then he leaned forward, setting his elbows on the counter. “And who do you think is at the top of that list?” he said slowly.

I stared back blankly.

“Well I’ll give you a hint. It’s not the farm town of Woodsmere, population 6,052. It’s the cities. The places with voting power. Screw the little towns that rely on water for their livelihood. At least the precious cities can keep their sidewalks green.” He paused then, letting his words sink in. “You’ll forgive us for being a little bitter.”

At first I could only stare back because I was dumbfounded. What could I say to that? I had no idea. Leaving entire towns without water seemed like an alternate reality so separate from my own I had a hard time believing it was real. I never thought twice about using water for my coffee or my plants. Meanwhile people here were worried about getting through the year. 

“Wow, I’m sorry,” I said. “I didn’t know.”

“Nah,” Vic sighed. “Why would you.”

It all seemed to click in that moment. The people here weren’t unpleasant. They were scared. Living every year wondering if this was the year they go under. Meanwhile, out-of-towners like me treated it like a pit stop, coming and going from the very places that threatened them, all while being ignorant of the privileges we had back home. I’d be bitter too.

My phone started vibrating in my pocket then and when I fished it out, a 1-800 number flashed on the screen.

“Better get that, City,” Vic grunted. Then he leaned back in his chair and opened up his newspaper again.

“Right,” I muttered to myself. I brought the phone up to my ear.

“Hi, you called for a towing service?” said the voice on the other end.

“That’s me.” 

“We were able to get your reservation pushed up. We’ll be there in 20 minutes.”

“That’s great, thank you.” I hung up and replaced the phone in my pocket. I felt awkward just leaving, but the large black and white print 6 inches from my face didn’t give me much of a choice. So I walked towards the door and pushed it open with one shoulder. The little bell rang dully. I squinted my eyes against the sun (high in the sky now) and walked back to my car.

September 19, 2020 03:50

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21:56 Sep 23, 2020

I really liked this! I loved the way you described Woodsmere's water problem and the reason they don't like outsiders. Something about this story was so satisfying to read (if that makes any sense) and you did an amazing job.


Priscilla 🌹
06:06 Sep 24, 2020

Thank you, Esme!! Much appreciated. Thanks for reading :)


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