Adrift in a Sea of Nothing

Submitted into Contest #115 in response to: Set your story in a town disconnected from the rest of the world. ... view prompt

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Contemporary Fantasy Fiction

     Following World War I, veterans newly released from military service looked for ways to feed their families, “work the land” and enjoy an honest day’s work in the fresh air of the Midwest.

     Among many agricultural areas throughout the Midwest, they gravitated to central Iowa and soon mapped out a new small town in which to plant their family roots as well as their crops. They came together in 1930 to establish a completely new community they named Winding Mountain Pass along the banks of the beautiful Raccoon River.

      After several years of planting and harvesting bumper crops of corn during the day and traveling many miles at night to rest their weary heads in the rooming houses of larger cities, the founders of Winding Mountain Pass decided to build their own homes and create a central business district to serve the needs of their growing families.

     Sampson Jones, one of the farmers who had accumulated a great deal of wealth from his corn crops, took a number of courses in retailing at Iowa State University. He decided to diversify his interests and opened Matilda’s, a large department store, in what became the anchor of the rapidly-expanding Winding Mountain Pass downtown. He named the store after his late wife.

    Matilda’s soon became the place to go to buy school clothes, stationery and other supplies for children attending the regional high school that recently had opened five miles to the West. It also carried the latest recordings the area’s children listened to in the few free hours they had after working on their families’ farms and the latest in equipment to help till the crops.

     The reputation and success of Matilda’s soon brought other businesses into downtown Winding Mountain Pass, including a luncheonette, a town hall to house the newly-elected town council, and the only United States Post Office in a 30-mile area.

     On the 15th of every month during the harvesting season farmers poured onto Albert Street and brought their families with them to shop in Matilda’s and take time out from their tough farm lives for a real treat--lunch at the luncheonette and some of home-baked cakes topped off by ice cream from Iowa’s dairy farms.

    The few weekend hours available for socializing also brought about a small country church with dances once a month that drew the young and old and Sunday worship services that often filled to capacity.

    The corn-harvesting industry propelled by these small farms lasted well beyond the end of World War II. 

    In fact, small family-oriented farming survived much longer in this area of central Iowa than it had in many other areas of the nation.

    However, the 20th century soon moved closer to the area, and with it, advancements in farming technology and a change in the philosophy surrounding farming. This soon hastened a downturn in the fortunes of the once-thriving town.

    The family farmers in Winding Mountain Pass became more and more convinced of the mounting difficulty of extracting a living from their small amounts of acreage in the face of often stifling competition.  

    The new era brought with it multi-acre factory farms managed more and more by those living, not next to their crops, but in the suburbs sprouting up closer to Iowa’s cities. 

     Many of the families eventually sold their farms to the conglomerates they had often vehemently opposed. This created mega production areas stitched together by “amalgamating” once-smaller tracts.

      As the farm families moved out, corporate owners hired absentee managers to supervise their “new age” enterprises. These managers settled in suburban enclaves rather than on the farms previously worked by their owners. 

  These suburban dwellers also had no need of “mom-and-pop stores” like Matilda’s and began to patronize the chain department stores and other businesses in the big cities.

     Also, mail order companies advertised not so much in local media, but more often online. This meant that the residents of Winding Mountain Pass saw business that previously went to the few remaining “brick-and-mortar stores” in the small downtown give way to home delivery.

     With no need for its services, Matilda’s closed its doors and the town’s other businesses soon followed suit. With its delivery service area shrinking, the federal government soon consolidated the post office with a much larger regional facility. As the need for local government services also decreased to almost nil, the few residents left found themselves governed from the county seat.

    The telephone lines that once reached from every small farm into the center of town and out to the rest of the world also gave way to Smartphone, internet and digital communication, and Winding Mountain Pass became more and more isolated.

     The once-prosperous community soon turned into a “ghost town,” and it didn’t take long until few Iowans could even recall its existence.

     Eventually, all communication into and out of Winding Mountain Pass ceased and the sprawling suburbs on its borders soon mushroomed to overtake what had been one of the most successful communities in the Midwest.

    Happier days for many, had propelled tales passed from neighbor to neighbor of the veteran-led success of a family-oriented existence living off the fresh air and the land. These rich stories, however, soon became buried in pages in digital histories of earlier and more simple times.

   Those determined enough to follow the winding trails of research often found it hard to believe that “the great success story of Winding Mountain” had sprung from something with such humble roots from those with little in the way of knowledge of modern technology. 

     They particularly found it harder to believe that a thriving community that had held such promise seemed to have disappeared completely. They also questioned how such a small and simple town had once provided substantial livelihoods to farm families, retail employment to hundreds and a vibrant community life.

    Now, however, the “success story” of Winding Mountain Pass remained only a pleasant memory for those old enough to recall what many had once considered one of “the jewels of the Midwest.”

October 09, 2021 20:02

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1 comment

Faith Ogedegbe
06:26 Oct 19, 2021

Lovely story.

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