Monday, May 8, 2017

UPSALA, CANADA'S CHILDREN OF THE CORN



This story is based on true events.

Perhaps I'm calling the tiny rural village of Upsala, Ontario (near the north end of Lake Superior) 'Canada's Children of the Corn' with my tongue-in-cheek, but then... perhaps not. Listen to this and tell me if you wouldn't be creeped out a bit if it happened to you; if not, then perhaps at least turning your head sideways and blinking a couple of times in bewilderment.

We merely needed fuel in our Buick. The drive from lower mainland, BC to southern Ontario had been long so far, and we just wanted to get to our destination. With our smartphone GPS in hand, we were shown that Upsala had a gas station along the highway. Little did we know that Upsala had other plans for us as we headed toward the gas station.

My husband and I passed a school first, but it was quiet—no children playing in the yard, and no cars in the parking lot. Erie. Across the street was the local firehouse, which looked in kept condition, yet it was empty too. There were no stores, no people, and no homes that existed within sight, so we drove on to the gas station around the bend and pulled up to the pump.

The convenience store in front of the gas pump presented a large sign in the window: "CLOSED". Where were all the people? Surely the unseen residents would need fuel? There appeared to be no town left beyond this point. We searched the GPS again, and the only extra two choices were to trek backwards to Upsala—with its empty firestation and abandoned school—and go off the main highway several kilometers to either of the only two things that were present on the GPS search—a lodge, or the Shell gas station. We chose the latter. Perhaps the main part of town was well off the main road?

We turned off the highway as per the GPS directions but immediately hit a gravel road. I stopped the car immediately and got a sinking feeling that something was off. I was suddenly transported in my mind back to when I lived in rural Nebraska. Thoughts of small town mentality in areas like the puny village of Loma, NE that was in the same vicinity of where Stephen King's book 'Children of the Corn' (and the cult-related mishaps that would happen to strangers that found their way there but weren't allowed to leave) was based. However, our need for fuel kept us committed. I was driving, so pulled forward onto the gravel-and-dirt road, cringing at what might lie ahead.

Snow covered the road except for two ruts left by local truckers that would pass through on occasion. Luckily the temperature was just above freezing so everything was melting. Sloshy snowy mud replaced icy conditions and slung itself up onto the sides of our silver Buick as the wheels ripped through the slush, making it fly. To the town of Upsala we went, wherever that was. My mind went back to 'Children of the Corn' and how in the movie all the local street signs would provide directions that would lure strangers into the local town, so escape was impossible. I put it out of my mind. This was not the farmlands of Nebraska, it was rocky hilly terrain covered with short spindly evergreen trees and spotted with lakes, in the territory northwest of Lake Superior, west of Thunder Bay.

The road was several kilometers long. After a bend in the road was a railroad track. No railroad light crossing signals or track arms to warn drivers of an oncoming train, so I did what I learned in first grade school: Stop. Look. Listen. We saw and heard nothing, so proceeded across the tracks safely. Occasionally we spotted a farm house, and several old mobile homes. Again, no people anywhere, just buildings and the occasional parked pickup truck. As we continued the trees got thicker on both sides of the road. The tires continued to wander across the ruts in the road to hit a patch of slushy snow, which made a sudden blasting noise as it hit underneath the fenders of the car while driving through it. It felt like we had to drive forever, but finally the GPS said we had arrived!

Nothing but trees surrounded us. Where was the Shell gas station? Not even a driveway or an old building or empty lot. Nothing.

“That’s it!” I said to my husband, “It’s Children of the Corn!”

I did a 5-point turn to turn the car around, and pulled over briefly to get online and check the GPS one more time. “I’m not taking any more chances with this Upsala place,” I said as I searched for the lodge and gave them a call on the phone.

No answer, just a recording that there was no such number.

“See!” I exclaimed, “Children of the Corn. They want to lure us in when there’s nothing there, then you get lost and can’t leave.” I snickered at the thought, but a part of me felt hesitant to go anywhere looking for anything in Upsala anymore. I headed straight back down North Road until we got back to the highway. We chose to turn east towards the next town, looking for another gas station since we had just wasted even more fuel searching for a place that was on the map yet didn’t seem to exist. I searched on the GPS one more time for another gas station further on down the highway and called the phone number. Someone actually answered and they were open!

Down the highway we drove, watching for this amazing place that actually existed that would hopefully have fuel. When we arrived we were not sure if we were still in the domain of the Upsala district or not, but we didn’t care. We pulled off the highway and paired our wheels with the ruts in the 3” of melting snow that filled the parking lot and led up to the gas pumps. There was no getting out of the car without stepping into ankle-deep puddles of meltwater that filled pockets of places where people had stepped before. Our shoes got soaked as we got out to pump the fuel. “Haven’t people ever heard of a snow plow or a simple snow shovel for their customers?” I grumbled, feet soaking wet with ice-cold water.

My husband went to pump the gas and I chose to go inside to pay and hopefully use the washroom. I carefully made my way through the snow-puddle obstacle course to the front steps of the convenience store and stepped under the eave that was dripping like an old faucet that no one cared enough about to fix. Huge drops landed on my head and shoulders, as if my feet weren’t cold enough already. I groaned and mumbled something about customer service and a cheap $15 gutter that the owner obviously had never heard of. Glad to be under the porch roof, I went inside the store.

The man behind the counter looked like he must have been one of the poor folks living at the old mobile homes in the road near Upsala that led to the invisible Shell station. He was tall, and thin as a piece of string. His Lanny McDonald mustache covered his mouth and his beard was copied from ZZ Top. His checkered coat was mismatched with a dark soiled baseball cap. “We’d like to buy some gas,” I told him. He snapped at me, “I can’t be two places as once! I can’t pump fuel when there’s people running around in the store.” Oh! I wondered, is this a full service station? There were no signs that we noticed. “Can we pump it ourselves, or do you have to?”

He was curt, “You do it.”

“Do I need to pay first?”

“No, just pump, I can’t be here and there both, with customers taking things in here.”

I just said, “Okay” and walked out to tell my husband he could pump the gas and we could pay afterwards. I made sure not to walk out into the snow and puddles again, or under the eave that dripped like a coffee maker on my head.

Next, the bathroom.

I found it in the back of the store, inside, thank God! I had to go so badly that I figured it would have been worth it even if it had been an outhouse. Inside were two stalls made of tan-painted warped plywood. The first stall was taken because the door was locked, so I moseyed on over to the second one. There was no door mechanism. In its place was a rubber band that someone had tied on there, which had since been broken in half. On the door frame where it was supposed to attach was a screw that stuck out. Zero toilet paper. I chose to wait for the first stall. I stood there for about 15 seconds and heard a plop noise in the water and then a huge fart. My face fell.

My choices were either: 1) pee without toilet paper, or 2) wait, listen to her poop, and get to smell it once she leaves while I go to the bathroom.

I chose #1.

I had to figure out the whole broken rubber band-screw concoction, which took a couple attempts to get it to sort of stay. You kind of had to wrap the band around and around itself for it to latch on to the screw without popping off. The door pulled on it fairly hard, stretching the rubber band about as far as it could go. I hoped it wouldn’t snap, flinging the door open wide while I was sitting down. I would have to make haste! Once done, I sat there a few seconds to drip dry, but then heard a grunt and another plop-and-splash sound by the lady next door. I looked under the edge of the stall and saw huge brown boots, which appeared to be more of men’s boots than women’s boots. I took a chance. “I am out of toilet paper here, can you please hand me some?”

No answer. Just silence.

The lady(?) got up, pulled up her(?) pants, flushed the toilet, flung the door open so hard that it hit my door, stressing the rubber band to its limits, and stomped out of the bathroom with ne’er a word.

“Okaaay, I guess not!” I said under my breath.

With that I got up and zipped up my pants. It was time to flush the toilet, but where in the world was the handle? I looked on both sides, and then the top, but it was really old, so I pulled the toilet lid forward and hidden behind it was the spot where the handle should have been. In its place was a hole with a broken ring, but the handle was missing. I leaned forward and looked closer. In the middle of the ring was a button-looking piece of metal. I thought this might work if I push it. Push it I did, but it just sank in and didn’t do anything. My finger was stuck in the hole, so I had carefully pulled it until it popped out. No toilet flush, yet no one before me had used or flushed the toilet either, or else they flushed it and broke it. The handle was nowhere to be found. I gave up and walked out, not feeling it was my job to pull off the tank lid and inspect or fix their stupid broken toilet.

I met my husband back out near the bearded cashier, since he had just paid the fuel bill. I was happy to leave this creepy area near Upsala, Canada. I hoped I would never return. Beware if you go there… it may lure you in, and who knows what you might find or what might happen if you stay too long.

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