By R.F. Mechelke
It was a strange troop of people caravanning along the back roads of Wisconsin farm country. Men and women took turns running alongside a van, sometimes running circles around the van, but mostly alongside it as it made its way down the road. Most often there were five of them, but sometimes as many as seven. The contrast between the weathered van and their high fashion running clothes was stark. Town folk stepped onto their porches to watch the strange carnival as it made its way, day after day. Sometimes the carnival was absent for weeks, but for some reason the good folks of the small towns of Wisconsin knew they were out there somewhere, drawing people to the sides of roads to gawk and on occasion, call them freaks. Nobody knew who they were or where they came from. It was assumed they were city folk with nothing better to do than run. Teachers would engage their students on calculating the number of miles the freaks ran all together. Children would bring in posters tracing the routes and the number of miles, based on good intelligence, collected over the years. Whenever the freaks ran into a town that had a diner or café, they would hunker down in the corners and chat quietly, sipping coffee or tea, while gnawing on what looked like chocolate bars. Occasionally, but only on weekends, the traveling freak show would set up camp on a farm after given permission and sometimes paying a small fee. The farmers thought nothing of it, leaving their doors unlocked as they slept. They were quiet people, but on a pleasant night, they would strum a guitar, swift and sometimes rolling songs mixed with the night air, with respectful voices pushing through corn stalks. They apparently had a makeshift toilet in the van, because they never defiled the fields or asked to use the bathrooms in the farmhouses. They never spoke more than what was needed to be able to spend the night in a field or order coffee or tea. Farm folk preferred to create their own narrative, rather than attempt to converse with the freaks. Conjecture was a pleasant way for farmers, their wives, and children to pass the night in the background of the calling whip-poor-wills.
Then the freaks were gone for months, which strung into years. It was the talk of all the towns. Where did they go? Did they all get killed? Did the police chase them away? After several years passed, the freaks seldom came up in conversation. After 15 years, the story of the freaks became myth. The grade school kids grew up. The older folks remembered. On cold nights, warmed by a fire, they sipped from mugs with steam lifting into darkness, and told their stories of the running freaks.
R.F. Mechelke holds a B.S. from Marquette University and a Masters from Cardinal Stritch University. He was born and raised in Florida, and now lives in the Chicago area. His short stories have appeared in the Blue Lake Review, the Sci Phi Journal, the Lowestoft Chronicle, the Loch Raven Review and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @RFMechelke. www.RFMechelke.com.