Last Saturday as I returned from the Farmers Market, two young women walked up and asked if the shop were open. I affirmed it was.
“Great. We just want to look around.” The pair seemed … subdued, but also exuberant. An odd combination. Also, the more I thought about it, the more alike the girls looked.
Besides, it’s rude to leave browsers alone unless you know that’s what they want, so I ambled into the shop and asked if they wanted help finding anything. The taller of the two said, “We read your book, and we drove from Kansas yesterday just to visit your shop.”
“How long did that take you?” I asked, blinking.
“About 13 hours. We stayed in the hotel here last night,” said the one who would later identify herself as Leslie.
“Oh, what a pity we didn’t know you were here! We had a murder mystery. You could have joined in the fun.”
“We might not have been good company last night,” said Anna, back to me, voice tight. “We came down that Black Mountain Road.”
OMG. Jack and I were in Kansas last year for book publicity, and we remember the 75-mph speed limit, perfectly feasible because you can see for-bleedin’-ever down those long, straight roads. Black Mountain is not so much hairpin curves as a series of interlocking mobius strips. There are places where you drive a two-lane road against a rock cliff, a 90-foot drop down the mountain on the other side.
I couldn’t think fast enough to cover my response.
“You come from a state where ant colonies are designated hill country, and you drove through Benham, Kentucky?” My voice squeaked. “You could have been killed!”
Leslie rolled her eyes. “That’s what Anna said. Several times.”
Anna, investigating the history section, snorted.
Leslie had read Little Bookstore some six months ago, and told her family about her intention to road trip to see the place as soon as the weather let up. (Think snow on a surface so flat, you can see for three days’ walk in any direction, and you’ll understand her sensible urge to wait.)
Her dad was succinct. “Whyya wanna drive two days to see a bookstore?”
Undeterred, Leslie, an accountant by trade (“But I have a personality!”) invited her twin sister along. Anna works for the Immigration section of Homeland Security. We joked that she probably processed Jack’s citizenship claim.
Picture it: two happy-go-lucky career girls, out on a long weekend, headed for some wild and wooly times visiting a bookstore, careening around curves that make truckers wake screaming in the night.
“We looked at the map, and that seemed shorter than going around by the highway. So we figured, what’s the difference?” This from Anna, whose hands only stopped shaking after a second cup of tea. “And then my cell phone lost reception, and we had to kind of guess which way.”
There are places along Black Mountain where you not only don’t get cell reception, but they never find the bodies.
I shook my head. “I’m flattered,” I said. “And grateful you two are alive. Would you like to see some of the town before we map you a different route home?”
So my friend Elizabeth and I took Leslie for a nice relaxing walk on the town’s Greenbelt, where all the curves are gentle. We traded small town anecdotes and poison ivy remedies, and on returning to the bookshop showed them how to go back via the expressway. Anna still looked dubious, but we elicited promises that they would text when they reached safety, and waved goodbye.
We’ve heard from the twins since their return to Kansas, so we know they made it home. And for anyone else from the flatlands planning a visit to our curve in the neck of these woods, please call first. We’ll be happy to advise you on routes.