Bonus Short Story: Lake Morton

The town of Morton, Indiana wasn’t backwoods hickville, but it wasn’t a paradise either. It didn’t have the population of places like Chicago or Indianapolis, or even their high-earning businesses or high-priced residences. It did however, have lake Morton; a four-and-a-half mile wide, twelve mile long, natural lake with all manner of beach houses and cottages along it. These weren’t the typical million-dollar beach-homes, but rather modest, meager places of refuge from the greater part of the world.

In winter, Lake Morton would freeze over deep enough to attract the ice fisherman, skaters, and cold-lovers alike. Conversely, summer brought the regular fisherman, boating enthusiasts, and more than a few getaway seekers that only wished to hide from the work-a-day world they came from.

Nowhere in the town profited more from this duality of attraction than downtown Morton. In the decades since post-World War II growth saw America’s great boons of all types, Morton had grown from a literal one-horse town to a full-functioning modern city with all the usual amenities. Where once there had been nothing more than plains, a few forests, and Lake Morton, now there were supermarkets, suburbs, and even a strip-mall or two. None of those things would’ve been possible if not for that duality; the lake brought the people, the people brought their money, and others followed.

The people of Morton were no different than the town itself, most of modest means that had somehow found a living working the pair of farms, the handful of businesses, or lake-related jobs seasonally and year-round. Some people became city officials, police or firefighters, or took jobs in the comparably small medical field, but it was important to their heritage that each of them care for the lake that had brought them so much fortune.

Enter a company– a small corporation, in fact– that wished to procure a plot of land on the outskirts of town. The CEO, a man in his mid-thirties, pressed and dressed, personally met with the municipal government officials to ensure the transition went smoothly. He wasn’t much different than any of the other types that found refuge on Lake Morton’s beaches. Sure, he had a sort of smart way about him that nearly exuded condescension, but so did most like him. None of them though, he included, ever made those they spoke to feel outwardly offended. The people in Morton just took them as “that kind” of folk.

So of course when the CEO offered them massive sums for the small plot of land, overvalued as a charitable donation, they took it– especially with the promise of more and more jobs to come. No-one was quite sure what the company did, but they knew it promised more stimulation and stability to the local economy. The paper-work was signed, ground was broken, and the small, five-story corporate office was built in less than a month.

Truthfully, it was a kind of an eye-sore on the well-known horizon of low shop-fronts and trees, with only their one, tall hospital to rise above them. Even so, the people couldn’t help but welcome the corporation with open arms. The CEO had promised wealth, more neighbors, and with them, the expansion of Morton’s downtown district and economy. It was a sort of kindness the CEO had granted them, and if Morton’s people were anything, it was grateful for their “blessings.”

The first whispers of something wrong came from fringe-folk learning about the company’s work. It was called Dump-Corp, a waste-management purveyor rented out by large cities when their own, governmental waste-management couldn’t handle their trash-loads. The regular people thought the fringe-folk were out of their minds to be suspicious. Everyone needed to rid themselves of trash, and it wasn’t difficult to understand the need for a company to help.

And it wasn’t as if they were dumping garbage in Morton. The town was, and always had been, clean and well cared for. It was their civic duty, civic-pride even, to keep Morton the getaway-refuge it had always been. Unfortunately, all the goodwill in the world couldn’t change the trucks that started appearing on the highways just outside town. It wasn’t long before the fringe-folk gave the rest a big “told ‘ya so.”

Still, the trucks didn’t mean anything, and in fact the CEO made a very public presentation to keep the people calm, tell them everything was alright, and that those trucks were just driving a caravan of trash to a land-fill a few towns over. That seemed to work for most people, but the fringe-folk weren’t satisfied. They kept their eyes, ears, noses too, sharp for danger or treachery.

The first signs– or rather, scents– of something seriously wrong came the summer after Dump-Corp’s office opened. There was an unusual influx of people that summer, drawn by the advertising campaign the city could now afford. All the same, that influx only helped to spread later rumors.

It was with a swift wind that kicked up from the South-East that people finally began to see the error of their ways. The scent of trash was so foul it burned their nostrils, made more than a few people retch from bile spurred from their guts.

It was quickly discovered the “land-fill” a few towns over was actually only a few miles away– where county and city-lines converged in a kind of dead zone for several towns. Morton was one of them. That time of the summer, those southern winds always seemed to kick up and through that dead-zone.

But who could’ve known that? Even that CEO couldn’t have. No-one could have anticipated that a freak occurrence of nature that most took for granted would shift the winds at precisely the wrong time– and in precisely the worst direction– to rocket the stench of countless people’s refuse over the natural lake and the town it served.

The next few events happened almost so fast there was no time between to realize it. Someone had left a warning on a travel-review website for Morton about the stench. Then others added their comments and warnings. People pulled their reservations left and right, and in less than a week, Morton’s summer was ruined. Without their main source of income the people panicked– both residents and government officials.

Once more the CEO came to the rescue though, only everyone was so busy being scared they didn’t realize the grand plan he had in the works. When someone on the city-council signed a new agreement with the company, the others followed without thinking or reading it. Half weren’t even sure what had been promised to them, the other half didn’t care to know, they only cared to fix the town. With a final, billowy stench, Lake Morton was simultaneously drained and filled with trash.

Most headed for the hills, took the losses on their once well-valued homes just to escape the stench. The rest shook their heads and plugged their noses and tried to trudge on through life despite the muck. Together, they knew the truth; that the lake had always provided for them. Even now, it is adulterated form, it does just that.

In less than a year, the people of Morton learned not only the value of kindness, but also prudence. They lost their way in an odorous panic that escaped no-one, and when they weren’t sure what to do, they closed their eyes and made a leap of faith– right into a corporate mound of trash.

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