I found Nickel Springs by accident, tucked away in a valley a few miles from the interstate. By the looks of it, the twenty first century hadn’t thought to stop by either – damn place looked like 1955 turned up and then never left. Ageing cars parked along Main Street, hand-painted adverts in the windows, ladies in circle skirts and curls gossiping in the street – the kind of thing you see at 50s revivals, not bold as brass in front of you.
I stopped at the pastel-coloured diner on the corner and a Lucille Ball lookalike served me lukewarm coffee and fries in a booth by the window. The cracks in the plastic seating kept catching my trousers.
I’d drunk half the coffee when I noticed a girl staring at me from a stool at the counter. She wore cute white socks and a dress covered in printed strawberries.
“Hey, sugar. You new in town?”
“Just passing through.”
“Figured as much. No one ever comes here on purpose.” She pouted and tucked a strand of red hair behind her ear.
“Place looks a bit forgotten.” I took another mouthful of coffee and tried not to stare at her calves.
“Ain’t no point decorating unless people are gonna stay.”
She leaned across the aisle and snagged a limp fry from my plate.
“You got anything worth staying for?”
I tried to give her a meaningful look but she was too busy eyeballing the rest of my fries.
“We do, actually. And you’re in luck.”
“Sure y’are. Have any plans for this evening?”
I met her outside the diner just after sundown. She’d insisted we take her car, and she picked me up in a teal green Cadillac. We drove down Main Street, and off out of town. The road led through the woods, and I wished I knew where the hell we were going. When I thought about it, I didn’t even know her name.
“Say, where are we going?” I glanced across but she kept her eyes on the road.
“You’ll see.” A smile tugged at the corners of her mouth.
She slowed for a corner and I caught the strains of Eddie Cochran in the cool night air. I raised an eyebrow but said nothing. Even the sight of her shapely calves couldn’t distract me from feeling like this was all wrong. My mother always taught me never to ride in cars with strangers – and I’d met few people stranger than this girl.
The hedge alongside the road broke and she hooked a sharp left to make the turn. A rough track led down into an old drive-in, its abandoned screen blank as it gazed down on the assorted cars. I gawped to see a DeSoto Fireflite parked beside a Hudson Hornet.
“It’s really something, huh?” She looked across at me and smiled.
The cloud cover broke and the full moon threw her light into the car. The girl beside me sat back in her seat – and I realised I could see the faded pattern of the leather through her.
“What the hell?”
I scrambled backwards and fumbled for the door handle. The girl just laughed.
“Oh, loosen up, sugar. It ain’t that bad. Come on, looks like Buddy’s about to start.”
She gestured across the drive-in to a small stage in front of the screen. A young man with dark hair and thick-framed glasses was setting up. A crowd of youngsters, all dressed like my spectral driver, clustered near the singer.
She got out of the car and walked around to my door. She held it open, and gestured for me to join her. I looked through her, and could just about see the Dodge Lancer parked nearby. She scowled, and stalked off towards the stage. I hung back, watching as the singer strummed a familiar chord. The kids went mad, and started dancing in the moonlight.
I’d seen some crazy things in my time, but I gotta tell you, I never would have pegged the Danse Macabre to be a jive.
Original image by Carol M. Highsmith. Image edits by me.