The small building had stood vacant for more years than anyone could really remember. Certainly more than ten, but not twenty. It wasn't isolated. In fact, it was on the right side of a major freeway off-ramp. It was somewhat hidden, the freeway was raised behind it. The skeletal remains of the sign, its oval plastic logo long gone, could still be seen.
The town had grown a great deal since the business that had once been there died. At one time, it had been an A&W Rootbeer restaurant. It had served greasy gray burgers, shriveled hot dogs and soggy French fries. The real attraction had been the root beer floats. They had been popular with the early residents of the town, mostly Navy personal from the nearby testing station. Somehow, though, the business seemed to grow colder as the town grew. The small community went from supporting nearby military bases to a bedroom community of nearby Los Angeles. The small restaurant seemed to drive away people after that. The paint seemed to peel faster, the windows were never clean, the infestation of roaches and rats impossible to get rid of. Through it all, they kept serving the wonderful floats.
But that hadn't been enough. It folded quietly, without fanfare. The small building, comprised of only a walk-up counter, a small kitchen and a slightly larger store room in the back, was boarded up and left vacant. A chain-link fence was erected to keep out vagrants.
The building did decay, but more slowly than it had while occupied. Weeds slowly ripped the asphalt parking area apart. The paint had long since peeled away under the relentless California sun, but the underlying wood stayed firm. The roof leaked so badly that it offered little in the way of shelter. Oddly, despite the long vacancy, no graffiti was sprayed on it. The windows were long ago broken out, but no one had done more recent vandalism.
It wasn't any different than any of a thousand similar building, the domiciles of long forgotten business, small and large, all over the nation. The oddity was that the building still existed.
The town that it inhabited had grown considerably since the days that floats was still served there. It had become a great deal more affluent and this eyesore was sitting right on one of only three freeway exits into town. It was as though people simply forgot about the building, having driven by it so many times, or because the building wanted to be left alone.
It was odd, though, that the neighborhood that surrounded the tiny restaurant never seemed to get busier or more affluent, it seemed to be the only one. As other areas got better, this one got seedier. Crime in this tiny town was almost non-existent, but three of the only six murders that had ever occurred here had been within one block of the old A&W. It wasn't the kind of reputation that attracted new business, despite a prime location like a freeway off-ramp.
Chuck didn't think about any of this when he walked near the building that summer afternoon. It was summer, but all of his friends were gone. Some on vacation, others to camp. He didn't know that many anyway. His parents had moved to this small suburb of Los Angeles only last spring from Detroit, his father getting a job at a new computer firm based in the area. Chucks father hadn't had the money to buy a house in most parts of this overpriced town. He'd bought instead in this small neighborhood at a steal.
Unfortunately, Chucks parents both worked, and there wasn't much for an eleven year old to do in this town alone. The nearest shopping center was full of shops he didn't care about. There were a couple theaters in town but he didn't have any money. There wasn't even a park close enough to walk too.
There had been one thing fun back in Detroit, though, that he could do here. He and his friends had loved to sneak into old condemned buildings, and this tiny old restaurant, one his new friends had never seemed to talk about, was just what he needed.
This is why he decided to explore the old building at the end of the street. It wasn't easy. The building was surrounded by an old chain link fence. Not wanted to get chased away by the police or some adult, he had to try and get though under cover of some tall weeds at the base of the hill near the freeway. It took a few minutes, but he was able to pry up the reddened metal and squeeze underneath.
The moment that he got through, he could sense something. He couldn't put his finger on it, but something seemed vaguely frightening about this. His heart began pumping. He felt a trickle of sweat on his brow. Chuck briefly considered getting back out under the fence, but decided against it. He'd done this a hundred times, but never felt like this. But Chuck wasn't really deterred, he felt a bit exhilarated. This was the closest thing to excitement he had had since he moved to this boring little town.
He discovered that the back door, long ago used to deliver boxes of frozen beef and cases of soda, was unlocked. It took a moment to get it to open though, through years of neglect the door had swelled into the frame slightly.
As it burst open, Chuck felt another twinge of fear, a commanding warning of danger. Visions of angry rats and roaches seemed to shimmer briefly across the darkened floor. He even thought, for a moment, he heard his dad calling out to him.
Chuck dismissed all that, at least in a way. As he looked into the darkened storeroom, lit by rays of sunlight coming through the broken ceiling and the open door, he shook. He could tell from the thick dust on the floor that no one had been here in a long time. Defiantly against the fear, he took two steps into the building.
The door slammed behind him. He turned and tried to pry it open, but it wouldn't budge. After a moment of panic, he remembered that he had seen another door on the other side of the room. It had to lead to the front of the restaurant!
As he raced across the short room, he tripped. Or at least, he thought that he did. His head swam a bit, it seemed to be filled with angry visions, of chidings against warnings unheeded, of dire threats against failing to heed this final warning.
Panicked beyond all hope, Chuck spotted a small opening in the wall he hadn't seen before and darted outside into the sun. He had scurried far from the eyesore when he realized that he was on all fours. He looked over himself and back at the building, his small mouth hanging open. He could feel a small tear develop as his young mind reeled.
After a few hours, the small gray rat walked slowly out of the field that was once a parking lot, and the eyesore was once again alone.