There has always been a lot of strange goings-on in the small town of Tucker, Ohio. Some would say that they have had far more than their fair share of troubles and oddities, but the minds of Tuckerites seem to differ on that opinion. They believe that it is those very troubles and oddities that make them stronger and draw them ever closer to God’s loving breast.
Some would say the weird happenings that permeate that little nook of Ohio are the works of the devil, some say they are the acts of God. It all comes down to the eye of the beholder, I suppose. The folks of Tucker are just as religious as any other sleepy town, perhaps even more so. No tale could be more evident of their closeness to God than that of the opening week of the Tucker Inn.
I know what everyone’s wondering, why would such a small town have any need for a hotel? It has always been a small place, ever since its founding as a trading post in 1791. And through the centuries it has remained tiny. Tuckerites like to say, “imagine an anthill … now imagine a bigger one”. That pretty much sums it up.
It doesn’t take a businessman to know that a town comparable to a civilization of ants is unworthy of a hotel. Then again, it doesn’t take a fifth grade education to recognize that Judd Clemens isn’t a businessman. They’re both just simple truths.
The Clemens family has a storied past in the community of Tucker. They lived a more rustic life, camping deep in the woods beside the river. They only came in to town when in need of supplies or driven by a desire to mingle with a more civilized people.
They have a proclivity towards rabble rousing, centered mostly around their love for booze and gambling. In truth they can be very infectious, thus their standing invitation to not attend church services. Most young men of Tucker have mingled with a member of Clemens family, at least once or twice.
A truly wild family if the Lord ever made one. Not a single Tuckerite can pinpoint a Clemens that was not a good-for-nothing. The closest to a respected businessman that they had to claim would be Rufus Clemens, the infamous moon shiner, or so it was believed.
As it turned out, not all of the Clemens were destined for a rough life in the undergrowth along the river. One by the name of Hershel ran off as a young boy, not comforted by the thought of life in destitute. He was the oldest of his group of siblings and had a bit of a mind on him.
The Sheriff spent some time looking for him all those years ago, but they couldn’t find a lick of a trail, not even a footprint. That young boy was able to disappear without even a trace, which led the rest of the Clemens clan to believe him to be nothing short of genius.
Eventually the search was called off. The Sheriff said he wouldn’t be found unless he wanted to be, and no one in Tucker could blame young Hershel for a lack of wanting. And as the weeks turned to months, thus drifting into years, the name Hershel Clemens fell out of mind.
It wasn’t until the summer of 1928 that anyone even thought of Hershel Clemens, and that was only when a fancy city lawyer drove into town. He rolled right down the middle of Tucker in his Mercedes 680s torpedo, the color of a faded lemon. Women glared out the window of the grocer’s shop and men nearly fell over one another in the barbershop, trying to get a better view of the car.
The car came to a stop outside the barbershop, parking beside the red and white pole. A squat man stepped out, wearing a white suit, his dark hair slicked back away from his forehead. He had a briefcase with him, keeping it clutched to his chest as if it were his own baby.
“My word,” some of the men muttered inside the barbershop, others used language that would be considered stronger and out of place in civilized conversation. The bell over the door jingled as the man stepped in, stomping the dirt of Tucker off his loafers,
“Good afternoon,” he said with his million dollar smile. The men were all shocked to see a man of his caliber in their little town that none could really say anything in response. “I’m looking for a Mr. Clemens,” he said, leering around the little shop. “A Mr. Judd Clemens?”
They all knew the name Clemens and most knew Judd personally. He was the last of his ilk in Tucker, the rest had all run off or died, and even more found a one way ticket to prison. Truthfully, the town had all been waiting for Judd to follow the trend of his family and die off, run away, or get locked up in the clink.
“You can find him down by the river, most likely,” the barber, a man named Alfred said. “Just outside of town.”
“Thank you,” the man said as he turned to leave.
“What might you want that man for?” a man asked from the bench along the window.
“I’m afraid I’m not at liberty to say,” he said as he left.
Well, as you could imagine, the rumor mill went into full swing. Stories of a lawman coming to town to take away the last of the burdensome Clemens swirled through the town like a tornado. Even the old ladies of the Rotary Club began to plan a party down at the church to celebrate the removal of the last of his kind.
It was a week before the truth came to Tucker about the man in the Mercedes and the fate that he brought to town for Judd Clemens. In truth, Judd had received quite a hefty sum of money from his late Uncle Hershel. It was a shock to hear that Hershel had been able to go out in to the world and secure a small fortune, but more shocking was that it was now laid into the unable hands of Judd.
Judd Clemens was a man of great ambition, just like his Uncle Hershel had been, that was a well known fact. He was a man consumed by dreams and dreaming, the main reason why he was never successful at holding down a job. But, alas, he didn’t have the sense that God gave a mule.
If ever he came across a penny it was not long for his pocket. Judd was not one to save money, and that was a bad pairing with great ambition. He appeared in town wearing flashy clothing and talking as big as his mouth would allow, showering the shopkeepers with money.
Some liked the new Judd, but others were quick to remember the old one. Nothing a Clemens ever touched turned to gold in Tucker. It was a lesson that all should have remembered.
By the end of the month he revealed his great plans for Tucker, that being the construction of a hotel, one that would sit square in the middle of town. He promised that it would be the grandest hotel in all the state. Jobs, he preached, so many jobs that it would seem that they rained from the sky.
The town was quick to embrace the new Judd Clemens and his great undertaking, jobs being the shiny coin that he waved in their faces. Lumber yards from all over the county quickly sent truckloads of wood and every out of work man able to hold a hammer showed up in hopes of employment. It all happened so fast.
Once there was an empty lot across from the ice cream parlor, then it was taken up by a great frame, tall and deep. The town began to celebrate the new hotel before it ever even opened, before it ever had a shingle on its roof or the walls to hold it up. The great, benevolent Clemens and his marvelous hotel.
Shipments of marble came in large crates from Italy, and large statues carved from ivory came from Africa. “It’s going to have a hundred rooms,” people would say. “I heard twice as many,” someone would answer. Gossip flooded the town and there was no Noah or his ark to save anyone.
The building went quickly and soon the exterior was done and the interior was being slapped up as quickly as a hammer could hit a nail. Painters came from France to adorn its walls with great murals and seamstresses came from China to create the great and flowing curtains that would hang over its windows. It became more and more clear as the process went on that Judd Clemens intended on building the grandest hotel the world had ever seen.
Reporters came from Columbus, hearing the story of the great hotel in the middle of Ross county. What was its purpose, they’d all ask. Why would anyone stay there in Tucker, Ohio?
Judd Clemens laughed at the questions, telling them that everyone will come to Tucker to stay at his hotel if only to stay at his hotel. “Even God himself would stay at the Tucker Inn,” he spouted.
Everyone in town lined up to get a job at the Tucker Inn, some to be bellhops, some to be maids, some to be cooks and wait staff and concierges. There would be many jobs at the hotel, so many so that it would be like children hunting for eggs on Easter morning, and Kirby Jones would be one of them.
In his last year of school, Kirby wanted to get a job in order to save money in hopes of going to college. There weren’t many places to work in Tucker before the Inn. He even found himself jealous of his own girlfriend, Ginny, who worked at the Ice Cream Parlor.
“Who’s going to stay there?” she’d ask him as he filled out his application.
“Look at it,” he’d chuckle. “Who wouldn’t want to stay there?”
“But who’s going to come to Tucker, Ohio to stay at that hotel? People don’t travel for hotels, they stay at hotels because they travel.” Those words fell on deaf ears, Kirby shrugging them off as he continued to scratch his great accomplishments into the bottom of his application.
The hotel was completed and there was a great ceremony with a red ribbon and a big pair of scissors and everything. The whole town came out to see the final product, maybe some to laugh at the grandeur of it in such a small town. But the Tucker Inn was open for business and the town was happy for the jobs and excitement it brought.
Two months passed and not a soul stayed at the hotel. Judd Clemens was bewildered, trying to figure out what it might have been that kept the guests away. The big, beautiful hotel became more and more an eye sore as it stood there empty.
“Why doesn’t anyone stay at my hotel?” Judd once asked the Mayor.
“No one has the money to,” he said glumly as he cleaned the glass of his spectacles. “Besides, we all live here already … we all have our own houses.”
Layoffs came to be a daily occurrence at the Tucker Inn. First the wait staff, then the cooks, then the maids themselves. In the end there was only Judd and the one boy that was a bellhop willing to clean rooms, cook food, and wait on the guests as if a slave. That boy was Kirby Jones.
“No one’s going to come to Tucker,” Ginny said to him while he visited her at the Ice Cream Parlor. “No one even has any reason to come to Tucker.” He told her she was wrong, vowed that she would see soon enough. The girl could only laugh at her beau and make him a chocolate cone.
Judd Clemens became more and more distraught over his endeavor and its shortcomings. As quickly as his uncle’s money found him it had left again. There wasn’t enough money left to even see the hotel to the end of the month.
People in town began to talk more and more about the foolishness of the whole thing. Even the hotel’s biggest advocates were now bragging about always knowing it would fail and become nothing more than another in a long line Clemens’ failures.
And maybe they were right to be doubtful. It was, after all, a hotel in the middle of a small town in the middle of nowhere. It was the kind of place where children grew up, always vowing that they would find some ticket out of there.
And then the hotel was nothing but another building, though it sat damn near empty. People grew tired of laughing about Judd Clemens’ failure, easily forgetting how quickly they bought in to it all. Life went back to normal.
Isn’t it funny how things happen when you least expect them to? Your car breaks down, just after you get done paying it off, or your normally snobbish cat wants to cuddle just as you’re on the verge of sleep? Some things are stubborn and won’t even happen unless the timing’s horrible.
And that’s how the first guest ever checked in to the Tucker Inn. Long after the fanfare and ceremonious back patting, just when the skin on everyone’s elbows started to heal from all the rubbing. But it wasn’t the normal type of guest, not the kind that you would see arrive on a train or on a bus … they came from the sky.
It was the middle of morning and all of Tucker was busy going about their day. The grocers were setting out their tables of fruit and vegetables, and the postman was just heading out with his sack of mail. It was your average Tuesday and nothing seemed out of place.
But there it came, a roaring crack from the sky above. Any who heard it glanced up to see the brilliant light as it flew down and towards the main square of Tucker itself. Some would later say they thought it was a comet, coming down to level their small town, but they would be wrong.
It slowed as it approached and landed in the street. It looked like an old carriage, pulled by four, brilliantly bright figures, men with large white wings that extended out of their strong shoulders. The angels’ faces were soft yet stern and not a one of them looked around at the bewildered people that began to flood the street around them.
The carriage and the manly cherubim that pulled it all sparkled and glowed with an unearthly quality. The women of Tucker would swoon for days to come over the angelic bodies of those heavenly hosts, barely a stitch of clothing draping from perfect bodies. It was certainly a rare thing to behold in Tucker, Ohio.
News of the arrival spread far and fast, as most gossip does in small towns. It wasn’t long before the rotary club itself was dashing down the street from their pinochle tournament in the church parlor. They ran as best they could, their long skirts hitched up as they jogged with knobby knees. Some chuckled at the sight of them as they came hobbling down, trying their best to nudge their way to the front, but they paid little attention to it. In their minds they believed if any should gaze upon the face of God that it should be them.
But no face was to be seen. As the door to the carriage swung open to the soft singing voices of angels all that could be seen was brilliant light that absorbed all that it touched. The light of God engulfed all that it touched, as bright as a dying star going supernova.
All that could be seen of him was where he wore a pretty smart suit, pinstriped with brown leather loafers. Even the rotary club ladies would agree that God looked pretty sharp. They called to him and God waved back with the brilliant light that emitted from the sleeve of his flashy jacket.
No one had ever been accused of calling a Clemens and honest person. Lying came so effortlessly to them all, falsehoods seemed to flow through their veins. In the words of Reverend Wallace, all the Clemens’ should have brown eyes because they’re chock-full of shit.
But none the less, against all odds, here God came to stay at the Tucker Inn, making an honest man of Judd Clemens. Even now that wording seems wrong. It would be more believable to those in Tucker, Ohio if you told them the sun set in the north and rose out of the back of their pants.
Poor Kirby Jones stood there in the doorway, his knees shaking as he watched the father of all creation amble on up to meet him. His voice quaked as he welcomed his only guest, holding the door ajar with a wobbly arm. People tried to follow God in, but Kirby knew well enough to shut them out. Guests do need privacy, after all.
The teen quickly ran back around the desk, nervously grabbing at the guest book, keeping his mouth busy with idle chit-chat. God took up the pen and scratched his name into the guest book, the ink of the pen no longer satiny black, but a shimmering gold.
God’s name was right up at the top, the first guest to ever stay in Tucker. He had the pick of the rooms, Kirby explained to him, and he would personally wait on him and keep his admirers at bay—which was appreciated by God. So Kirby asked if her preferred a room at the front or the back of the house.
God opened his mighty, unseen lips, ready to answer the boy’s question so he could go have a quick nap. The words came out of his mouth, vibrating through his vocal chords and taking flight in to the room, all to say that he didn’t have a preference, but the damage had been done.
Kirby’s face went wide, hearing the strange yet beautiful voice of his maker, then his body changed into a statue of ash and crumbled to the ground. This, of course, took God by surprise; he is supposedly infallible, or at least that’s what they say. In truth he has made mistakes from time to time, as evidenced by the giraffe.
Not being used to being to surprised, God did the only logical thing left to do. He immediately turned on his heels and walked out, the embarrassment on his face masked by its own radiance. The crowds cheered him once more as he hopped into his chariot, waving out the window as the angel rose into the sky, dragging the heavenly father behind them.
The confused crowd soon discovered the pile of ash that was left behind the desk, not knowing for sure what to make of it. After some combined brainstorming amongst them, they deduced that it could only be the remains of young Kirby Jones. But why would God do such a thing as smite the young boy? He was far from what people would consider evil, someone that never blasphemed or coveted or any of the other ‘thou shall nots’.
Ginny rushed across the street as soon she heard, an old cookie jar in her hands. With tears in her eyes, she began to scoop the ash up, dumping handful after handful into the jar until there was no more Kirby Jones left on the carpet. The crowd parted as she passed through, no one quite sure how to comfort the girl.
She sobbed quietly as she marched down the street, her face slowly transitioning from sad to melancholy and finally ending on so mad she could chew nails and spit rivets. She seethed as she stomped forward, mumbling in an unchristian manner, her mind swimming in a sea of fury. The town followed behind at a safe distance, none wanting to fall to her wrath.
Once a pretty girl, Ginny was now transformed in to a creature of rampant rage, capable of inglorious deeds. Her face was as red as an apple as she marched up the steps to the Methodist church. She burst through the doors and march on down the aisle, her eyes glued to the cross over the pulpit.
The town stayed at the back of the church, listening and watching as that little girl cursed the cross and God himself, shaking her fist with such vigor. She called God every name under the sun and even went as far as to make a few up along the way. She called him a coward and a fraud, not a god at all if he could leave such a beloved creature in such peril.
The town thought for sure that she would be struck down where she stood, nothing but her crispy shoes sitting where she once was. But she just went on and on, continuing her tirade, unafraid of any consequences. The sky grew cloudy over the church and many people cried for Ginny to settle it down and not upset the holy trinity any further, some simply screamed their goodbyes.
The jar in Ginny’s hands began to shake and she gave off a shout as she set it down on the floor before her. It hopped about like a Mexican jumping bean before it started to crack. Then one arm popped out of it, followed by another arm and two legs. Then there was the head of Kirby poking out the top of the jar, wearing the lid as a hat.
Then the jar was no more and all that was left was a naked, bewildered Kirby Jones. He was curled up and shaking as a newborn baby would. Ginny quickly found a choir robe for Kirby and helped him pull it over his head.
Together they walked out, hand in hand through the crowd. Some gave off a sigh of relief and others were a bit miffed that God would reward such vulgar behavior. In the end, though, none of that mattered to Ginny; she had her Kirby back.
Tucker’s first and only hotel closed. Judd Clemens tried to turn the morbid occurrence into a way of drawing guests, hoping that the most devoted of people would take a pilgrimage to his Tucker Inn, but none made the journey. No one wanted to hear how fickle God could be, or even the tale of how Kirby Jones came to be in a cookie jar.