All Stories, General Fiction

Gravity Hill by Rob O’Keefe

There were worse places to be a teenager than New Jersey.

Teenagers, like vampires, are creatures of the night, sharing the same pallor, inward focus, and questionable fashion sense. Unlike the vampires of old, who lived their undead nights under dark, occasionally moonlit skies, your average New Jersey 18-year-old reveled in the neon glow of streetlights and store fronts. Both, however, had to be true to their natures, which meant constantly being on the prowl to quench an insatiable thirst.

While vampires were focused on one objective, human blood, the Garden State teenager was much more democratic, attracted to anything that triggered the release of dopamine. The bigger the blast, the better.

There was a time when New Jersey was the dopamine release center of the world. A world of muscle cars, hook-ups, rumbles (or, more likely, pantomimes of fighting), the call of the boardwalk, and the immutable presence of the unexplained. All of these were the provenance of New Jersey and the birthright of every resident teen.

Each night, when the pizzerias closed, GTOs, Mustangs, and Camaros were loaded up – beer stacked high in the back seat – for a midnight run to the shore, searching to find the mythology of the evening. Often, it was Gravity Hill.

Gravity Hill was impossible. It was proof that rules didn’t matter, laws were transient, and defiance wasn’t a choice, but an expectation. Explanations of its mystical powers were infinite and insufficient. It was everything we wanted the world to be.

Then slowly, almost imperceptibly, the world changed. We changed, marked more by a continuous series of small decisions than by any big passage of time. Eventually, the neon was less alluring, the magic harder to find, and the night became something that happened “out there.”

All of these thoughts were going through my head as I drove down Route 35 for the first time in decades. I was no longer teenager, vampire, or other unholy being. I was something common, blended, and universal. I was here on business.

I had quite a bit of time before I could check in at my hotel, so I spent it trying to find familiar landmarks that once dotted the road of my adolescence. The diner we would frequent, arriving at 2 a.m., leaving at 5 a.m. The pool hall, where we lost more money than we would ever win. The factory with the giant Dixie Cup displayed outside, signaling that Gravity Hill was just around the corner.

All of those places were gone, leaving something starkly unfamiliar. Eventually, I broke through my melancholy and found a side road where I could safely turn around. It was a rental car, so I couldn’t risk getting even a scratch.

I stopped at the end of the road, checking to make sure no one was in the vicinity, then attempted to shift the transmission into reverse, but I only got as far as neutral. This was a new model, one of those cars that was too technical for my liking, the kind that didn’t respond without engaging an app or speaking instructions out loud. I tried to get the vehicle to give control back to its flawed human driver, but I was still stuck in neutral. Frustrated, dispirited, and feeling stupid, I managed to open the door and I got out.

The car rolled uphill.

I stood transfixed, watching as the rental lumbered its way up the slope. I laughed. Oh man, did I laugh. Loudly, fully committed to the moment. I had managed to find Gravity Hill after all. The realization brought back a cascade of memories, flooding my mind with images of a time before. It was overpowering. It was wonderful. It was – interrupted by the sudden awareness that I wasn’t in the car, and it was rolling away. I ran, caught up to it, and jumped in the driver’s seat.

And then – well, then I tried it again and again and again. Each time it worked. Each time I laughed, screamed, howled.

You know it’s just lodestones.

Lodestones? What?

At some point in the middle of my euphoria, a car had stopped on the other side of the street. The driver had rolled down his window and was watching me like I was a monkey trying to open a coconut. Who knows how long he had been there.

Large magnetic deposits under the ground, he continued. Pulls anything with a decent amount of iron content right towards it.

But this is Gravity Hill, I protested.

Sure it is, he replied, amused. And there’s a dozen more just like it dotted all around the state.

It was dark now. I didn’t realize how much time had gone by. A police car pulled up behind me, lights flashing.

The officer got out of the car, walked over to me, flashlight in hand.

Everything alright, she asked, shining the light in my face.

He’s reliving his high school years, explained Mister Lodestone, the driver who stole my moment.

Yeah, well, go do it somewhere else, the officer instructed. You’re blocking the road.

I should have gone straight to the hotel. I should have gotten some rest for my meeting the next day, the one that had the potential of making my quarter. But how could I after what just happened? I had felt the magic, remembered the neon, immersed myself in the unexplained.

I went hunting for vampires instead.

Rob O’Keefe

Banner Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay 

Cover image: By the author

14 thoughts on “Gravity Hill by Rob O’Keefe”

  1. Hi Rob,
    For me, him grabbing for his past and the other two characters made this into a fine story.
    It is a really good piece of writing!
    It’s great to see you back on the site!


  2. I really enjoyed this! Not just for the search for youthful memories but for including (anti) Gravity Hill (examples of which abound, of course, although it’s not lodestones!)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I decided on lodestones because if I had included the real reason (invisible, prankster trolls with magnetic powers), no one would have believed the story.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Rob
    I placed a comment earlier but who knows what happened to it.
    Anyway, this is a wonderful and even look at the then and now. Mr. Lodestone is a buzzkill, but the past related sounds like fun.


  4. This one made me think of my own Gravity Hill, memories of the past, intruded upon by a Mr. Lodestone, present reality. Today, I think I’ll go look for some vampires. That will make it a good day. Thanks for this story.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Lodestones of the past pull most of us to try to go home again once in awhile. Happy for the MC that he felt the magic. Finding vampires might be a different story. And I look forward to reading it.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. New Jersey sounds like a lot more fun that Oregon, but they have no pumping your own gas in common. Could be that I’m not a fun guy (was there mush room for that line?).
    It is unfortunate (as this story mordantly observes) that nostalgia isn’t what it used to be.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. There’s something equally jolly and esoteric about this story. I really enjoy the kind of slightly off-kilter world you depict here. The vampire / teenager analogy is so well done too. Great stuff.


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