The Hardware Store On The Edge Of Forever, Or Careful What You Wish For

Austin Popper

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#1
This happened in the spring of ’83, or maybe it was ’82. It is by far the most Fortean thing I’ve ever experienced. I’ve had many other odd experiences, but nothing like this.

It was a weekend, and I had gone into Topeka, Kansas for some shopping and goofing off. I lived in a small town about half an hour away, so trips to T-town were common. I was alone on this trip, which was nothing unusual. I’d gone to the White Lakes Mall in the south part of town. No doubt I spent most of my time there in the Town Crier, an excellent little book store where I had found many wonderful things over the years. Around noon I decided to cross the street and have lunch at the Village Inn.

It was a glorious spring day, sunny and warm but the hot weather was still a few weeks away. After lunch, I decided to do some looking around in an area I wasn’t too familiar with. I thought I’d take the long way home. I didn’t know what the area to the south and west was like, that is the part of town inside the beltway road of Interstate 470. I had relatives in the area, and had actually worked in Topeka a few years prior, but that had been close to downtown, several miles to the north. I set off down a side street into a nice looking residential area.

There were quite a few people out, kids playing and adults mowing lawns. Everything was green and lush with flowers blooming here and there. I headed west, then south, winding around in a pretty large subdivision full of well kept but modest newer homes. Soon I came to a short but fairly steep hill that led down to an intersection with a stop sign. I found myself at a fairly wide street running north and south. To my left there was an old business district, obviously the old downtown of a small place that had been swallowed up by the city of Topeka. Such things are quite common, but this one was entirely new to me. I would have expected, given the economic times and the nature of places like that, to find a funky old thrift store and maybe a pawn shop in there, but this was not like that at all. I decided to turn left and have a look.

By far the biggest business in this block-long downtown was a hardware store. It took up a fair bit of the block on the west side. The façade was golden brown brick or something, but pretty plain. There were large plate glass windows with red lettering spelling out the name of the store. This was painted on the glass by a talented sign painter. It read “Surname Hardware” with the surname forever lost to my memory. It could have been Simmons or Peters or Benson, I was never able to retrieve it. The place was clean and bright and busy. There was a tidy row of lawnmowers out front on the sidewalk, maybe a few bikes too. Other businesses also seemed to be doing well, and there were people walking around on the sidewalks. I drove right down the middle of all this thinking I’d have to check it out some time, especially since it was only a few minutes from the mall.

I continued on that road, which led south out of town. Soon I was in open country, passing pastures, crop fields and the occasional farmstead. Something like ten miles south of Topeka, I came to an intersection that looked like a well traveled crossroads, with a tidy white clapboard church on one corner. I saw a few houses in the vicinity, and probably a barn or two. There was a sign at the intersection that said “Somethingorother Corner”, again the first word was immediately forgotten. The sign was pretty substantial, and the whole area had an air of prosperity that was pretty much out of character for the area. I was a bit more familiar with that neck of the woods and I had worked with a few people from down there. They were good, hardworking people, but the land was not nearly as rich as the bottom land near the river, and one was much more likely to find tougher looking places out that way. This spot looked like what we’d call gentrification these days, except it really looked like it had never been run down or funky. There are of course lots of places like that in the Midwestern US, but it seemed a bit surprising to find such a community right there.

A few minutes later, I came to a road I knew of or maybe a sign pointing off in the direction of a town I had been to, so I turned off and headed home since I knew how to get there from that point. It took a day or two for it to sink in just how very odd my trip had been. At no point did anything seem to be other than perfectly ordinary, but as it turned out my route was quite impossible. I couldn’t remember what any of it was called, or even a street name. I couldn’t say to a co-worker, “Hey, I drove down through Clarkville [or whatever] the other day. Boy, that’s a nice area. Never knew anything about it. Just happened on to it.” Then it occurred to me that all I had to do was look in the phone book under Hardware, and check the addresses with a map. Duh! Should have thought of that sooner.

The phone book listed several hardware stores, of course, but I had been in all but one and I knew where it was. That was a few miles north of my starting point and in a very different environment. Definitely not the store in question. The more I thought about my weird little trip, the more problems became apparent. For starters, there was no such road heading south out of that vicinity that could possibly take one into the countryside. I know I was not on Burlingame Road, to the west of my route that day. I’d been on it and it was nothing like the road I was on. To the east is Topeka Boulevard, a major thoroughfare that was at that time actually US-75, a busy highway. My non-existent road would have taken me past the old Chief Dive-In Theater, which had only recently closed. There is a Super Sprawl Mart there now, but at the time the screen would have still been standing and I’d have to have seen that. Likewise, the big potato chip factory a bit farther south would be hard to miss. Strangest of all, I had no recollection of passing over or under I-470, a road I had driven many times.

Of course it did not take me long to try to retrace my route. I was probably back down there the next weekend, I don’t recall. There is no little hill with a stop sign at the bottom, no vestigial downtown with a hardware store and various other shops, no quiet two lane asphalt road heading down through the industrial parks and highway interchanges in the area. Over the years, I would sometimes take friends over into the residential area, and we’d try to figure out where I left normal reality that day. At the time of the event, there was no odd atmosphere, no discontinuity, no Oz Factor. I was in my twenties, it was midday, and I was alert. There was nothing strange about the cars in the old downtown, I didn’t notice any odd license plates, the people I saw around the shops all looked like people you’d see in Topeka in the early 80s. We never found a hint of any of it. You leave the Village Inn and zigzag around to the west and south, you very soon (within a minute or two) come to either Burlingame Road or 37th Street. Both of those were familiar to me at the time. Both were and still are quite busy streets.

I did make a trip or two south in search of Somethingorother Corner, and eventually found a fairly similar orientation of old church, intersection, and a house or two but the buildings looked disused, there were weeds about, and it wasn’t really in the right area anyway.

None of this bothered me. I thought it was kind of cool. The friends I shared it with knew me well enough to know I hadn’t made it up, and they thought it was interesting. The big reason it didn’t bother me was I had by then read quite a few of Jane Roberts’ books, mostly the Seth Books. I was very intrigued with what he called probable realities. The concepts he described came into our mainstream culture a couple of decades later as alternate dimensions, parallel universes, and so on. According to Seth (and some others) we weave in and out of various probable realities all the time, but it’s almost always so seamless we have no clue we are doing it. This is good and even very necessary, because life is chaotic enough these days without shopping districts and roads popping in and out of our domains. It’s interesting that I set out that afternoon, albeit pretty much on a whim, to explore a part of town I didn’t know much about. A trivial mystery turned into a much more interesting one.

I’m also kind of a map nut. On the theory that I had briefly visited a slightly different version of Topeka, I looked for signs of a long forgotten town in the location of the downtown area I drove through. In, say, the 1880s, it would have been about three miles from Topeka, which would make sense. To this day I don’t pass up an opportunity to take a close look at an old map of the area, but even with the large number of tiny settlements that appear on old maps, I’ve not found a candidate. My best reckoning puts the phantom townsite somewhere in the immediate vicinity of the old Chief Drive-In, or maybe “under” the mass of highways and ramps just to the south of that. I’ve looked at old atlases, old section maps, history books, all sorts of road maps and old railroad maps for clues, and I’ve found many interesting things, but nothing that seems to fit with my trip that day.

I lived in Topeka a couple of times in the years since my little adventure, and for a few years actually lived within a mile or so of the Chief. Never had another similar experience and never found any road, building or location that seemed at all related to that trip.

If I had seen some people with pointy ears, or heard them speaking some strange language, I would have paid more attention or even taken a couple of pictures. I usually had that old counterpart to the modern crappy phone camera, an Instamatic in the glove box. Too bad I didn’t stop and buy a pocket knife or better yet, a local map! I’d love to have a receipt from the interdimensional hardware store.
 

merricat

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#3
This is excellent, thanks for sharing and in so much detail.
Apologies if I have overlooked something, but were the cars, buildings,etc contemporary looking? In the sense of continuity - did anything feel disturbed or ‘out of time’?

I thought dimensional slip rather than time slip.

It also made me think, if this were to happen to me now, and I had ventured onto something that was even ‘somewhat’ unusual it would be a great idea to take a few phone snaps. Hindsight is everything though!
 

Carl Grove

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#4
I agree, a dimensional slip, not a time slip. Incidentally, a large number of time slips share the same "normal" quality of this account, no weird Oz feelings, and if they turn out to be not to a remote decade the witness often (as in this excellent account) doesn't notice anything amiss. So even if the witness has a phone with a camera, or indeed a camera, he or she doesn't think there is anything worth photographing. Even if with hindsight some odd features are recalled, they haven't been odd enough to be worth photographing. But if you do find yourself somewhere obviously weird, why take a photo when you can shoot a video? That would be something!
 

Austin Popper

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#5
Thanks for the comments. 1983 was about 34 years before I started carrying a smart phone. I'm just now learning to work the camera with any degree of competence. I don't think I had even heard of a cell phone then. I think I must have had a camera in the car, but I was just sauntering around Topeka. Anything new I saw wasn't going anywhere, or so I thought. It was only after a few days that I began to realize there were serious problems with that little jaunt. I'm just glad I found an easy way back home!

I have another story from several years before this incident that would, I suppose, be described as a time slip. It also happened while I was driving, but ended up just being some missing miles. It had the same lack of any weird phenomena, discontinuity or odd feelings. Perfectly seamless, like this experience. I'll write it up and post it soon.

Heh. A video! Yes, that would be something. I wonder how many of these things go completely unnoticed. If I had been visiting the area for the first and only time, and had wandered into whatever this was, it would have been forgotten quite soon. Everything about it, from my perspective at that moment, was utterly ordinary.
 

Austin Popper

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#8
Nothing seemed to be even the slightest bit out of the ordinary. I would have noticed people's appearance being out of place, or cars that looked a little bit different, unusual paint colors on cars, strange architectural details and the like. I am a very visually oriented person, and as far as I could recall everything looked like what I would expect to find in that place and time.
 

henry

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#9
great account ... it strikes me you could put a map together with your starting point that day, the impossible route you thought you took, and the disused church/crossroads you later found that looked a little familiar when you tried to retrace your steps ?
 

henry

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#10
ps. why give the subtitle "or careful what you wish for" was it in relation to this sentence or did i/you miss something ?
After lunch, I decided to do some looking around in an area I wasn’t too familiar with.
 

Austin Popper

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#11
Here is a link to Google Maps, centered on the building that used to house the Village Inn. It's apparently now a Mexican restaurant. It has been twenty years since I lived in Kansas, and 34 or 35 years since my odd little trip, so I'm not sure about a lot of the smaller details. Anyway, I turned left when I pulled out of the parking lot, onto SW Croix St. and went a short distance before turning off. I may have turned left on Mayo Ave. or Tara Ave. It seems like the north-south street, the "old main street" would have been approximately where Westview Ave. exists in the known universe. The business district with the hardware store would then be somewhere around 37th Street. As I recall, the road ran pretty much straight south, on out of town. If I did not cross I-470 or the Kansas Turnpike, then I should have noticed that. I don't recall those details now.

https://goo.gl/maps/vHobwU45Rm52

Westview lines up pretty well with Jordan Road, several miles to the south, but as you can see, there is no continuous road south through that corridor, nor has there ever been one as far as I have been able to determine. There are lots of obstacles there, too. Jordan intersects with 93rd Street, which is likely where I turned off to go home. Note just to the east there is a junction where US-75 crosses over Topeka Blvd. The seven mile stretch of US-75 from that junction up to I-470 was built in the late 90s, a brand new road built across pastures and crop fields. I lived right nearby while the construction was going on, and rode my bike on the brand new road quite a few times before it was opened to traffic. In '83, US-75 ran on its original alignment from that junction, north into Topeka, on Topeka Blvd.

I've not been able to locate (on Google) the church at the crossroads that I found way back then. It was only vaguely similar to what I recall, and quite a distance out of place. It may even have been east of Topeka Blvd. Country churches are often found near crossroads. Gotta keep an eye on any place the devil might habituate, you know.

As for the subtitle, the only reason I set off into a shady residential subdivision that day was to see what interesting things I might have been missing as I whizzed by on 37th Street or Burlingame Road. As it turned out, I had no idea what was awaiting me in there.
 

henry

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#12
thanks, im all about this level of detail and finally for context, what would you have been driving ?
 

Austin Popper

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#13
thanks, im all about this level of detail and finally for context, what would you have been driving ?
Heh, that would be a big ol' blue Pontiac that would have scared the hell out of anyone very far outside my native realm.
The road that led down the hill to the stop sign was fairly narrow, and I remember passing lines of parked cars on the sides of the street. They all seemed completely ordinary and current to me. Topeka was full of Detroit roadboats like mine at the time. "Hey, I'm getting 16 miles per gallon since that tune-up. Guess it needed that."
 

Carl Grove

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#18
Here is a link to Google Maps, centered on the building that used to house the Village Inn. It's apparently now a Mexican restaurant. It has been twenty years since I lived in Kansas, and 34 or 35 years since my odd little trip, so I'm not sure about a lot of the smaller details. Anyway, I turned left when I pulled out of the parking lot, onto SW Croix St. and went a short distance before turning off. I may have turned left on Mayo Ave. or Tara Ave. It seems like the north-south street, the "old main street" would have been approximately where Westview Ave. exists in the known universe. The business district with the hardware store would then be somewhere around 37th Street. As I recall, the road ran pretty much straight south, on out of town. If I did not cross I-470 or the Kansas Turnpike, then I should have noticed that. I don't recall those details now.

https://goo.gl/maps/vHobwU45Rm52

Westview lines up pretty well with Jordan Road, several miles to the south, but as you can see, there is no continuous road south through that corridor, nor has there ever been one as far as I have been able to determine. There are lots of obstacles there, too. Jordan intersects with 93rd Street, which is likely where I turned off to go home. Note just to the east there is a junction where US-75 crosses over Topeka Blvd. The seven mile stretch of US-75 from that junction up to I-470 was built in the late 90s, a brand new road built across pastures and crop fields. I lived right nearby while the construction was going on, and rode my bike on the brand new road quite a few times before it was opened to traffic. In '83, US-75 ran on its original alignment from that junction, north into Topeka, on Topeka Blvd.

I've not been able to locate (on Google) the church at the crossroads that I found way back then. It was only vaguely similar to what I recall, and quite a distance out of place. It may even have been east of Topeka Blvd. Country churches are often found near crossroads. Gotta keep an eye on any place the devil might habituate, you know.

As for the subtitle, the only reason I set off into a shady residential subdivision that day was to see what interesting things I might have been missing as I whizzed by on 37th Street or Burlingame Road. As it turned out, I had no idea what was awaiting me in there.
So in a way you had an intention to explore and to see something interesting. I don't think this is often the case with time or dimensional slips -- mostly the witnesses are going about their ordinary business and things happen without their wanting them to. Actually I can only think of a couple of cases offhand. One was one of the Liverpool incidents noted by Slemen, where the witness, in a rather depressed state, found himself back in the 1960s, in a park, with people playing pop music on their transistor radios, and wished fervently that he could be allowed to stay there and not have to return to his present rather grim reality (wish not granted!).
 

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#19
The question is - if you took a photo or a video, would they still exist once you got back to your own dimension?
Good question. So far pictures on film cameras haven't been retained (one showed nothing, the other showed the contemporary scenery. (Although I have read somewhere of a claim that a picture did "take", but the witness so far hasn't presented it..) I don't think anyone has yet tried to get a digital image. The You Tube video purporting to show a vanishing house is of course an obvious fake.
 

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#20
Sure looks that way, but the first link is to the old White Lakes Mall, still soldiering on decades after the "new" mall was built on the west edge of town. I think those different colored patches are just repairs to the parking lot. I don't recall ever seeing buildings out there. There was a Sears store on the north end and a Penney's on the south, with all sorts of nice shops in between. I used to really like the mall, but the new ones just seem like little bits of Vegas polluting the countryside. The building in the northwest corner of the parking lot, Pancho's, is a relatively new addition.

The second I'm not sure about, but the adjacent building is the old Ardan's store. I still have a pair of Fiskars I bought there in '78 or so. That place is apparently still a boat supply store (as it was when I last paid any attention), and the street view shows a major renovation in progress.
 

Austin Popper

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#24
Didn't know about that one. Handy way to pay your traffic fines, maybe!

Right down by the old Fox theater. Where I first saw Fantasia. That was a big deal because no one had seen it since the last time it was in theaters, quite some time before. Maybe they released it every ten years or something.
 

henry

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#28
if im reading these right, you should have known something wasnt adding up at the time ?
You leave the Village Inn and zigzag around to the west and south, you very soon (within a minute or two) come to either Burlingame Road or 37th Street. Both of those were familiar to me at the time. Both were and still are quite busy streets.
It seems like the north-south street, the "old main street" would have been approximately where Westview Ave. exists in the known universe. The business district with the hardware store would then be somewhere around 37th Street.
i was considering whether you had taken off in the wrong direction, eg. east rather than west (you mention having crossed the street in your vehicle, i know ive done that before and thought i was heading back the way id come) ... but the whole thing plays out in the space of a few blocks only and the locations were "familiar to" you ...
 

Austin Popper

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#29
I had driven down both 37th and Burlingame, but was unaware of how close I was to the latter. I don't know that I didn't cross 37th before or after the business district, but I don't think I did. In other words, I knew next to nothing about where Croix went. On subsequent trips into the area, I kept coming upon Burlingame and thinking, aw crap, here's Burlingame again. Maybe I was on some very different version of Burlingame. I dunno. The thing that should have clued me in was getting out of town to the south without crossing I-470. It's a full blown Interstate with few points of access. But in the end, I was on a leisurely drive and really not paying a lot of attention. Wish I could recall more, but it has been long enough I'm really dredging up memories of what I thought about it in the months after the trip.
 
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