This story is by Kate Petersen and was part of our 2017 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Louis, Massachusetts was a funny town. Not just for its slightly crooked houses (or its slightly crooked mayor) but also for its sidewalks that seemed to stop abruptly, potholes that could be mistaken for manholes, and a vaguely fishy smell that seemed to linger on even though Louis was nowhere near the water.
According to the town, the smell was the result of over a hundred years of manufacturing. Louis was “famous” for manufacturing left socks—yet another aspect of the town that made it funny. But if you asked any of the residents, their investment in the production of a good that seemed to really only fulfill half its purpose was no laughing matter. They knew with every fiber of their beings that what they were doing was of the utmost gravity, and they did it better than anyone. Especially better than the louses down in Allace, Massachusetts. If there was one thing the people of Louis took more pride in than their trade, it was their hatred of the good-for-nothings in the town just to the South.
The town of Allace manufactured right socks. They were famous for it. So the locals would tell you, in any case. They were the masters, truly, and certainly never forgot to mention it if anyone brought up their neighbors to the North, the undeniably loathsome town of Louis.
Conveniently, both towns forgot to mention that when they shipped their unparalleled product off to the distributor, both right and left socks were packaged together. It was but a detail in the grand scheme of an enmity ingrained so deeply in the culture of each town that the roads wore unevenly from the unbalanced ambulation of single-socked citizens. For good reason too. Or so the locals would tell you, in any case.
Once again, the towns conveniently disagree on how the feud began, and neither was too interested in writing down history, what with socks as their legacy. Still, a few aspects of the stories line up, enough to suppose that Louis and Allace were once one town with three factories; the factories belonged to one man who willed them to his two sons; something about a frying pan, a clothesline, and an apple tree; and the third factory caught fire one night in the autumn of 1906 and the towns split and had been feuding ever since.
Every year, as the anniversary of the factory fire ushered in Autumn, each town would gather near the ruins of the third factory—which straddled the town lines—and shout insults at one another. The bracing air made for excellent feuding weather. The chill brought a new vivacity to the townspeople, and it was all they could do to not get carried away before the Annual Autumn Feud Festival began. It was quite a show for anyone who had never seen it, and many suspect that even if the dispute was not so intense, this tradition would have continued for the love of hating each other.
One year, however, as the towns were setting up camp and testing out jibes, the deputy chief of police of Louis came tearing through the field up to the crowd, sputtering through his words.
“It’s…all…over,” he gasped. Muttering started from both crowds.
“What’s over?” someone shouted from the depths.
“Everything,” the deputy chief panted. People started shuffling uncomfortably. “Our chief’s daughter has run off with that good-for-nothing son of the mayor of…Allace” he finished, shuddering.
It started as a low rumble, and grew to a roar, both towns screaming and shouting and nearly throwing things—socks, mostly, as they were plentiful.
“Wait a second!” someone broke in through the shouts of anguish. “We can still hate each other even if they leave! Why on earth should that change anything?!” Silence fell. Everyone seemed to consider this point, saw some sort of validity, and resumed setting up.
“You don’t understand! They’ve taken the patterns! THEY’VE TAKEN THE PATTERNS!”
Frantically, the townspeople looked to the ruins, where the patterns were typically displayed in glass cases during the festival. They found them empty. The uproar resumed.
What is more well known about the history of the feud is that the father provided his sons with only one set of patterns. A left and a right. As one might presume, when the brothers’ relationship went up in smoke, the patterns were split up. Still, every year at the beginning of the festival, the patterns were brought out to the ruins of the factory and exhibited as an ode to the feud, and a reminder that winter was coming and socks are important. Now, why were copies never made of these patterns, one might ask? Many have asked.
“But the socks are our livelihood!” shouted someone.
“How will we prove who is better?!” cried another
“We don’t even know how to do anything else!” shouted a third.
“After them!” they all yelled.
The mob set off. Nothing like this had been seen in the history of either town. People were crossing town lines and getting very mixed up with one another. Soon though, they were in hot pursuit of the star-crossed lovers.
“What do you think is going on with everyone?” asked the chief’s daughter, watching curiously as people from either town scrambled like squirrels preparing for winter.
“Beats me,” responded the mayor of Allace’s son. “Looks like they’ve lost something.”
“It does. You know, I really thought people would make more of a hullabaloo when they realized we’d left, but they seem pretty occupied with their own business.”
“Well maybe, but it’s not like we are trying to bring the town together. We’re just leaving on our own.” The son of Allace’s mayor chuckled to himself as an absurd idea crossed his mind.
“What?” queried the chief’s daughter with a smile.
“It’s not like we took the patterns!” he laughed.
A look of mild horror crossed her face, then gave way to a guttural laugh. “I can’t believe you would even joke about that!” she gasped through fits of giggling. “That would just be cruel!”
The couple looked deep into each others’ eyes and continued to laugh as they walked up to the station and boarded the last train out of town. They watched with intrigued out the window at the townspeople running frantically to and fro, and reminisced to one another about the few things they might miss about their towns, such as the Feud Festival.
“Look at them panic,” chuckled the mayor of Louis, watching from the statehouse building.
“I’m sorry, sir, I don’t understand what’s so funny,” his assistant apologized.
“They think they can save the towns,” the mayor wheezed between puffs of his cigar.
“I still don’t follow, sir,” said his assistant.
“Every year we hold that festival, and every year I watch money slip away over this feud. Do you know how much more it costs to negotiate a deal with the distributor to only include one set of socks?”
“No sir, I don’t. And, you know, I’ve been thinking. Couldn’t you actually just wear Louis socks on both feet? I mean I’ve tried it and there’s nothing really about the socks that would indicate which foot it’s supposed to go…”
“NONSENSE!” shouted the mayor. “Now you hear me. Just because I stole the patterns myself and am selling them to Big Hosiery—it’s a subsidiary of Big Oil. Who would have thought?—doesn’t mean that I don’t hate Allace just as much as everyone else in Louis. But money wins over hate, and you should always follow your love.”
“Did that even make sense, sir?” questioned the assistant.
“Now call my helicopter and I’ll be off. I’m leaving this town for good.”
Down below the people continued to scramble into the night. No trace was found of the chief’s daughter and the Allace mayor’s son. Eventually, the people had no choice but to give up hope.
“We’re ruined,” cried a townsperson, as everyone wandered back to the half-constructed camp. “Everything we’ve built. Gone.”
“We can still hate each other,” suggested someone sheepishly.
The townspeople offered a disheartened grumble in response. “It’s just not the same,” someone else sighed.
They sat on the ruins of the old factory, meandering through it, and kicking up dirt.
“What’s this?!” cried a townsperson suddenly, pulling something from beneath a remnant of a factory wall.
“It’s a pattern!” shouted someone else.
“For…” the townsperson paused for a long time. “Mittens.”