Tales from the Gas Station (Part Five)
I should begin this entry by saying how truly sorry I am to anyone who read part 4. I had no idea that was going to happen. The agents have assured me that every trace of the story has been removed from the internet, and that there is nothing to worry about.
If you were unfortunate enough to have read part 4: I beg you, for your own sake, try to forget everything. If you experience nose bleeds, dizziness, migraines, or hallucinations, go immediately to the emergency room. If you have a recurring dream of an island made of song, under no circumstances should you approach or attempt to open the blue door with the painting of a crow on it.
If you did not read part 4: There was no part 4. It does not exist. Forget you ever heard of it.
By now, you probably already know that there is a shitty gas station at the edge of our small town, and that weird things have been happening there. The city council has personally asked me to stop talking about it, as there have been some astute readers that not only tracked down our small town from the brief descriptions I’ve given, but actually come and visited me at work. I heard that one of them has joined the Mathematists, and as far as I know the other two are still missing. Once again, I am sorry.
I’m not working right now. It’s the first legitimate break I’ve had since I first started writing my stories on receipt paper all that time ago. Time moves funny here. Flowing slow and fast all at once, like molasses out of a shotgun. It’s a good thing I’ve been keeping a journal. I’ve got a few moments before my laptop dies, and I think now would be the perfect time to transpose my journal entries, before the battery runs out or the blood loss gets me. Right now it’s a race to see what happens first.
Before any of you worry, I’ve already called Tom. He said he’s on his way here to give me a ride to the hospital, right after he picks up dinner for the Ledford orphans, John-Ben and Little Sister. Tom and the other deputies have been taking turns checking in on and bringing them food in an attempt to make the whole thing less tragic. They’ve been living on their own ever since the incident that totally did not happen (and anyone who says otherwise is a damned liar).
There I go again, off on another tangent. I guess I’ll get to it, and type up my journal entries while I still can.
So much has happened here since the Halloween incident that we aren’t allowed to talk about. I’ve been much busier than usual, dealing with the aftermath as well as the cult. The Mathmetists have been cleaning out our inventory on a daily basis, planning ahead for some kind of secret event that I only get to hear about in hushed mutterings and whispers.
Night is coming earlier, and the weather is getting colder.
The man in the trench coat is back. He’s standing just outside the gas station door, staring in. He’s been there for almost an hour now. On the bright side, I haven’t had a customer come in since he showed up. On the not-so-bright side, I can’t help but feel like he’s trying to put thoughts into my head. He won’t be able to, though. I’ve had way too much practice.
Kieffer came in earlier today, before the sun went down, and sat in a booth drinking coffee for a while. Eventually, Spencer Middleton showed up. Spencer had a word with Kieffer, then came storming up to my register, screaming at the top of his lungs. He grabbed the display of lotto scratch-offs and threw it across the room. It was obvious that something had upset him. That’s when I took the earplugs out.
“Everything ok?” I asked, stupidly. I knew damn well everything was never “OK”.
“Did you hear a word I just said?” Spencer asked.
I explained to him that I had taken to wearing earplugs in an effort to drown out the sounds of screaming that periodically radiate through the air vents. I guess the screams must have stopped a while ago, or maybe I had imagined them. Either way, I didn’t need the earplugs anymore.
At this point, Tom walked into the store. His white hair looking even whiter than normal.
Spencer, I could see, became instantly aware of the deputy’s presence. “Where is he?” He half-whispered half-growled, “Where is the other one?”
“Carlos?” I asked.
Spencer sighed. “Sure. Carlos.”
“He’s not due for another twenty minutes.”
“When he gets here, tell him we need to have a chat.” With that, Spencer Middleton let out a shrill whistle and left the store. Kieffer jumped out of his seat and followed close behind.
Tom helped me pick up the mess and put the lotto display back together without asking a single question. I wish more people could be like Tom.
When Carlos got to work, he told me that he had been having strange dreams. Dreams of something enormous, living, breathing, underground. The dreams always end the same way: with the gas station collapsed into a giant sinkhole. I told him that Spencer was looking for him. That’s when Carlos grew solemn and asked me if he could show me something.
In the freezer, behind a stack of boxes labled “Non aprire” (whatever the hell that means, they’ve been here as long as I’ve worked here), there is a moving blanket. And inside that blanket is another Kieffer.
My first question for Carlos was, “You stole the body back?”
He looked at the ground and shook his head sheepishly like a toddler that just got busted for cooking meth.
“You killed another one?” I asked.
Carlos explained: it was an accident. Again.
The man in the trench coat is finally gone. He left claw marks on the glass of the front door. I checked the security footage to confirm my suspicions. He always stays just outside the range of our cameras. Why can’t I remember what his face looked like?
Marlboro was the first “customer” in the store after the man in the trench coat left. I told him that I was surprised he was still alive. He mistook this for a compliment and said, “Thank you.” I asked him if he was ready for the big event, but then he just stared at me blankly. I could tell he had no idea what I was talking about, so I filled him in on how I had put it all together. The unusual cultist activity, the whispers, the buying up all of our supplies. I could tell that something was about to happen.
Marlboro went pale in the face as I was talking, then ran out of the gas station before I could finish, the 99 cent frozen drink still in his hand. I know I should write up an inventory loss slip for the theft, but I just can’t bring myself to do it. As hard as it is to explain, there’s just something about Marlboro that makes me genuinely feel sorry for him.
I caught myself digging again. I don’t know how long I was out there, or who was running the store while I was gone. The hole is so deep now that I nearly couldn’t climb out on my own. I should maybe think about considering the possibility of one day asking a doctor if this is normal.
Marlboro is currently crying in the dry storage closet. Through his sobs I could barely make out the story. Marlboro was sent on some kind of “Vision Quest” for the last week and has no idea what the other cultists had been stocking up for. When he went back to the compound earlier tonight, he found the whole place completely deserted. Beds were left unmade. Some plates had food on them. A fire still burning in the fireplace. Everyone’s clothes were still in their personal milk crates next to their sleeping bags. But the people–all of the people–were simply gone.
Marlboro isn’t taking this very well, but I have a business to run, so I asked Carlos to help me carry him into the dry storage area. I figure he can work through some stuff in there and then maybe when he’s done he’ll just… I don’t know… go home?
The exterminators just left. They say they got all of the snakes this time, but I have my doubts.
Kieffer came into the store again today and made some thinly-veiled threats. He asked about Carlos, too, but I told him that I was tired of being the go-between and that if he had business with Carlos, he needed to take it up with Carlos. That’s when Kieffer started getting weird.
“You know this place is just a big experiment, and you’re the little mouse?”
I asked Kieffer to buy something or leave, so he bought a pack of toothpaste, then started to undress in the store and rub the toothpaste on his naked body.
“They tell me that something is wrong with your brain. Is that true?”
I tried to be polite and avert my eyes as I answered, “Yeah.”
“You have some kind of mental condition?”
I answered again, “Yeah.”
“That’s too bad.”
At this point, Kieffer was completely naked. He walked over to the frozen drink machine and filled a large cup with the sugary red concoction before turning it upside down on top of his head. Then he shook himself violently like a wet dog, flinging bits of cold, sticky debris across everything from the ceiling to the walls. Some of it even landing on my face, but I tried not to let him see my flinch. I knew this was all just an attempt to intimidate me, and I didn’t want to give him the satisfaction.
“What is it, exactly?” He asked as he crossed back to where his pile of clothes waited for him.
“What?” I asked.
“What is your condition? Schizophrenia? Protanopia? Meningitis? The gay?”
“No,” I answered, “I don’t sleep.”
“You don’t sleep?” He sounded genuinely interested. “Like, ever?”
“I can’t fall asleep. I haven’t slept a single day since high school. It’s a rare genetic condition with no cure and no treatment and one day, it will kill me. But until then, I handle the effects as best I can.”
Kieffer nodded. “That must be it. That must be why he can’t reach you.”
“Why who can’t reach me?”
Right then, Spencer came into the store. He threw a blanket around Kieffer and ushered him out to the waiting SUV. A moment later, he came back into the store and offered me a hundred dollars for the security tape from tonight.
I wonder what I’ll spend my hundred bucks on.
I was beginning to suspect something wasn’t quite right in the store. I’ve been finding empty candy bar wrappers strewn about, security tapes mysteriously deleted, strange noises coming through the walls in the middle of the night when I should be alone. At least, more strange noises than usual. At first, I assumed it was just the racoons.
But now I know the truth. Now I know that Marlboro has been living here for the last two days. He just walked out of the supply closet wearing a bathrobe, nodded to me as he grabbed a stick of meat jerky, and went into the bathroom. It had not even occurred to me that Marlboro never left.
It finally happened. I suppose it was only a matter of time. I know I should feel regret, or shame, or any of the other emotions that normal people feel after something like this happens, but all I feel is embarrassed.
I came to a couple hours ago with a shovel in my hand. I had been digging again, and this time I had made some serious progress. The hole was at least seven feet deep, the steep walls made of loose, red clay. It took me a while to realize that I was staring up into an inky black night peppered with uncountable stars. When some of the bigger celestials started to move, I realized that those stars were actually just the soulless red eyes of the mutant raccoons staring down at me over the edge of the hole. Probably looking for food, those shameless beggars.
I chucked the shovel out of the hole, and that’s when I heard it. Imagine the sound of a butcher’s knife hitting a watermelon. Like a solid, wet, thwack. Now imagine the watermelon gurgling and falling over like a sack of potatoes. Oh man, this metaphor has really gotten away from me…
When I climbed out of the hole, I saw the shovel standing upright: the business end firmly lodged inside the open chest wound of a still-twitching Kieffer.
The Kieffer was dead before I got to his side. In a final act of defiance, he had turned both of his middle fingers up to me. I felt just the slightest amount of respect for him before I went into a mental state that I can only describe as “subdued panic.” The first thing I wanted to do was find something to wrap the body in because, surely, Spencer Middleton would come for it soon.
When I went into the gas station, I was surprised to find that Marlboro had taken it upon himself to work the cash register while I was gone. He was ringing up one of our regulars, Charles, a great big fat man that always buys soap and boiled peanuts.
I nabbed a tarp off the shelf and took it outside. That’s when I learned something. Kieffer is heavy. Like, really heavy. I understand that a human body is basically just a meaty fleshy water balloon full of guts and excrement, but nothing could prepare me for how leaky and gross and heavy a dead man can be. It was only by some miracle that I managed to drag Kieffer through the back door and into the freezer without being seen. It took all of my strength to pull the mass behind the boxes and onto the stack with the other three. When I finally finished, I had worked up a sweat, and even the cold of the freezer wasn’t enough to keep me cool. As I stood there letting my breath come back and adrenaline wear off I took stock of my situation. That’s when it dawned on me. There were four Kieffers in that freezer with me. Four. Kieffers. Where the hell did the other two come from?
The freezer door opened and Marlboro entered, dragging a dead Kieffer by the legs. He stopped and made eye contact with me.
When he saw the Kieffers at my feet, I said the only thing I could think of.
“Well this is awkward.”
Marlboro and I decided to open a bottle of Strega Liquore and have a few drinks. He explained that he had accidently killed Kieffer a couple times. I totally understood. The guy was just so easy to kill. At one point, Carlos came into the freezer to grab a box of cookie dough. He didn’t even acknowledge all the Kieffers.
My laptop’s battery is currently at 2%. It’s obvious now that I won’t have time to transcribe the rest of my journals before it dies. I don’t have time to tell you how I ended up at the bottom of this hole underneath the store with a broken leg. But I can tell you that I hear someone moving around above me, which is good because I don’t think I’m alone down here.
If you’re reading this, it means I managed to upload my story. If you’re not reading this, then… I don’t know, what even are you?
Someone just called my name from the top of the precipice. I think it was Carlos. I wonder what happened to Tom. Why didn’t Tom ever show up?
Come to think of it, I seem to remember Tom didn’t survive the Halloween incident. Wait, who the hell have I been talking to this entire time?
I promise, that if I survive long enough to recharge my battery I will come back and tell the rest. Until then, I guess this story is to be continued.
*Stay tuned for Part 6*
CREDIT: Jack Townsend
Click HERE to pre-order Jack Townsend’s latest book, Tales from the Gas Station: Volume One, a collection of both old and new tales revolving around everyone’s favorite gas station clerk
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