Tales from the Gas Station (Part Six)
Hey everybody! It’s me, Jerry, from the gas station at the edge of town. Proud to be the newest member of the team. The owners were so impressed with how I managed to stay inside the store for several days without leaving or going insane that they offered me a full time position while the regular clerk is out recovering from his leg injury. Happy Monday, ya’ll!
The other guy asked me to do him a small favor while he’s getting some much needed “rest” and relaxation. He gave me the password to his laptop and detailed instructions to transcribe his journal entries from last week. In exchange, he agreed to keep me on as a full-time assistant after he gets back. I get to to learn what to expect on the job through first-hand documentation, and he gets to continue his weird little blog thing. Now that’s what I call a win-win.
If I’m being honest, this is probably the best thing that could have happened to me right now. Ever since the program mysteriously dissolved at the Mathmatist community, I’ve been feeling very lost and vulnerable. I’ve been losing weight and having trouble sleeping, and when I do, I keep having these weird dreams of some enormous being, deep below the gas station, waiting to devour us all. Clearly, a mistake was made and I was overlooked. If any of my old brothers and sisters are out there and see this post, please, please, contact me! Tell the seniors they forgot me! I’m not mad! I miss you! I love you!
Before I get started, some guys in suits came by and suggested that if this blog were going to continue, that I make a PSA. If there is anybody still alive that read the story about what happened here on Halloween, don’t wait for symptoms to start. Please go to the nearest emergency room or call the Center for Disease Control and tell them you are experiencing the effects of “Romald’s Syndrome.”
Anyway, back to the journals. I’m going to do my best because the guy’s handwriting is awful. But here’s the parts I could read:
The man in the trench coat was standing out back when I went to take out the garbage tonight. I don’t know why the man in the trench coat keeps visiting my store, or why I’ve never gotten a good look at him. He was standing at the tree line just beyond the dumpsters, staring as he ever did. Tonight, I stared back.
The hinge of his jaw began halfway up his face, where his nose should have been, the edges pulled back to either ear in a skeletal grin. His tiny, milky-white eyes were beads behind the oily black hairline that hung down straight in bangs all the way to his cheek jowl. His impossibly-wide mouth bisected the head between greasy hair and wet flesh. Drool, I would assume…
We stood there, fifteen feet apart, staring at one another for what might have been ten seconds or ten minutes, until finally the man in the trench coat turned away. His legs bent funny, in a way that human legs shouldn’t be able to bend, and he landed on all fours before galloping off into the woods.
I don’t know if I’ve seen the last of the man in the trench coat.
Holy shit! Did you guys read that?! This is some crazy shit! Sorry, Jerry again. I promise I’m not going to do the running commentary thing, I just had to say… Jesus, you know? This is some weird stuff. I mean, I remember him telling me a couple weeks ago to go outside and talk to a man in a trench coat. Super glad I didn’t now. What the hell? Okay, that’s it, I’m done. Back to the transcriptions. The next page is soaked in blood and completely unreadable, so I’m going to have to skip that part:
…hundreds and hundreds of them. She had never seen so many in one place before, not even in her dreams. Before she left, she told me that I would see her again. Was that supposed to be a warning or a flirtation?
It’s a quieter night than I’m used to. The package from yesterday afternoon still sits on the counter where I left it. The label is made out to me, with a return address I don’t recognize. The rectangular parcel is wrapped like a Christmas present with red and yellow stripes and feels heavy. I would say it’s just the right size for a dead cat.
I can’t think of any realistic reason I shouldn’t open the package, but there is something in the back of my mind telling me that to open this would be tantamount to opening Pandora’s Box. That the contents of this little parcel will irrevocably change the course of my life in a way that may have seemed impossible before. I feel like this box is full of butterflies ready to create tsunamis, and I’m just not sure I’m ready for that yet.
I think I’m going to teach Marlboro how to clean the drink machines.
Marlboro is passed out in a hammock in the supply closet. I think he finished that bottle on his own. I guess I’ll go clean the drink machines by myself.
The hand plants are growing faster than I had anticipated. They are now past the elbows, almost to the shoulders. I saw that the crop had caught a curious coyote that got too close. It was not pretty. I also noticed that Rocco is still alive. I caught him sitting on the roof, tossing food to the crop of hand plants.
This is why they’re growing so fast. They’re eating way too much. If this gets out of control, I may have to torch this crop just like the others. I don’t want to. It sends shivers down my spine whenever I hear the way they scream.
Carlos came in for his morning shift looking pretty terrible. He filled up on coffee and told me that he hadn’t been sleeping too well. The bad dreams had been keeping him from getting a restful night.
I wonder if I should tell Carlos about my condition.
He asked about the gift-wrapped package sitting on the counter. I told him that it came with the post yesterday, and I didn’t know who it was from. He asked if I was going to open it, and I told him that I had a bad feeling and pretty much decided to never ever open it.
I decided to open the package. Without any fanfare or drumroll, I’ll just tell you that what I found inside was a brand new laptop computer. I’ve never owned my own laptop before, and the only computer that ever belonged to me was a crappy little Tandy-1000 that I put together as a kid. I’ve always used the library computer lab or the browser on my phone to access the internet. This could be a game changer.
The box also contains a signal repeater and some other gizmos. I know this is crazy, but I think I may actually be able to access the internet from the gas station now.
There was a handwritten note at the bottom of the package:
I left a comment on your page. There’s something I want to tell you. I’m enjoying reading these stories you’re writing, but I think if you actually sit down and write out one story at a time, that you will get a lot more upvotes. It’s very good, I’m not saying it’s bad. But right now it seems like a lot of half stories thrown together. I think you’d do great if you actually wrote out a whole story at a time. I bet you really could get a lot of upvotes and attention. It gets kind of confusing right now. Maybe start with when you got there and work your way up to now. I bet that would be super awesome. I’m so fascinated, but a little muddled as well. I can tell you have a great talent for writing, but I just thought maybe I’d offer a suggestion to help. Please do not take offense… it’s just something I was thinking. Hope all is going well for you!
Great. Another one of my readers tracked me down. I’m going to have to figure out how people keep finding me and put a stop to this. Thank you, whoever you are, for the laptop. I’m definitely keeping it.
I turned on the wifi card and noticed that for some reason there are dozens of secured networks around the gas station, most of which have four or five bars. The names for their networks are pure gobbledy-gook like this one: “1E7G7C7TA11GUY232331324.” Who the hell is transmitting wifi out here?
A man came into the store to buy a gas can a couple hours ago. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but then he came back in asking if we could help him out with something down the road. I never got his name, but he was a big guy, tan skin, and a thick beard. He said he was having “car trouble.” I told him I wasn’t a car guy, but he insisted that he didn’t need a car guy, he just needed someone else to see what he was seeing.
Marlboro agreed to watch the counter while Carlos and I followed the bearded man down the hill and around the curve, close to the spot where Carlos saw that thing in the woods.
He couldn’t remember what happened that night. After we got everything sorted out with Spencer and things started to go back to “normal,” I asked Carlos what it was that he saw in the woods that sent him running in such a careless panic, but he just shook his head and said he didn’t know. The mind is a funny thing, and memories aren’t the most reliable. I realize that I’m not the only person from the gas station with a list of “try and forget” stories.
The man’s car was parked on the side of the road, close to the same spot that Kieffer’s SUV was broken down.
“So my car started acting funny,” the guy said as we neared his vehicle. I began to wonder why we had walked this whole way, when our own vehicle would be quite useful in case of a dead battery or random bear attack. The guy kept going, “I pulled over onto the side of the road when my electricals all started going haywire. I killed the engine, then when I tried to turn it over again, nadda.”
I could see at this point that the hood was open. The man was driving a big black SUV similar to the one Kieffer owned, but newer and shinier.
“I don’t see what’s so weird about that. You need us to call a tow or-” the man cut Carlos off (rudely, I might add).
“I popped the hood, but everything was in order. I thought it maybe just needed some gas, so I went up to the station. Then when I got back, I saw this.”
We rounded the front of the car and saw the “this” he was being so vague about: A small oak tree, maybe four or five years old, was growing up from the ground beneath the car, through the engine, and stretched upwards at least nine feet. The trunk of the tree had swallowed a decent portion of the engine, and from the looks of it the car had been parked there for years.
“Interesting,” I said. “And you’re sure that wasn’t there when you started driving?”
Before he could answer, he spun his head around and looked at the forest.
“You boys hear that?” He asked.
We stood still and listened, but I didn’t hear anything.
“No,” I answered. Carlos shrugged.
“You boys know what an anglerfish is?” the bearded man asked as he walked to the back door and opened it.
“Yeah, I guess,” I answered.
The bearded man pulled up a secret compartment from beneath the floorboard and retrieved a large automatic rifle. I’m not a gun guy, and I can’t tell you what kind of gun it was, but it was big, impressive, and cool looking. The guy checked the clip and clicked something on the gun that might have been the safety. Again, I’m not a gun guy. But it sounded super cool. Carlos put a hand on my shoulder and slowly backed away from the man with the gun, pulling me with him.
But the man didn’t seem to mind us one bit. He was focused on whatever he heard in the woods.
“If I’m right, you boys have an anglerfish in them woods. It’s putting something out there to lure me in. Make me think I’m hearing something that I’m not. Then when I go looking for the one thing – BAM – it attacks.”
“Oh, like a siren?” I asked.
The man looked at me over his shoulder with a smirk and said, “Yeah. Like a siren. Ya’ll may wanna get out of here. This could get dangerous. Don’t worry about me. I’ve dealt with these things before, I’ll be fine.”
The man pointed his gun and marched into the woods while Carlos and I made our way back to the gas station.
It’s time for me to go home. I haven’t used the laptop yet, but maybe tomorrow I’ll start to type up these journals.
It’s getting dark so early these days.
I noticed that the bearded man’s SUV is still at the bottom of the hill with a tree growing through it. I wouldn’t call that a good sign.
I burned the rest of the hand plants. I finally know what’s going on.
A long time ago, I noticed what looked like strange mushrooms growing in a patch near the dumpster behind the gas station. I didn’t think much about it, except that it was strange that Rocco’s brood wouldn’t go near them.
When I took a closer look, I could have sworn that they looked just like baby fingers poking out of the ground.
As the weather got warmer, I kept an eye on the crops. They started getting longer and looking more and more distinguishably similar to human fingers. I swear they even started growing fingernails. Sometimes, I would see them bend at the digits to squash a bug that wandered too close.
Eventually, the mushrooms started sprouting leaves, and the finger sections continued to stretch out, creating what could only be described as hands. Human hands. They would ball up into fists during the daytime and open up in the moonlight. I dug one of them up one day when we were really slow at work, and I called Farmer Junior to ask for his professional opinion.
To the untrained eye, the hand plant looked just like a regular human hand. Smaller than an adult’s, but larger than a child’s. Adolescent. Teenager maybe. At the wrist it turned into a gnarled root that smelled like sassafras, and throughout the plant tiny leaves were sprouting.
Farmer Junior stood in the gas station looking it over for a while before asking me if we had any more of those things. I lied and told him no.
I asked the owners what they wanted me to do. They thought it over for a couple days and then told me to keep them. I think they expected to be able to make some money off of them somehow, but eventually everyone forgot they were there. Everyone but me. And Farmer Junior, of course.
I was thinking about the bearded man when I first heard the sound of a baby crying somewhere outside. I was alone in the store and my first instinct was not the heroic one that most people may have had: to run outside and see where the poor baby was. My first instinct was more callous and rational and in the form of a question: how the hell did a baby get way out here without me hearing it coming?
Something wasn’t right. The sound of the cries, which I could deduce were coming from the tree line, were getting louder and louder and more and more desperate.
I looked around for Marlboro, but couldn’t find him anywhere. If I was going to investigate the potential forest baby, I was going to have to do it alone.
I remembered the bearded man hearing the siren call of the thing he called an Anglerfish. I remembered Carlos’s sound of crunching and the “Strega.” And absolutely no part of me believed that I would be safe if I went into the woods or that there was really a baby crying out there.
But what if?
I grabbed a flashlight and went out back. The crying seemed to be moving deeper into the forest, quickly, like the crying baby were being carried off by something that didn’t have to stop and move around trees or physical barriers.
I walked into the forest just far enough to find the last thing I ever expected to find.
It seems that the hand plants had extended slightly further than the little patch outside the gas station. Those plants that I had been watching and burning whenever they got too aggressive were not as controlled as I had previously believed. Because out there, just a few steps into the woods, was a hand plant that I had missed, that I had never trimmed or culled or burned, that was left free to grow as large and wild as it possibly could. Out there was a handplant that had grown so large, it had fallen over. It had grown past the shoulder. It had grown its own head, and torso, and crotch and legs. Out there was a full human body covered in tiny leaves, huddled on the ground and attached to the soil by thick talons of brown roots. And the weirdest part of all? The body was one that I recognized.
The body of the fully-grown hand plant, was Kieffer.
I don’t know what possessed me to touch him. Maybe I just wanted to make sure that he was real, as if touching him would prove that one way or the other. When I did, his eyes opened and he cracked a smile. He could not move, the roots had him firmly stuck in place, but this kieffer plant could talk. And talk he did.
We stayed out there talking for over an hour.
I won’t go into everything the kieffer plant said, but I will say this. There is something under the gas station. Something big and powerful. Something plotting. And I’ve been working for years in a cloud of this dark god’s farts.
I felt extra terrible setting the fully developed kieffer plant on fire after I burned the rest of the crop of handplants, but honestly what choice did I have?
When I got back to the gas station, Spencer was waiting for me. He knew I knew. And I knew he knew I knew. I was halfway expecting what came next, but not expecting him to enjoy himself quite so much.
Spencer locked the front doors, then proceeded to beat the crap out of me. I’d like to say I got a few good hits in as well, but that would be a huge lie. I don’t think I laid a single finger on him. Although, I did mess his knuckles up pretty good with my face, so I have that going for me.
Spencer dragged me across the gas station to the hallway past the bathrooms, past the walk-in cooler, to that big strange door that I had only just noticed a couple weeks ago. If it were possible for me to pass out, I’m sure I would be unconscious right now.
“Why are you doing this?” I asked as he banged on the door three times. There was a sound from the other side and then Spencer yelled.
“Open up! It’s me!”
The door cracked open and Spencer dragged me into a room I had never seen before. It looked like an old office. There was a desk next to a wall of monitors with security feeds from all over the store and the perimeter. Security feeds from cameras I never knew existed. In the middle of the room was a large hole that looked like it had been created with a team of jackhammers.
“It’s time for you to meet my boss,” Spencer said as he dragged me to the edge of the hole.
“Kieffer.” I said, to which Spencer let out a hearty laugh.
“No, not Kieffer. My boss put Kieffer out there and hired me to watch him. My boss is much bigger than some idiot politician.”
I half expected Spencer to go into the cliche movie-villain exposition rant, but instead he Sparta’d me right into this hole.
I think my leg is broken. At least, I assume that’s what the bone poking out means, but hey, I’m no doctor. I would be really worried right now if it weren’t for the fact that I stole Spencer’s cell phone in the scuffle. Just as I expected, Spencer has the same network as Kieffer, which means he somehow has service. I put in a call to Tom’s direct number, so I’m sure he’ll be along shortly. Until he gets here, I’m just passing the time updating my journals.
Somebody just dropped the laptop into this hole with me. Maybe it was Spencer? Maybe he thinks I’m dead? Maybe I am. Again, I’m not a doctor. Whoever it was, I think I might have heard the sound of their boot spurs clicking against tile as they walked away.
I guess I’ll boot this thing up and start transcribing my journal before it’s too late.
Okay, so this is the last of his journals!
You’re probably wondering to yourself, where was Jerry while Spencer was beating the crap out of poor old Jack? Well, I had gone into town to see a movie. Yes, I went and watched Thor: Ragnarock. If you haven’t seen it, go see it! It was awesome! I guess I’m lucky I went when I did, otherwise this Spencer guy might have tossed me into that hole as well.
I was the one that found Jack. When I came back to the gas station, I couldn’t find anyone anywhere, so I went searching until I noticed that door at the edge of the hall cracked open slightly. I also found a really poorly made bomb behind the register, but it didn’t take long to disassemble. You can thank the mandatory bomb-building classes at the Mathmatist program for that. No big deal, just me being my typical heroic self.
I asked Carlos to help me haul Jack up out of the hole and then Carlos moved him to an “undisclosed location” for a few days while his leg mends. When he gets back, I’ll let him have his laptop to continue his little blog thing.
Until then, it’s just me, Carlos, and the raccoons.
How does Jack usually end these things? Oh yeah, “To be continued…”
Edit: I just caught myself digging.
*Stay tuned for Part 7*
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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