Updated: Mar 23, 2020
In case you were following along with the events at the gas station on my original blog, I apologize that my other website was taken down so abruptly. For some reason, the city council found my public record of local events to be “troubling”--to the point that they hired a fancy Orwellian legal team to bury me in cease and desists. I tried fighting back, but as of last week, it looks like my entire site has been retroactively erased from existence. Presumably, these are the same guys who’ve been scrubbing all mentions of our town from the internet. I know that these are not the sort of people that you’re supposed to pick a fight with, but after what happened to Gregory Fitz I feel I have a responsibility to continue journaling in one form or other.
Some of you who followed my original blog may remember Greg as the lawyer who volunteered to help out pro bono after I first started getting pushback from the “concerned members” of the city council. He even drove all the way out here last week just to have a talk with them.
I’m very sorry to say that they found his remains yesterday in a hotel room (locked from the inside, of course). Officially, his death was declared suicide, but before it was sealed Deputy O'Brien managed to get a look at the police report, which claims he died of blood loss while attempting to eat his own hands. Admittedly, I didn’t know Greg all that well, but that just doesn’t seem like something he would do.
Anyway, until I can figure things out with the website, I’ve decided to continue chronicling the events of my day to day here.
If you haven’t been following my blog and have absolutely no idea who I am, that’s okay too. let me just say that there are only two things you need to know that will bring you completely up to speed:
I work at the shitty twenty-four hour gas station at the edge of town.
Weird things happen there.
The owners decided to hire a third full-time clerk, and I don’t know if it’s because they’re getting tired of all the part-timers mysteriously disappearing, or if it’s because they’ve finally decided to fire Jerry, or maybe they just know that my time here is running out and they’re hoping I can train my own replacement before it’s too late.
Her name is Rosa, and despite her eager optimism, I guess she’s pretty cool. She’s a couple years younger than me, smart, very capable, and has exhibited a level of competence that I would categorize as “not at all like Jerry,” which is something I think the owners were really looking for in a new employee.
The flip side, though, is that she is always asking questions that I don’t have answers to. Why are there so many missing persons flyers on the bulletin board? What’s with all the mold on the ceiling? Who’s that guy in the trenchcoat that hangs out near the dumpster at all hours of the night? What’s in these boxes labeled “non aprire?”
The owners asked Rosa to start immediately, as my shadow for this week’s overnight shifts. You might think the owners would shut the place down for a couple hours for the holidays, but you would be wrong. It took a literal court order to make them close their doors for a weekend last month after we found a mummified corpse in the walls (but that’s a story for another time).
She came in to the gas station just as the sun was beginning to set, and we started with the basics: How to clock in, how to open a till, how to turn on pumps, then I gave her the same speech I give all the new employees.
“Look, there are a bunch of rules to working at any job. We’re no different. Show up on time, wear clothing, don’t feed the raccoons, the store telephone is for paying customers only (twenty-five cents a minute, prepaid only, no exceptions). And, just like every job, there are the unwritten rules. Here, that second list is a little longer.
“If something seems weird, you try to ignore it. In fact, the more you ignore, the better off you’ll be. Don’t keep track of time. Don’t go off investigating weird noises on your own. Don’t touch the garden gnomes with the green hats.”
“Why?” she asked, “What’s wrong with the gnomes with green hats?”
“Sometimes they bite. They’ve sent a few employees to urgent care for stitches.”
“Wow. What about the customers?”
“Most of them bite too.”
“Okay. What can you tell me about... you know,” she whispered this next part with a sly grin, “the animals?”
This was the moment I first realized that Rosa’s steadfast and defiant curiosity might become a problem.
“What about the animals?” I asked.
“Well, I heard a rumor from Jerry. That the woods way out here past the edge of town are full of strange fauna, and sometimes when night falls, the inhabitants of the forest get brave and wander closer to the gas station.” She said the whole thing in that stupid spooky Vincent Price voice you use when reading ghost stories to a group of first-graders.
Jerry, you idiot.
“Look, Jerry says and smokes a lot of things. I wouldn’t pay him much attention.”
“He also told me something else,” she confessed. “Is it true that you can’t fall asleep?”
“Yeah, it’s true.”
“That’s pretty cool.”
“No, not really.”
Right on cue, Jerry walked into the gas station wearing nothing but a wife-beater, jeans, and a camo trucker-hat covered in fresh snow. Some people like to go home once their shift ends. Some people even manage to stay away from their place of employment all the way until their next shift begins. But as he reminds me time and time again, Jerry is not “some people.”
“You guys, it’s colder than a stepmother’s kiss out there.”
As usual, he didn’t wait for any response. He just grabbed a bottle of whiskey off the shelf, then walked up to Rosa and pointed at a pack of Marlboros.
“What are you doing?” she asked, “Aren’t you freezing?”
“Well yeah. Didn’t you hear what I just said? I’m as cold as a witch’s dick.”
Rosa handed over the pack of cigarettes and rang him up, saying “I don’t think that’s how the expression goes.”
“You ever felt a witch’s dick? It’s pretty freakin’ cold.”
She chuckled. “Does that pickup line ever work?”
“You’d be surprised.”
She gave Jerry his total, but he just winked at her and said, “Put it on my employee tab,” before turning around and walking back out into the falling snow.
Rosa looked at me with a confused expression. “How do I ring something up under an employee tab?”
“We don’t have employee tabs.”
“Yeah, Jerry just robbed us.”
The night passed like most, boring and slow. The snowstorm had kicked into high gear, dropping the customer count to a trickle, maybe one or two per hour. It didn’t take long to show the new girl everything there was to the job, and before too long my brain was back on autopilot and I was relaxing in a chair with an open book about a hard boiled big-city detective.
Rosa took the utterly pointless initiative to clean the place up a little. I think the dullness of the job was really starting to test her limits. The grind of long hours and the space between those events that form memories is where I like to hide, where I can relax and wait and forget about all the things knocking at the door of my mind. How many days have passed since the last time you slept? I wonder what she-who-shall-not-be-named is doing right now. She promised you would see each other again. Will your mind still be intact when the disease takes you? Do you think she’ll come to your funeral? Yep, take those thoughts and push them back into the vault and focus on the shitty book you bought from the library clearance sale.
Around midnight Rosa ran up to the counter with a cardboard box and slammed it down in front of me. I looked up to see an enormous smile on her face.
“Yo. Check out what I found in the storage closet.”
Before I could say, “No thanks,” she flipped the box upside down and dumped the contents onto the counter. It was a giant tangled ball of Christmas lights, plastic garland, holiday decorations, and freshly dead mice.
“Oh,” she said, her smile instantly evaporating, “I didn’t know about the mice.”
I put my book down and started refilling the box while she went and found some napkins to wrap up the rodents. About an hour later, the decorations were back in the storage room, the mice were all stuffed together in an old shoebox, and I was leaning against my crutches in the pouring snow while Rosa dug a tiny grave.
There was something particularly cathartic about watching somebody else dig a hole next to the gas station, thinking to myself that if she only knew all the things that had happened with that shovel, I highly doubt she would be so gung-ho about putting her fingerprints all over it. I selected one of the few spots where we hadn’t already buried something horrific and once the mice were in the ground, Rosa gave a short eulogy.
“Christmas mice, oh, Christmas mice, how we never knew ye. I’m sorry you all died in a box in the supply closet, but I’m grateful that at least you didn’t have to die alone. We pray that you don’t haunt this gas station. Instead may you find your peace in Heaven or whatever your mouse-religion equivalent is.”
“Probably Valhalla.” I muttered.
“When they say ‘not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse,’ we will know that it wasn’t for lack of trying.” She looked at me and asked, “Anything to add?”
My mind jumped to a shortlist of mouse-based puns, but instead I decided to go with this: “Yeah, somebody once came into the gas station trying to be a dick. He told me that I was nothing but a little mouse. I think he meant it as an insult, but I didn’t take offense.”
She nodded. “That was really nice.”
As we started making our way back to the gas station, I heard a voice from just beyond the treeline whisper, “Hey!”
Rosa stopped and looked back. “Did you hear that?”
The freezing wind carried with it a noise that almost sounded like children giggling as it blew against the back of my neck.
“Nope,” I said, “Let’s go back inside.”