Updated: Mar 23, 2020
O’Brien had checked our perimeter, called for backup, and declared the situation tentatively safe in the time it took Jerry and Rosa to fall asleep in the closet. I covered them in packing blankets, then put one around my shoulders and tried to read my book by candlelight, but the situation was just too distracting to let myself get into it.
O’Brien eventually joined us in the small room, reporting that there were no signs of Spencer anywhere, and if it weren’t for the fact that somebody had slashed all the tires on her cruiser and Rosa’s Volkswagen Beetle, she might have been tempted to believe he was just yanking our cranks.
“So what’s the deal with backup?” I whispered to her as she came and sat down on a milk crate next to me. The others were knocked out, and I was just fine letting them sleep off as much of this as they could.
O’Brien looked at them while she searched for the words. “I don’t know what’s going on with you, Crutches, but ever since I was assigned to this job my life has gotten exponentially weirder with every passing day.”
“Yeah.” I said, picking up the edge of my blanket and putting it over her shoulders.
She moved in a little closer and whispered “I talked to the sheriff. He’s sending a snow truck out here first thing in the morning. I tried to tell him that this needs to be a priority, but evidently this is snowmageddon and he can’t afford to stretch his precious resources any further tonight.”
“That sounds about right.”
“What about her? I thought you and Jerry pretty much ran this place.”
I laughed. “We don’t run anything.”
She put a warm arm around my shoulder and said, “I’m really gonna miss you when you die.”
“Thanks. But that’s pretty presumptuous of you. So far I have outlived almost every deputy they sent.”
Rosa shot up, eyes wide open in a look of sheer terror.
“Hey.” I said. “Did we wake you up?”
“Did you hear that?!” she said in a voice that did not sound anything like Rosa’s voice.
A cold shiver ran down my spine. “Hear what?”
“He’s coming, almost here, when he gets it we’re all over, we can’t let him have it.”
“Girl,” said O’Brien, “You are freaking us out. Who’s coming? Spencer?”
“She’s dreaming,” I said. "One of my foster brothers used to do the same thing. Her eyes are open, but she’s talking in her sleep.”
Right then, her eyes rolled way back into their sockets, revealing nothing but veiny white bulges.
“Did your foster brother do that, too?”
“Okay,” I admitted, “That is different.”
She slowly began to stand up, clutching the blanket to her chest, and then continued speaking in that same weird voice, “Every living being will be transformed into a conduit for agony and suffering if he finds what he is looking for. You will all beg for death, but it will never come. An unfathomable horror from worlds inconceivable is at your gate. Do not open the door.”
Well that doesn’t make any sense. Is it a gate or a door? Fix your metaphors, creepy nightmare Rosa.
O’Brien stood up and looked at me, “Should I wake her?”
Right then, Rosa dropped her blanket, revealing that she was actually floating about eight or nine inches off the ground.
“Oh.” we both said at the same time.
It might have been a little bit of an overreaction to shoot Rosa with a Taser gun, but then again it might not have been and there’s no changing what already happened.
Rosa fell onto Jerry, waking them both up in a screaming fit of expletives and confusion. It took a good twenty minutes before Rosa was calmed down enough for us to pull the prongs out of her skin and get her patched up.
We were all in the front of the store, Rosa sitting on the counter while O’Brien put the finishing touches on her bandages.
“Why the hell would you shoot me with a taser?”
Always with the questions, Rosa.
“You were sleep floating.” I explained.
“Oh,” she said, “Sorry about that. I didn’t mean to.”
“Hey guys?” said Jerry, “What do you suppose that is?”
He pointed at something just on the other side of the glass doors that looked at first glance like a body slumped against it. Upon closer inspection, I became certain that it was, in fact, a body slumped against it.
O’Brien drew her gun and carefully walked over, undid the lock, and opened the door just enough for the body to fall halfway into the gas station along with a freezing blast of wet air.
“Crap on a cracker,” said Jerry, “Is that Spencer?”
He had a busted lip, swollen black eye, and scrapes and bruises covering his face like he had gone ten rounds with a dump truck, but O’Brien was smart enough not to let up her guard. She kept one finger on the trigger while she checked for signs of breathing which, sadly, she found.
She put the unconscious Spencer in handcuffs, dragged him into the store, then handed me another dollar before calling it in to the sheriff’s office.
“Do you think that’s going to be enough?” I asked, “One pair of handcuffs?”
“He’s unconscious and unarmed. What exactly did you have in mind?”
I said, “Maybe we can tie him up” at the same time that Jerry blurted out “wooden stake through the heart.”
We compromised and found a roll of duct tape to secure him to a rolling chair, then pushed the chair into the supply closet, then nailed the closet door shut.
Thirty minutes later, we heard the pounding on the roof.
SLAM The first one jolted us all into high-attention. We didn’t have but maybe two seconds before the next. SLAM Maybe a tree branch had fallen over in the storm? SLAM SLAM SLAM They started coming more frequently, like a muffled machine gun. SLAMSLAMSLAMSLAM
“What the hell is that?!” O’Brien bellowed.
SLAMSLAMSLAMSLAM They came together, five to ten each second. And then, just as suddenly as it started, the pounding on the roof came to an end.
“Maybe it was hail?” I suggested.
“Or maybe,” offered Jerry, “It was him, escaping.” He pointed at the room Spencer was in.
“How does that make any sense?” asked O’Brien.
“Lady, we are way past the point of making any sense,” he answered, then added, “I think you know that.”
That was all it took to convince O’Brien to pry the nails back out of the door to Spencer’s makeshift prison, but once we got it open we saw that he was still there, duct taped to the chair. We breathed a collective sigh of relief before-
“Well hey there everybody,” Spencer said with a sly smile. “Merry Christmas. Now which one of you wants to let me out of this chair?”
“Spencer Middleton,” said O’Brien, “You are under arrest. You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say-”
“Christ, O’Brien, are we really going to do this again? Just set me free and give me a weapon. You clearly have no idea what’s out there right now. You think I did this to myself? Trust me. You’re going to need my help.”
We probably should have gone with the stake.
Spencer was still yelling at us as O’Brien closed the closet door again.
“Ok,” she said, “We need to check out what that noise was.”
“No, we really don’t,” I responded.
Rosa grabbed me by the arm for some reason, then said to the deputy “You can’t leave us alone with that guy!”
Jerry announced, “I’ll go check out the noise. If I’m not back in five minutes, assume the worst.”
“You’re not going by yourself,” snapped O’Brien.
“Fine,” he said. “Then let’s all go together.”
Rosa squeezed my arm tighter, “I’d rather take my chances in here.”
“Ok,” said O’Brien near her wit’s end. “Then we split up.”
“Are you freakin’ kidding me?!” I said, “Are we really going to Scooby do this?”
Apparently we Scooby were. And after a few more rounds of discussion we Scooby did. It was decided that Jerry and I would go check out the noise while O’Brien and Rosa stayed and watched the prisoner.
“Hey,” O’Brien told me just before we left on our wholly unnecessary suicide mission, “I can handle Floaty girl and Duct tape boy on my own, but you need to take this. Just in case.”
I don’t know why people are always trying to give me guns.
“I’m not a gun guy. The last time I had a gun… you know what? Don’t even worry about the last time I had a gun. Plus I need both hands just to move around.”
“I’ll take it,” said Jerry.
“Have you ever fired a gun before?” she asked.
“That depends,” he answered, “Are you a cop?”
She let out a defeated sigh and handed him her pistol. “Just try not to die, guys? Ok?”
Rosa looked at us nervously and tried to offer some words of support. “Be careful. I’d hate for this night to turn into a… what’s the opposite of a sausage fest?”
Jerry answered, “A clamboree.”
“Right. I’d hate for this to turn into a clamboree.”
Jerry led the way with his two perfectly functioning legs, pointing the gun and flashlight in front of him while he kicked a trail through the thick pile of snow that had settled knee-deep outside the gas station.
We trudged through the frozen landscape until we were safely under the vehicle overhang next to the fuel pumps, then he scanned the area with the light, revealing dozens of small holes in the fresh snow, like tiny baseball-sized craters. From here, we could see the roof of the gas station, as well as the piles of tiny, winged creatures caught up in the gutters and slowly being swallowed by snow.
I dug my own flashlight out of my coat pocket and scanned the area under the overhang, finding six or seven dead birds around the edges.
It wasn’t the first time I had seen this, but it was the first time I know of where it happened right on top of the store. We get strange weather patterns out here, and every once in a blue moon birds get confused and forget which way is up and fly straight into the ground en masse. Local scientists blame everything from fireworks to pesticides, but officially the cause is unknown. All I know is that it’s freakin weird.
“Hey, check this out.”
I turned to see that Jerry had plucked one of the creatures out of the snow and was holding it in his hands.
“Dude, don’t touch that, it might have herpes.”
“Check it out,” he said as he pulled a long coil of thin copper wire out of the bird’s corpse, then held it up for inspection. Unwound, the metal string was about a foot and a half long. "You think he ate this?"
I shrugged. “Times are tough.”
He threw the bird back into the snow and wiped his hands on his pants. “Should we go back inside?”
“Yeah, in just a minute. But first, we need to talk.” I really hate this part. Honestly, I’d rather face one of the creatures from the forest than have a serious chat with Jerry. But sometimes we don’t get a choice.
“Fine. I’ll come clean,” he said. “The mice were mine. But they were dead when I bought them! I was using them for snake food, and I didn’t know-”
“The radio. You put it back together?”
He blinked a couple times, slowly pulled out his pack of Marlboros, slowly put one in his mouth, slowly lit it and took a drag, then said, “Yeah, so?”
I didn’t really have anything planned for this part. So I let his question hang there in the air for a while.
“Did it say anything else?”
“Not much. Mostly about the snow storm. And…” He trailed off.
“And?” I asked.
“And it said that Sagoth has risen.”
He took another drag.
“Are you sure he didn’t say ‘a savior has risen’? Like some kind of Christmas thing?”
“He said it like ten times in a row. Sagoth has risen... Sagoth has risen... You get the point. Sagoth has risen… et cetera. I thought it was kinda weird because I’d never heard him repeat anything before.”
We stood there in silence until he had finished his cigarette, then he looked back up at me. “So, ready to go back inside now?”
We both heard the sneeze at the same time. It came from somewhere down the road leading into the forest, and if I could have jumped I probably would have.
“The hell was that?!” Jerry said in a frantic whisper.
“It was a sneeze! Where’s the gun?”
Jerry looked at the ground. I followed his eyes and pointed the flashlight at the blank spot in the snow next to the set of racoon-feet shaped prints leading off into the forest.
I repeated the question slowly. “Jerry. Where. Is. The. Gun?”
“I set it down to pick up the dead bird. You don’t think Rocco made off with it, do you?”
Rocco. Our resident mutant trash-panda.
“I highly, highly doubt that Rocco didn’t steal it.”
We both looked at one another with that what do we do now look, and then Jerry yelled out “Bless you!”
Of all the stupid ways I’ve imagined dying at the gas station, this was not one of them.
A voice called back from somewhere deep in the blizzard.
“Hello? Is somebody there?”
“No!” I yelled back.
“It sure sounds like somebody to me.”
The voice was getting closer. I tried to do some quick math. Could I crutch-run back to the gas station before the source of that voice reached us? Probably not.
A figure started to emerge in the snow storm. A man-shaped figure. As it got closer, the details came into focus, and before long the man was underneath the awning with us, casually walking towards me. Hands in his pockets, snow covering his hooded blue jacket coat. He walked right up to the two of us and asked if he could bum a smoke.
I watched the guy light it up and take a drag, and noticed that there was something strangely familiar about him. He was about 5’10’’, early thirties, with dark brown eyes and a short and well-maintained beard, thin but in good shape, and wearing a coat that was way too big on him.
After a few moments he asked “You guys know if the gas station is open?” His voice was so tip-of-my-tongue familiar.
“There’s no power,” I answered, “but the phone still works if you pay in advance.”
“Who are you guys? You part of the emergency services crew or something?”
“No,” I said, “We work here and got snowed in.”
“No shit? I was driving through and got stuck. Been waiting in my car down the road for the last couple hours, but the engine just died. Thought I was going to freeze to death out here. I’m Donald.”
He shook our hands and we introduced ourselves, before Jerry finally asked the question that was on my mind since we first saw this guy.
“Hey, aren’t you Donald Glover?”
He laughed, “Yeah, I am.”
I knew it! We were standing outside talking to famous actor slash director Donald Glover! At my gas station!
“Holy shit!” I said, “What are you doing here?”
“I was just driving through,” answered Grammy-award winning musical performer Donald Glover.
“You were just driving through? On Christmas Eve?” I asked.
He shrugged, “I got lost.”
I looked at Jerry, then I looked back at Primetime-Emmy awardee Donald Glover, who asked, “So is it cool if I come inside and warm up?”
“Of course!” yelled Jerry before handing a spare flashlight to multiple Golden-Globe winning writer slash comedian Donald Glover and leading the way back to the store.
Once we were back inside, we introduced O’Brien and Rosa to five-time WGA Award recipient Donald Glover. I thought it was pretty cool. This was the second most famous person to ever step foot into the store (if that really was Elvis that one time), but the girls were not impressed. In fact, they seemed more concerned about why we were returning without O’Brien’s pistol.
Jerry explained that we were attacked by a herd of ninjas, but O’Brien wasn’t buying it. Before I could tell them about the birds, the store phone started ringing again.
I was the closest, so I picked up while O’Brien gave Hollywood superstar Donald Glover a packing blanket to wrap up in.
“Hello?” I said.
The owner of the voice on the other end let out an annoyed growl, then said, “Jack, it’s me.”
“How many times have I asked you not to use my name on the phone?”
It was Benjamin, the crotchety bearded man that occasionally shows up at the gas station to shoot and blow things up. I would say more, but that’s literally almost everything I know about him.
“What’s going on over there? I’m looking at weather reports right now and the gas station looks like someone opened up a portal to the center of the ninth circle of hell.”
“Yeah,” I said. “Thanks for checking.”
“By the way, I found your blog online.”
“Oh? What do you think?”
“I think you don’t know the difference between a clip and a magazine. From here on out I would appreciate it if you left me out of your little stories.”
“Ok, I will. Are you going to be showing up this time?”
“Negatory. I’m in Greece right now, just looking for a status report.”
“Something beat the shit out of Spencer and we lost power again. By the way, does ‘Sagoth has risen’ mean anything to you?”
“Sagoth?! Yeah, that’s the name of a shapeshifting demon. If he’s anywhere near the gas station, you boys need to hunker down and pray, because that son of a bitch can look like anyone. He feeds off of pain and leaves his victims stripped of all their skin.”
“Oh damn,” I said, “It’s a good thing we found Donald Glover when we did.”
What followed was an agonizingly long pause.
“Hello?” I said, “Did I lose you?”
“Who the hell is Donald Glover?”
“You know, the critically-acclaimed musical genius? He performs under the pseudonym Childish Gambino. He’s a rapper. He raps.”
“Yeah, and I bet he’s a great kisser, too. Jack did you somehow become dumber since the last time I saw you?”
“What do you mean?”
“Motherfucker, I just Googled him! Donald Glover is at home with his family in Atlanta right now. You’re in the presence of a shapeshifting demon.”
“Or maybe the one in Atlanta is the double, and the real one is in the gas station.”
He made that growling noise again and said, “The only way to kill a demon like this is to take off his head. Goodbye dumbass.”
Then the line went dead.
Jerry came and sat on the counter and said, “Alright, I’m not making any offers or anything. I just want to know your opinion. Do you think we’re more likely or less likely to have an orgy now that Donald Glover is here?”
“Jerry, listen closely,” I said in a low voice, “We have to kill Donald Glover.”
“Okay!” he said, hopping back to his feet. “Let’s do this. How?”
Jesus, he didn’t even need an explanation or anything.
“We need to cut off his head.”
Well, I had one ally on board, but I knew that convincing two more people to help us cover up yet another brutal murder at the gas station might be more difficult, assuming we could even figure out a way to kill not-Donald-Glover, and also assuming that he really was a demon, and also assuming demons were even real, Benjamin was feeding me true information, and none of this was just a vivid hallucination caused by my rapidly-deteriorating mental state.
Man, when I lay it all out like that, it’s a lot to take on faith before commiting decapitation.