Updated: Sep 22, 2020
It started with a single insect. With wings tucked beneath an olive green shell, it marched haplessly across the counter in front of me. I looked down from the book I’d been reading all afternoon, noticed a viridescent creature—the shape of an ant and the size of a tic-tac--then looked back at my book.
It took about three seconds before a sudden sense of panic roundhouse-kicked me in the face.
I screamed, slammed the book down on top of the insect, and shouted to my coworker, “Jerry! Code green! Get the kit!”
Jerry, who had spent the last two hours sitting on a milkcrate behind the counter watching clips from “RuPaul’s Drag Race” on his phone, suddenly sprang into action.
“I’m on it!” he yelled as he dove over the counter, taking the entire Powerball display with him and crashing onto the other side. He hit the ground, bounced back up, and sprinted into the dry storage room where I had painstakingly arranged a number of emergency kits for such an occasion as this.
For those of you new to this blog, I should probably take a second and explain a few things…
The gas station where Jerry and I work has been around for a long time. At least as long as the town it was built next to. It has a rich and complicated history that I won’t bore you with, but suffice to say that weird things happen here. More specifically, bad things happen here. I hate using the word “cursed,” but there have been so many deaths and dismemberments on company grounds that people around these parts refer to ambulances as “gas station wagons,” so... you do the math.
The previous owners didn’t seem to care all that much about the tragic “accidents” that kept occurring under their watch. At times, I wondered if they were somehow in on it. If they were secretly observing the employees via hidden cameras like we were some kind of giant, messed up game of The Sims. Of course, things changed after the owners’ bodies were found a few miles down the road under what can best be described as “mysterious circumstances.”
With them out of the picture, the burden of safety somehow fell upon my shoulders. I was determined to make sure nobody else ended up dead unless they wanted to. I spent several weeks and hundreds of overtime hours putting together the emergency response kits in the supply closet, each clearly marked for the type of scenario it was meant to maintain. Now, I was ready for almost anything the universe could throw at me.
There was a box for code blues (gasoline powered backup generator, CV radio, portable stove, blankets). I made a kit for code yellows (epipen, antivenom, celox powder, heavy duty zip ties). I hid a storage tub on the top shelf for any code pinks (bone saws, plastic drop cloths, contractor bags, disposable coveralls and goggles). And of course, should all hope finally be lost, there was a shoebox in there for code reds. God help us if it ever comes down to a code red…
Jerry ran out of the storage closet with the box labeled “Code Green: For Emergencies Only!” in his arms, nearly slamming into Mr. Abrahm along the way.
“Hey! What the hell?!” Abrahm grunted.
I met Jerry in the center of the room. “No time to explain!” I yelled, tearing into the box before he’d even dropped it to the floor. The first thing to come out was the bulk-sized roll of duct tape. I tossed it into Jerry’s arms and pointed at the front door. “Get the cracks, the vents, the window sills, the spider holes, anywhere we’re exposed to the outside. This place needs to be airtight!”
“Aye aye, captain!” he sang before rushing to work.
Abrahm shuffled up next to me with a frown and furrowed brow. “That kid almost made me spill my drink! What in the Sam Hill has gotten into you two?”
Mr. Abrahm was a regular at the gas station, a thick man with a smoker-stained yellow beard and aviator bifocals. He worked for the waste disposal company in town as senior garbage truck operator. Once a week, he’d stop by the gas station on his way to the landfill to fuel up and grab a cup of coffee and a porno magazine.
Time was precious, so I kept my answer brief. “I saw a mayfly.”
Abrahm dropped his coffee onto the floor and muttered quietly, “Mother of God...”
Maybe the little bastard hitched a ride in a customer’s hair or clothes. Maybe an errant wind current separated it from the rest of the flock. It didn’t really matter how it got here. All that mattered was that the infestation had begun. This was a harbinger of things to come, and time was not on our side.
With Jerry on crack duty (save your jokes), I raced to the back room and unlocked the circuit breaker box on the wall by the time clock. The sun hadn’t set. We were still ahead of the game. I killed all of the electricity to the gas station in one quick go.
The static hiss from the overhead fluorescents died with a soft whimper. Soon, the only light was what little spilled in from the evening sun, filtered through countless trees of the forest surrounding us on all sides. The illuminant was bare, but enough for us to continue the tasks at hand.
I returned to the code green box while Abrahm lamented loudly over our situation. “I can’t believe it’s already been five years! Are you sure? Are you sure it was a mayfly you saw and not just a leafhopper or something?”
I retrieved a can of bug spray and lighter from the emergency box, tucked them into my hoodie pocket, then pulled out the case of medical grade face masks. “It wasn’t a leafhopper. Trust me.” I equipped a mask, then offered the case to Abrahm. He didn’t hesitate to pull one out for himself.
It was a good thing he was a local. That meant I didn’t have to waste any precious time explaining what was going on, or why this was so urgent. He fumbled with the mask in his hands and worked his way through the denial stage of terror. “Could it have been a thrip? Or maybe just an aphid?”
“I know what I saw. I’m pretty observant.”
I should have known the universe wouldn’t let me get away with a statement like that.
“Excuse me.” The unexpected voice in my ear made me jump.
I spun around to see the dark shape of a person standing only a few inches away and blurted out the question, “Where did you come from?!”