AFD at the Gas Station (Part 3)
April 1st. 1:45 AM
Holy crap, this is nuts!
Okay, try and stay with me here. I’ve only got like fifteen minutes before the next spirit shows up, and I really want to get this all down before it’s too late.
So, just like Jerry--I mean, the spirit, or god, or whatever it was--said. At one in the morning, I got a special visitor at the gas station.
This one didn’t appear in a cloud of fog. There was no crack of lightning or flickering lights. On the hour, I heard that same noise--the mystery chime. Just once this time. One in the morning.
It came in the form of an aura. A blindingly white light. If it were outside, you could probably notice it from orbit. But it was contained here in the gas station, and it was coming entirely from the bathroom. I could only see the radiance of it poking out from the space below the door, but I could *feel* the brightness, like it was burning a piece of my soul. I’m sure if I’d looked directly at it, my eyes would have burned out of my sockets. It was only there for a few seconds. Then, I heard the toilet flush. And the light was no more.
When the door to the bathroom opened, I was not prepared for who I was about to see. The man--the spirit--who emerged looked young. He was clean shaven, with red hair on top. He wore a tan overcoat on top of a black half-turtleneck. When he saw me, he smirked.
“Rick Astley?” I asked, barely able to contain my surprise.
“No,” he said. “I am the spirit of April Fool’s past.”
“No. Your past. Assuming you are…” he pulled a notepad out of his coat pocket and flipped it open to one of the pages. “...Jack.”
“That’s what the name tag says. May I be so bold as to inquire what business brings you here?”
“Your welfare, Jack.”
“I was afraid you were going to say that.”
The ginger spirit crossed the room, doing an unnecessary dance as he moved. He clapped his hands, shimmied, and then he was standing on the other side of the counter. He reached out to me and said, “Rise, mortal. Walk with me.”
“I’m actually good here.”
He put his hands on the counter and leaned in close, close enough that I could clearly hear him as he whispered, “I’m a spirit. I come from a realm beyond your comprehension. Do you really think I came all the way here to give you the option to say you’re ‘good here’?”
He had a point.
“Okay then,” I said, standing. “How does this work?”
“Take my hand. We are going on a little adventure, to another time and place. We are going somewhere you’ve seen before. And we are going to find the moment you lost faith, the moment you abandoned the magic of the holiday season.”
I took his hand. A spring-loaded buzzer hidden in the palm of his hand let out a mechanical *whirrr* as it simulated a low-voltage electrical shock.
“Got ya!” he laughed. (Not surprisingly, he was the only one laughing.) I waited patiently for him to remove the gimmicky toy, then let him take my hand again. “Alright, now on to business. I want you to think back. Remember the moment you want to forget the most… remember the worst April Fool’s day of your life.”
“Well, this ought to be fun,” I thought aloud.
Right then, the gas station disappeared. The spirit and I were suspended in nothingness. The world, the universe, and even our bodies had ceased to be… And just as suddenly, it all came crashing back. Only now, we were someplace else.
The walls were wood panels covered in posters and work orders tacked wherever space allowed. A man in the corner sat behind a cheap plastic desk that looked like it had been picked up from the side of the road. He was a big guy, sweating through his button-up shirt despite the box fan blowing air at his face from a couple feet away. It was much more humid in this place. The smell of cigaret smoke wasn’t enough to cover the pungent odor of dead fish that filled the air. Flies buzzed past us as I looked at the spirit. He looked at me and smiled.
“What is this place?” I asked.
“Do not worry,” the spirit said. “Nobody here can see you. They are but shadows; shadows of what has been.”
“Yeah, I get that. But I have no idea where we are.”
“Does this not look familiar to you?” the spirit asked. His inflection made it seem like this was a rhetorical question, but the look in his eyes told me he was desperately hoping I would make the connection soon.
“Sorry,” I said. “I’m lost.”
The Rick Astley spirit retrieved his notepad, thumbed through the pages, and stared at something written there. He poked out his bottom lip and furrowed his brow.
“Is something wrong?” I asked.
His face shot up. “What? Oh, no, no, nothing’s wrong. It’s just… Are you sure you don’t know this place?”
“Why would I lie?”
“So, you’re positive this isn’t your foster home from when you were in sixth grade?”
I laughed. “Look around. Does this look like a foster home? I think it’s some kind of business.” I walked up to the wall and inspected the work orders that adorned it: tiny, yellowing sheets of paper with information typed onto it in cryptic shorthand. Nothing any average person would understand, except for the stamps on each that said either “closed” or “open.”
“BUS HOUSE. 3 JOB. 2 OUT.” - Closed.
“VIP DEN. 5 JOB. 5 OUT.” - Closed.
“UNDERGROUND VB. 5 JOB. ALL DEAD.” - Open.
“I’m sorry,” the spirit said. “This is actually quite embarrassing. In all the years I’ve been doing this, I’ve never taken someone to the wrong past before. Here, let’s return and start over.”
The phone on the desk rang. We watched as the heavy set man answered it. In a gruff voice, he said, “Yeah? … What the hell does he want? … Okay, send him in.”
The spirit reached for me, but I pulled back. “Wait,” I said. “I want to see where this is going.”
“It’s not a television show, Jack. This is someone’s worst memory. It’s way better than TV.”
Right then, the door opened. I instantly recognized the young man who entered. He wasn’t in sixth grade, but there was absolutely no denying that this was a younger me.
“What the fuck?” I said.
The look on the spirit’s face (or, I guess, Rick Astley’s face) told me that he was genuinely confused by this turn of events.
The younger me appeared to be in his late teens, perhaps early twenties. He had short hair, camo pants, and a black long-sleeved shirt. He must have been sweating his ass off in this weather, but he kept a professional look on his face and approached the man in the corner.
“Mr. Leechman. My name is-”
“I know who you are.” The heavy man leaned back in his chair and managed to look down his nose at the younger me while looking up at him. “You’re Tommy’s kid brother.”
“Look, it’s a damn shame what happened to him. They ever find the guy who hit his car?”
“Damn shame I tell ya. You know what, they outta make it to where a hit-and-run is an instant death penalty. But you know those pussies in the government would never do something like that. No, that would make too much sense.”
“I suppose so.”
The spirit and I closed in on these shadows from the past.
“Listen,” the heavy guy continued. I could see new sweat forming on his face. “I sent Tommy’s last paycheck to his address.”
“That’s not why I’m here.”
“What is it, then?”
“Before the accident… Tommy, he told me he might be able to get me a job. And, well, with the funeral and everything, money is getting tight. I was wondering, I mean… I know I can’t take on his role right away, but I am a quick learner. I’m not afraid to work hard and get dirty and-”
The heavy man scooted his seat back, scraping it loudly against the floor. “Hold on!” he said. “What exactly did Tommy tell you about this job?”
“I know all about exterminating. Tommy showed me how to use the different poisons. I helped him fumigate our aunt’s condo when she got fleas. I know how to-”
“Listen, Kid,” the heavy man stood up. “I ain’t gonna bullshit you. This job requires a certain skill set, and you ain’t got it.”<