top of page

April Fool's Day at the Gas Station (Complete)

March 31st, 11:45 PM


You may have already heard about the shitty gas station at the edge of town. It’s garnered quite a bit of infamy over the past few years. But if you haven’t yet been introduced, allow me to summarize:


Weird things tend to happen there. Some of it can be explained away--natural weather phenomena; fumes from the local chemical plant playing tricks on the mind; bored townies burdened with too much time, alcohol, and drugs... Some other things, though, simply defy explanation.


Perhaps the frequency of incidents has something to do with the fact that the business is always open. Barring a few incidents where the building needed to close its doors for foundational repairs after the odd earthquake, sinkhole, or shootout, the business is otherwise operational twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, and every day of the year. That’s including holidays. Yes, even the minor ones. Even though, as one employee continuously argues, it sure would be nice to take a day off once every April first. There’s enough shenanigans to worry about without a whole day dedicated to the manufacturing of new ones.


Not that it was ever expected to be effective, but there is a sign taped to the wall behind the cash register that very clearly states, “No pranks allowed.” It goes up every March 31st, and stays up usually until someone removes it, steals it, or (in one case) sets it on fire.


If you couldn’t already guess, April Fool’s Day is my least favorite holiday. If I didn’t have a job to do, I’d be far away from people, drowning my post-traumatic stress with something strong enough to kill the memories for at least another year… But duty calls, so here I am, sitting behind the cash register at the gas station and waiting to see what nonsense today has in store.


At least I’ve got this journal to keep me occupied.


April 1st. 12:20 AM


Well that didn’t take long.


Here it is, barely scratching the surface of our annual day of mischief, and things have already gone stupid.


It started just before midnight with a customer wandering the store, wearing an outfit made entirely of cardboard boxes and packing tape. To be honest, it was a decently impressive example of ritalin-abuse ingenuity (ritalingenuity?). The arms and legs were made from the long, skinny packages you use to mail posters. The chest and feet were a bit more square, giving him a poor-Voltron vibe. His helmet was pulled up on his head like a hat. Not sure if it was just a courtesy to show his face, or if the eyeholes weren’t big enough for him to see what he was shopping for. Or maybe he just really wanted to share his Covid with me. He was open mouth wet-coughing all over the aisles, after all.


Eventually, he found what he was looking for--a bottle of bleach--and brought it up to the counter. While I waited for his card to run, the man calmly opened the bottle and took a sip right in front of me.


As I handed him his receipt, he squinted at my nametag and said, “Thank you, Jack… Uh, can I ask you a question?”


“I’d simply love it if you didn’t,” I responded.


“Would you, off the top of your head, know how much postage it would take to mail a package to the White House? Like, say, two hundred pounds, give or take?”


“That would be a question for somebody else.” I was feeling less-than-inclined to be helpful. Especially because, according to my watch, it was only 11:59 PM, which meant this guy was not pulling an early April Fool’s prank. He was just the normal everyday kind of crazy.


That’s when the clock struck twelve, and everything changed…


The lights flickered off. The sound of dull chimes filled the room, one after the other. The front door slammed open and a deep fog rolled in. The crazy box man sipped his bleach and stared out at the darkness until the chiming came to a stop… A dozen chimes in total.


And then he walked into the store, dragging long chains behind him, arms stretched out as he moaned like a zombie that had just stubbed its toe.


“Dammit, Jerry!” I yelled. “We had a truce! No more April Fool’s Day pranks!”


“Who’s this clown?” asked Box-man.


“That’s Jerry,” I explained. “My roommate.” It really says a lot when you’re able to make the bleach-drinking madman raise an eyebrow and call you a clown. But if anyone can make such an impression, it’s Jerry.


“Whooooooo Ooooooo Oooooooo!” he moaned as he shuffled towards us, stopping momentarily to pick up his chains and rattle them in the air.


“You’re, uh, really committing to the bit this year, aren’t you?”


At this point, Box-man excused himself and scooted out the door into the soupy cloud of fog.


“I AM NOOOTTT THE ONE THEY CALL JERRYYY…” (More chain rattling for emphasis.)


“Alright, fine, I’ll bite,” I said. “Who are you, then?”


“I am the Great Hok-Shew, God of Mischief!”


“Hok-Shew?”


“Gesundheit.”


“Jerry,” I said as I rubbed my eyes. “You told me you couldn’t work today because you tested positive for Covid. Which means you either lied in order to put together this elaborate ruse after I specifically asked you not to, or you were telling the truth and you just exposed me to your cooties. Either way, I’m pissed.”


“Nooot Jerryyy…”


“Hok-Shew.”


“‘The Great’ Hok-Shew,” he corrected, suddenly losing his spooky accent. “Please do not forget my title.”


“Go home,” I said. “Before I kick your ass.”


A frown crept across his face. “Who are you?” he asked. “I came for the one they call Jack. You are not him.”


“I’ve lost the thread here. What’s the joke even supposed to be? Are you, like, a ghost or something? And where did all that fog come from? Is that stuff safe to breathe?”


“Where is Jack?” he asked, dropping his chains and crossing his arms stubbornly.


“Are you serious right now?” I asked. “I mean, I honestly can’t tell if you’re joking or not. We’ve known each other for how many years?”


He shook his head. “We’ve never met.”


“Because you’re not Jerry, right? You’re the Great Hok-Shew, God of Mischief.”


“That is correct.”


I decided it was time to play along.


“Okay, your majesty. If you are the god of mischief, then why do you look like my roommate?”

“I am only allowed to speak to Jack.”


“I am Jack!” I shouted (maybe a bit too loudly).


“Oh, really?” He took a pair of glasses out of his front pants pocket and put them on his face. With a judgmental look, he let out a long “Hmmm…” then added after a pregnant pause, “you don’t look anything like I was expecting. I thought you’d be taller.”


“Well, I am sitting down.”


“Do you have any identification?”


“That depends, do you have a God-of-Mischief warrant?” I suddenly realized how silly it was to even try and defend myself. “Now hang on a second. If you are the God of Mischief-”


A god of mischief. Not The God of Mischief. Little ‘g.’”


“Oh, mischievous and humble? Not a common combination. Okay, if you are ‘a’ god of mischief, then why do you look like my roommate?”


“I come to you in a form that you can most comfortably comprehend. This visage of a ghost is meant to remind you of your own pending mortality.”


“But Jerry isn’t dead… I mean, he had to be resuscitated one time after he nearly drowned in a koi pond, but I don’t know if that counts.”


“I’ll be perfectly honest with you, Jack. There weren’t that many good options. We looked at all of the possible dead people from your past, and apparently almost all of them tried to, like, kill you at some point. We spirits try not to take the form of someone that would send you running for the hills.”


“So are you a spirit or a god?”


“Don’t overthink it.”


“Okay, let’s say I believe you. Why are you visiting me?”


“It has come to our attention that you do not understand the true importance of the season. You’ve lost your wayyy, and need to be reminded why this holiday matters.”


“How did it ‘come to your attention’?”


“We saw it on your blog.” He gestured at the laptop open on my counter. “Believe it or not, most of the deities in the cosmic finite singularity are followers of your blog.”


“Really?”


“Yeah, we think that shit is hilarious.”


“Thanks?”


He raised his hands dramatically. A bolt of lightning cracked loudly just outside the building. Thunder reverberated around the room as he screamed in an inhuman voice, “ENOUGH PHILOSOPHISING!” At this point, much to my surprise, he began floating into the air. The chains around him hovered like tentacles behind his body, and his eyes turned plain white. “JACK, HEAR MY WORDS!”


“Okay?”


“TONIGHT, YOU SHALL BE VISITED BY THREE SPIRITS.”


“Three spirits including you?”


“WHAT? NO! THREE ADDITIONAL SPIRITS. COME ON, THINK ABOUT IT. I SAID ‘SHALL BE.’ IF I WERE INCLUDED, I WOULD HAVE SAID ‘SHALL HAVE BEEN.’”


“There’s no way that’s correct.”


“SHUT UP.”


“Sorry.”


“ONCE, WHEN THE CLOCK STRIKES ONE. ANOTHER, WHEN THE CLOCK STRIKES TWO. AND THE THIRD, AT THE STROKE OF-"


"Three?" I ventured.


"NO! FOUR. OF COURSE IT'S THREE!!!”


Electricity crackled from the tip of his finger as he extended his left hand and pointed it at my face. “YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED. NOW LOOK TO ME NO LONGER! I MUST WANDER!”


He glided through the air towards the open door, but then his hovering chains got caught on the sides of the frame. I waited as he finagled the ghostly appendages through the doorway one at a time, carefully but awkwardly. When he finally got all the way through, he let out a victorious laugh and floated away into the foggy night. The door slammed shut, and that’s when I began this journal entry.


It’s not out of the range of possibility for Jerry to have orchestrated such an elaborate plan, but I’ve got a pretty good feeling I’m in for some stranger things to come before this night is over.


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 blinding 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 bathroom door 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 in a British accent. “I am the spirit of April Fool’s past.”


“Long 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 his palm 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 heavy set 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 cigarette 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 heavyset 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.”


“Yes sir.”


“Look, it’s a damn shame what happened to him. They ever find the guy who hit his car?”


“No sir.”


“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.”


“Now wait a second, Tommy said-”


“Tommy’s dead, Kid. It don’t matter what he said.”


The younger me screamed, “IT MATTERS TO ME!”


Silence filled the room. A long, unnatural silence. The two men stood in place, unmoving, unblinking, unspeaking. It felt like the most intense staredown in history. But then I noticed the black fly--swollen and fat--stuck in place in midair right in front of my face. It wasn’t just the scream that brought the moment to a screeching halt. No, time itself had literally stopped.


“Enough!” The spirit screamed the word like it was poison he wanted out of his mouth. “Cut the crap, Jack. How are you doing this? What is this place?”


I poked the suspended fly, but it remained frozen. Something told me that a Mac truck wouldn’t have been able to pull it out of place. The force of time, of what was already written, was not something mortals could ever hope to overcome.


I said the only thing I could think of. “I have no idea what’s going on here. But I can tell you one thing. This never happened.”


“Do you think I’m playing around here?” asked the spirit dressed like 80’s-musician-turned-meme Rick Astley. “I’ll have you know I take this job very seriously.”


“I’m sure you do.”


He ran a hand through his voluminous red hair and took a deep breath. Then, he circled the room twice, stopped, and smiled. “I got it! This isn’t your past at all.”


“Well, yeah. Obvs.”


“No, in a sense, it is. But this isn’t your your past.”


“I don’t follow.”


“There’s a terminus point in the finite curve near the gas station. We must have accidentally fallen through a gap. This is a remainder in a galactic equation that should have been rounded off. I’ve heard of this happening before, but…” The look on my face must have told him he needed to dumb it down just a bit further. “Okay, this isn’t the correct universe. We’re in a version of your past that could have, but never did occur. You see, it might sound complicated to you, but-”


“Nah, I get it. Multiverses are all the rage in movies and television right now. I’ve already had it explained to me a thousand times.”


“Yes, but have you ever had it explained in terms of updog?”


“What’s ‘updog’?”


“Not much! What’s up with you?!” The spirit laughed joyously, then snapped his fingers, bringing the whole scene back to life. The fly buzzed past my face, I watched as it landed in a web in the corner of the ceiling where it promptly tangled itself up before being set upon by a shiny black spider.


“So, we should probably go back home, right? Considering this isn’t even a real memory?”


The spirit held up a finger and repeated my words back to me, “Hold on, hold on. I want to see where this is going.”


The door opened without a knock, and a tough-looking guy took a step into the room. As the younger me turned to face him, I registered the momentary realization on his face. He knew he messed up. He pushed too hard. And now he was about to get bounced. This guy looked like he was no stranger to busting heads. Scars on his face, ears misshapen like he had a history of amateur boxing, hands at his sides clenched into fists… and a deepset scowl that looked like it was the only expression he was capable of making.


“It’s okay, Bruno,” the heavyset man said calmly. “Our guest was just about to leave.”


“We got a problem, Boss.” Bruno’s voice sounded like a bag of rocks. (What does a bag of rocks sound like, you might ask. Well, Bruno’s voice, of course. I don’t know how else to put it. You had to be there. It was deeply unsettling.)


Bruno took a step to the side. The younger me understood without being told. It was time for him (or me?) to leave. He did so without another word. I went ahead and started to follow, but the spirit caught my arm.


“Hold up,” he said.


“What are you doing?” I asked.


“I’ve sat through enough boring childhood memories that I know when something juicy is about to happen, and that’s most certainly not going to be with the young man walking away. He’s a B story, at best. But look at these two! They’re like cartoons! So well-realized! What’s their deal? Who is Bruno? What do they do here?”


The younger me was already out the door. Bruno closed it behind him.


“Shouldn’t we follow… you know… me?”


“Don’t be so selfish,” the spirit said. “After all these countless eons, I deserve to go off the rails just a little, don’t I? As a treat! Just a little treat!”


I didn’t have time to answer before the heavy man began speaking. “What’s the problem?”


Bruno answered, “He’s here.”


“Already?!”


“Plane must have landed early. He wants to start the job by sundown.”


“Shit! How many does he need?”


“He’s calling this a seven job. Guzman and Florida are on call. They can get here in ten minutes.”


“What does that bring us to?”


“Five. Six if I go, too. He’s not gonna be happy if we can’t provide him with the team he paid for.”


“You think I don’t know that?! Shit!”


“I got some mercs on their way out of East City, but they won’t be here before day’s end.”


“You know he isn’t a patient man.”


“What about him?” Bruno pointed at the door with his thumb. “Tommy’s kid brother, I mean. With me and Guzman on the team, all we need are warm bodies to pad the numbers. Why not give the kid a shot?”


“He doesn’t know what we do here.”


“Really? You mean Tommy never… You mean he thinks Tommy died in a car accident?”


Drops of sweat were dripping from the boss’s face onto his desk. He closed his eyes and made a pained expression, like someone was crushing him from the inside. “Alright.” With that word, he fell into his chair. “Get the kid back in here. I’ll call Guzman and Florida.”


“What do you want me to tell him?”


“Tell him only what he needs to know.”


The two of them froze in place. Once again, time had stopped.


The spirit let out a wild laugh that morphed into the words, “Ooooh hoo hoo, this is exciting, isn’t it? What do you think is happening? What are mercs? Do you think he meant mercenaries? I genuinely don’t know where this is going! Uncertainty is such a beautiful thing, isn’t it?”


“Well, I am glad you’re enjoying yourself. But I don’t share your sense of curiosity or adventure, and I genuinely don’t see why I have to be here for any of this. How about you stay and keep doing this, and I go back to the gas station?”


“That’s not how it works, Jack. Your mind is powering this entire expedition. Come on, let’s see what happens next.” I didn’t mean to groan as audibly as I did, but the spirit didn’t take offense. He just smiled, retrieved his notepad, and continued, “I’ll make a deal with you. Let’s stick with this thread. The other option is we untangle this time knot and go visit your foster home that year your brothers stole your pants and locked you outside for the day. Remember? The police were called.”


“Why would you-”


“I’ll just write up a report saying we went to the correct memory. The visits to the past are mostly just a formality anyway. The only spirit journey that ever matters is the spirit of April Fools yet to come. I’m only here to familiarize you with the concept. So what do you say? Care to go off page for a little longer?”


I threw up my hands. “I mean, you’re the supernatural entity here. I’m just the schmuck who’s along for the ride.”


“That’s the spirit!” he said with a punch-inviting grin. “Pun intended!” He raised his hand, and with a snap of his finger, the world shifted.


The air was suddenly hotter. The lights dimmer. I shook my head until my bearings returned, slowly, lazily… And then I saw them. Bruno stood near a set of lockers, the younger me sat on a bench next to him. It was a small room, stuffy, like we were underground.


“I know this is a lot to process,” Bruno said.


The younger me didn’t seem phased. “No, I always knew Tommy was into something. He had too much money for an exterminator. I just thought… you know, maybe it was drugs.”


Bruno opened a locker and began pulling out gear: tactical boots, kevlar vest, ammo pouch… “These were his,” he said. “They should fit close enough for one job. Impress the big guy, and we’ll bring you back for the next one.”


“Who is he?”


“Listen, Kid. You gotta get those questions out of your system before you see him. This guy is the real deal, but if he catches a whiff that you’re an amateur, he might call the job on the spot. What you do here tonight is simple, shut the fuck up, follow my lead. I tell you to jump, jump. I tell you to shoot, shoot. I tell you to run…” He pulled an automatic rifle from the locker next. The younger me took it without hesitation.


“Anything else I should know?”


“Someone might try to test you. If anybody tells you that you remind them of someone they knew in the army, that’s code to make sure you’re on the same team. They tell you that, you respond, ‘I need a drink.’ You got that?”


The younger me nodded.


“Ready?”


That voice almost made me jump. I’d forgotten the spirit was still here with me.


“Ready for what?” I asked.


“Well, this part feels like filler, doesn't it? Let’s get to the action already, okay?” He pointed at the door behind me.


“It’s your show.”


He reached for the handle, and despite his early proclamation that these were merely shadows of things that once were, he succeeded in interacting with it. It turned. The door swung open. He stepped through, and I followed.


Now, on the other side, we were transported to a different time and place--neither very far from the previous time or place. We were outside now. Mosquitos buzzed in the humid air as the sun set behind a cloudy horizon. There were seven men lined up, standing at attention next to a black SUV. Bruno took one end, the younger me on the other. They were all armed to the teeth. The five in the middle stood tall, battle-worn, confident. Everything about them exaggerated the contrast from me--the runt on the end pretending he knew what he was in for.


They weren’t alone, though. There was another man with them. The big guy himself. He had dark skin and a thick, black beard. A mountain of a man, full of muscle, exuding an air of sheer power. If it came down to a fair fight between him and the seven men at attention, well, I sure wouldn’t bet against him.


When he spoke, the hairs on my neck bristled. “Alright, ladies, I see some new faces here so I’m gonna keep this quick. My name is Benjamin, and I’m not going to carry any of you. Tonight, we have a single target. Weaknesses are standard, which means bullets will do the trick. Stay off the coms unless there’s a surprise. But there won’t be any surprises. Any questions?”


Bruno was the only one who dared speak. “What’s the target look like?”


“Unclear, but we ought to know it when we see it. At last report, it took the appearance of a human: park ranger named Preston Creekbaum. Six two, brown hair, medium build. But that was over twelve hours ago, so the target will not look like that anymore. Any other questions?” There were none. At least, none spoken. “Good. Load up.”


The scene froze in time. “What the fuck is happening?” the spirit asked. There was far less excitement in his voice this time around. “This thread, it… continues for a while. How is that possible? A pocket reality like this should have fallen apart after a few minutes, but the story goes on and on… I can see a long road out in front of us, but it shouldn’t be possible.” For an interdimensional cosmic spirit, he sure sounded rattled by the unknown. (Kinda ironic, really, when you think about it.)


“So, what now?” I asked.


The spirit checked its watch. “We’re actually running out of time.”


“How? How could we possibly be running out of time?”


"I only get an hour with you. I need to finish this up before the Spirit of April Fool’s Day Present gets his turn. And that guy gets pissed when he has to wait.”


“That only raises further questions.”


“Do you mind if we step on the gas a little with this story?” I shrugged. He smiled. “Good. Fast forward mode activated. And do me a favor, keep your eyes open for a hammerfore.”


“What’s a hammerfore?” I asked.


“Driving nails!” he laughed obnoxiously. With a snap of his fingers, we were transported to a clearing in the middle of a tangled forest. The mercs were gathered in a circle around a bloated corpse in a ranger’s uniform.


“That’s the guy, right?” one of the men said.


“STOP!” screamed Benjamin as he ran towards the group. “Get away from it before-”


One of the eyes on the corpse exploded to the sound of a wet pop, and a skinny, pink, serpentine creature--about the size of a garden snake--leapt out of the body. It latched onto Bruno’s face. He screamed and tried to grab the creature, but it was too fast. Bruno fell to his knees as the pink snake burrowed through his skull.


Benjamin shoved one of the mercs out of the way, bellowed “STAY BACK,” then unloaded a magazine of high caliber rifle bullets into Bruno’s dead body, tearing it to shreds. When the gun was empty and the shooting had stopped, the men looked at one another.


One of them ignored the big guy’s previous command and stepped over to the wet, meaty puddle of bones and viscera that had once been Bruno and said, “Holy shit. What was that thi-”


The snake erupted out of the gore with the sound of a loud “SCREEEE!!!” It hit the man who stood too close square in the neck, then disappeared under his skin. His face went ghost-white as blood spurted from the hole, but he didn’t fall down. His eyes glazed over, and he turned to face the others in short, stiff steps.


Benjamin hollered as he loaded a new magazine into his gun, “SHOOT IT! IT’S CONTROLLING HIM! IT’S-” The man with the snake in his neck lifted his rifle and pointed at the other mercs. Shadows of the past or not, I instinctively hit the ground before the next round of bullets began flying.


The sudden silence wasn’t the most unnerving thing that had just happened, but it was up there. When I opened my eyes, I could see bullets trapped in place in mid-air.


“Holy flipping shit,” said the spirit. “This is not what I was expecting.” He checked his watch again. “We’re almost done here, but I gotta see where this ends.”


He snapped his fingers, and we were gone. The muddy earth below me turned hard and cold. The air turned stale. It took me a second longer to realize that we were indoors. I rolled over and got to my feet. This was a small cabin, hardly more than a shed. Benjamin sat near the fireplace, a roaring blaze keeping the cramped room entirely too hot. He held a blade over the flames, the tip glowing red hot.


There was only one other person from this timezone in the room: the younger me. He was covered in blood, but he was breathing. It didn’t take a detective to figure out the rest of the crew wasn’t as lucky. His shoulder wept a steady stream of blood onto the cabin floor until Benjamin pressed the heated blade into place, cauterizing the wound to the sound of a blood-curdling scream.


“Good work today, Kid,” Benjamin said, handing over a flask. The younger me took and drank freely. “Sorry about your crew.”


Eventually, the younger me managed to get out the words, “It’s okay.”


The big guy pulled two cigars from his jacket, leaned over, and lit them in the fire. He clamped the first between his teeth, then handed the other to the wounded kid on the floor. The younger me didn’t hesitate to take the celebratory smoke.


“The thing is,” Benjamin said, pausing to take a puff. “This didn’t turn out the way any of us expected. Men died who didn’t need to. Wasn’t anyone’s fault, really. It was the creature’s fault.” The younger me dropped his cigar and flask, then began to violently cough. His face turned bright red as the coughing became shallower and shallower. He struggled to breathe, fighting the constriction in his neck, but it was no use. He struggled in silence, desperate for air, for one more breath, but none would come. “Yeah, it was the creature’s fault. But I told your boss, I told him what I needed. I needed a seven man crew. I needed seven pros, but he only gave me six. I saw Bruno watching you. His head wasn’t in the game, because he was babysitting when he should have been paying attention. Now, I ain’t sayin’ that’s the reason they’re all dead. I just want you to understand why I can’t let you walk out of this one.”


His words didn’t matter. The young man on the floor couldn’t hear him any more. Benjamin picked up the flask, made sure the top was on, then stuffed it into his pocket. “Sorry, Kid. But it is what it is.”


“Wait a second,” the spirit said loudly. “So… you died?! What the hell?”


Benjamin pulled a cellular phone from his pocket. I took a step closer. Close enough to see the number he dialed, but it was just a saved contact named “HQ.”


“Benjamin,” he said into the receiver. “Password Echo, Alpha-”


He froze with his mouth still open, tongue on his teeth, staring straight ahead.


“Well, this has been interesting, to say the least.” I was getting so tired of this spirit. At least I didn’t have to deal with him for very much longer. “But it’s time for us to get back to your shitty real life as a boring gas station attendant. Shall we?”


He snapped his fingers, but this time nothing happened. The world didn’t vanish. We stayed put. Exactly like I wanted.


“What’s wrong?” I asked in my most innocent voice.


“Nothing,” he lied. “Sometimes, it takes a couple of snaps for it to work,” he lied again.


He snapped, and the world stayed as it was. He could snap again, and again, but as long as I had my wave disruptor on, nothing would ever change. I removed the device from my pocket. The spirit looked at it and laughed. “Nice camera phone,” he said. “But I’m afraid you can’t take any pictures here. These memories are only in your mind. They don’t show up on film and cannot be recorded.”


I adjusted the settings on the disruptor to only cancel out the S wave frequencies. To the spirit, it probably looked like I was texting. He continued to smile at me nervously, until I executed the new routine, causing the memory to resume from right where we left off.


“-Tango-nine-seven-nine-two-Victor.” The spirit jumped as Benjamin resumed talking. The big guy stood and started for the door. “Status report. Target has been neutralized. Local team was compromised. Witnesses terminated. Request immediate evac.” He stepped out into the cold night air and slammed the door shut behind him so hard dust fell from the ceiling.


“This is, unusual, but not unheard of,” the spirit assured me. “I have everything under control.”


“No,” I said. “I don’t think you do.”


Right then, I woke up, gasping for air. Not the me that was standing, talking to the spirit. The me on the ground. I gagged and fought and strained against the poison constricting my muscles. I fought hard against whatever the hell that asshole Benjamin had put in that flask. A morsel of air broke through the floodgates, and that’s when I knew I wasn’t about to die. I tried to scream, but it wasn’t time for that yet. My heart pounded and my lungs begged; every part of me wanted nothing more than to stay alive. It was nothing but luck and sheer force of will that saved me that day, as I struggled against death long enough to take another breath. And then another.


The spirit shouted, “Holy fuck! You survived!”


“Of course I survived,” I said. “How else would I have been alive for us to meet?”


The spirit shook his head, like he thought I just wasn’t getting it. “But this didn’t happen! This is an alternate timeline, one where you never worked at the gas station, but instead became a monster hunter or something. It’s not like-”


This time, when the words froze midsentence, it wasn’t from any kind of magic or parascience. It was because I rolled up my sleeve to show the spirit how wrong he was. The gears turned quickly once he saw the old scar on my shoulder. The burn from when Benjamin cauterized my wound all those years ago. The spirit couldn’t have known exactly what was happening, but he was smart enough to try and run.


He went for the cabin door. I stayed close behind. We passed through together, and into another scene from my memory.


It was only four years later, but I had gone from a young man to a world-weary soldier. I was sitting in the recruitment office of The Institute. The commander stood behind the egghead scientists. They’d listened to my entire story without judgment--the reason for my medical discharge. And they told me something I’d never heard before. They believed me. And they wanted to help me.


The spirit hooked a right and went for the closest door. If this were really The Institute, it would have led to a balcony overseeing the compound’s hundred acre grounds, but it wasn’t. Instead, it took us to another memory:


A classroom. Only two people in this memory. My commander pointed at the picture on the projection that took up the entire wall. It was a photo of a young man sitting behind a cash register.


“Jack Townsend,” my commander said. “You’ll find his dossier to be interesting reading. You need to study him. Imitate. Do what he does, live how he lives, think how he thinks. The spirits must believe that you are him.”


The spirit spun on his heels. There were no other exits in this room. I had him cornered. It was time to go on the offensive.


Finally.


I wrapped my fingers into the silver-plated knuckles and delivered a clean haymaker across his temple. If the spirit had been human, it would have put him in a coma at the least. Thank God the nerds were right; silver was enough to put him down. He moaned up at me from the floor, telling me that he wouldn’t be a problem any more.


Good, I thought to myself. I have a lot more work left to do tonight.


I reset the disruptor to the preprogrammed settings. Next stop, April Fool’s Day. One year ago. I grabbed the spirit by his leg and dragged him back through the doorway.


We were transported to the special species containment unit in the sub-basement of the Liscov Institute. There were two other people in this negatively-charged Ferriday cage built from nonmagnetic titanium and silver. They couldn’t see us, but they knew we were here.


My commander looked at the me from one year ago, then nodded. The old me programmed the disruptor with our exact coordinates. I’d been studying the tech for the greater part of the last decade, and was intimately familiar with all of its settings.


“Now,” my commander said, “explain this to me again.”


“In one year’s time,” the old me elaborated, “I’ll return to this point in the timeline and drop off the anomaly. It will remain trapped inside these walls for exactly one year. After the temporal energy has worn off, we open the cage, and he is powerless to escape.”


The spirit sat up. “What?! No, you can’t leave me here for an entire year! I’ll go mad with boredom!”


“I'm sorry,” I lied.


“Wait!” he shouted, tears in his eyes. “At least let me have a henway before you go!”


“What’s a henway?” I asked.


He laughed maniacally and answered, “About three pounds!”


I pressed the button on my device, transfering me back to the original timeline.


Anyway, I’m sorry. I know that was a slog to read, but part of my job infiltrating this place was acting just like Jack, and for some reason Jack writes down every single thing that happens to him in this stupid laptop. I had to keep up appearances, didn’t I?


Oh, I just heard that weird chime again. Twice this time. 2:00 already. I guess that means I gotta go.


Like I said… this is nuts!


April 1st, 2:10 AM


I’m just going to go ahead and say it: That was fun.


It’s not every day a decade-long plan to apprehend multi-dimensional anomalies pans out so successfully. In fact, it was such a success, I don’t even need to continue writing. I’m done. So why do I continue? I suppose this is my victory lap. Or maybe I spent so much time trying to get inside of Jack’s head that I felt a certain sense of duty to finish his blog entry.


Don’t worry, by the way. If you actually liked that guy for some reason, he’s still alive. He’s just tied up and gagged in the storage room, which is a lot more than I can say for the spirit of April Fool’s Day Present.


She appeared right on time, wearing a dress made of red and yellow flowers. She didn’t try for the same grand entrance as her predecessor. And if it weren’t for the fact that her head was actually that of a white deer’s skull-complete with empty eye sockets and a missing lower jaw--I would have categorized her entrance as being perfectly ordinary.


I don’t know how she talked with that setup, but she managed just fine. I let her go through the same movements as the other anomolies. The whole, “You don’t look like I was expecting,” was starting to get really old, but whatever. She eventually got to the point, took my hand, and told me we were going on a journey to see the ones I cared about most on this April Fool’s Day. She thought that meant we’d arrive at Jack’s home, where his sick roommate was adorning the house with birthday decorations and burning a cake (yeah, I read the whole file). But instead, we went to exactly where the ones I cared about the most--my brothers in arms at The Institute--were waiting.


We arrived inside the containment field in the sub-basement of the institute. The spirit didn’t even get another word out before the shackles went into place. As the guards took her away for processing and testing, I approached my commander.


He smiled at me and asked, “Did you get what you were after?”


“Benjamin’s passcode: Echo, alpha, tango, nine, seven, nine, two, victor.”


“Excellent work.”


Together, we approached the ferriday cage. I scanned my fingerprint on the monitor, opening the cage for the first time in one year. We found him slumped in the corner, muttering to himself over and over… “Never gonna give you up…” etc. etc.


Alright boys and girls, that’s about the last you’ll ever hear from me. If we never see each other again, it will be too soon. Remember, watch your back and never trust anyone.


-Special Agent Brick Roscoe,

Liscov Institute for Societal Advancement


April 1st, 2:58 AM


Hey guys. It’s Jack here. The real Jack, I mean.


Yeah, I just finished reading all of that crap the other guy wrote. I hope none of you fell for it. His attempts at imitating me were embarassing, to say the least. I mean, voice like a bag of rocks? What does that even mean?


I digress…


Mr. Roscoe jumped me last night and stuffed me in the closet with nothing to keep myself occupied except a bunch of audiobooks. I’m not entirely upset that I missed the spirits, but I’d be lying if I said the agent’s account didn’t make me feel sorry for the poor ghosts.


Oh shit, that means I’ve got to explain to the next one why their friends are MIA. Crap. This really is the stupidest day of the entire year, isn’t it? God I wish I could have stayed home.


Oh great. I just heard three chimes.


Wish me luck.


April 1st, 3:30 AM


They were actually pretty cool about it. But I had to fill out some paperwork--an incident report or something. Then they gave me a voucher for two free spirit journeys in the future, which I am almost positive I won’t use. The spirit of April Fool’s Yet to Come did show me the future, though, and it was exactly what I expected.


Death and destruction, wanton violence, polar ice caps melting, all the puppies dying, Brendan Fraser getting his Oscar revoked… you know, the worst of the worst, and it’s all somehow going to be my fault.


I asked the spirit (who, by the way, looked nothing like the grim reaper--no, it actually took the form of a little girl in a sun dress carrying a six-foot scythe) if these images were the shadows of things that will be, or if they were the shadows of things that only may be.


The spirit actually gave me an answer.


“The future isn’t set in stone. It can be avoided, but doing so will require either a lot of luck, or a lot of snoo.”


I’d learned long ago that luck wasn’t something one could ever count on, but I was a little confused by her statement.


“What’s ‘snoo’?” I asked.


“Oh, not much. What’s new with you?”


Anyway, happy April Fool’s Day, y'all.



9 comments

Recent Posts

See All

9 comentarios


christina163284
christina163284
30 abr 2023

I finally get back to reading things and this is what I find?! Agent Brick Roscoe going crazy around the… Wait why did they need Benjamin’s Password?

Me gusta

Drew Wakeman
Drew Wakeman
18 abr 2023

"GOD DAMMIT IT WAS BRICK ROSCOE ALL ALONG"

Me gusta

Seth Calogero
Seth Calogero
18 abr 2023

Love these stories to bits! Is it ok to narrate them so long as credit is given?

Me gusta

Jaake 7113
Jaake 7113
08 abr 2023

YAY! Audio me. Now. DEW IT!

Me gusta

pringles
pringles
08 abr 2023

jerry's at it again. lmao.


Me gusta
bottom of page