Updated: Mar 7, 2020
It didn’t take long for Owen to establish that he was in charge. Part of me was thankful to hand over responsibility in a time like this, but I couldn’t ignore the glaring fact that Owen was the kind of guy who didn’t know just how much he didn’t know, and his false sense of complete competency was almost certainly going to make matters worse.
He ordered everyone into the front of the store for the start of his “investigation.” Jerry came along quietly and peacefully. We found Bart laying low in the back office by the time clock. One of the mischief cats made a surprise appearance, but scrambled on top of the drink case and disappeared before Owen could line up and take a shot, which only left the man even more furious. Deep down, I was secretly rooting for the racoons.
With all of the remaining live victims in one place, Owen took my flashlight and stood guard at the booth while the five of us sat quietly awaiting our new fearless leader’s plan. Yen and Lucy sat on one side. I took the aisle seat, Jerry the wall, with Bart crammed between us.
Owen began, “Alright. First thing’s first, which one of you did it?” His interrogation skills left more than a little to be desired. When no confessions were immediately forthcoming, he continued. “That’s alright. We’ll figure it out. In the meantime, nobody is going anywhere.”
His light was shaking, a dead tell that his brave and cocky persona was little more than a bluff. He needed help, which I tried to offer. “Maybe we should call the authorities and tell them what happened.” As soon as I started speaking, Owen blinded me with his light. He held it there until a few seconds after I stopped. Perhaps he was taking the time to consider my suggestion, or maybe he was just letting this little amount of power go to his head.
Finally, he lowered the light and said, “Yeah, okay. Let’s call the cops. But I don’t trust any of you.” He shook the flashlight at my side of the table. “Yen, you and the orange mouse girl were sitting right here when it happened, so I know neither of you are the killer. Take this.” He gave Yen the spare flashlight. “Go call 911. Tell them where we are. Tell them a man is dead, and I’ve got it narrowed down to three suspects.”
As Yen made her way to the store phone, I tried to explain. “Actually, 911 doesn’t work in this town. You’ll have to call the sheriff’s department.”
“Dude,” Bart said forcefully. “Your town really sucks.”
“Yeah, I know.”
“You three shut up!” snapped the man with the gun. “We’re going to get to the bottom of this one way or another.”
“Owen!” Yen called out, a note of fear lining the edge of her voice.
“The phones are dead.”
Of course. Of course the night is unfolding like this. Why should I even be surprised that it’s happening all over again?
He left us in the dark and headed towards Yen. As soon as he was out of whisper-range, Lucy leaned forward and quietly asked, “Okay, guys, what’s really going on?”
I leaned forward to whisper back, “I legitimately do not know.”
“Is there someone else in here with us?”
I heard the deep breath she took before asking, “Did one of you kill that man?”
Jerry answered, “I think it’s more than reasonable to assume that the racoons did it.”
Thankfully, Jerry sounded like his old self. It felt good to have him back, but I wasn’t about to forget how he had just fugue-stated in the supply closet. Was that some kind of temporary insanity? Possession? There were too many possibilities and not nearly enough time for me to form a good plan.
Owen was back before I knew it.
“Alright, let’s work this out. You, delivery guy, where were you when that man was stabbed?”
Bart’s answers were matter-of-fact. “I was hiding.”
“I saw a gun come out, and I don’t get paid enough to take a bullet.”
Owen flicked the light at me. “What about you?”
I answered, “I also don’t get paid enough to take a bullet.”
“You know what I mean, smart-ass.”
“I made a phone call, then I went to see if I could find the racoons.”
“Interesting,” he said, turning that simple word into an implicit accusation.
“How is that ‘interesting’?” Lucy asked.
“The phone was sabotaged. Someone cut the line out of the wall, and it looks like they used a knife to do it. You’re saying you were the last one to use the phone. Is it really possible that the killer waited for you to hang up, sliced the cable, then snuck past you and killed the old man?”
Owen kept it up. “He was wearing one of those stupid face masks, but it was already bloody when we first got here. What’s the story behind that?”
Jerry laughed. “Oh, that was me. He was acting a fool, so I cracked his face chimney like a boss.”
Owen turned the light onto Jerry, who had at some point pulled his own sharp-tooth smiling mask back up over his face.
Owen asked, “Are you prone to violent outbursts?”
Bart chimed in, “Come to think of it, you did tackle me pretty hard.”
“Thank you,” Jerry responded.
I could see which way the winds were blowing, and I didn’t like it. Jerry had been acting strangely for most of the night, but I knew him well enough to know that he was innocent. I also knew him well enough to know he was the worst person to advocate for his own innocence.
“Owen,” Yen called.
“Take a look at this.”
He left us once again to join the woman standing in the center of the room with her flashlight pointed at the code green box.
Lucy whispered, “I don’t like this. That guy is unhinged. He shouldn’t be in charge.”
Bart leaned forward and put his head in his hands. “This is so fucked. I just want to go home.”
“What about the rest of your shift?” I asked, trying to keep the mood light.
“There is no ‘rest of the shift,’ man. I just said that so you guys would let me get out of here. Everybody I work with knows the rules. This is what I get for breaking them.”
This was another unexpected curveball. “What do you mean?”
“This gas station is always the end of the route. When I started working, everybody told me the same thing about this place. Get in and get out. Never start a conversation with the workers. Never stay longer than necessary. Never go to the bathroom. I get paid double to run this route because no one else wants to do it. I just assumed it was because this gas station is in the middle of klan country. Now I’m sitting here waiting for Mr. good-guy-with-a-gun to decide my fate? For real, fuck this town and everyone in it.”
“Hey!” Owen yelled. “No talking!”
“Yes sir, boss!” Bart shouted sarcastically.
We sat in somber silence until he returned to the table with the box in his hands and Yen by his side. He reached inside the kit, pulled out the pack of surgical masks, and dropped them onto the table. It appeared as if someone had taken a knife to the pack, slicing holes through the lot of them.
Someone is sabotaging our supplies.
Yen asked, “Who would do something like that? And why?”
“I don’t know,” Owen answered. “But I intend to find out.”
They both immediately turned around and pointed their lights at the sound of something crashing loudly to the ground. Whatever it was, it came from the bathroom.
“Go check that out,” Owen said.
“Are you crazy?” Yen answered. “That’s where the body was. You go check.”
“And leave the killer unguarded?”
Owen looked at her, then at us, then at the bathroom, then at the gun. With a short sigh, he made the difficult but responsible decision to hand his weapon over to Yen while he courageously went to check on the noise by himself.
Ha. I’m just kidding. (Can you imagine?) No, instead, Owen decided to go for the asshole-of-the-year award by ordering me out of the booth to be his literal human shield. As we left the others behind, he promised the group he’d shoot anyone who tried anything funny.
Then, with the barrel of his gun stabbing me in the back, we went to check on the noise.
I clocked the baseball bat still sitting on the ground in the hallway where I dropped it, but even if I was crazy enough to make a go for it, the weapon was on the other side of the bathroom. As we approached the door, Owen pulled the gun out of my back and rested it on my shoulder, then shoved me forward with his elbow. He stayed right behind me as the flashlight reached the inside of the bathroom.
Just as I had suspected, the culprits were fattened, furry trash pandas. There were only three of them (which was somehow way scarier than all four of them). One had evidently torn the soap dispenser from the wall--the source of that crashing noise, and a rather impressive feat on its own. It was leaned over, front paws in the soap puddle, lapping it up by the mouthful. Gross, but not nearly as gross as the other two raccoons, the ones hunched over in the corner greedily licking the puddle of human blood.
As if blood-hungry racoons weren’t bad enough, I noticed that something important was missing from this picture. Or, I guess, someone. The body of Abrahm was nowhere to be found, and I was nearly positive that these animals couldn’t have carried him off on their own.
They all moved in perfect unison. Licking the floor, suddenly stopping once they realized they were being watched, slowly lifting their heads, slowly turning to face us...
“Hey guys.” I said with a wave. “Did any of you see the body of a bearded man--”
...the animals sprung at us teeth first. Owen shoved me to the ground and screamed. His light hit the floor, bounced against a wall and started spinning, giving the hallway an intense strobe light effect.
“What is it?” “Oh my god!” “Are you okay?” “Look out!”
For some inexplicable reason, the others decided it would be a good idea to rush towards us. Owen screamed like a baby, and then--
“Shit!” “What the-” “Oh my God!”
The room smelled like gunfire. A racoon jumped onto my lap and launched itself down the hallway.
Owen cursed and picked up the flashlight and cursed some more. Then he aimed it at me, then he aimed it back at the others. Then my blood ran cold.
“Oh my God. Oh fuck fuck fuck.” “Hold your hand right here!” “Shit.” “Put pressure over the wound.”
Yen, Lucy, and Jerry were all standing over Bart. He was on his back, staring up at the ceiling, blood on his hands and all over his polo shirt.
Owen turned away from them and pointed the flashlight back at me. “God dammit!” he muttered.
Yen shouted his name, “Owen! Shine the flashlight over here.”
He waited a few seconds, took a loud breath, and did so. Bart’s eyes were rolling back in his head. Jerry had his hands clamped firmly over the wound on Bart’s stomach. Lucy had specks of blood all over her face. Yen stood up and shouted, “We need gauze and a medical kit. Whatever you have! Please! Right now!”
As I pushed myself back up to my feet, Owen blurted, “He came right at me! You all saw it! He came running straight for me!” His voice ticked up an octave, “Why did you do that?! I warned you! Didn’t you hear me? You all heard me tell him to stay back and he ran right at me!”
I shoved open the door to the supply closet. In the complete dark of the room, I was forced to navigate by memory. I reached for the space where the code yellow kit should have been, grabbed the whole box, and brought it out to the hallway. When I hit the ground next to the others, Owen was still blathering, “It’s not my fault! It was an accident! He, he came charging at me. Does… does he have a weapon on him?”
Lucy snapped at him with venom in her word. “What?!”
“Check his pockets! He probably has a weapon. He was probably--”
“Shut the fuck up!”
He did. For now.
I handed the supplies over to Yen, who apparently knew her way around a medkit better than me. As she ripped open the bag of clotting powder with her teeth, I asked, “Are you some kind of doctor or something?”
“Or something,” she said, following it quickly with instructions for Jerry to move his hands. She stayed working for what felt like forever, but was probably only about thirty seconds. I couldn’t really watch. Not because I was bothered by violence, but because I was steadily recalculating my chances of getting to that baseball bat without Owen noticing…
She put her hand to Bart’s neck, presumably to check his pulse, then announced, “We need to get him to a hospital right now.”
“Okay,” Jerry said, popping to his feet. “I’ll make a run for Lucy’s car and bring it right up to the door. I’ve probably got the best night vision and the most experience driving in the dark without headlights. Lucy, key me.”
Owen immediately shot down that idea like it were an innocent alcohol vendor, “Oh no you’re fucking not!”
Lucy stood and took a step forward, only stopping when Owen pointed the gun right at her. “What is your problem?!” she shouted.
“We still don’t know who killed that man! I’m not letting a murderer out of my sight! You--” He pointed the gun at Jerry. “--and you--” he pointed the gun at me. “--Get up! Move over here!”
He herded us into the hallway with his weapon leaving Bart clinging precariously to life. Yen tried to reason with him, “Owen! We don’t have time for this! We need to get help!”
“I-- I can’t-- I can’t let them out of my sight--”
His gun was shaking wildly… the one pointed right at me… the one with a finger on the trigger…
Jerry’s voice was noticeably calmer than the situation deserved. With bloody palms extended forward, he said, “Hey dude, relax. Nobody here thinks you’re an incompetent man-baby with a gun. We’re all going to be like the Fonz, okay? And you know what the Fonz is? He’s cool. And you know what’s cooler than cool? The cooler. Yeah, like that walk-in cooler.”
“What?” he snapped.
“Why don’t you put Jack and me inside the walk-in cooler? Then you can take that chair behind the counter and barricade us inside. We do it all the time whenever we need to detain people until the cops arrive. Right, Jack? That way you know you’re safe, and you can hand that gun over to someone with better aim and use the CB radio in the supply closet to call for help.”
I was shocked by how completely reasonable that plan sounded. Owen’s hand was shaking a little less now.
“Well?” I said. “It’s not the worst idea.”
“Just do it!” yelled Yen.
“Alright,” he relented. “But no funny business.”
Jerry laughed. “It’s a walk-in cooler. What kind of trouble could we possibly get into in there?”
I really hate it when Jerry says stuff like that. It’s almost like he’s straight-up daring the universe to screw with us.
As soon as the cooler door shut behind us, all sound and light went away. For a moment, I felt like I’d entered a sensory deprivation chamber, but soon my ears acclimated, and I could hear my coworker breathing.
“I hope you have some kind of plan,” I said.
The room lit up temporarily as Jerry lit a cigarette. His toothy smile-mask was down around his neck like a scarf. A moment later, the room returned to black, save for the tiny red glowing ember at the tip of his smoke.
“Nah,” he said. “That was my whole plan. Get that guy calmed down enough to stop shooting for a second. Phase one was a success. You’re the smart one, why don’t you come up with the rest of it?”
“Well,” I said, working through the puzzle out loud. “Unfortunately, there’s no way to break out of here. Walls are eight inches thick, which means they probably can’t even hear us out there. Even if we did manage to break out, that d-bag would probably shoot us the second he saw us. I hate to say it, but this might actually be the best thing we can do. Just sit here and hope help arrives in time to save Bart.”
He took a puff, then said, “Bart’s a goner.”
“You don’t know that.”
“Trust me. I saw the wound. He’s got another five minutes at most. It’s really too bad. I liked that guy.”
I didn’t know what to say, so I said nothing. Jerry had said all he needed to say, so he also said nothing. When the cigarette was gone, we stayed in silence until something scraped across the floor on the other side of the cooler.
I almost didn’t want to ask. “What was that?”
“You heard it too, huh?”
“I almost forgot to mention this, but when I looked inside the bathroom…”
“Abrahm wasn’t there anymore.”
“Oh. Don’t worry. That wasn’t actually Abrahm.”
“Then what was it?”
“Well, it’s kinda hard to explain.”
We heard another scrape. This one slightly louder. And slightly closer.
“Is there something you wanted to tell me?”
“Oh. Right. About that--”
Another scrape. Only a few feet away.
“Are we in danger right now?”
“Yes. Yes we are.”
I reached into my hoodie pocket and inspected my inventory. I had a lighter and can of bug spray, which meant I had an emergency flamethrower. I also had Bart’s cell phone, which meant I had a flashlight. This was quite the dilemma… how to proceed?
“Jerry, I’m about to turn on a flashlight. Should I just accept that there’s another ridiculous jump scare waiting for us the moment this room is lit up?”
“That would be a fair assumption.”
“Okay then. Let’s do this.”
I turned on the flashlight and held it out in front of me. A few feet away from us stood the unicorn.
More specifically, a man wearing the unicorn mask. A man with a smoker-stained yellow beard poking out from underneath. A man who looked an awful lot like Abrahm. He stood upright, gazing into our souls with unicorn eyes. Copious amounts of blood staining the front of his shirt, and the handle of a filet knife protruding from the center of his chest.