Updated: Mar 24
At the edge of our town, there’s a shitty gas station that’s open twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. If you were to go inside, you’d see row after row of off-brand chips, cookies, potted meats, and pickled curiosities. Expiration dates suspiciously missing from the canned goods like they were filed off years ago in some misguided attempt to control inventory turnover. A faded “wet floor” sign from way back covers a large crack in the foundation by the cooler where layers of sticky spill-off have formed a miniature tar pit, preserving countless insect corpses and the occasional small rodent.
Nobody ever complains about the aesthetic. By some providence bordering on the supernatural, the health inspector has repeatedly signed off on the business, always kindly ignoring the faint smell of some kind of mysterious chemical cocktail that is the defining characteristic of the establishment. More noticeable than the steady mechanical hum of the frozen drink machine that was installed in the seventies and never once serviced. More distracting than the random pockets of cold and warm air that seem to follow you around. And more annoying than the family of mutated raccoons that lives in the crawlspace behind the grease trap.
We think they’re mutated anyway. At the very least, they must be inbred to the point of genetic deformity and mental retardation. The alpha, a muscular three-foot-tall son of a bitch named Rocco, has been spotted multiple times chewing on people’s tires and has been run over at least twice, but keeps coming back.
That lingering smell, a sweet combination of honeysuckle, ammonia, and vomit, has never been positively identified, but the prevalent theory is that it’s coming from underground, wafting up through the thin fissures in the concrete that grow and spread with each year of architectural settling. It’s strongest right after a rain, and pungent to the point of tear-inducing if you get too close to the storm drains where even Rocco and his clan refuse to tread.
If you were to go inside, you might also see the bathroom cowboy. He's sort of an urban legend around here, only ever appearing when you’re alone and unsuspecting. What makes him truly legendary are the stories people tell after an alleged encounter. The accounts run the gamut from “pretty weird” to “impossibly bizarre.” Like the guy last month who went for a pee but changed his mind when he saw him standing there next to the urinal, wearing a duster, bandanna, boots, and chaps, handing out balloon animals.
Or a couple weeks later when another customer stepped into the same bathroom to see a man wearing nothing but a cowboy hat, boxers, and boots with spurs, literally grinding an ax on an old-fashioned stone sharpening wheel. When he entered, the cowboy stopped what he was doing, looked up with a smile and a tip of the hat and said, “Come on, Man... Come onnn with it.”
If you should be lucky enough to see the cowboy that may or may not haunt the bathroom, don't worry. He's harmless, and in fact usually quite polite. Honestly, he doesn’t seem so bad. Especially compared to some of the other things going on in that place.
When you go inside, you might instantly get a toothache. That’s a strangely common phenomenon that nobody really understands. It should go away on its own after a couple hours.
If you do go inside, you will almost definitely see me sitting behind the counter, because I am the only full-time employee, and I’m almost always here. You may catch me reading a book because, for some reason, the internet doesn’t work way out here, and cell phone service is dicey on good days and nonexistent on most. If you need to make a call, you can leave and go up the hill a ways, preferably back towards town because the other way will take you into the woods and you don’t even want me to go into all the reasons that’s not a good idea. Or you can pay me twenty-five cents a minute and use the store’s land line. (That arrangement was cooked up by the owners and I have to actually enforce it because they do check the phone records. I’m sorry.)
While you’re here, don’t be offended if I don’t strike up a conversation because, if I’m being completely honest, I don’t always know for sure if everyone who comes through those doors is real or not and if I had to acknowledge everyone in that place that could be an actual person, I might lose my mind. And we don’t need any more of that going on around here.
I guess that the point I’m trying to make is this: weird things happen to me working at the shitty gas station at the edge of town.
I wish I could tell you the weirdest thing that's ever happened there, but I doubt I could ever decide. There were just too many.
I’ve seen a total of four coffins inside the store on three different occasions.
I’ve met at least a dozen people wandering back into town from the woods claiming they had escaped aliens or government conspirators or the like and that they had no money but needed to make a call and could I please just let them use our store phone before “they” find them again. But rules are rules and I’m not inclined to lose my job just because you didn’t escape captivity with a little pocket change.
And then, of course, there was Farmer Brown (yeah, that’s his real name) who got mad at us and complained about the bulk feed we’d been ordering for him. He insisted something was wrong with the product because, as he put it, all of his animals suddenly had human faces. We settled with him by charging a significant discount on his next couple purchases. He stopped coming in not long after, and they found what was left of his body inside a bedroom at his farmhouse that had been locked from the inside. As far as I know, they still haven’t figured that one out.
Anyway, I guess I can come back and tell a story or two, but first I need to get ready for work.