Updated: Mar 24, 2020
At the edge of our town, there’s a shitty gas station that’s open twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, and sometimes longer. If you were to go inside, you would probably see the tired cashier sitting behind the front desk doing his best to mind his own business. He’s real. You may also see someone else. You may also see something else. If you’re curious about the reality of anyone or anything (including yourself) inside that small ammonia scented flickering-fluorescent collection of off-brand junk food, dirt, four walls, and a roof, may I recommend that you follow the cashier’s lead and mind your own business?
I’ve been working at that gas station almost non-stop since I graduated high school, and at this point, I doubt I could quit if I wanted to. Not long ago, a doctor recommended that I start keeping a journal, and after some consideration I decided I might as well give it a shot. It's not like any of the traditional treatments are having any effect. But enough about me. Let’s get back to the interesting thing. The gas station.
I spent a decent portion of my shift last night trying to decide how to begin this journal. Where can I start that would make any sense at all? How do I explain the gas station to someone who hasn't experienced it?
I've tried telling some of my stories before, so I know what to expect. People don’t believe it. Or people don’t want to believe it. I still remember the difficulty I had last year when I had to call the sheriff station and explain to the new girl that half of a pig had broken into the store and was running amok, breaking things and screaming with the voice of an old woman.
"Yes, I meant half of a pig."
"Yes, a pig."
"The front half."
"No this isn’t a joke. I’m at the gas station."
"What do you mean, which gas station? Is this your first day or something?"
"Oh, it is? In that case, can I please talk to someone else?"
She finally put me through to Tom. He's the deputy that drew the short straw all those years ago and ended up on official gas-station duty. That was back before his hair had turned all white. He’s been in enough times now that all I have to say when he picks up the line is “It’s half a pig. It won’t stop screaming and I can’t catch it.” And then he grunts, mutters something about that being “pretty freakin’ weird,” and then drives out to help me catch it. Tom is a good guy.
I asked around, but nobody knew where the pig had come from. Farmer Brown--who was still alive at the time--came down to take a look and provide his expert opinion. According to Farmer, the pig had somehow been chopped down the middle, but miraculously none of the important organs were hit. Nothing supernatural about it, just really unusual. It stayed at the local elementary school as a kind of mascot for the summer before a scientist and his team from somewhere up north offered the school a thousand dollars to let them take it. For science, I suppose.
I don’t mean to ramble, but my point is that it’s hard to believe some of these stories if you haven’t been inside the gas station at least once. And maybe you have. We’re the only gas station for miles. We’re close enough to some big crossroads. If you’ve ever been out driving in an unfamiliar part of the country and found yourself lost, it’s not impossible that you could have found yourself at my doors, looking to top off your gas or ask for directions. If you have a strange memory of a weird place that somehow doesn’t seem to fit, then there’s a chance we have actually met.
It was late into my overnight shift when I decided to just start writing. I took notes about what was happening. I jotted down a few of my stranger memories, but consciously decided to leave out those stories that were so unbelievable that I won't even waste people’s time with them. (I call those the try-and-forget stories.) I was writing it all down on a book of receipt paper when Carlos interrupted me.
Carlos is one of the part-timers at the gas station. We have a pretty long list of part-time employees here. The owners like to hire transients, drifters, hitchhikers, passers-by and runaways looking for work for a few days. I try not to get to know the part-timers. They come and go after a few days, or sometimes a few weeks, rarely long enough to form any kind of meaningful relationship.
But then there’s Carlos, who's been working here for almost a year now. He started as part of the prison work-relief program, unloading trucks twice a week, and was the only one of the twelve prisoners that didn’t disappear during a freak snow-storm last December, but that’s none of my business. Carlos did his time, and when they released him he came to work here, cleaning the store and unloading trucks. He comes in six times a day for each of his thirty-minute shifts. Now that I think about it, I’m not exactly sure what he does during those shifts. The store is never clean and trucks only come twice a week, exclusively during the daylight hours as per an arrangement following the "incident." Maybe one day I'll ask Carlos what he does for the owners. All I know is that he’s the closest thing to a friend that I have here.
When Carlos approached me at my register last night, I knew something unusual was going on. He was sweating bullets, pale, and on the verge of passing out. He kept glancing back at the man in the suit that had wandered into the store and was standing next to the frozen drink machine. He told me that he needed to talk. “Now.”
I told him, “Go ahead,” but he refused to say anything unless I followed him into the walk-in cooler.
I usually hate to leave the front of the store unwatched. We have the occasional shoplifter. Plus there was that one time Rocco got in and made off with two cases of cigarettes. But Carlos seemed serious, so I made an exception for him.
Once we were in the subfreezing safety of the walk-in cooler, Carlos asked me if I had seen the guy in the suit. I said yes, I saw him. He asked if I knew the guy. I said yes, I’d seen the guy around town. His name was Kieffer. He was running for some kind of office—I can’t remember which one—and stopped by the gas station every now and then. He drove an old black SUV that only took premium. I didn’t know him much from in town, but he was definitely local. His picture was framed in my high school’s trophy case for one of those sports competitions he had won years and years before I got there. We only have so many things to be proud of, I suppose. I knew of Kieffer, but we weren’t exactly acquaintances. I told all this to Carlos, who shook his head and said, “No. That can’t be Kieffer.”
I said, “Why not?”
And Carlos told me, “That can’t be Kieffer, because Kieffer has been dead for two days. His body is in the trunk of my car right now.”
And that’s when things started getting weird.
It was a very strange night. Between the hand plants, Farmer Jr., and that cultist that wouldn’t leave me alone, I hardly had any time to collect my thoughts.
And of course, there was the Carlos situation.
I promise I’ll come back and tell you all about it, but first I need to grab some coffee.