The Dark God (Part 7)
Updated: Mar 23, 2020
Recovering from an injury sucks.
Recovering from an injury when you can’t fall asleep sucks worse.
Recovering from an injury when you can’t fall asleep while simultaneously being hunted by a sociopathic lackie of a dark god with a personal vendetta against you sucks even worse.
But what sucks even more worse is having to do all of the above and still being called in to work because, as the owners put it, the new guy is “a complete and total moron with willful and malicious idiocy that borders on the criminal.”
And so I am here, against the doctors’ advice, at the shitty gas station at the edge of town, only a little worse for the wear. What’s really incredible is that I’ve only been back for one day and there’s already a body count. (More on that later.)
Part 1 -- Part 2 -- Part 3 -- Part 4 -- Part 5 -- Part 6 -- Part 7 -- Part 8
My right leg is in a cast from ankle to thigh, and I’ve elected to use crutches because, unsurprisingly, the gas station is not wheelchair accessible. The cast has several signatures and messages, which is very strange because I have no memory of anyone signing it. But that could just be a result of the pain meds.
Looking down now, I can see that Carlos scrawled this message, “Try and stay out of trouble. -C”
There’s also a message in red crayon: “Jerry was here.”
A few signatures scribbled in sharpie, and a little further up my leg-I have to pull my pants way up to read it-this note: “RtRAtC!” Hm. Well that’s annoyingly cryptic. I would check the tape logs to see who I let get so close to my delicate area, but the owners had every camera in the place removed. I guess there was something about finding that secret room full of security camera feeds to bring personal privacy into the public discussion.
I feel like the act of removing all the security cameras was a bit of an overreaction. Especially with Spencer still out there. The police took a statement and confiscated the remains of the bomb. They’re taking this whole thing very seriously, and an arrest warrant is out for Spencer Middleton, should he ever show up again. As for Kieffer, things get a little more interesting. The police were unable to find any evidence that he ever even existed. He had no property in his name, no driver’s license, no public record of any kind. The only thing even linking him to this town was a grainy picture in an old yearbook photo. It would seem that Kieffer was living off the grid ever since he graduated high school, and now that Spencer’s attempt to blow up the gas station failed, Kieffer has suspended his election campaign and simply disappeared.
The sheriff has been sending a new deputy, Arnold, out to check on me once or twice a day. Arnold isn’t from around here, which is probably why he agreed to replace Tom as the new gas station babysitter. He’s about 6’2”, dark-skinned, with a moustache thick enough to plant a yard flamingo in. He has eyes that constantly telegraph the sentiment “knock that nonsense off!” and I have yet to see him smile. I don’t know if Arnold will become the next Tom or the next Spencer… right now he could go either way.
Arnold was the one that dropped me off at work today. I’m not supposed to get back behind a steering wheel for a while, which is fine I guess. It’s not like I’m going on any road trips any time soon.
On the way to work, we passed the SUV of the man with the beard. The one staked in place on the side of the road by the tree growing up through its engine. I asked Arnold about it, but he just shrugged it off and said I shouldn’t worry myself with other people’s business. I asked him about the owner of the vehicle, and Arnold said that they think he got lost in the woods just like those hikers last fall. A search and rescue effort was under way, and he was confident that they would find him “one way or the other.”
After Arnold dropped me off today, I went about my regular shift-starting duties. I reconciled Marlboro’s till, not at all surprised to see that he was somehow $150 over, or that the surplus was entirely in one-dollar coins.
I logged all the invoices that had piled up while I was out, then I emptied the trash cans. I was hoping that I might run into the cowboy, but the only thing in the men’s room was an obese Hispanic trucker punishing the toilet and surrounding air with an unholy fury that deserves its own scary story.
The sun was starting to go down when I hobbled out to the dumpster, balancing garbage bags against my crutches and probably looking like a baby deer learning to walk. You know, if that deer were drunk and two-legged and carrying several bags of garbage. The scorched earth near the dumpster was the same as I had left it: blackened down to the subsoil. Somewhere just past the start of the trees was another patch of smoldered remains, one that I neglected to mention in the police report, one that might look to the casual observer like the remains of a human body.
Before I turned to go back in, I noticed something odd on the side of the dumpster. At first, I thought it was a child’s toy, stuck to the dirty outside wall. But then I realized that it was moving, breathing, crawling slowly and eating the gooey drippings off the rust of the dumpster. The thing looked like a giant tomato caterpillar, about eight inches long, and as the sun went down I swear I could see the thing give off its own light source. The squishy caterpillar-thing didn’t seem to mind my presence, and even let me feed it an old starburst that I had in my pocket. A yellow, because like all people, I hate the yellow starburst. The critter bioluminesced a little brighter as it ate the taffy and I gave it a gentle pet. Its hide wasn’t as wet as it appeared. In fact, it seemed to be covered in tiny clear hairs.
“You’re not so bad,” I said while it nibbled at the candy. “Not everything out here needs to be scary, huh?” It wiggled and crawled away to a place on the back of the dumpster with more gunk, and I went back into the gas station.
Marlboro has taken up smoking again. He’d quit for a while, but then explained that the suffering he was causing himself by not smoking grossly outweighed the suffering he was causing us through second-hand smoke, and Mathematically speaking, it didn’t make any sense for him to quit. I had hoped that he was beginning to shed his cultist philosophy after the entire compound mysteriously vanished, but now I’m starting to fear that he can’t be rehabilitated.
Today was a pretty normal (well not normal, but average) day at the gas station. We had some strange people visit. We had some normal people visit, too. And along the way I zoned out, finished a book I’d been reading, made some boring journal entries, and even got online to browse the internet for a while.
There’s another package sitting under the counter, addressed to me from a return address I don’t recognize. I took a gamble with the last package and it turned out to be something great. But that was before Spencer tried to kill me, and once again my gut is telling me not to open it.
I got a phone call today at the store a few hours after sundown. It was pretty late, hard to say when exactly. Marlboro was asleep in his hammock in the dry storage room and I couldn’t remember the last customer. This was somewhere in that temporal wasteland between dusk and dawn.
“Jack, listen very carefully. You don’t know me. What I’m about to tell you will save your life, but only if you follow my instructions and do exactly what I say. In the drawer to your right is a pencil and paper. Get them, and write this down. These are the rules to your survival.”
“One. Do not leave the gas station. Do not go outside under any circumstances.
Two. Do not drink the tap water. Don’t even touch it. Don’t smell it. Don’t look at it. It’s bottled water from here on out.
Three. Don’t trust your eyes.
Four. Barricade the-“
“Hang on, hang on, where’d you say the pen was?”
He sighed, “In a drawer to the right.”
“My right or your right?” I asked.
“Your right- how the hell would it by my right? I’m on the phone!”
Right then I heard a car horn honk.
It was the old widow Mrs. Sistrunk. She’s another local, somewhere in the area of a hundred years old if I had to guess, and at this point not much more than a skeleton wrapped in an ill-fitting skin suit with vibrant lipstick smeared all around the general mouth area. After her husband died, Mrs. Agatha Sistrunk had taken to buying and collecting sports cars and oversized trucks and racing them around the outskirts of town at all hours of the night. Her most recent purchase was a brand-new Ford F-550 with a painting of the Hulk in all of his green smashing glory along the side.
In person, she was a sweet old lady, no taller than four and half feet. She wore special shoes to reach the gas pedal and always came to this gas station to fill up because she knew I’d help her pump her gas, something she had never done before and wasn’t interested in learning how to do.
“One sec,” I said to the voice on the other end of the phone, “Be right back. Mrs. Sistrunk needs me to top her off.”
“Listen to me!” The voice growled, “Do not go outside! You go outside and you’re dead! Do you hear me?!”
“I hear what you’re saying,” I said as I grabbed my crutches and got ready to leave, “but I don’t work for you.” With that, I hung up the phone and went outside to help Mrs. Sistrunk.
Old Agatha was happy to see that I was back at work. Apparently, Marlboro made her nervous. She said he was flirting at her and wouldn’t stop smoking while he pumped her gas. Before she left, she gave me a case of empty light beers and asked if I would “be a lamb and toss these” for her. I can’t say no to Agatha.
When I got around back to toss her trash, I noticed something incredible. The glow worm from this morning had formed itself into an enormous cocoon against the back of the dumpster. I can’t explain why, exactly, but this filled me with some sort of… I don’t know, what means the exact opposite of existential dread? Euphoria? Existential hope? Is this what optimism feels like?
Again, I know it doesn’t make any sense, but seeing the weird garbage-eating caterpillar thing begin the brave journey of transformation gave me this tingling feeling in my soul. Like this was some kind of sign. Just when the caterpillar thought his world had come to an end, he became a butterfly. My world has felt like it was coming to an end for a while too, little buddy. Maybe I’m also on the verge of a metamorphosis. Maybe the world doesn’t have to be strange and scary, maybe it can be strange and cool. I decided that whatever hatched from the cocoon, be it butterfly or moth or monster, I was going to name it Starburst.
I hobbled myself back to the gas station and tossed one last look over my shoulder at the dumpster to see that one of the racoons was stuffing the cocoon into its mouth. It devoured the whole thing in a couple bites before making eye contact with me and dashing off into the woods.
Carlos came into the store for his late shift and asked how I was feeling. I told him that the pain was tolerable. He nodded, like that was the kind of answer he was looking for, and I went back to reading my book.
A few minutes later, the man with the beard came into the gas station. I almost didn’t recognize him as the same man that went off into the woods after the creature he called an “anglerfish.” He had lost a lot of weight, his beard wasn’t nearly as well kept, and he smelled like he bathed in a tub of pee that someone farted in.
“Hey!” I said when he came in. “You’re still alive! Cool.”
Did I mention that the man was holding a pistol when he walked in? The thought crossed my mind for the briefest moment that I wonder what happened to his big gun? I didn’t have time to ask. He quickly found the locks on the doors, used them, then covered the short distance to my register, gun extended and aimed at my face.
“I told you not to go outside! You’re lucky you’re even alive!” he screamed before grabbing the store phone and yanking it out of the wall. He threw it to the ground with a loud, satisfying smash and asked, “Who else is in this building?”
“Well let me see,” I said, thinking. “There’s you, me, and probably the other cashier unless he went into town again.”
“I saw one other car out there. Toyota. That yours?”