Updated: Mar 24, 2020
It’s been about an hour since my last post.
We haven’t had any customers yet, and if the gas station weren’t an active crime scene I might have asked one of the other employees to squeegee the large pool of blood into the drains by the cooler.
For those of you out of the loop, you may want to catch up by reading my earlier posts:
I don’t know what Arnold’s personal grooming routine looks like, and I have to assume he spends at least twenty minutes a day in moustache prep, but even factoring that in he should have made it to the gas station by now.
I called him a few minutes ago to make sure he hadn’t gone back to bed, and to make sure I hadn’t imagined the phone call in the first place. The conversation went something like this:
“Hey, Arnold? You on your way?”
“Sit tight, we had a little emergency.”
“The road between town and you is blocked off.”
“Ok… Which one?”
“All of them. Even the service roads. It must have been a freak storm. I’ve never seen anything like it. All the roads are covered in trees. But they aren’t, you know, fallen. The trees are growing in the middle of the street. I’ve been trying to find a way around all morning, but I’ve given up. I’m about to head through on foot. Just to be clear, you said you heard from Spencer Middleton last night? Has he made any other contact?”
“Well, actually, he’s here. He came in and some stuff happened and now he’s dead.”
“What!? You’re telling me there’s a dead body at the gas station?”
I already told him all of this. Man, I really miss Tom.
“Did you not realize that?”
“I’m sorry,” he answered, “When the phone rang earlier I had just woken up from this beautiful weird dream of a... dark god... calling me into his eternal grace, taking me by the hand and guiding me into blessed oblivion, freeing me from all the pain and suffering of this mortal prison. Nurturing me like a child and inviting the world into a realm of higher existence, allowing me the privilege to devote myself to his glorious servitude.”
“Ok,” I said. “I guess I’ll see you when you get here.”
I ended the call and checked the charge on the phone. The battery was sitting close to fifty percent.
“What’s the deal, Lucille?” asked Benjamin.
“Arnold is on his way here on foot. But we might have another problem.”
“Holy shit, you guys see that?” Carlos asked, pointing out the window. I couldn’t quite make it out from where I was seated behind the counter, and I didn’t feel like hobbling over a corpse just for a look.
“What is it?” I asked.
“There’s a bunch of naked people out on the road walking this way.” Carlos answered.
“The hell you say?” said Marlboro, who had suddenly taken interest. He pressed his face against the window for a better look. “Those aren’t just any people. I know them. That’s Marla! and Tyler! And there goes Fred! At least, those were the names I gave them.”
Benjamin crossed to the frozen drink machine, throwing over his shoulder a quick “They friends of yours?”
“Family, actually. Well, they were anyway, before they disappeared. But I don’t remember them looking like that.”
“Like what?” I asked, starting to get an uneasy feeling.
“Like…” He took a second to find the words, but all he came up with was “They look funny.”
They continued walking closer to the gas station. Close enough by now that I could see them. At least a dozen people, stark naked. The closer they got, the more details I could make out, the more I wish I couldn’t. Their eyes were milky and pale, maggots crawling out of infested crevices all over their bodies. Their skin dirty and covered in lesions and bruises. Marlboro was certainly not wrong, they looked funny.
I’m sure you know the Hollywood-style Zombie walk. The shuffle of an undead body with impaired motor skills. The scariest part of these “people” approaching the front doors of the gas station was that they were walking one hundred percent perfectly normally. Just a bunch of decaying nudists out for a stroll.
There was a loud crash that snapped us out of our probably-rude staring. We all turned to see that Benjamin had pulled the frozen drink machine to the ground, and was attempting to drag it over Spencer towards the front doors, the sticky syrup concoction spilled out all over the ground, mixing with the congealed blood and coating the floor in a red and brown and purple viscous soup. There’s no way we won’t have an insect problem after this.
Marlboro and Carlos didn’t have to ask what was going on. They instantly knew the plan and began yanking down whatever fixtures weren’t bolted in place and piling them up in a barricade against the glass doors.
I would have helped if it weren’t for this broken leg. Besides, it looks like they’ve got this under control.
“You boys think you can stay alive long enough for help to arrive?” Benjamin asked.
“We’ve got almost ninety years experience staying alive between the three of us,” Carlos joked.
Benjamin directed his next question to me. “You got any weapons in this place?”
I told him no. The only thing I have is a half-empty canister of gasoline in the supply closet and some really hard jerky, but he was welcome to whatever he could find. That’s when he started Macgyvering some spears out of chair legs and broken glass from the drink case.
About ten minutes ago, the gas station lost power. Now really would be a great time to have a giant pet glow-in-the-dark butterfly.
It’s been pretty quiet, save for the wet guttural whispering coming from those “people” outside. Benjamin is still searching for weapons while Carlos finds things to push against the front door, and (assuming he hasn’t fallen asleep) Marlboro has taken the back door. I was feeling pretty useless after Benjamin confiscated my crutches, so I figured I would take this opportunity to type up the account of what happened, just in case Arnold gets here too late. And in the spirit of preparedness, I should say a few things to whoever finds this message (or is it “whomever”? I never could get that right.)
First, to the owners: I’m sorry about the mess.
Second, to her: I’m sorry we didn’t run into each other one last time.
Third, to whomever keeps dumping tar into the ditch outside of the gas station, I hate you.
I guess that’s all I have to say. It’s been a weird, crazy ride.
This is Jack from the gas station, signing off one last time…
I didn’t die!
Sorry it’s been so long since the last update, I just got my laptop back from the police. (Special thanks to whoever gilded me, by the way. I don’t know what to do with reddit gold, but it brings warmth to my soul.)
I know you guys are probably wondering what happened. Well, last week I met a dark god.
We were in that gas station without power for hours. It’s cold this time of year, so we huddled together around a plate of scented candles and ate pork rinds and canned beans. Marlboro almost dozed off a couple times before Carlos decided to loot the energy pills behind the counter. He handed them out and we all took a few, washing them down with cold coffee and telling ourselves it was for “alertness,” but all they did for me was create a heartbeat arrhythmia. That sure would be funny, if those things finally broke in here just to find the four of us dead from heart attacks.
Well, not “funny.” But, you know.
Carlos tried to strike up a conversation with Benjamin a couple of times, but the bearded man wasn’t very social.
“I knew a guy. He was a ranger in the Army. You remind me of him.”
“Those things out there, any idea what we’re dealing with? You ever see anything like that before?”
“You got any family?”
I checked Spencer’s phone throughout the day, but it wasn’t getting any service anymore. I tried 911 a few times, but even that wouldn’t go through. When the battery got to five percent, I turned it off. We might need it later for an emergency call.
Eventually the adrenaline and pills started to wear off and I remembered that my leg was still healing from a complex fracture and maybe I shouldn’t have agreed to come back to work so soon. I did the cripple-walk back to the front desk to grab my meds. While I was there, I spotted the still-unopened gift-wrapped package on the shelf beneath the register. I decided to ignore it and instead grabbed the employee whiskey bottle that was behind it. We told ourselves it was for our “nerves” but all it did for me was give me an even worse heartbeat arrhythmia.
A few more hours passed. After we killed the first bottle we opened another, then Marlboro got into the energy drinks because we needed mixers. At some point the former cultist pulled out his stash and lit a joint and (without asking, I might add) turned the whole station into a hotbox. I couldn’t remember if I’d taken my pain meds yet, so I went ahead and took them.
As the sun started to set, I had two thoughts competing for first place in my mind. First, it sure is getting dark early these days. And second, I think we might be getting a little too fucked up to handle what’s about to happen.
Time became even more illusory than normal once the laptop died and we had no way of knowing how long we’d been waiting. We started measuring the time in candles. Our snack food and morale raced each other to depletion.
At some point, Carlos got me away from the others to ask what I thought about Benjamin. I told him he was the nicest guy that had pointed a gun in my face all week. But Carlos told me that he had a weird feeling about him. I reminded Carlos that he had killed Kieffer a couple times and maybe he should get off his high horse.
“Hey!” Benjamin yelled at us from across the room. “What are you two talking about?”
“Anime.” I lied. I think he bought it.
“Get back over here. I don’t need any more dead bodies piling up tonight.”
Benjamin was in the corner, warming his hands over the candle plate. It was the only source of light in the building, and was casting shadows that could maybe be described as “spooky” if I weren’t in such a serious life-or-death situation. Some of those shadows looked like faces, smiling, laughing at us idiots. One or two looked like old presidents. One of them asked me what time it was and holy crap I was tripping!
“You ok, man?” Carlos asked, snapping me back to reality.
“I honestly have no idea.”
Did you ever figure out who placed that bomb? asked Spencer Middleton in a gurgle.
“What do you mean? I thought you did it?”
Not me. Bombs aren’t my style. Who do you know that can build a bomb?
“Hey, where’s Marlboro?!” I asked.
Benjamin picked up his spear - formerly my crutch that he had paracorded his knife to - and asked, “Who the hell is ‘Marlboro?’ Is there someone else here?”
“Marlboro. The other employee.” I looked at Carlos, who just shrugged and said, “I don’t know no Marlboro. How many of them pills did you take?”
Had I imagined Marlboro this entire time? Did I just Tyler Durden this guy into existence? I tried to sit down on the tarp, but it turned into me lying on my back while the room spun. I could feel the human debris squish beneath the tarp fabric as I rested my head. How much of any of this was real anyway?
You’re losing it, you know.
All those years ago, the first doctor tried to prepare me for life with my condition. There weren’t that many other cases before me, so they didn’t know exactly how everything would play out. But every case had a few of the same side effects. Of course there would be weight loss, fatigue, headaches, all of the signs of a normal physical illness early on.
As the condition developed, there would be more “interesting” side effects. Hallucinations, memory loss, the works.
And of course, I can’t be properly anesthetized. They tried in other cases to induce medical comas, but that just messed things up further. I’m always wide awake and halfway lucid during surgery. If you want to know what that’s like, I’ll tell you the truth. It’s boring.
You know what? Usually when I hurt someone bad enough, they pass out from the pain.
They gave me a couple years, tops. I haven’t been keeping track of time.
Right then, Marlboro walked into the room, zipping up his fly. Presumably, he had just come from the bathroom, but who really knows? I pointed at him and yelled, “That guy! You see him, right?! It’s Marlboro!”
Carlos looked where I was pointing, then back at me. “What, you mean Jerry?”
Oh. That’s right. He has a real name.
“I hate it when he calls me Marlboro.”
Benjamin set the improvised spear down and turned his attention back to the fire. “You better get him under control.”
You should open your package. Said Spencer.
“Hey wait a sec, aren’t you supposed to be dead?”
Well, aren’t you supposed to be dead? he said back.
“Who are you talking to?” asked Carlos.
“Spencer,” I answered.
“Well stop that. It’s freaking us out.”
Two candles burned from start to finish before Benjamin decided that help wasn’t on the way and our best chance of survival was to fight it out with the things outside.
I disagreed, but Benjamin informed me in his own polite way that it wasn’t up for vote.
He peeled back the layers of the barricade just enough to get a view of the outside. Once we knew what we were dealing with, we could come up with a better game plan. Only, he couldn’t actually get a good look because something was blocking the view. Something just on the other side of the glass doors.
Benjamin yanked the rest of the barricade down and took a few steps back to marvel at it.
“Well, you don’t see that every day,” said Jerry.
Nope, I can’t do it. I’m sorry. His name is Marlboro.
We were trapped there, inside the gas station. On the other side of the doors, a network of trees had grown together, twisted into knots, and pressed against the glass. They were so densely pressed into a single wall of tree trunks that not even light could get through. For all we knew, it could have been daytime outside.
“We have to get out of here,” said Benjamin.
We checked the back door, but it was the same thing. I often wondered how long a person could survive inside the gas station without any new supplies coming in. I had run the scenario in my head a million times. On boring nights, what else is there to do? I had run the thought experiment for countless different contexts. How long could I survive if the gas station were transported back in time? To another planet? If there were a zombie apocalypse? Etc.
What I had deduced was that, under ideal circumstances, I could live off of the supplies on hand for four years if I could find a source of water. Six weeks if not.
These were not ideal circumstances.
We had already smashed up, weaponized, or eaten almost all of our supplies. If we were trapped here, it wouldn’t take long for us to go all Donner party on each other.
While I was pondering this in the hallway by the cooler, we heard the sound of glass shattering from the main room. Benjamin raised his spear and led the way back.
The wall of trees was still there on the other side of the doors. Our mess was still there. Everything was as we left it with one exception. The tarp was pulled back, and Spencer’s body was gone. A series of footprints coagulated in the blood leading from where he should have been to the shattered glass of the front door. Like he had just gotten up, walked over, and was absorbed into the trees.
“I need you boys to think real hard,” Benjamin said. “Is there any other way out of this place?”
“Well,” Marlboro started. I shot him a look and shook my head, but I guess he couldn’t see it in the dim candlelight. Or maybe he was just too dense to understand. “There is that hole.”
“Hole? What hole?”
“The hole in the secret room back here past the cooler.”
“Yeah, right over here.”
Marlboro pointed at the blank space on the wall where the door used to be. The owners had decided that the smartest thing they could do when they found out about the secret room was remove the door, build a good-old fashioned wall, and forget all about it, but that only works if everyone agrees to forget all about it, Marlboro!
“You’re telling me there’s a secret room behind there? And a hole in that room that we can maybe fit inside and escape? Why didn’t you boys tell me this earlier?”
He didn’t wait for an answer. Benjamin went straight to the wall and started smashing it to pieces with his spear and then, after he got it down a little, his bare hands. After a minute, the wall was once again a door.
While Benjamin lit and placed a few candles around the giant hole in the floor, I grabbed Carlos and pulled him aside.
“Hey,” I said, “I should tell you something. I opened that package. The one that looked like a present.”
“Yeah?” He said.
“Yeah.” I said.
I’m not sure at what point I’d finally cracked and opened it, but I had been carrying around the content of the box in my pocket for at least one candle. Just like the last package, there was a note with this one. It read:
“I didn't expect you to use my letter as part of the story, but thanks LoL. I didn't mind you using it , that was very neat! I liked it. I was very surprised. Thank you. I enjoyed your stories and I knew it could be really great from the beginning. That's why I wrote what I did. I was surprised, but in a good way, that you used my letter, lol. Thank you. I'm honored, really honored.”
Underneath that letter was a small handgun. I knew enough about pistols from playing video games to know how to check the clip and sure enough, it was loaded.
I showed the gun to Carlos, who said “That’s a Ruger 380!”
“Is that good?”
“Well it’s a gun, so it’ll probably have more stopping power than a chair leg. Why didn’t you give it to him?” Carlos gestured at our fearless leader.
“I don’t know or trust him.”
“Here,” I said trying to hand it over, “I’m not a gun guy.”
“No way man. You keep it. I got both legs, you need it more than me.”
Benjamin yelled to us from the secret room, “Ya’ll ready or what? Time to see what’s down here.” Then he jumped in.
I may have neglected to mention that it was a ten foot drop to the cave floor below. I also may have taken a little pleasure in the sound of him crash landing and the pain moan that followed. For the rest of us, we rolled up a tarp and put some knots into it like a poorman’s rope ladder, and I have to give credit to tarps. Those things are incredibly useful.
We had spent hours aboveground in a room with a dead body, unrefrigerated food, and Benjamin’s body odor. We were all eating canned beans and I think somebody probably threw up in the garbage can. My point is this: we were all smelling pretty bad, to the point where I was doubting that I still had a sense of smell. But once we went into that hole, I knew for a fact that we hadn’t. The smell down there made our gas station funk seem like cologne. The very worst putrid odors from the storm drains around the station were nothing compared to this. Is it possible for a smell to be heavy? Because that’s the best word I can think of for it. Not thick. Just, heavy.
Carlos and Marlboro took turns barfing. When they were done, Benjamin handed out the torches he had made from gasoline soaked rags and chair legs. I don’t know what that guy’s deal is but he sure is crafty.
The cave was a straight tunnel starting under the gas station and heading away from town. It was plenty tall enough for all of us to stand comfortably, and there was a slight incline, taking us downhill as we walked further into the hole.
“What the hell is this?” Benjamin asked after about twenty feet. He waved his torch at the wall and I saw that somebody had spray-painted a message on the cave wall in red. It said in shaky handwriting: “Rita the Racoon Ate the Cacoon!”
I said it a few times in my head and was pissed off at just how close it came to rhyming but didn’t, like a song slightly off key. The handwriting was eerily familiar, especially that capital “R,” but I couldn’t remember why.
There was another lawn gnome on the ground beneath it.
We continued further into the cave, Benjamin way ahead of us, me bringing up the tail, hobbling along the best I could with just a single crutch. The deeper we went, the narrower the cave, the stronger the smell. Nothing about being down here away from the gas station felt like an improvement from our previous situation. But it wasn’t until we made it to the tree that I really decided that we had messed up.
I don’t know how long we had been walking down there. Maybe a half-mile or so. Crutch-miles feel a lot longer than normal miles. But we eventually came upon an enormous black tree taking up the width of the cave. It looked like one of those thousand year old sequoias, big enough to put a two-lane road through.
“Ho. Lee. She. It.” enunciated Benjamin. I was the last to see what everyone else was wide-eyed and gawking at. The tree, in addition to being enormous, had some characteristics that you wouldn’t expect a tree to have. Specifically, human body parts. A few arms and legs poking out at random spots. And right at eye level, a human face.
“Hey,” said Marlboro, “I know that guy. It’s Patrick.” He touched Patrick’s face and it peeled off and plopped to the ground like a wet Halloween mask.
“I don’t think he’s going to make it,” Benjamin said as he pulled something out of his jacket pocket and stuck it to the tree.
“What is that?” I asked.
Surprisingly, it was Marlboro who answered. “That looks like C4 plastic explosives to me.”
Benjamin chuckled, “Wow, you win the prize for that one, Rain Man. Yeah, it’s the last of my explosives. I’ve been trying to kill this thing piece at a time for the last week, but it just keeps growing back. I have to kill the root system, blow it up and kill the brain so the rest of the network will die.”
“That was you that put that bomb in the gas station,” I said.
“Yeah, well, back then I thought the building was the epicenter of this whole thing.”
“Hey,” interrupted Carlos, “Jack was still in the building when you planted that.”
“Um, guys?” Marlboro tried to get their attention, but it wasn’t working.
“You knew? He would have died if that thing went off.”
“Look assholes, this is war. And in war, there are always casualties. You can’t make peanut butter without smashing a few nuts.”
“What?!” screamed Benjamin. “I’m a little busy.”
Marlboro pointed back the way we came. We all turned to see Spencer standing in the middle of the path, a wicked smile on his face.
“Hi. Miss me?”
Carlos screamed at me, “Jack! The gun!”
I pulled the weapon out of my pocket and chucked it as hard as I could. It smacked Spencer right in the face and he fell over. I was very proud for the two seconds it took me to realize what I had done wrong.
What came next almost happened too quickly for me to comprehend. Something burst out of the wall next to us. An enormous object, the size of a car and mostly hand-shaped. It wrapped its giant fingers around the other three and pulled them into the wall. And then, I was falling. The earth had opened up below me and I was sliding through a dark tunnel. No, I was being pulled. More like swallowed, really. It went for a while, dirt filling my nose and ears and mouth and then whatever it was spat me out into a pitch black room onto a rocky wet piece of ground. I landed on my bad leg and probably broke it again.
Well, I thought, at least this time I managed to hit Spencer. As far as last moments on earth go, this one was a slight improvement over last week.
The room I was in was cool, not cold. And cavernous. I could hear my breath echoing off the walls. I could also hear something else breathing. All at once I became aware of another presence down there. An entity in the room with me. It’s hard to explain, in the same way I remember it being hard to explain a dream right after you wake up. It’s something you have to experience to understand, but the feeling was something like being plugged into a shared consciousness with another intelligence that was putting thoughts directly into my head.
Of course, it might have just been all the drugs.
“Welcome to my home,” came a loud voice from somewhere in the pitch black room. “I’m sorry it’s taken this long for us to meet face-to-face.”
“I can’t see anything.”
“Yeah, what part of ‘Dark God’ don’t you understand?”
Oh shit. I’m in the throne room of a dark god, and he sounds like an internet troll. I guess that makes sense. Might as well get this over with.
“Do you think you could maybe turn on some lights so I can actually see who I’m talking to?”
He let out a very human sounding sigh and exclaimed, “Fiiine.”
Out of nowhere, the entire room turned into an intense, furious bright white. All I could see was pure light. I covered my eyes, but even then I could see the bones of my hands through my eyelids. Even with the meds, that shit hurt.
“Too bright! Too bright!” I yelled, “Split the difference!”
“Wow,” responded the voice, “I didn’t realize that you were going to be such a big baby.”
And then, just as suddenly, the brightness relented. After a moment, my pupils adjusted and I could see what I had been talking to.
“Behold!” it exclaimed, “and tremble before the dark god!”
He (if it was a “he,” I’m just going off of the sound of his voice) was about the size of an elephant, swollen and round with a tanned yellow hide. The best animal I could think of to compare him to would be an enormous tick, with six rows of stubby arms on either side, six rows of sagging breasts, and a human-sized head on the top. The head contained a somewhat human face and no neck. The body connected to the earth at the widest point of its stomach, like it was half buried. And, to top the whole thing off, he had a red mohawk.
He smiled at me.
“Eh? What do you think?”
“My hair! Isn’t it amazing?” He looked up at his mohawk.
“You guess? Do you have any idea how much effort I put into doing my hair like this? You know what, it’s fine. I shouldn’t have wasted my time trying to impress you. That’s on me.”
“Ok,” I said, attempting to push myself to my feet only to remember that my leg was pretty broken. I was immobilized, underground, high, and without any weapons. There really was no chance of escape. “If you’re going to kill me, do you mind just getting it over with?”
“What is it with you people? SO UNTRUSTING. So prejudiced. Why is it that ANYTIME you see something you don’t understand, you think it’s kill-or-be-killed? I’m not the monster here. You are. I can see into your soul. I’ve seen your sins. Remember that time when you were fifteen and you keyed the principal’s car?”
“Really? Maybe that wasn’t you. Humans all look a lot alike.”
“Why am I here? Why did you drag me underground?”
“Because, Jack, I can’t find any other way of talking to you, and I wanted to tell you to stop killing my children! You’ve burned up so many of us, and what did we ever do to you, huh?”
“The Kieffer plants.”
“Yeah, just backups because that idiot is so clumsy. They’re harmless though. I’ve been trying to put some people in office so I can get a little political influence in this awful town.”
“To take over the world?” I asked, even though I was starting to see where this conversation was going.
“No! I want to pressure the city council to cut back on logging. I’m trying to save the world. But you and your awful friends keep killing us and trying to blow me up.”
“But Spencer, he beat the shit out of me. That guy is awful, and he’s following your orders!”
“Well excuse me for thinking that people have the potential to be rehabilitated! I hired Spencer because I needed someone to protect Kieffer. And I gave him very specific orders not to kill anyone, which he agreed to.”
“But you’ve killed tons of people! The cultists! Their entire compound!”
“Yeah, actually no. I hate to be the one to say this, but those guys killed themselves. Yeah, it was a really sad mass suicide. But if you listened to them, I think it was pretty obvious. You guys should have seen it coming from a mile away. I mean, consequentialism mixed with a moral obligation to end suffering?”
He waved one of his six arms in a jerk-off motion before continuing, “I didn’t want to let all those perfectly good fully-formed adult bodies go to waste. Do you even know how hard it is to make one of those from scratch? It’s not easy.”
“But you sent those t