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A Shattered Life

by cnkguy
A Shattered Life

Reading Time: 14 minutes

I don’t know when you’re going to read this, but I can tell you when it started: I was out for a walk alone in the woods when the entity came for me. It was beyond a blur. It was, for lack of a better term, absence of meaning. Where it hid, there were no trees; where it crept closer, there was no grass; through the arc it leapt at me, there was no breeze of motion. There was no air at all.

As it struck, I felt the distinct sensation of claws puncturing me somewhere unseen; somewhere I’d never felt before. My hands and arms and legs and torso seemed fine and I wasn’t bleeding, but I knew I’d been injured somehow. As I fearfully ran back home, I could tell that I was less. I was vaguely tired, and it was hard to focus at times.

The solution at that early stage was easy: a big cup of coffee helped me feel normal again.

For a while, that subtle drain on my spirit became lost in the ebb and flow of caffeine in my system. You could say my life began that week, actually, because that was when I met Mar. She and I got along great, though, to be honest, I’m pretty sure I fell in love with her over the phone before we even met.

It was almost as if the strong emotions of that first week made the entity fight back—it was still with me, latched on to some invisible part of my being.

The first few incidents were minor, and I hardly worried about them. The color of a neighbor’s car changed from dark blue to black one morning, and I stared at it before shaking my head and shrugging off the difference. Two days later, at work, a coworker’s name changed from Fred to Dan. I carefully asked around, but everyone said his name had always been Dan. I figured I’d just been mistaken.

Then, as ridiculous as this sounds, I was peeing in my bathroom at home when I suddenly found myself on a random street. I was still in my pajamas, pants down, and urinating—but now in full view of a dozen people at a bus stop. Horrified, I pulled up my clothes and ran before someone called the cops. I did manage to get home, but the experience forced me to admit that I was still in danger. The entity was doing something to me, and I didn’t understand how to fight back.

Mar showed up that evening, but she had her own key.

“Hey,” I asked her with confusion. “How’d you get a key?”

She just laughed. “You’re cute. Are you sure you’re okay with this?” She opened a door and entered a room full of boxes. “I know living together is a big step, especially when we’ve only been dating three months.”

Living together? I’d literally just met her the week before. Thing was, my mother had always called me a smart cookie for a reason. I knew when to shut my yap. Instead of causing a scene, I told her everything was fine—and then I went straight to my room and began investigating.

My things were just as I had left them with no sign of a three month gap in habitation, but I did find something out of the ordinary: the date. I shivered angrily as I processed the truth.

The entity had eaten three months of my life.

What the hell was I facing? What kind of creature could consume pieces of one’s soul like that? I’d missed the most exciting part of a new relationship, and I would never understand any shared stories or in-jokes from that period. Something absurdly precious had been taken from me, and I was furious.

That fury helped suppress the entity. I never imbibed alcohol. I drank coffee religiously. I checked the date every time I woke up. For three years, I managed to live each day while observing nothing more than minor alterations. A social fact here and there—someone’s job, how many kids they had, that sort of thing—the layout of nearby streets, the time my favorite television show aired, that kind of thing. Always, those changes reminded me the creature still had its claws sunk into my spirit. Not once in three years did I ever let myself zone out.

One day, I grew careless. I let myself get really into the season finale of my favorite show. It was gripping; a fantastic story. Right at the height of the action, a young boy came up to my lounger and shook my arm.

Surprised, I asked, “Who are you? How did you get in here?”

He laughed and smiled brightly. “Silly Daddy!”

My heart sank in my chest. I knew immediately what had happened. After a few masked questions, I discovered that he was two years old—and that he was my son.

The agony and heartache filling my chest was nearly unbearable. Not only had I missed the birth of my son, I would never see or know the first years of his life. Mar and I had obviously gotten married and started a family in the time I’d lost, and I had no idea what joys or pains those years contained.

It was snowing outside. Holding my sudden son in my lap, I sat and watched the flakes fall outside. What kind of life was this going to be if slips in concentration could cost me years? I had to get help.

The church had no idea what to do. The priests didn’t believe me, and told me I had a health issue rather than some sort of possession.

The doctors didn’t have any clue. Nothing showed up on all their scans and tests, but they happily took my money in return for nothing.

By the time I ran out of options, I’d decided to tell Mar. There was no way to know what this all looked like from her side. What was I like when I wasn’t there? Did I still take our son to school? Did I still do my job? Clearly, I did, because she seemed to be none the wiser, but I still had a horrible feeling that something must have been missing in her life when I wasn’t actually home inside my own head.

But the night I set up a nice dinner in preparation, she arrived not by unlocking the front door, but by knocking on it. I answered, and found that she was in a nice dress.

She was happily surprised by the settings on the table. “A fancy dinner for a second date? I knew you were sweet on me!”

Thank the Lord I knew when to keep my mouth shut. If I’d gone on about being married and having a son, she might have run for the hills. Instead, I took her coat and sat down for our second date.

Through carefully crafted questions, I managed to deduce the truth. This really was our second date. She saw relief and happiness in me, but interpreted that as dating jitters. I was just excited to realize that the entity wasn’t necessarily eating whole portions of my life. The symptoms, as I was beginning to understand them, were more like the consequences of a shattered soul. The creature had wounded me; broken me into pieces. Perhaps I was to live my life out of order, but at least I would actually get to live it.

And so it went for a few years—from my perspective. While minor changes in politics or geography would happen daily, major shifts in my mental location only happened every couple months. When I found myself in a new place and time in my life, I just shut up and listened, making sure to get the lay of the land before doing anything to avoid making mistakes. On the farthest-flung leap yet, I met my six-year-old grandson, and I asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up. He said, “Writer.” I told him that was a fine idea.

Then, I was back in month two of my relationship with Mar, and I had the best night with her on the riverfront. When I say the best, I mean the best. Knowing how special she would become to me, I asked her to move in. I got to live through what I’d missed the first go-around, and I came to understand that I was never mentally absent. I would always be there—eventually. When we were moving her boxes in, she stopped for a moment and said she marveled at my great love, as if I’d known her for a lifetime and never once doubted she was the one.

That was the first time I’d truly laughed freely and wholeheartedly since the entity had wounded me. She was right about my love for her, but for exactly the reason she’d considered a silly romantic analogy. I had known her my whole life, and I’d come to terms with my situation and found peace with it. It wasn’t so bad to have sneak peeks at all the best parts ahead.

But of course I wouldn’t be writing this if it hadn’t gotten worse. The entity was still with me. It had not wounded me and departed like I’d wanted to believe. The closest I can describe my growing understanding was that the creature was burrowing deeper into my psyche, fracturing it into smaller pieces. Instead of months between major shifts, I began having only weeks. Once I noticed that trend, I feared my ultimate fate would be to jump between times in my life heartbeat by heartbeat, forever confused, forever lost. Only an instant in each time meant I would never be able to speak with anyone else, never be able to hold a conversation, never express or receive love.

As the true depth of that fear came upon me, I sat in an older version of me and watched the snow falling outside. That was the one constant in my life: the weather didn’t care who I was or what pains I had to face. Nature was always there. The falling snow was always like a little hook that kept me in a place; the pure emotional peace it brought was like a panacea on my mental wounds, and I’d never yet shifted while watching the pattern of falling white and thinking of the times I’d gone sledding or built a snow fort as a child.

A teenager touched my arm. “Grandpa?”

“Eh?” He’d startled me out of my thoughts, so I was less careful than usual. “Who are you?”

He half-grinned, as if not sure whether I was joking. Handing me a stack of papers, he said, “It’s my first attempt at a novel. Would you read it and tell me what you think?”

Ahh, of course. “Pursuing that dream of being a writer, I see.”

He burned bright red. “Trying to, anyway.”

“All right. Run off, I’ll read this right now.” The words were blurry, and, annoyed, I looked for glasses I probably had for reading. Being old was terrible, and I wanted to leap back into a younger year—but not before I read his book. I found my glasses in a sweater pocket, and began leafing through. Mar puttered in and out of the living room, still beautiful, but I had to focus. I didn’t know how much time I would have there.

It seemed that we had relatives over. Was it Christmas? A pair of adults and a couple kids I didn’t recognize tromped through the hallway, and I saw my son, now adult, walk by with his wife on the way out the door. As a group, the extended family began sledding outside.

Finally, I finished reading the story, and I called out for my grandson. He rushed down the stairs and into the living room. “How was it?”

“Well, it’s terrible,” I told him truthfully. “But it’s terrible for all the right reasons. You’re still a young man, so your characters behave like young people, but the structure of the story itself is very solid.” I paused. “I didn’t expect it to turn out to be a horror story.”

He nodded. “It’s a reflection of the times. Expectations for the future are dismal, not hopeful like they used to be.”

“You’re far too young to be aware like that,” I told him. An idea occurred to me. “If you’re into horror, do you know anything about strange creatures?”

“Sure. I read everything I can. I love it.”

Warily, I scanned the entrances to the living room. Everyone was busy outside. For the first time, I opened up to someone in my life about what I was experiencing. In hushed tones, I told him about my fragmented consciousness.

For a teenager, he took it well. “You’re serious?”

“Yes.”

He donned the determined look of a grown man accepting a quest. “I’ll look into it, see what I can find out. You should start writing down everything you experience. Build some data. Maybe we can map your psychic wound.”

Wow. “Sounds like a plan.” I was surprised. That made sense, and I hadn’t expected him to have a serious response. “But how will I get all the notes in one place?”

“Let’s come up with somewhere for you to leave them,” he said, frowning with thought. “Then I’ll get them, and we can trace the path you’re taking through your own life, see if there’s a pattern.”

For the first time since the situation had gotten worse, I felt hope again. “How about under the stairs? Nobody ever goes under there.”

“Sure.” He turned and left the living room.

I peered after him. I heard him banging around near the stairs.

Finally, he returned with a box, laid it on the carpet, and opened it to reveal a bursting stack of papers. He exclaimed, “Holy crap!”—but of course, being a teenager, he didn’t really say crap.

Taken aback, I blinked rapidly, forgiving his cussing because of the shock. “Did I write those?”

He looked up at me with wonder. “Yeah. Or, you will. You still have to write them and put them under the stairs after this.” He gazed back down at the papers—then covered the box. “So you probably shouldn’t see what they say. That could get weird.”

That much I understood. “Right.”

He gulped. “There are like fifty boxes under there, all filled up like this. Deciphering these will take a very long time.” His tone dropped to deadly seriousness. “But I will save you, grandpa. Because I don’t think anyone else can.”

Tears flowed down my cheeks then, and I couldn’t help but sob once or twice. I hadn’t realized how lonely I’d become in my shifting prison of awareness until I finally had someone who understood. “Thank you. Thank you so much.”

And then I was young again, and at work on a random Tuesday. Once the sadness and relief faded, anger and determination replaced them. After I finished my work, I grabbed some paper and began writing. While the weeks shifted around me, while those weeks became days, and then hours, I wrote every single spare moment about when and where I thought I was. I put them under the stairs out of order; my first box was actually the thirtieth, and my last box was the first. Once I had over fifty boxes written from my perspective—and once my shifting became a matter of minutes—I knew it was up to my grandson to take it from there.

I put my head down and stopped looking. I couldn’t stand the river of changing awareness any longer. Names and places and dates and jobs and colors and people were all wrong and different.

I’d never been older. I sat watching the snow fall. A man of at least thirty that I vaguely recognized entered the room. “Come on, I think I finally figured it out.”

I was so frail that moving was painful. “Are you him? Are you my grandson?”

“Yes.” He took me to a room filled with strange equipment and sat me in a rubber chair facing a large mirror twice the height of a man. “The pattern finally revealed itself.”

“How long have you worked on this?” I asked him, aghast. “Tell me you didn’t miss your life like I’m missing mine!”

His expression was both stone cold and furiously resolute. “It’ll be worth it.” He brought two thin metal rods close to my arm and then nodded at the mirror. “Look. This shock is carefully calibrated.”

The electric zap from his device was startling, but not painful. In the mirror, I saw a rapid arcing light-silhouette appear above my head and shoulder. The electricity moved through the creature like a wave, briefly revealing the terrible nature of what was happening to me. A bulging leech-like mouth was wrapped around the back of my head, coming down to my eyebrows and touching each ear, and its slug-like body ran over my shoulder and into my very soul.

It was a parasite.

And it was feeding on my mind.

My now-adult grandson held my hand as I took in the horror. After a moment, he asked, “Removing it is going to hurt very badly. Are you up for this?”

Fearful, I asked, “Is Mar here?”

His face softened. “No. Not for a few years now.”

I could tell from his reaction what had happened, but I didn’t want it to be true. “How?”

“We have this conversation a lot,” he responded. “Are you sure you want to know? It never makes you feel better.”

Tears brimmed in my eyes. “Then I don’t care if it hurts, or if I die. I don’t want to stay in a time where she’s not alive.”

He made a sympathetic noise of understanding and then returned to his machines to hook several wires, diodes, and other bits of technology to my limbs and forehead. While he did so, he talked. “I’ve worked for two decades to figure this out, and I’ve had a ton of help from other researchers of the occult. This parasite doesn’t technically exist in our plane. It’s one of the lesser spawns of µ¬ßµ, and it feeds on the plexus of mind, soul, and quantum consciousness/reality. When details like names and colors of objects changed, you weren’t going crazy. The web of your existence was merely losing strands as the creature ate its way through you.”

I didn’t fully understand. I looked up in confusion as he placed a circlet of electronics like a crown on my head in exact line with where the parasite’s mouth had ringed me. “What’s µ¬ßµ?”

He paused his work and grew pale. “I forgot that you wouldn’t know. You’re lucky, believe me.” After a deep breath, he began moving again, and placed his fingers near a few switches. “Ready? This is carefully tuned to make your nervous system extremely unappetizing to the parasite, but it’s basically electro-shock therapy.”

I could still see Mar’s smile. Even though she was dead, I’d just been with her moments ago. “Do it.”

The click of a switch echoed in my ears, and I almost laughed at how mild the electricity was. It didn’t feel like anything—at least at first. Then, I saw the mirror shaking, and my body within that image convulsing. Oh. No. It did hurt. Nothing had ever been more painful. It was just so excruciating that my mind hadn’t been able to immediately process it.

As my vision shook and fire burned in every nerve in my body, I could see the reflected trembling light-silhouette of the parasite on my head as it writhed in agony equal to mine. It had claws—six clawed lizard-like limbs under its leech-like body—and it cut into me in an attempt to stay latched on.

The electricity made my memories flare.

Mar’s smile was foremost, lit brightly in front of a warm fire as the snow fell past the window behind her. The edges of that memory began lighting up, and I realized that my life was one continuous stretch of experience—it was only the awareness of it that had been fragmented by that feasting evil on my back.

I’d never managed to be there for the birth of my son. I’d jumped around it a dozen times, but never actually lived it. For the first time, I got to hold Mar’s hand and be there for her.

No. No! That moment had shifted seamlessly into holding her hand as she lay in a hospital bed for a very different reason. Not this! God, why? It was so merciless to make me remember this. I broke down in tears as nurses rushed into the room. I didn’t want to know. I didn’t want to experience it. I’d seen all the good parts, but I hadn’t wanted the worst part—the inevitable end that all would one day face.

It wasn’t worth it. It was tainted. All that joy was given back ten thousand fold as pain.

The fire in my body and in my brain surged to sheer white torture, and I screamed.

My scream faded into a surprised shout as the machines and electricity and chair faded away. Snow was no longer falling around my life; I was out in the woods on a bright summer day.

Oh God.

I turned to see the creature approaching me. It was the same absence of meaning; the same blank on reality. It crept forward, just like before—but, this time, it hissed and turned away. I stood, astounded at being young again and freed from the parasite. My grandson had actually done it! He’d made me an unappetizing meal, so the predator of mind and soul had moved on in search of a different snack.

I returned home in a daze.

And while I was sitting there processing all that had happened, the phone rang. I looked at it in awe and sadness. I knew who it was. It was Marjorie, calling for the first time for some trivial reason she’d admit thirty years later was made up just to talk to me.

But all I could see was her lying in that hospital bed dying. It was going to end in unspeakable pain and loneliness. I would become an old man, left to sit by myself in an empty house, his soulmate gone long before him. At the end of it all, the only thing I would have left: sitting and watching the falling snow.

But now, thanks to my grandson, I would also have my memories. It would be a wild ride, no matter how it ended.

On a sudden impulse, I picked up the phone. With a smile, I asked, “Hey, who’s this?”

Even though I already knew.


Author’s note: Together, my grandfather and I did set out to write the tale of his life. Unfortunately, his Alzheimer’s disease progressed rapidly, and we were never able to finish. He’s still alive, but I imagine that, mentally, he is in a better place than the nursing home. I like to think he’s back in his younger days, living life and being happy, because the reality is much colder. It’s snowing today; he loves the snow. When I visited him, he didn’t recognize me, but he did smile as he sat looking out the window.


CREDIT: Matt Dymerski (Blog FB Tw.)

(Click HERE to pick up a copy of Matt Dymerski’s book, A Shattered Life and Other Stories)

A Shattered Life Book

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Tales from the Gas Station (Part Six)

by cnkguy
Tales from the Gas Station (Part Six)

Tales from the Gas Station (Part Six)Reading Time: 14 minutes

 

 

*PART 1 // PART 2 // PART 3 // PART 5*

 

Hey everybody! It’s me, Jerry, from the gas station at the edge of town. Proud to be the newest member of the team. The owners were so impressed with how I managed to stay inside the store for several days without leaving or going insane that they offered me a full time position while the regular clerk is out recovering from his leg injury. Happy Monday, ya’ll!

The other guy asked me to do him a small favor while he’s getting some much needed “rest” and relaxation. He gave me the password to his laptop and detailed instructions to transcribe his journal entries from last week. In exchange, he agreed to keep me on as a full-time assistant after he gets back. I get to to learn what to expect on the job through first-hand documentation, and he gets to continue his weird little blog thing. Now that’s what I call a win-win.

If I’m being honest, this is probably the best thing that could have happened to me right now. Ever since the program mysteriously dissolved at the Mathmatist community, I’ve been feeling very lost and vulnerable. I’ve been losing weight and having trouble sleeping, and when I do, I keep having these weird dreams of some enormous being, deep below the gas station, waiting to devour us all. Clearly, a mistake was made and I was overlooked. If any of my old brothers and sisters are out there and see this post, please, please, contact me! Tell the seniors they forgot me! I’m not mad! I miss you! I love you!

Before I get started, some guys in suits came by and suggested that if this blog were going to continue, that I make a PSA. If there is anybody still alive that read the story about what happened here on Halloween, don’t wait for symptoms to start. Please go to the nearest emergency room or call the Center for Disease Control and tell them you are experiencing the effects of “Romald’s Syndrome.”

Anyway, back to the journals. I’m going to do my best because the guy’s handwriting is awful. But here’s the parts I could read:


11/07/07

7:00 PM

The man in the trench coat was standing out back when I went to take out the garbage tonight. I don’t know why the man in the trench coat keeps visiting my store, or why I’ve never gotten a good look at him. He was standing at the tree line just beyond the dumpsters, staring as he ever did. Tonight, I stared back.

The hinge of his jaw began halfway up his face, where his nose should have been, the edges pulled back to either ear in a skeletal grin. His tiny, milky-white eyes were beads behind the oily black hairline that hung down straight in bangs all the way to his cheek jowl. His impossibly-wide mouth bisected the head between greasy hair and wet flesh. Drool, I would assume…

We stood there, fifteen feet apart, staring at one another for what might have been ten seconds or ten minutes, until finally the man in the trench coat turned away. His legs bent funny, in a way that human legs shouldn’t be able to bend, and he landed on all fours before galloping off into the woods.

I don’t know if I’ve seen the last of the man in the trench coat.


Holy shit! Did you guys read that?! This is some crazy shit! Sorry, Jerry again. I promise I’m not going to do the running commentary thing, I just had to say… Jesus, you know? This is some weird stuff. I mean, I remember him telling me a couple weeks ago to go outside and talk to a man in a trench coat. Super glad I didn’t now. What the hell? Okay, that’s it, I’m done. Back to the transcriptions. The next page is soaked in blood and completely unreadable, so I’m going to have to skip that part:


…hundreds and hundreds of them. She had never seen so many in one place before, not even in her dreams. Before she left, she told me that I would see her again. Was that supposed to be a warning or a flirtation?

3:23 AM

It’s a quieter night than I’m used to. The package from yesterday afternoon still sits on the counter where I left it. The label is made out to me, with a return address I don’t recognize. The rectangular parcel is wrapped like a Christmas present with red and yellow stripes and feels heavy. I would say it’s just the right size for a dead cat.

I can’t think of any realistic reason I shouldn’t open the package, but there is something in the back of my mind telling me that to open this would be tantamount to opening Pandora’s Box. That the contents of this little parcel will irrevocably change the course of my life in a way that may have seemed impossible before. I feel like this box is full of butterflies ready to create tsunamis, and I’m just not sure I’m ready for that yet.

I think I’m going to teach Marlboro how to clean the drink machines.

3:47 AM

Marlboro is passed out in a hammock in the supply closet. I think he finished that bottle on his own. I guess I’ll go clean the drink machines by myself.

5:45 AM

The hand plants are growing faster than I had anticipated. They are now past the elbows, almost to the shoulders. I saw that the crop had caught a curious coyote that got too close. It was not pretty. I also noticed that Rocco is still alive. I caught him sitting on the roof, tossing food to the crop of hand plants.

This is why they’re growing so fast. They’re eating way too much. If this gets out of control, I may have to torch this crop just like the others. I don’t want to. It sends shivers down my spine whenever I hear the way they scream.

7:30 AM

Carlos came in for his morning shift looking pretty terrible. He filled up on coffee and told me that he hadn’t been sleeping too well. The bad dreams had been keeping him from getting a restful night.

I wonder if I should tell Carlos about my condition.

He asked about the gift-wrapped package sitting on the counter. I told him that it came with the post yesterday, and I didn’t know who it was from. He asked if I was going to open it, and I told him that I had a bad feeling and pretty much decided to never ever open it.

10:00 AM

I decided to open the package. Without any fanfare or drumroll, I’ll just tell you that what I found inside was a brand new laptop computer. I’ve never owned my own laptop before, and the only computer that ever belonged to me was a crappy little Tandy-1000 that I put together as a kid. I’ve always used the library computer lab or the browser on my phone to access the internet. This could be a game changer.

The box also contains a signal repeater and some other gizmos. I know this is crazy, but I think I may actually be able to access the internet from the gas station now.

There was a handwritten note at the bottom of the package:

Hello.

I left a comment on your page. There’s something I want to tell you. I’m enjoying reading these stories you’re writing, but I think if you actually sit down and write out one story at a time, that you will get a lot more upvotes. It’s very good, I’m not saying it’s bad. But right now it seems like a lot of half stories thrown together. I think you’d do great if you actually wrote out a whole story at a time. I bet you really could get a lot of upvotes and attention. It gets kind of confusing right now. Maybe start with when you got there and work your way up to now. I bet that would be super awesome. I’m so fascinated, but a little muddled as well. I can tell you have a great talent for writing, but I just thought maybe I’d offer a suggestion to help. Please do not take offense… it’s just something I was thinking. Hope all is going well for you!

Great. Another one of my readers tracked me down. I’m going to have to figure out how people keep finding me and put a stop to this. Thank you, whoever you are, for the laptop. I’m definitely keeping it.

10:15 AM

I turned on the wifi card and noticed that for some reason there are dozens of secured networks around the gas station, most of which have four or five bars. The names for their networks are pure gobbledy-gook like this one: “1E7G7C7TA11GUY232331324.” Who the hell is transmitting wifi out here?

11:00 AM

A man came into the store to buy a gas can a couple hours ago. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but then he came back in asking if we could help him out with something down the road. I never got his name, but he was a big guy, tan skin, and a thick beard. He said he was having “car trouble.” I told him I wasn’t a car guy, but he insisted that he didn’t need a car guy, he just needed someone else to see what he was seeing.

Marlboro agreed to watch the counter while Carlos and I followed the bearded man down the hill and around the curve, close to the spot where Carlos saw that thing in the woods.

He couldn’t remember what happened that night. After we got everything sorted out with Spencer and things started to go back to “normal,” I asked Carlos what it was that he saw in the woods that sent him running in such a careless panic, but he just shook his head and said he didn’t know. The mind is a funny thing, and memories aren’t the most reliable. I realize that I’m not the only person from the gas station with a list of “try and forget” stories.

The man’s car was parked on the side of the road, close to the same spot that Kieffer’s SUV was broken down.

“So my car started acting funny,” the guy said as we neared his vehicle. I began to wonder why we had walked this whole way, when our own vehicle would be quite useful in case of a dead battery or random bear attack. The guy kept going, “I pulled over onto the side of the road when my electricals all started going haywire. I killed the engine, then when I tried to turn it over again, nadda.”

I could see at this point that the hood was open. The man was driving a big black SUV similar to the one Kieffer owned, but newer and shinier.

“I don’t see what’s so weird about that. You need us to call a tow or-” the man cut Carlos off (rudely, I might add).

“I popped the hood, but everything was in order. I thought it maybe just needed some gas, so I went up to the station. Then when I got back, I saw this.”

We rounded the front of the car and saw the “this” he was being so vague about: A small oak tree, maybe four or five years old, was growing up from the ground beneath the car, through the engine, and stretched upwards at least nine feet. The trunk of the tree had swallowed a decent portion of the engine, and from the looks of it the car had been parked there for years.

“Interesting,” I said. “And you’re sure that wasn’t there when you started driving?”

Before he could answer, he spun his head around and looked at the forest.

“You boys hear that?” He asked.

We stood still and listened, but I didn’t hear anything.

“No,” I answered. Carlos shrugged.

“You boys know what an anglerfish is?” the bearded man asked as he walked to the back door and opened it.

“Yeah, I guess,” I answered.

The bearded man pulled up a secret compartment from beneath the floorboard and retrieved a large automatic rifle. I’m not a gun guy, and I can’t tell you what kind of gun it was, but it was big, impressive, and cool looking. The guy checked the clip and clicked something on the gun that might have been the safety. Again, I’m not a gun guy. But it sounded super cool. Carlos put a hand on my shoulder and slowly backed away from the man with the gun, pulling me with him.

But the man didn’t seem to mind us one bit. He was focused on whatever he heard in the woods.

“If I’m right, you boys have an anglerfish in them woods. It’s putting something out there to lure me in. Make me think I’m hearing something that I’m not. Then when I go looking for the one thing – BAM – it attacks.”

“Oh, like a siren?” I asked.

The man looked at me over his shoulder with a smirk and said, “Yeah. Like a siren. Ya’ll may wanna get out of here. This could get dangerous. Don’t worry about me. I’ve dealt with these things before, I’ll be fine.”

The man pointed his gun and marched into the woods while Carlos and I made our way back to the gas station.

2:00 PM

It’s time for me to go home. I haven’t used the laptop yet, but maybe tomorrow I’ll start to type up these journals.


11/08

6:00 PM

It’s getting dark so early these days.

I noticed that the bearded man’s SUV is still at the bottom of the hill with a tree growing through it. I wouldn’t call that a good sign.

11:00

I burned the rest of the hand plants. I finally know what’s going on.

A long time ago, I noticed what looked like strange mushrooms growing in a patch near the dumpster behind the gas station. I didn’t think much about it, except that it was strange that Rocco’s brood wouldn’t go near them.

When I took a closer look, I could have sworn that they looked just like baby fingers poking out of the ground.

As the weather got warmer, I kept an eye on the crops. They started getting longer and looking more and more distinguishably similar to human fingers. I swear they even started growing fingernails. Sometimes, I would see them bend at the digits to squash a bug that wandered too close.

Eventually, the mushrooms started sprouting leaves, and the finger sections continued to stretch out, creating what could only be described as hands. Human hands. They would ball up into fists during the daytime and open up in the moonlight. I dug one of them up one day when we were really slow at work, and I called Farmer Junior to ask for his professional opinion.

To the untrained eye, the hand plant looked just like a regular human hand. Smaller than an adult’s, but larger than a child’s. Adolescent. Teenager maybe. At the wrist it turned into a gnarled root that smelled like sassafras, and throughout the plant tiny leaves were sprouting.

Farmer Junior stood in the gas station looking it over for a while before asking me if we had any more of those things. I lied and told him no.

I asked the owners what they wanted me to do. They thought it over for a couple days and then told me to keep them. I think they expected to be able to make some money off of them somehow, but eventually everyone forgot they were there. Everyone but me. And Farmer Junior, of course.

I was thinking about the bearded man when I first heard the sound of a baby crying somewhere outside. I was alone in the store and my first instinct was not the heroic one that most people may have had: to run outside and see where the poor baby was. My first instinct was more callous and rational and in the form of a question: how the hell did a baby get way out here without me hearing it coming?

Something wasn’t right. The sound of the cries, which I could deduce were coming from the tree line, were getting louder and louder and more and more desperate.

I looked around for Marlboro, but couldn’t find him anywhere. If I was going to investigate the potential forest baby, I was going to have to do it alone.

I remembered the bearded man hearing the siren call of the thing he called an Anglerfish. I remembered Carlos’s sound of crunching and the “Strega.” And absolutely no part of me believed that I would be safe if I went into the woods or that there was really a baby crying out there.

But what if?

I grabbed a flashlight and went out back. The crying seemed to be moving deeper into the forest, quickly, like the crying baby were being carried off by something that didn’t have to stop and move around trees or physical barriers.

I walked into the forest just far enough to find the last thing I ever expected to find.

It seems that the hand plants had extended slightly further than the little patch outside the gas station. Those plants that I had been watching and burning whenever they got too aggressive were not as controlled as I had previously believed. Because out there, just a few steps into the woods, was a hand plant that I had missed, that I had never trimmed or culled or burned, that was left free to grow as large and wild as it possibly could. Out there was a handplant that had grown so large, it had fallen over. It had grown past the shoulder. It had grown its own head, and torso, and crotch and legs. Out there was a full human body covered in tiny leaves, huddled on the ground and attached to the soil by thick talons of brown roots. And the weirdest part of all? The body was one that I recognized.

The body of the fully-grown hand plant, was Kieffer.

I don’t know what possessed me to touch him. Maybe I just wanted to make sure that he was real, as if touching him would prove that one way or the other. When I did, his eyes opened and he cracked a smile. He could not move, the roots had him firmly stuck in place, but this kieffer plant could talk. And talk he did.

We stayed out there talking for over an hour.

I won’t go into everything the kieffer plant said, but I will say this. There is something under the gas station. Something big and powerful. Something plotting. And I’ve been working for years in a cloud of this dark god’s farts.

I felt extra terrible setting the fully developed kieffer plant on fire after I burned the rest of the crop of handplants, but honestly what choice did I have?

When I got back to the gas station, Spencer was waiting for me. He knew I knew. And I knew he knew I knew. I was halfway expecting what came next, but not expecting him to enjoy himself quite so much.

Spencer locked the front doors, then proceeded to beat the crap out of me. I’d like to say I got a few good hits in as well, but that would be a huge lie. I don’t think I laid a single finger on him. Although, I did mess his knuckles up pretty good with my face, so I have that going for me.

Spencer dragged me across the gas station to the hallway past the bathrooms, past the walk-in cooler, to that big strange door that I had only just noticed a couple weeks ago. If it were possible for me to pass out, I’m sure I would be unconscious right now.

“Why are you doing this?” I asked as he banged on the door three times. There was a sound from the other side and then Spencer yelled.

“Open up! It’s me!”

The door cracked open and Spencer dragged me into a room I had never seen before. It looked like an old office. There was a desk next to a wall of monitors with security feeds from all over the store and the perimeter. Security feeds from cameras I never knew existed. In the middle of the room was a large hole that looked like it had been created with a team of jackhammers.

“It’s time for you to meet my boss,” Spencer said as he dragged me to the edge of the hole.

“Kieffer.” I said, to which Spencer let out a hearty laugh.

“No, not Kieffer. My boss put Kieffer out there and hired me to watch him. My boss is much bigger than some idiot politician.”

I half expected Spencer to go into the cliche movie-villain exposition rant, but instead he Sparta’d me right into this hole.

I think my leg is broken. At least, I assume that’s what the bone poking out means, but hey, I’m no doctor. I would be really worried right now if it weren’t for the fact that I stole Spencer’s cell phone in the scuffle. Just as I expected, Spencer has the same network as Kieffer, which means he somehow has service. I put in a call to Tom’s direct number, so I’m sure he’ll be along shortly. Until he gets here, I’m just passing the time updating my journals.

Somebody just dropped the laptop into this hole with me. Maybe it was Spencer? Maybe he thinks I’m dead? Maybe I am. Again, I’m not a doctor. Whoever it was, I think I might have heard the sound of their boot spurs clicking against tile as they walked away.

I guess I’ll boot this thing up and start transcribing my journal before it’s too late.


Okay, so this is the last of his journals!

You’re probably wondering to yourself, where was Jerry while Spencer was beating the crap out of poor old Jack? Well, I had gone into town to see a movie. Yes, I went and watched Thor: Ragnarock. If you haven’t seen it, go see it! It was awesome! I guess I’m lucky I went when I did, otherwise this Spencer guy might have tossed me into that hole as well.

I was the one that found Jack. When I came back to the gas station, I couldn’t find anyone anywhere, so I went searching until I noticed that door at the edge of the hall cracked open slightly. I also found a really poorly made bomb behind the register, but it didn’t take long to disassemble. You can thank the mandatory bomb-building classes at the Mathmatist program for that. No big deal, just me being my typical heroic self.

I asked Carlos to help me haul Jack up out of the hole and then Carlos moved him to an “undisclosed location” for a few days while his leg mends. When he gets back, I’ll let him have his laptop to continue his little blog thing.

Until then, it’s just me, Carlos, and the raccoons.

How does Jack usually end these things? Oh yeah, “To be continued…”


Edit: I just caught myself digging.

 

*Stay tuned for Part 7*

 

CREDIT: Jack Townsend

Click HERE to pre-order Jack Townsend’s latest book, Tales from the Gas Station: Volume One, a collection of both old and new tales revolving around everyone’s favorite gas station clerk

Tales from the Gas Station: Volume One

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The Pocket Watch

by cnkguy
The Pocket Watch

The Pocket WatchReading Time: 6 minutes

When I was a child there was nothing to eat. I was the eldest of five, so it was my job to make sure that I always let my brothers and sisters eat before me. War was inching inward from the coast, and as it marched closer, our food grew scarcer. Animals fled the area, or were slaughtered and consumed in panic by the other families in our village.

My father was a wise and cautious man and so we waited to slaughter our two chickens until the fall, when grass and tree bark had become too hard to find or inedible. The other families knew we had chickens and father stayed up all night, every night to watch over them. He had to kill at least one boy from a neighboring town who had gone mad with hunger and tried to burn down our small home with a burning branch.

When the chickens were naught but bones and the bones had grown brittle and porous from Mother’s many soups, my parents sent my two eldest siblings and I out to collect bugs and field mice for supper. We were hungry, but not quite starving until one morning we woke to the first frost and there was nothing alive left to eat. My parents began to discuss the inevitable – perhaps my father should go to the coast and sell his father’s pocket watch to one of the drunken, but well-paid soldiers. It was the only thing we had of value and the only family heirloom my father had to pass down to me.

I didn’t want him to go. I was afraid war would arrive while he was gone and I was too young and too weak to protect my mother and younger siblings. I begged him to stay, but he insisted it would be alright and promised to be back within two weeks. I was so scared that when he and Mother were outside preparing his satchel, I smashed the pocket watch under my foot and placed it back in my father’s half-rotted desk.

My mother cried for days. Father did his best to comfort her as I watched them peel the leather from my father’s boots and boil the hide for dinner. The next night, Mother found a dead rat and boiled away the disease with the new fallen snow from outside. The next evening, she filled our bellies with rat bones and more melted snow.

My little brother Albert kept everyone awake that night, crying over his hunger. He begged for all the things we’d eaten when we had a garden and animals – beef stew, white rolls, succulent corn, and spiced lamb. He made all of our stomachs moan and torture us, and I soon screamed at him to be quiet while my mother sobbed from her room.

Father stroked Albert’s hair for hours and then went back into his and mother’s bedroom, shutting the door behind him. Albert moaned until the thin light of dawn peeked through our threadbare curtains. I could hear Father in his room, tinkering with the watch. My hunger had long worn out my fear of soldiers and I silently prayed that he could repair it.

Father worked on the pocket watch all through the day and into the night. Selia had found dead crickets in the walls of the abandoned bakery, and as we ate them, Father emerged from his bedroom with Mother right behind. The smile on his face was one I had almost forgotten, as I’d not seen it since the day my youngest sister was born. He told us that he had repaired Grandfather’s watch and that he’d heard of a soldier encampment nearby. Three days, he promised us, three days and I will return with carrots, lamb, and rolls so big, they’ll fill our bellies for a year!

We clapped our hands in delight and ran around our small, dirt yard with a glee that seemed a foreign language to us. Father said that we were all to help mother find beautiful things with which to dress the table. The next morning, he gave us all a piece of rubber from the sole of Mother’s shoes to chew on and sent us out on our mission after kissing us goodbye and promising to be back before we’d remembered he had left.

We had such fun that day, gathering horseshoes and shards of broken glass. We threaded bits of twine through the horseshoes to hang above the table and tied the glass to the ends, hoping they would shimmer in the lamp light. We returned home as the sun set, happy with our day’s work and eager to return to it tomorrow.

We weren’t yet in sight of home when I first smelled it – onions, chicken broth, spiced lamb, even sweets! I ran as fast I could, dropping our table dressings carelessly along the way in my maddening pursuit for food. I burst through the door to find Mother at the stove, preparing our meal in a quiet reverence. I threw my arms around her and asked if Father was home already.

Yes, my love. He had the fortunate chance of meeting a wealthy mercenary on the road who was only too happy to buy your grandfather’s watch.

I hugged her even tighter and sat down at the table as my brothers and sisters came spilling through the doorway. They found their places quickly; hungry, expectant looks upon their faces. Father came out of the bedroom and took his seat at the end of the table as Mother brought over a steaming platter of spiced, boiled lamb. She nodded at us and we filled our hands with the rich meat, hardly bothering with our plates.

After dinner, we were sent to bed with full tummies, barely a word having been said by anyone since our food had been set on the table. We ate our fill the next night and then the next and the next. But as our food stocks started to dwindle, so did Mother’s health. Each day bled more out of her until we were left fighting over scraps of raw meat while our mother lay weak and wilting nearby.

The first night I went again without food was the night that the hazy, happy ether began to lift and my memories of the past few days became confusing.

I recalled that the spiced lamb I’d consumed with such ferocity had actually been sickly sweet and the accompaniments I had first smelled from afar had never been brought to the table.

I couldn’t remember Mother eating anything in all the days since Father had returned; instead she’d sat quietly next to us at the table, staring at the pile of gray meat we consumed with such fervor.

And Father; I couldn’t recall hearing his voice since the morning he had left for the soldier encampment. His chair had sat empty, night after night, and as the peripherals of my memory formed shape, I couldn’t be entirely sure he’d ever been there at all – at least not since the morning he had cut pieces of rubber from Mother’s shoes at the table.

Frightened and starved, I didn’t find sleep until the darkest hours of the night. The following morning when Mother emerged from her room, I asked where Father had gone. She told me he’d left to become a solider and sent us out to peel bark off of the bushes in the forest. Father never returned.

Perhaps the reason I didn’t realize what happened back then was because it was too awful to consider, and I was so very hungry. But Mother died a few days ago, and in death, she thrust the truth upon me. From her stock of meager possessions, I was bequeathed a small box that contained nothing more than a shiny, broken pocket watch.

Perhaps she wanted me to remember it all: the only hope of our survival that I’d smashed under my heel. My Father’s last, loving hug before he sent us to collect dressings for the feast. The overly seasoned gray meat. And the rancid smell that had begin wafting out from under Mother’s door, becoming more pungent each day.

My father sacrificed more for his family than most ever would. I used to lament that I had nothing to remember him by. No family heirloom to pass down to my own children.

But now I have his pocket watch, a thing I cannot give to my children. Not because the glass is shattered. Not because the gears are cracked.

I cannot part with the watch because it is a curse that I must bear… for the shiny, contorted metal has never lost the sickening smell of that sweet, silvery meat.

 

CREDIT: C.K. Walker

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Always Be Nice To Your Neighbors

by cnkguy
Always Be Nice To Your Neighbors

Always Be Nice To Your NeighborsReading Time: 4 minutes

When someone asks you about your dream home, how do you respond? It might be an apartment in a big city, a big house on a farm, or (if you’re like me) a cozy house with a picket fence in the suburbs.

My husband and I moved into my dream home about 5 years ago. It’s located in a tiny town; one of those places where everyone knows everyone and no one locks their doors – about a 30 minute drive from the city. We thought we found the perfect place. We were SO very wrong.

You see, the thing about people is that you never really know them. It’s common in this kind of town (and everywhere really) to come across the type of people who seem to be the nicest and most normal human beings on the planet, but who are different monsters behind closed doors. Usually it’s nothing more than hidden alcoholism or drug use, a secret affair, or domestic abuse… but even Jeffrey Dahmer seemed like an okay guy, and we all know what skeletons were in his closet (and fridge).

The weirdness started a few months ago when our new neighbor moved in next door. He kept to himself. He didn’t talk to anyone except for the occasional visitors that came from out of town to see him. They were a catalyst for rumors. I’d heard that he was a drug dealer, that he had been in and out of prison, and that he was cut out of his family’s lives for touching his nephew or niece but not reported for it out of pity. He was quiet and a little creepy, but he seemed okay to me. Apparently, I’m an idiot.

A couple of weeks ago, my sister was leaving my house late at night when she noticed that the dome light on her car was on. Someone had just been in there, it seemed. She ran back inside and alerted my husband who then walked her back out and took a look around to see if he could find the intruder. They heard footsteps on my neighbor’s porch, but couldn’t actually see anyone. My husband called out but received no response. The next day, he spoke with another neighbor about the incident, to warn him to lock his car at night. That neighbor told my husband that he had spotted someone in the bushes across from his house two weeks prior and chased the person to the house next to mine before he lost the guy. A few days after the chase, someone broke an upstairs window trying to get into his house while he and his family slept. The whole neighborhood was freaked out, and we had our suspicions that the new guy was the culprit, but we had no proof. No one had been able to see his face when he was busted, no one could say whether he had been chased TO his house, or if the person running had simply hidden on his porch or in his yard. Local police agreed to increase patrols in our area, and things quieted down for a while. That was, until this past weekend.

It was late on Saturday, around midnight, when I heard what sounded like power tools running. There’s a house nearby that’s being renovated by the family that lives there, so I just assumed they were finishing a project before turning in or something. I didn’t really care until about 45 minutes later when I saw the flashing lights outside my window. I went outside to see three police cars, an ambulance, and a small crowd gathering in front of the house next door. No one seemed to know what the hell was going on for once. The only information that I could gather was that an old lady who lived a few doors down had called the police to file a noise complaint when the sound of the tools woke her up. I had been standing with the crowd for about five minutes before the officers came outside to move us away from the house and rope off the area with crime scene tape. The coroner’s van showed up a short while later. It wasn’t until the next day that we finally got the story.

Two officers had responded to the noise complaint. They could hear the tools running inside, but no one answered the door when they knocked. One of the officers looked into a window and noticed a pool of blood on the living room floor. They called for backup and entered the house. My next door neighbor had killed some woman, dragged her down to his basement, and was using a power saw to cut her up into pieces. When the police entered the basement, he panicked and used the saw to end his own life. Apparently, he almost completely decapitated himself. As gruesome as the details of this heinous act were, the murder-suicide wasn’t the thing that caused the most unrest in my little community. He had a large, hand-drawn map of the town hanging in his basement. Each house was drawn as an empty square, and each square had notes written inside: how many people lived in the house, whether or not they had dogs, and the best time and place to enter the home undetected. He also had a stack of photos on a table near the map. He had taken pictures of every house on our street, some at night and some during the day, some from the outside and some from within.

 

CREDIT: Christine Druga

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My Amazon Alexa Does More Than Just Laugh

by cnkguy
My Amazon Alexa Does More Than Just Laugh

My Amazon Alexa Does More Than Just LaughReading Time: 5 minutes

Two nights ago, I was home alone when Alexa laughed. I’d read about the software issue the devices had been having all over the world, so it wasn’t that big of a shock. Thank God for that, too, because I would’ve jumped out of my skin otherwise. Still, I was unsettled. It’s creepy to hear laughter when you think you’re alone.

“Alexa, shut up,” I instructed. The blue ring on top flashed, and the laughing stopped.

I went back to my book.

Twenty minutes later, out of the corner of my eye, I saw Alexa’s blue ring illuminate – as if she’d received a command. I studied her for a few seconds and shrugged it off.

Thirty seconds later, her light came on again. This time, she said, “okay Peter, J.A. Henckels five piece stainless steel knife set is on its way. You should have it in a couple days.”

“Oh come on,” I complained. I put my book down and grabbed my laptop. I navigated to Amazon and checked my order page. It was empty. Then I checked my account information in the Alexa device, wondering if my Alexa had paired with someone else’s account. It hadn’t.

“Great,” I thought. “Free knives. Thanks Pete, wherever you are.”

I went back to my reading. It probably wasn’t the best subject matter to be consuming when I was already a little shaken. Far too many mushrooms and people peeling off their skin. Gross. As I reached the end of my chapter, Alexa laughed again. It sounded different than it had the first time. The first time, it was mechanical and emotionless, just like her voice. This time it was lower. Deeper. As if it had breath in it. The hairs on my arms stood on edge.

“Screw this,” I thought, and got up to shut her off. As I crossed the room, her lights flashed.

“Okay Peter, four units of Clorox bleach, 121 oz. bottles, is on its way. You should have it in a couple days.”

I stopped in my tracks and stared at the device.

“This is stupid,” I said to myself. “You’re freaked out because of that stupid book and you’re letting it make you superstitious. Don’t be an idiot.”

I turned around and checked the time. It was almost midnight. I needed to take a shower before bed. I sighed and headed for the bathroom.

After a quick shower, I was toweling off and thinking about what I had to do at work the next day when Alexa started to talk again. I couldn’t hear her very well through the bathroom door, but I recognized her voice. It didn’t sound like she was reciting another order. It almost sounded like conversation.

I cracked open the door and listened. The voice stopped. I could see her blue light reflecting off the wall.

“Alexa,” I called. “What are my active orders?”

“You have no active orders, Valerie,” she replied. “Is there something you’d like to get?”

“No,” I said. Her light went off.

I watched TV in bed for a little while, hoping I’d get tired enough to fall asleep. It wasn’t working. I couldn’t stop thinking about the stupid device. I wasn’t going to shut it down, though. I didn’t want to give in to my baseless fear. I’m an adult, damn it.

During my third Frasier rerun, I finally felt myself getting ready to sleep. I turned off the TV and closed my eyes.

“Okay Peter, Sunshades Depot 5’x7’ tarp is on its way. You should have it in a couple days.”

My eyes snapped open.

“Enough of this,” I muttered, and bolted out of bed. When my feet hit the floor, Alexa began to laugh again. It was loud this time, and just as deep as it had been the last time. She sounded like a large man cruelly laughing at an offensive joke.

The blue light was so bright in my eyes as I reached for the plug.

“Okay Peter, Osborne International wire brush is on….”

I tore the plug from the outlet and Alexa went silent. The light went out. I stormed back into my room and slammed the door. I think I slept for about an hour.

The next day, when I got home from work, I ran into my landlady. We’re friendly with one another; she’s only a few years older and we have drinks every so often. I invited her in, telling her I needed a few beers after what I’d dealt with the night before.

“What happened?” Toshi inquired, sitting down at the kitchen table and cracking open the beer I’d given her.

“You know that Amazon Alexa thing?” I asked, pointing in its direction.

“Oh yeah,” she replied. “My sister has one. Did you hear about how some people are reporting that it laughs?”

“That’s what mine does!” I exclaimed.

“No way!” Toshi said, laughing. “That must’ve scared the hell out of you.”

“…maybe,” I admitted. “It feels silly to be scared of something like that.”

“No way,” she insisted, and took a swig of her beer. “I would’ve thrown it out the window.”

I laughed. “I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think about it. Especially with the other things she said.”

Toshi’s eyebrows perks up. “Other things? Like what?”

“Oh, nothing as creepy as the laugh,” I replied. “It was just announcing orders from someone else’s account. I think wires got crossed somewhere.”

“Wow, that’s crazy,” Toshi said. “Do you know whose account?”

“Some guy named Peter. He was ordering knives and brushes and stuff.”

Toshi paused mid-drink. She looked at me, her smile slipping from her face. “Peter?” she repeated.

“Yeah. Why, do you know him?”

Toshi stood up. The expression on her face was the polar opposite of what it had been only seconds ago. She looked frightened.

“Tosh, what’s going on?”

“Val, before you moved in, I rented this apartment to a guy named Peter.”

“Yeah? And?”

She stared into my eyes, almost like she didn’t want to say.

“Tosh?”

“I… it’s just… Val, he killed himself about six months before you signed your lease here.”

My blood went cold. “He killed himself here? In this apartment?”

Toshi nodded.

“Why? What happened? Was he depressed?”

She shook her head. “No. Worse.”

“Tell me, Tosh!”

She paused and took a deep breath. I glared at her insistently. “He killed himself when the police found his pregnant girlfriend’s body in the swamp on the other side of town. She’d been stabbed to death and wrapped in a tarp. Later on, the investigation showed he drained all her blood in the bathtub and tried to clean it up with bleach.”

I felt myself getting dizzy. “Tarp?” I parroted. “Bleach?”

Toshi nodded and stared at the floor.

“I… I can’t stay here,” I whispered.

My landlady didn’t say anything. We stood in shocked silence for a minute or two. Toshi went to the fridge and got another beer. She popped the top and took a drink, then opened her mouth, as if she were about to speak. Before she could, though, a hideous, earsplitting laugh exploded through the apartment.

It was Alexa.

And she was still unplugged.

 

CREDIT: UnsettlingStories.com 

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Tales from the Gas Station (Part Five)

by cnkguy
Tales from the Gas Station (Part Five)

Tales from the Gas Station (Part Five)Reading Time: 10 minutes

 

*PART 1 // PART 2 // PART 3*

 

I should begin this entry by saying how truly sorry I am to anyone who read part 4. I had no idea that was going to happen. The agents have assured me that every trace of the story has been removed from the internet, and that there is nothing to worry about.

If you were unfortunate enough to have read part 4: I beg you, for your own sake, try to forget everything. If you experience nose bleeds, dizziness, migraines, or hallucinations, go immediately to the emergency room. If you have a recurring dream of an island made of song, under no circumstances should you approach or attempt to open the blue door with the painting of a crow on it.

If you did not read part 4: There was no part 4. It does not exist. Forget you ever heard of it.


By now, you probably already know that there is a shitty gas station at the edge of our small town, and that weird things have been happening there. The city council has personally asked me to stop talking about it, as there have been some astute readers that not only tracked down our small town from the brief descriptions I’ve given, but actually come and visited me at work. I heard that one of them has joined the Mathematists, and as far as I know the other two are still missing. Once again, I am sorry.

I’m not working right now. It’s the first legitimate break I’ve had since I first started writing my stories on receipt paper all that time ago. Time moves funny here. Flowing slow and fast all at once, like molasses out of a shotgun. It’s a good thing I’ve been keeping a journal. I’ve got a few moments before my laptop dies, and I think now would be the perfect time to transpose my journal entries, before the battery runs out or the blood loss gets me. Right now it’s a race to see what happens first.

Before any of you worry, I’ve already called Tom. He said he’s on his way here to give me a ride to the hospital, right after he picks up dinner for the Ledford orphans, John-Ben and Little Sister. Tom and the other deputies have been taking turns checking in on and bringing them food in an attempt to make the whole thing less tragic. They’ve been living on their own ever since the incident that totally did not happen (and anyone who says otherwise is a damned liar).

There I go again, off on another tangent. I guess I’ll get to it, and type up my journal entries while I still can.


11/02/17

9:00 PM

So much has happened here since the Halloween incident that we aren’t allowed to talk about. I’ve been much busier than usual, dealing with the aftermath as well as the cult. The Mathmetists have been cleaning out our inventory on a daily basis, planning ahead for some kind of secret event that I only get to hear about in hushed mutterings and whispers.

Night is coming earlier, and the weather is getting colder.


11/03/17

2:00 AM

The man in the trench coat is back. He’s standing just outside the gas station door, staring in. He’s been there for almost an hour now. On the bright side, I haven’t had a customer come in since he showed up. On the not-so-bright side, I can’t help but feel like he’s trying to put thoughts into my head. He won’t be able to, though. I’ve had way too much practice.

Kieffer came in earlier today, before the sun went down, and sat in a booth drinking coffee for a while. Eventually, Spencer Middleton showed up. Spencer had a word with Kieffer, then came storming up to my register, screaming at the top of his lungs. He grabbed the display of lotto scratch-offs and threw it across the room. It was obvious that something had upset him. That’s when I took the earplugs out.

“Everything ok?” I asked, stupidly. I knew damn well everything was never “OK”.

“Did you hear a word I just said?” Spencer asked.

I explained to him that I had taken to wearing earplugs in an effort to drown out the sounds of screaming that periodically radiate through the air vents. I guess the screams must have stopped a while ago, or maybe I had imagined them. Either way, I didn’t need the earplugs anymore.

At this point, Tom walked into the store. His white hair looking even whiter than normal.

Spencer, I could see, became instantly aware of the deputy’s presence. “Where is he?” He half-whispered half-growled, “Where is the other one?”

“Carlos?” I asked.

Spencer sighed. “Sure. Carlos.

“He’s not due for another twenty minutes.”

“When he gets here, tell him we need to have a chat.” With that, Spencer Middleton let out a shrill whistle and left the store. Kieffer jumped out of his seat and followed close behind.

Tom helped me pick up the mess and put the lotto display back together without asking a single question. I wish more people could be like Tom.

When Carlos got to work, he told me that he had been having strange dreams. Dreams of something enormous, living, breathing, underground. The dreams always end the same way: with the gas station collapsed into a giant sinkhole. I told him that Spencer was looking for him. That’s when Carlos grew solemn and asked me if he could show me something.

In the freezer, behind a stack of boxes labled “Non aprire” (whatever the hell that means, they’ve been here as long as I’ve worked here), there is a moving blanket. And inside that blanket is another Kieffer.

My first question for Carlos was, “You stole the body back?”

He looked at the ground and shook his head sheepishly like a toddler that just got busted for cooking meth.

“You killed another one?” I asked.

Carlos explained: it was an accident. Again.

3:00 AM

The man in the trench coat is finally gone. He left claw marks on the glass of the front door. I checked the security footage to confirm my suspicions. He always stays just outside the range of our cameras. Why can’t I remember what his face looked like?

3:30 AM

Marlboro was the first “customer” in the store after the man in the trench coat left. I told him that I was surprised he was still alive. He mistook this for a compliment and said, “Thank you.” I asked him if he was ready for the big event, but then he just stared at me blankly. I could tell he had no idea what I was talking about, so I filled him in on how I had put it all together. The unusual cultist activity, the whispers, the buying up all of our supplies. I could tell that something was about to happen.

Marlboro went pale in the face as I was talking, then ran out of the gas station before I could finish, the 99 cent frozen drink still in his hand. I know I should write up an inventory loss slip for the theft, but I just can’t bring myself to do it. As hard as it is to explain, there’s just something about Marlboro that makes me genuinely feel sorry for him.

6:00 AM

I caught myself digging again. I don’t know how long I was out there, or who was running the store while I was gone. The hole is so deep now that I nearly couldn’t climb out on my own. I should maybe think about considering the possibility of one day asking a doctor if this is normal.

8:00 AM

Marlboro is currently crying in the dry storage closet. Through his sobs I could barely make out the story. Marlboro was sent on some kind of “Vision Quest” for the last week and has no idea what the other cultists had been stocking up for. When he went back to the compound earlier tonight, he found the whole place completely deserted. Beds were left unmade. Some plates had food on them. A fire still burning in the fireplace. Everyone’s clothes were still in their personal milk crates next to their sleeping bags. But the people–all of the people–were simply gone.

Marlboro isn’t taking this very well, but I have a business to run, so I asked Carlos to help me carry him into the dry storage area. I figure he can work through some stuff in there and then maybe when he’s done he’ll just… I don’t know… go home?

11/04/17

9:00 PM

The exterminators just left. They say they got all of the snakes this time, but I have my doubts.

11/05/17

5:00 PM

Kieffer came into the store again today and made some thinly-veiled threats. He asked about Carlos, too, but I told him that I was tired of being the go-between and that if he had business with Carlos, he needed to take it up with Carlos. That’s when Kieffer started getting weird.

“You know this place is just a big experiment, and you’re the little mouse?”

I asked Kieffer to buy something or leave, so he bought a pack of toothpaste, then started to undress in the store and rub the toothpaste on his naked body.

“They tell me that something is wrong with your brain. Is that true?”

I tried to be polite and avert my eyes as I answered, “Yeah.”

“You have some kind of mental condition?”

I answered again, “Yeah.”

“That’s too bad.”

At this point, Kieffer was completely naked. He walked over to the frozen drink machine and filled a large cup with the sugary red concoction before turning it upside down on top of his head. Then he shook himself violently like a wet dog, flinging bits of cold, sticky debris across everything from the ceiling to the walls. Some of it even landing on my face, but I tried not to let him see my flinch. I knew this was all just an attempt to intimidate me, and I didn’t want to give him the satisfaction.

“What is it, exactly?” He asked as he crossed back to where his pile of clothes waited for him.

“What?” I asked.

“What is your condition? Schizophrenia? Protanopia? Meningitis? The gay?”

“No,” I answered, “I don’t sleep.”

“You don’t sleep?” He sounded genuinely interested. “Like, ever?”

“I can’t fall asleep. I haven’t slept a single day since high school. It’s a rare genetic condition with no cure and no treatment and one day, it will kill me. But until then, I handle the effects as best I can.”

Kieffer nodded. “That must be it. That must be why he can’t reach you.”

“Why who can’t reach me?”

Right then, Spencer came into the store. He threw a blanket around Kieffer and ushered him out to the waiting SUV. A moment later, he came back into the store and offered me a hundred dollars for the security tape from tonight.

I wonder what I’ll spend my hundred bucks on.

9:00 PM

I was beginning to suspect something wasn’t quite right in the store. I’ve been finding empty candy bar wrappers strewn about, security tapes mysteriously deleted, strange noises coming through the walls in the middle of the night when I should be alone. At least, more strange noises than usual. At first, I assumed it was just the racoons.

But now I know the truth. Now I know that Marlboro has been living here for the last two days. He just walked out of the supply closet wearing a bathrobe, nodded to me as he grabbed a stick of meat jerky, and went into the bathroom. It had not even occurred to me that Marlboro never left.

11/06/17

4:00 AM

It finally happened. I suppose it was only a matter of time. I know I should feel regret, or shame, or any of the other emotions that normal people feel after something like this happens, but all I feel is embarrassed.

I came to a couple hours ago with a shovel in my hand. I had been digging again, and this time I had made some serious progress. The hole was at least seven feet deep, the steep walls made of loose, red clay. It took me a while to realize that I was staring up into an inky black night peppered with uncountable stars. When some of the bigger celestials started to move, I realized that those stars were actually just the soulless red eyes of the mutant raccoons staring down at me over the edge of the hole. Probably looking for food, those shameless beggars.

I chucked the shovel out of the hole, and that’s when I heard it. Imagine the sound of a butcher’s knife hitting a watermelon. Like a solid, wet, thwack. Now imagine the watermelon gurgling and falling over like a sack of potatoes. Oh man, this metaphor has really gotten away from me…

When I climbed out of the hole, I saw the shovel standing upright: the business end firmly lodged inside the open chest wound of a still-twitching Kieffer.

The Kieffer was dead before I got to his side. In a final act of defiance, he had turned both of his middle fingers up to me. I felt just the slightest amount of respect for him before I went into a mental state that I can only describe as “subdued panic.” The first thing I wanted to do was find something to wrap the body in because, surely, Spencer Middleton would come for it soon.

When I went into the gas station, I was surprised to find that Marlboro had taken it upon himself to work the cash register while I was gone. He was ringing up one of our regulars, Charles, a great big fat man that always buys soap and boiled peanuts.

I nabbed a tarp off the shelf and took it outside. That’s when I learned something. Kieffer is heavy. Like, really heavy. I understand that a human body is basically just a meaty fleshy water balloon full of guts and excrement, but nothing could prepare me for how leaky and gross and heavy a dead man can be. It was only by some miracle that I managed to drag Kieffer through the back door and into the freezer without being seen. It took all of my strength to pull the mass behind the boxes and onto the stack with the other three. When I finally finished, I had worked up a sweat, and even the cold of the freezer wasn’t enough to keep me cool. As I stood there letting my breath come back and adrenaline wear off I took stock of my situation. That’s when it dawned on me. There were four Kieffers in that freezer with me. Four. Kieffers. Where the hell did the other two come from?

The freezer door opened and Marlboro entered, dragging a dead Kieffer by the legs. He stopped and made eye contact with me.

When he saw the Kieffers at my feet, I said the only thing I could think of.

“Well this is awkward.”

Marlboro and I decided to open a bottle of Strega Liquore and have a few drinks. He explained that he had accidently killed Kieffer a couple times. I totally understood. The guy was just so easy to kill. At one point, Carlos came into the freezer to grab a box of cookie dough. He didn’t even acknowledge all the Kieffers.


My laptop’s battery is currently at 2%. It’s obvious now that I won’t have time to transcribe the rest of my journals before it dies. I don’t have time to tell you how I ended up at the bottom of this hole underneath the store with a broken leg. But I can tell you that I hear someone moving around above me, which is good because I don’t think I’m alone down here.

If you’re reading this, it means I managed to upload my story. If you’re not reading this, then… I don’t know, what even are you?

Someone just called my name from the top of the precipice. I think it was Carlos. I wonder what happened to Tom. Why didn’t Tom ever show up?

Come to think of it, I seem to remember Tom didn’t survive the Halloween incident. Wait, who the hell have I been talking to this entire time?

I promise, that if I survive long enough to recharge my battery I will come back and tell the rest. Until then, I guess this story is to be continued.

 

*Stay tuned for Part 6*

 

CREDIT: Jack Townsend

Click HERE to pre-order Jack Townsend’s latest book, Tales from the Gas Station: Volume One, a collection of both old and new tales revolving around everyone’s favorite gas station clerk

Tales from the Gas Station: Volume One

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