I'm still working on another one (in hopes of building some enthusiasm I'll give you the title - "Pray For Agatha, Burning In Hell") but who knows if I'll get it done in time. I'm also planning on a bunch of horror book reviews, so hopefully I'll get that done, too.
Meanwhile, if you want more stuff to read after this, here's our table of contents for fiction:
665 + 1
This one went through a bunch of different titles while it was in progress. First I was going to call it "The Small Hours," and then I was going to call it "What Happens At 11:13," and "The Long Minute" was also in the running. But finally I decided upon...
THE NIGHT IS FILLED WITH MANIACS
Casey poked out Richie's number again. Her thumb stung as it stabbed at the digits; she bit her nails when she was nervous, and she'd really done a job on several of them. There was a smear of blood on her phone, right on Richie's redial.
Richie still didn't answer. She didn't leave any voicemail because if the three she'd already left didn't make her point, what was the use? She considered calling Raymond again, but chances were he wouldn't answer, either, and she hadn't liked calling him in the first place. Nobody likes calls after midnight, and if Richie not showing up for his shift was the reason, Raymond would likely fire him.
Casey set the phone down, not knowing what to do. The late shift at a convenience store was already dangerous enough, and it had been expressly stated that she wasn't supposed to work alone. She wondered if she'd get in more trouble for trying to hold down the shift by herself, or for just turning the sign on the door to "closed," shutting off the lights and the FuelzMart sign, and locking up. Raymond was kind of a dick but he'd forgive her, after bearing down on that "girls aren't supposed to work alone" policy from corporate. Usually she found it annoyingly sexist, but since it might work to her advantage in this case, she was a little less the suffragette.
Still, Raymond considered her "badass" enough to work overnights -- a shift not usually open to females at all -- so part of her didn't want to wimp out and bail early. And what if Richie finally did show up? He'd freak.
She checked the clock on her phone again. 1:45. More than four hours until the morning shift came in. And Richie was almost two hours late.
Paul, from the earlier shift, had hung around an extra half hour to wait with her, but he'd finally had to leave to get some sleep for another job he worked in the morning. Paul got precious little sleep as it was, and he had kids at home, trying to raise them by himself after his wife died of cancer. Casey always felt bad for him, a guy his age still working at a place like this. And it was just one of three shit jobs he had. She knew how rough a schedule like that was from her college days, which had ended just a few months before. She hoped she'd find a better job soon and not end up like him, but so far no one seemed very interested in biochemistry majors who'd gotten B's and C's. Paul was a weary, sweet man, and probably would have sacrificed a whole night of sleep if Casey hadn't insisted that she was okay, she'd be fine, and Richie would drag his ass in soon and then boy would she kick it.
The door opened and she looked up hopefully, but it wasn't Richie. Some tall, lanky trucker, heading to the back. He wasn't one of the regulars; she'd have remembered him, because he was frighteningly thin and looked nearly albino. She sighed and tried biting her nails again and winced when they weren't there. Hopefully he'd get what he was after and get gone. Sometimes truckers liked to get flirty, and they didn't mean anything bad by it but what might be cute in broad daylight with a store full of people came across as threatening at 2 a.m. with no witnesses except the closed-circuit camera. And she'd seen enough footage from those "Most Shocking Crimes Caught On Tape" TV specials to know those cameras didn't stop the crazy ones from doing Jack F. S.
She stared up at the television, which was playing some cheap ghost-hunter show. Those usually gave her the creeps but she'd seen them all before so the familiarity was comforting, and ghosts had nothing on some psycho killer rapist who might come in. She looked through the front windows. A couple of drunk-acting frat boys were filling up their car, laughing, and she hoped they wouldn't come in. More-than-one-frat-guy was the worst; they'd feed off each other and think they were some Tosh.0 comedy team, even though they were just obnoxious instead of funny. Just drive away, she thought, watching them. One guy stepped over so the gas nozzle was clamped between his legs and acted like he was fucking his car, and his sidekick howled like this was brilliant stuff. She could hear the whooping through the glass, drunk-volume. Yeah, drive away, please.
The trucker came up to the counter and laid out his purchases: bottle of Coke, Butterfinger bar, container of coffee, three little bottles of 5 Hour Energy, and two Slim Jims. Stimulant, stimulant, stimulant, stimulant, protein. He looked like he needed all of it, like some weary skeleton roaming the night. She smiled at him and he twitched kind-of-a-smile back, civil but uninterested and awkwardly socialized. She rang up his items and bagged them. "Anything else?" she asked.
"This'll do 'er," he said, handing over some cash. He took his change, mumbled a thanks, and left. Outside the frat boys finished filling up, got in their car, and went away.
Around an orange-pink streetlight big bugs were dogfighting, or doing some entomological square dance; at least somebody was having a good time tonight. She checked the time again. 1:53. Shit. She tried calling Richie again, got nothing. Something must be wrong. He'd been late a couple of times, but only by like five minutes. He knew she wasn't supposed to work alone, and knew the place spooked her even with him here. They got plenty of weirdoes and they spooked Richie, too, but he was athletic-looking enough to keep them at bay, even if he was secretly scared of confrontation. Where could he be? If he had car trouble or something he would have called. The store'd been having problems with its land line for a couple of days but Richie had her cell number. She was torn between being mad at him and worrying if he was okay.
The ghost-hunter show went off and another came on. Another car pulled up to the pumps and a woman got out, filled up, and left. A police car sped by with blue lights flashing. A few minutes later there was another. Accident somewhere. Hopefully not Richie.
Then some wiry, sweaty guy pulled up in a rattletrap car and came in. He nodded at her and laughed and waved, his eyes bright and crazy, the white showing all around them. Great, she thought, but nodded back. He loped over to the potato chip section and walked back and forth in front of it, looking. Maybe a tweaker, she thought. They can't sleep so they stay up and eat, and their nerves burn it off as fast as it comes in. He had short, damp-looking black hair and a white tee shirt advertising some radio station, and saggy jeans with one of those wallet-chains that looked total douchebag on anybody but bikers, where they still looked douchebag but with an excuse.
He paced, staring at the junk food, ducking his head around, and Casey thought, we don't have that big a selection, squirrel, don't make a night of it. She tried to watch the ghost-hunter show, worried that if he saw her watching him he'd use it as an excuse for conversation.
Minutes passed and still he lingered, and she worried that he was trying to make up his mind about something more serious than snacks. She wished someone would pull up for gas, just in case, but there was no one.
Finally he snatched up a bag of Cheetos, then went over to the drinks. Oh hell, a great beverage debate now, too. She nibbled at one of the nails she had left. Casey was a very pretty girl, long wavy brown hair and big light blue eyes, but she despaired of ever having pretty hands, not unless she found a new nervous habit. Better than smoking, anyway. Richie smoked, and he was always having to step out and smoke one at the wrong moment. Like, if he was here tonight, he'd probably be out puffing a butt now.
The guy came up to the counter and set down his Cheetos and Faygo juggalo juice and smiled at her. "Tah-dah!" he said, like it was a magic trick. His eyes were jittery with abnormal glee.
Casey smiled and started ringing him up.
"Nice night, huh?" he said.
"I've had better."
"Oh? Anything wrong?"
Great, I made conversation, she thought. I need to just learn to nod.
"Just tired," she said.
"Oh," he said. "When do you get off?"
"Six," she said. "That'll be five dollars and sixty cents."
"Sure," he said, digging a wad of cash out of his pocket and sorting through it. "Six, huh? Ways off 'til six. Maybe you need a break. Is it just you here?"
"My co-worker's around," she said. Around Earth, somewhere. Presumably, still. Better your ass thinks he's in the back room, though.
"Take you a break, then," he said, smiling too big, handing over six ones. He had so many ones it looked like he'd mugged a stripper.
"Maybe I will," she said, passing him his change. "Have a nice night."
He nodded and picked up his stuff. "Hey," he said, tearing open the Cheetos and extending the bag. "Cheeto?"
He rattled the bag. "Sure? Breakfast of cham-peens!" He laughed, too loud and too sharp, a choking cluck of a laugh, like something thick struggling down a drain. The sound of it made her hate him even more.
"I'm sure. Thanks anyway."
He nodded. "Your loss. Cheetos are awe-sommmme!" He crammed a fistful of them in his mouth, made a face, and shook the bag at her again, raising his eyebrows. Jeez, fella, give it a rest, she thought, shaking her head. He shrugged, waved, and walked outside.
Casey breathed a sigh of relief. Weirdo. Harmless, but shit.
The guy didn't leave, though. He stood there, leaning against the building, eating Cheetos, maybe watching the bugs dance. He opened the Faygo and started drinking. "Damnit, dude, get in your fucking goober-mobile and go home," she whispered to herself. She checked the time. 2:20. Just for the hell of it, she tried Richie's number again, got nothing. This time she left another voice-mail, "Damnit, Richie, where are you? Call me back!" and hung up.
Another cop car went streaking past, strobing. How many cops did this town have, anyway? Jesus.
Weirdo-boy was still standing there, eating. He stood like he was grooving to some music nobody else could hear. What if she needed one of those cops? Would any be left? Could she call 911 and report an oddball snacking in the parking lot? "Would you please leave?" she hissed to herself.
The guy started banging his head on the front window. Not violently, just bang, bang, bang while he leaned against it. She didn't think he'd break the glass or anything, but it was still the kind of thing you didn't do. She wasn't going to go out and tell him to stop it or anything, but jeez. Bang, bang, bang. She wondered if she should lock the door. The guy's hair was leaving grease-smears on the window, like a giant's fingerprint.
After a few minutes he finished his Cheetos and Faygo, kicked himself away from the wall, and came back into the store. Shit. "Hi again!" he laughed. "I'm Gus, by the way."
Casey nodded. Fuck you, Gus.
"And you are... Casey!" he said, peering at her nametag. "Casey Jones! Casey and the Sunshine Band!" He laughed. "Sorry, I bet you get that a lot."
Not really, she thought. Most people aren't that corny or obnoxious. But she just shrugged.
"Really, though, I like that name. Casey at the bat! One of those names that can be a guy's name," he pointed in one direction, "or a girl's name." He pointed in the other. "Is it short for Cassandra?"
"No, it's not short for anything," she said. "It's just Casey."
He nodded. "That's cool, that's cool. Hey, I gotta wash my hands." He held them up. "Cheeto dust!"
"Restroom's right back there," she said, pointing.
"Thanks, Casey, said Gus!" he said, then headed toward the back, a cheesy guy sucking at his cheesy fingers.
She watched him go. They had a hatchet behind the counter. She'd asked Paul about it once and he said the day-shift people sometimes used it to trim back saplings from growing up around the dumpster. She located it, just in case.
Gus returned from the bathroom, smiling and displaying his hands. "All clean!" he said. "Reminds me of that joke."
Casey nodded. I'm not asking what joke, so stop fishing.
"You know the joke?" Gus asked, grinning. His teeth were the color of smoker's snot, like they had skin on them.
Casey shrugged, looking back at the TV, which was flashing crime scene photos. She felt like she was seconds away from being in one, too.
"There's this guy, goes to the doctor. He says, 'Doc, you gotta help me! My you-know-what is turning orange!'"
Casey frowned at the TV. Great. Gus thinks jokes about '"you-know-whats" are appropriate to tell girls he doesn't know at two in the morning. Gus is a class-A fuckup. Gus has something bad wrong with him. Nobody was in the parking lot.
"The doctor says, 'Well, have you been doing anything unusual lately?' And the guy, he says, 'Nope! Just what I always do! Eating Cheetos and watching Cinemax After Dark!'" Gus barked too-loud laughter and slapped the counter, and Casey winced, both from the crudity of the joke and because he hurt her ears. She glanced out at the empty parking lot again. Even the highway was free of traffic. She was alone in the world with Gus.
"Get it?" Gus laughed, snorting.
"Yeah, I get it," she said.
"Dude was jacking his dick. That's hilarious," Gus giggled.
Casey said nothing. The hatchet was right there. Blue rubber-covered handle. What would it feel like, impacting?
"Course nine out of ten guys do it, and the tenth one's a liar," Gus said. "I'm the liar!"
The parking lot was still empty. No traffic. Bugs at a boil around the light like fizz in a bottle.
"So are you," he said.
Casey looked at him. "Huh? So am I, what?"
"A liar," Gus said. He had a weird little smirk. "Why'd you tell me your co-worker was around here somewhere when he isn't?"
"He is!" Casey said, a coldness uncurling inside her.
Gus's smirk spread wider. "Not so! Richie, that's his name, isn't it? Richie?" Gus spread his hands out to present the store. "Richie's not here!"
"How do you know Richie's not here? How do you know his name?"
"I come in here before. A few times. Sometimes I didn't come in, just parked out front and looked through the window a while. You didn't notice me, but I noticed you-oooo!" He laughed and spiraled a pointing finger at her. "I noticed you a lot. You're very noticeable. Really pretty. I was kind of jealous of Richie, getting to hang out all night with you, four nights a week. Dude was rockin' with Dokken!" He laughed, the guh-huh-huh of a funhouse clown as it leapt at you from the dark.
"I think you need to leave now," Casey said. She looked for her cell phone to back her up, like she might call the cops, but it wasn't there. Had Gus taken it, maybe while she was staring at the TV, trying to freeze him out? It had been right there. She checked the floor to see if it had fallen. No.
"You don't want me to go," Gus said. "There's bad stuff going on tonight. Did you see all those cop cars? Wow. Must be killers out there or something. I can't leave you alone here. Wouldn't be right." He waved a hand at the night. "Town's falling apart out there! Escaped maniacs!"
"Did you just take my phone?"
"Me? No. Phone? What'd it look like?"
"I'm the liar," Casey remembered him saying a minute ago. Yeah, you are. When he'd slapped the counter, that's when he'd taken it.
The hatchet was there. If she picked it up the gas pedal would go to the floormat on this thing, force it to go ugly. Maybe if she waited, somebody would come in. Maybe one of those cops. That cliche about them and doughnuts? It was grounded in fact.
"It's okay, I'm a nice guy. I'm not gonna do nothin'," Gus said. "Don't be all nervous. I'm the one nervous, talking to a pretty girl." He laughed. "Sorry, I'm screwing this up, aren't I?"
It was screwed up before you got here, she thought. You're making it a nightmare. She looked outside; a car went past, now that she wanted one to stop. She looked at her hand and it was a trembling, gnawed-on thing, incapable-looking.
"I'd like you to leave now," she said. "Give me back my phone and go."
"I don't haaaave your phone. And I can't leave you alone here with killers roaming the night. I'm a nice guy." He grinned, rocking back and forth.
"If you were a nice guy you'd leave when I ask," she said.
"Ordinarily I would, but these are special circumstances," Gus said. "You're alone and crazy things are going on. Richie's maybe dead, even."
"Well, why else would he not be here? He seemed like a nice guy. I hate him 'cuz I'm the jealous type, but, he seemed nice." Gus rolled his eyes.
Casey felt a chill and looked out at the parking lot again. Empty. And she'd parked around back, the way employees were supposed to, to leave more space in front for customers. She wouldn't be able to beat Gus back to her car. And the stockroom didn't have a lock on it. And the store's landline phone was out. But she suddenly felt sure Gus had done something to Richie, just to spend time alone with her. Gus wasn't just a weirdo, he was a full-blown psycho, too crazy to even maintain his cover.
"Did you do something to Richie?" Casey asked.
Gus frowned. "Me? Naw! Naw, I'm a nice guy. I'm just saying somebody probably did, since he's not here. Otherwise he wouldn't leave you here alone. I mean, I won't. Even if you don't like me, I'm gonna stay here and look after you. I'm your friend even if you don't want to be mine." Gus grabbed some candy and put it on the counter and dug a dollar out of his pants. "I need some Skittles."
It was so absurd Casey almost laughed. This twitchy bastard is so unaware of how terrifying he is that he takes a snack break. Almost by reflex, Casey rung it up. It'd be nice to turn this back into a normal business transaction, forget about that hatchet for a minute. Gus hadn't really done anything to justify going for it yet but he could explode into something that would require it any second. She needed to get ready to go at a second's notice. Could she really put a hatchet into someone's skull? Would it sink in, like in the movies, or would it bounce off and just chip away a nasty wound? She reached up and felt of her own skull. It'd probably be like trying to chop into a motorcycle helmet. In any case, there'd be blood, and a lot of it. Casey wasn't fond of blood. She'd greyed out at the sight of cut fingers before.
But she really didn't want Gus anywhere near her. He was getting more intolerably creepy by the second, and jittery, like he was building energy for some purpose. Her hand was shaking when she put his change on the counter, refusing to put it in his hand and make any kind of skin-on-skin contact.
Gus tore open the bag with his teeth and shook it at Casey. "Skittle?"
She shook her head no.
"Eat too many Skittles, they'll give you the shittles! Crap the rainbow!" Gus said, then laughed that dumb drain-clog laugh again, too loud. "My friend Mike, man, I used to sneak a few Skittles into his bag of M&Ms, and he'd be eating them, you know, just eating 'em, mmmm, M&Ms, like, and then he'd get this chewy one! HA! He'd gross the fuck out, like!"
Casey nodded, and looked out at the parking lot again. Nothing. She didn't have her phone so she didn't know what time it was now. There was a clock in the store but Raymond was lazy about changing its batteries so it had run down at thirteen after eleven, an absurd time. Absurd. On the TV some smiling idiot was telling her how great some scratch-removal product was. Somebody was counting on people being up late, worrying about scratches on their dining room table in the wee hours of the morning. Number one cause of insomnia! If Richie was here, she'd have made that joke. He'd have laughed, probably acted out such a person's fretting. It'd have been funny.
Instead, there was Gus. Dumb fucking grin Gus. Nice Guy Gus, gonna make her split his dumb grin with a hatchet.
"Mike died, though," Gus said. "Somebody went over him real good with a hammer and then cut him all apart, left the pieces on some dirt road a couple hundred miles from here. Cops never found out who did it." Casey glanced at Gus and he had the same dumb smile on his face, maybe a little smaller. He was twitching, too, all fidgets. "Bummer. Ol' Mike was a good dude, most of the time. But, just goes to show you, maniacs walk the night. That's how come I gotta stay and protect you." He slapped a handful of Skittles into his mouth and said, while chewing, "Gotta wonder if all those cop cars were going to whatever happened to Richie."
"Don't say that!" Casey snapped.
Gus held his hands out. "I'm not saying they are, I'm just saying. Something's going on, right? All those cops? Breaker one-nine! Murder in progress!"
"Stop trying to scare me," Casey said. "In fact, get out of the store. Give me back my phone and leave!"
Gus sighed and wagged his head. "I thought we'd established..."
"We didn't establish shit. You get out of here and I'll lock the place up and I'll be fine. I don't need you looking after me."
"Locking up would be a good idea, but I'll stay here with you," Gus said. "You want the truth, I'm scared, too. We should lock up."
"There is no WE!" Casey shouted. "Get out!"
"Can't do it. There's maniacs all over. Something's happening out there, Casey. I was trying not to scare you, but the town is going crazy. Maniacs, all over! Cutting people up and shit. Raping people, pulling their guts out..." He bared his teeth and bugged out his eyes.
"And you decided to wander out into it and buy some fucking juggalo-bait. You're so scared and Cheetos and Faygo are worth risking your life for? Not buying it. Give me my phone and get out!"
"I came here because I like you," Gus said. "I figured you needed protecting. That Richie guy obviously couldn't do it." Gus laughed and flung his arms out like he'd made some kind of big point, and Casey was being ridiculous for trying to deny it. "Why do you have to make it so hard? Can't I just be a nice guy?"
An SUV pulled up to the pump outside. Casey headed for the door but Gus blocked her. His eyes were bugged out and darting. "Don't go out there! That's probably one of the maniacs!"
Casey watched a heavyset man get out of the SUV and start gassing it up. She thought about cutting off the pumps so he'd have to come in to complain, but Gus grabbed her arm and came behind the counter with her. "I'll be Richie," he said, whispering in her ear. "If he comes in we'll just act like normal, you're Casey and I'm Richie and we're just doing our night-shift stuff, tra-la-la-la-la, and maybe he'll go away and won't try to kill us." Gus squeezed her. "Damn you smell good. Anyway, don't be scared, if he does any maniac stuff, I'll take care of him." He giggled, all crawly nerves. Casey stiffened, trying to recoil even while he had a grip on her, and she hoped he didn't see the hatchet under the counter. She glanced over and it was back in the shadows and behind a bottle of hand lotion some other employee had stashed there. Casey thought, I hope Gus has no sudden use for lotion, and suddenly she wanted to vomit.
He smelled nasty, swampy, stale laundry and old tangy smoke, sour milk, baby oil, all cocktailed into Gus-funk. It wasn't strong, as a smell, but still made her choke just because it was his. His hand on her arm felt sticky and greasy.
The SUV driver finished up, got back in, and drove away. Taillights the color of heartbreak, going smaller into the night.
"Whew, close one," Gus said. Casey shook him away and stepped away from him.
"Don't touch me!" she snapped.
"Sorry about that, it was an emergency," Gus said. "I thought that guy was one of them. You never know. Everybody seems normal at first. That's how it works. Nobody just walks around with a chainsaw saying 'Hi ho, I want to wallow around in your organs!' That'd be stupid."
"No, they'd pose as a nice guy," Casey said. "A protector of women."
Gus clucked his tongue, clock-clock-clock.
"Get out from behind the counter," Casey said.
"But I'm gonna be Richie." Clock-clock-clock.
"You're not Richie and you don't work here. If my boss sees you behind the counter on the tape, you'll be in big trouble and so will I. Customers coming behind the counter is step one in robbery."
"Oh, shit, I didn't think about that," Gus said, and went back around to the customer side of the counter. "I don't want to get you in trouble, Casey. I want us to be friends, okay?"
Incredible, Casey thought, this putz still thinks he has some kind of chance. Is this obliviousness something he's had to develop as a defense mechanism, just to get through life? His personality's so awful he's had to just refuse to even acknowledge rejection, since that's all he ever gets? She couldn't imagine anyone ever feeling comfortable around Gus. Spend more than thirty seconds around his twitchy toxic energy and you become desperate to flee. That speedfreak, wrong-headed glee in his eyes was like staring into the countdown clock of a bomb, down to the run-don't-walk numbers.
"Tell you want," Gus said, "anybody else comes, I'll go over there, by the magazine rack, like I'm checking out the cars-and-titties magazines or something, and if the guy comes in and he's a maniac, I'll come in behind him and stab him in the kidney. They go down like in an instant, you do that. So don't worry, I'll keep you safe."
Stab him in the kidney. Gus had just told her he had a knife. And knew how fast a kidney-sticking would drop someone. Important information to have. Now she was even more hesitant to face off against him with the hatchet. He was armed. She looked at his pockets; his pants were saggy so she couldn't tell much about what might be in them.
"You sure your knife can reach a kidney?" Casey said.
"Aw yeah. They're just, like, right there." Gus cupped his back, like a pregnant woman showing off her baby-bump.
"I don't know, there's a lot of fat," Casey said. "Sure you can get through a Southern-grown love-handle? You need a pretty long blade."
Gus whooped and dug in his front pocket. She saw a rectangle briefly outlined as he dug -- my phone -- and then he fished out a pearl-handled lock-blade designed to resemble a steer's horn. He snapped it open, long and wicked, then closed it and replaced it. "Halfway to a machete, that is. It's beyond the legal limit but cops'll usually let you slide on that as long as they don't find weed or something on you, too." Gus grinned, stupidly pleased.
Casey wasn't comfortable with people who were in a position to know what cops usually do. But at least she'd gotten a look at what she was dealing with. Nasty-looked thing, looked thinned down from frequent sharpening. Yeah, that hatchet was going to be a last-ditch move. Outside a car rolled by but didn't stop. Then the street was quiet.
"So how's your summer been?" Gus asked. "Do anything fun?"
Casey wanted to bray with madwoman laughter. Oh my Lord, Gus, I just do not believe you! Hope springs eternal and the world is your trampoline! "Not much," she said.
"What kind of stuff do you like to do? I bet you water-ski. I can see you, water-skiing." Gus got the dumbest happy smile on his face, held a hand in front of him, and swayed back and forth.
"Never been," Casey said. She had been, once, with her cousin Sherri, but telling Gus that would have been conversation. She hadn't liked it much, anyway. Casey liked things she was already good at.
"Aw, man. I coulda swore. Guess I was just wanting to see you in a bikini."
Casey looked at the TV. Some artist's rendering of a UFO landing.
"You got a bikini?"
Some guy the caption said was professor of astronomy explained something. He looked adamant. The UFO in the picture either definitely did or definitely did not exist.
"Not on me," Casey said, refusing to look away from the screen.
Gus snorted. "Huh! Not on me! Heehee! You are such an awesome chick." Out of the corner of her eye Casey watched him pace and dig in his pocket, maybe playing with the knife, or maybe something else she didn't want to think about. "You really smell good. Damn. What perfume do you wear?"
"Really? Wow. I don't know what brand it is but I'd just about eat it. Damn."
He wants to eat me, Casey thought. She glanced at the parking lot again. Woefully empty. They were in that dead spot of the night when hardly anyone was out. The dead clock still said 11:13. It's always 11:13 here in Hell. How long had Gus been here? Maybe twenty minutes but it felt like hours. When would the morning shift show up? God, let them be early! Right now would be good.
"I don't mind telling you, you smell so good you got me stiffdicked," Gus said, with a sly little smile.
"Well, you should mind telling me that!" Casey yelled. "You're disgusting! Get out of here! Now!"
"Jeez, you should be flattered," Gus said, shifting from one foot to the other. "I wouldn't even have told you except I was feeling like we were kind of getting to be friends. I feel comfortable with you, I can talk about things."
"You can't talk to me about anything and I'm not your friend! I want you to get out of here, right now!" Casey put her hand on the hatchet under the counter, not showing it yet.
"You'd send me out there, when the night is filled with maniacs?" Gus said, looking sidelong at her, playing hurt-little-boy.
"Damn betcha! Right now! Get out!" He stood there, staring. "GO!" Casey yelled. "NOW! Right NOW! Get OUT!"
Gus shook his head. "You won't even give me a chance." He looked like he might cry. "You don't even care. I did all this for you, you don't know what I did, everything I did for you and you don't even care if I'm all chopped up by maniacs..."
"The only maniac is you! Just get out of here, go back to your house and lock yourself in if you're so scared of crazy people."
"But something will happen to you. Somebody scary will come in."
Casey laughed, and felt crazy. Her hand closed around the hatchet. "Somebody scary already came in, and it's you, Gus! There is nobody scarier than you!" Another police car streaked past outside, going the other way this time, lights strobing like a pinball machine on full tilt. Casey wanted to yell for them.
"Noooo, no, no, I'm not scary! Casey, I'm not scary. I'm a nice guy! You would totally fucking like me, if you just gave it a chance. I wouldn't hurt you, babygirl. I want to make you feel good."
Casey gave an involuntary shriek of revulsion.
Gus laughed. "What? I'll prove it. You can stand at the counter and I'll get down behind it and make you feel real good."
"The only way you could make me feel good is to get the fuck out of here, you sick, psycho son of a bitch!"
Outside a semi-truck pulled up to the diesel pumps. Gus didn't notice it because he was too busy getting upset, stepping back and forth and pinching at himself. He laughed nervously. "Man, this isn't going at all like it played out in my head. Not at all. What are you, like, a lesbian or something?"
The trucker climbed down from the cab and went to the pump. Casey tried not to look at him. "No, I'm not a lesbian. You're just such a fucking creep." Casey wanted to engage Gus in an argument so he wouldn't notice the trucker. She took her hand away from the hatchet and rested it next to the controls for the pumps.
"Me? What's wrong with me?" Gus asked.
"I don't have enough time to tell you," she said. "How about everything? Start from there and run wild with it!"
"Jeez," Gus said, pacing. He slapped the magazine rack and growled in frustration. "Okay, maybe I'm not good at talking to pretty girls. I get nervous. I thought about you so much, played this out in my head so much, so when it didn't go like I planned, I guess I didn't recover well... said some dumb things..."
The trucker got the nozzle in his truck and the numbers started rolling. Give him just a minute, Casey thought, a few more seconds so he'll know it's not just a dead pump.
"It's partially your fault, you know," Gus said. "You aren't the sweet girl I thought you were. No offense, but you are not the girl I was jerking off to."
Casey laughed. She couldn't help it. As horrible as the whole situation was, it was even more ridiculous. Her lifespan might be a matter of unpleasant seconds right now but she was being confronted with not being the girl Gus jerked off to, like that was supposed to disappoint her. No offense! She laughed harder and snapped the diesel pump off. There. He'd have to come in now to see what was wrong.
"I hate to say it, Casey, because I love you, I do, but you really make me mad." Gus was digging in his pocket, maybe out of nervousness, maybe going for the knife. "Girls like you. A guy can be so nice, risk his life, and you always like somebody else. You like guys who'll treat you crappy. I would lick your butt and you'd just send me out to the maniacs. That's disappointing. Really fucking disappointing."
Here he comes. The trucker was walking toward the building. Gus still had his back to the door, and his face was changing, all the fakey nice-guy smile gone, and now it was screwed up and bitter. Some dam had burst inside of him and now he was flooding with an unhappiness he wanted to make her pay for. She didn't know if Gus had killed Richie -- she was pretty sure he had, after all that talk of "you don't know what I did for you" -- but she felt sure he'd kill her now. He wouldn't be able to deal with the rejection any other way.
And then the trucker was in the store, a big guy with a red cap and a Metallica tee shirt. His face was covered with thick white-and-black stubble, like a face full of static. Gus jumped and stared at him, looking panicked. The trucker ignored him and looked at Casey. "Hey, ya'll's pump ain't workin'. It cut out on me."
"This guy's a psycho!" Casey yelled, pointing at Gus. "Help me! He's been scaring me, and he won't leave!"
"Uh?" the trucker said, looking at Gus. "What the hell?"
"Dude, I don't know what she's talking about. I just came in to buy some Skittles and she starts yelling crazy stuff at me," Gus said, holding his hands up. "She's on drugs or something."
"He's lying!" Casey said. "He's a whackjob. He stole my phone and he may have done something to my co-worker. He never showed up tonight and this guy keeps saying he's probably dead. Just keep him away from me, let me lock up and get in my car..."
"You botherin' this girl?" the trucker said, turning on Gus.
"Look out, he's got a knife in his pocket!" Casey said.
"She's full of shit, man," Gus said, suddenly getting whiney.
"You threaten this girl with a knife?" the trucker asked.
"Fuck, what knife?" Gus said.
"He didn't exactly threaten me, he just said he could stab somebody if they came in. He thinks maniacs are running around out there," Casey said. "He's been talking crazy all night. Let's just go out and I'll lock up..."
"I ain't likin' this botherin' girls business," the trucker said. "Ain't havin' that, no sir."
"I wasn't bothering anybody, I just bought some stuff and she starts talking all kinds of crazy stuff about her phone and her co-worker," Gus said, then clock-clocked his tongue again.
"She ain't look crazy to me," the trucker said. "You, though, man, you look like all kindsa shit wrong with you, boy. You all... jackin' around and shit" The trucker did a twitchy dance move, imitating Gus's jankiness. "You bother this girl, son, I'll send you home carryin' pieces of ya'se'f in your pockets."
"Hey, fuck you, man, I was just shopping," Gus said. Clock-clock-clock.
The trucker looked at Casey with a big laugh. He was missing a couple of teeth on the bottom, and his eyes were the bright, empty blue of a TV screen after the VCR ran out of tape. Casey decided he was on some long-hauler dope, real mean 'phetamines. His hat, Casey noticed, read "YOUR A IDIOT," and a remote part of her noted she'd be laughing her ass off at that if the air wasn't so thick with violence. "You hear this pecker? 'Fuck me,' he says. Well, if that ain't a big box of goddamnits overturned and shaken!" He laughed, a harsh whoop.
"Look, I'm sorry," Gus said, backing up.
"Sorry's for carelessness. Sorry's not for intentional-but-done-got-caught," the trucker said, breathing deeper and sounding joyful that he was going to get to beat somebody up. His fist was a big, squared-off thing, a demolition hammer.
"Don't hit him," Casey said. "Just get him outside and let me lock up..."
The trucker waved a shushing hand at her and kept grinning at Gus. "You know you in some damn trouble now, don'tcha boy? C'mere, I'm gonna soften your face up for ya." He laughed, almost a giggle. "You already ugly, but now you gone be flat hard to look at."
"Stay the hell away from me!" Gus yelled, pulling out his knife.
"Uh-HUH!" the trucker barked. "You said you didn't have no knife! Uh-huh, uh-huh! Lied about everything, didn'tcha? Lie-tellin' son-of-a-BITCH!"
Gus tried to edge toward the door but the trucker stepped in the way, pulling a knife from his belt. Casey's disreputable Uncle Josh had one like it, a Sharpfinger from Schrade, a small but wicked little thing. "Just let him go!" Casey said. "Let him go!"
"Fuck-yous have been thrown about. Way yonder past too late for lettin' him go," the trucker said, glancing up at the clock. "Looka there, it's eleven-thirteen! Only eleven-thirteen?" He looked at Casey. "Damn, this is a long night!" Then he turned back to Gus. "Anyhow, eleven-thirteen's cuttin' time, motherfucker!"
Casey wanted to scream. Her insides were quivering so badly she didn't see how they could still be functioning. She was cold jello wrapped in skin. Within seconds she was going to see something she didn't know if she could stand to see.
Gus was yelling now, and lunging, but he didn't know what he was doing and the trucker slapped his knife hand past him and then rushed in and trapped Gus's knife arm between their bodies. Then he went to work with the Schrade. Gus howled like nothing Casey had ever heard and she was so overwhelmed with terror she felt like she was melting. There was a whispery shik-shik-shik, flesh parting. The trucker grunted, sticking the knife into the mid-left of Gus's chest and yanking down hard like he was playing a slot machine that had been cheating him all night.
If he was playing for Gus's innards, he hit a major jackpot because Casey saw them gush out like escaping pythons. There was a sound like a watermelon being split and a cascade of meaty slaps against the floor, like wet feet running down stairs. Gus's face went instantly white as seemingly everything else in the world turned bright red, before going sparkly grey.
As it faded, somehow she found herself sitting on the floor behind the counter. She felt like she'd lost some time but she could see the clock on the wall and it was still 11:13. Clock clock clock, she thought. She'd heard that somewhere. There was a raunchy smell in the air. Insides that were now outsides. Cheetos, Faygo, and the shittles, she thought, and wanted to laughvomit.
"Hey, girl, girl," a voice was saying. "Casey. Hey Casey."
Gus? she thought. Can't be Gus. She flashed on what she'd seen happen to Gus and, no, couldn't be Gus. Could NOT. But he was the only one here who knew her name.
"Hey, Casey," the voice said, and she looked up. The trucker was leaning over the counter. She frowned. Oh, yeah, her nametag. That was how.
"Casey, you know how to get the tapes out of them cameras ya'll got?"
She nodded. She'd done it before when her friend Sondra had come by drunk one night and wanted to streak around the store. Richie had dared her, she remembered. Richie.
"Get them tapes out and give 'em to me. Put some new ones in after I get everything cleaned up. Lord, there's a mess of blood that damn boy had in him, but I can get it up. Done it a few times before." He laughed, his eyes gleaming that dead-channel light. The night is filled with maniacs, Casey thought. The trucker took out two cigarettes and lit them, and Casey thought he was going to offer her one, but no, he was smoking them both at once. Hardcore. "Don't worry, I'll chop him up, get the meat all wrapped up and carry it out to my truck, dump the bones in a place I got a few states over." He blew out a lot of smoke and looked into it dreamily, then turned to her again. "Hey, you want some of the meat?"
Casey stared at his YOUR A IDIOT hat and laughed at it like she'd wanted to. He laughed back. "No, I don't want any," Casey said.
"Sure? Breakfast of cham-peens!" he said.
"I'm sure," she said, amazed.
"Your loss," he said, shrugging, and went away. She sat there and stared at the clock. 11:13. Wow, what a long minute.
Casey watched her hand, reaching out and nudging aside the bottle of lotion. The hand was amazingly steady as it wrapped around the blue handle of the hatchet. She watched it lift it. Was she doing it? It was like watching somebody else, somebody who needed to let their poor nails alone. She didn't stand so much as float up, and she felt like she was drifting as she came around the counter.
The trucker had his back to her, bending over Gus, grunting as he sliced at something troublesome. Padded mats, from his truck she supposed, had soaked up much of the blood. She'd been out a while. There was a white PVC bucket full of bloody water, and a clotted mop. He'd taken several FuelzMart bags and laid them out beside him. Several were bloody and full of the breakfast of cham-peens. Gus's face was staring up, surprised, from a bunch of stuff that no longer looked like Gus or anybody else either. Her phone lay off to the side in a nest of bloody one dollar bills. The trucker was ignoring her, pulling at something with one hand and slicing at it with the knife in his other. There was the back of his cap, strands of grey hair, the sunburned and creased nape of his neck, his shoulders working under the Metallica logo. The hatchet was heavy in her hand.
"Here," she said, "use this."
(c) copyright 2015 by me