Reunion

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Thrillers  |  House: Booksie Classic

A man headed to his high school reunion is plagued by a supernatural force that demands a price higher than he's willing to pay.

“Reunion”

 

“Who the fuck thinks about windshield wiper fluid?” This was the single thought that passed through Mike’s mind as he struggled to see the dark, snowy highway that lay before him. It was a “goddamn” one-lane stretch for about 47 miles, and he had the misfortune of getting stuck behind a Pepperidge Farm 18-wheeler going just a few below the speed limit of 55mph. It was still snowing, though not as hard as it had been, and the large truck was kicking up enough slush and muck from the road to lay a thick coat of filth on the windshield of his Honda Accord.  He had hit the lever to spray cleaning fluid and wipe away the dirt and frozen debris, only to see a small, pathetic squirt of liquid dribble out the dispensers. The wipers then kicked into action, smearing the dirt, rather than clear it off and exacerbating the whole windshield situation quite a bit. “This is all your fucking fault” he muttered to no one, squinting past the falling snow and smudged glass that distorted his view of the country highway.
As he continued riding the bread truck’s ass, he couldn’t help but notice how similar the scenery of upstate New York was to that of the Deep South. Sure it was quite a bit more mountainous than the south, but there was still that uneasy, almost eerie feeling, of isolation that came with miles upon miles of empty fields, broken up only by a handful of old, decrepit farm houses and seemingly abandoned gas stations.
He had tried to scoot around the truck a few miles back, shifting over the double yellow lines only to be met by a speeding SUV, headed the other way. A quick swerve had averted a fatal crash, and the fear it instilled in Mike averted any further attempts to cut in front of the truck. A few miles later, a flash of green caught his eye on the right side of the road. There he saw a big, reflective, lime-green and white sign that read “Weigh Station 1/4 Mile.” He took this as a sign from the heavens. Surely this behemoth before him wouldn’t skip a mandatory weigh station, thus allowing him to sail by, worry free of oncoming traffic. He decided to struggle through the next quarter of a mile and took great pleasure in seeing the flashing light on the right side of the bread-mobile, signaling the end of his misery.
As the truck pulled into the weigh station he jutted just so slightly into the empty oncoming lane and cut around the exiting truck, the closest he’d get to a nice, solid “fuck-you” send off as he would get. With the open road before him, he pressed his foot on the gas and took off, eager to get back to any sign of civilization.
He caught himself staring at the empty seat beside him, wondering if it was a mistake to lose his wife so close to such an event. Would he be the only one there without a spouse? After all, it was his 10 year high school reunion. Most of his former classmates would be there with their husbands and wives, and he certainly didn’t want to be the only one there without some arm candy. Maybe he shouldn’t have ditched her? Maybe they could have worked things out? He shook his head and put those thoughts out of his mind almost instantly. She had to go. Plain and simple. She would have sent him packing eventually anyway, at least this way he could keep some of his dignity. It’s not like his ball and chain would have turned that many heads anyway. He had made the right call, he convinced himself. There was definitely no reason to suffer her a minute longer than he had to, and that minute had passed hours ago.
Perhaps he underestimated his longing for his absentee wife, or any company for that matter. Or perhaps he was just tired from the hours and hours of the bland, empty road. Whatever the case, he let his mind drift and failed to notice that he had veered slightly into the oncoming lane. And he definitely didn’t notice the large, doe-eyed creature galloping directly into the path of his oncoming sedan. He reacted appropriately, albeit too late to save his automobile, swerving at the last minute, yet still striking the beast and sending himself and the poor creature flipping into the extremely shallow ditch along the left side of the empty highway.
He woke up some time later, shivering from the freezing temperature inside his vehicle and noticing the visible breath that came and went with each exhale. His head was throbbing and his chattering teeth only made the pain that much worse. He could tell from his body's position that he had landed right-side up. The seatbelt had kept him from being flung around the car, and he remained in basically the same spot he had started in, leaning only slightly to the left. He looked up to the crud covered windshield to survey the damage, only to see a blanket of white obstructing his view on all sides. As he rubbed his head and moaned, he figuring he must have been out for some time. Looking to the dashboard, he saw that the battery of his rental car was either dead or destroyed. He glanced down at his watch, but it was too dark to read. Reaching over to the glove box, he yanked it open and saw that no light flicked on. But that was ok. He knew what he was looking for, and where it all was. From the compartment, he retrieved a skull cap, a pair of black leather gloves and a small mag-light he had received as a gift from his wife the previous Christmas. He laughed at the irony as he pulled the skull cap over his perfectly groomed hair. He slipped on the gloves and pressed the button at the end of the mag-light, illuminating the dark car for the first time since he lost consciousness.
The first thing he noticed was the spider-web cracking where the deer’s skull must have struck his windshield. The blood was splatter, although there was less than he thought there would be. A shard of broken antler was sticking in a few inches below the rearview mirror. A quick glance above the antler at the intact rearview mirror showed no serious injury from the accident, however, his head was killing him. He shined the light over to the empty passenger seat. The roof had partially caved in during the flip. Shattered glass from the right side of the car completely covered the fully inclined seat. The crushed roof speared down right into the headrest. Had someone been sitting there, they would have surely been killed instantly. Once again, he couldn’t help but chuckle at the irony. He contemplated giving the keys a twist for the hell of it, but thought against it. No need to spark something that didn’t need sparking and blow himself to pieces. Not after he survived such a brutal accident. He shined the light on his watch and noticed that only about 40 minutes had passed since he last noticed the time on the dashboard. He removed the keys from the ignition and switched off the flashlight, stuffing both into his coat pocket.
He reached over and gave the handle of the door a pull. It popped out easy enough, but pushing the door open proved to be more of a challenge.  The car had landed at such an angle that the bottom of the car door was slightly less than parallel to the ground below. He shoved with all his remaining strength, pushing then pulling back, only to push forward again, until there was enough space for him to wiggle out of the car. As soon as he was free from the mangled car he took a moment to assess the damage. It was difficult to see with all the snow, but he could tell the car was totaled. It must have flipped over after striking the deer, crushing the right side of the vehicle. He took out his keys and hit the lock button but nothing happened. The car was dead, he remembered, and would not lock by remote. He considered locking it manually but decided there wasn’t anything of value in it anyway. Walking to the front of the car, he looked around for the animal he had hit, but it was nowhere in sight. Maybe it had run off injured, but more likely it was simply covered in snow or had rolled a further distance away. He stuffed his keys back in his pockets and glanced down the white path before him.  The snow had covered most of the road, but by the placement of the few scattered street lights, some tire tracks and the indentation of the plowed areas compared to the unplowed, he was able to decipher the highway. He recalled seeing a residence several miles back, definitely too far to attempt a walk in the current weather. With no better option at hand, he stuffed his hands in his coat pockets, tucked his head down and trucked forward hoping for the best. With any luck, he'd come across a gas station, or at the very least a passing vehicle that would pity him enough to give him a lift.
After what seemed like a lifetime, but was probably closer to an hour, he saw the light at the end of this miserable tunnel. There was a slight glow in the distance. As he got closer, no more than 50 yards away, he realized it was a gas and service station. He smiled to himself as he broke into a very light jog, more of a shuffle than a run, without removing his freezing hands from his warmish pockets.  Before he knew it he had shuffled into the gravel parking lot of the single pump station.He saw two cars in the parking lot; an old pick-up truck that was completely covered in snow and a silver Prius that was only had a light dusting and looked as though it hadn't been there very long at all.  There was a small convenience store attached to a dark, single car garage. The garage had long since closed, but the light in the store was still burning bright, a lone beacon in the dark and mildly destructive snow storm.  As he approached his salvation, he noticed the snow was slowing to a slight flurry. He removed his hands from his pockets and brushed the flakes from his coat then rubbed his arms to warm himself as he approached the tiny store.
The first thing he noticed was a figure sitting in a chair just outside of the store, slowly rocking back and forth under the dirty, red awning, barely visible under all the snow.  “I need help,” he shouted to his new best friend. No response. “Excuse me, you there! I was in an accident and need some help.” Still the figure silently rocked back and forth. As Mike got closer, he got a better view of the swaying man. Under a worn, straw cowboy hat, straight out of the old west, sat a middle aged, Asian man wrapped in a heavy, orange coat with a salt and pepper goatee and an eerily blank stare. Even under his many layers, Mike could tell the man was very thin, and couldn’t be much taller than 5 foot, considering his feet barely reached the snow covered ground. Small footprints led from the store’s door to the chair, though the falling snow was quickly filling them. A freshly lit cigarette hung from the Asian cowboy’s mouth, which was curled into a very irritating smirk.  He showed no alarm to Mike’s approach, he simply sat there staring, smoking his cigarette in a calm, yet disturbing, manner. At about twenty feet to the door, mike slowed his pace. He was out of breath, out of shape, and the cold air stung his lungs as he inhaled large mouthfuls of it. He trudged the rest of the way, stopping a few feet from the entrance. Still there was no acknowledgement from the only other soul in sight.
“Hey, didn’t you hear me? I was in a car wreck, I need help.” Mike was as polite as he could be, present conditions considered, but the Asian cowboy just smiled and nodded his hatted head. “Do you speak English?” His follow up question may have struck some people as offensive, but he was far too cold and tired to be politically correct, especially with someone who has been nothing but rude to him so far. This time, the cowboy verbally responded. “Yes” he said cheerfully, after removing the burning cigarette from his lips and exhaling a big puff of smoke. He exuded a certain attitude, up-beat and confident that his retort was exactly what the frantic Mike wanted to hear. After which he shifted his head and looked off into the distance, as if Mike had just disappeared before his eyes. After shaking his head in frustration, Mike turned towards the door and yanked it open. “Hey fuck you pal!” was all he could think to say to the less than helpful Asian Cowboy as he stepped out of the cold and into his salvation.

The Store was as typical as a convenience store could be. Three rows of junk food and miscellaneous items, like cheap plastic toys, trashy magazines and OTC drugs on wire racks took up the center of the space. The north wall was lined with glass door refrigerators filled with different drinks and perishable goods. The east wall had a coffee machine, next to a slushy fountain and stacks upon stacks of paper and plastic cups. There was also a microwave and a waste high freezer, which he assumed was filled with ice creams and TV dinners. The counter was on the south wall, with no one behind it. On it sat a cash register, a plastic tip jar that once housed pretzels, a box of ring pops and a call bell sitting dead center. He walked directly to the counter, slamming his hand several times on the call bell. The ding of the bell rang out much louder than he would have thought throughout the small, empty store. He waited about 15 seconds before he began ringing the bell again, this time calling out to anyone in earshot. “Hello? Is anyone here? Helloooo?” This time, he heard movement from behind a closed door labeled “Garage” located just behind the register. He watched as the knob turned and the door slowly swung open. Out walked a short, long haired young man. He looked like he was in his early twenties, with blonde hair pulled back into a pony tail that looked like it hadn’t been washed in quite some time and matching blonde stubble on his face. He was wearing a black tee-shirt, with a blue work vest over it, cover in dark stains with a name tag pinned on his chest that read “Chad.” His arms had a few scattered tattoos and his eyes had the glassy appearance of someone who knew his way around a bong. The closer Chad got, the stronger the stench of motor oil and marijuana became. “Help you?” he said, clearly annoyed that someone had interrupted his smoke session in the garage.
“I was in an accident a few miles south of here. I hit a deer and my car was totaled. I need to use your phone to call a tow truck.” He was out of breath, and probably came off as kind of a dick, but at this point he really didn’t care. It took Chad a moment for what he just heard to register in his stoned mind, after which he responded, in almost a giggle. “Phone is done my man. Happens all the time when the weather’s like this.”
His already diminished spirit immediately evaporated. “Shit.” was all he could come up with. Chad laughed, and replied “We close in 40 minutes; I can give you a ride to the inn, not far from here.” Mike pretended he was mulling it over, but he already knew it was his only option. He could get a nights rest, call a tow truck in the morning and still make the reunion that night. He didn’t like the idea of leaving his car out there all night for anyone to find, but he had no choice. “Yea, I guess. Yea that would be great, than-” He stopped short as the lights flickered a few times then cut out completely. His first thought was it was storm related. If the phones were down it was completely plausible that the lights may go too. The lights came back for a brief moment, then cut out again for good. In the pitch black, he heard Chad say “Whoa.” An expected response from a typical stoner, but for some reason it still angered him. He was about to yell an obscenity when he felt the touch of a small, cold object brush his left arm. He spun around, but saw nothing in the dark room. He quickly chalked it up to his long and stressful night playing tricks on his mind, and returned his attention to the only other person in the store. He heard a bit of shuffling before a light source emerged from behind the counter. Chad had produced a small lantern that gave off enough light for them to see their immediate surroundings. “Guess we’re closing early…” giggled the oblivious Chad. “Let me just run up to the boss’s apartment and let him know, then we’ll be on our way my man.”
Before Mike could respond, Chad had disappeared back through the door behind the counter, leaving him alone in the pitch black store. He exhaled as he leaned against the counter, letting his eyes adjust to his dark surroundings. While the room began to take form, his mind returned to the Asian cowboy outside. As much as he was annoyed with him for his lack of participation in his rescue, he realized that, given the current situation, that poor little guy might need a hand getting to his car. He headed towards the door slowly, hands outstretched as to not bump into anything. After reaching the doorway without collision, he cracked it open and poked his head out. The first thing he noticed was that outside was just as dark as inside; the power outage had killed all outdoor lights as well. He glanced over to see the outline of an empty rocking chair, still swaying back and forth as it had when it was occupied by the Asian Cowboy. He waited a few moments before calling out “Hello?” No response. Suddenly, there was a loud crash behind him. He turned quickly and saw bags of chips scatter to the floor as one of the racks in the middle of the room had tipped over completely, sending all of its contents spilling to his feet.  He jumped back, through the door and out into the cold, watching the dim shadow of the door slowly close in front of him.  

He didn’t even realize he was still backing up until he felt himself bump into something that sent him stumbling forward in a quick, panicked fright. He tried to turn to face his obstruction, only to fall on his ass in the process. He put out his hands to stop himself from falling completely into the snow and minimize damage to his back. He broke his fall and steadied himself, then looked up and saw that it was the Asian Cowboy that had interrupted his retreat from the disturbance in the store. From his ass, Mike could barely make out the figure in the snow; it was the big, straw hat that gave away his assailants identity.  “What the fuck man?” he stammered as his scrambled to his feet. When he was upright again, he took a better look as he wiped the snow from his pants. He strained his eyes in the dark but could not make out much more than the cowboys figure standing in the snow. He couldn’t figure out what, but something was off about the man. Suddenly, the cowboy took a small, stumbling step towards Mike, followed by another. It looked almost as if the man was drunk and his basic motor functions had been compromised. As the foreign figure approached, arms stretched out, Mike remembered his flashlight and reached in his pocket to retrieve it. He clicked it on and pointed it towards the man’s face as he quickly got back to his feet. The first thing he noticed was the look of horror on the Asian cowboy’s face. His mouth was open, skin pale, and he looked as though he had aged a decade since he had seen him just a few moments ago. Mike took a few steps back, allowing the range of the flashlight to illuminate the rest of the man’s body. As he did, he noticed the entire right side of the Asian Cowboy’s torso was a much darker color than the rest of his heavy, orange coat. Then Mike noticed his limp as he staggered towards him. He wasn’t drunk, he was injured. “Are you ok?” he asked. The Asian Cowboy stopped, dropped to his knees and groaned as blood came spitting out of his mouth, landing all over Mike’s shirt. With his arm still stretched out, the Asian Cowboy fell before Mike, face first in the snow that was quickly turning a dark shade of what looked like brown, but Mike knew was red, around the fallen body.  Then he saw what had caused all the blood. Sticking out of the back of the Asian Cowboy was what looked like a short, wooden handle with a leather strap dangling from the end of it. Only the slightly curved handle visible, but Mike knew what the murder weapon was. It was a hatchet. He had one just like it in the trunk of his car with his name engraved on the blade. It had been a gift from a buddy for being a groomsman at his wedding.
“Oh shit…” Mike said aloud, as he stepped backwards towards the general store. He reached behind himself, never taking his eyes off the lifeless body that lay a mere few feet in front of him, grasping and fumbling for the handle of the door. After several failed attempts, he turned and faced the door, gripping the handle with force and ripping it open, only to slam it shut after stepping inside. He fumbled with the lock for a moment, before he was able to secure the deadbolt. “Chad! Chad we need help down here!” He shouted. There was no response. He reached frantically for the counter, knocking over several things until he finally found his target, the bell. He rang it several times, shouting out “Chad! Hello, anybody? Hello?” Still no response. He was just reaching his hand out again to ring the call bell some more, when he heard a loud crash above him. Mike retracted his hand from the bell, took a step back, and waited for another noise. He held his breathe as he listened, but heard nothing except the howling wind outside.  He glanced out the glass door towards the Asian Cowboy, lying motionless outside, and noticed his flashlight lying in the snow a few feet away from the body. He must have dropped it when he retreated back into the store. “Oh no…” he whispered to himself. He thought about running back out to retrieve it, but simply couldn’t find the courage. So instead he stood there, in the dark, waiting for a follow up disturbance from above. When he heard no further noise, Mike gathered himself, taking a deep breath before hopping over the counter and passing through the door that Chad had previously gone through.  

Unlike his previous setting, he had not seen this room illuminated and had a hard time piecing together the dark figures in his new surroundings. It appeared to be a typical garage. He saw what looked like an elevated car, and smelled a heavy mix of gasoline and oil but couldn’t see much else. The windows on the single garage door were dirty and didn’t allow much moonlight into the room, and as far as he could tell the rest of the room was windowless. After a quick scan, he noticed metal steps to the right and, after a short hesitation, he began his ascension. As he climbed, he noticed he was sweating quite a bit, despite the freezing temperature.  When he reached the top he found a door to his left. There was a small sign on it, but it was too dark to read. He contemplated knocking, but thought against it and decided to just enter unannounced.
As he slowly swung the door open it struck something, stopping short of opening all the way. It made a loud bang and startled him enough to let out a soft yell. No other noise followed, and he stepped into the dark room. The first thing he noticed was a single window straight ahead. The shades were pulled up and with the aid of the moon he was able to see the general layout of the room, but not much more. He quickly peeked around the right of the door, to see what had stopped it so suddenly. There he saw a large, old wooden dresser, with a few picture frames and some other small items on the top. He turned his attention from the dresser to the rest of the dark room. Though there was not enough light to make out slight details, he was able to see that there was an unmade full-size bed shoved into the right corner of the room. A closed wooden door stood to the right of the bed and a small desk with a lamp and some books stacked on top and a chair tipped over on the floor. To his left was a large, untidy kitchen and an open door leading to the bathroom right next to the refrigerator. It gave off the distinct vibe of a bachelor pad; dishes stacked high in the sink, crumpled clothes on the floor, and a strong stench of body odor radiating from everywhere. He also noticed a large, dark stain on the white linoleum floor right by the knocked over chair, as if someone had spilled a large pot of coffee or paste sauce and never got around to cleaning it up. Of course, the thing that disturbed him most of all was the lack of people occupying the small apartment. There was not a sign of life in sight, despite the loud noise he had heard. He almost called out, but thought better of it; something clearly wasn’t right here. Chad had gone through the same door as he, expressly saying he was headed towards the apartment overhead. “What the fuck is happening?” he whispered aloud, while backing out of the apartment. Once he was out of the deserted room, he grabbed the door and slowly closed it, turning towards the stairs and rushing down to the pitch black garage floor.
When he reached the bottom, he was hit with what could only be described as a quick gust of freezing cold air, as if he had been standing directly in front of an industrial size AC unit. Startled, he fell backwards on his ass, once again putting his hands out to cushion his fall. He ignored the pain of his soft palms smacking the hard, metal surface and struggled to scamper back up the cold, grate stairs on his hands. “What the fuck…” he gasped as he made it half way up the stairs, still sitting on his ass with his hands on the step above. His eyes quickly scanned the bottom of the stairs, but saw nothing. He struggled to catch his breath, while his body adjusted to the cold temperature of the steel steps. The pain in his hands and ass from falling backward on the metal stairs hit him and he leaned to the side and rubbed his bruised tailbone. Rattled as he was, Mike was able to steady himself long enough to take a glance at the floor below and actually process what he was seeing. Starting to the left of the room and scanning to the right, he was able to get a full view of the garage floor from his current position. After a quick scan of the main floor he saw nothing. His eyes darted back to the starting point to the left, and once again slowly panned over the floor below him. He began to breathe a sigh of relief, until his eyes reached the bottom of the stairs. There, staring back at him was a pair of dark purple, barely glowing, eyes. His heart sank. His blood ran cold and his heart felt like it would beat directly out of his chest. He tried to move his arm, to further himself from the creature, only to find he had lost control of his limbs. Petrified, he laid on the stairs, never breaking eye contact with the purple eyed mystery guest staring back at him. He was able to snap out of his fear trance long enough to reach his hand back, feeling for the next step of the staircase. When he finally felt it, he pulled himself up as calmly and slowly as he possibly could. He continued backwards, pulling himself up step by step, until he reached the top, never taking his eyes off the two orbs staring back at him.  He continued to creep backwards until his hand hit the door with a loud clunk. Almost instantly, as if the noise was a whistle, the purple eyed figure let out a loud shriek and began to quickly ascend the stairs towards him, almost as if it were gliding. Mike panicked, stumbling backwards until his back was against the door. He reached up and grabbed the doorknob, as the dark figure closed in on him, twisting it open and slipping inside right before the specter fell upon him.
He slammed the door shut once he was completely inside, leaning his back into the door and bracing his hands and legs against the floor for support. He had just barely established himself when he felt an incredible force burst against the door.  He yelled out, a mixture of fright and pain, as the blow knocked him forward, buckling his knees slightly. Staggering, he pushed full force backwards, slamming the door shut with all the strength he could muster. Almost instantly he felt another powerful blow against the door. This time he was prepared and did not stumble nearly as much. He pushed back again and secured the door, turning to brace it with his shoulder and steadying himself for another blow.  When it didn’t come, he took the opportunity to check the room, looking for anything that might help him out of his current predicament. He saw the same dirty bachelor pad he had seen just a few moments before. As thoughts of escape raced through his mind, he felt another push from the opposite side of the door. As he pushed back against the pressure, he realized his only shot was the window immediately before him. He was only one story up, and there was enough snow on the ground to make a relatively safe landing. Mike waited a moment after the pressure coming from the other size of the door eased, then took a deep breath and pushed off the wood frame of the door, sending himself forward with all the force that he could muster. At the last moment, he tucked his right shoulder in, lowering his head and letting his upper back and shoulder take the brunt of the blow as he barreled through the window. As the glass shattered, he felt a sharp pain shoot throughout his torso, starting at his shoulder and ending at his already abused tailbone. A cold burst of air struck him at the very same moment and as he tumbled out the window, falling to the ground, he couldn’t help but think that maybe there was a better option at hand. He landed in the soft, padded, snow covered ground, glass raining down around him.  As he tumbled through the snow, he flung his arms out to steady himself, trying to catch his body, as he rolled through the freezing cold powder. After a few rolls, he was able to slow his pace and steady himself until he came to a complete stop.
He staggered to his feet, cold and aching, covered in broken glass and snow. Barely taking a moment to collect himself, Mike spun to run back towards the highway when he saw a figure standing before him in the darkness. He stopped in his tracks, and stared into the same dark purple eyes he had seen moments before. He staggered back until he hit the wall of the store. As the creature crept closer, he grasped around him for anything to defend himself with, only to come up empty handed. The gap between him and the thing grew smaller by the second. Mike closed his eyes and prepared for the worst when he felt a cold, boney hand grab his right arm. He jumped out of his skin, shouting “Holy shit!” as he shifted his glance to his right, seeing a barely visible and very frightened, Chad. 

“What the fuck is going on man?” he blurted out as Mike turned back towards the creature, only to find it had vanished without a trace. Speechless, he stared at the empty space ahead of him, expecting to see the creature reappear at any moment. He was knocked back to reality by Chad shaking his arm, sending pain through his injured shoulder. “Seriously man, fucking lights go out and everyone is fucking dead, what the fuck is happening?” Flinching in pain, Mike shoved Chad back, ignoring his question and giving him space to register all that had happened.
It was snowing harder than it had been when Mike entered the store. He stood in the accumulating snow, staring at the young, terrified stoner next to him. He turned his attention forward again, seeing no sign of the creature that had previously terrorized him. His gaze drifted slightly right to the bloody, now snow covered, body of the Asian cowboy. Without looking at him, Mike asked Chad where his car was. “What?” responded chad. Turning to face him, Mike grabbed his shoulders and looked him in the eye, repeating his question. “Where is your car?” He demanded. Chad struggled to speak, his teeth chattering loud and his body shivering from the cold, but when nothing came out he simply pointed to an old, beat up pick-up truck parked to the side of the store.
“Let’s go!” Mike grabbed Chad by his vest and dragged him towards the truck, with little resistance from the horrified clerk. About halfway to the car Mike realized Chad was moving on his own and let go of him and continued to stomp through the deep, white powder. The truck was covered with a few inches of snow, but nothing too major. When he reached the driver side he reached out and grasped the snow covered handle and yanked it open. He slipped inside and closed the door, followed shortly after by Chad, who climbed into the passenger seat. “Keys, where are your keys?”  Chad sat there shivering in his wet black tee shirt. After a short moment, he responded. “What the fuck is going on, man? Fred wasn’t in his fuckin’ apartment and then someone knocked me in the back of the head. I woke up on the ground in the back of the store with some pale bit-” before he could finish Mike interrupted him “Shut up, Chad! Just shut the fuck up and tell me where your god damn keys are?” Chad sat there for a moment before he responded. “In my coat. My keys are in my coat back inside.”
  Shit. The brief feeling of relief he felt after reaching the car immediately left him. Mike was still catching his breath in the freezing cold car when Chad began to freak out in the seat next to him. He had no idea what to do, but he knew going back inside was not an option. Something had attacked him, had attacked both of them, and something had killed the Asian Cow-. He stopped mid-thought. “The Asian Cowboy!” he said aloud, though Chad continued his meltdown not having heard what Mike said. The keys to the Asian Cowboys’ Prius were probably in his giant orange coat. His body lay only a few yards away, definitely much safer than venturing back into the dark of the convenience store.  Without another thought, he reached for the handle of the car door and, as he took one last deep breathe, yanked it open. As he stepped out he realized that this was the third time that night that he had abandoned the safety of a vehicle for the unknown. It was still incredibly dark out, but his eyes had adjusted enough that he was able to point himself towards the store’s entrance, and the body of the Asian Cowboy. He began his truck through the deep snow, towards where the lifeless body lay, just a few feet from the entrance of the store. It had stopped snowing and while it made it easier to see the snow that had already fallen was in no rush to melt. As he approached the spot where he last saw the body, the scene came into focus and he realized the dark spot in the blinding whiteness was simply an impression in the fallen snow, stained with a large dark mess of blood. There was no body.

“Okay, okay relax. Get your shit together.” Chad had freaked out harder than he had before when Mike returned to the truck with the news that someone or something had misplaced the body of the Asian Cowboy.  “Where in the store is your fucking coat? Behind the counter?” Mike barked at the bumbling store clerk. Chad responded as if someone had just awaked him from a dream. “Behind the... no, no it’s on a coat hook on a wall in the garage. It’s to the left of that door behind the counter of the stor-” again Mike cut him off. “Okay, we have to go get it.” He glanced around the car quickly. “Do you have anything in here? A tire iron or crowbar or something?” Chad stared back at him, not fully understanding the question. “I…what? I don’t… I don’t know, there’s…” Mike grabbed him by the jaw and held his head still while he yelled “Calm the fuck down and tell me, is there anything in the bed of the truck that I could use to fucking swing at something?” Chad was dragged back to reality and responded in the worst possible way. “No. No man, I don’t have anything in here. Sorry.” Mike released Chad and let his meltdown continue as the cruel reality of the situation set in. He had to go back to the store. Back to all the fucked up shit that was going down. Back to whatever supernatural creature had forced him to chuck himself out of the second story window. ‘Shit’ certainly was the word of the night.

He turned to back to Chad and shouted out loud enough for his panicked companion to hear over the howling wind and his own panicked rambling “Are you ready?” Chad stopped babbling and turned to face him. “What?” was all he was able to spit out. “Are you ready to go get your fucking keys?” Mike repeated his original question, with a fair amount of more than merited sass. Chad responded like a typical coward: “No fucking way, asshole!” This was not the response Mike was looking for, and he shouted “You’re coming with me, you little fucking pussy! I’m not going back into that place by myself!” Chad didn’t respond he just sat there shaking his head back and forth. Mike sat there is disbelief, and it took a moment or two before he could wrap his head around the fact that his companion was a worthless sack of shit and that he was essentially on his own out there. He looked at the store through the rearview mirror, then at Chad, then back to the mirror. “Fucking pussy!” he repeated as a he pushed open the door and returned to the cold. 

Mike’s first few steps were taken at a very slow pace; he was not looking forward to his next task. As he approached the front door, he ran through the next chain of events in his head, over and over again. He would open the door slowly, making as little noise as possible. Then he would stand there with the door open for a brief moment, making sure there was no evidence of whatever had attacked him before. When he was convinced it was silent and safe, he would sprint into the store, slide over the counter and pass through the door leading to the garage. The coat would be there, with the keys in pocket, and he would grab it quickly, pass back into the store, slide back over the counter and sprint out the store, not stopping until he was safely back in the truck. Everything would be fine. He reached the door and put his plan in motion.

He pulled the door open slowly and listened. Silence. Once Mike was convinced the coast was clear, he entered the store at full speed. He slipped almost immediately on the wet floor and stumbled forwards into the counter. He broke his fall with his hands, and steadied himself against the counter until he regained his balance. Once he had established himself, he pushed himself over the counter and clumsy landed on the other side, knocking over several items like the tip jar, the ring pops and the call bell, which dinged as it hit the ground. Pushing off the edge of the counter, Mike propelled himself through the slightly ajar door into the garage. Once inside, he immediately looked to the right but like before it was too dark to see anything. He put his hands out in-front of himself and walked briskly to where he thought the hooks might be, stopping only when his palms hit wall. Moving his hands up, down and side to side he eventually found the hooks, jamming his fingers into them a little too hard and shouting out in pain. He removed his hand from the wall and shook it to ease the pain, then quickly returned it to the hooks in search of Chad’s coat. He found it on the third hook, a leather jacket that was ice cold from the low temperature. He grasped a handful of the garment and yanked it towards himself, hearing a slight tear of cheap stitching and the heartwarming sound of jingling keys.

Tucking the jacket under his arm Mike turned to the exit, about to leave, when the door slammed shut. He jumped back, frightened, then rushed forward and grabbed the doorknob. He tried turning the knob, but it wouldn’t budge. His heart sank as goose bumps covered his entire body. The stairs were a few feet to the right, leading back up to the manager’s apartment. It was his only choice; he had to go back out the window. He thrust his hands out in-front of himself again and headed towards the stairs. As he reached the railing, a low, raspy whisper echoed throughout the garage. It was quick and very low, but there was no missing what the voice said: “Mike.” Sweat formed on Mike’s forehead. He was panting, and wanted so desperately to move. He wanted to run up the stairs and jump out the window again. He was even looking forward to it, anything to get out of this fucking place. But instead his body just stood there, once again paralyzed in fear. The echo died down and the room was silent, until the same eerie voice whispered again, this time directly in his ear: “Mike!” He reacted as if someone had shocked him with a cattle prod, sprinting up the stairs towards the apartment. The door at the top of the stairs was open, and as he rushed through it he reached out his free arm to slam it shut behind him. Unfortunately, he didn’t have a chance to close the door. Instead he tripped over something upon entering the room and fell face first on the floor. The fall hurt, but he was running on adrenaline now, and ignored the pain to glance back at the object he had stumbled over. The room was dark like before, but with the moon was still bright enough that he could still see most of the objects in the room. He quickly realized that the object wasn’t an object at all, but rather a person. The body was on its stomach, with its limbs splayed out in random directions and its head facing the opposite direction. Blood had pooled around the body and was now all over Mike’s pants and shoes from when he tripped. He looked up at the door but saw nothing. Stumbling to his feet, he stepped over the body to the door and slammed it shut. He took a moment to relax, leaning with his arms out against the door and his head down, trying to catch his breathe. He glanced back towards the body, expecting to see the unfamiliar face of Fred, the boss he hadn’t met, or possibly the relocated body of the Asian Cowboy. But that’s not what he saw. The face he saw was in fact familiar despite it being covered in blood and partially caved in on the right side. It was the very pale, very dead face of Chad the clerk. 

Mike’s heart stopped, as all the breath left his body in a small gasp. But Chad was alive. Chad was down in the car waiting for him. And yet here he was, dead as can be. His head looked as if it had been bashed in with a blunt object, possibly the other end of the hatchet used to kill the Asian Cowboy. Suddenly, the brave front Mike had been putting on all night finally shattered, and he began to cry. As the tears slowly streamed down his face, he caught the gleam of the moonlight out of the corner of his eye, and drew his attention to the right to see a streak of blood leading from Chad’s bloody, bashed in head to the now wide open closet. It was too dark to make out what was inside the closet, but he was able to see the single item spilling out of the open door way. It was a foot, most likely belonging to the unseen boss Fred. Confused, cold and alone, Mike forced himself to a standing position, pushed off the door, leaping over Chad’s corpse, and rushed towards the window, leaping out it for the second time, landing in the snow below. It didn’t hurt as much this time, the window was already broken and his body was so sore, he doubted if he would have noticed new pain anyway. He landed like he had before, tumbling through the cold snow before finally steadying himself with his unprotected hands. He pushed himself up and, as he did so, felt a sharp pain in the palm of his left hand. Flinching, he pulled his hand from the snow and rolled onto his back, bringing his hand to his face to see the damage. He couldn’t see much in the dark, and the fact that his hand was covered in wet snow didn’t help, but he was able to make out blood dripping from his palm.  He used his good hand to glide over his injured until he came across the wound and the giant piece of glass still stuck in it. He yelped out in pain as he touched the glass, then yelled out loud as he gripped the protruding edge and yanked if from his flesh. Holding his bad hand to his stomach, he forced himself to his feet and started running towards Chad’s truck before remembering that the occupant wasn’t Chad. This thought stopped him dead in his tracks, and without another thought, Mike took off in the direction of his crashed car.

When Mike hit the hard and slushy asphalt of the highway he broke into a full sprint, trying to put as much space between him and all the hell he had been through that night. In fact, he didn’t stop running for what felt like miles. When his legs finally gave out, he slowed and wheezed, turning his head back to see if he was being followed by anyone or anything. He wasn’t, but that was little comfort. As he stomped along the dark highway, lightly dusted in wet, slushy snow, he tried to keep his mind off the disturbing events he had experienced tonight and, in doing so, his mind drifted to the early moments of the evening. Before the snow, before the accident and before everything had gone so terribly wrong.

“You never fucking listen to me! I told you I didn’t want to come but-“ it had been over an hour since she started in, and there certainly didn’t seem to be an end to the rant. She simply circled around the same idea, without ever arriving at anything even resembling a conclusion. She didn’t want to be there. He asked her to come, then, according to her, “guilted her into saying anything but ‘Okay’”. It wasn’t entirely true, but it was close enough to the truth that he let it slide for the first hour or so. Now it was becoming bothersome. To say that listening to her tirade was exhausting would be an understatement. That piled on top of the long car ride was enough to drive anyone to extremes. She slowed her rambling as he pulled off the highway into a fairly large gas station. Before he had shifted the gear to park, her door was open and she was stomping towards the side of the store, where the restrooms were located. He switched off the car and stepped out from the vehicle. Reaching for his wallet, he continued his deep breathing, trying to calm the storm his wife had stirred. He filled his tank while tapping his foot to the soothing music playing through the speakers stationed at each pump. He wasn’t completely over her meltdown, but it was slowly subsiding and he was starting to look forward to his visit with old school friends and the weekend away from his usual, mundane life. 

When the pump clicked off and his tank was full, he hit “Yes” for a receipt and pulled his car into one of the many open spots off to the side of the station. He stepped out and locked the car, stuffing the keys in his pocket and heading for the restrooms to relieve himself and possibly reconcile with his spouse. As he approached the barely lit side of the station the door to the Ladies room swung open and out stepping his wife. She still had the same scowl on her face that she had when she stomped away from the car just a few moments ago. His face had just started to grin, the edges of his lips curling upwards, when she started in again. “Get out of my sight; I can’t even look at you right now.” His anger returned almost immediately, but he was able to suppress his rage and continue on to the Men’s room. He leaned his hand against the door and had just begun to push it open when she dropped the bomb: “300 miles to see a bunch of people you haven’t heard from in years? You think they give a shit about you? They don’t even remember you, because you’re a fucking loser!” What happened next was completely out of his control. It was as if an unseen entity had taken control of his body and forced his limbs to carry out their will. His arm reached out and grabbed a handful of her golden hair, and pulled it back, dragging her body to the ground and causing her to yell out in pain. “Owww, what the fuck is wrong with you?” she shouted as she tumbled to the concrete. The initial shock of his action surprised him almost as much as it surprised her. He released her hair quickly, his hand retracting as if the strands he had grasped were burning hot. He was initially disgusting by his action, but seeing her there, powerless on the floor, gave him the slightest tinge of pleasure. Briskly pushing that feeling aside, he reached out to his wife, hoping to help her off the ground and pretend the whole incident hadn’t occurred. “I’m sorry honey, I don’t kn-” She slapped his hand away and cursed him. “You fucking asshole! You’re gonna pay for this, I’m taking everything! You hear me? You’re gonna have nothing when my lawyer gets through with you!” He took a step back and processed what she was saying. A lawyer? She had a lawyer? What the fuck was she doing seeing a lawyer?  It dawned on him that she had obviously been looking to leave for a while now. His rage boiled up again, and as his wife helped herself to a standing position, he once again lost control of his actions. He watched from afar as his body grabbed his wife by the collar of her blouse and pulled her into the Men’s room, tossing her to the floor, then slamming the door and sliding the latch over and locking the door behind him. 

He snapped back to reality, as the snow covered wreck of his car came into view. It was by no means salvation, but somehow it made him feel better to be back where the nightmare had started. He stuffed his hand in his pants pocket, searching for the keys to his rental, then realized he never locked it. It wasn’t driving anyway but at the very least it might stop him from freezing to death before help or morning arrived. He approached the driver’s door and reached for the handle, pulling it half open before stopping and glancing back at the trunk. Something in him was stirring, keeping him from entering the car and drawing him to the back. He slammed the door shut and made his way to the back of the car. Grabbing the keys again from his pocket, and slid the large, black Honda key into the trunk. With a quick twist left, he popped the trunk open then returned the keys to his pocket. Reaching out with his good right hand, he flipped the trunk hood up. Dawn was approaching and he was easily able to see what he was looking at. Inside he saw a few rags, a road side assistant kit, overnight bags packed for the reunion and a dark stain on the floor of the trunk. He stepped back in shock, terrified by what he saw. He let out a soft “No…” taking several more steps backward before dropping to his knees and raising his hand to his mouth. His bottom lip quivered and his eye welled with tears. His hatchet was gone, and so was his wife’s body. 

 

Epilogue

 

Mike sat in the snow by his car for a while. He was so upset he didn’t even notice the approaching flashing lights from the road in-front of him. He didn’t see the cops exiting their vehicles, guns drawn. He didn’t hear them reading him his rights, or feel the cold metal handcuffs they slapped on his wrists. His mind simply could not handle all he had been through. At the station he eventually snapped out of it and was able to tell them his story and exactly how the night had played out (leaving out the part about his dearly departed) but it was all far too unbelievable. Even Mike had a hard time believing his tale of terror, and he had lived it. They explained the facts clearly to him: He was found covered in Chad’s blood. He was found covered in the Asian Cowboy’s blood, whose body they found piled in the apartment closet along with the gas station manager, Fred. They found the blood of his wife all over Mike’s trunk and the murder weapon was a hatchet that had his name engraved on the blade. Mike was tried and convicted for the murders of gas station employees Chad Goodman and Fred Miller, as well as the Asian Cowboy whose name was Lawrence Chan. He sentenced to serve three consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole. Ironically enough, he was not charged for the one murder he did commit; that of his wife, as her body was never recovered.


Submitted: November 26, 2014

© Copyright 2021 Blu3 Dahlia. All rights reserved.

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