20 September 2015

the last gas station on earth

The Pontiac lurched over a pothole and Frank watched the fuel gauge lift then settle back on 'Empty'. "Fuck it," he breathed and thumped the steering wheel hard. They had passed a Texaco ten miles back and were now running on vapour.

"Look," cried Paula, "Gas ahead!" She launched her finger toward a run-down gas station and general store in the distance. Frank pulled onto the cracked cement beside an ancient rusty pump. Is this gas or paraffin, he wondered. His gaze took in the peeling paint, the ice machine and an ages-old Coca Cola sign hanging by one screw. "Stay here Paula." He shut the car door slowly and stepped past a deck chair, faded and stained with age. Through the window past the hand-written 'Open' sign he could make out an old timer, a wad of chewing tobacco in his cheek.

A bell clanged dolefully as he pushed the door and somewhere out back a dog began barking, gruffly and ominously. The skeletal figure waved a thin hand and in a barely intelligible voice rattled, "If it's gas you want, go through and talk to Billy." A fly buzzed in Frank's ear and he slapped it away as he nodded, "Thanks."

Billy and three friends were sitting around a card table, grinning with menace. Behind them through a grime baked window, a rotting Plymouth Fury was visible in the back yard, sitting up on bricks. A huge German Shepherd sat in its shade, tongue out, panting. Frank thought of Paula sitting in the Pontiac holding the battery powered fan to her pretty face.

Suddenly Billy shrieked, "It's party time!" His pals stood up, chair legs scraping on the bare wood floor. Frank turned and saw his way blocked by the muzzle of a 12-bore shot gun in the hands of the old timer. As his eyes darted frantically for another exit he heard Paula shouting. The shout became a siren winding up to full scream. Then silence.

"You fucking bastards! What have you done?" The old-timer pushed the gun barrel closer and touched his temple. Frank screwed his eyes shut and a sharp metallic click rang out. He opened his eyes to see Paula sitting beside him in the passenger seat of the Pontiac, flicking her cigarette lighter and smiling. "Wake up hon', rest over. We need to drive on and get that gas now or we ain't never gonna make it to Huntsville!"

(Inspired by a 2005 stop at a remote gas station in Alabama)

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