The term “synthetic drug” refers to a new type of drug on the market that has been created to skirt existing laws on illicit drugs. Thousands of psychoactive compounds are regulated by the law of the Federal Controlled Substances Act. However, in creating synthetic drugs, manufacturers alter the chemical structure of an illegal drug, modifying it to create an “analog” or derivative of that drug, to, essentially, make it quote unquote legal.
Synthetic drug manufacturers are devious in marketing their goods. This is known. Furthermore, it’s also known that synthetic drugs induce a variety of side effects which can vary from person to person—often lack of pain response, hallucinations, and a severely hindered judgment.
I don’t know how much of those facts and statistics are relevant to me, and what happened to me, but… I need answers. Answers to dangerous questions. Questions I shouldn’t be asking.
I work nights. I’ve only ever worked nights at Sunshine America—a dingy 24/7 gas station situated in the slums of downtown. And I don’t work there anymore. I had a pretty fucked up experience there.
To set the stage, it was a typical April night; pitch black, as I rolled into the parking lot. And for the most part, but for some unexpected rain, everything went predictably.
Counted my cash, double checked the lotto numbers, made coffee, and then bought myself a monster and a bag of corn nuts for the night and pulled out my laptop to start killing time.
I usually would free write during my shifts, and I’d text whoever was up. Eventually, my girlfriend went to bed and I had no one to text or talk to. I decided to hit up my buddy Mike—he worked nights too. We talked for a bit while I tried to fight off my writer’s block. I had a hell of a headache, though, which didn’t exactly summon inspiration.
At one point in the night, a truck rolled into the lot. I don’t remember seeing it come in. Rather, it was just there when I looked out the window. I seldom take notice of a car actually driving into the station, unless they have a shitty muffler or ridiculously loud bass. This car, though, was a shady looking one—the kind I’d expect to pre-pump and then skip out on paying.
It was a piece. An old, black pickup, victim to merciless rust. It had this huge dent on the driver’s side and a busted headlight. Looked like the asshole had driven into a tree. Didn’t have a license plate, either. I decided not to authorize him if he tried to pre-pay. Having no license plate was just cause enough. And I went back to writing, and texting, and basically doing nothing. When I finally got up to start sweeping the place, I’d forgotten about the sketchy pick-up.
That is, until I saw it—still sitting with its engine rumbling at pump 4. In hindsight, the whole thing seemed really shady, but at the time, I was just confused. The guy had never gotten gas at all. Nor had he come in for smokes or a drink or anything. So, taking the bucket of washer fluid in hand—so it looked like I had some reason to go outside—I opened the door. And as soon as I did, the engine roared and rubber squealed.
I was baffled as the guy tore out of the parking lot.
A cigarette flew out his window and exploded in orange sparks against the pavement. He was down the street in a matter of seconds. I went over to the cigarette butt and stomped it out. It wasn’t really anywhere near the gas pumps, but I felt a little paranoid anyway.
For a while, I thought about the truck. I asked Mike about it and he text back, suggesting that maybe the guy was scoping the place out with intent to rob it. “Yeah, probably. I’ll tell my boss in the morning,” was my response. I’ve never been afraid of hold-ups. I’d gladly hand over however much cash I had in the drawer.
Nothing worth getting shot over, and corporate can suck it.
Nonplussed, I swept inside, stocked the cooler, counted cigarettes, and still had four hours to kill. Usually it get’s unbearably slow around 2:30, but it had been slow as hell even before then. I did a routine walk-around the store, just to check on everything. My writer’s block was still weighing heavily on me and Mike was getting slower with his responses.
I noticed, at some point, that my cash register’s screen had the “out of paper” symbol lit up for pump 4, which was weird because I don’t remember anyone stopping to fuel at that pump in a while. But then again, a lot of people come and go when I’m doing the cooler and I don’t notice.
Taking the pump keys and a new roll of paper, I went outside. Nice night. I decided to have a smoke break once this was taken care of. I remember thinking that because I vividly recall the feeling of cosmic coincidence that overcame me when I approached the pump.
I thought they were blue L&M’s at first, just by the color of the box. But when I took the cigarettes down from on top of the pump, I was taken aback to find no brand name. No design. No disclaimer. No barcode. No serial number. Absolutely nothing, but they hadn’t been opened. And by that, I mean that the box still had the plastic wrapping on it.
I remember thinking, are these even cigarettes?
But I stock about a hundred of these fuckers every night, and they felt like a box of cigarettes to me.
More curious than anything, I opened them up and checked—sure enough, they were cigarettes. Pretty normal looking, too.
Now, I was eighteen, mind you. Free smokes were a thing of celebration—a lucky find—not something considered sketchy or even that unusual. Someone left them here, I reasoned. And they’re probably some foreign brand. Shit, or it was some printing fuck-up.
Either way, the seal hadn’t been broken, so I figured they couldn’t be tampered with. Same rule as beer, right? And for that matter, having any kind of plastic wrapping at all made them authentic, with my logic.
I’m sure by now, you’ve deduced that there was something fucked up about these smokes. Why else would I be making a case for my decision to smoke one? You’d be right.
So, I smoked one. Half of one. It tasted kind of metallic, so I didn’t finish it. I ashed the thing and stood outside for a long time. My headache was totally gone. I remember staring at the dumpster for a long, long time before thinking I was really tired and kind of like I was going to fall.
In that moment, I saw nothing wrong or strange with sitting down. Then, lying down on my side. I felt really weird, but I remember that I didn’t think there was anything wrong at all.
Before I go any further, I’ll say that my girlfriend has always been terrified of the dark. She says that she sees stuff in the dark and her mind makes it into all sorts of scary faces and figures and what have you. In contrast, I’ve always been the opposite, especially since she confided this in me. If I see something I can’t identify, I check it out. I get closer.
I don’t do that as much anymore.
I remember lying there, just thinking about shit, weird shit, like Wilt from Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends drinking a purple slurpy. And of course, in the moment, that was totally normal.
Eventually, I saw something by the dumpster. And looking back, details are very blurred. Like when you try and visualize what you saw during a dream.
But whatever I saw, I remember thinking that it shouldn’t be over there. I don’t know why that was the thought, but it was.
I kept looking at it, thinking about what it could be. From my position, it looked a lot like a wilting fern. I finally got up, my head spun, and I started to take in how fucked up I was.
Shit, I’m at work! I realized.
I didn’t attribute the feeling to the cigarettes at the time. I just freaked out.
I wanted to feel normal. And across the parking lot, by the dumpster, I still saw that fern-looking thing.
My whole perception of the thing changed in one single moment—when it… moved. And huge,
shiny black eyes fell upon me. I remember thinking about my girlfriend. I remember thinking how illogical it would be to run inside, despite how utterly terrified I was in that moment.
I should get closer. I should see what this thing is.
That idea didn’t last long. The thing, whatever it was, I still don’t know, put its hands over its big black eyes. I remember being particularly shocked by its fingernails—long, yellow and twisted. When I still held my ground, that’s when… it screamed. It opened its big toothless mouth far wider than I’ve ever seen a mouth open, and it made this pathetic wailing sound.
It sounded like it was being tortured.
Now, I was scared. I ran back inside the store and promptly locked the door. I didn’t know what to do. I was still feeling really fucked up. Nothing was staying still. I could hear my heart beating in my ears.
I’m going to die from fear, I remember thinking.
It’s in your head. It’s a bad trip. You got drugged. You’re having a bad trip. You’re at work, get your shit together.
There was a woman at the counter, and she nearly made me shit myself. Half her face hung dead. Sagging. Expressionless with one eye looking ready to roll out. The other half was contorted with anger. I was ready to cry out and make a run for my car, but I realized, with unimaginable shame and sorrow that she was a stroke victim, or something of the sort.
I think, at the time, I thought she had a birth defect, or something. Whatever I thought, I felt horrible, and mortified by the way I was thinking and acting. This is some strong shit I’m on, I thought. “I’m sorry,” I said to her. “Can I help you with anything?” And I recall, my words sort of hung in my ears after I said them. She said something in a broken voice, and I asked her to repeat herself.
She said it again, clearer: “Fuck you.”
I remember feeling like shit. I must have offended her, or kept her waiting, or both.
“I’m really sorry, I was taking out the trash-”
She said it even clearer that time. And the muscles in the half of her face I presumed non-functional twitched into life. She twisted her head to look at me—twisted it at an impossible angle—and started screaming it: Fuck you! Fuck you! Fuck you! For what felt like far too long. So long the words began to lose meaning and definition. Just loud screeches.
At one point, as I cowered by the door I’d locked, I couldn’t distinguish words at all. I closed my eyes, unwilling to look at her—it—and the screaming continued, even once I opened my eyes and found her absent.
The distorted curses kept coming. Until they blended into a sound like microphone feedback.
Eventually, it stopped, leaving me sitting against the door with a ringing in my ears.
This is all some kind of dream. A trip. I’m on a bad trip. I kept telling myself shit like that when I thought to dial the police or make a run for it.
I went to the bathroom and washed off. I felt a little better.
I could see my reflection rippling like the mirror was a standing wall of liquid. Feeling less shaken, I returned to the counter. I paced for a while, occasionally glancing out the window. I was paranoid as hell. Everything would set me off—the air turning on, the lotto machine making its usual beeping sounds, even the quiet sounds of the building settling. It was all making me twitch, and panic.
I didn’t want to reflect, or think about it—any of it. I just paced. There was this awful smell that had overcome me too. Like dog shit and rotting fruit. It was driving me crazy, and I wasn’t sure if it was even there or not. All my other senses had proved unreliable.
But I did smell something, and I traced it to a plastic grocery bag, from Meijer I think, stuffed underneath the coffee maker.
It smelled awful. Of course, I opened the damn thing, and it took me a second to process what it was.
Bloody, rotten, black and yellow teeth. A big wad of them, all stuck together with thick, strings of tar.
And this is when I started to fear for my life. Because it was right then when this trip started to affect me physically. I remember feeling a hot, wet hand grab the back of my head with unbelievable force, and push my face into the paper bag. The smell was unbearable and the terror that embodied me had no outlet. I quickly started swinging wildly.
The bag was pushed into my face from the front too, and I was losing air. I let out a scream for the first time and I was released. Still swinging like a madman, I fell into the newspaper rack.
I fought with the bag on my head for a minute before I got it off.
The fluorescent lights were blinding. I spat out mushy, black teeth, realized they’d been into my mouth, and immediately vomited into the bag.
Then, I didn’t use logic or reason. I went into the drink cooler, barricading the door with unopened crates of Pepsi.
I grabbed a Monster and drank about half to get that god-awful taste out of my mouth. Then I sit with my back to the wall, staring at the door. Refusing to take my eyes off it. Refusing to blink.
The voices started somewhere in there. I could hear them, but not with my ears. Like they were in my head. But I could still hear them. I can never explain this part well when I tell people this story.
They weren’t saying anything, and they were mostly whispers. The visual that came to mind when I heard them was a room of murmuring heroin addicts with bone tight skin and yellow eyes, like lemurs. It was a powerful image too.
I tried to shake this picture as soon as it formed. I drank more Monster. I sat there for what felt like an hour. I rocked back and forth, ignoring the voices.
And this is the part that still fucks me up to think about.
When I was sobbing in there, I took a moment to close my eyes. When I opened them, I saw myself, sitting against the door to the cooler, across from me. The thing looked just like me, but was barefoot, and it wore a wide smile. It had no eyes, or nose. It got on all fours and ran at me. I tried to shield myself but the next thing I knew, I was on the floor, and I felt more pressure on my head than actual pain.
And I vomited again—this time blood and bile, mostly. I was alone in the cooler now. I lay there for a while before I managed to get up and take in the silence—the normality.
Was it over?
I felt more sober.
I went to the bathroom again and checked my reflection. I looked like shit. Puke stained my collared shirt and blood was smeared on my face. My eyes were pink and watery, sitting in purple cradles. I washed off again and, again, felt better. I returned to the store and took in the newspaper-strewn floor. I didn’t see the bag of teeth though, looking back. I didn’t think to look for it at the time. I never found it either. It was only later when I remembered it.
I checked my phone. No new messages. That’s kind of weird. I expected a few from Mike, wondering what I was doing.
After I cleaned up the newspapers, which were yesterday’s anyway, I felt my phone vibrate.
“Alright, well, be careful.”
I stared at it. He was responding to my last text. The one I’d sent hours ago. I looked at the clock to see just how long it’d been, and I nearly dropped the stack of papers in my hand. 2:39. That was impossible. Completely fucking impossible. Nine minutes? That all happened in nine minutes?! No fucking way. I tried to wrap my head around this as I cleaned up the vomit and blood in store and the cooler. I felt okay, though. I felt fine, really. Kind of congested, but that’s all. And from there, everything seemed normal.
Eventually, I unlocked the door, but it was a tough decision. I told Mike about it all and at first he laughed at me, then when I brought up the cigarettes, he told me what I was already thinking—that they were laced with something. And I wanted to agree with him, but there was so much that argued that. The clarity of the whole experience. The plastic wrapping on the cigarettes. And later that day, my boss called, asking if I knew anything about why the cameras shut off around one in the morning—around when that truck pulled up. I don’t know. I have no fucking clue.
The realist in me is prevailing. I need to know one way or another—did it happen, or didn’t it? I survived it, whatever it was.
You’d expect me to throw those smokes out on the highway, but I didn’t. I still have them. I have the pack right here next to my laptop. And that’s why I’m writing this. I need advice. I need help. I have a strong desire to find out. I mean, I survived it once. If I smoked one… with a friend… in my own room… then I’d know. Then, maybe, I’ll have some peace.
They’re calling to me.
I hear them some nights, in my dreams. I hear them.
What should I do?