My boss was the stubborn type, so hard-headed that he would prefer to trip over his own shoe laces before taking your advice that his shoes were untied. Last year when I asked him why the hell he kept this place open after dark at all, he shot back in anger, “We’ve got a corner on the market out here, dummy! Look ‘round, there ain’t nothin’ else. People will pay whatever it takes for gasoline if it means they don’t get stranded way out here.” That I couldn’t deny, but that’s about the only thing he would be right about. Even the most financially irresponsible of people would know to shut this place down after dark. I recall one night a few months ago where I sat for six hours without a single person entering the store. By my count, my boss would have to charge a thousand dollars a gallon for gasoline to ever turn a profit.
Like I said though, stubborn man. He makes up for the lack of business by paying me next to nothing, and keeping the place in terrible condition. It didn’t take much sense to rationalize why the #1 stop in the middle of nowhere for expired snacks and overpriced gasoline wasn’t getting much visitors. Like it or not, it was the only feasible job for me at this point in life. I was a student and needed a place to work graveyard shift so that I could attend school in the daytime. When I first joined the Quik Stop about a year and a half ago, it was a living hell. I was just so bored I that couldn’t stand it. I always had problems staving off boredom, but the monotony of this place could drive even a monk up the wall. After a while though, I got smart and realized that I could use this time to complete homework, catch up on my favorite podcast, or do whatever creative time-killing project I had conjured up the night before. I didn’t have co-workers, or my boss present, so it was actually kind of a sweet setup some nights.
Tonight though, wasn’t one of those nights. I neglected to download my favorite podcast before I came out, and I was all caught up with homework since the beginning of last week. With absolutely no customers over the last three hours, I was beginning to fear that I was going to experience yet another lonely 6 hour stretch like I had a few months ago, this time in even worse conditions, because that night a few months ago, I at least had a movie or two to watch, tonight, I had nothing. I cursed myself aloud over and over again for being so foolish. How on earth could I forget to bring something to entertain myself with? I hated to beat myself up like this, but there just wasn’t anything else to do.
Another 15 minutes crawled by, until finally, somebody came into the gas station. Immediately upon entering, the tall, well-dressed man walked to the farthest corner of the store. Nothing uncommon, people frequently stopped at the freezers in the back to grab a beer on their way in. I always used to joke to myself, “Geez, people need a drink as soon as they set foot in this dump.” I let out a silent chuckle as a nod to yet another case proving my theory. When the novelty of that wore off, I shifted my attention from the joke, back to the customer. At times while overcome by boredom, I made a game out of developing a profile of the visitors, and this guy was no exception. Knowing that his stop would be brief, I got to work:
White guy, well dressed, prescription glasses, quite skinny. The word intellectual came to mind. A bit antisocial, but quite interesting to speak with once you overcome the wall that he puts up. I can’t blame him, he probably got bullied as a kid. The skinny frame, the glasses, and his perfectly maintained appearance were among the most common targets for bullies. He looks to be a wealthy guy though, what’s he doing in a shithole like this? He just needs chips and beer. He’s going to a late night party with the guys. Gonna do a little fantasy baseball. His friends told him to be there at 9:30, now its 10:17. He’s running late. This crappy place was on the way, so he just said screw it and pulled over. Yeah, in not too long he would arrive at his friends and have a real nice time. Hell, I was happy for him, I wish I could leave work and go with him.
At this point, I was rambling, I had reached the end of my rope. I was fresh out of theories on this guy’s life. Usually a customer comes to their senses and runs out of this place before I can complete a full analysis on them. Why was this guy taking so long to choose a beer? Now, our selection of beer wasn’t huge, but I’ve never seen anybody stand absolutely clueless in front of the freezer for a full five minutes before.
“Hey man, you lookin’ for some kind of craft beer or somethin’?” I asked playfully. “'Cause I gotta tell you, my boss is a cheap ass, you ain’t gonna find nothin’ special in there.”
With each passing second, my smile gradually flattened until finally vanishing completely. The man hadn’t said a word, let out a chuckle, or turned his head in the slightest. I stood in silence with my eyes fixated on the statue of a man for what seemed like an eternity. Standing with his back facing towards me only further dehumanized the man, as I couldn’t see any of his facial features. “Oh my god, I’ve been dreading this.” I thought. The odds that you will ever experience a convenience store robbery aren’t great, but for some reason, I always thought that one day, it would happen to me. “Looks like today’s the day then.” I said to myself silently.
It all made sense now. His dodgy behavior, lack of communication, and lost demeanor while, “selecting his beer”. He didn’t even appear to be looking around at different beers, he just kept his head stationary directly in front of him. This guy was clearly doing some heavy mental processing, probably once again weighing out the pros and cons before finally deciding to psych himself up and rob the place. My only hope was that he would make it quick and get the hell out of here. I was becoming increasingly bothered by his ominous presence. The level of negligence was terrifying, without even a small glimpse at his facial features to have a slight indication of his motivations or plans. With his back turned to me like this, he was a completely different being than the relatively pleasant person who had walked in.
A full 10 minutes have passed since the guy had entered the store. For the entire duration of his stay, he has stood completely motionless, and in my shock, I joined in with him. I broke the stillness with a careful reach into my pocket. I retrieved my cell phone and dialed 911. I slowly crept the phone up to ear my and attempted to prepare a somewhat accurate statement that would describe to the respondent the way that this creepy man was making me feel. I jumped as my phone let out a loud beep. No signal. My eyes shot up to the man in front of the freezer. He hadn’t moved an inch. I gave a silent sigh of relief that the man hadn’t appeared to of noticed. Trying to remain calm, I dialed 911 again and placed the phone to my ear. Again, my phone screamed, and I returned it to my pocket. I was beginning to panic, since my crappy phone wasn’t working, I was now going to have to place the call on the store phone. It was only a couple of feet away, but even pulling a phone out of your pocket is incredibly difficult to do when you’re frozen by fear.
I threw my mind into an incredibly focused state, acknowledging that if I didn’t muster up the courage to walk over to the landline, I could find myself in serious danger. I took in a quiet, deep breath and began to tip-toe my way to the phone. Refusing to break eye contact with the figure, my slow footsteps eventually arrived at the base of the counter that held the phone. I picked up the receiver and punched in the numbers. The man remained static.
“911, what’s your emergency?” said the woman.
“Hey, I’m a clerk over at the Quik Stop on Lansing just off the freeway, there’s a guy here and he’s just staring at the freezer. I tried talking to him, and he won’t respond. He’s not moving or anything.” I replied.
“Do you think he needs medical attention?” the woman inquired confusedly.
“Uhh, I don’t think so. I mean he’s standing on his own. Look I hate to call in like this, I know it doesn’t sound like an emergency, but he’s really freaking me out. I feel like he might be thinking about robbing the store or something.”
“We’re sending a unit right over. Please stay with me in case he becomes violent before the police arrive.”
After about 12 more minutes of waiting, the beautiful sound of tires on gravel inhabited my ears. The reflection of the store’s harsh lighting gleamed across the police officer’s vehicle as it pulled in. It was truly a sight for sore eyes. I let out a satisfying sigh of relief. The police cautiously entered the store with their weapons drawn. I pointed to the man across the store, and the police too were quite taken by the disturbing stillness of him.
“Sir, are you alright?” asked one of the officers. “We got a call saying that you were unresponsive and we thought maybe you needed some assistance.”
The man continued to remain completely still, again unscathed by a warm invitation for human interaction from yet another person.
“Sir?” the officer continued.
His attempts were again met by the man’s legendary cold shoulder.
“Okay sir, I’m going to need you to put your hands up. Your actions are making everyone a little nervous, and the man in charge wants you out of here."
Again, the man neglected to comply, and the officers swiftly placed the man in custody. Upon detainment, the man didn’t flail around, nor scream in a violent resistance. He simply turned his head and tried to maintain his concentrated glare on the freezer. The man’s face was absolutely expressionless, and his eyes were quite red. I really wouldn’t be surprised if they were like that because he hadn’t blinked a single time since laying his eyes on the freezer. “We’re going to get you some help buddy,” said the one of the officers as they calmly walked him out of the store. The other officer approached me at the counter.
“He say anything strange?” asked the policeman.
“Nah, he didn’t say a single thing man, it was really freaky.”
“Yeah I know, these the kinda guys that make us cops nervous, kid.”
“You guys ever seen anything like this though?”
“Wish I could I say that wasn’t the case, but truth of the matter is, I see guys like this all the time. Anybody ever try to get you to mess with that meth shit, you punch ‘em square in the mouth, you got that? I’ve seen that crap turn guys like you into freaks like him in a matter of weeks. This dirt bag comes in here again tryna bother you, you give us another call, alright?”
I gave a slight smile, and nodded at the nice officer.
“You enjoy your evening sir,” said the policeman.
With that, the two officers pulled away from the Quik Stop, taking the psychotic druggie with them. I took another satisfying deep breath, now appreciating the absence of people within the store. The night crawled by with no other visitors, and I couldn’t have been happier about that. Although nothing serious even happened, it was still an extremely strange encounter that I would say was quite traumatizing. It had completely altered my thought process that night. I mean, just before, I was practically begging that someone would come into the store. After my experience with that nutcase though, I was praying that I wouldn’t have to interact with anyone else for the remainder of the night.
Before work the next night, I collected myself. It was a freak occurrence, and nothing even happened anyways. So the man was spaced out on drugs, like the cop said it happens all the time. I just needed to go to work and appreciate the fact that I wasn’t a cop, I’m glad I’m not the person called in to detain psychopaths like that. Besides, now I was stocked up on podcasts, and a friend had asked me to repair his laptop for him, so I had plenty to keep me busy tonight. Regardless of what happened yesterday, I was expecting tonight to actually be pretty enjoyable.
I arrived the Quik Stop at around 8:30pm, my usual time, and, “got to work”. I sat my friend’s laptop on the counter, put on my podcast, and pulled up a seat. My friend was having some overheating issues, so I began to disassemble the laptop to get a better look at the cooling system inside. I always enjoyed jobs that required popping the computer open. Things were on the up and up. Here I am getting paid for my clerk job, and getting some additional money from my little computer repair hustle on the side, and I’ve got loads of podcasts to last all through the night. This was one of those nights, I thought. I’ve got a pretty sweet setup here.
Several hours later with my face buried in the mess of computer parts, a not-so-familiar sound pulled me out of my trance. It was the electrical chime of the store’s front door. It was a customer. The content of my favorite podcast had the potential to get quite explicit at times, so I quickly shot up and pressed the pause button to ensure I didn’t offend the customer. My eyes lazily transitioned from my iPod to the door to get a glance at the customer. A cold shiver shot through my body as my eyes connected with the shopper. It was the man from the night before. As expected, he made a beeline to the freezers at the back of the store. This time, I skipped the attempts at conversation and trying to use my cell phone. I walked straight over to the store phone and dialed 911. Trying to remain calm, I explained my situation to the operator, and again she sent over a unit, and I stayed on the line.
The police arrived and again, the man ignored all commands and was wrestled to the floor by the officers. They arrested him, and went on their way back to the police station. “What the hell is going on?” I thought to myself. What on earth could drive this man to act so strangely? I was beginning to think that he wasn’t just some drug addict wacko, they don’t do these kind of things. They’re so spaced out that they just run around aimlessly. This man had walked directly over to the freezer in a very calculated, sensible fashion. It seemed that the man was being driven by some unseen force. I pushed on and completed yet another night with the creeps.
Two unpleasant visits in two nights, I was beginning to notice a theme, and I didn’t like it. I called my boss to explain what was going on, and ask for a few days of work off. My begging and pleading was met with a disappointing beat down about how I was just being a sissy, in so many words. I contemplated quitting work, but saying that out loud to myself sounded ridiculous. Was I really about to quit work because someone was acting out of the ordinary? Sure, he gave me the chills, but he hadn’t done anything threatening to my health, so if god forbid he came again, I could just call the police, and know that for the rest of the night, he couldn’t bother me.
The next night, I show up to work at the normal time, and get to work on my friend’s laptop. The previous night’s guest had really gotten me out of my groove, so I still had some work to do. At this point, I was really more annoyed than I was scared. I was angry that I was letting this crazy jerk get to me, and also that my boss could be so inconsiderate. I tried not to dwell on it though, and continued to listen to my abundant supply of entertainment. The store saw more visitors tonight than average. Every time I heard the sound of the door chime I mentally prepared myself, and turned my body towards the store phone. Like clockwork, about four hours into my shift, the staring psychopath walked into the store. I sighed, and made my way over to the store phone. As my hand hovered over the receiver, I began to think about it. I am so tired of doing this. Every day the cops come, and the man keeps coming back. “I’m gonna give this asshole a piece of my mind,” I thought.
I canceled my action and turned away from the phone to face the man.
“Hey, what’s the point huh? Why do you keep coming back here? You’re not welcome in this store, sir!” I screamed.
Still on his way to the back of the store, the man stopped in his tracks.
“Yeah that’s right man, I’m talking to you. Every night you come in here, and every night I throw you out. What the hell’s your problem?”
The man turned to face me. His face was washed of all color. I couldn’t understand his facial expression. If it had to put a name on it though, I guess I’d say that he looked lost. After a few seconds of concentrated eye contact, I broke the silence.
“Well go on! Explain yourself!”
“I… I don’t know what to say,” The man replied. I was actually surprised that he was capable of speaking. Quite taken by his response, I lightened up a bit.
“Look man, you’ve been coming in here all week. You don’t say nothin’. You don’t even move. It freaks me the fuck out.”
“I guess all I can say is that I’m sorry,” he responded.
“You got some kind of mental problem? I mean, what’s your fascination with that freezer?”
“I hate to give such a bullshit answer, but you really wouldn’t understand.”
“Look, I’ve been losing sleep over this, you can’t just leave it at that. Explain yourself, please.”
“I used to work here, okay? About three years ago.” The man’s focused glare, and serious expression left me disarmed. “There’s a reason I don’t work here anymore.”
“What happened?” I shot back.
“Someone was killed. I know that sounds bad on its own, but you really don’t know the half of it.”
“Look at the store, it's empty. I have the time. Tell me.”
The man let out a deep breath, and ran his fingers through his hair. “The place was like this a lot. Always empty, run down, crappy. So it’s a normal night, I’m working graveyard shift. A car pulls into the parking lot here, and this girl hops out of the car. She was real pretty, and had this spring in her step, just, this energy about her, ya know? I was bored out of my mind, and she looked really nice so I greeted her when she walked in. She said hello back and smiled at me. We chatted a little bit while she browsed. I remember us sharing a joke about the limited selection, ‘cause the store didn’t have the drink she came in for. Out of nowhere, I heard the door fly open, and the place erupted in a commotion.
Chips flew off of the shelves, packs of cigarettes from above fell all over me, and the lights flickered in response to the violent tornado that was tearing through the store. The only sensation I could remember feeling was heat from the gusts. My legs buckled and I crumbled, falling to my back behind the counter. I huddled myself into the fetal position and held on for dear life. Glass shattered, doors slammed, and the woman screamed louder than I thought her capable of. In an instant, the tornado vanished. No gradual decline, I mean it just fuckin’ disappeared as quickly as it came. Like a bullet. I uncovered my head and opened my eyes. I thought I was blind, but the lights were broken. It was pitch dark. I got up to my knees, then to my feet and reached into my pocket for my cell phone. I used the LCD as a flashlight to guide me to the phone and dialed 911.
My ears were still ringing so badly that I couldn’t hear the dispatcher, ‘We need help. We need help’ I repeated over and over. I was so lost, and so scared, I just didn’t know what else to say. I hung up the phone and remembered the girl’s screaming. She wasn’t making any kind of noises now, the place was silent. I made my way over where she was. Her arms covered her face and she didn’t appear to be breathing. Something about the way she laid there absolutely motionless was just so powerful to me. I fell to my knees and began to breathe heavily. I moved her arms out of the way, and checked for a pulse. Maybe it was intense pounding from my own heart, but I felt something. She was still alive. I spoke to her. I told her help was on the way, but she didn’t respond. When help arrived, they pronounced her dead on arrival.
I explained what had happened, and needless to say they were skeptical. I didn’t even believe the words coming out of my mouth. The police explained to me that there weren’t any tornadoes, or other weather anomalies that night. What had taken place simply couldn’t be explained. For a couple days I was evaluated. Not just physically, but also psychologically. I was really shaken up, but other than that, the doctors couldn’t find any kind of psychological disorders. I was in good mental health, considering the trauma that I had experienced. The crime scene investigators found that the amount of damage done to the store was inconsistent with anything possible for a person to have done. The woman had suffered fatal blunt force trauma to the back of the head from her collision with the door of the freezer, though she suffered no harm to the front of her body. That kind of scenario was only possible from a massive gust of wind.
After just one day in jail, the detectives were forced to release me. I quit my job here, and tried to collect myself. I questioned the psychologists’ evaluation. For days after the experience, I suffered from horrible nightmares. I couldn’t get the image of her out of my head. I didn’t know what happened, and I didn’t know why it happened, but it broke me. I admitted myself to a mental health facility. Three years later, they deemed me fit to be released, but the nightmares had never gone away. Two nights ago I had a mental lapse that pulled me back here. It’s like I was sleepwalking. I snapped out of it in the cop car and freaked out. I begged the officers to explain what was going on. At the precinct, they told me everything that happened, and then I remembered it all. I remembered getting out of bed. I remembered getting in my car. And I remember pulling into the gas station. But, when I remember it, I see it in the third person. They don’t feel like my experiences. I’m not the one driving, it’s like I’m sitting in the passenger seat watching myself drive. It doesn’t feel like me. Something else is pulling me here. I don’t know what the fuck is going is on, and I’m done trying to figure it out. Tonight, I break the cycle.”
The man reached for the pen on the counter and jammed it into his own throat. A stream of blood escaped as he yanked the pen from his neck. Repeatedly, he stabbed himself. In and out, in and out. He collapsed to the ground, continuing to plunge the pen into himself. With each successive blow his strength grew weaker and weaker. I sprung up and ran over to the man. I ripped the pen from his possession and threw it across the store. I sprinted to the phone and dialed 911. I screamed at the operator that a man was trying to kill himself, before dropping the phone and returning to him. I kneeled by his side and applied pressure to the wounds. I really didn’t know what to do in a situation like this, but I felt compelled to do whatever I thought would help. With each passing second, I could feel him losing life. By the time aid arrived 10 minutes later, I had serious doubts that the man was still alive. Unfortunately, I was right, the man hadn’t made it. Dead on arrival. After explaining everything that had taken place that night to the police, they ordered me to leave the premises to allow for investigation and cleanup. I didn’t complain.
Because of the ruckus at the store, my boss, the property owner had shown up. I took the opportunity to quit right on the spot. No two weeks’ notice, or nothing. After tonight, I was never setting foot in this place ever again. Call me crazy, but I believed every word of the man’s story. As insane as it was, he said it with such conviction that it there was simply no way I couldn’t believe him. I actually felt sorrow deep down inside because I knew that the police were going to think that he was just another lunatic. I mean, that’s what I thought of him before tonight. This place is crazy, not him. The fact that he stabbed himself in the throat yielding to whatever the fuck inhabits this store was all the evidence I needed to tell me I shouldn’t risk staying here another second. I left the Quik Stop that night never to return.
Two years later, and I have looked back. I keep tabs on the local news every day to see if anything out of the ordinary has taken place at the Quik Stop. Just last week, yet another unexplained death has occurred.