Let me tell you about a little land called Nowhere.
It is a land of disparity. Where the morning singes down the charred I-205, where cracks run along once teeming river beds, where shrivelled saguaros sway in the sweltering heat. When day fades, night arrives to take its place with its maddening void and burning chill. The frost sinks its teeth into the lifeless dirt and where the moon, merciless, looks from above as an eternal witness. Life is transitory and fleeting in these lands for it arrives and leaves at the same moment, tire markings and distant headlights the only sign of its passage.
In the night, it is a land of discord. Where things from beyond, below and above come to haunt, dwell and dance upon those unfortunate themselves to be within Nowhere’s borders. There is no discernable pattern to its madness, no theory can prove its eldritch behaviors, no science can explain its weirdness. Nowhere is simply what Everywhere else has rejected.
It is a land of the luckless. Construction projects gone awry. Attempts to open residential villas gone wrong from faulty accounting. From eons, from the Civil War to Vietnam, no one has managed to tame it. Businessmen, oil tycoons, settlers, all fell victim to madness, malady or worse. All attempts at creating something of Nowhere have all been failures.
Well, all except for one.
In this miserable land lies a miserable oasis: a single Gas-Way petrol station accompanied by a long stretch of tarmac carved out through Nowhere. Nowhere somehow grudgingly tolerates its existence. For now. Over the years, it has served as a nexus to the strange forces that inhabit Nowhere, much to the detriment of the many employes that serve it. For years, they have sacrificed their body, mind, spirit or all to the forces of the Night. Those who survive who attempt to tell the world about Nowhere’s true nature have been met with contempt, disbelief and laughter.
This is where our story begins. With four lives.
The Gas-Way ExpressTIME:
When you work a minimum wage job as a cashier in Nowhere, the task is on you to keep yourself busy when there’s no customers. There’s the classics such as counting the number of cars that pass by on the I-280, spinning nickels and trying out obscure cocktails from the soda machines outside. Then, there’s the ones you invent for yourself. Counting the number of scratches on the old brick walls, mentally playing all the songs in your head and observing that one fly in the corner of the room that’s just concerned with reminding you of its wretched existence.
Shawn briefly considers that he may be bored.
Stifling a yawn, Shawn rubs his eyes blearily, elbows leaning on the countertop, trying to stay awake enough to make sure some nosy customer doesn’t tell him off to Al’s suck ups.
A loud bang of something hitting the countertop jostles him from his stupor. The heavy tang of cheese and meat follows after, burning a memory into his senses. “ Sorry ‘bout that, Shawn,” His co-worker, Robert, murmurs as he nudges the pastel green cardboard box with his oil speckled palms. Adjusting his collared shirt, he produces a box cutter from his pocket and slowly pushes out the blade.
“ You just had to do it now. ” Shawn grimaced. “What’s that smell?”
“ New product, man.” Robert replied back, slicing open the cardboard and spilling packaging peanuts everywhere. “ Must be because of that new deal Management made.” He nudges his head back towards the delivery truck outside, other members of the “ You wanna lift a hand and help?”
“ Sorry.” Shawn lazily pointed his thumb back towards the clock. “ I get early leave today at 9.” His eyes lighted up when he looked back at it, the hands perfectly aligned at freedom o’ clock “ Speaking of which, it’s time for me to clock out.”
“ Dick.” Robert simply grunts as Shawn walks into the break room, sliding his work ticket through the time clock. While he waits for it to punch in the time, his co-worker takes a moment to peek through the open door at him.
“ Excited about your final week, aren’t you?”
“ What can I say?” Shawn cockily replied back, hoisting his duffle bag over his shoulder and storing his punch card back into a hanging “ Can’t wait to get out of this dump.” With a smile, he punched Robert’s shoulder playfully, his co-worker returning back the favor as he makes his way out of the store.
“ See ya, Shawn.”
“ See ya, Rob.” Shawn does a little mock-salute before barging his way through the store doors, Nowhere’s familiar barren expanse laid in front of him. Evening shifts in any business are expected to have low activity but in a place like Nowhere, it’s deserted. There’s only one Toyota that’s currently standing by the pumps as Shawn walks by, the driver whistling one out of the billion cookie cutter advertising jingles on the radio.
He makes a straight beeline to the left towards the Parking Lots, walking fast as he can in short, hurried breaths, cursing Management for not having the decency to put a parking space that isn’t miles away from the store. There are barely any streetlights to illuminate Nowhere. What you’re left with is a blanket of black smothering the sky and land. All Shawn can do is continue to walk at a steady pace and ignore the sinking feeling of the darkness trapping him in its cold maw, travelling further and further down its gullet.
That was when the first raindrop of Nowhere hit his shoulder. It’s enough to make him stop, pause and touch the damp fabric of his uniform to make sure he isn’t dreaming.
Strange. It was just clear just a minute ago. The weather predictions in Nowhere were always the same. Hell, they couldn’t even be called predictions since Nowhere had nothing to predict. It was always the same. Hot in the morning and cold in the evening. Until now. As he neared his car, the drizzle became a downpour that eroded away his vision, turning the contours of the parked cars blurry. Spitting out the iron tang of rainwater in driblets, his right hand rifles through his pockets for his keys.
The shriek, like a cat clashing against a blackboard, pierces the endless cacophony of the rainfall.
Then, he hears it. Something wet smacking the pavement sluggishly behind him. He turned his head around and wished he hadn’t. It was one of those sights where your body accepted your truth but your mind didn’t, a kind of dissonance that almost pushed you outwards until you were seeing yourself. He had already lost the battle to convince himself
It was a deer.
It was an abstract painting come to life. The antlers were like white tree branches, colossal and cracked like old weathered marble. Pocketed all over its body were gaping wounds where mud-thick blood oozed out and clotted. Its crooked hoofed legs sprouted from its trunk-like body like an demented octopus. Across its face, the fur peeled away from the snout and mouth to reveal a skull, barnacles of jaw meat and viscera glued to the bone.
“ Good morning
” the deer crooned. It’s voice wasn’t a voice but a blend of man, woman, old, child, animal in unison. Every syllable that it uttered sounded like it had been spoken by an out of tune orchestra.
“ What the - “
Suddenly, there was no noise coming out of his mouth. Shawn could have sworn that its empty sockets were looking straight into its own.
so soon? We’ll take good
care of you.
” The deer opened its mouth, a craggy cave of teeth and fangs and then leapt, the howling wind and pitter-patter of the raindrops a substitute for his screams.
Several seconds later, the rain dies down. Tatters of Shawn’s uniform were left, sogged in the rust-colored puddles, along with his employee badge. night wind to sweep them away into the gutters.
The Gas-Way ExpressTIME:
“ C’mon, I thought this was supposed to be 24 hour service!”
“ I need some more of this goddamn nacho cheese!”
“ TACOS MENOS! TACOS MENOS!”
When you first applied for a graveyard shift at Gas-Way, you expected isolation, loneliness and death from an acute case of boredom. What you didn’t expect was the conga line of customers complaining and swearing at the beleaguered cashier at the counter. The crowd is made up of a menagerie of people from truckers, road-trippers and bikers. Something's different about them this time. There's a certain fire in their eyes, a hunger in their eyes that can only be satisfied by the consumption of high-cholesterol convenience store snacks. The cashier withers underneath their shouts, meekly protesting to each customer that tries to cut line.
His eyes, a tunnel of dark rings around them, perks up when he looks at you like you're the messiah. Before you can say anything, he waves his arms around to get the attention of the crowd." Sorry, folks. Counter's going to be closed temporarily for a moment!" A loud groan of disappointment follows as he pushes through the turnstile and runs towards you. Up close, you can get a better look at him. He looks more like he ran a 10-mile marathon. He's wheezing, his throat seemingly hoarse from hours of having to placate angry customers for hours, as he tries to gather up the muster to talk to you.
“ Are you the guys manning the new shift?” He doesn’t wait for your reply as he continues forth, more than eager to pack up and leave. “ If you are, try and handle these guys, will you? Al’s gonna have my ass if he gets a customer complaint letter.” His eyes shift back to the seething crowd of customers and then, towards you. " I'm telling you man, they've all gone loco for this new Tacos Menos shit. Just as we're trying to find out what happened to Shawn - "
He shakes his head and sighs. " Oh, what am I telling you this for! I've got better things to do tonight than stay here!" Grabbing a crinkled yellow piece of note paper from his pocket, he slaps it against your chest. “ Oh, by the way, before I forget, Al told Dave who told Mars who told Jennifer who told me to give this to you.”
MEMO FROM MANAGEMENT
To: Rory McShan
Subject: Notifications for 10:00 - 4:00 AM Shift
Please be aware of the following:
Please ensure that the slushie machine is refilled before tomorrow. [NOT DONE]
In accordance with Gas Way’s recent deal with Alamos Rancheros, their newest product, Tacos Menos, are now for on-shelf distribution to the public. [DONE]
There have been reports of a minor pest infestation in the Parking Lot. From all reports, it’s nothing so serious to warrant deterrence measures. Please send one of our employees to rectify this issue. [NOT DONE]
Gas-Way Co Management
Just as you finish reading, he's already at the door, pushing past you in a hurry. You can barely catch his last words from all the screaming and shouting in the store as he sprints off, the darkness of Nowhere slowly enshrouding his retreating form.
“ Good luck.” @Atrophy @Rapid Reader@RedVII@Firecracker_