Thursday, April 18, 2019


IN HER TWO YEARS working overnights at the Gas and Stuff, Tracey had often had the same nightmare. Except, since she worked nights, she’d have it in the daytime. Which, for some reason, had always made it feel more real.

In her nightmare, she would be at work, behind the counter, and alone. Time would stand still and she would feel the unnerving suspicion that she was being watched. Outside the dream, in the real world, when she was alone in the store, she would sometimes recall the nightmare and the notion would come to her that whomever had been watching her must have been out there in the dark on the other wide of the highway. The front of the store was all glass, after all. She was fairly certain that if she was standing out there in the dark, anyone behind the counter would be lit up like a Broadway premier.

The restroom door banged open and she nearly jumped from her seat.

“Sorry about that.” The man stood just outside the doorway, one hand holding open the restroom door. “Guess I don’t know my own strength.”

It was her sixth customer, and seeing him shook all thoughts of being watched from her head.

“It’s okay,” she said with a smile. “The door does it all the time.”

“Appreciate it, ma’am,” the man said, and tipped his hat to her like some sort of cowboy. He talked like a cowboy as well, though he sure didn’t dress like one. Not at all. In fact, he looked more like someone out of an old gangster flick, what with the suit, the trench coat, and the fedora.

She watched the man in the fedora out of the corner of her eye as he made his way back to the dairy cooler. The electronic bell over the front door chimed, however, and drew her eyes forward once again to greet the new customer. She opened her mouth and then closed it just as fast as soon as she saw that her new customer was Adam Vance.

She sighed inwardly.

Adam was in his late twenties with a sad, wispy little mustache that struggled with all its might to grow on his upper lip. He was thin, almost too thin, and walked in a rubbery sort of way. She was often surprised that his gun belt didn’t fall down around his ankles. The first time he had walked into the Gas and Stuff over a year ago, her first thought had been of Barney Fife from that old black and white TV show.

“Place is hopping,” Adam said as he approached the counter. He smiled and chewed on a toothpick.

“Tends to happen now and again,” she said, staring out at the lot through the front glass.

Tracey was just twenty-three, and though she liked having Adam around, if only to steer the bad element away, she was not at all interested in dating him. He was attractive enough, in a nerdy sort of way, but she just couldn’t see herself with a man with a mustache. Even if his breath had smelled of freshly laundered linen, she’d still say no. But then, he’d never asked. He just liked to hang out and look at her.

“That guy come back in tonight?” he asked as he leaned on an elbow on the counter.

“What guy?”

“The guy that asked you out last night,” Adam smiled. “Didn’t you say he was wearing a cape?”

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