Cheryl shivered and the unsuspecting breeze whipped her hair into a frenzy. She wrestled the hose of the gas pump and manged to hit the target on her Jetta. The quiet, late summer evenings promised to her disappeared as an early September storm rushed up the bay.
“Last Gas For 50 MILES” the crudley painted sign had read, and always the cautious one, Cheryl wasn’t taking any chances. The fact Eric had convinced her to even make the drive to the Ridge alone had been a small miracle, and running out of petrol half-way there was not an option.
The ancient,swaying lights above her flickered in the wind, and the tick, tick, tick, of the gas pumps gauge rolling lent a surreal quality to the moment. She could see the old attendant through the filthy glass of the stations front entrance. Bulletins and notices dating as far back as ’96 decorated the large window. There could have been older ones, but the habit of simply putting new over old, rather than actually removing the pass~due events, had obviously not crossed anyone’s mind.
She heard the engine of the rusted out Ford before the truck came into view. Straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting, the driver let the engine die as the beast rolled up to the other side of the gas pumps. Nervous as she was, Cheryl turned away before eye contact could be engaged. She had seen enough movies and fought her way through enough urban legends to know to beware of the man in the rusty Ford.
She cringed as she heard him suck back the phlem and nearly gagged herself when she heard the resounding splat against the dirt of the parking lot.
There was no way to pretend she hadn’t heard him. It was though even the wind had calmed.
“It would appear so.” She smiled. A life-time in sales had trained her well. “Damn it!” She cursed under her breath. Small talk.
“Where ye’ headed?” He was leaned now against the truck, facing her. All decked out in grease stained coveralls and a crooked Toronto Blue Jays cap perched atop his head. Old or young, Cheryl had no way of knowing. The hair on his head, matted under the silly looking cap, did a great job of hiding him. With the exception of the blue eyes. The man had the strangest, clearest, blue eyes she had ever seen.
“My husband’s a writer. He’s been holed up at the Ridge for weeks. Thought it was about time I joined him”.
The man snorted his snot again, and again, the splat against the gravel. “Wouldn’t let my woman make this trip alone. Where ye coming from.”
“Oh…we’re just up from the city. Not a big deal. We’ve driven these roads a thousand times.” She thought the fib small, but necessary. Every second she spent under the gaze of those eyes was one second closer to coming completely unnerved. As if on cue, the slow rolling gas pump clicked to a stop. She flicked up the lever at the side, and dropped the hose back in its cradle. “Well…all set for a few more miles!” She sounded way too chipper, and she knew it. She grabbed her bag from the passenger seat and forced herself to maintain a slow, confident stride across the parking lot.
A string of bells danced into song and she heaved the heavy door inward, thankful she had a gust of wind to strengthen her push. Not the most practical way of doing business she figured, but at the same time couldn’t help but wonder how much business the joint actually did.
“Old Rusty’s not given you a hard time out there is he?”
The old fellow behind the till couldn’t have hid his age if he wanted.
“Oh no…just talking about the storm.”
“Yup…Rusty’s likes when the skies get wild” He smiled a huge, toothless grin, and Cheryl found herself stepping back without thinking. She pulled two crisp twenties from her billfold and laid them on the counter.
“I think we all enjoy a good storm”. Really, what else was she supposed to say? She turned quickly on her heel and dashed toward the exit. She could see the mountainous form of Rusty lumbering towards the store. She had to get outside. She couldn’t bear the thought of meeting him in the doorway.