"What kind of cigarettes can I get with this?"
The dirty change hit the metal tray below the separating plexiglass shield with a piercing clang. Nathan shuddered at the sight of the woman; loose leathery skin, faded eyes, hair like straw dry enough to be set ablaze. Her mouth was open and she was missing at least three teeth. He looked down in the tray to see an assortment of dimes, nickels, and pennies. Not even a fucking quarter, he thought. And he hated when people didn't even have the courtesy to count the change beforehand.
Working graveyard at a gas station in a seedy part of town ensured Nathan all the unpleasant people he could handle. It paid fairly well for a gas station job though; nobody wanted to work that shift, not here.
The woman had three dollars and twenty two cents in rusty coins. This was an exchange he was all-too familiar with; it seemed nobody out at this hour could afford decent cigarettes. He grabbed a pack labeled Red Calx, which was basically twenty paper rods filled with dirt, mold, and tobacco. How people could smoke that shit, he never knew.
"I wanted the menthols."
That harsh, scraping voice got another silent shudder from Nathan. Her throat sounded as though it had a thick coating of tar inside, which it probably did. He slipped a nickel and two pennies into the tray and put the Red Calx back, grabbing the Green. He pushed the pack through to the other side.
"You got matches?"
The woman's voice almost seemed to be belched forth. Yes, Nathan thought. Anything to get you to stop talking. He nodded and grabbed a small matchbook, giving it to her while observing the deep lines in her face one more time. The woman looked up at him, seemingly annoyed, and turned around quickly. Nathan watched her walk off the parking lot. She wore green sandals; obviously very fashion conscious, making sure her footwear matched with her cigarettes. The street was empty and the wind whistled lightly, its presence evident only by the swaying of the steam which crept up into the black sky from a grill in the sidewalk. Across the street was a jagged fence, behind which was a tarped building still under construction. He watched out through the yellow plexiglass window for a while before deciding to check the bathroom.
Nathan wiped his dry palm down his tired face and took a bored sip of the coffee in his styrofoam cup. He put on his black jacket before stepping out and the chill of the cold soaked through his uniform, scraping against his skin. Checking the bathroom was the worst part of the job; he had found some truly foul messes waiting for him in the past. Walking by the pumps, he rubbed his hands together. At least it kept him awake. More than a few times he'd fallen asleep on the job. Sitting in that tiny little box, surrounded by cheap merchandise, it wasn't very difficult. The lull was interrupted only by the strange, random people, and only about two or three of them showed up each hour, if that.
He opened the bathroom door to find it, much to his suprise, clean. Nathan turned on the light and walked in, looking around. No mess. No fuss, no muss. He was about to close the door when he saw the small brown tattered book on the edge of the sink.
Curiosity, only sharpened by his boredom, overtook Nathan as he took it. It bore no label, and the corners were frayed with use. He opened it, somewhere in the middle, and read randomly.
That stupid frank. i thoght he was my frend but he is a fagot. that boy tried to kiss me.
Oh man, he thought. This guy's a fucking idiot. He had found entertainment; he would make it through this night yet.
He brought the book with him as he headed back to the box. It was about three in the morning; he knew his next two hours would be more or less undisturbed. Once Nathan got back into the warm station he took his seat and started reading at the first page.
My last ones done so I am starting a new one. Today I was so full, I ated three cheese burgers and they were so good I ated two more.
Nathan was laughing so hard he could barely hold the book in front of him. He had no idea how he was finding himself this amused so easily, but what the hell. The second half to the shift was going to go by easily. All he had to do was make coffee around five and deal with the morning people for an hour. And read this imbecile's journal.
then I drinked some beer and I threw up.
Still laughing, Nathan decided to go straight to March. He wouldn't be able to stop laughing at however many mispelled "February"s there were.
I saw a pretty girl today. I like her. she has big boobs. she wears a skirt and I like skirts. I made a frend today his name is frank. he is nice.
"Uh-oh," Nathan said aloud, smiling. He started to think about how Frank's revelation of his alternate lifestyle might have gone. Did he try to seduce him? Did he play "I'm Too Sexy For My Shirt" and dance for this guy? Maybe he was even liking it before Frank decided to put the moves on him. Nathan chuckled.
"What a twist."
Wow frank bought me beer. what a nice dude. he says theirs going to be a party and Im excited. he says this guy he knoes always throws good partys. maybe Ill get pussy.
Well, the girls do go crazy over guys with reading levels rivaling those of third graders, Nathan thought with a smile. "Get ready to squeal, ladies... the ladykiller is coming for you!"
The party tonite was fun. I got layed. the girl said she didnt want to but I knoe she did so I made her. I think I hurt her but she liked it.
Nathan blinked at the startling entry, the light mood coming to a sudden hault. Nervously he scratched his shoulder and realized that he still had his jacket on. Jesus, he thought. He wondered what the poor girl looked like. Or where his new friend Frank had been while this was going on. He started to think about what else he might find in this book.
I saw the girl with the big boobs again and I talked to her she doesnt like me fuck her. thats what I said I said fuck her.
I told her FUCK YOU
Still slightly bothered, Nathan couldn't help but laugh. He imagined the guy pausing and deciding to add the last line, as if he felt the need to clarify what had been said. Because after all, pulitzers can be lost when penmanship is overly vague.
Today I couldnt go to work becaus I started crying. I couldnt stop crying. I drinked a lot of beer and I fell asleep crying. I punched another hole in the wall first.
Now Nathan was starting to feel disturbed. "This guy is fucked up."
I folloed the big boob girl. I'll make her feel bad for not liking me. I talked to frank today. he said he is having a party again. that will be fun. more beer and pussy.
The girl with big boobs has one more chance I will invite her to franks party. if she doesnt go with me shell see what happens.
She said no. I told her I cant help I like big boobs and she pushed me. Im gonna fix that bitch. but the party was still fun the same girl was there to the one who fucked me the one who knoes a real man when she see one. she said I hurt her but I told her to shut up she wanted me bad you shoud have seen it.
Now he was becoming a bit scared to continue reading. Nathan had at first pictured a big, dumb, harmless oaf writing about nonsense. Now the image in his mind was much more threatening. This was clearly a troubled man with more problems than he had fingers to count, not to mention apparent tendencies to force sex on girls. And now he was going to "fix" someone. Nathan's breathing was slow and his shoulders gave a slight tremble as he read on.
I saw her with her boy frend. I got so mad I didnt knoe what to do. I could see red I think and I folloed them. it was late and I folloed them in to the park. they kissed on a bench and I was so mad. there was nobody around so I put a rock in my hand and went to them. I hit his face and she screamed, I told her to shut up and I punched her. her boy frend fell on the grass and I went to the girl. her boobs were so big. I hit her in the face with the rock to. and I fucked her. thats what she gets
Nathan's arms were shaking so violently he nearly dropped the book on the counter. "Oh my god," was all he could manage. He looked fearfully out at the empty street, thinking about how this guy was here. He had been here on his shift. Nathan's stomach turned at the thought, and a wave of nausea caught him. He shut his eyes tightly before resuming.
I was in the paper! look
LOCAL COUPLE FOUND BLUDGEONED, WOMAN RAPED
Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god.
Nathan's mind was in a frenzy. The fucker had pasted the article on this page. His eyes sped over the typed words and his exhales were coming out in a broken rapid succession. Pairs of words like "murder scene" and "dental records" were almost menacing as his eyes widened. Then he heard the knock at the window, and he leapt in his chair.
He looked up to see a man with frazzled blond hair and an unkempt mustache which resembled broom bristles hanging over his mouth. He had a strange smile that was throughly disorienting. His brown eyes seemed to slither in place, watching Nathan sit up straight and put the journal down.
"What can I do for you?"
The man just looked over Nathan, his eyes narrowing, his grin thin as a dime. "You know how to get to Ventolin Street from here?"
Nathan glanced at his dirty red plaid shirt and began to give him directions nervously. The man's voice was high pitched and seemed strained, with a hint of a southern accent. After Nathan finished, the man's smile opened to reveal spotty yellow teeth and he nodded thanks. He watched the man walk away and he moved slowly, as though he hadn't a care in the world. Nathan thought he heard whistling, but he couldn't be sure.
Then he looked back at the book. Did he really want to read further? There was a lot left to be read, and who knew what else this guy could have done. Taking a deep breath, he picked up the book and reopened it. The writing itself was intimidating, each crooked letter almost seeming to laugh at him as he continued from where he had left off.
I downed 90 miligrams and I drinked a 40. everything is beutiful.
Franks being acting weird. he wants to hang out all the time. whatever I say whatever you want but I dont knoe about him he says come to his house all the time
In horror, Nathan rushed to the page he'd started on, now reading the entry in its entirety.
That stupid frank. i thoght he was my frend but he is a fagot. that boy tried to kiss me. I pushed him away and he cryed, so I hit him. I broked a bottle of beer on his head and stabed him with it becaus it was broken and sharp.
Raw emotion siezed Nathan and he threw the journal against the plexiglass, sobbing. He was shaking. He couldn't read anymore of that depraved book, and he buried his face in his hands, his elbows on the table.
The next thing Nathan knew, he was laying in bed. He looked around the room with a dull grogginess and nestled back into the soft white sheets and pillows, closing his eyes. Then he heard a muffled voice. It was a soft voice penetrating through from outside. Nathan sat up and looked toward the source, seeing a large window covered with white curtains. He got out of bed and walked to them, pushing them open.
The sky outside was very light blue, and he saw a small girl standing outside, roughly ten feet from the window. The voice belonged to her. It was white outside as well, and Nathan deducted that it had been snowing outside. The girl was maybe eight or ten, and her hazy blue eyes looked pleadingly to Nathan.
"Please... it's cold."
The pounding at the plexiglass woke him up. It was Tom, the morning attendant. Light was hitting the window all around him and splashed through, fractured into smaller piercing rays that stabbed Nathan's eyes. "Open the door," he shouted, an amused smile on his face. Nathan sat up in a daze, the sight of the book on the countertop rousing him. Quickly he grabbed and stuck it in his jacket pocket, walking over to the door to unlock it. Tom walked in.
"You're lucky it's slow, dude... I've never seen you crashed out like that before!"
Tom laughed heartily as Nathan got up and began to count his drawer. Slowly he pulled his head back together, hurriedly completing his paperwork as his relief whipped out a barrage of bad jokes. Tom was not the most sophisticated of people, and being a thirty-five year old gas station employee certainly wouldn't help any argument to the contrary. He was loud, his jokes were crude, and he was crushingly impolite.
Yawning, Nathan walked with a drowsy jangle to his small white sedan. As he sat in the driver's seat, pleasantly thinking of going home to collapse on his bed, he looked at the neighboring seat.
He had three final notices next to him, probably placed there before he left the house last night. He reached over and picked one up when his cell phone rang.
The number was an area code that offered no familiarity, and he didn't answer it. Nathan was not in the mood to talk any more than he had to, and he dropped the phone on top of the flimsy envelopes, turning the key in the ignition. His eyelids tightly shutting and opening again and again, he drove out of the parking lot and onto the gradually busying road.
A beep hit his ears and he looked at his phone. Who ever called had left a message. Nathan yawned, the perfect statement for his lack of interest in checking it. Through his narrow eyes he saw the long, skinny triangle of the road before him and the buildings on the sides flashing by, getting bigger before disappearing. The sun was coming through the windshield and it splayed across his lackadaisical face, illuminating his red rimmed eyes.
Finally he reached the mall and pulled into the parking lot. He parked near the entrance, grabbed his bills and his phone, and got out, trudging toward the entrance. At this hour the mall was inhabited with senior citizens getting in their morning exercise. They would walk up and down the lengths of the long rectangular edifice in sweats and headbands. Walking, Nathan thought, was believably high impact for a class of people notorious for having hip replacement surgeries. Once inside, he went to a bench and sat, watching the huffing senior citizens pass him. Remembering his message, he dialed his inbox and brought the phone to his ear.
"You have one new message."
"Yeah, no shit."
"Hey Nathan, it's Karie. Listen, we can't hang out tomorrow... I have to go to the college. Fuckin' sucks. Anyway call me back, we need to hang out again. Okay? Okay bye."
Puzzlement overcame him. He didn't even know who this girl was. The tone of her voice, even more so than her words, suggested that they had planned something beforehand, that they knew each other. That they were at least good natured acquaintances. Nathan searched through his memory for who this Karie may have been. He listened to the message again, but it didn't ring any bells. Her voice did not remind him in the least of anybody.
That was when Nathan remembered the book in his jacket; he felt it brush against his ribcage, and thick tendrils of discomfort suddenly rose up in his chest. Fretfully, his pupils darted left and right as he pulled it from his pocket. He looked down at the worn out cover, the ramshackle spine, features which had seemed so quaintly amusing before. Now they were disheartening enough to send chills throughout his entire body.
He opened it again.
The random page he turned to had large smears of orange underneath a sketch of a face. Each line in the crude illustration had more lines scribbled overtop, as if composed in a fit of rage. Over this was scrawled
LOOK AT THE BLOOD
Nathan dropped the book and clutched his stomach as he began to heave. His mind raced madly, colors and shapes barely bothering to take the form of images in the eye of his mind. Whatever it was he had stumbled upon, it was the very darkest corner of someone's being, and he no longer wanted any part of it. He scooped the journal up and threw it into the nearest trash can. Then he sat back down and threw his arms atop his head.
Nathan's palms prodded into his temples while his shaking body exaggerated his breaths for ten minutes until he felt a tap on his shoulder. He looked up to see a kindly old man looking down at him. The hints of a smile were at the corners of his nearly lipless mouth, and even with his eyes wide open Nathan could see the happy looking crinkles at the corners. "Are you alright, son?"
With eyes red as stoplights, Nathan told the man that he was fine, to which he gave a shrug and resumed his morning walk.
After a while Nathan's breathing returned to normal, and he stood. He wasn't sure of how much time had passed, but people younger than sixty were starting to come in, which Nathan thought was wonderful. After the night he'd had, seeing normal daytime people was quite a relief. He decided to get some breakfast at the food court before going to the city hall customer service center, as the drab commercials had so often suggested.
Once he had eaten, Nathan felt much better. He was going to get something done today, and he could go home and sleep. Tonight would be his Friday too, and he could do absolutely nothing for the next few days. As he thought this, he looked over toward an entrance and saw a familiar face.
It was the man from the gas station. He was wearing the same plaid shirt, his sleeves rolled up to reveal semi-hairy arms, and he had olive pants with a stain over one of the thighs. He was playing violin, though Nathan couldn't hear. The case was at his feet, and he was surrounded by four girls, probably eighteen or nineteen. His mouth appeared to be moving.
Nathan watched for a moment when abruptly the girls started to run from him, their faces twisted with mouths agape and leaking eyes. Startled, he looked back at the man who was giving the same grin as before, looking directly at Nathan. Quickly though, Nathan averted his eyes and walked on his way, shaking his head at what he had just seen. Some dirty old man saying who knows what to girls sympathetic enough to crowd around and listen to him.
There was a small line at the customer service center, and Nathan stood at the end, wiping his nose and holding his bills close to his stomach. Once he was called up, he gave his bills and his credit card to the representative. The rep, Bill, was kindly making small talk when Nathan happened to look over out into the mall and saw the man again.
Again with the violin. Again with the girls. And again they ran from him weeping not a minute after Nathan had laid eyes on them. And again the man smiled at him.
"Is there anything else I can help you with?"
His head spun back to Bill. "Uh, no... I'm fine," he stammered, taking back his card. "Thank you."
When he walked back out the man was gone. Good, he thought. The man's sudden appearance and disappearance was disheartening, but Nathan just wanted to get out and go home.
As he approached the exit, three girls ran in front of him, pushing open the doors and falling out into the parking lot. Nathan turned around and sure enough, there he was. His oily eyes and the deep folds in his face seemed to taunt Nathan, accompanied by that grin. That fucking grin. He could almost smell beer off of him with his matted blond hair, his stringy mustache, those rumpled clothes. Nathan shuddered and left.