Randy and Dewey sat in the car beside the nonworking gas pump. Randy wasn’t sure why they had stopped, and his eyes shifted around the empty parking lot. The store was closed and the only thing available was a soda machine by the front door, its dim light flickering erratically. Neither men spoke for a moment, and the only sound was the ticking of the engine as it cooled down in the chilly air.
Dewey raised his hand and squinted to check his watch in the faint glow of the dirty awning light bulb. Satisfied, he snapped his fingers once and opened the door. “Sorry boss,” he said, climbing out, “but I gotta take a leak—now’s your chance too.”
He grunted as he stood upright, stretching his arms over his head. The cold air filled the interior of the car and Randy could see his breath again. Looking over at Dewey, he watched him slip his keys into his pocket and adjust his jacket.
“You know, I think I’m good,” Randy answered.
Until now, he hadn’t taken much time to consider his benefactor. He seems nice enough, he thought, studying Dewey briefly. But then, also… He couldn’t pick out any one thing specifically, but the man seemed …off, he concluded.
Dewey leaned down and peered into the car, “you sure?” he asked. When Randy just nodded in response, he flashed his toothy smile and gave him a wink. “Suit yourself,” he said cheerfully and stood back up. When he shut the door, the sound echoed into the dark until it became lost amidst the silvery pine needles and nocturnal birds of prey.
As Dewey walked away, Randy’s sense of uneasiness began to grow. Back on the road, a car drove past the service station and the headlights flashed briefly across the parking lot as it sped by. When he saw Dewey disappear around the corner of the building, Randy casually scanned the dimly lit car for anything that might tell him more about the man.
There wasn’t much in the open to see—at least nothing that should make him suspicious. Other than a tube of chap stick, some toll-booth stubs, and what looked like fast food napkins, folded at the bottom of the cup holder, the interior of the car was surprisingly clutter free. Randy started to think that maybe he was being paranoid. Still…, he thought.
He stole a quick glance at the building but Dewey had not reappeared. Reaching down to the glove box, he pushed the little button on the front and the door swung down. Inside, other than what looked like the owners-manual, there were just a few loose spare fuses at the bottom. He shut the glove box quietly and sat back. It’s just the night, he thought, laying his head against the seat. Hell, anyone would be creeped out here in th—a hand slammed on the roof of the car like a gun blast and Randy jerked upright.
When the door swung open, Dewey poked his head in and asked, “still here?” with a grin. The open door was letting the cold air back in and Randy tucked his hands under his arms.
“Yep, I’m good,” he said with a weak smile. Dewey nodded once quickly and stood back up. He reached into his pocket and came out with a small handful of change and began sifting through the coins as he walked over to the dying soda machine. Randy watched him drop some coins into the slot and punch a button with his knuckle.
As he climbed back into the car with the can of soda, he said, “the last few miles are always the drowsiest,” and shut the door. As the car pulled back onto the road, leaving the vacant service station behind, Randy felt his apprehension begin to ebb. They rode for a while in their now-familiar silence, and before long the orange and white lights of Sparksville appeared on the dusky horizon.
When they made it to the edge of the town Randy let out a sigh, grateful to finally be home. “Again,” he said turning to Dewey, “I can’t thank you enough, really. I meant what I said by always drawing the short straw. If you hadn’t stopped, I’d probably still be out there walking,” he said with a short chuckle.
He turned to look out the windshield in order to guide Dewey to his turn when the streetlights began to blur; wobbling left and right at first until finally losing all focus. He shook his head—sure the exhausting night was finally catching up with him—but it seemed to only make things worse.
“Like I told you—right time, right place is all,” Dewey said as he turned onto a narrow residential street. Older two-story, single family homes lined the road, set back behind a crumbling sidewalk. Most of the houses were still dark at such an early hour, but a faint light could be seen in several. “Yes sir, I have a knack for timing,” he said as they paused briefly at a stop sign before continuing. The muted jazz music on the radio went into a saxophone solo and Dewey tapped along on the wheel.
Randy’s tongue felt like it was swelling in his mouth. He was just about to say something when his shoulders began to slump. He fought to keep his body from going limp, but his limbs wouldn’t obey and they began to loosen. Panicking, he realized that something was seriously wrong—and it wasn’t exhaustion.
He felt icy terror creeping up his spine and it took all his effort to force his head to turn. He looked at Dewey with a face of slack horror, staring wide-eyed. He tried desperately to speak—to say anything—but his throat wouldn’t conjure the words. It felt like he was sinking to the bottom of a deep sea and he couldn’t move to get back to the surface.
Dewey turned and looked into Randy’s panicked eyes and winked. “Of course, nothing works every time,” he said as he wove through the dusky pre-dawn streets, “you have got to be patient. You have no idea how much coffee I’ve dumped out over the years,” he said as he turned into a dirt driveway, sheltered by the hanging branches of a live oak.
As the car turned, Randy couldn’t fight the momentum, and he slumped against the door. His brain was screaming—to move, to run, open the door, anything—but all he could do is watch, frozen, as the car pulled into a tidy garage. As the large overhead door began to close on the chilly darkness beyond, Randy could hear Dewey snapping his fingers softly to a jazz beat. Then he sank to the bottom of the sea.