The Seeker

A Meta-Cognitive Journal About Writing… Plus Other Stuff

Fuel Town Christmas (pt.1)

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Note:  I somehow cranked this story out in the midst of the PAD Challenge last year.  It kinda hit me around this time when I stopped in a local gas station and noticed the gamblers trying their luck on the machines that seem to be everywhere these days.  I never did much trying to publish it, but it is Christmas-themed, so it’s good to post here.

Fuel Town Christmas

Tracy had already told Mick three times to take his hand off her thigh, and they were only twenty miles out from the truck stop in Racine.  She tried to move over in the cab of his semi, but each time he dug his fingers into her leg and pulled her back towards him. His fingers had found a hole in her jeans, and she could feel his rough skin on her.

“Look,” she said.  “Thank you for the ride.  I have a little money bit of money I can give you, but that’s it.”

He shot her a quick look.  “Don’t make up your mind so fast,” he said.  “Look at how it’s snowing. Who else is going to pick you up?”  He was right. Fat flakes of snow were slanting through the night sky almost like rain.

She had tried at the truck stop in vain for over an hour, asking anybody who looked safe.  The place had been busy with vehicles heading south, each one full of kids and presents and pets.  Nobody had room, though, even if it was just her with no bags or anything. Mick had overheard her and approached.  He had adjusted a black stocking cap on his head like he was making some kind of greeting and told her his name. “I’m heading to South Bend,” he added.  “Gotta go south before I can go east. I can drop you at Blue Island.” He seemed safe, and with the snow coming down like it was and the day creeping into evening, he looked like her only chance.

He was right, but in her mind that didn’t mean she had to give him anything but money for the ride.  “Just stop it, okay?” Tracy said. “Please.” She pulled his hand off her thigh and pushed it back towards him.

Mick sighed heavily and muttered something about Christmas that Tracy couldn’t fully hear.  A minute later, he pointed off to the west at a yellow glow that Tracy could barely see. “Fuel Town,” he said.  “I gotta top off so I can make South Bend without stopping. Except to drop you off.”

They drove past someone walking on the shoulder as they slowed down to turn in to Fuel Town.  Tracy had barely seen the person and wasn’t sure if Mick had since he was downshifting and maneuvering the steering wheel.  Once they were under the canopy at a pump, he told her, “Use the potty if you need to. Grab a snack.”

Tracy dug for a moment in her purse and pulled out a ten dollar bill and two wrinkled fives.  She held it across the cab to him. “It’s all I have.” Mick took the bills and stuck them in his pocket.

They both got out, and Tracy walked toward the station.  Whoever they’d just seen along the shoulder had made it to the parking lot.  It was a man walking out of the thick snow like some mystery figure.

Mick yelled out from over by the pumps.  “Hey! You’ll get your ass run over!”

The man waved his arm.  He got to the door before Tracy and held it open.  She knew she was under-dressed for the weather, but didn’t have a word for what he was.  She could see his socks through holes in his beat-up work boots. His jeans were ripped out at the knees, and forget about a coat—he wore a green flannel shirt and a pair of hoodies.  His splotchy beard did very little to hide the scar that ran from his left cheek down to his throat. She couldn’t tell if his hair was wet from the snow or greasy, but nevermind because he needed to run a comb through it.  He pulled an empty whiskey bottle out of one of his pockets, threw it in the trash barrel next to the door, and said, “Merry Christmas.”

Tracy told him thank you and tried to hold her breath as she walked past him.

The cashier saw both of them and called out, “Happy Holidays!”  He looked at the old man and said, “Cuddy, you old cuss! Merry Christmas!”

The old man grunted something and walked over towards the video poker machines while he dug his hand into one of his pockets.  Tracy walked back to the restrooms, where the smell of bleach was strong enough to come under the door. She came out a few minutes later, glad to breath air that didn’t burn her nose.  The old man had settled into a stool at the video machines. A fat lady sat next to him.

Tracy thought to get some cookies and juice, but remembered Mick had the rest of her money.  She walked to the door and looked out across the parking lot under the canopy. There was nothing except big fat snowflakes falling on everything.

“Holy fuck,” she said.  The cashier shot her a look.  She approached him at the counter.  He looked up at her behind a pair of glasses that had slid down his nose.  “Where did that semi go that was out there?”

The cashier looked outside.  “I don’t know.”

“Do you know the son of a bitch who was driving it?”

“Probably not,” he said.  “I didn’t see him.”

“You didn’t see him?  You don’t know him? All you Fuel Town people don’t know each other?”

“No, m’am,” he said.  “He left. He didn’t even buy gas.”

“Call the cops,” Tracy said.  “And tell them he stole my money.”

“I could, m’am, but it’d be best to wait a bit,” the cashier said.  He pushed his glasses up his nose and pointed to a radio next to him on the counter.  “They’re busy. Accident at the state line. It’s on the scanner. You just missed it.  Lucky.”

Tracy gave him a hard look, but he didn’t notice.  He pointed at a set of small monitors and said that he could check the cameras when the owner comes by in the morning.

“Good.  I can tell him about the excellent customer service here at Fuel Town,” Tracy said.  “It looks like I’m going to be here anyhow.” She gave him a hard look again, and then said, “Forget it.  I’ll call the goddamn cops.”

“You’re welcome to do that,” he said.  “But could you do it outside so we don’t have to hear all your cussing?”

Tracy stepped outside and pulled her phone out of her coat pocket, but couldn’t turn it on.  She checked her purse for the charger, but stopped when she remembered she had left it on her nightstand when she rushed out of the house in mid-afternoon.  There she was at Fuel Town with no money, a dead phone, and no charger. She reached into another pocket and felt for her cigarettes. Half a pack. Merry Goddamn Christmas.

She lit a cigarette and stood there watching the snow fall so thick she could barely see the tracks where Mick had pulled in.  There was a pounding sound on the window behind her, and then the cashier’s voice yelling to go around back to smoke.

Tracy walked around to the back of the station.  Snow crunched beneath her feet with each step, and she felt wetness seep through her shoes.  When she turned the corner, the fat lady who had been playing video poker next to the old man was standing there puffing on a cigarette.  She was so fat that she couldn’t even zip her coat, so she stood there with it hanging open. The place smelled like grease and rotten food, and Tracy was grateful for the stench of tobacco smoke.

“Merry Christmas,” the fat lady said.

“Yeah,” Tracy said.  “If that’s what you call this.”

Tracy could feel the fat lady’s eyes on her, like they were glued to her as if she was some kind of Fuel Town freakshow.  Was the poor little abandoned girl the evening’s entertainment? She purposely looked away from the fat lady, and even pretended to check her phone.  She finally decided distance was the best option, and took several steps away. The fat lady was unshakable, though, and kept drilling Tracy with her eyes.  Finally, she broke the silence. “Are you in some kind of trouble, honey?”

Without looking at her, Tracy replied,  “Don’t concern yourself.” She let silence fall between them again, and then turned back to the fat lady.  “Got a car?”

“Can’t help you there,” the fat lady said and coughed into her hand.  She dropped her cigarette and ground it out with her foot. She brushed some of the snow out of her blonde brush-cut hair.  “My name is Linda,” she said. “If I can help you, just ask.” She went back into the station. Tracy stood there alone and thought back on all that happened since she came home from work in the middle of the afternoon.  Her face felt hot, but she was determined not to give in to her emotions.

She finished her smoke, went back inside, and sat down in a booth near the video machines.  She needed to call her parents. It probably wouldn’t help, but they’d be worried by now. And how was she going to call them?  Their damn number was on her phone.

continued…

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Written by seeker70

December 14, 2018 at 4:43 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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