I’d never felt particularly worthy of anything, but I had always aspired to be more. I’d never had a lot going for me, and I guess that it would have been safer, much safer, had it stayed that way. I just felt like I deserved more, ya know?
On the night that changed my life, I was feeling extremely disparaged by my circumstance. I had quit at the Gas N’ Gulp the week before, after I landed this great marketing job in Madison, full dental and everything, things were looking up. It took three days for my life to go from happiness to total despair, and I found myself back at the Gas N’ Gulp working my old graveyard shift.
I felt I deserved the job, I had the schooling after all, but it turns out some Ivy Leaguer wunderkind came available and it left me out on my community college ass. I’m lucky Melissa didn't leave right then. Don’t feel too bad though, they told me they’d ‘call if something else came up’.
The bell on the door clinked and I looked up to see what fresh hell was coming for me. Martin held the door open and the wind assaulted my skin, sending goosebumps up my arms and letting flakes rush in around him.
“I’m off for the night, Alex. Do you need anything before I go?” he said.
“No, I’m all set here, just close that door would ya? That wind is freezing tonight.”
He dipped his head, his long beard touching his chest, and turned to go, waving behind him. Once the tail lights on his ‘98 Toyota were swallowed by the blizzard, I went to the docking station, plugged in, and cranked some Modest Mouse to get me through the next three minutes and forty four seconds.
Ian Brock was in full form when the bells chimed again and a lady older than my grandmother shuffled in. She was hunched over a wooden cane and wore layer after layer of shawls with little shimmering trinkets poking out from the folds on each one, making her unsteady gait sound like Tinker Bell was dancing somewhere in the folds.
I watched her as she shuffled up to the counter, wondering all the while, ‘hasn’t this woman ever heard of a parka?’. She looked up at me once she made it to the counter, and her wide, pale blue eyes stared directly into mine. ‘What can I do for you?” I asked.
“Package of Camels.”
I grabbed the cigarettes from under the counter, and when I looked back down at the woman, her eyes had narrowed and her mouth had turned into a grim look of satisfaction. ‘What the hell is up with this lady?’ I thought while saying, “That’s eleven eighty five.”
“May I ask you a question?” she asked, making no move to pay.
"Uh-I guess…" I said. What could she want?
"Are you happy?"
"Yes. Do you feel satisfied?"
Her smile grew wider and under the fluorescent lights, it looked twisted, and I thought it would wrap itself all the way around her head. “I work at a gas station, it’s midnight and my shift only started an hour ago. What do you think?”
Now, normally I wouldn’t be so rude to what seemed like a sweet old lady, but her face kept moving in weird directions, her lips looking full, then thin and her eyes turned from hooded to bugged out, as if she wore several different faces at once and they were fighting for control.
I pushed my glasses up and rubbed my eyes, sure that I’d finally lost it, but when I looked back down, her face was still and she was holding out a crumpled twenty.
“You alright?” she asked, her voice dripped honey.
“I-I’m fine.” I said. I grabbed the bill and made her change.
“What would you say if I gave you the chance to take everything that you ever wanted?”
“I would say that the world doesn’t work like that. That I wouldn’t be able to take anything, because people would stop me. They have an order to things.”
“What if I told you I could change that? Disrupt the order and allow you to have real success?”
“I would like to see that. I could use a win.” I took my glasses off to clean them, my eyes felt like I had just stared at one of those 3D pictures for too long.
“Alright, it’s a deal.”
“Deal? What deal?” I said, putting my glasses back on to see the lady had disappeared. I leaned over the counter to see if she had bent to get a candy bar or something, but she wasn’t there. The bell hadn’t jingled, and the wind never blew in from the storm. She was just gone.
“I’m losing my fucking mind.” I cursed, rubbing my eyes again, and put more fingerprints on my freshly cleaned lenses.
The bell rang, and my hands shot down from my eyes to see if the old bitch was making a run for it, but it wasn’t her, just Mike coming in before his shift at the power plant.
“Alex! You’re back?” he said.
“Did a lady walk by you on your way in?”
“Uh-no. What kind of lady?”
“She was really short, and had like a bunch of shawls all over her.”
Mike raised his eyebrows and puffed out his cheeks,
“Little wooden cane?" I said, "No?”
“Sorry buddy. No one out there but me and Jack Frost.”
Melissa’s right, I need to cut back on the caffeine. I watched Mike head back to the coffee station, grabbing a snowball from the shelf without breaking stride.
“So, why’re you back? I thought you were, 'rid of this place forever'.”
“Yeah, well, things didn’t go like I planned.”
“They hired some kid who went to Princeton and has a better complexion.”
“Typical. Fucking assholes.” Mike shook his head, placing his goods on the counter. “I thought you had a contract?”
“I was supposed to sign my first day.”
“Yeah; so I’m back.”
“Well, lucky Mahir took you back.” he said, using Martin’s real name. Mike refused to call him Martin saying, ‘what’s so god damned hard about saying Mahir?’
“Yeah. That’s me. Alex ‘Lucky’ Rodrigo.”
“Come on man. Know what you have here, cause there ain’t no jobs out there. I’m lucky I’m union.”
I laughed, “Rub it in.”
“Every chance I get.” He pulled some money from his jacket and counted out some small bills.
“Hey, check this for me too, would you?” he said, setting down a crumpled lotto ticket.
I picked up the ticket and glanced at the front. It looked more or less normal, but the lettering was red where Mike had signed. So were his numbers:
04 25 14 09 26 89 7
His little girl and his wife’s birth dates, his old stand by numbers he played every week, and a 7 for good luck.
“Mike, you know they won’t take this if it’s in red pen.”
“What’s in red pen?”
“The lotto, it’s signed in red.” I held the ticket for him to look at.
“I think you need to take the night off, man. That’s in black pen.”
“What? No, it’s in re-” I looked back down at the ticket and the whole thing had turned crimson, staining my fingertips red. I blinked hard and rubbed my fingers together, but they felt normal, not slippery with what I felt certain was blood. “Sorry,” I said, “I must be losin’ it.” and flashed Mike a smile.
“All good, man.” he chuckled. “Give it a check for me, maybe I won big and can get you some therapy.”
My hands were shaking now, and the ticket was still red. I passed the barcode under the scanner and the machine binged, singing out that the ticket was a winner.
Mike jumped up and down, hopping from foot to foot and rubbing his hands together, “Hoo doggy! I knew it was only a matter of time. How much’d I win?”
I looked at the little screen with the flashing lights reading ‘grand prize winner’ over and over, then looked at the sign hanging above me that read the total. “All of it. Mike, you won the jackpot!”
“What!?” he shouted before doing several fist pumps in the air. “The whole thing?”
“Don’t get excited yet,” I said, “better take it to the Lottery Commission and verify it first.” I had almost forgotten the red that was dripping from the ticket and onto my hands, smearing everything I touched.
“Don’t worry, I ain’t gonna quit my job tonight. Gotta make sure it’s for real!”
Mike kept talking, I knew he had, I could see his lips moving, but I couldn’t hear him anymore. I looked behind him and I could see the old lady, she was standing just behind the Lay's chips stand and her face had morphed again, her smile wide enough that it touched her ears and her eyes were bugged out to the point of bursting. Black veins, like burst blood vessels under the skin, stained her lips and eyelids, making her look like walking death.
Mike was still talking, but all I could hear was the woman's voice in my ear. I saw her lips moving from across the store, but her voice paid no heed to physics as I heard her saccharine tone, “Take it. Take the ticket. This is my gift to you. You can make yourself a new man. Maybe Melissa will stick around. Your parents will love you, once you buy them a house. Take the ticket.”
“No!” I shouted.
Mike stopped talking and took a step back. He looked from my face and followed my line of sight to the shelves and then back to my face. “You alright? Need me to call somebody?”
The thing that had been an old lady smiled wider and laughed, the top of her head moving independently from her jaw in a grotesque show of teeth, blackened lips and tongue. She floated to the ceiling, dissipating into red smoke, and my knees shook.
I turned to Mike, taking my eyes off the smoke and he had his phone held to his ear. I heard a tiny voice on the line say, “911, what’s your emergency?” right before the smoke screeched and flew down toward me, landing at my feet then swirling its way around my body, roiling and prodding along my flesh to find an opening. It crawled up and found my mouth, paralyzed open in a silent scream, and then it found my nose, my eyes, my ears. The smoke forced its way in, choking the air from my lungs, invading my brain, my being.
My body shook, and I could feel my arms jerk around like I was a marionette. They moved separately from my consciousness, and I could feel the old lady taking shape inside of me, telling my body to do what my mind wouldn’t.
“Alex, man, stay back!” Mike yelled, his hands held out in front of him. The glow of the phone caught my eye and the woman flung my hand at him, knocking the phone and the little voice across the room to slide under the coolers. Stop! Get out of me! I shouted in my own head, hoping the thing would get out of my body.
She hopped me up onto the counter and in one smooth step, I went crashing down on Mike. He was six five, probably weighed 275, and he was a linebacker in high school, but none of that mattered with this thing in the driver’s seat.
He fell backwards, scrambling to get away. My hands reached out and grabbed him by the throat, crunching his windpipe. He grabbed my forearms, and I cried out to him in my head, ‘Get me off you! Get this fucking thing off!’, but all Mike heard was my throat growling and grunting as I slammed his head into the industrial linoleum. Again, and again, until he stopped fighting.
My legs turned around and then my shoulders followed, ambling my body back to the counter to grab the ticket.
I fell to my knees as the bitch forced her way out my throat. It felt like razor blades coated in salt and I buckled, falling onto all fours as the last bit of her left me to spew blood onto the ground. The pain in my forearms where Mike had tried to break my hold was unreal, my flesh throbbed with each beat of my heart, and tears streamed down my face. Not for my pain, but because I would rather he broke my arms clean off than have him dead by my hands. I wept for his wife and daughter. What could I tell them? How could anyone explain…this?
“Leave now, or my gift will be wasted.” the old lady said. I hadn’t noticed her standing over me, back to wearing her innocent old lady face. “They will be here soon.”
She was right, even in the snowstorm, the cops had made good time, and the sirens blared, red and blue light bounced off the snow and filled the store making it look like a rave.
“Fuck you and your gift.” I spat at her, but more blood choked me, and sent me into a coughing fit.
She laughed, “You didn’t want to be here. Now you won’t be. I released you.”
“You killed me.”
“I gave you what you asked for.” She faded away, her cackle fading with her and I heard the megaphone.
“Drop the weapon and come out with your hands up!”
I didn’t know what he was talking about, I didn’t have a weapon. But my hand was suddenly heavy and cool as a black handgun appeared, my fingers wrapped around the grip and trembling.
“I’m so sorry, Mike.” I stood up, using the last of my strength to run for the door on legs that shook with each step. I was sure I wouldn’t make it to the door, but I deserved what was across that threshold. I knew that. So I forced my body to keep going.
I made it far enough to see the state trooper’s stupid fuzzy hat, and then there was a pop.
After that, there was only darkness.
About the Creator
E.B. spends his nights crafting stories for your (and let’s face it, his own) entertainment. He hopes these stories portray people as they are, flawed humans capable of great and terrible things, and hopes you lose yourself in his worlds.
Very well written. Keep up the good work!
Original narrative & well developed characters
Compelling and original writing
Creative use of language & vocab
Easy to read and follow
Well-structured & engaging content