Welcome to springfield. The sign's white letters reflected the moonlight off of them and into a gleam of white light hitting my eyes as I passed. The top left corner had lost the green coating that covered the rest of the sign, instead sporting a rusted brown. Unincorporated. As if trying to hide the insignificance of the town, the word hung below the initial greeting with parts hidden behind brush. To the other side of the road, corn grew taller than a person. In the distance a swelling of light escaped the crops’ cover.
“Continue on North Main for the next five miles,” A robotic voice reminded me of my course and warned me of the inevitable android uprising. My phone rested on the passenger seat, shifting around as my tires rumbled over the uneven pavement. Glitches, design issues and other nuisances plagued the application, so it didn’t surprise me to see the same unaccompanied blue line I had seen the last time I checked.
The uneventfulness of my drive had left me singing along to Katy Perry to pass the time. After the radio stations had started playing classical music, I knew even the lowest of my attempts at entertainment had fallen through. I sat in near silence comforted by the sounds of my car. Before long, my drowsiness turned into my enemy. My mind started wandering to strange places despite my attempts to control it. Every time I passed by an animal's glowing yellow eyes or an abandoned barn, I feared the worst. I couldn’t help but think of each of the scary stories and horror movies I heard in the past. Humanoid creatures filled with an unquenchable thirst for blood, unexplainably haunted artifacts, and ordinary people but on bath salts crept into my consciousness and kept my head on a constant swivel.
As I drove closer to the glow, its source came into view. A square building leaked a yellow radiance into the atmosphere through windows coating its face. The entrance to the place sat between two panes of glass, eclipsed from my view by one of the two gas pumps in the otherwise vacant lot. I checked my fuel gauge to see the white hand indicating my current levels dipped below the quarter mark. A narrow break in the surrounding grass marked the entrance to the parking lot. After parking next to a pump, I took my keys out of the ignition and headed inside.
A man sat on a stool behind the counter to the left of the store. He rested with his back against the wall and a baseball cap pulled down to cover his eyes. As I pushed the door open, he lifted his head to see me.
“Welcome,” He looked up to flash me a thin smile before bowing his head again. I grabbed my wallet from my pocket and walked towards him.
“Can I get some gas?” I flicked the various old gift cards and IDs before finding my credit card. The man stood up, rubbing his eyes. As he looked down at my card, his eyes narrowed as his brows drew together.
“You got cash?”
“Yeah,” I put my card away and dug around in my wallet for a few bills.
“You’re not from around here are you?”
“No,” I continued to search for some spare paper money. Obviously I didn’t live there. The town’s unincorporated status meant few people did. Confused by his question, I returned with my own. “Why?”
“How long have you been here?” He now spoke sternly, as if expecting a response. I decided it would be best not to test him.
“I’m just passing through,” His second question caught me off guard. I handed him the bills in my hands, before offering the same response I had previously. “Why?”
“Alright,” His face returned to its natural blank state. He seemed satisfied with my answers to his questions, despite neglecting to give me the same kind of peace of mind. “Do you want anything else?”
I didn’t plan on getting anything other than gas, but I wouldn’t be stopping again for a while, so I turned around to consider my options. On the opposite side of the room stood three shelves, stocked with various food and beverages.
“Yeah, hold on a second.”
After walking to the aisles, I dragged my pointer across a part of the rack and held it to my face to see my finger covered dust. I wiped it on my pants and picked up a bag of chips. The bag’s expiration date had passed years ago, and its colors had faded leaving its branding obscured. As I walked to the counter, the door cracked open beside me.
“Hey Daryl,” A boot caked in dried mud rested between a chip in the floor tiles. The man it belonged to stared at me as if by browsing the aisles for a snack I had crossed the line separating civilized people and the British. He stood in the frame like an animal who had just returned home to find another invading its territory. A few seconds earlier the odor of the store was imperceivable, if not a bit musty, but upon the arrival of this man the stench of fresh manure swept through the building.
I handed the man behind the counter some cash and showed him the bag of chips.
“Has he seen anything?” His voice was like personified sandpaper. Dayrl had made his way behind me as I faced the man behind the counter, causing me to jump as he spoke.
“I don’t think so,” He looked me in the eyes as he spoke like he was trying to uncover the truth of what lie behind them.
“Well, you can never be too sure,” Dayrl looked me up and down before switching his gaze to the man behind the counter, “I'll make sure he doesn't.”
After getting my change and filling my car with gas, I drove out of the parking lot and back onto the road. After driving for a minute, my car’s engine sputtered until only momentum carried my car forward. I pressed my foot on the gas to no avail. As my car drifted to a stop I turned the wheel to land on a thin stretch of grass between the pavement and some crops.
I stepped out and popped the hood to look at the car's innards for the source of its troubles. As I stared down at the black and grey tubes and appliances, I scratched my head. Cars had never been an interest of mine. The one I drove underwent constant repairs. Rust had replaced paint on the bottom edges and the steering felt slow and unresponsive.
While I stood distracted by my failing car, a truck advanced towards me. Due to its unlit headlights, it managed to park behind me without being noticed.
“Hey there,” He walked across the road towards me displaying an unconvincing smile. The wind carried the smell of manure through the air and made me retch. “I see you’re having some car troubles.”