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Rest Stop

It had been a rough day for Daniel.  All he wanted to do was get home and rest, maybe pop a beer and cop a squat in front of the tube, or possibly just take a nap.  He needed to get gas first, though... his car was running on fumes on the way in, and he might not make it home if he didn't stop.  He hated the rush hour commute, but living outside the city was worth it.  His place wasn't too far out, but just far enough that the end of his daily ride was usually smooth driving.  It was at an exit he rarely took that he finally decided he'd better go ahead and pull off.  He was sure he'd seen a gas station on the highway markers, and hoped it wasn't too far.

Yep, there it was... just up ahead on the right.

It seemed to be attached to a mechanic's garage.  Pulling in, he noticed a young kid at the pump.  He seemed to be around sixteen or seventeen, sporting a filling station uniform.  The way he was standing there, Daniel took that set for the full service series.

   “How quaint,” Daniel thought to himself as he pulled up to the young man at the pump. “Another bonus for living out in the country.”

He’d normally try to avoid the extra expense, but on this day, he was happier instead to avoid going to the extra effort.

                  “Hi, there. My name is Ryan. What can I get for you today?” The kid said at his window.

       “I need regular unleaded, and you can fill the tank,” Daniel told the kid, handing over a card.

Ryan looked at the card without taking it, then glanced over his shoulder towards the gas station, as if he was afraid someone might be watching him. He leaned further into the window.

              “Hey, can I ask you a favor?” he said, in a somewhat urgent whisper.

   “Maybe...” Daniel replied, hesitantly. He wasn’t really the favor doing type, and this was a stranger. He wasn’t too sure about it, but, it was a kid, after all… probably just being stupid.

              “Listen,” the kid started, somewhat hurriedly. “I will take $12.00 off your bill if you go in and buy me a pack a cigarettes.” Ryan’s tone seemed almost conspiratorial now.

    “Oh, I don’t think so,” Daniel’s response came out abruptly, and perhaps a bit louder than he’d intended. He shook his head emphatically, now also checking over Ryan’s shoulder, looking for suggestions of hidden cameras.

              “All right, how about we make it $20, then,” Ryan pressed further.

              “I’m totally out, and my manager is on duty, but he won’t sell me a pack,” Ryan pleaded desperately.

              “Dude, come on… haven’t you ever found yourself up a creek when the crave hit?” The kid was scratching a little, the agitation in his voice barely contained.

Daniel had quit smoking a year ago and knew the look, as well as how it felt to be simultaneously jonesing and SOL. This was no police setup. This was just a kid that needed a smoke. And, what the hell, twenty bucks was twenty bucks.

   “Alright kid, I’ll do it, but if I get busted in some sort of pump and go sting or something—”

              “Don’t worry, nothing will happen,” Ryan interrupted quickly, reassuringly. Then, “You’re doing me a huge favor, Mister, seriously. Say, what’s your name?”

   “Uh, Daniel. Daniel Crawford,” Daniel scratched his head. Why did he tell him? “You can call me Dan.” He got out of his car. “What type do you smoke?”

              “Camel wides. Thanks again Mister Dan. You’re a life saver.”

   “Alright, I’ll be right back,” Daniel headed towards the shop, rolling his eyes slightly at the notion of considering cigarettes to have any restorative powers.

-----

Inside the foodmart portion of the station, there was easy listening playing over the PA system. He hadn’t notice it from outside because it was too tinny. The shop was very clean inside and he noticed a waiting room off to the left for the attached auto shop. It was clean, also, with new magazines displayed on the tables – no doubt taken out of the stations inventory – and a TV mounted on the wall, currently tuned to CNN. He wondered how he’d managed to missed this place before. True, he didn’t take this exit very often, but a nice, well-kept place like this off the beaten path, surely should be getting more of his patronage. He walked up to the front counter and made his purchase. The manager behind the counter was mid-thirties, clean-cut, lacking the usual self-loathing slouch and generally disheveled air of someone his age stuck in such a thankless job. He seemed genuinely happy to be there. His name tag read, “Greg.”

              “What’ll be?” Greg asked in a chipper tone.

   “Camel wides.” Daniel responded absentmindedly, passing over a twenty. Then, feeling the conversation inadequate for the setting, he added, “How long has this place been here?”

                “Well this here whistle stop has a long and rich history, or at least so my granddad says, but, if we’re considering my recollection of that history, I’d say about 80 years or so, by my reckoning.” Greg replied with a twinkle in his eye.

   “Wow, that’s impressive,” Daniel nodded. “I’m surprised you guys still do full service.”

   “Family owned and operated,” Daniel thought to himself. No wonder the guy was still smiling! He wondered to himself what kind of profits they pulled in.

              “Well, it’s only full service when the mechanics don’t have enough to do. Otherwise it’s self-serve like everywhere else.” Greg handed him the smokes. “I would love to be able to afford to hire full time full service attendants, at least during the day, but we’re not sitting that pretty here nowadays.”

   “Well I know where I’ll be coming from now on,” Daniel assured the attendant. “This is one on the nicest gas stations I have seen in a long time.”

              “Thank you, sir!” Greg flashed that smile again. “We definitely look forward to your continued patronage.”

-----

Back at the pump, Daniel discreetly handed off to Ryan the derelict pack of cigarettes.

   “Not worried about Greg catching you smoking?” Daniel asked. “I’m also sure he’ll notice the difference in what was pumped and what you charged me.”

              “He won’t know. We get discounted cards for gas payments sometimes. I will just make up the difference when I put the money in the register,” Ryan replied, somewhat sheepishly.

Daniel whistled.

   “That is one pretty expensive pack of cigarettes.”

              “Trust me it’s worth it,” Ryan looked at his feet. “Especially if you have to work with family,” he sort of scowled in the general direction of the shop.

For the first time, Daniel noticed the similarities in Ryan’s and Greg’s features; the sandy brown hair, the jawline, the way the eyes were situated. Their noses were different though, and the mouths didn’t quite match up.

              “Cousin Greg has been here quite a while, and he takes a lot of pride in the family business,” Ryan continued. “But, to me, it’s a just a job.” Ryan finished topping off the tank.

              “Okay, sir, that will be $28.65.” Daniel handed over $30.00. “...and I’ll be right back with your change, sir,” he added, then disappeared toward the register.

          “Thanks again, Dan,” Ryan grinned as he bounced back with the change.

   “Don’t mention it,” Daniel answered, then switched into a sterner tone. “I mean that, son.”

Ryan eyes briefly darted backward, worried, but then Daniel chuckled.

   “Just having a little fun, kid,” he tugged at Ryan’s cap. “Though, you really should think about quitting,” he added, more seriously. “I did.” Then he got into his car and drove on his way.

-----

Daniel got back on the highway in a much better mood than he’d been in before. What a find! He now considered the wayside filler on his newest list of regular “musts,” and determined to visit there more often.

He was 3 exits away from home – about 10 miles to go – when he noticed a car on the side of the road. A pretty girl was looking frustrated, cell phone in hand. Considering the good luck he had at the gas station, Daniel decided to pull off and see if he could help her. The girl looked to be about 15 or 16 years. Her blond hair was messed up from stressed hands running through it, wringing out her car troubles in absent minded frustration. She looked nervously at Daniel as he got out of his car and approached her. She had reached into her purse and looked to be clutching something in her bag. Daniel placed his hand hands palm up as he approached her.

   “Didn’t mean to frighten you,” he offered, gently. “Just stopping to see if maybe I could help. My name’s Daniel.” He stopped about five feet away smiling and trying to seem harmless.

              “My name is Sarah,” the girl came back, forcing a weak and shaky smile. “My car is out of gas, and I’m not getting a cell signal.” She remained clung tightly to whatever secret protection her purse kept; Daniel presumed pepper spray.

   “Well, there’s a gas station two exits back. It’s about 5 miles by foot. I can take you back there to get gas if you like, or if you have a gas can, I can bring it back here for you,” Daniel ducked his head some, trying to shrink his not-so-statuesque frame into a less imposing stature.

              “Ok...” her response was metered, pensive. “I will come with you. I just don’t want to stand out here.”

She moved in a little closer, somewhat skittishly.

“Alright, then,” he smiled, walking back to his car, and opening the passenger door for her.

She followed, stunted, looking every bit like a lost little lamb. He did his best to soften his countenance, hoping he could make her understand he was not leading her to slaughter.

   “It should only take us about 8 minutes to get back to the gas station,” Daniel explained, as they got on the road. “The next exit doesn’t have one, and neither does the one behind us.”

He signaled the car and got off on the next exit to turn around. He understood why the girl would be scared, even though he felt he came across fairly non-threating, as far as he knew. Hell mostly women didn’t notice him at all. He contemplated his apparently harmless appearance… he was a middle aged white guy with glasses, balding, and bit tubby around the middle. He couldn’t think of any reason why anyone would be frightened of him. Still, Sarah was just a young girl. She was plain looking, her blonde hair falling in slight, unassuming curls around her wallflower face. She was neither skinny, nor fat... average in just about every conceivable way, though her height was maybe slightly abnormal for a girl her age, and she was dressed moderately, as if she were coming home from school.

   “Not to pry, but do you live around here?” Daniel asked.

              “No, I’m visiting my Aunt,” her response came back slowly, measured out in calculated doses. “I have the directions to her place in my car.” There was a long pause, and he could tell she was struggling to remain polite. “Do you mind if we just listen to the radio?”

   “Sure.” He turned on the radio, tuned to the sports station he usually listened to. “You can change it to whatever you want to hear.”

              “Thank you,” she sighed, relieved. “I’m very grateful for your help... I don’t mean to be rude.”

   “It’s ok. We’re almost there.”

He turned onto the exit that would take them back to the gas station.

-----

Upon arriving at the station, he caught Ryan by the pumps once more, this time sitting, looking a lot less agitated than he’d seemed earlier. Daniel parked the car near the building and got out, with Sarah in tow not far behind. They approached Ryan together.

   “Hey there, Ryan,” Daniel smiled at him. “I came across this young lady on the side of the road up the ways a bit. Her car’s out of gas where we left it there. Do you think you can help her?”

              “Sure, I’d be willing, Dan,” Ryan raised an eyebrow, raising his cap to scratch the longish bangs of sandy blonde hair peeking out from underneath. “But I don’t have a car to get to hers. Lemme run grab a gallon tank we can put in for her, if you can carry us there.” Ryan dashed off to the shop to retrieve the gas can.

Sarah had been watching Daniel and Ryan, and Daniel noticed the way she looked at Ryan was a lot different than how she looked at him. He chalked it up to the fact that like attracts like, and imagined maybe Ryan was probably kinda cute for a young boy to a young gal about the same age. He wouldn’t know, he wasn’t a young girl, and he didn’t pay attention to such things. But he was happy she seemed more relaxed now. Ryan reappeared with the gas can and passed it off to Daniel.

              “I can ride up there with you guys if you like, and ride back with her,” Ryan suggested. “That way you can get on your way, Dan.”

That seemed reasonable to Daniel.

   “If that’s okay with Sarah, it’s fine with me,” Daniel agreed.

              “Sure that will be fine,” Sarah said, blushing slightly.

Daniel smiled. Maybe his good deed for the day was going to pay off in a young love connection.

-----

On the drive back to the car Ryan and Sarah made small talk about their schools and music and other things people their age talked about. Daniel, not wanting to interfere, was perfectly content to just play the part of chauffer for these two youngsters. He kept his eyes on the road, headed to where he’d last seen Sarah’s car. When he spotted it and pulled over, though glad he could help, he was also very glad they were getting out. The fumes from the portable tank had been bothering him since they left the station.

-----

         Daniel woke up alone in his car at a rest stop parking lot some 4 miles from the exit to his house. Dizzy and disoriented, he couldn’t seem to make himself remember what happened just before, or how he got there. He felt incredibly tired, and fuzzy headed. He had had a long day... this trip home had started out with him running on steam in more ways than one… had he stopped for a few quick winks after dropping off Sarah and Ryan? She’d seemed perfectly okay about driving Ryan back to the gas station, since they were hitting it off so well, although he couldn’t recall anything past coming to a stop at her car...

   He remembered the doors opening, and then…

             He searched his brain, confused, trying to understand.

                       His head hurt.

He looked around the car. The doors were closed, all signs of passengers gone. He pulled down the visor looked in the mirror. He noticed a small bandage on his forehead just above his left eye. There was a tiny spot of blood on his steering wheel, still glistening and somewhat damp, but mostly sticky.

Folded on the passenger seat was a note.

           “Dear Dan,

              I guess the fumes from the gas tank were too much for you cause you passed out & conked your head on your steering wheel something awful. Fortunately Sarah had a first aid kit in her car and we bandaged you up. You said were okay to drive but I suggested you stop at the next rest stop just in case you mighta got yerself a concussion. Stop into the gas station when you get a chance and let me know how you’re doing.


               —Ryan


Dan rubbed his head at the bandaged spot, thankful that he made it to the rest stop in one piece before passing out. He would have to remember to stop by the gas station in the morning on his way to work to thank Ryan. He slowly pulled out of the parking lot and headed home.

-----

Back at the gas station, Ryan and Sarah sat in the waiting room of the garage, drinking sodas and eating sandwiches, while Greg busied himself with jars at the mechanics counter. Ryan studied Greg’s handiwork, and then cocked his head inquisitively.

        “Do you think we took too much this time?” He queried of the man behind the counter.

               “No, not this time,” Greg mused, pondering. “But I think we’ve only got one more shot before the damage becomes noticeable.” Greg bobbed his head repetitively in contemplation, pursing his lips.

“How many times have you caught this same guy out here?” Sarah asked.

               “This will be what, number 4, would you say, Ryan?” Greg called back over his shoulder, still organizing jars.

        “Yeah this is the fourth time; I’m always surprised he never remembers us at all.” He sipped the last of his soda and gracefully arched the empty can into the recycling bin.

               “Fortunately the cells we’re harvesting now impact short term memory, that’s why he doesn’t realize this has happened before.”

He held up to the light and peered sharply into a jar containing about a 1 inch square piece of greyish, fleshy material.

               “He’s only good for one more harvest in this spot, and then he we’ll start to move into the cortex that addresses logic puzzles, where he’d be able to put the pieces together, if he were to get enough clues. Whether or not we can leave him alive after that will depend on how clean we run the next op.”

Greg mused over the jar thoughtfully.

               “I mean, yeah, sure, he’s a nice enough guy, but witnesses and all that, you know...” here his voice trailed off.

        “He is a repeat customer, though,” Ryan looked down at his feet. “I don’t think he’s even capable of doing us any real harm.”

Sarah giggled next to him. Ryan scowled at her.

        “What’s so funny?” he barked.

“Repeat customers being bad for business,” Sarah sniggered more, almost catching herself in a choke. Ryan smirked.

Just then a car pulled up into the parking lot. Greg looked up from the jar.

               “It’s Mrs. Stevens. Ryan, make sure to give her one of Gran’s special muffins, and make it on the house. This will be her last visit. You know how much she likes Gran’s muffins.”

Greg hefted open a commercial grade refrigerator, and traced his finger across columns of small jars with segments of gray, pink, and burgundy fleshy slivers in clear fluid, until he came to a shelf labeled, “Crawford, Daniel – Op1A.” He placed the jar containing the tiny bit of Daniel’s frontal cortex in the second to last slot on that row, and sighed heavily.

        “Another repeat customer,” Ryan muttered, his face darkening.

This time Sarah howled out loud. Ryan grimaced. He jumped up from his seat, cracked his neck and his knuckles, shaking like a wet dog from his head to his tail, before putting on his best smile.

        “Hi, I’m Ryan,” he practiced, before heading to the cashier’s counter.

               “Sarah, you can come help me get the OR prepared. The client is satisfied with her samples, and wants the full package this time.” Greg’s tone with Sarah was firm, and conveyed the solemnity of this final customer visit. Respectfully rebuked, she lowered her head meekly, and dutifully and followed him as he passed through garage bays, into the operating theater.


LJI WEEK 5:
BUILD A BETTER MOUSETRAP

Comments

( 37 comments — Leave a comment )
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kickthehobbit
Apr. 15th, 2014 01:24 am (UTC)
Daaaang! I was expecting some kind of twist—that they were going to rob him, maybe, but nothing like that! Well-done!
mamas_minion
Apr. 15th, 2014 03:51 am (UTC)
Thank you I try not to be to predictable, by the way love your picture of Calcifer
livejournal
Apr. 15th, 2014 05:23 am (UTC)
LJ Idol Week 5: Recommendations!
User kickthehobbit referenced to your post from LJ Idol Week 5: Recommendations! saying: [...] TRIBE TWO: 's piece takes a sharp left into horror...and it works beautifully [...]
mamas_minion
Apr. 16th, 2014 03:19 pm (UTC)
Re: LJ Idol Week 5: Recommendations!
Thank you for reading and recommending my post.
eternal_ot
Apr. 15th, 2014 07:02 am (UTC)
Wow! least expected of the twist...well done! Kept me hooked..
mamas_minion
Apr. 15th, 2014 06:44 pm (UTC)
Thank you, i'm glad it was able to keep you hooked till the end.
jem0000000
Apr. 15th, 2014 08:49 am (UTC)
Great twist -- very unexpected (I was thinking either robbery or vampires/aliens). :)
mamas_minion
Apr. 15th, 2014 06:46 pm (UTC)
Thank you
(no subject) - jem0000000 - Apr. 17th, 2014 07:33 am (UTC) - Expand
x_disturbed_x
Apr. 15th, 2014 11:54 am (UTC)
Yep this was very unexpected. XD
mamas_minion
Apr. 15th, 2014 06:48 pm (UTC)
Thak you I did not want to be obvious with this one.
kajel
Apr. 15th, 2014 07:09 pm (UTC)
Nicely done.
mamas_minion
Apr. 16th, 2014 03:14 pm (UTC)
thank you
karmasoup
Apr. 15th, 2014 08:11 pm (UTC)
Ha! Good thing you didn’t go with vampires! This came together nicely.
mamas_minion
Apr. 16th, 2014 03:14 pm (UTC)
Thank you humans are scarier than vampires
eska818
Apr. 16th, 2014 12:34 am (UTC)
haha, this was really long, but I figured there had to be some sort of Texas Chainsaw sort of thing going on here, so I just had to keep reading. Very nicely done :)
mamas_minion
Apr. 16th, 2014 03:15 pm (UTC)
I didn't mean for it to be that long but it just kind of wnet that way, thank you for reading it.
(no subject) - eska818 - Apr. 16th, 2014 11:05 pm (UTC) - Expand
ljidolvillian
Apr. 16th, 2014 06:12 am (UTC)
Strong twist ending.
mamas_minion
Apr. 16th, 2014 03:16 pm (UTC)
Thank you, I like putting a twist in every now and then.
i_17bingo
Apr. 16th, 2014 12:24 pm (UTC)
I don't know exactly what it is they're doing, but at least they're being humane about it.

My favorite detail was Daniel's nervousness about making Sarah comfortable. As a tall, middle-aged guy, I worry about this kind of thing a lot.
mamas_minion
Apr. 16th, 2014 03:13 pm (UTC)
I left it vague as to what they are doing, not sure myself. thank you for reading my post.
reckless_blues
Apr. 16th, 2014 05:24 pm (UTC)
Wait for it ... wait for it ... Aaah, there it is. I liked this. A while to the payoff, but I never got tired of reading.
mamas_minion
Apr. 16th, 2014 09:16 pm (UTC)
thank you for reading my post.
sarcasmoqueen
Apr. 16th, 2014 06:44 pm (UTC)
This had me sucked in from the moment I started. At this stage of the competition with so many entries, I usually skim over long entries, but this one captivated me. Very well written. Nice job!
mamas_minion
Apr. 16th, 2014 09:15 pm (UTC)
Thank you I'm glad you liked it.
roina_arwen
Apr. 17th, 2014 03:36 am (UTC)
I suspected something was up, but didn't see that particular twist coming. Nicely done!

I think this icon is more than apt, LOL.
mamas_minion
Apr. 17th, 2014 05:09 pm (UTC)
Thank you and yes the icon does fit this one perfectly.
favoritebean
Apr. 17th, 2014 08:28 am (UTC)
Oh, that's terrifying! Much more terrifying than I expected.
mamas_minion
Apr. 17th, 2014 05:10 pm (UTC)
Thank you, I was going for a horror bent here.
penpusher
Apr. 17th, 2014 10:36 am (UTC)
Taut and tense and frightening and fun!
mamas_minion
Apr. 17th, 2014 05:10 pm (UTC)
Thank you, I truly enjoyed writing this piece.
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