A brisk, foggy morning followed.
A scruffy, tired-looking young man parked his dark blue Prius behind an old, beat up Shell gas station. It was nestled off the side of a lonely road between Jinn City and Rondspoken Park.
He unlocked the front door of the gas station’s small, dusty convenience store and let himself in.
The familiar digital bell sound chimed as the front door opened forward. He put on an aged nametag underneath the cash register that read ‘Carlos – Member since 2018’.
He clocked in on an analog punch card machine that was likely twice his age. He turned on the laptop screen-sized TV at the corner of the cashier’s counter, along with the lights.
The familiar sound of NBC’s morning news filled the background from the TV’s faint, half broken internal speakers. The TV was a boxy, small HD screen that looked at least a decade old, with a few small sections of dead pixels and a digital antenna attached. NBC was the only free channel that had decent reception.
He began brewing the day’s first batch of coffee while listening to the news from a distance.
“The body of a young man was found this morning by the baseball fields in Rondspoken Park. The man was identified as 22 year old Orlando Jackson of Jinn City. He was pronounced dead at the scene, with apparent blunt force trauma wounds to the head.
Coven County Police discovered the body while responding to several calls from nearby residents after dozens of tennis balls had reportedly been hit from the park’s baseball fields, landing on their property . . .”
Carlos loved the smell of coffee in the morning. He poured a cup of extra-thick black coffee into a large to go cup and wrapped his hands around it, letting his digits recover from the sharp, cold winds of the early October morning.
Carlos sat back in the creaky rolling chair behind the counter. He didn’t mind the early morning gig – it was a great time to catch up on his latest manga, or games on his Switch.
He gazed peacefully toward the rising sun, past the weathered roof over the gas pumps. He found it ironic that the ‘S’ in ‘Shell’ was the only letter that didn’t light up anymore.
“I told ’em smokin’ all that reefer was bad news!” said an older woman, distraught, sobbing on TV. The caption underneath read Maria Jackson, Mother of Victim.
“This is the third homicide investigation in Coven County since the beginning of October, all involving young adults as victims. Police are urging the public to come forward with any information regarding this tragedy via the Call Our Police Departments, Give Anonymous Facts national tip hotline, at 1-888-COPDGAF.”
Carlos let out a weak sigh, followed by a much stronger yawn. He sipped on his cup of coffee, indifferent to the cryptic local news as well as the rest of the world around him. He began nodding out in the rolling chair behind the counter.
Carlos was startled awake, finding himself in a completely different place. The chair where he once sat on was now an old, warped bench, between two baseball fields.
He knew where he was – the same area of Rondspoken Park where that murder took place, the one that was just on the news. It was the early evening; the moon shined brightly opposite the setting sun.
There was no one else within sight. Carlos felt his pockets for his phone, keys, and wallet, but found nothing. He felt as if he was gliding more than walking as he he looked around, trying to make sense of his new surroundings.
He heard a faint sound toward the tennis courts nearby – it was a digital door chime, similar to the one on the door to the gas station’s convenience store.
Carlos moved toward the sound at a speed quicker than normal walking or running speed – almost as if he was fast forwarding his surroundings to get to where he wanted to go.
The door chime rang again. Carlos found himself in front of a pair of automatic, floor-to- ceiling glass doors leading into a building. Above the doors read the words Rondspoken Park Tennis Center.
He moved forward into the building’s lobby, a small, but well-kept foyer with marble floors, a trophy case on the left, a vacant reception desk, and a hallway on the right that led further into the building.
Carlos heard the faintest hint of a young woman’s voice coming from down the hallway. He began to move toward wherever the voice was coming from. He found himself suddenly in a janitor’s closet. He moved further toward the voice, and in an instant found himself in the men’s locker room. Carlos was shocked at his newfound ability to go through the building’s walls.
“Helloooo?!” He heard the voice again, louder and clearer, and was able to make a beeline toward it, defying physics along the way.
“Anybody!?” the young woman’s voice called out again. Carlos found himself in an entirely empty row of tennis courts, except for a young woman who was hyperventilating and holding a black baseball bat.
“Stop!” She said, toward his direction.
“Can you see me?” Carlos said, somehow speaking without moving his mouth.
“Get out of my fucking head!” the young woman yelled.
“Not again! Not a-fucking-gain!” she hollered.
Carlos saw a black cloud-like substance surrounding the young woman.
She didn’t seem to notice Carlos or actually see the shadowy air that surrounded her. She began swinging the bat wildly, as if she were trying to defend herself from someone.
Carlos moved toward, and then into the dark cloud that seemed to be attacking the young woman.
He heard a faint array of whispers, in a language he didn’t understand. The cloud began thinning out as the stranger whispers grew louder.
“You will regret thisssss . . . .” this was the last thing whispered by the strange voice, and the only thing Carlos actually understood.
The young woman gasped deeply.
Carlos was jolted awake by the sound of the gas station’s door chime, nearly falling out of his seat.
Still in the rolling chair behind the gas station’s cash register, Carlos looked around, startled.
He felt around his pockets for his keys, wallet, and phone, and had them all. He breathed a sigh of relief.
He looked at the time on the bottom right corner of the news on the old TV – 7:07 am.
He had only been asleep for about 15 minutes or so.
Carlos did a quick scan of the tiny convenience store and felt a bit uneasy. He found it odd that he was woken up by the doorbell chime. Throughout the four years he had worked at the Shell gas station, the little shop’s door chime had never rang on its own. It was a motion sensor doorbell – it only rang when someone came in.
It rang again, on its own.
Carlos felt a cold sweat begin to run down his neck. He looked down at the shelf below the cash register, making sure that the store’s old shotgun was still there, within arms reach.
He heard a faint whisper. It sounded just like the one in his dream. He slowly rose from his seat, with the store’s shotgun in hand.
The doorbell chime rang again.
Carlos screamed. Another doorbell chime without another person in sight. He quickly reached for the box of live rounds on the same shelf below the register – loading the double barreled vintage shotgun with two rounds. He hadn’t He hadn’t had a nightmare like that, nor handled a firearm with live rounds in years – not since the night of the unspeakable tragedy that shook Jinn City.
This time the chime was triggered by Carlos as he stepped outside, eyes wide, shotgun at the ready.
“Who’s there?!” His voice echoed into the dense fog and woods surrounding the gas station.
There was no answer, apart from the whistling winds that Coven County was known for.
He kept his head on a swivel, then took a moment to catch his breath.
His heartrate fell back into a normal rhythm after a minute or two.
Carlos let out a sigh of relief and went back inside.
He let himself back into the gas station’s convenience store, glad to hear the chime sound when he came back in.
A few uneventful hours went by. Carlos was used to the silence of the secluded gas station.
He stepped outside again toward the late morning, lighting a joint he had clipped in his car. He blew the smoke away toward the woods, away from the gas station.
Carlos leaned against his blue Prius, exhaling a mild indica into the dense fog, shaking off the nerves from a very weird early morning.
As he was walking back around to the front of the gas station he was surprised to see a customer waiting for him – a faded, black Camry, with old, orange-amber-colored headlights was parked at one of the gas pumps.
Carlos found it a bit strange that he didn’t hear a single sound of the car coming off of the road into the station; it was as if the car had appeared out of thin air.
A young woman stepped out of the driver’s seat – the same woman from his nightmare earlier in the day. She looked like she’d been through hell.
Carlos didn’t know what to say to her. Her hair was wild and unkempt. There was a mix of dirt and bloodstains on her clothes.
“A-Are you okay?” Carlos asked her, assuming she might need medical attention.
She locked her fully jet black eyes with his.
“I’m doing just just just just fine fine fine fine…” Carlos heard her say with an echo.
Ding-Dong. Ding-Dong. Ding-Dong. Ding-Dong. Ding-Dong. Ding-Dong. Ding-Dong. Ding-Dong. Ding-Dong. Ding-Dong. Din-
The doorbell chime went berserk.
The young woman’s head began tilting, twitching unnaturally, her eyes blinking faster than Carlos had ever seen.
Carlos felt himself stuck, unable to move at all. His vision and hearing began to fade.
Ding-Dong. Ding-Dong. Ding-Dong. Ding-Dong. Ding-Dong. Ding-Don–
The doorbell chime was ringing non-stop, the front door waving back and forth, slamming violently into it’s frame. The lights inside the convenience store flickered in sync with how quickly the young woman’s eyes blinked.
“You you you might might want want want want to to get get get that that that door door door door door door fixed fixed fi…..” Carlos heard the young woman’s voice echo with each word as her twitches and blinking intensified.
CRASH. The last thing Carlos heard was the muffled sound of glass shattering.
His vision went completely dark. He stood silently, almost as still as a statue. He shook subtly, as if a faint vibration ran through him.
“You’re cute. What a shame.” Carlos heard nothing from the outside world, but had the young woman’s voice permeate his consciousness, like a thought planted into his mind.
“LOOK AT ME!” the young woman commanded him, telepathically.
Suddenly, he could see again. He was kneeling in front her, still deaf and paralyzed.
She had a magic wand shaped vape in her mouth. She looked toward the sky. Her mouth began moving. The cryptic whispers from earlier that morning entered his mind.
The young woman’s eyes grew even darker. Small veins surrounding her eye sockets grew dark under her increasingly pale skin. The bags under her eyes turned a faint shade of red.
She took a long pull from the vape, leaned in close, and exhaled slowly, right into Carlos’ face.
“You were almost her knight in shining armor . . . oh well . . .” another thought entered Carlos’ mind.
Her eyes looked as if they were bulging out of their sockets. The dark veins surrounding her eyes made it look like she had two huge spiders where her eyes should be.
She gazed into his unmoving eyes. She flicked her gaze downward for second. Carlos’ head immediately followed – his head turned immediately toward the ground.
“You got a permit for this thing?” the young woman asked Carlos telepathically.
His head turned back up toward her again – she was holding the shotgun now with one hand and the magic wand vape in another.
She lifted the shotgun slowly with one outstretched arm, toward the sky. Carlos’ body moved with her arm, levitating into the air. His face remained parallel to the firearm, keeping the middle of his forehead parallel with the end of the dual barrels.
The shotgun cocked on its own.
The young woman took another pull of the vape and blew it upward toward him. Carlos’ vision was forced downward as he levitated above her, staring directly down the barrels of the shotgun.
“I told you that you would regret this . . . you should have stayed out of my way.”
Strong winds swirled around them. Carlos’ vision went blank again.
It was nearly sundown. Margot woke up with a violently deep breath.
She found herself laying on the pavement of a gas station, covered in dirt, gravel, and what looked like bloodstains all over her face, hands and clothes. She had no idea where she was, or how she got there – she last remembered calling and texting her best friend, Jackson, before completely blacking out.
She looked around and saw a complete disaster – broken glass everywhere, a shotgun a few feet away from her; she saw Jackson’s car, but no sign of him anywhere.
A dead man lay not too far from the shotgun, in a pool of blood; his face had been completely decimated.
She began bawling and screaming at the top of her lungs, completely in shock; she had promised herself the last time that this would never happen again.
After a moment or two, Margot heard her phone going off boisterously in Jackson’s car with an emergency alert. She lifted herself up and slowly limped over to the car, wiping dust and gravel off along the way.
She weakly opened the door to the driver’s seat and saw her phone in the center cupholder, vibrating and ringing vigorously with the emergency alert sound. There was a message on her phone – “ANSWER NOW” in all caps.
She touched the OK button on the alert, still breathing heavily, wiping tears and blood off of her face.
She knew the protocol already – once she pressed OK on the alert, her phone’s controls were disabled. A phone call started once she clicked the emergency alert away.
A calm, but authoritative man’s voice began speaking through her phone:
“You can’t keep doing this, Ms. Posseduto,” said the man on the phone, in a parental, matter-of-fact tone.
“It’s not on fucking purpose! You know I can’t stop it, you fucking jackass!”
“We’re sending a car for you now. Stay exactly where you are.” the man replied, just as calmly as before.
“FUHHHCK YOUUU!” Margot said with all of her might.
“You know what will happen if you do not comply,” the man politely affirmed.
“GO TO FUCKING HELL!” Margot yelled into the phone, and then threw it straight into the ground. She saw the black baseball bat she had found the other day, laying in the backseat of Jackson’s car. She pulled it out of the car, gripped it with both hands, and pounded her phone into pieces in a fit of rage.
In the distance, she heard sirens and the hum of tires rolling down the road, growing closer and louder by the second. She was out of time.
The sun was nearly set. She looked downward toward the ground, pulling her tattered, bloody hoodie over her face. She threw herself into the driver’s seat of Jackson’s car and turned the keys, still left in the ignition from before.
7:07 PM – The car radio’s digital read out displayed the time.
Several all-black SUVs began pulling in aggressively into the gas station. They surrounded her as she sat in Jackson’s car while blocking the only entrance and exit onto the only road out.
She heard car doors opening and closing. She had nowhere to run.
“Ya know what….” Margot said to herself. She quickly got back out of the car.
About a dozen men in tactical gear surrounded her, shouting orders:
“GET ON THE FUCKING GROUND RIGHT NOW!”
“HANDS WHERE WE CAN SEE ‘EM!”
Margot slowly got onto her knees and held up both hands parallel to her face.
The men moved in quickly, weapons drawn.
In the few seconds of freedom she had left, Margot twisted her hands around, showing her middle fingers to the men in tactical gear, turned her head straight up, and gazed directly at the full moon.
A wicked smile crept up on her face.
Her eyes turned fully black.