Wednesday, October 8, 2014
Dale Brink was an idiot. Not in the clinical sense, but it was close enough. Years of abuse had dulled what little natural wit he had, to the point of negligence. “Witless” would have been a good descriptor but it was one which was rarely used; “fucking retard” was more typical. This left Dale with very few career opportunities. Combined with living in a small town, constantly on the edge of evaporating, his options were very few, indeed. An all-night truck stop was the one he eventually settled into. Dale found that it wasn’t too taxing, sitting in the dusty old building, late at night, surrounded by motor oil, candy, caffeine pills, CB radios, and various, assorted nick knacks, accompanied by little more than spiders and the smell of rusty old cans and dust. Most of the truckers paid for fuel at the pumps, via a company card, and those were very few and far between, leaving very little for Dale to actually do. If he’d been smarter, he might have been given to wonder how the old place kept the lights on. Mostly, he watched television on an old tube model outfitted with an HD adaptor kit. It wasn’t much, but it passed the time.
Dale lazily flipped through the channels until he found a rerun of Jerry Springer which caught his fancy. Enthralled with the sideshow on display, he didn’t notice the cloud of dust sweep through the room.
The episode ended. Dale tried to find something else he could watch and failed. He turned off the TV and tried the radio, instead. That was bust, as well: nothing but new country, which sounded like pop music, but watered down with the addition of twang. Dejected, Dale turned the radio back off and sat in a huff. He decided to flip through some of the porn magazines, instead. As he sat there, flipping through a copy of Juggs, the headlights of a car almost made Dale’s eyes squint, as they gave a valiant effort to cut through years of grime coating both sides of the truck stop’s front windows. The engine cut off, followed shortly by the usual sounds of a door swinging open, the driver’s shoes making contact with the gravel, footsteps, the car door being closed, and the awkward, loose walk to the front door.
When the door opened, accompanied by the jangling jingle bells hung from it, Dale was rather surprised to see a large but elegant woman, smartly dressed in a gray pantsuit. She also wore very high and very strange heels. Dale couldn’t say what was strange about them, he didn’t know much about women’s shoes, but something was definitely odd about them. Further, he would have liked to know how she managed to walk through the gravel parking lot wearing them. Something buried in the back of his brain told him not to ask when she walked up to the counter, behind which Dale sat, stared at him calmly but with an air of authority, and bluntly asked him who the hell he was.
“Uh-uh…” he trailed off.
She gave him a shriveling look.
“Uh, Dale. Ma’am.” He managed to blunder out. He didn’t know why he was compelled to address her so formally. It wasn’t in his nature, and it was a bit of a struggle, for him.
“Where’s Fredrick? He was supposed to be here, tonight.”
“Oh, um, he didn’t show up for work yesterday, so boss asked me to take his shift tonight, ma’am. Boss figured must be some kinda emergency, for Fredrick not to show up, no word or nothing’.”
“Do you know who I am?” Her words were sharp and precise.
“Uh, no, ma’am.”
“I am Ms. Bel, I own this place. You work for me, you understand?”
“How long have you worked here, Dale?”
“Comin’ on twelve years, ma’am.”
“Then I suppose you will have to do, Dale. Close the shop and come with me.”
Dale did as he was told, turning off the lights and locking the door. He followed Ms. Bel to an old drinks cooler that had never worked properly, as long as he’d worked at the truck stop. It had always gone unused and empty; dusty and full of spiders. Dale noticed that the spiders’ webs and thick layer of dust had all been disturbed; he could feel a gentle breeze creeping out from the cracked, decrepit rubber gasket. Ms. Bell took the handle to open the drinks cooler, but instead of opening the door, the entire unit swung out on a hinge, unleashing the stiff and stagnant air behind it. There was also a darkness, behind the door. The darkness seemed a thing, not merely shadow: alive and shifting.
“Go through, Dale, there’s nothing in there that will hurt you. You’ve been here long enough it will have accepted your presence.”
“Um, what will, ma’am?”
“You will see it with your own eyes, soon enough. Do as I say and you will be fine.” Her voice was growing impatient. A strange accent that Dale could not begin to identify, crept into her words. Why was he so compelled to do as she asked?
Dale stepped over the threshold and into the pool of darkness and stale air. He felt a chill, but also a presence. It was like something very large and very old was in the room with him. More than the room, though, the presence took up his entire conscious mind; it filled him and lived inside him. He resisted. He was Dale; he was himself, nothing and no one else. Thinking became difficult. The presence lulled him. He felt as if he was drunk. He no longer felt the chill in the room. Dale gave in to the presence and became a part of it, became one with it.
Dale looked down, at his shoes. He held up his hands and looked at those, too. He turned his hands over, admiring them. He felt strange. He wasn’t really Dale, anymore, but he was. He had all his memories and feelings, but his mind was… lighter. His faculties felt sharper. He felt he was a part of something larger than himself. Dale looked at Ms. Bel and she looked back at Dale, knowingly.
“It has accepted you, Dale. You were not my first choice, but I fear Fredrick has been taken out of the picture.”
Dale nodded to Ms. Bel, but did not speak. He now knew why she had seemed so commanding and strange, to him. He knew, he understood, and he accepted this. He looked again into the darkness and was not afraid. The darkness was a part of him, now, and he a part of it. They were the darkness. They were Dale.
“Come along, Dale, we have much to do.”