The flash was sudden and fleeting. It wasn’t blinding, but rather like a snapshot. The scent of the gunshot lingered in my nostrils and stained my skin. I hadn’t heard the gun go off, but I knew it had. And although the moment was over, the image illuminated by the muzzle flash was seared into my retina like a photograph. My arm was tensed. My muscles, pushing my veins against my skin, felt like they were about to burst. The look on George’s face was a twisted combination of joy and utter surprise. Sweat was perspiring from his brow and prickling his chin. Even the tins of tomatoes on the shelf looked shocked. The bullet had already entered the clerk’s skull and began pushing brain matter out of his face. Poor Roger. At least, that was the name on his clerk tag. This is exactly why his mother should have warned him not to take the graveyard shift. Heck, this is probably why they call it the graveyard shift.
I’m sure my face would have looked as though I had shat myself, and at that point I wasn’t entirely certain I hadn’t. All I could smell was gunshot residue, or gunpowder, or are they the same thing? I don’t know anything about guns; except now I know what it feels like to shoot one; that they are far heavier than they look and that the weight seems to quintuple for an instant when you squeeze the trigger. And that the trigger is so damned easy to squeeze. So easy it’s a miracle the recoil hadn’t caused me to shoot a second round. So easy that I kind of wanted to do it again.
Gingerly stepping forward, I inched closer to the corpse bearing the name-tag “Roger,” and looked down at how motionless it was, drenched in a curdling pool of blood and urine. I watched a piece of brain float under a shelf as the pool of bodily fluids grew larger. The smell of excrement began to mix with the scent of the flash. The flash that burned into me that image I couldn’t shake. I hadn’t checked the clerk’s pants; still unsure whether or not my own were soiled. I looked up at the tins of tomatoes. They just looked disturbed now. A fair few tins were flecked with blood. It almost looked like a new age marketing campaign for “Seriously Killer Tasting Tomatoes.”
“Do it again! Do it again! Make it POP! POP! POP!” George shouted erratically. I turned to face him, but I didn’t see him. Instead, I saw a different visage. Something much bigger than George was looming over him, contorting its neck downward to line its mangled face with his. A great, gaping grin. Some kind of ooze dangling from its jaw. Its teeth seemed no different in color than its skin, if you could even call it skin. It seemed ethereal, like a liquid but also like an opaque mist. I couldn’t quite make out its shape, either. It was as if it was constantly changing: slowly enough that it remained as one form, yet quickly enough for you to be unable to describe it to anyone else. Despite its unworldliness, it seemed eerily familiar. Then I blinked and it was just George. A sadistic smirk where the gaping grin was an instant ago. His eyes were wider than I’d ever seen him open them and his cheeks looked as though they might split open. I glanced back at the corpse and then back at George. He looked mortified. White as a ghost, mouth agape, shaking in his boots, the whole damn package. Something wasn’t right. “Th-this is fucked up, man! FUCKED RIGHT UP!” George yelled as he ran out of the gas station convenience store. The automatic doors whined as they opened.
“Dude, wait!” I called after him. They whined with a lower tone as they slid closed. He had already crossed the forecourt and dissolved into the darkness.
What was I to do? I had just caused a corpse. Ended human life. Halted an adolescent from ever becoming a man. What kind of person does that? Those were not things I should have been pondering at that moment. I had made a proverbial bed and, by god, I had to sleep in it.
I knew I had to get rid of the body. If not forever, then at least for long enough to get a head start. Fuck George. Why’s he gotta be like that, anyway? He always got me tangled up in shit, you see, and always flaked out when the goin’ got tough. It was that way at high school and it was the same way that night at the Gas ‘n’ Gulp. If we had graduated, our yearbook photos would’ve read polar opposites, I bet. His would have been something like “will always drop the ball,” and mine would have read “always sticks to his guns.” Not that I had any guns, mind you. I couldn’t remember how I ended up with a handgun pointed at that clerk, but I bet it had something to do with George. And I didn’t know what the fuck that black thing was, either, but I bet it had something to do with the mine.
Anyway, that body wasn’t gonna bag itself. I had recalled seeing a dumpster out the back at some point prior to that night, and decided it would be the easiest quick-fix. I could probably get the corpse out the back door and into the dumpster without too much hassle, and it would be out of sight for the time being. Then I could clean the scene with any number of chemicals from the plethora of products the Cleaning Corner had to offer. Got a stubborn stain? Walls that are white no longer? Is your plugged-up drain bringing you down? Come on down to the Gas ‘n’ Gulp! We’ve got all your solutions in the Cleaning Corner! Yup, the Cleaning Corner was the legitimate name. I hadn’t seen the ad in a long time but, then again, I hadn’t really watched T.V. in a long time. It used to play in the late afternoons right around the time mom would start cooking dinner. They had a marionette puppet in the forefront of every shot. It was a caricature of a salesman. He was very shiny, like those latex catsuits some people are into. I always thought he sounded too happy about our potential household problems. It was almost like he was mocking us. The film-quality wasn’t very good and the background shots looked like they were done on a cheap handicam. In the final shot, he would throw up his arms and the last frame or two would replay, giving it a somewhat uncomfortable tone. The awkward silence stretching the ad through the remaining moments of the time slot really hit that unsettling feeling home. There were also radio ads with the same script. Come to think of it, the radio ads might still air.
The old sign had survived the fire that burned down the original Gas ‘n’ Gulp and the owner, being the cheap bastard he was, must’ve decided to keep it in commission. There it was in the corner, hanging by two chains from the ceiling. Singed edges and all. “Welcome to the Cleaning Corner!” Such cringe. When you’re already in a shop, you do not need to be welcomed to the damned corner of it. I fetched an apron, some gloves and three shower caps; one for my head and one for each of my shoes.
Roger’s body was much heavier than I had anticipated. My hands felt cold as I gripped him by the armpits and lifted his torso off the ground. I winced. The mix of blood and urine dripped off of him in strings. With my knees either side of his dangling head, I waddled backwards with my face arched over my shoulder, dragging the corpse. A wide, red line followed us. As I navigated the storeroom doorway, I looked forward again and down at Roger. My gaze fell to his head, through which I could see his now-stained jeans. Peering through a tunnel carved into a fellow human’s skull might have made me gag or choke, were I able to wipe the shit-eating grin off of my face. I felt no guilt at that moment; no remorse for my actions. I was joyous and warm. The prospect of dismembering the body sprang to my attention and a quiet squeal of delight escaped my lips.
You might think me monstrous, or despicable, and you would not be wrong in thinking so; but, you must understand how out-of-character this feeling was for me. It was an exciting, almost liberating, elation. My brain surged with dopamine, and then it was gone—quite like a chemical high. A heavy weight rested on my shoulders. In my peripheral vision, I spied a darkness enveloping my body. A strong urge to find the nearest implements for undertaking a dismemberment gripped my mind. I paced erratically around the room, but found only a box cutter. This certainly would not suffice.
The matter of pulling apart this corpse had occurred to me to be undeniably unnecessary. It was only slowing me down, and preventing me from completing the task of quickly and efficiently solving my immediate problem. I had to get out of there. I had to find George. I also had to clean the bodily-fluid-flooded canned food aisle. And yet, all I desired to do was to tear the arms off of Roger. Something wasn’t right. I tried to make out my reflection in the window, but all I could see was darkness staring back at me. A wide, gaping grin. Is that my gaping grin?
Suddenly, the room was invaded by headlights. The bright, white light sliced through the doorway onto the back wall and then ran swiftly along the windows to the other side. I raised my arm in front of my face as it bounced off of the glass and into my eyes. Someone else had come to the Gas ‘n’ Gulp.
I should have high-tailed it out of the back door right then. I should have slipped into the shadows and made like I was never there that night; but, I didn’t. It might not seem to you like an odd thing for someone to visit a gas station in the early hours of the morning, and it probably shouldn’t to me, either. Something had a hold of me, and that something was curious. So, I was curious. Who has come to the Gas ‘n’ Gulp so late on this glorious night? The glass doors whined open. I clutched the door frame and cautiously pulled my head into the fluorescent light that filled the main store. My eyes darted to the automatic-doors as they groaned closed. “Got my danish, Percy?” The man called out. It was Constable Johnson. He stood there with his palms pressed onto the counter. He leaned back on his heels and arched his back, turning his head as he filled his lungs. Just then, something caught his eye. “Percy?” He called out again, “didja spill the tomatoes, Percy?” He almost fell right out of his pristine, blue, starched uniform. The realization was painted on his face. His gun slipped out of his holster with ferocious speed—it sounded like a whip sans the crack. Constable Johnson’s awareness had gone from non-existent to positively pinging in a split-instant. The barrel of his gun was locked inline with his gaze. It strafed into the canned food aisle and then followed the red road that I had paved to the storeroom. Our eyes met. “That you, Percy?” I pulled my head in like a tortoise and pressed my back against the wall in a futile attempt to sink into it. “Y’alright? Percy?”
No, no, no, no, this was not good, not good at all. No, this was perfect. I now had a live one to dismember.