And other creepy crawlies….
A recent blog by one of my fave online ladies got me to thinking about something that happened years ago. Gee thanks, I really wanted to recall that creepy adventure. But, since writing is often a good way to purge, I am going to spew it here….
For a variety of reasons, none of them worth going into major detail on, my normal childhood fear of the dark took years to overcome, and I still have some minor issues to this day. Along with that, I have a rather healthy, vivid imagination and a predilection for horror stories. Add to this fact that I also grew up with a Mom who can see and feel things that no human should be able to see or feel. All of those things, and others, combine to make me a rather “sensitive” individual in the things creepy department. Sometimes it is just my imagination, but nine times out of ten, there is a reason for my creepy crawlies. And I’ve learned to listen to them.
So, we now know that I’m a little weird. OK, more than a little weird. On with our adventure.
Our intrepid heroine (that would be moi) is on a just-post-Christmas cross-country drive with a friend… And so it was that we were driving through the northern part of Texas – in the middle of flat-out nowhere, late at night and low on gas. We had left Missouri earlier that day, and thanks to a variety of factors, had not stopped for fuel at reasonable times, but had driven until nearly empty. We were also taking the “back roads” because they were more “scenic.”
So it was that we came upon a town and proceeded to look for an open station. Well, this being the days before pay-at-the-pump stations were the norm, and us being off the beaten path, there were no all-night truck stops, no AM PM, 7-11 or Circle K type stores to be seen. In fact, the whole tiny town seemed to be shut down. There was little evidence that anyone even lived there. No lights shone through any windows. Stores were closed and dark. There were no decorations up, no Christmas lights, nothing. There wasn’t even a pay phone in this little hole in the Texas dirt.
Yours Truly, our intrepid heroine, consulted her handy-dandy map and discovered that there was, in fact, another town not too far up the road and reasoned that perhaps there would be something THERE. The only trouble was, we were now zipping around on nearly fumes, and if my mileage calculations were off at all, we might be stranded in the middle of Nowheresville Texas.
With hope in our hearts and fingers crossed, we set out for the next town, nearly halfway there, we spotted it, a lone gas station just a short piece off the main road. The lights were on. From the road, the lights looked bright and our hopes soared. We pulled off the road and headed to get gas.
The instant we pulled in, I knew something was wrong. Terribly, dreadfully wrong. I looked around and had the distinct impression of being transported into some Stephen King story. Intrepid Heroine’s Companion (IHC) got out and started banging on doors, hollering for someone… The pavement was old, worn, dirty and cracked. Bits of grass and stray weeds poked through the cracks like crazy tufts of hair on a giant’s head. The station sign, once brightly painted metal, hung by one corner, squeaking and creaking as it swung in the breeze…
I stood next to the car, listening to the wind rustle and IHC stomping around shouting “Hello!” He finally gave up and returned to the car, “I guess it’s closed for the night.” … At that moment, a lone tumbleweed went bouncing across the pavement in front of us as the wind began to pick up. The previously silent night burst into sound. The screech of an owl on the hunt and other tiny sounds of a nocturnal raptor jolted me out of my fevered imaginings.
I kept telling myself it was all my imagination. There was nothing creepy here…
We hadn’t gone but a quarter mile when the car shuddered to a stop. We were now still several miles from the next town, and several equally long miles from the sleeping town we had left, and only a short distance from the creepy gas station. We had the choice, start walking in the middle of the dark, Texas night, never knowing whether there would be anything open in that next town or not, or stay in the car for the night. We stayed in the car.
I don’t know if you have ever tried sleeping in a mid-eighties Ford Mustang hatchback filled with Christmas goodies, but it’s not a comfortable place to be. IHC promptly fell asleep, and I sat, looking out the windows and trying not to think about the insane lunatics, or other, stranger things that had to be lurking out there waiting for us. I told you I had a vivid imagination.
Throughout the night, I did not sleep a wink. No sooner would I begin to nod off then I would hear the screech of some night creature on the hunt, or feel the rattle of the wind buffeting the car and startling me to wakefulness. Several times, I wiped the breath-fog from the windows and looked out into the pale night. The moon wasn’t bright, but when all is dark, even tiny slivers of light seem like a lot. Most times, I saw what I expected to see – empty fields, nothing of interest. Sometimes, I caught a glimpse of some wild thing – maybe a coyote, maybe just a stray dog, who knows – lurking around. It was a long cold night.
The next morning found us ready to walk to the next town, but we tried the car again. Wonder of wonders, it started and we made it to the next town where it we found a single gas station. Just one. Out of curiosity, I started asking about the old station back behind us. I wondered how long it had been since it had been open, since the outside lights were still on. The old coot behind the counter looked at me as if I was crazy and told me, “Missy, that old place ain’t been open fer years. Ain’t no lights even in the place no more.” Huh. Really? Well. That was news to me. I’m darn certain I saw lights there that night. But I wasn’t going to question the old coot. I kept chatting with the old guy, trying to find out more. The only thing he really said beyond all that was that folks get lost out there all the time, which seemed strange to me, since there had only been two roads, the main road and the side road we took to the station.
All fueled up, and with the advice from the friendly old codger about where to find the next station, I decided to go back to see this creepy station in daylight and maybe settle my fears, prove that I was being overly imaginative.
Back down the way we had come – and sure enough, we found the crossroad to the old station. But daylight revealed more questions, rather than answers.
I could suddenly understand why the old guy had said people got lost here. That station sat at a crossroads, true enough – the one we had come off and several other small dirt roads criss-crossed and zigzagged next to and behind the station. I could easily imagine someone getting onto one of those dirt roads, surrounded by the tumbleweeds and run-down fields, and getting majorly turned around.
I could also see how he thought we were crazy saying there had been lights at the station. There was not a single light fixture with a bulb in it anywhere to be seen. Every light had broken out glass and busted bulbs. There were no fluorescents, just the big, old-fashioned can like lights and all of them were busted beyond belief. The station looked pretty much the same, except when I looked for the soda machine, there were no flickering lights. Just a beat up, ancient soda machine, stuck in a corner and barely visible through the window grime.
We didn’t hang around to find out more. I’m a firm believer that when something doesn’t feel right, it’s a clue to leave it alone, not go digging for more info. I would never make a good horror film heroine. We headed back to the main road and got on our way, finding the next town just as the old coot had said, and leaving behind that little lost place in Texas.
For years, that whole experience had me wondering if I had gone through some waking hallucination or something and had imagined the entire thing. I never did go back and look again – just to see if any of it still existed. But in my mind, I am certain – we really DID see lights at that station that night. Who or what caused them, I don’t know. But I am sure they were there.
So there it is – my strange tale of eerie, deserted gas stations, and why these days, I only go to ones that are brightly lit, obviously occupied and otherwise look like they belong in the land of the living.
Maybe I read too many horror novels as a teen. Maybe my imagination did run away with me. But then again, maybe not.
Note… I feel compelled to add: the title of this post is admittedly a direct tribute to my favorite horror author, a man who almost always succeeds in terrifying me, and who was, in many ways, an inspiration for me to pursue writing. The story itself is not inspired by, nor based on, his work. This was entirely inspired by a very strange adventure. How much is fact and how much is fiction? I’ll never tell!