A bored part-time worker at a petrol station bares witness to a series of bizarre incidents that foretell some nameless horror.
It was one of those nights where there was a feeling in the air, one I don’t suspect many people get nowadays. The whole incident took place in that most urbane of settings - a petrol station. Let me describe for you the whole scene: it was early September and the nights were noticeably longer now, but it was only eight o’ clock, and the sky was a deep, dark blanket of rain cloud tinged with blue. There was a persistent drizzle which showed no signs of letting up. He roads were slick with precipitation and the passing cars gave off a warm shine from there headlights. My work station was situated on something of a main road, literally just outside of a large estate, right opposite a large public park. Within this park there had been set up a travelling carnival, complete with rides and various modern day attractions. Despite the dismal weather, people flocked to the beacon of neon light and sound. I could see it myself and sometimes hear a thrilled scream or particularly raucous explosion of laughter. The great, silent park held for me a rather dreadful sense of lurking things, and I was glad to be within the sheltered confines of the shop interior, a thick pane of glass separating me from the wind, rain and miles of forest and plain.
Business that night was almost non-existent, and my shift lasted another two hours. I had three whole customers that night, a couple looking for sugary drinks as they travelled to the carnival and another one paying for petrol. It was particularly quiet not because of the rain, I thought, but because of that feel in the air, not electricity or brooding, but something more insubstantial. I had with me a thick Gothic novel I had been feverishly reading in between those infrequent bursts of life from outside. Aside from a cleaner who was out back and the manager, all there was in that shop was the cameras, myself and the buzzing overhead lights. It was pleasant, if not vaguely chilly, but nothing compared to outside. I hadn’t much duty to fulfil and found myself drawn deeper into my book as time passed on. It wasn’t terribly exciting or well written for that matter, but it beat staring mindlessly at the doors, waiting for the familiar whirring that accompanied their opening. So, I sat on my plastic stool, bent over an aged soft cover novel, with at least three hundred pages to go.
About half an hour after the man who bought petrol had left, I couldn't read any more of the novel. I sat back (as far as I could on my stool) and looked again into that dreary encroaching night. The lights on the petrol station roof contrasted greatly with the shadowy outside and made it difficult to discern what may lie beyond the last pump. I continued to stare, and as my eyes adjusted, I saw someone, silhouetted in the night, standing in the middle of the exit ramp of the station. They didn’t seem to be looking any particular way, and I noticed then this person was accompanied by three more figures. All were hooded and slouched as they aimlessly approached the door. But they didn’t come in. They seemed instead to be looking into the space between the shop and wall that divided the station's land from the row of houses beside us, which also acted as an area to receive deliveries. I prepared for trouble, but they all backed away, turned, and moved back to their original position at the exit ramp. I didn’t like the look of them and hoped they wouldn’t cause a scene. This particular locale is rather infamous for its anti-social activity. I decided to keep an eye on them until my successor arrived, which if I was right, would show up a good fifteen minutes late. I was nervous now and found I couldn’t go back to my book.
Being surrounded by snack foods in a lonely petrol station does tend to make the mind and stomach wander. After a cursory glance at the four loiterers, which soon enough, I would have to deal with, I went to the front of the desk intent on buying something for myself, and faced with the option of crisps of health-food, chose the crisps. I deposited the 67 cents in the machine and contentedly sat by the window again, glancing back and forth at the carnival, the loiterers and the park. To be honest, around that time, I started to wonder if it wasn’t that novel which had me thinking about a weird feeling in the air. Hunger sated, I attempted to resume the story, but another quick look outside showed the loiterers had dispersed. Ever suspicious, I craned my neck around in various ways, trying to ascertain whether they had truly left or had simply moved somewhere else. Sighing with resignation, I stepped out from my station and walked out of the automatic double doors. My own unsure footsteps accompanied the gentle whir of motors and gears.
The second I stepped out of the shop, I noticed a sudden, dramatic change in temperature. It was a lot colder outside than I had realized, more so with that drizzle of rain. Mingled with the omnipresent scent of petrol was a stench I assumed had wafted over from the carnival. It was...sickly? Musty? It smelled old, like an unearthed antique from an attic corner. Warily, I looked to my right, where window washing stations were available, for any sign of the dark loiterers, then around the pumps and finally to my left, to the space between the houses and us. Surely enough, there they were, none of them facing me, all grouped together in a semi-circle, muttering. I gathered myself and walked determinedly towards them to sort out the situation. The cleaner, who I assumed was out back, would hear if anything were to happen. I approached the shadowy group and asked with forced authority what they were up to. Instead of a reply, they simply stopped their quiet muttering, and the one closest to me turned its head sharply around. I stepped back several paces, not because of the sudden motion, but because of the face under the hood. The skin was wrinkled and pulled towards the left eye, which stared with what I can really only describe as burning. The face had no other features. I cursed under my breath and continued backing away as the four figures simply turned and left, footsteps in curious unison. I just walked backwards into the shop, keeping my eyes glued intently on those four black shapes. No, there was something in the air that night.
Back inside and seated firmly in place I stared out of that window, fixated by the frankly unnerving sight I just witnessed. It must have been a trick of light, or shadow, for only ambient light from a single bulb in that alleyway and from the overhead station roof gave illumination to that particular area. I felt uneasy and looking at my watch, found I still had the best part of an hour until my replacement was due to arrive. As I stared, my eyes inexorably wandered and I found myself looking to what I could see of the clouds from my position. It was all that uniform deep navy blue, which was darker than before, and was decidedly coarse looking, not the smooth blanket of cloud from earlier on. No night sky was visible from my perspective. The more I looked the more I strained my vision, and beheld in those formations shapes gathered from my imagination. I saw great maws and clawed hands pulling apart the clouds and less definable forms being shaped by winds higher up. It was a surreal scene; my mundane petrol station nestled in secure suburbia, the sky filled with night born terrors above. As I looked out, I thought again of the charged night with its insubstantial weirdness. And then, I noticed someone standing in the corner of the shop. They were rather tall and when they moved, it was with long strides. The person, whose exact features or gender I could not discern, for a face was never turned to me, was very slender and wore black clothes. I sat back and watched this person wander about the shop before they looked at a security camera and promptly exited. Something about that whole scene made me uncomfortable. It must have been about two minutes before the realization hit me that, as the tall figure left, I hadn’t heard that familiar whirring of the automatic doors.
I had attempted to read the book again, but couldn’t get back into it. My shift was nearly over so I decided to wait it out. Sound drifted in from the carnival a few more times and I lazily thought of the couple who had come in earlier. Maybe I was hearing their laughter. I hoped so. Someone ought to be having fun tonight. I rubbed my eyes and dispersed the weariness that had crept in. I took a cursory glance around the shop again. It was wholly still. One of the fluorescent lights flickered overhead. I played with the book in my hands, feeling its weight. I really just wanted to go home at this point. A few more minutes passed in oppressive silence before I looked out again through my window. That was when the next incident arose.
I saw, standing a little to the right of the exit ramp was the cleaner, whose name I was almost sure was Ken. He was standing by the short wall that lay between the station and the footpath, looking out towards the park. He was totally motionless. I looked at him for five solid minutes. He didn’t move an inch. Once again, I left the safety of my stool to venture to the outside, to see if he was okay. The rain had stopped for the time being. Once outside a quick flash of memory of the sky made me walk just a little faster towards him. Ken was a stocky fellow, with balding brown hair and a singularly square face. He was a friendly sort, but not on the whole very sociable. I walked up to him and called his name. He replied with this: ‘D’ya see? In the park over there? Movin’ about…’ He trailed off. I looked at him; he was staring very fixedly into the park across the road, not even blinking. I looked gingerly across the road before he spoke again. ‘In the field. They’rein the field…’ Again he just trailed off, but just as I went to ask him what he meant, I stopped, because I damn well saw it. Through the thin railings across the road was a medium sized green expanse used mostly for soccer, with trees surrounding it on all but the very left side, which was an entrance gate. Beyond the forest lay the carnival, but in the field there was definite movement. It was like I was seeing it through a line of trees – the shapes were fragmentary and distorted, but nonetheless there. They looked like greyhounds or maybe incredibly thin apes, and they were running back and forth. I snapped my eyes away. Blinking I looked at Ken, who was still motionless. He was breathing raggedly. I stepped back a little, looking back at the shop interior. And then it hit me, as my vision scanned from Ken to the shop: not only were there no people around, but there were no lights on in any of the adjacent houses, and I couldn’t hear anything coming from the carnival any more, whose lights had considerably dimmed. By the time I went to look at Ken again, I found he had started drifting away from me, walking towards the exit ramp. I called to him but received no reply. I started back inside very quickly.
Back inside I stood in the middle of floor, shaking my head. A sudden bang of a door woke me up as the manager walked out into the shop. ‘Any sign of Sinead yet?’ he asked, sounding agitated. I looked at my watch. It was somehow quarter past ten. I was finished at nine. I mumbled a negative response and sat back down at my stool. The manager told me to go home, he would look after the place until Sinead arrived. I asked him if he was sure, neglecting for some reason to tell him about Ken or the loiterers. I retrieved my book and left to shop with a cursory goodnight.
Outside was pitch black and cold. The rain had began to fall again in a thin veil of wetness. I looked at the vast expanse of dark cloud above my head as I left the cover of the petrol station roof. Great clawed hand hands and shapeless maws tore apart the sky as slender ape-dogs ran about the shadow laden soccer field, while a carnival lay dead, it’s lights the last vestige of normality around me. No sign of Ken, but for a vague dark heap somewhere up the road to my left. That smell in the air was clearer out here, and smelled like sulphur and ozone. I was suddenly very aware I was alone. I took the path going back into the estate, under the ever dimming street lights. I didn’t expect to meet Sinead on my way back home.