Sunday, September 13, 2009

Short Story: 'Covenience Store'

Written By: Fred Mohle
Robert stared at his watch for a few seconds, 10:30 pm, almost time to go to work. Sitting on the couch in the living room of his small house, he took another hit off his bong and held it. It was going to be another long night at the Convenient Store he thought to himself. He let out the breath of smoke he was holding in his lungs and pulled his Dugout out of his pant’s pocket. He wanted to make sure it had enough smoke in it to last him through the night.
The Bud this week was really good. Randle, his dealer did an excellent job finding this stuff. Good, green, sweet Bud, lots of red hairs and sticky. You could easily smell the skunk odor it exuded when he opened his dugout. Robert took another long deep hit off his Bong, trying to get a good buzz going before he had to leave for work.
As he let out his breath this time he started coughing, his chest hurt, but only on the right side. The pain was a little stronger, than before. It was throbbing as if he had just cut himself. He began to experience the pain in his chest a few months ago, but didn’t worry about it because he thought it would go away by itself. “It must be hurting more than normal because of the good Bud”, Robert said to himself.
Tuesday nights were generally slow and steady at the Convenience Store, a few customers coming in at a time, but nothing overwhelming. Some of the patrons were the occasional person who couldn’t sleep at night, also the partiers coming home from the bars after closing. Then there were the people who worked the late shift and the ones who were just plain strange that stayed up all night and slept all day.
Robert did see some strange people during the night, real freaks and such that did not want to go out in the light of day. If he was lucky he would only have a few customers tonight. The less people the better, then he would have plenty of time to get his work done and keep a good buzz going.
The store offered free coffee and drinks to the local Sheriff’s Deputies on late shifts.
The Manager thought it was a good idea to give the Deputies free drinks so they would drop by during the night and keep an eye on the store. It was a way to get cheap guard service, help ward off any robberies or disturbances.
Robert went out his front door, turned around and locked it. When he turned back around to walk to his car he was facing a person. He nearly jumped out of his skin. “Where did this person come from?” he asked himself. He could clearly see there was no one there when he walked out his door.
Robert asked the person, “Can I help you?” The person just stared at him blankly for a moment, and then replied, “You are going to die if you don’t stop”. Robert asked him, “Who are you and what did you say to me?” with a puzzled expression on his face. The person turned around and walked off into the dark lot next to Robert’s property without saying another word.
Robert stood there for a few minutes trying to understand what just happened. He started to think it was some body that was stoned out of their mind and confused. They must have come out to a party by the lake and had too much of something and now are lost physically and mentally. He shook his head to clear his thoughts and walked up to his car.
Robert got into his car and drove up the hill away from his one bedroom house. It was a three mile drive from his house to the Store. He could wait until five minutes to 11:00pm before he left his home for work because he lived so close. He lost part of that dealing with the lunatic hiding in the shadows by his door.
Up the hill and around a corner to the straight away that was two miles long. Then he would go around another corner, down a hill to where the store was located. It was right by the intersection with the highway and the entrance to the community where he lived at Lake Travis. He would have a few minutes to spare when he arrived to relieve the second shift employees, but not tonight.
He loved being by the lake; the people were very laid back and did not seem to be worried by much that went on outside of where they lived. Lake Travis was stuck in the Sixties with a dash of the Seventies thrown in for flavor. Most of the residents out here got high and listened to old rock and roll classics. They even grew dope in small patches on the hills around them.
Time stood still here, away from Austin and the rest of Texas. Most people that lived here call themselves hippies or flower children. They did have one Community of rich people that lived by the lake, but they mostly kept to themselves, to good for the rest of the lake people. They even had their own rent a cop to keep people out of their town of Lakeway. That was ok with everyone else, because they had the rest of the lake and the dam to call their own.
Amy and Steve were anxious to get out of the Store. They must have had a party to go to, and plenty of catching up to do, when they got there. You would get invited to a lot of good parties when you worked at this particular store. It was centrally located between all the good lake hangouts. A few miles east, you were at the Dam and Bridge. If you went west you would end up in Lakeway. When the rich people were drunk and feeling good, they would let some of the Lake Snakes join in on their fun. For the most part everyone was pretty good out here. The locals exchanged information in the Store, and then Amy and Steve were off to their parties.
Most of the Customers coming in at night were still sober enough to make sense. He was not happy that this Store sold alcohol. He would have Minors and Drunks trying to get beer and wine after midnight, it would make his night seem endless at times. All the stores Robert had worked for sold alcohol, and it sucked dealing with the buttheads after-hours.
As much as he did not want the Sheriff Deputies hanging around all night, it was a relief to have them here after midnight. Some of the drunks are quite funny when they try to remember what it was they came in for in the first place. Others were mean and sometimes violent when they did not get what they wanted, beer or wine. He could have his fun with the easy going ones, and would try to distract the others so they would get tired and leave.
Yes Robert did like working in this store above all the other ones. It was apparent since he had been here for four years now and it felt like yesterday was his first day. The location was what made it so great. He could go to the lake anytime he wanted, and depending where you went, there was a lot of nude pretty women sunbathing. If you went below the dam you could see them lying on the rocks by the flood gates. There was also Hippy hollow, but you had to get the Banditos permission first. It would go a lot better with them if you had a couple of joints. Yes there was plenty of free lake access all around this area.
It was around 01:00 am and things were starting to slow down. Robert would be able to go to the cooler soon and restock the refrigerated items as well as restocking his buzz. He would go into the cooler and refill all the empty rows of soft drinks, beer, wine, milk and other perishables. Then he would pull out his one hitter and take a couple of tokes. He would take a deep breath and hold it for as long as he could. Then he would release it slowly into the air circulator for the refrigeration return. That would remove all the smell from the air inside the cooler.
Deputy Smith came into the store for his first cup of coffee tonight early. Robert had to put his plans on hold for now. Deputy Smith was a good man for a Cop. The Deputy wasn’t stuck on himself like the other ones. Some of the Deputies that patrolled the lake thought they were the ones living in the million dollar estates. They believed their squad cars were BMWs and Mercedes Benz, instead of Ford’s Crown Victoria.
Deputy Smith had a schedule, at 01:15 am he would come in and get a cup of coffee and make sure everything was alright. He would not ask me a lot of questions, or hang around the store hoping a young drunk lady would stop by. Just a cup of coffee and is everything ok tonight, then he was on his way. But tonight it was 01:00 am; he must have wanted to get this night over sooner than later.
Robert had to wait until 02:00 am before he could restock the cooler. First he had to take care of his head since he had to wait for an hour longer than usual, and then he would take care of the rest. He pulled out his one hitter and loaded it. He also smelled the bud he had in the dugout. It was a sweet stinky odor, how he loved that smell. It smelled like a dead skunk on the road that had been cooking all day in the hot Texas sun. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure; in this case, stink is all in the nose of the beholder.
He took a long deep breath as he held his lighter to the tip of his Bat to light the bud. He would then take his thumb off the butane button and watch the reflection in the metal tip of his lighter from the glow of the weed burning in the front of his bat. He learned that trick awhile ago to keep from sucking in the ash after the weed had burnt out.
He tried to hold his breath to get as much of the THC from the bud as he could, but starting coughing too soon. It seemed as though he could not hold his breath as long as he use to when he was younger. Here comes that sharp pain in his chest, he thought maybe he should go see a doctor. But he already knew what they would tell him, stop smoking pot.
There was no way he was going to do that. He would try some herbal medicine and maybe start smoking joints so he would not be taking in so much butane from the lighters. The gas could not be good for him, and he never heard of anyone dying from smoking pot. After a couple of smaller hits from his bat, he restocked all the shelves in the cooler. When he was done he would go back out front and start cleaning the store.
Robert left the cooler and as he closed the cooler door he felt a chill come over his body, he started to laugh because he was actually out of the cold now. When he turned around he was facing a young customer which startled him and made him jump.
The store has a bell system that lets the employees know when someone enters the store from any door. The bells that ring are located all around the store, so you can hear them if you are in the back office, storage room, cooler, etc... That is why he jumped when he saw the young boy facing him. The child could not have been older than seven years old. Robert said, whoa did you give me a fright, to the young boy. The boy looked at him with a blank stare and said nothing. Robert said can I help you? The boy spoke softly, yes, I will help you Robert. No, Robert said, do you need some help from me with something? Robert walked around the boy to go to the counter.
As Robert walked to the counter to ring up whatever the boy wanted, he noticed that the child was not wearing any shoes. He thought to himself that is why he is out so late. He must belong to one of the local Cedar Chopper families living off of food stamps. Yes the lake had all kinds of people living out here.
There is a group of locals that have been out here for generations. They are known as the Cedar Choppers. At one time Ranchers and Farmers would employ them to come out to their property, to cut down cedar trees and clear their property. They needed the cedar removed so they could have open areas for grass to grow and to plant seeds. The cedar also removed most of the water from the land, so springs and wells dried up.
The coppers were very busy before the small gasoline engines were invented. They would do all their work by hand. They were very tough individuals. They would also bring their families along with them out to the property they cleared. The whole clan would cut cedar all day long with axes and hand saws. Then they would make huge piles and burn the wood.
Sometimes the Ranchers and Farmers would exchange land for the work they did for them. A lot of the Cedar Choppers would get the worthless land located along the rocky hills by the Colorado River. After the government decided to build a Dam system to control the flood waters of the Colorado, the Cedar Choppers started to make good money from the sale of their lands. They first sold part of it to the Government and later to land developers. Some of the smarter ones made a lot of money from their once worthless land.
All of the families that had originally done the work died and left the property to their descendants. These people became lazy from living off the money from the sale of the property. As time went by they would get more for the land because it was Lake Front or had a view. But it didn’t matter because they would drink away what they made. Soon they began to live off of welfare checks when they did not have any more property to sell. They did hang on to small plots that had their shacks on them.
Most of them did not finish high school and the girls usually became mothers by the time they were fifteen. The boys would sell drugs to make a living and do auto repair. It was a sad sight the way they lived. When the area started to get strip clubs, they would force all their women to work in them.
Robert felt sorry for their children and was always nice to them. He would let them get some quarter candy and not pay for it. He could afford to spend a few dollars from his paycheck here and there to help out. He was even pleasant to their parents; most of the people out here were not as good natured as Robert to the Choppers.
The little boy walked up to the register and looked at Robert. Robert smiled at him and handed him some candy from behind the counter and said “you should not be out so late.” The boy said “you should not be smoking so much.” Ok he was busted by the boy. Robert told him that he should go home before his parents start to worry about him. The boy told him that no one worries about him anymore ---that reply broke Robert’s heart. How could things gotten that bad for him. The boy never reached up for the candy, just turned around and walked out. Robert felt a cold chill come over his body again as the boy left the store. He thought to himself, that he had seen him before but couldn’t remember where it was or when.
It was 03:30 am when Robert finished mopping the floor. Time for another smoke break, he went back into the cooler. The same thing happened to his chest after he took his first puff, pain. He again took smaller hits to minimize the pain. He felt a little better from the cold air in the cooler. It relaxed his lungs and compressed the smoke.
Robert had a good high going when he came out, so he was not looking around the store. He got startled when he saw four young adults standing by the Ice Cream freezer that was next to him. They were two girls and two boys, out on a late date maybe. Just as before when they boy came in earlier, he did not hear the bells ring from the store front doors opening. He would tell his Manager in the morning that they were not working all the time.
Robert walked behind the counter to run the register and waited for them to finish shopping. He looked at the overhead clock, 04:00 am; Deputy Smith would be back in the store in 15 minutes. He thought about how good his timing was and how he would have enough time to relax before the morning rush started. He looked over to the young group of four and said, is there anything I can help you’ll with. They walked over very slowly to the counter and just stared at him. None of them had anything in their hands. Robert thought to himself, I hope they are not shop lifting. It would be very bad timing on their part since the Deputy would be in the store anytime now.
When they were all the way up to the counter Robert realized he knew all of them. They were some of the local kids that had grown up in the area. These were twenty year olds coming back from partying in town, picking up their munchies before they go to bed. There was something different about them their expressions that made him feel uneasy; they seemed to be pale and unhappy.
Robert never saw them like this; they were unattached from their surroundings, and very quite. These kids were always joking with one another and so full of life. “Hey how are you all,” Robert said with a smile. They all looked at him intensely as if they were trying to burn a hole right through him with their eyes. Then they spoke to him in unison, if you do not stop smoking right now, you will die.
Robert thought about what they said for a moment, and started to laugh. He got it; they were playing a joke on him. It was no secret that he liked to get high. All the smokers in the area knew who did and didn’t get high. Even if you didn’t smoke you knew someone that did. He replied to them, ok I will keep that in mind. They ignored his answer and told him, you must stop smoking now or you will die soon. They then turned and walked out the door to get into a red car that was parked out front. Robert just stood behind the counter and stared at them as they drove off.
Deputy Smith walked into the store minutes after the group left. The bells went off from the front door’s trigger. Robert thought about how they were now working and didn’t just a couple of minutes ago when the kids walked out. Did you see those kids, Robert asked Deputy Smith? What kids replied the Deputy. Robert was a little shocked that the Deputy did not see them. They must have driven right by you on the way out of the parking lot, Robert said. The Deputy gave Robert one of those looks like he had been smoking too much grass. “Lay off the dope” the Deputy said to Robert.
The Deputy went over to the Coffee pot and pored himself a cup. Just as he was walking over to the register to talk some more with Robert, he got a call on his radio. While the Deputy was talking to his radio, Robert heard the sirens coming from a distance. They got closer and closer until the Fire truck passed by the store, followed by two Sheriff Deputy’s cruisers. Deputy Smith told Robert he had to go because there had been an accident on the Bridge. The Deputy left the store, and then an ambulance and two Police Cars from the nearby town also passed by in route to the bridge.
It was now 04:45 am, last smoke break before he had to get ready for the morning rush hour. The morning rush hour actually lasted from 05:30 am to 10:00 am, more than an hour. It was a good thing that he ended his shift at 07:00 am. He decided after the strange night he’s had, he would get good and stoned this time. He wanted it to last until he got off work.
He walked back into the cooler and pulled out his dug out. The first toke he took was deep and long, he started to cough so much he couldn’t stop. Then he doubled over from the pain it created. It was very intense, much worse than any other time before. He almost fell down to the ground, but was able to stop one knee.
Man he thought, what a price to get a buzz. Robert waiting a few minutes before taking another hit, this time it was very small and easy. He did not want to over do it and collapse from the pain. He thought about how much better it was, so he took a few more small hits. He was going to get good and stoned, even if it killed him.
This time when Robert came out of the cooler, he looked all around the store. He did not want to be caught off guard. And like the last two times there was someone in the store. To the back left side of the store was a woman looking at the cereal or bread. No bells went off again when she entered; the doors needed to be fixed. Anyone could come in and take whatever they wanted, and he would never have known they were in the store.
Robert called to the woman, “may I help you Ma’am?” She did not look up at him, just kept staring at the shelves. He walked over to her to help her out. When he got close he realized he knew her, it was Margarita. She was the mother of some of the local boys that he knew. Her sons were always in and out of the store late at night and on the weekends.
Then chills ran down Robert’s spine. He suddenly became very cold and afraid; he didn’t believe who he was seeing. It came to him and he remembered her boys coming in last month and telling him that she had died of a heart attack. He knew Margarita very well and had liked her a lot. It made him very sad when he found out she had passed away.
Robert grabbed onto the shelf by where he was standing. He was getting dizzy from the shock of seeing her and almost fell down. This can’t be possible he thought to himself, she just looks like Margarita. The lady then turned and looked right at Robert and he fell backwards to the floor, it was Margarita.
Robert was lying on his back, staring straight up at the ceiling. Margarita walked and stopped when she was right over him. “Robert” she said as she looked down at him, “you will die soon if you do not quit smoking.” She told him the pain in his chest was the beginning of a tumor, a cancerous tumor. She also told him that it was not too late, but he had to stop smoking now.
Robert kept staring up at the ceiling while listening to Margarita. She told him tonight was his last chance. He had to stop and go see a doctor tomorrow, if not he would die a painful death. He looked up at her and she smiled down at him. The smile changed his emotion and made him feel good inside. Margarita then turned and walked out of the store.
Robert lay on his back for a long while and thought about what happened during the night. The person at his house that came from nowhere, he realized was an old friend who passed away years ago. His name was John and he had overdosed on valium while trying to come down from snorting coke all night. It was along time ago when John died.
Robert then thought about the little boy who came in after he went to the cooler. He remembered him now; he was hit by a car in front of the store a few years ago. The car had knocked him fifty feet away from the intersection of Highway 620 and Hudson Bend Rd. He was dead on impact with a broken neck from the car hitting him. They said he didn’t even know he was hit because the car was traveling so fast. Robert remembered his name, it was Micah. He was a nice boy, very polite even though he came from a rough family.
The door bells sounded off, so Robert got up off the floor and looked at the clock. It was 05:30 now. His chest was hurting again, he thought this time it was from his heart and not the tumor Margarita had told him about. Deputy Smith had entered the store with a couple of other Deputies and some Firemen. Robert tried to make it look like he was fixing the merchandise on the shelves on one knee, instead of just getting up off the floor.
He walked over to the Coffee pots to start brewing some more coffee for the morning rush. The group of Emergency workers walked to the cooler to get some sodas. They were talking about the accident they just cleaned up. One of them said that the poor teenagers didn’t have a chance. Drinking and driving had claimed four more they said. The Deputies and Firemen talked about all the beer and wine bottles they had found around the scene of the accident. Robert started thinking the teenagers that came into the store last night must have been them.
After the Deputies and Firemen left the store, Robert tried to come up with some sort of explanation about what happened to him through the night. He had trouble believing in ghosts even though he had seen them all night long. He also couldn’t understand why they would come to him. He was not anymore special than anyone else. He started to think the dope he had must have been laced with PCP or something. Maybe they put Heroin, LSD or Peyote in his pot?
Customers were starting to come in the store for their morning coffee, newspaper and gasoline before they went to work. He was glad to have them in this morning to give him some relief from the night he just had. Robert was still looking for more ghosts to come in with the real people, but they did not. It was just the same people that came in every morning on their way to work.
His manager arrived at 06:30 am to look over the previous day’s numbers and balance the books. Bill said good morning to Robert and then asked him how his night was? Robert replied with, “You don’t want to know, it was one I will not forget anytime soon.” A local tow truck driver named Kevin came into the store as Robert was talking to Bill. Good morning Robert and Bill, how are you all doing, said Kevin? They both replied with, well as usual, to Kevin.
I just got done picking up a vehicle from a nasty wreck over by the bridge said Kevin. Kevin then explained that it was so bad he had to get his flatbed truck to carry it off. He also said that he had to jack it up and put dollies under it to winch it onto his flatbed. The poor kids driving it were in just as bad condition as their car he told them. The EMT guys said that they probably didn’t feel a thing when their car started to tumble from their rollover wreck.
Kevin told them to take a look at it over there on his the truck. Robert felt all the blood rush out of his face when he saw what was left of the red car the kids were driving. It was the same type and color as the one that the teenagers were driving when they came into the store last night.
Bill and Kevin asked Robert what was wrong when they saw his face and expression. He told them that he had seen them last night before the accident. Kevin said that is strange since the Deputies said that they were coming back from town when it happened. Maybe you meant he saw them earlier in the evening, Kevin said back to Robert. Yeah that is what I meant, replied Robert.
It was 07:00 am and time for Robert to go home. He did not feel like smoking anymore when he got home. He thought he had enough for a while. He just wanted to go to sleep and forget about his long night. He lay down and started to drift off. While he was asleep he dreamed of the teenagers.
They came to him again, this time at his house. They told him as he sat in his easy chair that he would go to the doctor very soon and start treatment to save his life. They also told him that all of them came to him to help him since he was always good to everyone he met no matter who they were. Suddenly they were replaced by the boy Micah.
Micah told Robert he was one of the few people in this world that did matter. Without people like him to set examples, the rest of the people in the world would not know how to act. It is not enough for everyone to know what is right; they all have to be shown by someone, someone like you. The weight of worry had been lifted from his shoulders; he fell into a deep peaceful sleep.
No part of this work may be reproduced or republished by any means without the prior written permission of the author.


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