Illustrated by Lays Farra

Illustrated by Lays Farra

After several years spent bathing in a white noise of ink, Jason could at last hear the narrator’s voice. The world melted into view, and he could see the walls of the gas station that surrounded him, the shelves lined with rainbows of high-fructose nothingness, and the broken roads of a desert town just outside the window. His nameless manager leaned over and whispered to him, “check out that guy on pump three.”

Outside, a motorcycle planted all four of its chrome legs firmly against the pavement. The drifter who was riding it slid down from the saddle, then pet its handlebars approvingly with gnarled hands. He was a handsome mess to behold, soaked in sweat, dust, and a spattering of dried blood. His letterman’s jacket bore the insignia of some unknown high school: “The Golden River Gladiators.”

Jason took one look at him and knew exactly what was going on: this stranger had to be the protagonist. For that short moment in time, he had a name, a body, and a voice, and it was all because this singular figure was within eyeshot. All eyes were on him.

He had an idea of what would happen next. The drifter was only passing through, and this was just one stop on a much longer journey through several bloody chapters of Nevadan highway. The darkness would swallow Jason again shortly after the narrator mentioned his name for the last time. The story passing through his mind would grow muffled, then silent, and then the universe would collapse a few hours later. The whole damn town of Elko, Nevada would disappear into a pitch-black sandstorm, along with everyone he knew and loved.

The wanderer threw the station’s door open. He barged straight up to the till, not bothering to take off his sunglasses, and slammed a ten-dollar coin bearing Eleanor Roosevelt’s face onto the counter. “Put this on pump four, and hurry. I gotta make Salt Lake by nightfall.” 

“Yeah, sure.” Jason didn’t bother to correct his esteemed customer; he simply put the money on pump three instead, a gesture of good will that he would never be thanked for.

That’s when everything changed. Jason J. Hargrove, associate manager, bowling enthusiast, and valued cardholder, really took that last piece to heart. “A gesture of good will that he would never be thanked for.” The narrator’s voice had singled out a painful truth: that this was all that he would be remembered for, unless he did something right then and there. As the drifter turned to exit, Jason pulled a nine-millimeter pistol out from under the counter, aimed, and pulled the trigger three furious times.

The glass of the window beyond spilled apart, and a quarter ounce of lead found its way through the nomad’s skull, causing him to crumple to the floor. It took Jason a few seconds to realize what he had done, but at that moment of reckoning, he let out a terrible yell. He’d done it- he’d spat in the face of God. He didn’t care that two highway patrolmen were fifteen yards away buying matching Drs. Pepper, or that his manager was howling in shock and crumpled against a wall of overpriced cigarettes. He heard someone yell for him to freeze and drop his weapon, but all he could manage to do was laugh. Perhaps, in the end, this was his story after all.

It was during the chaos that followed that I stole the motorcycle on pump three and galloped eastward. Nobody present at the scene witnessed me arriving or leaving- in large part due to the narrator's discretion. I didn’t stick around to find out what happened to Jason, but I imagine hearing these words wiped that smile off his face.