PURGATORY AT THE PUMP 'N' LOAF by Benjamin Sobieck

Thirty things I remember about being stabbed to death around 2 a.m. at a Pump ‘n’ Loaf gas station:

1) The age in her voice. She approaches the service counter. “Y-You have a bathroom here?” I nod my head in the direction of the bathroom. It’s clean as of an hour ago. The graveyard shift is boring. So I clean. “T-Thank you.” She shuffles over. She tries the knob. “You only have a both-kind bathroom?” I nod. “I wait then.”

2) Swoosh. He exits the bathroom. My nostrils pick up a breeze perfumed with urinal cakes.

3) His shoes make waxy squeaks. They stop next to the woman.

4) A pause. She yelps. The bathroom door slams. She works the lock inside the bathroom.

5) Shock. He’s wearing a ski mask. He’s coming this way.

6) My brain in autopilot. “Can I help you sir?”

7) He growls. “Gimme th’ money. Now.”

8) Rage. Go five years back and I am the one behind the ski mask. Yes, I robbed gas stations. Yes, I hurt people. Yes, I did time for it. But my justice is served. I even met with my victims. If he’s going to push me off the path that took me five years to build, I’m gonna push back.

9) Damp metal in my hand. It’s the box cutter with the fresh blade from beneath the counter. I aim for his throat. He’s just close enough.

10) Disbelief. I feel fleshy resistance, but there’s no blood. So I suppose I miss. I miss? I pause. I panic.

11) How does he have the cutter now?

12) Did he cut me just now? Should I even look?

13) I thumbp on the floor. Granules of grit form a fingerprint of filth on my face.

14) Pressure on my leg. He hops over the counter. His heel rocks off my calf muscle toward the cash register.

15) Fire truck red is near me on the floor. One of us is cut.

16) “How’s ‘is thing open!?” Fast boot meets my arm. My bicep muscle spreads for his steeled toe.

17) Angry abuse of the cash register.

18) Flush - click - swoosh. I hear her step outside the bathroom.

19) From above me: “Ged outta ‘ere, ol’ bitch.”

20) Wait. I’m not bleeding. Fire truck red on the floor isn’t mine.

21) Near the bathroom: “I-I’m too old to be s-scared of a b-bully like y-you.”

22) From above me: “I serious, gramma, don get tany more close.”

23) From above me: Drip drip drip. This isn’t my blood. It’s coming from him.

24) Near the bathroom: “Y-You’re hurt. P-Put the k-knife down.”

25) He’s looking at the cash register, right? Or the woman? But he’s not looking at me, right? Right.

26) I go, go, go. Sloppy struggling. Crack. A scream. Something sounds like a zipper opening. Then jelly spreading. Then the legs of an octopus sliding to the floor one by one.

27) Breathe. The hot cutter is too greasy to hold. I put it on the counter. I pick it up again when his arm twitches. Breathe. Breathe.

28) I force out words. “I OK…call cops, ma’am…phone by cigars.”

29) I wait. I breathe. I wait. I point. “He’s behind the counter, officer.”

30) Police officer checks to see if he stepped in anything. “That’s him? I’ll call for a bag…”

* * *

The police zip me into a body bag. Then come the hands. Then the light. Then the sky. I rise higher and higher. I shrink into a dot that collapses smaller and smaller. I look down. Peaks and valleys of my life play like grooves on a record. It’s a broken one. The same patch of time repeats. The same patch of time repeats.

A watery voice chimes from inside my ear. “Death is not justice. You still haven’t gotten yours. Justice is seeing yourself in your victim. As your victim. Through his eyes.”

I taste the parched air of the Pump ‘n’ Loaf. Floor cleaner. Greasy, yellow popcorn. Immaculate cellophane. Crushing boredom. I feel the urge to clean.

The watery voice ascends into clarity.

“What do you remember?”

Thirty things I remember about being stabbed to death around 2 a.m. at a Pump ‘n’ Loaf gas station....


Benjamin Sobieck is a writer/journalist residing in Stevens Point, Wis. See more at http://crimespace.ning.com/profile/BenjaminSobieck.


Paul Brazill said...

Tight, tight story.

Ben Sobieck said...

Thanks Paul! This was a challenge to write, both in form and flow. The first drafts were a bit loose, so I'm glad you think the final version is concise.

Christopher Pimental said...

A fresh approach. MUCH Enjoyed.

-The ending pulls it together; stitches closing a gash.
-The record player, the needle trapped in groove, the delivery of the subsequent lines... their timing... That's your piece right there.

(My two-cents).

Ben Sobieck said...

Thanks Chris! I enjoyed writing it, too!

Jimmy Callaway said...

Seriously, way to take the form and the genre into a new nook and/or cranny. Good, good show. Keep it up.

Julie said...

Really enjoyed this - great story!

Dark Matter Books said...

I really like this story. Death pieces should be a sub genre all their own. Well done!

Josh Converse said...

That's some righteously good stuff, Ben. Great format, great feel, great twist.

Thula7 said...

I wondered if maybe this were a protagonist with a split personality, being both cashier and robber. I liked the way you pulled it together. "Justice is seeing yourself in your victims." Nice.

Jen Steffen