Picture this, we’re riding up the I5 at night, the wind in our helmets making the sort of sound that broken headphones might, and around the 300 st. exit, maybe fourty minutes out of Seattle, the gas tank starts reading E. So we pull off the highway, spilling straight into the set of a horror movie, the sort where they kill the back-packing teenagers for buying condoms and booze at the convenience store, one by one, but don’t bother running much to do it.
Will you admit to seeing House Of Wax? It was like that.
The gas station we found was closed, empty, though not abandoned. Though it was built, at a guess, sometime in the late seventies, all peeling paint and white wood, and eerie lighting, it seemed oddly updated. Instead of offering coffee, a banner advertised ESPRESSO, and the text on the free standing, four legged marquee next to the street in front offered Chai Tea, $1.79. These touches of modernity weren’t very reassuring in the dark. Rather, they seemed smeared on like fake smiles, as if to put us at ease while out back Jimmy grabs the knife he’s going to slash our tires with.
Brushing this off as a side-effect of mixing heavy pop-culture saturation with the primitive fear of the dark, we stopped. I got off the bike, verified the pumps as new enough to accept credit cards, then Vicki followed suit and we stretched our legs as the bike started filling. Curiosity led me to peer in the windows of the gas station store, to see if the inside felt as left behind by time as the exterior. Sadly, there wasn’t enough narrative in the soil. It only looked like a stereotypical small town corner store, harmless, complete with a comic book rack, crates by the door, aisles of cheap toothpaste and cheaper potato chips. There was no formica counter, no rusty bear traps on the wall – slick give-away posters for soda-pop, juice, and iced-tea bursting from CG water were the only decorations. I turned around, disappointed, to ask Vicki how far we’d come, but then the barking started.
The sort of barking you hear when you’re running from the law, when you’re tearing through the woods away from the vampires, the werewolves, and the farmer you stole those chickens from. At the other end of that barking lies slavering, teeth, someone with a shotgun, pain, fear, and blood. I’d forgotten dogs are capable of such a massive sound.
Two of them came out of the darkness, low to the ground, and loud, a large rough collie and a great brown creature that came up to my hip. Get the Hell Out Of Here, they angrily shouted, Get The Hell Out Or We’ll Take Your Leg. Suddenly our Isn’t-This-A-Creepy-Place-Ha-Ha, didn’t seem as amusing. They came closer, barking louder, and I shouted at them, “Hey, Get off. Go.” The collie did, though grudgingly, but the bigger dog, the great brown thing, did not. It only got quieter as it continued to stalk closer, walking towards us in a criss-cross pattern, as if to stay out of reach while it looked into options to circle us.
Eventually, it came close enough to kick, or claw in the eye. Vicki stayed behind her motorbike, keeping the FJ between her and it, but I was still out in the open, so it came up to me, tail wagging, jaw dropped in a grin, and growling like a sound that came out of the earth. It sniffed at me, continuing to growl, and started budging at my hands, trying to get them out of my pockets. Generally, I’d be more than happy to oblige, (I love ruffling the velvet of doggie ears), but the sound didn’t stop, the growling continued, growing in intensity, so it seemed a friendly gesture full of menace, as if it was hoping to snap fingers off to chew on later.
Now me, I like dogs. I had a puppy I named, all full of blossoming irony, Spot, when I was little, and I loved that dog like mad. I even like big dogs. Really big dogs. The bigger the better. Dominique and I once saw a dog outside of Uprising Bakery that we both simultaneously mistook for a pony, and my immediate reaction was to go cuddle the damned thing, though it weighed more than both of us together. This dog, however, not so much. It would be a gross overstatement to say it had the spark of hell in its milk chocolate fur, but it wouldn’t be far off to say it had the hate of a righteous preacher in its eyes. We were atheists impinging on the gas station Holy Land, and we needed a killin’. It wanted us dead, or hurt, or maimed, and gone.
We, of course, were happy to oblige. The dog backed off enough when I shouted at it to edge over to where Vicki was getting the bike ready to go, and when it saw we were both behind a big crazy metal thing, it dropped back off a few paces, still growling a guttural, menacing promise of walking the world with eight fingers, and dropped to the ground to watch us. Vicki was worried that it might have been the sort of dog to chase motorcycles, as some find the sound drives them crazy, but we lucked out. This one only watched, turning its head as we left, roaring out of there as fast as zero to sixty could take us.
“That was weird.”
“Oh good, it’s not just me.”
“Nope. That was a bit scary, Jhayne. It’s not just you.”