“A guy, he just came in and got the key. You’n wait for him in here, if ya like. Them woods is fu-,” said the exhausted-looking woman, in her blue and red, button-down gas station uniform as Brandon fast-walked through the black-framed glass door.

Outside, the night sky glowed orange from the hulking oil refinery nearby. A blonde woman in a pink camo shirt stared mindlessly into her pink phone behind the windshield of shiny, black Ford F-150, temporary tags freshly taped. Next to the truck, a man wearing a yellow, vented fishing shirt and a sunglasses tan pumped gas, watching the sky under a furrowed brow. Brandon could only feel embarrassment at his awkward gait. He put his head down and rounded the corner, determined not to piss his pants.

The bathroom door held rust where the paint chipped.  At its bottom, a dim line of light gleamed golden and grating to Brandon. He breathed deep, pocketed his hands, and leaned on the rough, grey wall, crossing his legs casually but clenching himself stiff. The deep, Mississippi woods and its chorus of crickets bordered the station’s paved concrete, devouring the fluorescent light from the pumps behind him.

“Godamnit,” he muttered to himself. Of all the gas station bathrooms in this god-forsaken state, he found one with a single, occupied bathroom. This was Brandon’s second full day of driving furiously to Alabama to meet the love his life he found in an online chatroom. He had driven down from flatass, nothing Indiana and snorted Adderrall to bang out the last stretch. Uppers, legal or illegal, always made him pee like a racehorse. Despite his herculean efforts to hold it, he could not deny his physiology.

He weighed his options: hurrying up whatever creature lurked inside and dealing with those consequences; or braving the shadowed, foreign Mississippi forest. His bladder ached and overwhelmed his mind into confusion and irrationality.

Brandon grabbed and jiggled the doorknob, which was indeed locked. He knocked.

No answer.

Then he banged on the door with the urgency he felt below his belt. “You almost done. I’m about to piss myself out here.”

Still no answer.

Brandon banged again. “Hey, man. Hurry it up!”

Nothing.

The dark woods beckoned him. Brandon looked over his shoulder. The couple at the pump were oblivious to his plight.

“Fuck it,” Brandon said to the door, and he made for the woods.

He scurried between pines, crunching their cones underfoot, and hopped over underbrush putting several layers of trees between him and civilization. His outstretched hand barely visible, he found a tree and frantically fumbled his belt loose.

Relief washed over him. As his shoulders heaved a relaxing shrug, he heard the rumble of an ignited engine. Headlights brushed the trees around Brandon, then darkness and silence. A slight, whimpering sound brought his attention back to the woods’ depths.

“Hello,” Brandon whispered above his own sounds. Then a tiny, intense bite, followed by others, danced up an ankle. He shook his leg and tried to aim his stream away from himself. A fluttering over his head made him duck. One pants leg went warm and wet. The whimpering sound morphed into a ruffling. The biting pains were climbing further upwards, and he stomped his foot to make them stop. The ruffling was closer, accompanied by a low growl. Unable to stop himself and harried by the snarling, faceless menace, Brandon waddled backwards barely keeping his wet pants around his hips.

His heel struck a small root. As he fell backwards, pine trees stretched into a black-orange, starless sky.

Brandon emerged from the woods yelling, pants soaked, stomping his feet. At the forest edge, an opossum, eyes as black as the woods behind it, growled at him through a ghoulish, toothy grin. It then turned back slowly, its long, hairless tail curving in the cut grass, and disappeared into the deep, black wood. The chipped, rusty bathroom door squealed open. Brandon watched and waited as a man emerged, his white tank-top dirty and camo trucker hat reading Git ‘R Done. Ear buds blasted a soulless, pop-country tune into him as he stared wide-eyed at Brandon, who stared wide-eyed back.

 

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