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The Sawmill Road gas station had always been repulsive. The gray asphalt was cracked throughout the parking area, and filed with potholes. The gas pumps were ancient, white skeletons covered in rust and peeling paint. The little convenience store was papered with old advertisements, adding to the blatant dilapidation of the tired old building. The floor inside was constantly slick with an unknown substance, and the smell of sour milk and cigarettes was omnipresent, temporarily sticking to whoever ventured inside.
This blatant eye-sore was dropped about ten miles from its nearest competitor, consequently monopolizing the gas station industry in the surrounding town of Fairmont, Kentucky. Therefore, while Cara Wallace hated the gas station, it was precisely where she was headed on that humid July night.
Cara drove fast, wary of the bright orange gaslight flashing on her car’s dashboard. If she ran out of gas now, she’d have to call her mom to come get her, and idea that made her cringe. It was going on eleven, and Cara knew that she’d get grounded for weeks if she made her mom get out of bed.
She wished, for the billionth time, that there were another gas station in Fairtown.
As the car in front of her turned, Cara switched on her bright lights, thankful for the illumination. Driving at night was one of her least favorite things, which was particularly inconvenient with her waitressing job. Almost every night, Cara didn’t get out of the old burger joint until ten or ten thirty, with tonight as no exception.
Driving at night with no gas was even worse for her nerves.
Cara’s gaslight started to blink, urging her to find Sawmill Road, and quickly. Luckily, within another minute, the flashing orange light of the intersection came into view. She was almost there.
Cara turned left, and was relieved to see the dim yellow glow of the gas station up ahead. Her foot pressed on the gas pedal, urging her old car forwards another quarter mile.
The gas station was deserted, except for the man working. He was old, didn’t say much, and was in a deep sleep when Cara arrived.
She puled up next to one of the gas pumps and turned off her car, breathing out a sigh of relief. She was so glad she had made it.
As she got out and swiped her debit card, Cara spotted a pair of headlights approaching from the intersection. She wondered who else in this sleepy town would be awake so late on a Thursday night. She turned around to begin filling up her car, and once the nozzle was in place, Cara glanced up to see the headlights turning in to the gas station.
The lights belonged to a fancy, black car that no one in Fairtown owned. As it drove past Cara, she noticed that the windows were heavily tinted, and that the license plate was from California. Cara’s eyebrows furrowed in confusion.
Why would someone want to come here when they were from an exciting state like that? Cara wondered, baffled.
The black car circled the gas pumps, as if undecided, before finally stopping at the one opposite Cara. She watched the driver’s side door open, and a thirty-something year old man step out. He was average looking; of a medium height with short, dark hair. His clothes, although plain, were clearly expensive. His jeans were thick and dark, and his T-shirt looked new and had an intricate logo stitched into the upper right corner. Cara didn’t recognize it, but figured it meant something special.
The man shut his car door, turned, and locked eyes with Cara. She felt flustered, knowing she had been caught staring, and immediately turned back toward her car.
After less than a minute, though, curiosity got the better of Cara. As the dollar amount on her gas pump rose, he timidly looked over her shoulder. The man was facing away, and Cara watched him put the gas nozzle in his car. After he squeezed the handle, switching it to automatic, he stopped. He looked let, then right, carefully analyzing his surroundings.
Cara barely had time to divert her eyes before he turned around. She felt his gaze on her back as she pretended to fiddle with her cell phone, her heart racing. Who was this strange man, and what was he doing?
When he turned back toward his car, Cara’s eyes shot back up. She watched him grip his back door handle and pull, opening it just a crack.
A muffled noise came out.
Cara’s mind flew into overdrive as it recognized the pleading sound. As the man quickly slammed the door, cursing, her palms turned clammy. She had to grip her cell phone hard so it wouldn’t slip through her fingers.
She felt the man’s eyes on her.
Cara dropped her hands to her sides, still holding her phone, trying to look nonchalant. It was extremely difficult to appear relaxed, but Cara was trying as hard as she could. She glanced up into the convenience store, only to find the elderly man still sound asleep.
She knew she had to do something. She could hear her heart pounding in her eardrums, and she still felt the man’s piercing eyes on her back.
Cara made a decision. She took the gas nozzle out of her car, slowly, as if she hadn’t a worry in the world. She stuck it back where it belonged, and made a show of clicking the receipt button, knowing it had never worked.
“Dang gas station, wont’ print me a receipt,” she muttered, quietly enough to convince the man that she was only talking to herself.
Cara walked, forcing herself to take slow, easy steps toward the convenience store. Her hands were shaking uncontrollably, and she hoped she could hang on to her phone.
As she pulled open the door, the bell chimed, waking the old man, He greeted her with a nod, then a raised eyebrow, noticing the panic on her face.
“That man,” Cara blurted out, her voice cracking. “He’s got a person in his backseat. I couldn’t fully hear, but they said ‘help.’ They need help.” The old man’s eyes widened and he turned quickly to the window, just as Cara did.
She was met with a cold stare. The owner of the black car took one look into Cara’s frenzied eyes, and bolted. He tore the gas nozzle out of his car, jerked open his door, and sped out of the parking lot before she could blink.
“Oh my,” the old man gasped, as the black car squealed tires out of the gas station.
Cara was there almost all night. It took the police a good thirty minutes to arrive, by which time the man and his car were long gone. Cara described him as best she could, recounting as many details as she remembered, but it was all in vain.
She watched the news every night after, waiting to hear about the arrest of the man, hoping each time to see those cold eyes featured in a prison mug shot. She never did.
Cara graduated college five years later. The night at the Sawmill Road gas station still haunted her, but with her degree in criminal justice, she was prepared to take on anyone.
The hunt for the man began.