by KJ Marshall
“Yo, pass me that blunt,” Dan said, still chewing the burger his friends had brought to him. “This is the best burger I’ve ever had from a fuckin’ gas station. This really is a tasty-ass burger.” He was talking with his mouth full. “My, GOSH, you guys!”
“I made it myself,” Michelle chirped, as she choked out a cough. “Here.”
“You do realize when you eat while you smoke, you’re totally ruining your high, right?” Julie had opened her backpack and taken out her adult coloring book and colored pencils, but she had an incessant need to chime into the conversation whenever she deemed necessary. “Someone needs to send this fool back to smoker’s etiquette class.”
“Sorry,” Dan frowned. “I didn’t know smoking had rules.”
“Yea, puff, puff, pass and what not,” Michelle said. “Don’t take her shit.” She leaned back on her elbows, gazing into the reddening horizon. “She’s always just talkin’ shit.”
“Y’all known each other for a while?” Dan was the newest member of their tiny circle.
Julie put down her coloring book and grabbed the blunt from Dan.
“We’ve been best friends for like, ten years or some shit,” Julie said.
“Ten long years,” Michelle mumbled, shaking her head.
Dan pursed his lips into a smile and nodded. “That’s a long time.”
“Long-ass time,” Michelle rolled her eyes.
Julie let out a chuckle as she picked up her coloring book. “I’m finally almost done with this stupid picture.”
“Good,” Michelle laughed. “I’m tired of hearin’ you bitch about it.”
Julie’s eyes were intent on her picture as she scribbled her colored pencil across the paper.
“So,” Michelle looked at Dan, who was staring at his burger as though he were making love to it. “What are you workin’ on these days?”
Michelle and Dan had met through their local library in Rebuttal, Alabama. They were both writers with big dreams. Dan had a few things published on Amazon, but he was no Stephen King; at least not yet. His writing style was different than that of Stephen King’s, but Michelle revered his ability to toy with words.
“I’m editing a few of my projects right now,” Dan rubbed his chin, “but I’m wanting to write something outside my normal range.”
“Got anything specific in mind?”
“Not at all. I’m open to suggestions.”
Michelle pushed herself upright and lifted an eyebrow. “I may have something for you, provided you can keep a super-huge secret.”
“Uhh…Okay,” Dan crinkled his eyebrows and cocked his head to the side.
Julie was all ears now, too. She glanced up at Michelle, her eyes fashioned into tiny slits.
“This is a story about work. Julie and me have this super annoying customer. We call him ‘Cro-Magnon Man’. Man, he gets on our fuckin’ nerves!”
Julie and Dan studied Michelle intently as she trailed off into her story.
Our gas station was the epitome of small-town country stores. It looked like a structure straight out of an old western movie. Shoppers received a monotonous “Hello” from whichever cashiers were lucky enough to be earning their minimum wage that day, and as people shopped, the likes of Garth Brooks and Alan Jackson’s music played softly in the background.
Through the storeroom in the back was a stairway that led up to an apartment, where Julie and I resided. We owned the store, and as if we had nothing better to do, we lived there, too.
The fluorescent lights shone on what was left of the chipped linoleum. The shelves weren’t bare, but they weren’t fully stocked, either. Julie never wanted to spend the money to fill the shelves, not realizing that empty shelves don’t make money.
Our small store sold the kind of snacks only potheads buy after midnight; Honey Buns, Slim Jims, Combos, and Ding Dongs, just inches from the motor oil and windshield washing fluid. If you liked a fun game of Russian Roulette from time to time, there were dairy products in the glass case, next to various energy drinks and sodas. It was a generic gas station store, and this was a generic gas station shopping night. At least we thought it would be.
It was Julie and I working the night shift on this particular Saturday. Our night cashiers had both called out of work. We suspected they were out partying together, but there wasn’t much we could do about it right then.
It wasn’t any busier than a normal Saturday. People were coming in and making small talk as they damn near ran to the beer cooler. I could understand why they were running. Saturdays were the day that if you didn’t get there fast enough, you were likely not to be able to get your alcoholic beverage of choice.
I’d stepped outside for a cigarette when I saw Harold pull up in his big blue truck. “Hey, girl!” He was loud, as usual, as he bounced into the store. That’s how he walked; slightly hunched forward, and he bounced off his feet like Tigger or some shit. He was in his late forties and always wore a backward hat to hide his balding head, ripped jeans, a studded belt, and a tight t-shirt. We nicknamed him “Cro-Magnon Man” due to his deep-set eyes and bulging forehead. Also, it was clear that the evolutionary process had skipped right over him. You can’t make this stuff up. All he ever got was a ninety-nine-cent refill on soda and a pack of Aspirin. Harold was nice sometimes, but mostly he was a real prick.
“Mother fuckers,” I muttered as I emptied the small tin can that held the stench of our day-old cigarette butts. “Plastic and paper in a fucking cigarette can.”
I turned and looked in through the large window when I heard Harold getting loud with Julie. I puffed my cigarette as fast as I could to get back inside because if I knew Julie at all, I knew this was going to get interesting, and my nosy ass wanted to be a spectator at this event. I could see him pointing to the Aspirin as Julie walked over to it, grabbed the price sticker off the counter, and waved it through the air dramatically, all but shoving it in his pre-historic looking face. When he glanced out the window I whipped around as if I hadn’t been peering through, eating my hypothetical popcorn like I had front row seats.
I heard the bells clink against the wood door as Harold came back outside. “You know they tryin’ to charge me a dolla ninety-nine for a two-pack a Aspirin?! Thas a dolla a Aspirin!” His deep, raspy voice was never lower than a shout.
“That’s how much they are,” I answered as I rubbed my cigarette against the newspaper machine to put it out.
“Somebody the otha night charge me ninety-ninety cents! It done went up or what?” He was standing inside of my personal bubble, and his breath made me snarl.
“Whoever did that was mistaken.” I backed up a step.
“They ninety-nine-cents everywhere else.”
“Go down to the Dollar store and get you a fifty pack for three dollars.”
“I will!” His wife shook her head as he got back in his truck. I caught a glimpse of her black eye before they pulled away.
When I got back inside, Julie was staring out the window with her mouth open, shaking her head. “Fucking jerk,” she said. “All mad because the Aspirin is a whole dollar-ninety-nine.”
“I know, dude. He came outside all mad about it.”
“Fucking Cro-Magnon Man,” She said, smacking her hand against the counter.
Julie worked up a smile as she grabbed a cigarette and patted down her pockets to make sure she had a lighter. “He’s a menace to society. This world would so much better if he were gone. We oughta get rid of him.”
“What?” My eyes were wide now.
“What, what?” She had that smile on her face that meant she was cooking something up in her mind. “Look, Michelle. He’s loud, annoying, and all he does for fun is beat his wife. I’m just saying. What if we play vigilante for a night and get rid of the guy?”
“No. Nope.” I shook my head rapidly and crossed my arms. “Uh-Uh. I ain’t gon’ do it.”
“Why the hell not?” Julie asked. “He’s abusive. We don’t need that kind of abuse!”
“Look, I’m no social justice warrior. He’s an asshole, but that doesn’t warrant killing the man. Jesus Christ, Julie. Have you gone stupid, or…?”
Julie put her cigarette down and put her hand on her hip. “You’re a damn wuss, ‘Chelle.”
“Whatever. I’m a wuss, but I’m a wuss who ain’t goin’ to prison no time soon!”
I should take the time to mention that Julie is not a psychopathic murderer on any level. She’s just what I like to call “passionate”. Cro-Magnon Man annoyed us all, but it seems as though she got the brunt of his ornery nature directed toward her.
After an hour or so, Julie was back to her usual not-so-peppy demeanor, running around the store completing various tasks. She hadn’t brought up ridding the world of any more abrasive customers, either. She’d been making small talk and greeting customers in her fake cheery voice all night long.
As midnight approached the clock on the wall, we were getting ready to lock up the store. Five minutes before closing time, the door chimed as a last-minute customer lurched in. It was good ole Cro-Mag.
“Oh, great,” I thought. “Julie’s gonna go on her rampage again.”
“Fuck,” Julie mumbled, rolling her eyes back in her head.
“I got me some damn Aspirin!” Harold shouted in his loud, obnoxious voice.
“That’s great, Harold.” I tried to play nice. I didn’t like the guy, but he’d never offended me personally aside from his stench and general lack of social etiquette.
I walked to the back to finish stocking the beer, leaving Julie to tend to her favorite customer. She’d stuck me the middle finger as a response to my kind gesture. As I was putting the last case of beer onto the shelf, a loud thump echoed outside the cooler. I ran to the front of the store and stopped in my tracks with my eyes wide and my jaw hanging open. Harold was laying on the floor, and Julie was standing over him holding a hammer.
“What the fuck did you do?!” I ran up to Julie and looked from her to the massive sack of douchebag laying on the ground. “What in the actual fuck?!”
“He was still goin’ on about the damn Aspirin.”
“So, you hit him with a hammer?!” I squealed. “Is he–?”
A groan escaped from Harold’s body, emanating a nebula of rancid odors, and he pushed himself up off the floor, stumbling to his feet.
“That wasn’t very lady like,” he grumbled, as he walked toward Julie. “Come here.” He threw his arm out to grab Julie, but she jumped back out of his reach, waving the hammer in front of herself. I stood behind Harold, still in shock, until he turned toward me and shoved me to the ground.
“Mother fucker!” I stood to my feet and kicked him in his baby maker.
Once he was keeled over in pain, Julie swung the hammer down and smacked it against Harold’s back. It didn’t phase him. He grabbed Julie around her ankles and yanked her feet out from under her. The hammer flew across the store and smashed through the glass door on the cooler. I was running around frantically, trying to figure out what to do.
I jumped on Harold’s back and started punching him in the head. I’d seen that in a movie once. For a second, I felt like a child riding a mechanical bull.
Julie stood up and started hitting him in the gut until he put his palm on her forehead and extended his arm so she couldn’t reach him.
When she stopped fighting, he started spinning in circles and clawing at my arms, trying to knock me off him. One arm was hugging his neck, the other arm was still punching him in the head to no avail, and my legs were flailing around.
Julie ran to the kitchen and came back, wielding our biggest butcher knife. “Drop the lady, scumbag!” Her hands were trembling, but she had a maniacal look on her face.
“I’m trying!” Harold shouted.
Julie clutched the knife with both hands and thrust it into his oversized gut. He fell over with me still holding on to him. I tried to get up, but he’d landed on top of me, leaving me both in pain and repulsed. “Get him off me! Ew! This is so fucking gross!”
Julie grunted, trying to pull Cro-Mag off me. As I was squirming beneath him, Harold’s eyes popped open, and I let out a sound I’ve never heard before. He rolled over and I scrambled away as fast as I could. Julie grabbed the knife again and thrust it into his chest.
“Now he’s dead. R.I.P, bitch!” She looked around shaking her head. “Dammit. I just mopped, too.”
“Are you being serious right now?!” I panted. “You just murdered someone! This is bad. This is so bad.”
“Scream it louder so they can hear you in Guam.”
“You know what? I’m calling the cops.” I turned to walk toward the phone, but Julie jumped in front of me. Murder is not something that had ever been on my bucket list.
“No! No. You are not calling the cops. Just help me get rid of him.”
“I’m not helping you do shit, you crazy bitch! What are you gonna do with him, Julie?”
“I hadn’t thought that far ahead.” Julie looked from the lifeless body back to me.
I let out a dramatic gasp and brought my hand to my chest. “Ya don’t say!”
“Let’s drag him to the freezer in the meat market.” Julie looked serious, but I was still hopeful that I was being pranked. “And Michelle, don’t forget, you’re just as much in this as I am.”
“What’s gonna happen when our employees come to work on Monday?”
“It’ll be business as usual.” Julie walked back over to Cro-Magnon Man and lifted him up under his arms. “Grab his feet,” she huffed.
I stood still and stared at her for a few moments. She was five-foot-two and about ten pounds soaking wet, and she’d just taken out a nine-hundred-pound man. I crossed my arms and tapped my foot against the linoleum. “Move him yourself.”
“Michelle. I just saved your life, and this is not gonna look good Monday when our girls get here. You’re really good at hiring the sensitive ones. You want ‘em to walk in and see a dead guy lying on the ground?”
She was right. I imagined Beth and Stephanie coming to work and losing their minds at the sight. Not because they were sensitive, but who wouldn’t lose their mind at a scene like that? He’d probably start smelling by then, too. He was already starting to smell. Hell, he always smelled.
“Okay. I’ll help you, but I’m doing this so Steph and Beth aren’t scarred for life come Monday.”
I walked over to Harold’s body and grabbed hold of his feet. Together, Julie and I carried the body through the back of the store and into our adjacent meat market. We only dropped him four times, which is less than I was expecting. Julie looked calm, but I could feel myself holding back copious amounts of vomit.
Julie stopped when we reached the meat cutter’s station. My body flooded with horror and my eyebrows crinkled when I saw her eyes drift toward the saw.
I dropped Cro-Mag’s feet and took a step back waving my hands in the air. “No. Absolutely not!”
“It’ll make it a hell of a lot easier to get rid of the body.” She dropped his head, letting it thump against the ground, and started assembling the saw.
I gagged. “You’ve gone rabid. You’re psychotic.”
“Overdramatic?! My best friend just fucking murdered a guy and now she wants to cut him up into small pieces using our highly expensive equipment, might I add. Also, there’s a dead guy like four feet away from me, and he damn near just squished me to death. I am having a seriously bad day.”
“You want some cheese with that whine?”
I walked over to Julie until I was as close to her face as I could get, sending fire into her soul with the heat of my glare. She was working my nerves. “Fuck you, Julie.”
“Here,” she smacked a pair of gloves against my chest. “Help me finish putting this saw together.”
When Julie finished cutting up our best worst customer, she placed his limbs neatly into gallon-size Ziploc bags. I’d been sitting in the corner the entire time, sticking my face into the trashcan whenever the urge erupted.
“Fuck!” She shouted. Cro-Mag’s head rolled out of a trash bag and bounced off my leg. I screamed, nudged it away with my foot, and heaved the previous day’s dinner into the trashcan again.
After all the body parts were neatly stored, she shoved them into a crate and rolled them into the corner of the meat freezer.
“Okay then,” she rubbed her hands together. “Let’s go clean up.”
“This is fucking disgusting,” I said, sloshing the mop onto the floor.
“Did you think this wouldn’t be messy?” Julie asked while boarding up the now shattered cooler door.
“I didn’t think you’d fucking murder someone.”
“WE murdered someone, and it wasn’t murder. It was a favor to society. Self-defense, even. He was just knocked out ‘til he tried to wake up and kill us.”
“I didn’t hit with him a hammer or stab the guy to death. You did that.”
“Okay, that’s true enough. But you did jump on him like a little monkey. You a ninja now or something?”
“He was gonna kill you!”
“Whatever. Looked like you were having fun on that ride.”
“You’ve got screws loose.” I was still scrubbing the blood from the floor, and as I turned to ring the mop, My foot slipped out from under me and I landed directly in the pool of red, nasty liquid. “Are you fucking kidding me?!”
“Stop playing around and get that crap mopped up,” Julie said, shaking her head.
Two days later, Julie was acting like her usual self, and I was pretending to be nonchalant as well. Harold had been reported missing by his wife the day after Julie turned into a straight-up raging lunatic, and the police had come into the store asking if we’d seen him that night. Julie had been quick to say he’d only been in for his usual items, while I stood silently in the background wiping the sweat from my forehead. The detective had asked to see our cameras so he could form a timeline of Harold’s movements on Saturday, but naturally, she’d already erased the footage.
There had been a search party organized by the police, and over two-hundred good samaritans showed up to look for Cro-Magnon Man. Julie had been in the kitchen all day cooking burgers, soup, meatloaf, and anything else she could think of. It was her way of showing our support for the community, but I was feeling like her good deed in this given situation was seriously fucking sadistic.
“Is it almost done? We gotta have all this food over to the headquarters in an hour.” I looked from my watch to Julie, who was smiling and whistling as she cooked the meals.
“What’s up with you?” I asked.
“Nothing. It’s almost done. Will you grab some fried okra out of the freezer and drop them in the fryer?”
I walked into the freezer and reached to the top shelf for the okra. Something didn’t feel right. I scanned the cooler and dropped the okra when I noticed that the crate holding the body was no longer in the corner. I ran out of the cooler and over to Julie. “It’s gone! Julie,” I lowered my voice to a whisper, “the body’s gone.”
“I know,” Julie said, casually stirring her pot.
“The fuck you mean?! Where is it then?”
Julie looked up at me and winked. “Want some soup?”
“What?” I asked, confused. Then the realization of what she’d done punched me in the face. “Julie. You didn’t.”
“What? I had to get rid of it somehow. Now, let’s go feed some hungry searchers.”
“You are so full of shit!” Julie yelled as Michelle puffed on her cigarette, staring into the distance.
Dan eye-balled the second burger he’d started after finishing the first, before dropping it to the ground. “That was, uh, one hell of a story,” he said.
“It’s not a true one,” Julie reiterated. “Sometimes her imagination and her brain fly deep into the abyss of over-exaggeration and stupid.”
“Whatever you say,” Michelle laughed. “You not hungry anymore, Dan?”
“No. I don’t think so.” Dan stood and wiped the dirt from his pants. “I, uh, I-I gotta go. Thanks for the story. I’ll call you later.”
“Okay. See you later.” Michelle and Julie waved as Dan walked away.
Once Dan was out of earshot, Julie fixated her eyes on Michelle, anger written all over her face.
“Why in the hell would you tell him that?!”
“What? He needed some writing material. I was just helping a friend, much like I helped you.”
“We’re gonna go to jail now, dumbass.”
“Nah, he doesn’t know it was a true story. Besides, his body now rests in the discarded bowels of most of Rebuttal.”
Julie stood up and started packing up her coloring materials. “I can’t believe you did that.”
“That’s cool. I still can’t believe you murdered a guy.”
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