I pulled my arm back in and rolled up the window. My watch said it was 3:55. Almost 4 AM and I was still driving through the night. I was glad we left Austin around midnight. That way we could beat the morning traffic. We were looking forward to having the time of our lives visiting the annual Blues Festival in Mississippi.
The fuel gauge indicated there was still enough gas to drive for another hundred miles. There was just one problem — the next town was ninety miles out. Knowing my car, it wasn’t certain we’d even make it there. It was an old car and not everything worked as it should, but usually, it got the job done without a hitch. My friends were passed out, sleeping, and I didn’t want to wake them up just to tell them we ran out of gas in the middle of nowhere. I bet neither one of us was willing to push the car in the middle of the night.
Just when the engine started to sputter, there appeared a faint light ahead of us. It was barely visible, but there was definitely something there. Afraid our car would die on me anytime soon, I drove closer. I was surprised to see a tiny town in front of me. Especially because that little town didn’t show up on the map. I double-checked to see if Google Maps was working correctly. It was. That town just wasn’t on there. It wasn’t much of a real town, just a few houses, a gas station, and a convenience store. The light appeared to be coming from the gas station, everything else was pitch black. And who cares if it wasn’t shown on any map. I was glad there was a gas station in front of me, meaning we weren’t stranded somewhere in the desert.
There was only one road in this town and the old gas station was right at the edge of town. And when I say old, I mean really old. I parked the car right in front of the gas pump. The kind that didn’t even have the option to prepay. There wasn’t anything electrical on there, even the readers were old style. These pumps were way before my time and the only thing I knew about them is that you were able to hear the pump struggle to get gas from the reservoir if you flipped up the handle. So I walked inside and paid the guy fifty dollars to fill up the tank. He accepted the money and turned the bill around a few times, almost as if he never saw a fifty-dollar bill before. There was an eerie vibe hanging around him, and not just around him, but around this whole little town.
The guy in front of me was a skinny black guy wearing a hat. He was at least 6’5, and by skinny, I meant it looked like his skin was wrapped around his bones. He averted his eyes from the fifty-dollar bill, leaned over the counter and scanned the area outside before looking back at me. The moment he leaned over the counter, there was a strong smell coming from him. He was probably just sweating from working all day, but the odour was strong. His eyes were still locked with mine. The smell came closer again, and so did he. His hand stretched out in front of him, holding the money I gave him. He was giving me back my fifty dollars, together with the hat he was wearing. Once again, he looked outside and scanned the area one more time. When his body was back behind the counter, he finally spoke:
“Look, you look like a nice young fella. But you shouldn’t be out here at this time of night lookin’ like that.”
It was the way he pointed at me when he said ‘lookin’ like that’, that gave me the chills.
“Here,” he continued while pointing at the hat he just gave me, “Put that on, get to your quickly, and drive to the next town to get gas.”
I told him I didn’t have enough gas to get there. That was the reason why I stopped at his gas station.
“You own a gas station, you do sell gas don’t you? I didn’t even know this place existed. It’s not shown on any map.”
“It doesn’t, “ he responded, “Look, there’s about two gallons left in that can over there.”
He pointed at the can right next to the door.
“Just drive another twenty miles and use those two gallons. But please, you have to move now.”
He pointed his skinny arm towards the door.
At that point, I stopped questioning him and left. I grabbed the can with the two gallons of gas and put it in the trunk of our car. Surprisingly, both of my friends were still passed out. For some reason, I hoped they had woken up by now so I had someone to talk to about what just had happened. As I drove out of that tiny town, I watched as the light of the gas station slowly dimmed before it was completely gone.
A few days later, I had to be back in Mississippi. I decided to take the same road, hoping I would pass through that tiny town again. I even brought a can with two gallons of gas in it with me, to pay him back for the gas he gave me. But I couldn’t find my way back there. It wasn’t shown on any map. There wasn’t a single sign that place even existed. There was no old gas station, no faint light, nothing. It was as if it disappeared over the weekend. Like someone picked it up and moved it. When I asked around, no one even seemed to have heard about that town. All I knew about it was that I was offered free gas to leave that place as quickly as possible.
What was that guy trying to save me from?
But by the urgency he pushed me out of there, I still refuse to stop at places that aren’t shown on the map. And whenever there’s a small light appearing in front of me, I step on the gas and never look back.