Hapscomb’s Texaco sat on US 93 just north of Arnette, a pissant, four-street burg about 110 miles from Houston. Swerving off the road, the car kicked up a spray of gravel and cloud of dust.
“Man, I hope this dump is open, I gotta go so bad my teeth are floatin’”, she said.
“Yeah, me too! This is the first place we’ve seen for miles.”
I jammed on the brakes and parked next to the gas pumps. We both flung open the car doors and bolted into Hapscomb’s small convenience store/office.
“Key to the rest room, please!”
The man perched on a stool behind the counter didn’t move. He probably thought we were crazy, we both said the same thing so fast. He just stared at us, stoic, silent, unresponsive. I spotted a key attached to an old license plate hanging on the wall so I grabbed it and we sprinted around to the side of the building.
As I walked back to my car, I stopped to stretch and take a deep breath. The air was hot and dry. Everything was covered with a fine coating of sandy dust, and was the same, flat non-color – sand. The longer I stood there, the quieter it seemed, the only sound was the soft sigh of the wind. If it is true that your first impression is the most important Arnette was in serious trouble; my first impression of was not good.
There were no other cars on the road and the single traffic light swung slowly back in forth in the dusty air; blinking yellow. The man working at the station must spend a lot of time in one place because he too had a thin film of dust on his clothes, his hair and his shoes; even the day old stubble on his chin was dusty. At least he had moved off his perch, he was leaning in the doorway, hands jammed into his pockets, silent, watching and I could see he was much younger than I first thought, probably in his twenties.
“Anyplace to get some lunch around here?” I asked him.
He blinked a few times, his eyes moving from us, to our car, to the road and back to us. I was ready to poke him with my foot to see if he was still breathing and trying to remember some sign language in case he was deaf. Finally, he said, “McDonalds down the highway ‘bout 47 mile.”
“47 miles! Isn’t there anything closer?”
“Well, Buddy’s is open until 2. Just keep goin’ into town, it’s right over on the left there.”
We looked at each other and shrugged. “Guess that’s our only option”, she said.
We gassed up the car and headed into town, looking for Buddy’s.
“There it is”, I said.
Buddy’s sign, like everything else in sight was faded and dusty. I pulled in next to a couple of pick-up trucks and a dusty motorcycle. There were some customers inside. I could see them through the window so I knew the place was open. They all turned to look as we parked. They watched us get out of the car. They continued to stare as we walked towards the door.
“No need to lock it”, I laughed. “Nothing much going on around here.”
That decision would turn out to be the biggest mistake of my life.
(This story is in response to The Daily Prompt for January 10, 2015. Take the first sentence of a favorite book and make it the first sentence of a post. My sentence is the first line in one of my many favorites, The Stand by Stephen King.)