Not All Gods Make It

Morgen Knight

            Elysian the sign read. Norton could only read it because the sun hadn’t completely set yet.  Most of the sign’s bulbs were either broken or burnt out. From a distance, what bulbs could carry light formed something so fractured and disconnected that it looked like random lines of a foreign language. But the gas station itself was well lit. He wasn’t surprised to see that the parking lot was empty. In fact, Elysian looked abandon until he pulled in from 69 highway and saw the lady leaning up against the counter, thumbing through a magazine with a bored expression on her face.

Norton shut off the car, killing the Shagtronics in the middle of their song. He had been driving for five days, now. And for the last three hours straight. Iowa to southern California–that was the trip. But he wasn’t taking the most direct route. If that was all that he wanted to do, get to California, he should have taken a plane, right? Instead he was meandering. Here, there. He wasn’t sure if you could call it sightseeing, because he really wasn’t taking in many sights. Not that there was a variety of them through here. Colorado had the mountains, but what else was there in the middle of the country? An arch? Giant balls of twine or tape or whatever other material someone decided to roll into a sphere?

Rushmore! Yes, there was that, he conceded. And to be honest, he had stopped in Kansas to check out the Gallery of American Photos, which had turned out to be in a guy named Ted’s garage. The photos had been less American themed as they were panty shots–up girls skirts.  Cutouts from old porno mags. Polaroids of women in various stages of undress in an obvious scramble to cover themselves as the flash lit. Ted had walked him through it, read with a back-story for any picture Norton might show interest in. Ted had enjoyed Norton’s reactions more than anything. Most people left after a few feet in, the stink of oil and fresh lawn clippings spilling from a black bag in the corner where its bell had been slit by something. But shit, he was here and he’d stopped. So, he gave the Gallery a throw–it wasn’t 1920’s pictures, black and whites of America . . .really, but they were pictures, stapled to particle board or not–and put a five in the donations can on the fold-up table at the exit.

He was in Arizona, now, off of 68 highway, traveling on empty roads. He didn’t think that he had ever really felt alone in his life until a few hours of desert landscape and a dry blue sky had swallowed him. And it wasn’t so much that other people weren’t driving by, it was the feel that no one may ever take this road again. He could be the last. If he broke down, there was a real chance that no one would ever find him, and then he’d began to wonder if that had happened to anyone else, watching the side of the road for the signs of life.

Part of that, Norton had to admit, could have been the scotch.

But most of that had died down, now, and the scotch had worked through him. That was part of the reason that he had stopped to piss.

He got out of his purple ‘77 Cutlass, dug the trash off of the passenger seat, the empty bottles–soda and otherwise–and the full ashtray to dump it all in the trash barrel. When he got close, his face cringed. The smell coming out of the trash nearly made him puke. It smelled like there was something rotten in there. The sun had taken its traces with it, so Norton couldn’t see, but he really wasn’t all that interested, either. If it smelled that fucking bad, why would he want to see it?

The trash that he was discarding didn’t so much as fall in as fly at the barrel. The ashes he dumped onto the asphalt, a number of butts bouncing and rolling. He was at least twenty feet away before he dared to breathe in again. The air was sweetly bland. A stink like that could stain your clothes and make you have to wash. There were no showers around here that he’d seen, and he couldn’t picture himself having to walk naked from the bathroom where he’d bird-bath to the Cutlass for a change of clothes, the old threads left behind.

Norton dropped the plastic ashtray in the window then headed inside. It was a simple shop. A little rundown. He couldn’t imagine it doing much business. When he’d seen it sitting in the distance, it had caught him as queer. Out here in the middle of nothing, all alone.

The lady behind the counter was short with dark brown hair cut to make her head look like a mushroom. She didn’t look old, but there were definite creases on her face. At first she didn’t look up, and Norton looked around. There were two empty chairs, Generic and shopworn.  A single refrigerator unit with a light that was buzzing as it blinked off and on.

“Excuse me,” Norton said.

The woman looked up at him irritated. He saw that it was a horse saddle magazine that she was looking at. “Buyin somethin?”

Norton hadn’t planned to, and after seeing the stock, he really couldn’t think of what.  There was a jar of jerky beside the register, and he decided that was the way he’d go if she pressed him. Places could be touchy about that these days. “I was wondering if I could use your rest room?”

The woman looked him up and down. He could almost hear her thought process. Finally she sighed, reached over behind the register and dropped the key that she’d grabbed onto the counter. “It’s to the side of the building,” she said. Her voice was raspy. “You’re not going to shit on the floor, are you?”

Norton palmed the key, trying to smirk through his confusion. And surprise. “No-o,” he said slowly. “Does that happen often?”

The lady shrugged. “Sometimes.”

He was surprised to hear it (why would she have brought it up if it never happened?), and sickened.

“If you do,” she sounded resigned, “please don’t draw a ship or a landscape or a message with it on the walls. I have to clean that up.”

“Does that happen often?” The same reasoning applied to this question, but he’d had to ask. And it was one of those questions that you don’t want the answer to.

She gave the same shrug. “Sometimes.”

“I just have to piss,” he said, not really feeling that urge any longer. And really, after talk of ships and landscapes, he felt like his urine was a bit of an under-achiever. She looked at him a bit doubtful.

Norton walked outside, noticing the musty absence at once. There were no exterior lights, only what came through the front windows and the shavings from the incomplete sign near the road. He walked along the side of the building, to the only door that he saw. There was no sign on it to distinguish it.

The single key on the ring went in easily. Norton found himself in a small box facing two doors. The only way that he could see was by holding the outer door open with his foot.

The first door that he tried opened to a storage room. That’s all it could be. The light only claimed a little, but what Norton saw was boxes. It was the second door, the one on the right, that opened to the bathroom. He could tell by the anonymous tile flooring and the bright white walls.  The smells that he had expected after that brief conversation were not here, which surprised him.

His hand hit the light switch, letting the outer door swing shut. It was a much larger bathroom than he would have suspected. There were four stalls and three sinks along the left wall. The right wall was long and empty save for a small rectangle window near the ceiling. He didn’t think that he could squeeze through it.

Careful to avoid the suspect right wall–there was no art, but the idea was enough–he headed to the first stall. When he reached out to push the door in–

“It’s occupied,” the voice said.

Norton turned, startled.  There was a thin man standing by the first sink. He hadn’t been there a second ago, Norton was sure. What the fuck was this? The man had long, shaggy hair and wore a strange suit of raked and ruined leather that was grossly oversized.

“What’s going on here?” Norton asked.

“This is your chance,” the leather man said, “to change your life.”

“Leave him alone, don’t cha?” another man called from one of the stalls. Norton had backed up to the wall, the thoughts of ships replaced with a more immediate concern. He followed that voice to the second stall, where he saw two feet. “Give some of us a chance.”

Norton, who was closely following this partitioned conversation, did not like the idea of anyone having “chances” with him. It wasn’t the kind of thing a guy wants to hear in the rest room of a rundown gas station off a lonely road in the middle of nowhere. What kind of shit was this? “I’m just trying to get to California,” Norton said. “My sister’s wedding is in ten days, so I don’t need any trouble.”

“No trouble,” leather man said. “We want to help you, Norton.” There was a mingled cacophony of agreement from the stalls. There were feet in all of them now. “Anything that you want, we can give you. Long life,” he said, taking a step forward.

“Love,” a stalled man said.

“Money,” chirped in the next.

“Fame,” the third said.

“Power!” the man in leather capitalized by pumping his fist. He lifted the large hammer, spinning it, and for a moment it moved in a blur, giving off a blear light. His shoulders looked wider. Muscles larger. Back straight, lifting his height. For a moment, he was awesome to look at and easy to fear.

But whatever he drew from, the reserves could not last. Like air leaking from a punctured tire, his body deflated. The large hummer straight out of a blacksmith’s tale that he’d limberly maneuvered slumped him over, nearly falling from his hands. He struggled to keep it from stripping from his arthritically knotted hands; it hit with enough momentum to crack the tile it landed on. His demonstration ended with him breathless, hunched over, sweat dripping from his wide nostrils, the oversized leather outfit dangling from his shoulders.

“You always take it too far,” the first stall said to general laughter.

“But I am out here, aren’t I! People still know my name,” the leather man shot back.  When he looked up at Norton, his eyes sagged, face tired. Slowly his breathing calmed.

“I really don’t think that this is for me,” Norton said.

“What–ever–you–can–dream of we can grant it. I can,” leather man promised. “For what? For nothing. Not really much, when you look at it.”

“Say my name. Think of me. Give–a little blood. One small cut to your finger. I’ll grow.  I’ll–and it doesn’t even have to be your blood,” he said excitedly.

A little blood here, more later, more after that, Norton thought, this . . . failed god growing with each drop. A vampire feeding off of alters.

“I can do more,” the first stall said, and then the others piped in.

“I don’t even need blood,” a new voice called out, wispy and tight. Norton turned, seeing the hole in the wall. FREE LOVE was written along the circumference in black marker. A pair of dry lips moved inside. “Not at all.”

“Who are you?” Norton asked.

“Shut up, Douche,” leather said.

“If it wasn’t Thursday, I’d be out there and you’d be in here,” the hole responded. “Then I’d get my day. There ain’t no rule says I can’t petition while I sit here.”

“It’s Tuesday,” Norton said.

“What!” The hole exclaimed.

“Now you done it,” the first stall said.

“I’m not going–” leather was saying as Norton backed up to the door.

He was outside in the night air before their screaming died. The key that he had been given was still in the bathroom. Norton didn’t have to piss so bad. Shit, he’d pull over up the road if he did! Blood? Walking back to his car, he repeatedly turned to look behind, thinking.  How many people had taken that deal? Hit and runs? Abductions? Serial killers! His hands were shaking when he got into the car. He was not afraid; it was the idea of what he could become.

Standing inside Elysian, the cashier was near the window.  Her shirt rippled down her chest with the six pairs of sagging breasts. What else did the darkness hide?

Ideas of blood and power and glory holes didn’t begin to fade for three miles, and then he began to wonder if it had even happened. Stopping at the side of the empty road, he was whistling along with the radio, thinking about his sister’s wedding and the jackass that she was giving her ring finger to (Norton had no illusions that she’d given him and others, many others, everything else). An hour later, his entire trip down 69 highway was a blur of music and empty scenery. He was looking forward to meandering through Utah. There was a tin can collection that he thought he might like to see. He still had to pick up a gift for his sister, too.

And behind him, on a dark road, an aged woman sat behind a counter, waiting, reading, turning the page of her fusty magazine.

  1. Hesitated to read it, but i’m glad I did. Once I started reading this I was very interested and what would happen next and continued reading. Thought to myself this would be a good movie. Ver detailed I could picture it as I read.

    • Thank you. I am glad you gave it a chance. This is one of my weirder stories. I like to try and write as detailed as I can so you do feel like your there. Even if the story isn’t very long.

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