Remember how I told you I’d have some fiction posted by the end of the week? Remember when I asked you for something mundane to write a flash fiction about? Well I lied. About the second one. I….I wrote more than I intended. But I think it’s good.
So, anyway, here you go. My sister gave me the topic “squeegee”, and I spun it out into a tale of madness and death. I love the fact that I get to put squeegee down as a tag for this one. Let me know what you think.
Full Service, by E W Morrow
Everyone said it was a bad spot to build a church. There were plenty of reasons: the town was too small for a second church, the side of a dusty highway was a bad location, and the locals were fiercely Lutheran. But it got built anyway, the First Baptist Church of the Holy Covenant. And for a while it looked like it would prove everyone wrong. The preacher, old Ezram Whately, was from the old school. He had a magnetic personality and his energetic rhetoric drew a bigger congregation every week. Holy light was his carrot, fire and brimstone were his stick. They even dug a pond out back that you could wade into at parts and started having multiple baptisms every Sunday. Scores of people were dipped into those cleansing waters by the end. It seemed like the small church on the edge of town would need to add an expansion barely a year after it opened.
In the end, the combination of preacher and pond was the church’s undoing. Them, and little Maggie Stephens. Little Maggie Stephens who didn’t like boys, who didn’t wear pink or have tea parties. Little Maggie Stephens who wore long sleeves to school to hide the bruises. Little Maggie Stephens who sat in church every Sunday, listened to Pastor Whately condemn the sinner, the outcast, the stranger, and preach conformity, obedience to one’s parents, and how the love of God is outweighed only by his wrath.
One night, after a fiery sermon about the sins of the flesh, little Maggie Stephens, who was never taught how to swim, walked into the pond behind the church until the waters rose above her head and wouldn’t go back until she felt clean. No one even saw her body until three days later.
That was the end of the First Baptist Church of the Holy Covenant. Two weeks later Ezram Whately delivered a sermon that outlined the special place in Hell reserved for suicides. He worked himself to a frenzy, and as he screamed his final prayer to God, he tumbled from the pulpit, clutching his chest. He didn’t live long enough to see the ambulance arrive from the next town over.
After that the congregation started to drift away. Without the red hot iron of Ezram Whately’s personality to stir the fire inside them there was nothing left to hold them together. A few months later the drought started, the pond dried up, and the church closed its doors for the last time.
Of course, all that was years ago. It was almost ancient history, to some, and the building was just sitting there. It was a perfectly fine building, a little simple but soundly made, and five years after the church disbanded the building was bought by a middle aged man named Bill Laury. Bill was a farmer and had suffered a few bad years in the drought. He decided to get out while he could, sold his land and his meager crops from the year and used the money as collateral to get a loan from the bank. He did most of the work himself, using his son when he needed him and contractors for the bigger jobs. He knocked out a few walls in the church, installed big glass windows in the front of the building and even paid to have a big, industrial air conditioner installed out back. It was noisy, but it turned the old building into an oasis in the summer heat. The dry pond was reshaped, lined with concrete and connected to a series of pipes leading to the old church’s parking lot. Large, cylindrical gasoline tanks were dropped in and covered up. In the parking lot they installed four fuel pumping stations on concrete plinths and a brightly colored canopy. Out of deference to the building’s original use and the holy ground he considered it built on, Bill Laury decided to name his business “Covenant Gas and Convenience”.
That was the kind of man Bill Laury was. He liked tradition, and history. He liked to sit around and remember the “good times”, which he considered to be better times. And that was how he ran the gas station. He advertised it as “The only full service station in 100 miles. A family business for your family to visit.”
And it was a family business. Bill and his wife, Veera, minded the store and their son, Bill Jr. pumped the gas, cleaned the windows, checked the tires, and hung the complementary air freshener around the rear view mirror.
It was a good business. Everyone said it was a great spot for a gas station. It was right on the edge of town on a dusty stretch of highway, a welcome relief from the heat of the road. A much better place for a gas station that it was for a church, that’s what everyone said. And for a while, it seemed like it would prove everyone right.
Bill and Veera always marveled at how good Bill Jr. was at his job. He was a typical teenager, not a bad kid, but a bit lazy, and undeniably messy. It was strange to them, then, that a job so focused on cleanliness would fit him so well.
Bill Jr. could clean an entire car, it seemed, with just his pail of soapy water and his rubber squeegee. Travelers coming in from the highway were surprised to come out of the air conditioned store and see their cars completely free of dust and bug guts, the windows spotless and the hub caps gleaming. He would nod to them politely as they inspected their vehicles and then smile and go refill his bucket.
One day his father asked him how he could clean a car so well and so fast, but leave his room a complete and utter mess. Bill Jr. just shrugged and claimed ignorance. Parents never understood. And besides, how could he explain what he was only vaguely aware of? How the soothing motion of the rubber as it wiped away the grime and dust felt left him feeling so content. How washing away the dirt was like he was purifying himself every time he did it? How the plastic rod of the squeegee in his hand felt so natural, and how he fantasized sometimes that it was his sword, a holy blade of truth striking down the unclean. When he had the squeegee in his hand, he hated things to be left unclean. If he had had to explain it, Bill Jr would have said it was a religious experience every time he dipped the squeegee into the cleansing waters.
The last day that Covenant Gas and Convenience was open was a hot Sunday in July. There had been no customers all day, which was unusual for the weekend. The sun arched high in the sky and trailed lazily downwards again. Bill Jr. sat in the shade of the canopy, perfectly still except for his fingers which traced little circles on the rubber grip of the squeegee, caressing it gently. He hadn’t cleaned a car all day.
On the horizon he spotted it, a white sports car trailing a faint cloud of dust as it sped down the highway. It slowed as it neared the station, as if unsure about its intention to stop. Bill Jr gripped his squeegee tightly and held his breath. He felt his pulse quicken. The car slowed down even more and then finally curved its way into the station. Bill Jr. released his breath.
It was a Camaro convertible, a few years old and bright white except where the dust had colored it orange. Despite the dust and the heat the top was down and a youngish man in a peach polo and khaki shorts climbed out. Bill Jr. walked up to him, smiled brightly and saluted with his squeegee.
“Afternoon,” he said jovially.
“Hey,” said the man as he patted his pockets.
“If you folks wanna head inside out of this heat I can fill her up for you. Clean the windows and the like.” Bill Jr. hoped his smile wasn’t too eager.
“Umm…” the man began.
“No charge.” Bill Jr. assured him.
“Alright, yeah. Put forty bucks in, regular, thanks.” He turned to look back at the car “You coming babe?”
“Just a minute.” A slim woman with big sunglasses was digging in her purse distractedly. She waved her hand impatiently and the man shrugged and walked into the store.
Bill Jr walked around to the side of the car and started pumping the gas. While it started going he dipped his squeegee in the soapy, slightly blue water. The woman started to get out of the car, then stopped and dove into her bag again. Bill Jr. ignored her. He was preparing for the cleansing.
There was a gurgle from the back seat. Bill Jr looked back to see a small child in a car seat. She—Bill Jr guess it was she since it was clothed from head to foot in bright pink and had a ribbon in its hair—was dozing in the heat of the late afternoon, squirming a little as if she were dreaming.
“What’s her name?” Bill Jr. asked politely.
“Huh?” the woman asked, not looking up.
“What’s her name?” Bill Jr. repeated patiently.
“Oh, that’s Maggie. Is she still asleep?”
“Yes mam, looks like it.”
“Good,” she said, finally finding whatever she was looking for, or simply giving up. She got out of the car, closed the door quietly, and hustled into the store. In the back seat Maggie slumbered.
Bill started on the windshield. Each wipe of the rubber on the glass sent a chill through his spine. A few seconds later he was done. He unslung a rag from his belt and wiped the rubber blade.
In the back seat Maggie had started to drool. It dripped down her chin and landed on the car seat before it oozed over the edge and onto the leather seat of the car.
Babies sure are messy, Bill Jr. thought as he scrubbed the car’s headlights. He was done about fifteen seconds later. No dust was left to dim the headlight beams. He went over to the pump and squeezed the last few cents of fuel into the car before placing the nozzle back in its holster and screwing the Camaro’s cap back on.
Maggie burped a quiet little burp. Tiny flecks of spit blew out from her mouth.
I just can’t understand why anyone would want kids, Bill Jr. thought as he sloshed water over the hood of the car with his squeegee. They’re so dirty. Unclean. Maggie. He even thought the name sounded bad, but didn’t know why. He skimmed the squeegee over the hood of the car in a few quick motions, completely removing all of the dust and bits of bugs splattered across it. His heart sang as he wiped away the filth.
A small trail of pale green goo leaked from Maggie’s nose. As she breathed little bubbles formed, bloomed, and then deflated.
Bill Jr. gripped the handle of his squeegee very tightly indeed as he cleaned the sides of the car. The dust was exceptionally fine in these parts and swathes of orange turned white with every pass of his hand. All he had left to do now was clean the tires, which he always left for last so he could check their air pressure as he went. The tires must have been almost brand new, barely any wear on the treads as he checked. He rose from his crouch at the back of the car and smiled to himself. Then he sniffed the air, and his smile faded.
Maggie’s diaper was full. It was easy to tell because the smell hung in the air. Bill Jr. felt like gagging. He stood there for a moment, adjusted his grip on the squeegee, and held his breath. A bead of sweat trickled down his cheek. From somewhere a long way away and yet somehow just at his fingertips a thought appeared in his mind. It was his only car of the day, and he wasn’t going to leave the job unfinished. Just one more thing to clean, and then the car, and he, would be pure.
The youngish man in the peach polo shirt stepped out of the store a few minutes later. He held the door open for his wife as she glared at her cell phone, holding it out to try and get more bars. Halfway to his car he passed Bill Jr, who had a look of peace and contentment on his face. Glancing at his car he arched his eyebrows in surprise. The car’s exterior was spotless. There was even a little green tree hanging on the rear view mirror. He turned to call after Bill Jr. to thank him, compliment him on a job well done, but stopped when he saw the teenager emptying the bucket into a drain. Why on Earth was the water so red?
His wife’s scream nearly jolted him out of his skin. He ran to where she was by the side of the car and caught her as she fell to her knees. Then he glanced in the back of the car to see what could have affected her so intensely. The sight that greeted him nearly took him down to his knees as well, but he managed to stay standing and instead vomited over the side of the car. The light brown liquid spattered and mixed with the crimson.
“Don’t worry,” Bill Jr. called, holding the squeegee tightly in his hand like the fiery sword of God. He felt good. Pure. Clean. “Lemme fill my bucket back up and I’ll clean that right up for you.”