Anson wasn't coming. Nobody was coming. Gilbert was all alone at the Fuel Fast.
At first, he'd treated the inexplicable relocation of his entire gas station as a test. For a reason known only to the clever corporate executives, Gilbert's gas station had magically transported itself from a corner of his comfortable city to this desert wasteland. It wasn't up to him to understand why. He only needed to prove that he would follow the principles in the employee handbook and carry out his duties for as long as his superiors required.
He'd fought sleep at the beginning, dutifully manning the store, fueled by energy drinks and corporate slogans. It is our privilege to give optimal customer service twenty-four hours a day. Our community depends on us to be the best. Gilbert wouldn't be the weak link in the company chain.
Then came the thieves. They appeared in their blue convertible, stole from him, assaulted him, disarmed him and drove away. He wasn't sure if they were part of the test, but he'd done everything by the book. He couldn't reach the police, but he wrote an incident report and reviewed the security tapes. He'd done nothing wrong.
Soon after came the hulking giant of a man with the cosplay horns. The man fueled his jeep, took all the hot dogs and paid with a gold coin. Gilbert had insisted he could not accept foreign currency, but the giant only scoffed and left. Again, Gilbert wrote an incident report.
Then, Gilbert was alone. His streak of constant vigilance ended a day after the horned giant left. He had been standing at the register, gripping the counter, fighting back sleep with coffee and gritted teeth. Next thing he knew, he woke up on cold white tile staring at a jelly stain under the counter. He'd been unconscious for more than a day. The security tapes proved it.
There was no excuse for leaving the store unattended. This would earn him more than a reprimand. He'd lose his job. He'd be unemployable. It was the end of everything.
Days passed, and no more customers appeared. Gilbert moved about the store as if in a dark dream, sweeping the spotless floor, mopping, scrubbing, arranging and rearranging the display racks. Anything to atone for his sin. But he couldn't deny himself any more sleep. He made a bed behind the counter with rags and smocks.
Then one morning as he checked the garbage bins by the pumps, something snapped inside him. He stared in the empty can, dizzy from all the junk food. "I'm all alone," he muttered.
He scanned the horizon. No one was out there. Gilbert was alone on an endless dead plain. There was no customers, no corporate review board, no permanent record. He would die alone in a gas station...
...and nothing mattered.
He returned to the store in a daze, his mind unable to grasp this empty world without corporate consequences. He took a candy bar from a shelf and dropped the wrapper on the floor. He shoved it whole into his mouth. He took off his bow tie and laughed out loud, spewing food chunks across the floor. He didn't bother to clean it.
He took a six-pack of beer from the cooler and started the first can.After a day of hedonistic gluttony, he lost his senses and began hallucinating. Just after sunset, an unearthly roar broke Gilbert's lonely silence. He jumped up from where he lay in the candy bar aisle, spun around and discovered a huge winged reptile outside the front windows. The dragon formed a dark silhouette in the parking lot, the piss-yellow lights of the fueling canopy giving it a glowing yellow outline. Its wings spread out, eclipsing the night. Its eyes glowed orange. Gilbert thought he saw a hooded figure sitting on the dragon's back.
He stared out at his hallucination for a silent moment. The hallucination stared back. Then the dragon flapped its wings and leapt up into the night. Once he was sure the dream was over, Gilbert found oblivion in a bottle of Nyquil and another six-pack of 3.2 beer.
Days passed, and the hallucinations didn't return. Outside was an endless plane of pale earth. No one was out there. No one was coming. Gilbert remained alone.
* * *
He didn't hear the door chime over the pounding beat from the radio. Gilbert danced in front of the beer cooler wearing only his unwashed boxer shorts. "You're as cold as ice," he wailed as he danced, bobbing his head to the old familiar tune. " You're willing to sacrifice our love!"
He twirled, he did the twist. He pounded his fists in the air. " You want paradise, but someday you'll pay the price my—"
A customer stood in the doorway, watching him.