Chewing Gum

The sand was hitting the window in waves, drowning out the radio. The reception on the radio in a sandstorm was non-existent anyway, so I turned it off and just gazed out at the yellowy orange haze. 

On this stretch of road, the gas station was always a little quiet, but in the middle of a duster, you’d be lucky to get any customers at all until it was over. The sandstorms out here could last for hours, so I took my book from my bag, put my feet up on the counter and got ready for the long haul of a quiet shift. 

After an hour or two, a set of headlights pulled off the road and onto the forecourt. I couldn’t see the vehicle clearly, but not even the haze of sand could block out the stream of black smoke coming from the engine bay. I put my book on the side and waited.

Someone got out of the vehicle, and I could see them covering their eyes as they made their way over. The door opened and sand poured in, swirling around the entrance until they closed the door behind them.

The man was dressed in a tweed suit, with a tartan tie. When he approached the counter, I got the feeling of a fireplace on a winter’s day, of Christmas carols and mulled wine. It was then that I realised he smelled of fir trees. 

‘Need any help?’ I asked, nodding over towards the trail of smoke.

He looked down at my name tag, ‘Thanks for asking, Jim, but I’m fine’. He rooted around in his pockets and pulled out a handful of coins. ‘How many packets of chewing gum would this buy?’ he asked dumping the coins on the counter. 

I moved the coins around, counting them as I did, ‘Three packets with a few coins left over.’

‘Give me a packet then please, Jim’ 

I handed him a packet and left the change on the counter. He opened the packet, dumped all of them into his mouth, and began chewing. 

As he looked up at the sky he said something completely inaudible, ‘Pardon?’ I replied.

He stopped chewing, ‘Tell me, Jim – do you ever see anything strange in the skies out here?’

‘Not really,’ I replied. 

He took the sticky mess out of his mouth and put it into his pocket. ‘Another packet please, Jim’. 

I handed him another packet and he repeated dumping them all in his mouth and began chewing. I watched him chewing and after a minute or two. He stopped, ‘Tell me, Jim – do you ever get any strange people passing through here?’

I was about to reply that one of them was standing right in front of me, but something stopped me, ‘Not really,’ I replied. 

He took the sticky mess out of his mouth and put it into his pocket. ‘Another packet please, Jim’. 

I watched him chewing and after a minute or two he stopped again. ‘Tell me, Jim – do you know what these sandstorms are covering up?’

I frowned. 

He turned around and looked into my eyes. I felt dark wintery nights sweep through my heart and my vision blurred. Then he was standing by the vehicle with the hood up, pulled the wad of chewing gum out of his pocket and the smoke was gone. 

As he drove off, the radio started blaring out music and I looked in confusion. I turned back around, and the skies were a perfectly, clear blue expanse.

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