Middle of Nowhere

The gas gauge was getting a little too close to “E,” and he was hopelessly lost.

I shoulda checked the map before I left home, he thought. This is what I get for following a non-driver’s directions. Well, not a non-driver, exactly.
His brother had finally gotten his driver’s license, but didn’t drive regularly. Plus, being rather new to New Jersey, his command of the area was limited.

After turning up one road and down another, with only a vague awareness of which direction he was heading, he finally happened upon an open gas station. Deciding not to take any chances he pulled in, drove right up to the pump, and waited.

This is strange. New Jersey doesn’t allow self-service, so somebody had to come out to pump his gas. But not only wasn’t anyone coming over, there didn’t appear to be anyone around period, though both garage doors were open, as was the front door to the station’s convenience store.

After a few more minutes of waiting, he got out of the car and ambled over to the store. There was music playing through the overhead speakers, hot dogs and sausages cooking on that roller-warmer thing, there was even coffee brewing, but the store was just as unpeopled as the station outside.

“Hello?” he called out. No answer.

“Anyone around? Hello?” Still no answer.

He shrugged, a bit put off that he’d have to try to find another station without running out of fuel, and turned to leave. As he approached the pump, he had an idea about helping himself to some free gasoline but, not knowing how to work the station personnel’s controls, he thought better of it and got in the car to leave.

Then, another light bulb lit up. Free snacks.

With a sly smile, he got back out of the car and reentered the store, grabbing a basket and filling it up with beer, large sodas, big bags of chips, and whatever else caught his eye, ever so often looking around to see if any clerk would materialize.

With a last look around, he shrugged and headed back out towards his car. But what he saw outside stopped him in his tracks.

The nozzle for the gasoline pump he had parked next to was floating free from its hook. All by itself.

As he stood and watched, his car’s gas hatch came open by itself, the gas cap removed itself, and the nozzle went into the hatch and began pumping his gasoline.

He quickly scanned his surroundings but still saw no one whose presence could explain this. Ditto inside, but before he even had a chance to figure anything out, a familiar rattling noise from inside the store startled him.

He turned to see a shopping cart rolling towards him, almost completely full. But there was lots of merchandise in the cart that he hadn’t seen on the shelves — all kinds of frozen foods, along with more beer, soda, and snacks. The basket he carried was snatched out of his hands; it floated over to the cart, where all its cargo floated out and down into the cart. Then, the clincher — a pair of plastic handcuffs floated up out of the cart towards him.

He wanted to run, but with the gas pump filling his car by itself, and his merchandise floating around by itself, he really had nowhere to turn.

Not that it would have mattered if he’d had another direction to run, for right then unseen hands got an iron grip on his wrists, immobilizing him as yet another hand dug into his back pocket and removed his wallet. The wallet floated in midair, its contents moving around as if being dug through by invisible fingers. Finally a MasterCard floated out of the wallet and over to the card reader attached to the cash register. One by one each item in the cart floated out to be read by a bar code scanner, then placed in bags. Finally his card was run through the machine as the bags floated into the cart. With no signatrue required, all he had to do — all he could do — was watch as his receipt, credit card, and wallet began floating back to him, with the fully-loaded cart rolling along behind.

The receipt folded itself and stuffed itself into the wallet, which was then stuffed back into his pocket as the card floated right out to the gas pump. When the cart rolled past, unseen hands cuffed his wrists behind his back after which it was actually the cuffs that pushed him out behind the cart. His MasterCard was charged again, this time for the gasoline, and then the rear tailgate of his SUV unlatched and swung open.

One by one the bags floated up into the SUV, which swung closed afterwards. A van that he hadn’t noticed earlier rolled up from the side of the station. The cuffs turned him around and pushed him to the back of the van, which opened its doors as unseen hands lifted him inside.

He heard a scraping noise as he was placed in the van. He looked to see a cable weaving back and forth, snakelike, as it moved to secure itself to his cuffs. In the shadows he could feel but not see the cuffs that then secured his ankles. The van shifted into gear, and of course he just had to look to see who was at the wheel.

No one. He could see the steering wheel turning, and the gas pedal and brake moving as the van pulled out of the station, but there was one sitting there. His SUV followed closely behind.

As the van got up to speed, a duffel bag in the cargo area next to him unzipped itself, its contents shuffling around as if being picked through. A CD rose from the bag and floated towards the in-dash CD player. After a moment an old familiar song began playing: “Don’t do the crime, if you can’t do the time, yeah…”

His eyes got wide as he began thrashing around, trying to get free from his bonds, to no avail. Finally, he felt a tug at his ankles, as something he couldn’t see pulled his legs taut. His boots were pulled off his feet, followed by his socks, still with no visible sign of who was responsible for all this. He began to get a crazy idea about why his captor (or captors) would want his feet bare.

The idea was apparently not his alone, because right then he began to feel fingers raking slowly across the soles of his feet. He jumped, or tried to, the tightness of the cuffs not allowing much in the way of movement.

Apparently that tightness also occurred to someone as a potential problem, because unseen hands again got a solid grip on each of his wrists and ankles while the cuffs were removed. Both sets of cuffs floated over to the still-open duffel bag and dropped in, while the hands kept their hold on him.

The dragging fintertips were soon joined by what felt like feathers, slowly dragging between his toes, up and down his ankles, and even behind his knees, though he was still had pants on.

The restraining hands allowed a bit more movement than the cuffs had, but he still wasn’t able to break free. But the effort of trying to hold in his reaction to the sensations was wearing him down. Finally he stopped struggling against the hands and began howling laughter.

In response, he began to feel more hands, fingertips, and feathers on his sides, in his armpits, sliding up and down his arms, on his chest. Feathers even began sliding around behind his ears, or at least that’s what it felt like.

All this, for helping himself to merchandise in an “unmanned” store, in the middle of nowhere…

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