Forever We Must Travel


by Norsebard







This short horror story is to be categorized as an Uber. All characters are created by me, though some of them may remind you of someone.

The story contains some profanity. Readers who are easily offended by bad language may wish to read something other than this story.

All characters depicted, names used, and incidents portrayed in this story are fictitious. No identification with actual persons is intended nor should be inferred. Any resemblance of the characters portrayed to actual persons, living or dead is purely coincidental.

The registered trademarks mentioned in this story are © of their respective owners. No infringement of their rights is intended, and no profit is gained.





Written: for the 2017 Royal Academy of Bards' Halloween Invitational.

- As always, thank you for your help, Wendy Arthur :)

- Wynne Donohue and Mandy Jalinski were introduced in the short story Silent Invasion which is available at the Royal Academy of Bards in the anthology Book Of Chills, Volume 2.

As usual, I'd like to say a great, big THANK YOU to my mates at AUSXIP Talking Xena, especially to the gals and guys in Subtext Central. I really appreciate your support - Thanks, everybody! :D


Description: Some gals are just plain unlucky, others merely suffer from poor timing. The name Wynne Donohue appears in both categories. If the price of her favorite beer hadn't gone up, she wouldn't even have considered spending Halloween working at Otto Kulick's gas station as a night attendant - but it did, and so she, her main squeeze Mandy Jalinski, and their two dogs Blackie and Goldie are about to have another run-in with spooky visitors from beyond the known dimensions…





Otto Kulick's Gas 'n Go! independent gas station was located eight miles east of Goldsboro, a small Western town in the middle of nowhere. Before the main freeway that bypassed the entire area had been built, the Gas 'n Go! had been buzzing most of the time from the steady flow of traffic that had used the US Route that ran past it. It'd had a stylish cafeteria, a thirty-bed motel, and an auto repair shop with enough room to work on five cars at a time.

The issue that played the largest part in the political process that led to the construction of the freeway - and subsequently to the rapid decline of the gas station - was the high number of fatalities on the twisting, treacherous stretch of the two-lane road that formed the US Route. Not a month would go by without one or more serious accidents, and the yearly death toll stood at six to eight for decades until the freeway was opened in March 2012. After that date, it fell to zero.

The competition from the freeway had been manageable at first, but little by little, the number of customers at Otto Kulick's Gas 'n Go! grew less until it ended at hardly any at all. The motel closed down and was ultimately demolished, as was the Art Deco building that housed the stylish cafeteria. The auto repair shop was still open, but two of the three trucks that were parked over the five grease pits had not turned a wheel for years - the third was a newer model that belonged to the attendant.

Life on any gas station could be described as ninety percent boredom and ten percent excitement. If the gas station was located way out of town, another three percentage points should be added to the 'boredom' column. If the gas station was way out of town and on a deserted stretch of road, like Otto Kulick's Gas 'n Go!, another four percentage points needed to be added to the 'boredom' category. If the gas station was way out of town, on a deserted stretch of road, and the poor sap behind the counter had been forced to pull five all-nighters in a row because it was her first week working there, all the remaining percentage points should be removed from the 'excitement' column and added to the other one.

Wynne Donohue, now thirty-six but still as rugged and unpolished as ever in her all-denim outfit, leaned against the counter sporting a thousand-mile stare. Her pale-blue eyes had all but glazed over as she looked out of the window onto the pitch-black landscape outside. The US Route still ran past the gas station's two pump isles - featuring one leaded, two unleaded, and a quick-flow diesel pump for the semis - but no customers were reflected in the strip lights that shone down from the oval roof that covered the pumps.

Yawning, Wynne scratched her dark locks and stepped away from the counter. The leather soles and wooden heels of her cowboy boots clicked loudly on the linoleum floor as she shuffled around the store to push in or pull out some of the many different items carried on the shelves.

Though she was required to wear a T-shirt that carried the Gas 'n Go! company logo across the chest, she had not shed her beloved lined denim jacket that added just the right amount of rural ruggedness to her ensemble. The cowboy boots, the lined jacket, the heavily faded, straight-cut jeans and the sheepskin gloves that she always carried in one of her rear pockets all came together to shape the image of the Last Original Cowpoke that she loved to convey - that her riding skills were sorely lacking because she was scared stiff of large animals was another story entirely.

All that was missing from her outfit was her low-crowned, somewhat greasy and definitely well-worn cowboy hat, but the clothing item was hung on a nail each evening she arrived at work. No self-proclaimed cowpoke would ever wear their hat indoors, nosirree.

A guttural growl coming from behind the counter made Wynne turn back around and crouch down. Soon, a near-black German Shepherd came slip-sliding around the corner and into Wynne's waiting arms. "Ooooh, Blackie!" she said, giving the guard dog a solid rubdown that made it yelp with pleasure. "Betcha bored stiff, huh?  I know I am. Dang, if only them beers I love hadn't become so dang expensive all of a sudden… I'd never'ha taken this lousy job otherwise."

A short Woof? was heard from the corner of the counter, no doubt prompted by the happy yelping that came from the fierce-looking guard dog. A Golden Retriever soon peeked around the corner to see if there was trouble in store. When everything looked to be perfectly safe, the cautious dog moved ahead with its claws clicking loudly on the smooth floor. Barking again, she jumped forward and into her owner's arms.

Wynne laughed out loud as she found herself knocked onto her behind by the rampant couple of hot dogs. "Goldie!  C'mere, girl!  Dang, ya needy tonight… can't say that I blame ya. Oh, if only my sweet, li'l Mandy was here… man, I'd be gettin' some sweet rubbin' too, heh heh…"

The two dogs let out a few knowing barks like they had a solid understanding of what their owner meant. "Yeah," Wynne said as she got back on her feet and dusted off her hands. "Maybe I oughtta slap an Out Of Gas-sign on the pumps an' head back on home to my trailer?  Nah, I only jus' got this dang job. And I need the greenbacks… naw!  Tell ya wotcha I'mma-gonna do, girls…"

Blackie and Goldie's tails wagged side to side as the two dogs swarmed around Wynne's legs; a few more barks were let out like they were urging the tall woman on.

"I'mma-gonna call my sweet, li'l de-per-ty up on this here telephone jus' to hear her voice purrin' in my ear. Yessir, that's what I'mma-gonna do," Wynne continued, shuffling over to the counter to pick up her smartphone.

She squinted hard as she looked at the advance piece of home electronics. Although she understood the basics and was able to use most of the features it provided, she had never become familiar with it on the same scale as her trusty, old CB radio before it had conked out for good. One had to move with the times or fall behind, so Wynne found Mandy's number in the registry, established the call and held the telephone to her ear.


Five miles east of the Gas 'n Go!, in an area best described as being so far removed from all traces of civilization that it might as well have been on the dark side of the moon, a white Dodge Durango SUV from the Goldsboro sheriff's office was parked in a gravel-strewn pocket at the side of the two-lane road.

The upper sections of the rear doors were open revealing that a speed trap camera had been set up to catch the speeders and reckless drivers who would use the US Route to wring the most out of their cars. Unfortunately, it seemed that Sheriff Artie Rains had grossly overestimated the number of speeders and reckless drivers who would drive past at eleven thirty at night on Halloween evening when he had given the assignment to the deputy in charge, Mandy Jalinski.

Inside the Durango, the thirty-seven-year-old Mandy sat behind the wheel sporting a thousand-mile stare. Her hazel eyes had all but glazed over as she looked out of the windshield onto the pitch-black landscape outside. She was in full uniform as required by the sheriff, but the polyester outfit of high-waisted, dark-brown pants and a pale-brown shirt - featuring dark-brown shoulder straps and flaps for the breast pockets - did her compact, athletic frame no favors.

Snapping out of her daze, she shuffled around in the seat to adjust her utility belt that carried her nightstick, handcuffs, can of pepper spray, the two-way radio and her service sidearm. Her mountie hat was on the seat next to her, so she was able to scratch her short, blond hair unhindered while her face cracked open in an wide yawn.

She had been at the side of the road for one hour fifty-two minutes during which time she had not seen one, single vehicle. Her hand was already on its way over to the Durango's integrated radio to inform the night-dispatcher she was about to break off the assignment when her own telephone came alive underneath her mountie hat. She had set it to 'silent' so the ringtone would not freak her out in the tomb-like solitude, and the buzzing made the mountie hat dance across the seat.

Although Sheriff Rains had banned the use of personal telephones while on duty, all the deputies had continued to take their phones along on assignments since they were the only things that would help them kill time.

A smile creased Mandy's lips when she saw the caller-ID. Accepting the call, she put the telephone to her ear. "Hi, honey," she purred, causing the woman at the other end of the connection to let out a saucy laugh.

'Hi there, De-per-ty Mandy… Lawrdie, it's good to hear your voice. How's it hangin' out there, come back?'

"How many times do I have to tell ya that you don't need to use the CB lingo over the telephone, Wynne?" Mandy said with a tired snicker. "But beyond that… I'm boring my ass off."

'Me too. It's been deathly quiet tonight.'


'Yeah. Even worse than normal.'

"Same here."

'Man, I can't believe that our oh-so-friendly Sheriff Artie is still givin' ya all them shitty assignments after all these years… I mean… ya got enough seniority or whatever-the-hell it's called to get all them sweet jobs, but no!  Whenever there's somethin' shitty goin' on, you're first in line for the shovelin'. Well pardon mah French, but it stinks!'

"That's how it is, Wynne. You know Artie Rains."

'Don't I ever!  Man!'

"Did you want anything besides moan about the sheriff?"

'Ain't that enough?  Naw, I just wanted to hear your sweet, li'l voice purrin' in my ear. I couldn't tempt ya to come over here an' share a bowl of soup and a can o' Coke or somethin', could I?'

"You could, actually," Mandy said and let out a sigh. Craning her neck, she checked out the near-abandoned stretch of road that ran past her well-hidden spot in the gravelly pocket, but it was as deserted as it had been for the entire duration of her assignment.


"Yeah. And I'll be on my way in two minutes," Mandy continued as she opened the driver's side door.

'Awright!' Wynne cried which made Blackie and Goldie let out a few, happy barks in the background. 'I'll find a good soup and ready the nuker. Bye!'

"Can't wait. Talk to ya soon," Mandy continued as she stepped down onto the loose gravel. Once the connection had been closed, she shuffled around to the back of the Durango to turn off the speed camera and close the top part of the rear doors.

Sighing, she looked at the vast void that surrounded her on all sides. Although the sandy, rocky desert floor held plenty of wildlife, none of it had any interest in revealing itself to her apart from plenty of chirping created by the night-time insects. After a few moments of quiet reflection, Mandy shuffled back behind the wheel and drove off.


A handful of minutes later, she drove into the forecourt of the Gas 'n Go! and parked the Durango off to the left so it would be out of the way of any potential customers. Getting out, she took her expensive mountie hat - that she had to pay for herself - and shuffled across the loose gravel.

Before she could reach the door, Wynne stepped outside the store wearing her indispensable low-crowned cowboy hat. Mandy grinned at the sight of the tall, rugged - and ruggedly sexy - denim-clad cowpoke she had spent the past six years sharing a trailer with. "Hi, honey," she purred, putting out her arms so she could pull her main squeeze in for a hug.

"Hello there, De-per-ty Mandy," Wynne said with a grin before she allowed herself to be given a good crush by the shorter, but stronger, woman. A nice, little kiss was on the cards as well before they pulled apart. "Mercy Sakes, I had almost forgotten how butt-ugly that there polyester nightmare is… Lawrdie, ain't it possible for you de-per-ties to get some nicer-lookin' duds?"

"The sheriff is a money-pincher. You know that. Hell, we have to pay for our own damn hats," Mandy said and tapped her index finger against the flat rim of the mountie hat.

"He must be related to old man Otto Kulick, jr.," Wynne said, shuffling around so she stood behind Mandy. Wallowing in the deputy's natural scent, she grinned and leaned down to get a good grip around the shorter woman's strong upper body. "I swear, we ain't even got a single pumpkin inside. Nothin'!  And it's Halloween!"

Mandy let out a dark chuckle as she gestured at the empty pumps. "Why bother?  It's not like you have any customers either."

"True. Aw, wouldya look at them there gorgeous stars tonight. Ain't they perdy?" Wynne said, pointing up at the dark sky where the stars were out in force. "Lookie, there's an airplane up there…" she continued, moving her hand in a sweeping arc to track a pair of blinking lights in the far distance.

"Well, I sure as hell hope that it is an airplane, Wynne!" Mandy said and let out a hoarse chuckle. " 'Cos I had all the excitement a woman could ever want the first time around!"

Wynne let out a matching chuckle as she reached down to pull the deputy into a backwards hug. "Yeah. Don't this jus' remind you of the night we first met?"

"Kinda… only without the crazy drama."

"Man, I still cringe when I think of the crapola movie the Shlock Channel made from our experiences… they messed up everythin' there was to mess up!"

"I still cringe when I think of all the money those crook lawyers conned us out of," Mandy mumbled, remembering the days when she and Wynne had been given the runaround by the movie studio's legal team who had all but promised them that the movie based on their incredible adventure with the aliens from outer space was sure to make a grand profit - well, the promises had failed to deliver, just like the movie.

"But never mind that now," Wynne said and moved back from her partner's fit frame. "Let's go inside and chow down that hot soup an' some Coke."


Over the course of the next thirty minutes, a good time was had by Wynne and Mandy who had moved into a small, private room at the back of the main store to share a bowl of steaming hot spiced tomato soup and a cool can of diet Pepsi. After a little silliness and plenty of loving, the two women walked back through the bead curtain and allowed Blackie and Goldie to join in on the fun by giving them another solid rubdown.

As Wynne turned on the gas station's tiny TV to watch the news at midnight, Mandy took the dogs outside to let them play a while. The news was as depressing as ever, but the previews of the all-night cavalcade of an old, black-and-white horror anthology show that was scheduled to come on after the block of commercials looked to offer plenty of goosebump-inducing fun.

Mandy had just stepped back into the main store with the dogs in tow when the inevitable happened - the lights dimmed throughout the entire gas station. It was a brown-out rather than a full black-out, but it lasted for several seconds and was strong enough to make the refrigerators, the electronic cash register and the TV turn off. Outside, the strip lights that shone down upon the fuel pumps began to flicker on and off like they had a hard time deciding what to do. After a few moments, they stayed on for good, but one of them seemed to have taken some damage.

"Aw, shit… please tell me that didn't jus' happen…" Wynne said hoarsely, looking at all the electric appliances around her that had gone on the blink from one second to the next.

"Hell yes, it did," Mandy said, rubbing her brow. At her feet, Goldie whimpered and had curled herself up into a ball, but Blackie let out a guttural growl and hustled over to the large windows overlooking the forecourt.

When Wynne noticed the refrigerators had gone into sleep-mode, she hurried over there to turn them back to full power so the various items inside would not go bad. "Man!  I caught them bandits jus' in time… if all them salads and sandwiches and those things had gone bad, old man Kulick woulda skinned me alive."

Blackie kept up her growling from her spot at the window, and Wynne and Mandy shared a long, meaningful glance. "Aw, don't even think about sayin' it…" Wynne whined.

Mandy let out a long, heartfelt sigh as she pulled open the little button that held her service sidearm in place. "I have to. There's something out there."

"Aw, hell… she done said it," Wynne said and covered her eyes with her hands. "Why'dya hafta say it, Mandy?  Couldn't we jus', kinda, ignore it for a change?!  Why is it always us who get caught up in these here weird, weird deals?  Aw, hell…"

Mandy had already joined Blackie at the window, but even though there was nothing to see, the guard dog continued to growl. Wynne shuffled over to them a short while later with a look upon her face that spelled out quite clearly that she would much rather be anywhere else at that particular moment in time.

"I'm gonna take a stroll to check out the perimeter," Mandy said, putting on her mountie hat. "Maybe a skunk or something took a leak onto the power lines."

"Or maybe we's about to get involved in somethin' weird, creepy an' freaky all over again!" Wynne croaked, clinging onto Mandy's polyester uniform. "It's jus' past midnight on Halloween… the witchin' hour… hell, we oughtta call it the bitchin' hour with all the crap that comes our way!"

Chuckling, Mandy reached up to pat her partner's hand. "Just stay here with Goldie while Blackie and I take a look out back."

"Well, okay, but-"

The rest of the sentence got stuck in Wynne's throat when a pair of pale-blue orbs of light raced past out on the two-lane road. The lights had gone by so fast that she had not even had time to blink - not only that, but they had made no sound whatsoever. "Whut. Wus. That?" she croaked.

"What?" Mandy said, looking up from making sure all her items were in place on her utility belt.

"The lights… ya didn't see them lights?  Them blue lights out there on the road?" Wynne continued, speaking in the same croaking voice.

"I didn't see 'em. Headlights?  Typical. I spend two flippin' hours out there-"

"I ain't sure they be headlights… aw, I dunno what they were… jus' blue lights zippin' past… it was kinda freaky- Oh!"

Letting out a croaking cry, Wynne pointed straight ahead as two additional pairs of pale-blue lights zoomed past going from left to right at what had to be at least one hundred miles per hour - again, the orbs created no sound, not even the faintest whoosh.

"Okay…" Mandy said, staring wide-eyed at the road that had already turned dark again. "I did see that… what was that?"

"You're askin' me?  How the hell should I know, de-per-ty?!"

They kept their eyes peeled to the road outside the store's large window, but there was no repeat of the strange phenomenon. Mandy chewed on her lips as she drew her service sidearm from its holster to give it a check-up. "Well… whatever it was… or is… I'm still gonna sweep the perimeter," she said as she opened the glass door and stepped out onto the forecourt.

"Awright, but I ain't stayin' here all by my lonesome, no Ma'am!" Wynne said and followed close behind.


The Gas 'n Go! was as quiet as it had been the entire evening, but Mandy and Wynne still undertook a complete tour of the premises - the search was ultimately fruitless as they found nothing untoward of any kind.

While the deputy shone her powerful flashlight onto every surface and into every nook and cranny she could find, Wynne kept scanning the skies for the familiar black hole that would indicate that a UFO was near. "Nothin'," she said, pushing her cowboy hat back from her forehead so she could rub her brow.

"Not even a stir-fried skunk," Mandy added as they turned the corner of the auto repair shop to go back onto the lit forecourt. Since the flashlight was no longer needed, she pressed the button which made it turn off.

"Weird," Wynne said, pushing the hat back in place. She came to a halt by the diesel pump to lean against it, but her eyes kept tracking Mandy's fit frame as the deputy returned the flashlight to the Durango. "How come you 'an me always get mixed up in these here weird, weird deals, Mandy?  I jus' don't get it. I do know it's slowly startin' ta rub… me… the… wrong…" Her voice trailed off into nothing when her keen hearing picked up a faint sound that reached her from somewhere out in the pitch-black darkness. The sound was a familiar one, but it made very little sense under the given circumstances.

The sound was drowned out by Mandy shutting the passenger side door of the SUV, but it returned once the deputy moved away from the police vehicle and strode across the forecourt. "Now what, honey?  You look like you've seen a ghost…"

Wynne waved at her partner to get her to quiet down in a hurry so she would not lose track of the sound. "Shhhh!  Do you hear that?" she said in a croaking whisper, putting a hand behind an ear to illustrate.

Mandy stopped to listen; a moment later, her face morphed into a big question mark. "What the hell… hoofbeats?"

Before Wynne had time to answer, an ancient-looking carriage drawn by a single horse appeared from the darkness. A woman in old-fashioned garb sat on the buckboard controlling the reins. When she reached the entry to the Gas 'n Go!, she tugged the reins which made the horse pull the squeaking carriage onto the forecourt. She had no need for the fuel pumps so she drove past the two isles and came to a halt just inside the cone of light that shone down from the oval roof. Once the carriage had settled down, the woman threw the reins over the railing atop the buckboard but made no move to jump off or communicate with Wynne or Mandy.

"A horse an' carriage… at this time o' night?  Freaky an' gettin' freakier," Wynne said, scratching her neck. "Mandy… I think this is only the beginnin' of somethin'… somethin'… hell, somethin' weird. I'm thinkin' ya'll better get your Mossberg ready there, darlin'…"

"No need for the shotgun just yet, Wynne. It's just an old woman driving an old carriage," Mandy said and walked closer to the vehicle. The woman atop the buckboard continued to ignore her, even when she tried to wave. "Who appears to be deaf and blind… all right. It's a little weird, I'll give you that," the deputy said, coming to a halt before she got too close.

The strange woman wore a voluminous dress that seemed too cumbersome for daily wear, and the puffy hat she had pulled down to her ears to protect her graying locks had not been at the cutting edge of fashion for over a century. She and her horse kept quiet and continued to mind their own business.

Without warning, the forecourt of the Gas 'n Go! was invaded by what seemed to be an entire squadron of the pale-blue orbs of light. Racing out of the desert in a disorderly fashion, the lights tore around and around performing impossible maneuvers that no man-made object could ever attempt.

They zipped in, zoomed out, streaked high into the sky and tumbled back down like leaves; they flew in ever-decreasing circles until they were mere pinpoints of blue light against the dark backdrop. Once they had been reduced to a single light, they spread out in a starburst which produced a host of blue orbs that began the entire pattern over.

In the middle of all that, Mandy stood stock-still with her mouth all agape while she watched the otherworldly lightshow. Wynne had little time to be wowed by the colors since she had already freaked out to such an extent that she ran around the forecourt with her arms flailing in the air. Ducking and diving, she tried to evade the orbs that came far too close for her liking - unfortunately, her hat was knocked askew by an orb of light at the worst possible moment, and she ended up running nose-first into one of the support pillars holding up the oval roof. "Oooooh!  Mah nothe… Ah bumped mah nothe…" she croaked, pinching the bridge of her abused member.

From one moment to the next, the pale-blue orbs disappeared back into the desert as fast as they had come. The old woman atop the buckboard had never reacted to the strange goings-on, and she remained oddly detached to the world around her.

Bending over, Wynne let out a few mumbled curses as she scooped up her errant cowboy hat and plunked it down on her dark locks. "Knockin' mah hat offa mah head!  Buncha no-good varmints… jus' like them there alien Q-Tips who gone an' blew up mah old truck all them years ago!  Mandy?  You all right?"

"I'm fine. You?" Mandy shouted back as she ran across the forecourt to check out the two-lane road and the immediate surroundings. The orbs had all gone clean out of sight in the few moments it took her to get there, and the desert had once again assumed its eternal stillness.

"Jus' about… my nose needs some o' your TLC. I swear, darlin', much more o' this weirdness an' I'mma-gonna pack my stuff an' move to Alaska!"

"I don't know, honey," Mandy said and holstered her sidearm, "there's plenty of weird stuff going on in Alaska, too. And I'll bet it would find us!"

"I s'pose. Hawaii, then!  Anywhere but the desert!" Wynne continued, straightening her jacket and her jeans.

Mandy was about to add a quip to the banter when she happened to glance east. A pale-blue patch of fog that did not look natural crawled along the two-lane road heading toward the gas station. Though the fog behaved like a real patch would by billowing and growing in a random fashion, the odd-looking, pale-blue flashes that went off inside it at irregular intervals gave it an eerie quality that sent a cold trickle down the deputy's back. "Uh… Wynne… Wynne, I think we oughtta…" she said, stumbling back from the approaching patch of ghostly fog.

"Oughtta what?"

"Get our asses inside in an almighty hurry!" Mandy cried and spun around. Though her legs were shorter than her partner's, her athletic frame meant she was quicker, and she sprinted across the forecourt in no time flat.

Wynne's cowboy hat was almost knocked off all over again by the passing Mandy Jalinski, but she managed to grab hold of it in the nick of time. "Whoa there, Miss Rampant De-per-ty!  Wouldya mind tellin' me what in the Blazin' Saddles is goin' on?"

"That!  That is going on!" Mandy cried, pointing at the pale-blue patch of fog that had just reached the edge of the forecourt.

"Ho… ly… sh-"

Mandy slammed open the door and used her entire arm to wave Wynne over. "Get inside!  Now!  Before that thing comes any closer!"

"I'm on yer butt like a burr, darlin'!" Wynne cried, hustling after the nimbler woman. She and Mandy had only just made it inside the store when the patch of fog fell over the entire forecourt including the electronic fuel pumps that lit up like Christmas trees.

As the two women pressed their noses against the windows - and Blackie and Goldie went into a barking frenzy - the flashes of pale-blue light that still roamed around inside the patch of fog broke free and turned into the familiar orbs that once again performed the insane maneuvers.

The billowing fog soon began to dissipate, and as it did so, the orbs of light inside it were transformed into elongated lumps of energy that began to pulsate almost at once. After a few moments of the eerie pulsating, a bright flash burst out of all the orbs which left the gas station bathed in near-daylight for several seconds.

Inside the store, Wynne and Mandy cried out and dove down behind the nearest shelf to protect their eyes. Once the darkness had returned, they got back up and ran back to the window. "They say seein' is believin'," Wynne said, rubbing her eyes. "Well… I be seein' plenty, but I ain't too sure I'm believin' any of it…"

"If you're seeing a bunch of old cars with a bunch of people in 'em… then I'd say we're on the same page," Mandy replied in a stunned monotone.

Wynne slowly took off her cowboy hat as she took in the sight of the cars that seemed to belong to different eras. "Yeah, that's exactly what I thunk I wus seein'… ain't that a hot rodder from the fifties?" she said, pointing at an open-top Ford model T 'T-Bucket' that had been equipped with fat tires and a shiny engine that sat out in the open in the front.

"I think so… and a Kenworth semi truck from what I'm guessing would be the nineteen sixties," Mandy mumbled, looking at the old-fashioned eighteen-wheeler that had parked at the back next to the old carriage that had arrived as the first one. The truck pulled a reefer unit that carried the logo of a meat packing company she had never heard of.

The other cars on the forecourt were a bright-red Cadillac Convertible from the seventies, a boxy, but luxurious, Volvo from the eighties, and even a huge four-wheel drive vehicle from the nineties that had been equipped with wide off-road tires. People wearing period clothing sat in all the cars, and they were all as creepily immobile as the old woman atop the buckboard. Not a sound was heard from any of them, not even the hot rod whose engine appeared to be running.

"So… the next question is…" Wynne said, biting her bottom lip. "Was the soup we ate fermented, or are them cars an' folks out there… I mean, really there?  Aw, what the heck are they saposed to represent, anyhow?"

"The soup wasn't fermented, honey. It's happened again."

"Aw, shit… no wonder nobody wanted this here gig on Halloween!" Wynne croaked, burying her face in her beloved cowboy hat. "I can't believe this rotten luck we seem ta be havin'!  Mercy Sakes, how often can this kinda thing happen to a couple-a swell gals like us?!" she whined in a voice muffled by the hat.

"I don't know, hon… but it has."

"Aw, shit," Wynne repeated, plunking the hat back onto her black locks. "What's next?  Giant Gila Monsters comin' outta the desert to swallow us whole?"

Moving fast, Mandy grabbed hold of her partner's denim jacket and pulled her down so she was able to shoot her a dark glare. "Don't. Even. Think. It. Okay?"

"Sorry, de-per-ty… I wus jus'-"

"No, you weren't!"

"I guess I wusn't," Wynne said with a nervous, lopsided grin.

Two more orbs of light were late arrivals to the eerie car show. Zooming in from the desert much later than the others - like they had taken a wrong turn somewhere in a distant dimension - the orbs materialized into another pair of cars: a mint-green Willys Americar Coupe from the early forties, and a silver-gray Toyota Camry of recent vintage.

The Willys sedan was just another neat, old car in Mandy's eyes, but the sight of the Camry made her blood freeze over. The car filled her senses to such an extent that she forgot to breathe and blink. All she could do was to stare at the silver-gray vehicle and the three people inside it. The two parents sat up front without a care in the world, and their teenage daughter occupied the back seat. Though the young lady wore a pair of headphones, she stared straight ahead with a blank expression on her face like all the others.

"Mandy?  Mandy?  Aw, hell… Mandy?!" Wynne cried, giving her partner a strong shaking to make her snap out of whatever spell she had fallen under. "Wake up, fer Saint Pete's sake!  This is gettin' all too dang creepy now!"

"Uh… what?"

"Welcome back… where the heck didya go?!" Wynne cried, throwing her hands in the air. Down at their feet, Blackie and Goldie let out odd-sounding yelps like they could not understand what was going on.

"That Camry…" Mandy croaked, pointing at the silver-gray car.

"What about it?  Mandy, you be freakin' me out here!  I don't exactly need no help doin' that, if ya catch my drift!"

"I remember that car…" the deputy continued in a mumbled monotone. "It was the first bad wreck I was called out to after being stationed here… seven years ago."

"You mean a car jus' like it?"

"No. I mean that very car," Mandy croaked. A few seconds went by while the grisly scenes ran past her mind's eye. The parents had been killed instantly in the impact that had crushed the entire front end of the large sedan like someone had taken an oversized sledgehammer to it. The teenager had been rescued from the car's back seat in a bad state, but she had died a few minutes later while Mandy had clutched her blood-soaked hand. "I know what's going on…" she croaked, turning to look at the tall woman next to her.

"Well, you really oughtta clue me in," Wynne said and pushed her hat back all over again, "'cos I gotta admit I ain't got nothin' but a big, ol' empty hole up in my brain box right now."

"They're ghosts, Wynne… all of them. The old woman… the other people… the cars… all ghosts. Specters. Incorporeal beings. Apparitions… ghosts."

Wynne chewed on that for a few moments before she broke out in a wide, ugly grimace. "Mercy Sakes… in that case, I woulda preferred not to know anythin'. Ghost cars?  A ghost horse… a ghost eighteen-wheeler?!"

"Don't ask me to explain it!  Do you think I look like a professor of paranormal stuff?"

"Naw, I think ya look awfully cute, even in that polyester nightmare, but that's beside the point…"

"Look, I'm telling you," Mandy said and once again pointed at the unusual sight outside the large window, "all those drivers and passengers out there are the people who've been killed on this stretch of road throughout the years. I'll bet my bottom dollar on it."


"I know it for a fact when it comes to that Camry and the people inside it 'cos I was there when their bodies were cut out of the mangled wreck. They were the last people to die here, Wynne. We've had a couple of accidents since the freeway opened, but no fatalities… knock on wood."

By now, Wynne had lost the plot completely, so she could only break out in a shrug. "So… when d'ya say them folks had their accident?"

"Late November, twenty-ten. About a year before we met."

"The freeway opened in twenty-twelve, so… uh… I s'pose they coulda been the last to die. I can't remember. But if them folks in the Camry have been… wotcha-ma-call'it… cruisin' the dimensions for… for…" - Wynne used her fingers to count back - "jus' shy o' seven years, how long has that li'l, old lady on the carriage been… uh… roamin' the void?"

Mandy glanced across the forecourt at the old woman in question. A determined look fell upon her face as she mashed the mountie hat down over her fair locks. "I don't know. Let's find out." - With that, she stomped out of the store and strode between the ghostly visitors on the forecourt of the Gas 'n Go!

Wynne had been unceremoniously left behind sporting a slack jaw and a cold trickle that ran down her spine. "Y'know, Blackie," she said to the German Shepherd that let out a Woof? like it could not quite believe the tenacity of one of her masters, "sometimes I think that my honey-bunny's butt-ugly polyester uniform-thing there sends out a buncha chemical fumes or some such. Her decisions are always so dang brave, but they don't always add up to a whole heap-a sense… if ya know what I mean…"

A couple of knowing barks from both dogs seemed to offer hints that Wynne's own decisions did not always make sense, either, but the tall woman did not pick up on it.

"Well," Wynne said, stepping over Blackie to get to the door, "creepy ghosts or no creepy ghosts, I ain't gonna let my sweet, li'l de-per-ty get outta my sight this time. Guard the store with Goldie, yeah?  Stay!"

A loud Woof! proved that the guard dog understood the command. Goldie was less brave than her dark associate, but even she let out a smaller bark before she went back into hiding behind the counter.

"That's a nice dawggie," Wynne said as she shuffled out onto the forecourt and closed the glass door behind her. At once, she was hit with the worst case of goosebumps she had experienced since that fateful night in 2011 where she and Mandy Jalinski had been first-hand witnesses of lifeforms that had come from beyond planet Earth.

Unlike the aliens who had tried to stir-fry Wynne and Mandy using a killer ray fired from one of their hunter UFOs, the ghostly vehicles that filled the forecourt of the Gas 'n Go! did not seem all that threatening - in fact, the motley collection of apparitions just sat there as zombies, seemingly waiting for some unknown event to unfold.

As Wynne hurried across the forecourt to get to her partner's side, she took a close gander at some of the strange specters. The open-top hot rod's engine was still seen to be running, but not a single sound emanated from either of the ghostly beings or their vehicles. The two clean-cut, wholesome-looking teenagers sitting close on the bench seat stared dead-ahead without blinking even once.

Instead of being bathed in the type of bluish-white light that pop culture always used to depict ghosts, the skin of the two teenagers - and every other passenger inside the vehicles - was pasty and unnatural almost like their bodies had just been snatched from a wax museum.

The creepy sight made Wynne's upper lip move into an Elvis-like curl brought on by an acute fear of what might happen if the ghosts ever snapped out of their catatonic state. Quaking in her cowboy boots, she upped her pace to get to Mandy's strong presence in a hurry. Once she reached the deputy by the old, horse-driven carriage, she wrapped an arm around the narrow waist and pulled herself close.

After Mandy had let out an "Ooof!" from the vise-like grip that had suddenly claimed her waist, she chuckled and reached down to pat her partner's hand. "Ease up a little, honey… I still need to breathe."

"Sure thing, de-per-ty," Wynne said and let go a fraction of an inch.

Chuckling, Mandy turned back to the ghost of the old woman who still sat atop the carriage. Like the others, she presented a creepy, waxen sight up close, but Mandy gulped down her nervousness and took a final, shuffling step forward. "Hello… I'm Mandy Jalinski… this is Wynne Donohue. Can you hear us?  Can you understand us?"

At first, nothing happened. The ghost continued to look at the horizon like she was waiting for some kind of sign. Then, after what felt like an interminable long wait, the old, dead woman turned her ghostly head towards the only two people at the gas station who were still among the living.

Wynne's face contorted into a spooked grimace at the sight of the woman's dead eyes, and she wrapped herself even tighter around Mandy's waist. "Well, she heard ya," she croaked, "but what she's gonn' do 'bout it is anyone's guess-"

'I understand you,' the ghost said, speaking without moving her mouth. Her voice went directly into Wynne and Mandy's heads where it rang out with crystal clarity.

The two living women shot each other worried glances at the surprising success of communicating with beings from another dimension. Now they had established contact, all they needed to do was to figure out the mystery of why the ghosts were even there. "Uh-buh… howdy there, nice lady," Wynne said, cringing at her total lack of imagination. "Listen, ah… are ya really a gho- naw, can't ask 'er that… of course she is, ya numbskull. Uh… where'd ya come from?"


"I got no idea where that is at… Mandy, d'ya know where Freetown is at?  Wotcha doin' here, lady, anyhow?"

"Wynne, let me speak to her," Mandy said, elbowing her partner in the side for not asking the right questions. "When did you live?  And what happened to you?"

'My horse bolted. I had the reins wrapped around my arms to control it better. When it took off, I was yanked from the carriage and dragged for miles and miles. Hardly anything was left of me by the time my horse died from exhaustion.'

"Oh, my flippin'… yuck!  Yuck, yuck, yuck, an' another yuck!  That's it!  I'm oh-fficially freaked out!" Wynne cried, wiggling on the spot to get rid of the goosebumps that had once again assaulted her.

"And you were on the road when it happened?" Mandy said, once again elbowing Wynne in the side to make her pipe down.

'Yes. I was the first to die on the new road. Nineteen-oh-eight. I have traveled ever since, hoping that it shall soon be my turn to be granted a reprieve from this existence.'

"But why do you gather here at the gas station?"

'For most of us, it was the last place we saw other people while we were alive. In my day, it was an eatery and a livery stable, but the others all came here as the last thing they did. On one night every year, on Halloween, the dead, the living and those in between are all connected.'

Mandy nodded; the grisly images from her first fatal wreck had often enough visited her in her dreams. She briefly turned around to look at the Camry and the people inside it. "And the silver-gray car?  Those people were the last to die?"

'Yes. But you already knew that. We saw you there.'

"Mmmm," Mandy said, nodding again.

'So you understand?'

"Not fully, but… enough. You've all come back here to… to try to reconnect with the living?  To get some closure, perhaps?"

'Indeed. Closure so we can move on. If we are not granted a reprieve, forever we must travel.'

"Ugh!" Wynne croaked. "I sure hope I'mma-gonna die in my bed… I ain't the travelin' kind…"

"Wynne!  Put a sock in it!"

"Whadda-I say?"

Groaning, Mandy gestured at the weird, creepy company the two women found themselves in. "Would you mind laying off any conversation that revolves around the concept of dying while we're talking to the deceased?"

"Lawrdie, d'ya have any idea how downright ree-dee-queue-lous that statement is?  And I don't think we can hurt their feelin's, de-per-ty."

"That's not what I meant!"

Wynne blinked a couple of times while she tried to parse the logic of her partner's words. After a brief moment, she gave up and broke out in a shrug instead. "Well, then I ain't got no dang clue wotcha meant with that, but- uh… yeah. I'll put a sock in it. Yes, Ma'am."

The sentence had barely left Wynne's mouth before the ghosts stirred and became more active. One by one the ghostly vehicles began to shimmer and pulsate, and only a little time passed before the first car - the Cadillac Convertible - was transformed into its orb-like shape. At first, it hovered in place, but it did not take long before it began to zoom around the forecourt in unpredictable patterns.

"Aw, hell," Wynne groaned, burying her face in her beloved cowboy hat. "Maybe I done hurt their feelin's after all…"

"That's not it. Look!" Mandy said, elbowing Wynne for the umpteenth time after she had discovered a new, but ancient, phenomenon on the eastern horizon.

"Ouch!  I wish ya'd quit doin' that, de-per-ty!  Ya know how easily I bruise," Wynne said, nursing her aching ribs. "Wotcha want me ta look at, anyhow?  Ain't nothin' out there but the buttcrack o' dawn…"

"Exactly… everybody knows that ghosts can't exist in the daytime," Mandy said and grabbed her taller partner by the arm. When the denim-clad woman seemed to be a step behind the game, mentally speaking, she yanked her along the forecourt to get back to the store.

"Now wotcha doin'?!" Wynne croaked as she had to spin her cowboy boots around in an almighty hurry to keep up with the nimbler deputy.

"They need to be going, and so do we. If you want to stay out here while they fly off, be my guest!"

"Nuh-uh… no thank ye, de-per-ty… I got my fair share of creepery and freakishness when they done arrived!"

Storming into the store, Mandy and Wynne ducked down behind the shelves to be out of harms' way in case the exit of the ghostly column proved to be less orderly than their arrival. Blackie and Goldie welcomed them back with a few barks and a little rubbing that was responded to in kind. Several pale-blue flashes lit up the night-time sky outside, and the lights once again flickered on and off all over the Gas 'n Go!

"Aw, hell… them there darn refri-gy-ratin' refri-gy-rators just turned off all over again!" Wynne croaked, slapping a palm down onto a denim-clad thigh.

Much like when the ghosts had materialized into their vehicular shapes, a final burst of pale-blue energy left the gas station bathed in near-daylight for several seconds - then, it petered out and disappeared altogether.

After giving the now empty forecourt a brief check-up through the window, Wynne and Mandy sat down on the floor and spread their legs out ahead of them. They gazed at each other for a few seconds before they let out identical laughs and leaned in to give each other a nice, little kiss on the lips. The smooch was followed by a little shoulder-rubbing and a few smiles.

Blackie and Goldie wanted in on the fun, so they shuffled over to their owners to get some attention. "Well, honey," Mandy said as she patted Blackie and gave its thick fur a good rubbing, "we made it through another weird encounter."

"Yeah…" Wynne said, busy with giving the scaredy-dog Goldie plenty of loving.

"I wonder if the old lady was allowed to go on… of if she'll come back next Halloween?"

"Can't say. Lawrdie, I sure be hopin' I ain't gonn' end up like that. Caught between here, there and nowhere. That ain't no life… hell, it ain't even no death!"

Mandy let out a dark grunt as Blackie had finally had enough. The large German Shepherd shook its fur back into place and shuffled off behind the counter. "Hon, we can't talk to anyone about any of this, you hear?  This isn't like the last time… there's no wreckage, no destroyed signs, no roadkill… there's no evidence of anything ever happening here tonight."

"Aw, I hear ya loud an' clear, de-per-ty," Wynne said, letting go of Goldie. Unlike the sturdier guard dog, the Golden Retriever rolled up into a golden ball and snuggled down in her owner's lap. "Ain't nobody would ever believe one word of what we wus tellin' 'em, anyhow."

"No. I can hardly believe it myself. Well, I suppose I better get back to the sheriff's office to end my shift," Mandy said and got on her feet. After dusting off the rear of her uniform's dark-brown pants, she adjusted her utility belt and her hideous polyester shirt. The mountie hat came last, and she ran her index finger around the shade to make sure it was lined up according to the regulations. "Artie's gonna be pissed at me for not issuing a single speeding ticket all night."

"Artie's always pissed at ya."

"True. At least we didn't blow up one of the Durangos this time. When is the next attendant due to arrive?"

"At seven thirty or so," Wynne said as she ran her hand across Goldie's golden fur. When the dog reacted, she gave it a little tickle behind the ears. "Hey there, li'l lady… ya need to move outta the way now so I can give your other mama a decent smooch on them there luscious lips o' hers, dontchaknow…"

Goldie seemed to understand. Letting out a brief bark, she unrolled herself and slinked off to join Blackie behind the counter. Wynne was soon on her feet and strolled over to her partner. Grinning, she leaned down and claimed the lips in question without disturbing the precious mountie hat. "Didn't Halloween jus' fly by this year?  It always happens when we be havin' fun."

"Or when we get a faceful of strange encounters, supernatural phenomena or otherworldly visitors…"

"Now who's temptin' fate, de-per-ty?  Keep the porchlight on fer me 'till I get home, yeah?"

"Will do, honey," Mandy said and got up on tip-toes so she could return the favor of kissing her partner's lips. "And don't forget to turn the refrigerators back on-"

"Dang!  I did ferget them bandits!  Lawrdie!"


After Wynne had waved goodbye to Mandy as the deputy drove back to Goldsboro in the Durango, she shuffled back into the store to deal with the refrigerators while Blackie and Goldie zipped around her feet. The dogs were in a playful mood so she decided to let them run free on their own for a while.


Life behind the counter of Otto Kulick's Gas 'n Go! independent gas station soon returned to its customary dreariness, and Wynne could hardly contain her relief when she spotted the next attendant arriving in his beat-up Honda. Though the young, acne-riddled teen was already ten minutes late, he never moved faster than a snail's pace as he shuffled into the store. It took him another half an eternity to reach the back room where he threw his jacket over a chair.

"Good mornin' to ya," Wynne said, grabbing her beloved cowboy hat. "It's been one o' them awfully quiet nights so I can't imagine you's gonn' have too much work on yer hands today. Keep an eye on them there refri-gy-ratin' units 'cos they seem to like to go on the fritz. Yeah?  Have fun with yer comics, son. See ya tomorrow."

Stepping outside into the early light of the budding day, Wynne's face cracked wide open in a big yawn. Plunking the cowboy hat down onto her black locks, she shuffled off to the shed housing the former auto repair shop to get her truck. Blackie and Goldie understood as always, and did not need much of an invitation before they jumped into the cab.

As Wynne got behind the wheel, she could not help but shiver at the thought of the unnatural, waxen appearance of the people in the ghostly vehicles. Moving down the rear-view mirror, she studied herself for a few seconds before she shivered again and started the burbling engine. "Livin' sure beats dyin' seven days a week, huh, girls?" - Woof, Woof! - "Yeah… c'mon, let's go home. I got a-hankerin' for wrappin' mah arms around mah sweet, li'l de-per-ty… yessirree!"

Pulling the shifter into drive, Wynne left the shed behind and trickled out onto the forecourt that had seen so much ethereal action over the course of the night. With a final shaking of the head, she mashed the gas to get herself and the dogs onto the US Route, and as far away from the gas station as she could.