I was never a big fan of school. I didn’t like most of my classes in high school, barely had any real friends, and absolutely despised waking up at 5:00 a.m. Myself and my neighbor, Kelly, would get in my car around 5:45 and head to school. Before you ask, Kelly and I had a short fling when she had first moved in next door, but we just weren’t a match. Anyway, living in the backwoods in Geauga County, Ohio, we took the back roads.
There isn’t much outside of main roads out here, but there were a few landmarks to pass on the ten minute daybreak drive. A little country souvenir shop called Farley’s, a few horse and cattle farms, and a little Shell gas station. I guess I shouldn’t say small, but after touring with a band and seeing travel stations outside of Nashville and the like, this place was nothing to call home about.
They carried your typical essentials. Cigarettes, soda, travel razors and toothpaste, normal shit, you know? Anyway, early in the morning, this guy, John, worked the register. He was a pretty creepy dude. Late 40’s, with a big beard, earrings, and a bad eye (his left eye looked similar to that of a blind person’s.) We always called him, “the pirate.” He liked to hit on Kelly, who was 16 at the time. Oh, it was dismal.
Anyway, we’d normally stop here each morning and get Red Bull or whatever we fancied. Aside from John the Pirate’s occasional rude comments, it was normally pretty uneventful. He never said much. Definitely wasn’t the kind of guy who’d tell you to have a nice day.
Going there every morning for close to three years, I noticed he drove a little green Ford pickup. I noticed Pennsylvania plates on it. One morning, I asked him about his plates. I was expecting him to be defensive or offended, but instead, he explained that he lives in Erie, PA, and drives an hour and a half to work each night. Since this is the only 24-hour anything in our area, he was hired as the third shift guy, working 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. I figured, fair enough, jobs are probably tough to come by in Erie, and didn’t pay it a second thought.
Over the next few weeks, John became more extroverted when Kelly and I would stroll in each morning. Not a big deal, but the things he told us became more and more strange. The first morning after he had told us about his living situation, he, somewhat randomly, went into a monologue about how his wife had left him. Little strange.
About a week later, Kelly casually asked him how Pennsylvania was. He sort of froze for a second, and suddenly told us, “you know, I was in prison for 19 years.” Me and Kelly looked at each other with the classic, “what the fuck” look. He continued, “manslaughter. Ain’t nothing I can do about it now, huh?” he said with a chuckle, which was extremely unsettling in this situation. We said a quick thanks for our daily caffeine and didn’t waste time getting out the door. We were both a little stunned. To be honest, yeah, he looks like a guy who probably did some time, but…it all started to add up. He had a record in PA, so he had to come all the way here to find a job. Either way, this dude was not good news. After that morning, we made a point to avoid going in there. I wasn’t in there at any time of day for about five years.
In July of 2013, I turned 21. I had gotten most of my partying days out of my system as a teenager, but I still wanted to buy booze for the first time (legally.) The clock struck midnight, and I set out. I had been hanging around Cleveland a good bit by this point, so the thought of, “nothing is open after nine in this town, dumbass” didn’t hit me until I was on the road. I passed the Shell station. John’s green truck was outside. I was nervous, but I thought, hey, he’ll probably wish me a happy birthday, and I’ll be on my way.
I pulled in. John was outside smoking a cigarette. He held the door open for me and we walked inside. I picked up a case of Bud Light and was looking over the candy when I heard John’s unnerving chuckle coming from the counter. I turned to see him looking down, with a wide, maniacal grin on his face. He was slitting his wrists with a box knife. I dropped the beer and jumped bac k against the freezer doors as he looked towards me with that psychotic smile and held his arms up, sending waves of blood down them and into streams dripping onto the counter. I ran towards the station’s bathrooms, where I figured I could call the police to save me from this madman. I opened the bathroom door, ran in, slammed and locked in, and collapsed on the floor. What in the fuck? What the fuck? What did I just witness?
However, John wasn’t dead. Perhaps, not even injured. I heard whistling, a happy, whistled tune, growing closer to the bathroom. I saw him pass the door, whistling the happy tune, and I could hear blood dripping onto the floor as he passed. He continued pacing back and forth in front of the door, his steps growing faster every few passes, the tap-tap-tap of blood dripping on the floor growing more frequent. The tune began to…slow down. Not that he was whistling slower, his actual voice pitch was dropping. It dropped from normal, like a record slowing down, until the tune was an ominous, low-pitched and menacing sound that shook the bathroom walls like an earthquake. The low rumble grew in volume and finally ended with a low, rumbling chucke. I couldn’t take it, I fell on the floor and covered my ears, praying that whatever was happening would just kill me if that’s what it wanted. It stopped.
Quiet seemed to envelope the little gas station. I heard a few cars passing outside, the typical sounds of a late night in a small town. I slowly opened the door, peeking out and expecting John to jump out and grab me with his bloody arms and that demonic smile, but no. Instead, I walked out. John was nowhere to be seen. However, behind the counter was a younger kid, about 23 or 24, with shoulder length straight blonde hair. He was seated with his feet up on the counter, leaning back against the cigarette cupboard reading a skateboard magazine. What the fuck.
I walked up to him, obviously rattled and shaking. “Where the fuck is John?” I demanded. The kid, sounding bored, replied, “uh, I’m John, dude, what’s up?” He looked up from the magazine. “What just happened? What the hell, the cops are on the way here, you’d better start talking!” I shouted, growing more tense at this kid obviously covering up for the psycho.
His face betrayed a hint of concern, “the cops? For what, man?” he drawled like Sean Penn’s character in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.” I looked in his eyes, he was being sincere. He really had no idea what had just transpired. How…
I did my best to calm down. I explained that the psycho who usually works nights had slit his wrists while laughing like a maniac and had cornered me into the bathroom.
The kid now seemed genuinely concerned. This is when things became very bizarre.
“Uh, dude, I work nights here. I have since 2009. They can’t find anyone else to work third shift, so I get all of those hours.”
My jaw must have hit my navel. I asked, “no, the big guy, John, with the messed up eye!” The kid’s face went pale. I thought I had him, he was covering up for that nutcase for some reason. The kid reached into his pocket and pulled out his wallet. He opened the ID flap, which revealed a picture of a much younger him next to John. They were smiling.
It took me a minute to process this. As I was thinking, the kid picked up the phone at the counter and dialed. He pressed the speaker-phone button , so that the ringing came through a small speaker on the unit. The ringing stopped, and a female voice said, “SCI Greene, your name please?”
The kid said, “John Munro jr., I want to see if my father is still incarcerated there, name is John Munro senior.”
The women on the other end made noise as if she was searching for something. Sundry hums, yadda-yaddas, until she spoke up, “ah, here, John Munro senior, taken into custody in 1990 and currently serving 11 life sentences for…oh, goodness. Yes, he’s currently in our custody.”
The kid’s voice shook noticeably. Before she could finish her sentence, he blurted out, “can you please check and see if he is there, like, right now, please?”
The woman spoke away from the phone, “Arnie, can you check on zero-one-eleven, got a call asking if he’s here, sounds worried.”
We waited for about 30 seconds, both me and this kid pouring sweat. We heard the phone being picked back up, and the woman said, “Sir? Yes, he’s here, hasn’t been allowed out of his unit in 41 hours.”
The kid breathed a heavy sigh and said, “fuck, not again.”