This quirky little short story was written the week previous and edited live the next week. It has a lot of bugs and is by no means a publishable piece, but it was wholly inspired by Think Tankers, our community. Its inspiration was “George Washington’s outhouse,” “a dog named Chica,” “a gas station,” “motel,” and “the ghost of a crazed butt-stabber.”
The George Washington Gas Station and Motel
February 26, 2016
The George Washington Gas Station and Motel stood under a copse of old, giant cottonwood trees, off one of I-90’s many unmarked exit. While closer to Sheboygan, Wisconsin than New England, the gas station and motel had entertained many a cross-country traveller until the summer of 1987. Since that fateful summer, customers had simply driven by, fueled by both stories and the promise of a new Kwik-E-Mart and Holiday Inn Express just on the other side of the bluffs. Those new installations had signs and an exit number. Apps pointed to them.
A lone figure stood watching as yet another minivan likely loaded down with blankets, pillows, DVDs of Dora the Explorer, and screaming children sped past. They didn’t even bother slowing. Few did. The cottonwoods had long since grown high enough to obscure the buildings and the broken parking lot.
George Washington sighed and pulled his hat from his head. His wig was itchy, as it always had been, but now that he was dead, the sensation was more of a novelty. He had yet to understand why he had wandered across the modern northern US, away from his beloved New England and the Colonies, to this particular location. It had taken him years wandering the handful of decaying buildings to even understand what it had been before entropy took over.
Men came a few years back to remove gigantic tanks from under the ground. Even dead, George could tell they smelled terrible. They leaked viscous black sludge from massive cracks that he could have led his entire army through. From the looks on their faces, none of the construction workers were very happy about it either. With them, they had brought a dog, and when they left, hauling the tanks behind their obnoxious, black-spewing vehicle, the creature had leapt from the truck bed and run straight to George’s feet.
Her name was Chica. He could read the tag hanging from her collar. In the years since, she had stayed by his side, a living animal and a dead man’s best friend. George took great pride in watching her chase the local animals down. He even imagined that she could hear him, and she could have been able. She was a free spirit and ignored him anyway, until night fell and Chica would curl up at his feet.
As the years passed, George and Chica explored the old motel. From the windows to the walls, to the basement and the ragged hanging ceiling tiles, they found every secret. Like aiming a flashlight at the shadows, there seemed to be some thing hanging just outside of reach, dodging their efforts to find it. Chica barked at nothingness every so often, and George thought it odd that there were things that even a ghost could not see.
The visitors that George found the most interesting were the pieces of trash that wandered into the motel’s courtyard, lingered for a few moments, and often blew away on the next interstate breeze. If he managed a glimpse of something particularly colorful, he would chase it down like a nincompoop in his white trousers, wig, and tricorne hat. Chica simply watched him for a change.
An old handful of brochures tumbled in one bright winter day. Their journey had wrinkled their paper and, as they nested in a snowdrift by the motel’s office, he crouched to read them.
One had a rather cheerful looking man dressed in medieval attire, smiling for the camera. The entire page was brightly colored, and he could only assume that it was some sort of costume party. Across the top, in large letters, the title cried: Join the Institute for LARPing Creativity! Each word was terribly foreign to him in meaning, especially the banner across the bottom: I put my robe and wizard hat on!
He moved on to the next brochure, more than willing to ignore a wizard hat at all costs. This next one seemed to be a bit more serious in its content. The location caught his attention first: the George Washington Gas Station and Motel. This piece of paper boasted a true American mystery, offering tours to visit the location of the gruesome, unsolved assaults perpetrated by the Crazed Wisconsin Butt-Stabber. In very small letters almost hidden by the snow, George could barely make out a disclaimer: Seasonal tours. Please visit our website for more details.
He stood and dusted himself off, though no slow clung to him. He had never seen tourists milling about the motel or the gas station, nor had he run into any researchers. In fact, since Chica had come to stay, and her former owners had left the second time, there had been no other souls visiting the motel and gas station.
Chica barked for his attention and dodged between his legs, bouncing happily through the snow. She ran ahead, skidding around the corner of the motel in great haste. He trotted after her, ignoring the upheaved asphalt under his boots. He found her sitting behind the gas station, tail sweeping the dusty ground. She looked up at him and whined questioningly. He shook his head, unsure of what she was trying to draw his attention to. He reached out, looking down at her.
She tipped her head to the right, and he moved his hand to the right. She leaned forward, readjusting her paws. He reached out further. She laid down. He sighed and dropped his hand.
His ghostly palm struck something solid. Solid to him. George closed his hand around it and found a wooden handle. He pulled and a door opened, a stench he was well familiarized with wafted out from a nearly fossilized pile of feces. When the door was opened, he could see the entire outhouse, and he recognized the careful carving and trim. Though poorly maintained, the last time he’d glimpsed this particular piece of work was on Mount Vernon.
“By jove, it’s my outhouse.” He muttered, and Chica barked. “The young man in charge of keeping it maintained shall be sorely reprimanded for its sorry state.”
The dog huffed as in if agreement. She looked up at him from where her head lay on her paws.
George straightened his shoulders and moved to close the door. He paused and leaned outward. The outhouse was invisible to outside eyes. His first thought was that this change offered some valuable privacy. Second, he pondered how greatly he missed even the simple moulding that he himself had installed upon it, at least, when it was at Mount Vernon. Finally, the greatest thought passed between noncorporeal ears.
“If this is out of my sight, what else is as well?” He tipped his head at Chica, the itching wig sliding a half-centimeter over one ear.The dog lifted her head and barked, tongue lolling out in a goofy smile. He smiled in return. How strange that this creature had chosen to remain at his side. When the construction workers had returned looking for her, she had hidden in the fields to avoid their eyes until they left.
She barked again and rose, breaking him from his reverie. She turned and started trotting off. Before leaving the outhouse, George twisted the wooden handle, popping out the latch. It bounced open, leaving a sliver of the interior floating visible in the middle of nowhere. The outhouse, he realized, was tucked between an old fridge and a pile of cracked milk crates. Now he would remember where to find it.
If he ever needed to.
He spun on a heel and jogged to catch up with Chica. The dog paused patiently, then took off out of sight behind the motel’s registration office. Or “reg off.” Many of the wooden letters had fallen.
When George caught up, Chica was bouncing excitedly in a circle. She was running around something large, embedded into the ground. He looked to his right and saw the broken windows of the office and, to his left, the motel’s courtyard and the parking lot the rooms wrapped around to create a horseshoe of decaying accommodations. The gas station stood on the far side of the registration office they’d just circled, making this particular location fairly visible, if only from the denizens of the motel.
Chica was still bouncing around the circle. He held out his hands placatingly, and she slid to a stop, tail wagging.
“You just ignore me when the mood strikes.” He sighed at her. She dropped open her mouth and panted happily with a smile.
George extended his hands and felt through the air, searching for any bit of solidity. It had been a shock for him to be able to affect something other than the ground, and though he tried not to entertain the thought, it quickened his dead heart to think that there might be more out there he could grasp.
His fingers closed around a wheel made of what felt like metal. Everything was cold, but the texture seemed to him to be smooth. From the wheel extended an axle of sorts, extending into a smooth domed cover. He felt for a hinge and found it. Chica had led him to a door in the earth that none could see.
With great effort, he managed to wrestle the wheel into turning, and it delighted him greatly to hear the sharp groan of metal on metal. As he strained against it, the movement loosened and he was able to spin the wheel more quickly. Chica barked, bouncing around excitedly as he lifted the door.
Both of them peeked over the edge into the darkness. Ghost and dog exchanged glances.
“This was not an expected turn of events.” His voice echoed.
She barked, and the sharp sound bounced off the distance.
He sighed, again. It was becoming a habit. “You most assuredly will not be accompanying me on this little adventure. I have not the skill to lift you.”
Chica whined at him and raised her ears. He patted her on the head, as best he could without being able to touch her.
He pulled his hat down over his wig and swung a leg over the edge. His foot found a rung set into the wall, and another, then another. He climbed down slowly, attempting to keep his balance in the darkness. Light flashed around him and an object passed through him, clattering on the ground a short distance below. A flashlight.
He looked up and saw Chica grinning at him.
“Most gracious of you!” He called up and dropped down the last few feet. His feet clattered on metal grating. A hollow echo passed into the shadows, but off walls that were much closer than he had expected. The flashlight illuminated the greater depth of the chamber and its strange collection of items: a cot, shelves with canned food, and a small pile of clothing.
Every inch of the wall was covered with pictures. Torn from magazines, small square images he assumed were Polaroids (a word he had gathered while on his cross-country walk), and drawings made with markers and burnt wood ash. Each and every picture and drawing shared a theme: they were of posteriors and each was mercilessly stabbed with some sort of implement.
The left rump of a rather attractive woman had a handful of pushpins peppering the denim cloth, while a man’s bare backside had a small pocketknife perforating the flesh. George politely attempted to avert his eyes from the vicious imagery, but the entire subterranean room was blanketed.
“This must have been his lair.” He mused aloud. Chica’s panting from above served as his only reply. The state of the room bothered him. It seemed too perfectly chaotic, as if the scattered papers on the ground were placed there purposely, intended to look like a mess. The cot itself had a white outline drawn on it. Inside the thick lines was a carefully laid arrangement of sharp implements: knives of various types, pins, forks, even a knitting needle and a plastic spork.
Chica barked and whined for his attention.
“Ah! I do apologize, my friend!” George called up, pulling his tricorne hat from his head. “I seem to have found a few objects of great interest. This is indeed the lair of the Crazed Wisconsin Butt-stabber.”
She sucked her tongue in and tipped her head as if to say I’m sorry…what now?
“The paper I was reading earlier.” He gestured as if to point to it, though with the wind today, the brochure was likely long gone. “I would wager this is a tourist attraction.”
Chica righted her head and went back to watching him, as if settling in under the wind and snow.
“Ah, my dear girl, you are quite right.” George glanced around the chamber once again. “Give me a few more minutes to explore a bit, and I’ll be right out. We can find shelter then.”
She barked once in reply. He stepped back into the chamber and put his hands on his hips, surveying thoroughly. Part of him wished to remain and learn what he could from this display, but a chill had crawled up and settled in his spine. He felt rather unsettled now that he thought about it, and it was likely the imagery that surrounded him.
A stray breath of air whispered through the bunker. A picture of a cheerleader loosened from the wall and dropped, taking its stabbing implement with it. It landed with a clatter. The dead President shook his head.
“Time to go.” He spun on a heel. Chica began growling, a low rumble that immediately made his wig begin to itch. His tricorne in hand, he made quick strides towards the rungs.
A black shadow passed him, through or around him. The movement was so swift, he barely registered it. Chica barked in warning, and George vaulted up the rails with all the speed his ghostly muscles would allow him.
Which ended up being very swift indeed. He threw himself out of the bunker tunnel and, after a sharp command to Chica, pushed the door shut with a loud bang.
The lid bounced once before settling. An unearthly wail cut through the winter air. Chica jumped up on the circular door with her front paws and pushed at it. George felt out the circular lock and cranked it around until they both heard the bars slide into place.
He put his hat back on, tugging it down over his white wig. “Well, that was a bit of an experience, wasn’t it?”
She curled up at his feet and sighed, looking up at him with an expectant smile.
“All right, let’s go. You must be starving.” He waved her on. They left the bunker behind, out of sight and out of mind. Every so often, Chica would raise her head and look at it out of curiosity, as if she heard something George could not. He beckoned for her attention, and she gave it. Winter melted and on came spring. The wails and bangings came more often then.
Though George could not see them, he assumed the tourists were there, and the denizen of the bunker was unhappy with their intrusions. He stood watch over the location, though he could not see the bunker door himself, and watched to see if the same black shadow attempted to emerge. Chica laid low during the day, as she often had, but would sit at his side at night for as long as he cared to hold vigil.
His ritual became clear. At night, Chica would alert him to when the last tour had left. He rose from his casual lean against his old outhouse–which he cleaned himself quite thoroughly and dragged around the motel–and checked the circular lock, just to be sure. Then, the night was his. The next morning, his duty as watchman would return as the tourists did.