Treat of the Week
It was nearly six on a Friday evening when Joe found himself inside the Shell station paying for a tank of overpriced gas and wishing he was already home, stretched out on the couch, playing his favourite video game and putting another week of too-hard labour – for too little pay – behind him. The teller behind the counter flashed him a distracted smile as he came into line behind an elderly woman with a mitt full of lottery tickets. With a quiet sigh and a slight twinge of irritation, Joe forced himself to smile back at the pimply faced cashier.
After what seemed to be an eternity, the grey haired hag finally finished checking her tickets, brushed past Joe with an air of irritation – as though it’d been him holding her up with some senseless endeavour – and waddled out of the store.
Joe sighed again and stepped up to the till. Just as the teller was fetching him a pack of smokes from behind the counter, another man stepped into line behind him and Joe was immediately struck by the oddest sensation he’d ever experienced. It wasn’t quite fear or disgust or worry, but more so a combination of these things mixed with a strange coldness that seemed to seep right down to his marrow and take hold, causing a shiver to run up his spine despite the overactive heater in the place. He fumbled to take his change back from the pimply faced cashier and rushed out of the store without more than a quick glimpse at the other man’s face.
A moment later, Joe was scrambling into his minivan covered in a frosting of goosebumps and shivering just a little as he tried to make sense of the strange feelings that had come over him inside the store.
“You ok?” His wife asked from the passenger seat, raising one eyebrow at him at him in her typical, quizzical way.
Joe shook his head, nodded, then shook his head again. “That was the weirdest damn thing I ever felt,” he told her. He reached out ant twisted the heater knob to its highest setting.
She watched him curiously, but didn’t prod as she waited for him to tell the tale.
Joe grinned sheepishly. “I don’t know what happened in there,” he admitted. With a flick of his hand he motioned towards the window and the small silver sports care beyond.
A good looking guy – thirty-something’ish by the looks of it, well dressed with dirty blonde hair – was just climbing into the vehicle. “That guy… him… right there!” Joe explained in a rush. “As soon as he came in the store I got the strangest damn feeling I ever had. I can’t really explain it, but whatever it was, it felt wrong.” He felt another shiver pass through his body.
She asked him to elaborate.
“I dunno… as soon as he came close I felt… dirty? No, not really that. Nervous maybe? Ah damn it, I can’t explain it Tammy. It was just weird. Really weird.”
The two of them watched the man drive off in silence. Joe put the minivan in motion and a moment or two later they were pulling out onto the highway a few cars behind the sports car.
Joe’s eyes never left the back of the car the entire time it remained in sight. There was a brief moment when it seemed the car might collide with a Mac truck, but then the driver safely manoeuvred the vehicle away from tragedy, took a sudden right and was gone from sight just seconds later.
At the near collision Joe had felt certain that he’d sensed something about to happen to the man, and as the car turned off the highway without incident he found himself somewhat confused. He was left with that gnawing realization that something odd had just transpired, and the nagging reality that he’d never have any idea what the oddness might have actually been about.
On the drive into work on Monday morning, Joe listened to the news on the radio. An accident was blocking up the bridge traffic again – thankfully he’d managed to avoid that, or he’d have been late for work again – another armed robbery at the ATM on the west side of town – that was becoming a bit of an issue lately – gas prices were going up again – surprise, surprise – and some freak had murdered his entire family with poison – Joe didn’t catch the location, but these sort of tales always seemed to be coming from the states, or at least the bigger cities, so he didn’t think to pay it much mind.
The radio went on to report some various other tidbits, and then the droning voice of the newscaster was replaced by Jagger’s exuberant insistence that he was – in fact – “pleased to meet you”, and the invitation to guess his name. Joe was happily singing along as he pulled into the parking lot beside the big steel shop.
It was a bit of a shock to learn that the ‘freak’ who’d poisoned his family over the weekend had been local, but not terribly so. There were always sickos out there and it wasn’t the first time something like this had happened close to home. It seemed to be the main topic of interest around the shop that day however, and justifiably so. In an ordinary world full of ordinary people running about doing ordinary tasks, something like this happening so close to home was big news. It was human nature to pick items like this apart.
“Two little kids,” one of the burly welders grunted. “Close to my grandkids’ ages. Sick fucker.”
“Maybe his wife was cheating on him?” Joe heard another welder suggest.
Joe thought that seemed as likely an explanation as anything. Last spring there’d been a man a few doors down from Joe’s that had blown his own brains out in his truck after finding out his wife was cheating on him. The man’s suffering had been understandable, but the brilliance of doing it out front of the house – where school kids passing by on their way to the morning bus had plain view of the carnage – was not.
“Ya, sure,” scoffed the first welder. “Kill himself over that kind thing… fine. Hell, I’d be more apt to kill the bitch… but the kids? What kinda sick fucker does something like that to his kids?”
Joe had to shrug; he didn’t know.
Another day came to an end and Joe found himself at home, relaxing on the couch beside his wife and daughter. He was about to put in his favourite game and drift away from reality for awhile, when a final click of the remote brought him to the evening news. From the top right corner of the screen, a familiar face stared back at Joe.
With a sudden – and all too familiar – chill washing over him, Joe fingered the volume up a couple of notches, and motioned his wife and daughter to hush. As Joe stared at the TV in disbelief, Tammy and Alexia stared at him in a similar manner.
His mind went back – momentarily – to Friday evening in the convenience store when the ordinary man standing in line behind him with a carton of milk and two Mars bars had instigated something close to panic within him. Another chill rushed through Joe’s body.
The robot-like newscaster explained – without the decency of emotion – that the man in the picture – Paul Rolands – had returned home from a typical day at the office the previous Friday to be greeted by his loving wife and two young daughters. He quickly set himself to the chore of preparing them giant Mars-bar-flavoured milkshakes as a special treat. They’d snuggled up together on the couch to watch the latest instalment of their favourite TV show as they sipped the delicious shakes, and that’s exactly how the police detectives found them early Sunday afternoon.
The detectives claimed that the poison was quick acting, and that all had died peacefully – never aware of the plot against their lives – just enjoying a quiet, eventless evening at home.
All that stood as an explanation to the tragedy was a simple note posted on the fridge with two, bright-yellow, happy-faced magnets that read: I will not suffer the ones I love, to live in a world without compassion. ~ David Wittenburg ~