Something kinda strange happened when i was driving through western Kansas.
I had to stop at a gas station in the middle of nowhere... the corn had only been recently planted, thankfully, so at least i had the reassurance of being able to see well into the distance.
The pumps were not modern, so i needed to go inside to pay.
I presumed the small shack nearby, with its wooden siding painted in faded and chipping red paint, and dusty galvanized steel roof, was the place to go.
But how wrong that assumption turned out to be.
Once i entered, and my eyes had time to adjust to the dim trickle of light coming in through the tiny dirt-hazed windows in the back, i realized there was nothing in the place but a rough wooden counter, a hand-operated water pump, two chamberpots, and three large gumball machines.
I froze, and pivoted around to go back, but the door had shut behind me, and, apparently, locked.
As i stood there, fishing about in my mind for the rational explanation to all this, that i just *knew* there must be, an older gentleman rose up from behind the counter.
He must have been 6'4" at least, but fairly lean, and he appeared to be pretty fit for his age, which i guessed was early 60s. He wore faded old jeans, and a loose, button-up red and black plaid shirt.
His long, dark hair was streaked through with gray and white in several spots. His grey-blue eyes shone pleasantly from beneath his slightly bushy eyebrows, and, while his expression seemed kind, i could sense an underlying instability... or perhaps desperation?
"Howdy," he called out to me pleasantly, "in a bit of trouble with the gas, are ya?"
I smiled and nodded, "yup..."
"Well," he continued, "you might like to hear a story first. Would you like that?"
Without waiting for a response, he continued on.
"You may have noticed there's not much going on around these parts... just corn, and museums..."
The old man then looked down sheepishly, "oh, and the occasional 'adult store', but we get rid of those pretty fast..."
I nodded politely in agreement... i wasn't sure what this guy was all about, but i didn't want him thinking i was a pervert or something.
He'd been looking rather solemn and reserved up until this point, but now the old man's face lit up.
"Well, there's a secret to all of it, and i can tell you, because you're gonna be a part of it!"
I smiled nervously, the hair beginning to stand up on the back of my neck. I backed up slowly towards the door, attempting to bring the doorknob within reach of my left hand. The door was quite locked, but i hoped maybe i could jiggle it or just pull on it real hard, i didn't really know; i just knew i needed to get out.
"The secret is, when any of us around here are born, our mothers go out into the cornfields to give birth, alongside our corncows and cornhens. Corncows are special: they have very long legs to straddle rows of corn, you see, and cornhens... they're adapted to roosting atop corn; they can hop from stalk to stalk!"
I nodded and smiled encouragingly, occasionally glancing into his eyes, which were getting wilder and more manic as he got further into his story.
"Well, when the baby comes out, Voraszgh, the corn demon, rises from the nearest well, and places his mark and blessing upon the newborn child. And he utters into the mother's ear the name of an object of some kind."
"Voraszgh then goes into town, has a look around, and then, if he is pleased, he goes back into his den beneath the wells."
"Now the mother *must* teach her child all that she can about the object mentioned. It could be anything: pumps, tires, leaves, pencils, you name it! And the child must begin to collect them soon, before they know the love of a man, woman, corncow, or cornhorse. Cornsheep may be loved on Tuesdays, regardless of collection status, but i digress..."
"Anyways, all through their life, next to whatever other work they have, they continue to amass objects of the kind declared to them by Voraszgh, and, so long as they do so, they are blessed with healthy crops and children, a sturdy, stolid husband or wife of the species they choose, and long-lasting pickup trucks."
"And when they reach a certain age... about my age, in fact," he grinned slyly for emphasis, "that's when they must open up a museum, dedicated to the object they've spent their lives collecting. For, you see... our entire culture, and the bulk of our income, comes from museum attendance and curation."
"And now," he took a short step towards me, "you can probably guess what it is *i* collect..."
He extended his hand, and ran a weather-worn finger slowly down the center of my chest. I couldn't move back any further, as my back was against the door, and the lock would not budge.
I had no idea what he could possibly be collecting, but i knew that i didn't want to stay in this guy's museum forever. It would be so boring!
But just then, i heard one of the panes of glass shatter behind him, and a dark cylindrical object bounced across the floor. Fortunately, i'd seen plenty enough cop shows to recognize a flash bang grenade, so i leapt away from it, covering my ears as hard as i could, falling to the floor just as it went off.
Then I heard someone shout, "POLICE!" and the front door basically exploded, as a battering ram impacted it from the outside.
Old guy was not pleased, and he hissed at me, horns beginning to sprout from his head. I shrunk as far back into the corner as i could, pulling one of the gumball machines between us, as the first SWAT team member ran in, and seemed to be keeping the old man, now partially a demon, at bay with some sort of silver rod he'd unholstered from his tactical vest.
A second SWAT team guy ran in and grabbed me, tossing me easily over his shoulder, while the first guy continued to hold off the demon, now hissing and frothing in apoplectic rage.
"Building clear," the second one shouted to the first, just before running out the door with me, "Let's go!!!"
The first guy then retreated just behind us, covering us, as we fled to an armored vehicle, probably a surplus Buffalo MRAP. Strange creatures had begun wriggling out of the fresh furrows between the corn rows, and we ran as fast as we could into the relative safety of the truck.
The two SWAT team guys sat up front, while i sat in one of the jump seats just behind the driver. He cranked the big diesel engine over and floored it. It wasn't exactly awe-inspiring acceleration, but i could feel the power, as we roared onto the narrow dirt road away from the station.
"You okay ma'am, um.. sir... whatever you are?" the driver asked me. The one riding shotgun chuckled softly.
"I'm fine! You guys saved my life!!! How can i *ever* repay you?" i asked rhetorically, while attempting to climb into the lap of the one who carried me.
And... you probably don't want to hear the rest, so i should probably just stop the story here :D
I did eventually get my truck back from the demons, but that's a whole other story...