's 2015 Horror Write-off:

" Adult Stage "

Submitted by ProphetStorm

 I looked across my budget, my bills, my checkbook and bank statement, and came to the same conclusion I had for the fourth consecutive time: I had overbudgeted, and my luxurious Nevada 'vacation' would have to be a lot earlier if I was to drive rather than fly. I quickdialed my boss.

 "Hey, Rose. What is it?"

 "I need another week. Things didn't work out the way I had planned, and I need to drive."

 I heard his cussing, though he covered the receiver. "Of course you do. Tell you what. Bring me back something from Vegas and we'll call it square."

 "Fair enough," I giggled hesitantly, then quickly said goodbye.

 Packing the car, I took note of the fuel gauge. Full. Excellent. I'd need to watch my gas situation every step of the way if I were to make my budget last. As I pulled out of my driveway, I bid farewell to the business of the East Coast and flipped the mental finger at my overbearing, flirtatious boss. Once I ditched my leaky Citroen and the expensive engagement ring of a rich, dead fiance, I'd be rolling in style as a new woman. He'd never find me, and quite technically, I was giving him in excess of two weeks' notice.

 On my way, I did some thinking about Greg. I loved him, but his death had left a bad taste in my mouth, and the ring he'd given me was a reminder of him. I'd be happier without it, and it gave me a new lease on life. I was startled out of my reverie by the gas light coming on. Swell. I was coming up on the edge of the desert--the prices would be murder.

 I pulled into the Last Chance gas station in denial of the gas prices--

REG: .50

UNL: .75

DIESEL: 1.00

 What?! I almost laughed. I parked alongside the pump and got out my credit card, only to see that the card reader and receipt slot on all the pumps had been...smashed in with baseball bats or such implements. Starting to get a little concerned, I walked into the convenience store. The coon-eyed, insomniac cashier shot me a heat-seeking missile of a glare. "You here for gas?"

 "Yeah...and I have a card, but the pumps--"

 "I did that for a reason. How much?"

 "Ten gallons. Five bucks. That is, if the prices up there are your real prices..."

 "I'm fixed for life, so I can afford to do that. I set this little place up as a public service to let people know of a hazard when crossing the desert."

 "What kind of hazard?"

 "Just don't take the main road. There's a turnoff about twenty miles in, and you want to take that turnoff. It rejoins the highway further on, but you want to be off the main road when you pass it."

 "What is it?"

 "If I tell you, you'll call me crazy. Just take the turnoff. It only costs you a few hours, it'll take you through a little edge-of-nowhere town. Just trust me on this, 'kay?"

 I nodded, unsure of just what to make of what he was saying. All the same, I paid, filled up my tank, and headed out.

 It was about an hour before I hit the fork in the road. I could tell that the fork would take me miles off my way. Now, did I want to follow the gas station millionaire's advice, or save time?

 Deciding I could afford to lose a little time and a little gas with how much I saved, I drove down the turnoff to what the man had promised was a little edge-of-nowhere town. He was right. Mayberry was a bustling metropolis compared to this two-street burg--Quiet, Nevada. And yet...somehow. SOMEHOW. Somehow I managed to get pulled over.

 I almost drove through the whole town before the sheriff turned his lights on. Panicked, I pulled over immediately, unsure of how long he'd been following me or how irritated he'd be with me. Walking up to my rattletrap, he motioned for me to roll the window down, which I was trying to do--it was a little uncooperative. When I got it down, the pot-bellied cop tipped his hat to me. "Ma'am."

 "Sir. Is there a problem?"

 "Well, yeah, sure is, but y'ain't in trouble, so settle yerself about that. I stopped you 'cuz it's pretty plain y'ain't from around here."

 "No, I'm from--"

 "There's been a recent rash of disappearances. Here." He handed me a sheet of copy paper, with a series of black and white photos printed on them. Looked like it had been run through a bad xerox copier some eight or ten times. "Any of these folk look familiar to you?"

A young black woman with two eyebrow rings. A hip-looking older guy with a ponytail. A creepy kid with goth makeup and a Hitler-looking combover. There were two or three others.  "No. Haven't seen 'em."

 "Flip the page over."

 I did so. There was a larger picture, one that looked like it had been taken with a cop car's dash camera. A broken-down car with a tired-looking fellow leaning against it. There was a cactus, a mountain in the back, and just a few yards away, an exit sign.

"He was seen on the road where those others disappeared. Wouldn't respond to anything I said to him. Just kinda stood there. He responded when I asked him if there was something wrong with his car, but other'n that, didn't hear a peep out of him. Couldn't take him in--weren't no call to--but it's possible he might be related to the disappearances. Keep an eye out for him, yeah?"

 Was this the 'it' the guy at the gas station had warned me about? "I sure will."

 "Name, ma'am?"

 "Roseanne Watson. Why?"

 "Just wanted everything to be neat and clean in my report," he shrugged. "Seemed like the right thing to do to ask your name. I'm Sheriff Andy Clemens. Have a good day, ma'am."

 But I didn't. As I drove through, I found myself wondering just what was up with that guy and his car. In fact, when I got back on the highway, I pulled a u-turn just to see what was going on.

 About halfway back, somewhere a mile or so beyond the sleepy town off to one side, there was an old gas station. I pulled in, curious. The pavement didn't sound like pavement beneath my tires. I got out at one of the pumps and saw someone at the next. My blood froze--pumping gas into an old pickup was a young black woman with two eyebrow rings. She looked at me with a tired, lazy expression. "Mmmmhi," she murmured. "mmmhere to gas up?"

"Yeah," I nodded, looking at the pump. Someone had taken a baseball bat to this one, too. As I walked past the girl, trying not to stare, I noticed that her hand had a veritable death grip on the pump--but it didn't seem to be pumping gas. Didn't sound like it, the hose just lay limp--and the shield on the nozzle was stuck tight against the side of the pickup. Weird.

 I was almost inside the convenience store when I saw them.

 At the counter--creepy goth kid, hitler haircut.

 At the snack rack, older guy, ponytail. All three of these people were moving--they were breathing, swaying gently occasionally, but their feet never moved. They never walked from one area to another. They just stood there.

When I stepped back, my shoes almost caught on the pavement. Why? It was firm, flat pavement. No cracks. I was getting nervous.

 A thought occurred to me as I walked back to the car. I saw an exit sign some yards from the gas station driveway. Taking the paper the sheriff had given me from the seat of my car, I walked across the road and a ways away, then put the paper up.

 Yeah. The gas station was exactly where the man had been standing with his car.

 I lowered the photo just in time to see my car sinking into the pavement. The lady looked over and smiled, then yawned. Her throat was full of pavement.

 I decided I'd walk back to Quiet, Nevada, but my feet decided I'd run.