Tales from the Gas Station Vol.1 By Jack Townsend

Themes

  • Existential dread, violence, dark humor, parallel dimensions, chaos theory
  • Reluctant hero, realistic fiction (until it isn’t), absurdism, small town bs
  • Supernatural, horror, mental illness, demons, aliens, ancient gods
  • retail life, average guy fiction, apathy, low fantasy fiction

After he dropped me off, I went about my regular shift-starting duties. I reconciled Marlboro’s till, not at all surprised to see that he somehow had over a hundred dollars more in his cash drawer than he was supposed to, or that the surplus was entirely in one-dollar coins.

What the Hell to say about the gas station? A terminally ill gas station attendant works the graveyard shift every night at the edge of a Bumblefuck town. As you’d expect there are times where reality is stranger than fiction as he battles his diseased mind for control and fends off rabid raccoons, a psychopathic bully from high school, and an infestation of “hand plants”. But that’s just business as usual, the true plot lies within the things even Jack cannot ignore: like the multiple murders of the same person each day, of which he is an unwitting accomplice; his compulsion to dig deep holes behind the gas station coupled with a disturbing loss of time; and his accidental awakening of a dark god who will come to devour the universe.

Written with a keen self-awareness and realistic dialogue Townsend caught me off-guard with honesty and apathy. Jack is faced with the harsh reality that the universe is a pretty messed up place, and it’s really none of his business what the universe chooses to do anyway. Along the way the gas station hires a few solid employees, among them Marlboro/Jerry is not quite one, despite practically living out of their storage closet. The employees are odd, but the local and patrons are otherworldly. Everyone in the small town has a vaguely threatening aura coupled with the inane mediocrity you’d expect to find at a high school reunion. Entertaining until the end, this love letter to anyone who has experienced being a retail drone does not disappoint. Stick around long enough and if you are truly blessed, you might encounter the existential wisdom of the Bathroom Cowboy- horse and all- while trying to pass through on your way to somewhere other than the middle of nowhere.

I can attest to this being a wonderfully ridiculous series. An amazing recommendation from my husband that is based on a Creepypasta blog by Jack Townsend himself. To be honest I’m not 100% sure of its history other than that this series has existed in multimedia format for some time, gained a mass of followers, and rightfully so. Told in first person, Jack exposits his dismal existence to help himself keep track of time and sanity. There is no poetic frivolity in this read, the dialogue feels real as not everything has a deeper meaning and sometimes characters just say whatever comes to mind (Marlboro/Jerry), and the people are as real as any you would meet in a small town just trying to get by.

“Wait!” Marlboro yelled. “If you’re going to execute people, do me first!”

No one is a genius, there is no hero waiting to jump into action and save the world- and that is what makes this such a compelling masterpiece. In moments of déjà vu that elicit the feeling that know these people and places. This book will amuse, delight, and bask in the dark humor and existential dread of a normal guy with some extraordinary luck. Or lack thereof.

“I live in the same small southern town where I was born and raised. It’s the kind of place where, for fun, people do Civil War reenactments in the summer and meth in the winter. The kind of community where folks don’t take too kindly to (fill in the blank). The kind of town where people wear t-shirts to funerals and bookstores are an anomaly, and the only thing keeping New Pages from shutting its doors for good was the owner’s side business of selling marijuana out of the back room.”

I love and recommend it to anyone who loves stories of relatable places shrouded in mysterious yet corky darkness. The main character is my sarcastic and apathetic kindred soul. In the same way I once put an “international bomb threat” on hold in my convenience store, Jack turns down every opportunity to delve deeper into the chaos surrounding him. Likewise, it does include some vulgar situations and realistically colorful language, so I would recommend this for mid-teens to adults. If your interested, I suggest really checking out your local gas station with a critical eye late one night- just don’t stare too long at the lawn gnomes and try to avoid anything in that one cooler, you already know which one I’m talking about. And on the way out, don’t forget to thank the guy behind the counter- it won’t save you, but he’ll appreciate it all the same.

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