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Six. Seventeen. Nineteen. Forty-five. Twelve. And…Twenty-three,” he finished, the last of the lotto numbers rolling off his tongue, which was suspiciously dry considering the speckles of spit that now clung to the sneeze guard separating him and the attendant. He cleared his throat before wetting his whistle with a gulp of his unpurchased Mega-Chug and wondered why the attendant didn’t ask for his cash.

That was supposed to be his cue.

The attendant had seen this all too often: a straggler—one of the pesky pricks that moseyed on in five minutes before closing time—making a last-minute run for their munchies, or whatever the hell they were gonna blow their five-dollar-scratch-off winnings on.

It was so routine that he had to double-take when the numbers all aligned: the ones coming out of the stranger’s mouth, and the ones Sharpied onto that little strip of paper taped against the translucent wall, just behind the ‘Smile You’re On Camera’ sticker. What were the odds that they’d finally line up? Probably pretty slim.

Yet, sure enough, tonight they did.

“And…lemme do twenty on pump two,” the impatient patron said, awaiting the clerk’s response—maybe a plea for his payment. None was given. And instead of saying anything to the stranger in his station, the attendant silently trembled and reached just below the register.

Shit.

The barrels of two handguns met one another at the threshold of the see-thru wall, still littered with the remnants of spittled lotto numbers and the smudges of oily fingers, which it held onto quite well, but both of them knew it would never catch a bullet.

There was a tense and somewhat awkward silence that seemed to drag on for a solid minute, only interrupted by the occasional passing car or noisy cricket.

“Is it bulletproof?” the patron asked, breaking that silence once again. The attendant shook his head.

“Your gun's not cocked,” he replied, fumbling with his accent.

What?”

“Your gun. You didn’t cock it,” he said, the hammer on his sh’tick-ing into place as he nervously grinned, “Like that.”

Now the silence was tenser, built up by the endless sound of buzzing fluorescent lights, as the patron gulped not on his Mega-Chug, but on his own hot saliva, sweat accumulating under his palm. This wasn’t supposed to happen.

“What is this? Self-defense?”

The attendant shook his head, popping open the register and shoving a five into his pocket, “If I told you,” he said, his once thick accent completely gone, “you wouldn’t believe me. I don’t even believe me.”

Confusion smeared across the patron’s face, lowering his gun as he took a step backward, ending the deadlock, defeated.

“Forget it, man,” he said, “keep the damn money.”

“You don’t understand,” the clerk said, scooting around the register and knocking bags of potato chips onto the unwashed floor as he did, his sight locked onto the unpaying patron, “I can’t let you go.”

Another car passed as the attendant waited for a clearing. When he felt the road was empty, he nudged the former robber forward, a door chime reverberating into the cool, nightly air as the duo waddled into the parking lot. The attendant scanned the lot and made eye contact with the stranger at his gunpoint.

“That’s yours on two, right?”

The man nodded.

“Throw me your keys. And the gun.”

After an apprehensive hesitation, the stranger agreed, handing over the aforesaid items.

“What’s this all about?” he asked.

“Get in the car,” the attendant said, “passenger side. And if you try to run, I will shoot you.”

The man sighed in self-pity, pleading for an ounce of mercy, “Look man, I didn’t even take the money.”

“This has nothing to do with the money. All you did was make this easier for me. Now, get in.”

Without further protest, the man marched over to the passenger’s side of his car, sitting atop a pile of crumbs, ash, and unpaid parking tickets. He waited in there for many long moments—contemplating making a run for it—until the attendant emerged from the darkness, carrying a rope made of metal twine—which choked out any dreams of escape.

“Lean forward so I can tie this around you.”

Why?”

“Because if you don’t, I’ll kill you,” the attendant said, waving the cocked gun in his hand.

The stranger distrustfully agreed, leaning forward, and allowing himself to be tied up. When the attendant was done with the dirty work, he slammed the door and walked around the hood to the driver’s side, surveying the empty road, and plopping himself in the stranger’s vehicle. With a turn of the key, the engine roared.

“Look, if you’re gonna kill me…just do it,” the tied-up man said, his head hung against his chest as he fidgeted with the chorded wire snuggly strapped across him. The attendant finally sighed.

“What’re the odds that you’d pick the exact numbers?” he asked; a faint and ironic chuckle on his lips.

“What’re you talking about?”

“It doesn’t matter,” the attendant said, shaking his head and letting his foot off the brake as the car rolled into motion. His passenger’s heart sunk into his stomach as they looped around to the back of the building, wondering if the crazed gas station clerk was actually something of an ax murder, ready to hack him into chop suey as soon as they faded from the florescent limelight.

As they pulled up before the car wash at the rear of the station, the clerk pressed firmly onto the breaks, forcing the vehicle to a halt before shifting it into ‘neutral’ atop the metal tracks. He let out one last sigh as he stared ahead, the beams from the car’s headlights shining onto a sign draped from a chain rope that blocked off the dark void of the wash’s entrance, reading, simply, ‘OUT OF SERVICE.’

Thank you,” the clerk said.

“The hell do you even mean?” the tied-up passenger replied, more confused than frightened at this point. The attendant simply chuckled under his breath once again, wagging his head as he pushed open the driver’s side door, light filling the car from above.

“I thought they were crazy, too—the people that found it. But now I know, as you soon will, that they were right. And if we don’t do this, God knows what this thing’ll do in its hunger.”

What?” was all the passenger could say, high-pitched and squeaky-like. But he was too late to protest. The clerk, approaching the wash, yanked the chain from its anchor on one side and tread carefully to the other, resting the sign and its chain on the soaked concrete as he staggered over to a small metal kiosk machine, slipping the five from his pocket into it. The car wash whirred into motion as a low, growl-like sound rumbled the ground.

”Thank God it doesn’t hunger often.”

Within seconds, the car, and its estranged passenger, were already halfway tugged into the gaping chasm that frothed and gnashed with sputtering and spinning brushes that flailed all-too organically. And the bubbling liquid that secreted from every orifice of the machine rained down onto the car with a sizzling simmer, shattering the glass windshield on impact and eating straight through the metal roof—burning into the seats, and the seated passenger.

The brushes clasped onto the tied-up man just as he began to scream, only for the entire commotion to be drowned out by the sound of echoed music that played from the station’s speaker system, coordinated by the clerk who feared a passerby might’ve heard the cries for help. They didn’t, of course. And even if they did, the screams were short-lived, and soon the wash had finished cleaning its plate, sloshing chunks of flesh through its bristles like a baleen whale.

What remained of the car found its way to the other side, still dripping with the strange substances that resembled ordinary industrial soaps and waxes, but clearly were anything but. It didn’t take long to clean them, however, and they, along with the pools of blood that formed beside them, swiftly spiraled down the gutter drains and out of sight—out of mind.

The final touch was actual soap. And actual bleach. And after it had soaked up the foul smells, the only thing to remain was the soap scum that accumulated on the concrete.

As he cleaned up and closed up in the small hours of the morning, making sure to carefully reapply the chained-up sign to the defunct wash, the so-called attendant Sharpied a curved, black line onto that number twenty-three; a twenty-eight in its place, hoping that the next poor soul would never consider it to be their lucky number.


Written by MakRalston
Content is available under CC BY-SA

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