By M. Clark
The blotch by the side of the road was not, as Jay had assumed a mile back, a copse of trees marooned in the desert, but a building: the only freestanding structure as far as the eye could see. Even Jay had to rest now and again on a makeshift crutch as he approached, sweat and blood crusted all down his face; his broken leg throbbing under the midday sun.
The bolded letters above the beat-down little shop, with its lone gas pump and dusty generator, read “CONVENIEN STORE”, with a heavy scrawl in the middle, where the rest of a real word might fit. There were no signs of life in the parking lot, but a red-and-white “OPEN” sign hung askew in one dirty window.
Jay limped through the door, a bell sounding overhead and twinned blasts of cool air and country music assailing him upon entry. From behind the front counter a burly man in suspenders and a Magnum P.I. moustache said “Help you?” in a friendly enough manner, though he made no move towards the disheveled arrival.
“Please,” said Jay, hearing the hoarseness in his voice.
“Plenty of options,” said the clerk, nodding to four densely packed aisles. “Pick your poison.”
A small moan escaped as Jay contemplated dragging his battered body through the store, looking for medical supplies amid precarious stacks of unlikely desert wares—everything from tennis rackets to hamster feed to snorkels. He hooked a small duffel bag in his free hand, thinking to fill it with whatever of use he could find in the rest.
“Please,” he heard himself say again, “you’ve got to help me. They’re on my tail, see. I—I took something. I didn’t mean to, oh god, but I did, and they’ll find me here if I don’t—”
The clerk snapped his fingers at Jay’s hand. “Hey! You gotta pay for that first.”
Startled, Jay set down the bag, and all fear of pursuit fell away. “Wait, what?”
The clerk shook his head. “Just a drug-deal-gone-wrong number. A little overdone, if you ask me, but some folks love the chase.”
“Did that bag just—”
The clerk stroked his moustache and nodded to the back of the store. “Superhero scene might be better for you, come to think of it. No better time to discover accelerated healing powers than after a brutal car accident—which is, I take it, what you’re in from?”
Jay stared at the clerk. “I’m sorry,” he said, not a little tersely. “Do you have a phone in here? So I can call someone who might actually be able to help?”
The clerk arched a brow and sighed. “Didn’t read the sign very well, did you?”
“Convenience store, sure.” Jay gestured impatiently. “Fat lot of convenience I’m seeing so far, though.”
“No no no. Hm. Maybe it’s the dust storm.” The clerk hoisted a push broom over the counter and hefted his own weight around it, then propped open the front door and angled the bristles to sweep the exterior sign. “We’re the Convenient Plot Devices Store!” he grunted as he worked. “We being just me, Mortimer MacGuffin, mind you, since the old man passed on. But boy, you shoulda seen him in his prime!”
“Unbelievable,” said Jay.
“Believe it,” said the clerk, grinning as he ducked back inside and caught his breath. “Slows the whole show down if you won’t. Now! Let’s see here—”
He rubbed his hands together while perusing the aisles. Jay tried to keep the clerk in sight without losing his own balance, his left leg still sending out bolts of pain.
“Aha!” The clerk pulled on a glove to bag a vial of unmarked green fluid. “Not a long-term deal, as our supernatural models go, but enough to mend that leg and clear up that head injury. Unless…”—the clerk shot Jay a solemn, wide-eyed stare—“Do you need a scar for anything? Emotional, physical? Something to force you into therapy and find your life’s true mission, or overcome a repressed memory, or marry the woman of your dreams?”
Jay had hardly parted his lips before the clerk snapped a suspender—hard, as if to reprimand himself. “Or man! Never know which way the tale will turn these days!”
“I don’t need a scar,” Jay finally managed. “Just medical assistance. Please.”
“—And transportation, right, of course. Wouldn’t be too convenient for you to stay trapped in a desert forever.” The clerk hummed as he slipped into another aisle and took up a compass in his gloved hand. “Yes, that should do quite nicely.”
Jay eyed the second item. “What’ll that one do, exactly?”
“Oh,” said the clerk, setting both items on the counter and ringing them in. “Bring a lost tourist in a fine Cadillac down this old, empty road. She’ll be the nice sort—self-assured, great conversationalist, killer smile—only, her GPS will have stopped working en route to the very same place you need to go. I’ll be all out of maps, unfortunately, but you’ll know the way. What, no good?”
“No, no.” Jay swallowed. “That’s perfect.”
“$67.25 for the pair—and that’s a bargain, I’m telling you, so no haggling.”
A different kind of exhaustion came over Jay as he surveyed the miracle goods. “I haven’t—I don’t know where my wallet is. In the canyon, maybe, with the wreckage.”
The clerk’s eyes narrowed. A long pause ensued. Then, beckoning Jay close with one beefy hand, the MacGuffin slipped something from under the till into the pocket on Jay’s tattered shirt. Jay reached for the item and jerked away—surprised, then confused.
“Oh, wait, no—never mind,” he said, shifting his weight on the crutch to retrieve his wallet from a back pocket. “Must’ve placed it there just before jumping to safety. Hell of a thing to remember when your car’s about to swan dive into oblivion, though.”
“Attaboy,” said the clerk, dipping into Jay’s shirt pocket to retrieve a rabbit’s foot.
Jay blinked when he put two and two together, then nodded at the clerk while counting out the total in twenties (of which he now seemed to have many). “Hey, that’s some trick. Why don’t you just use one of those things to get rich quick and settle down?”
The clerk chuckled. “Catch-22, my friend: What could be more convenient than a plot device that gives you everything you want all at once? But with a device that convenient, there’d be no plot at all. ‘Once there was a man who got everything he wanted and was perfectly content forever and always—the end.’ Untenable, you see?”
Jay pushed the compass aside and removed the vial from its wrapper. Almost immediately he could feel the vial’s restorative effects on everything from his bumps and bruises to the broken leg and cracked skull. “So for you, this store in the middle of nowhere is the next best thing?”
The clerk rested an elbow on the counter and winked. “Wouldya believe it?”
Jay set his crutch by the door and tested the sturdiness of his left leg, dazed by the abrupt transformation from screaming alien entity to normal limb. Just outside, a blue Cadillac rolled up and a woman with warm auburn hair stepped into a light desert breeze.
“What the hell,” he said. “Why not?” He dabbed at his forehead, but even the mess of dried blood on both sleeves and skin had already, quite conveniently, disappeared.