Keith Richards and I were pulling the late shift at the gas station. I came in at 11 pm; he wandered in at 11:27. He was stoned, and that made me laugh because a guy I knew named Keith Richards was stoned.
The Keith Richards that worked with me at the 24/7 Gas ‘N’ Snacks was not a member of the Rolling Stones. My Keith Richards was a spiky-haired, reefer smoking redneck whose greatest ambition in life was to screw the girl who delivered Pepsi in the morning.
I was giving a customer change as Keith filled up a slushie, drank half of it, and then filled it up some more, then finally proceeded over behind the counter.
“Jay, good to see you, it’s been a long time,” he said in his airy, wispy voice, as if the only thing in his lungs was cigarette smoke.
“I saw you last night,” I said. “and you’re late again.”
So what was right. We were paid so little that the owner could afford to have two of us on at night. This was only done because our gas station was in a particularly nasty bit of town. Keith knew it well; he lived three blocks away.
The customers slowed to a weak trickle, just the occasional midnighter buying gas or coffee. As usual, Keith let me do all of the actual work; he sat behind me, reading one of the porno magazines we kept behind the counter. He was the only person I knew of that actually read those magazines. Every now and then he’d say something like: “Did you know that Miss Sheila Keets, 24, this month’s centerfold, enjoys the books of Vladimir Nabokov? What a smart little vagina she must have!”
I was the responsible one; the manager had told me so. He trusted me, the 19 year old, over the twenty-something degenerate who’d worked here for three years.
We were engaged in a heated debate about oral sex when the greatest customer we’ve ever had came in.
He came barreling into the store, the little bell going ding! We looked up, and Keith Richards snorted. The man was wearing a black cloak that went down past his ankles, and thick, heavy boots that clump-clumped on the floor. He had long, white fingers that seemed to writhe in the air as he paced the aisles.
He was bald, a head like a polished bowling ball, with eyes pushed into their sockets like he was the wife of some asshole who talked with his fists. Keith muttered in my ear that it was Bruce Willis without any makeup, yippee-ki-yay motherfucker!
The man went down our tiny medical aisle, knocking things off the shelves as he searched for something. I watched as he picked up suntan oil, turned his lip up in disgust, then flung it behind him.
I came out from behind the counter and went over to him. “Help you find something, man?” Up close I saw that his skin was red, fire engine red, and it had a greasy, unhealthy sheen. I saw crusts of white, dead skin peeling off.
“Yess-uh,” said the man, “I need aloe vera. The leafy stuff-uh.”
I leaned down and grabbed the little green bottle; it was outrageously overpriced. I handed it to him and he murmured his thanks, and then uncapped it. I watched as he slathered it on his face, his head, rubbing it in and moaning.
I looked back at Keith, my eyebrows raised, but he was no help; he was shaking with silent laughter.
“Do you have-uh, sunscreen? Lotion?” asked the man.
“Uh, not up here,” I replied. “We had a stand of it, but after August we took it down.”
The bald man looked at his feet, fists clenched. I didn’t think it was possible, but his skin turned a darker shade of red.
“Hey, why don’t I go check in the back?” I said, thinking of spree shooters and crazy men. Better to be safe than sorry.
“You would do that-uh? Thankss-uh.”
I went in the back, moving boxes around. Keith had been the one to take down the stand, and he only offered to do it because there was a woman in a bikini on it. It had been stashed by the back door, waiting to be thrown out. I figured Keith hadn’t actually tossed it. Sure enough, the cardboard stand was still there, but the lotion was gone.
I checked the pricing bin and found some, marked down for clearance. I grabbed three tubes of sunscreen and walked back to the sales floor.
He was standing at the counter, making a noise at Keith, who was laughing his head off.
“What’s going on?” I said, sliding behind the counter. The bald man was hissing, his mouth open wide and I saw why he talked weird; his teeth were jagged and crooked; they filled his mouth like a bunch of pens thrown haphazardly into a cup.
“Oh, Jay, this guy, this fuckin’ guy, you know who he looks like? That vampire from that old movie, Nosferatu!” Keith clapped his hands and howled with laughter.
“I’m sorry,” I said to the man, and I slid all of the sunscreen over to him. “No charge, just please don’t complain to management.”
The man nodded his head and me, and his eyes had a sadness in them that I couldn’t place. He gathered up his sunscreen and slid out the door.
“Nosferatu!” Keith called after him. It was quiet for a bit, and then Keith said: “He didn’t pay for the aloe stuff.”
On my lunch break, I went outside for a smoke. I sat on the picnic table and looked up at the full moon.
There was movement out of the corner of my eye, and I turned and saw the bald man staring at me.
“Hey, Nosf-, I mean, hey man! Get those sunburns cleaned up?” I offered him a cigarette, and he scuttled forward to take it. I lit it for him and said: “Sorry about Keith Richards, he’s an asshole.”
“No matter,” he replied. “When do you get off-uh?”
“Normally around six”
He nodded. “Sun won’t be out then-uh.” He pulled out one of his sunscreen tubes and began rubbing it on his head.
“The sun’s not out,” I reminded him.
“I know. This is for the moon. Moonburns are the worst.”
“Oh.” My cigarette was only half gone, but I snuffed it anyway and went back inside.
I didn’t see Nosferatu when I left work, but Keith Richards called in the next night. And the night after that. I went and visited him in the hospital, and he told me had a disease, the doctors thought it might be AIDS.
“It ain’t though,” Keith Richards said, “that fucking guy bit me. He bit me on the neck. Nosferatu bit me.”
I looked down at Keith, pale and emaciated in his hospital bed, clear tubes stuffed in his nostrils. He had a white bandage on his neck, wrapped in gauze. “Maybe you’ll turn into a vampire,” I said.
He laughed a little. “Yeah, maybe. Better save me some sunscreen then.”