Cam glanced at the dashboard display and grimaced. He was midway through a trip he didn’t want to make, and now he might not make it at all. He was about to run out of gas. He was still hours from his destination and the gauge said he was running on fumes. The rusty road sign three miles back advised the next exit included the last chance to fill up until he reached Tucson. It was going to be a close one.
The dashboard gauge displayed a glowing red zero for what felt like several minutes before the exit ramp finally appeared on the dusty horizon. By the time Cam pulled into the dilapidated station and killed the engine beside the nearest pump, he was sweating bullets. The idea of running out of gas out here in the middle of nowhere wasn’t pleasant. He figured it was at least 100 degrees in the shade and there wasn’t a hint of shade to be found, just asphalt and sand.
The station appeared ancient, but its pumps looked shiny and new. As Cam exited his vehicle, the monitor on the pump sprung to life, greeting him with a video advertising the company’s fuel additive and its benefits to his car’s engine. Cam ignored the machine’s lubricant sermon and swiped his credit card in the appropriate slot.
Are you a rewards customer?
Cam pushed the NO button.
Would you like to join our rewards program?
Cam pushed the NO button again.
Will this be debit or credit?
Cam pushed CREDIT.
Is your trip business or pleasure?
“What the Hell?” Cam stepped around the pump and walked toward the front door of the station. Whatever glitch the pump suffered from, he wasn’t in the mood.
He grabbed the door handle and yanked on it. It didn’t budge.
“You’re kidding me.”
He yanked again. Same result. Cam banged his fist on the glass then leaned against it to peer inside. The place was empty. Not a soul to be seen, just lonely coolers and racks full of sodas, smokes, and potato chips.
Cam trudged back to the pump and mashed the BUSINESS button on the digital display. In response, the pump provided a list of choices:
“This is fucking ridiculous.”
As much as Cam wanted to yell at an attendant or just get in his car and burn rubber to the next gas station, neither was an option. He pressed FUNERAL.
“Goddamnit!” Cam smacked the pump with the flat of his hand. The machine uttered a loud squawk. The fuel additive commercial ended abruptly, replaced by a video of the same friendly-looking spokesman dressed in a polo shirt bearing the company logo.
“Here at Foss Fuels we’re serious about gasoline, but we’re serious about keeping our machines in top condition too. Any intentional damage to our pumps or facilities could be considered a Class 4 Felony. Please be careful, and as always, thank you for filling up at Foss Fuels.”
Cam wanted to hit the machine again, but instead he closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and counted to ten. When he reached the magic number, he opened his eyes and pressed RELATIVE with all the calmness he could muster.
Choose your fuel type.
Cam chose the cheapest gas they offered then inserted the nozzle and set it to fill the tank. He leaned back against the side of his car and exhaled a relieved breath when he heard the fuel begin to flow.
Before the words could evaporate in the dry heat, the Foss spokesman reappeared on the machine’s monitor wearing the same polo shirt and the same friendly smile.
“Foss Fuels would like to offer our condolences for your loss. Losing a loved one is never easy, but we hope you’ll take comfort in knowing your loved one is going to a better place, a place deep within the earth where over the millennia heat and pressure will slowly fossilize them until one day we’ll dredge them up and sell them back to your descendants from this very machine.”
The pump automatically shut off as Cam’s tank ran full, and he jumped at the sound, his gaze locked on the spokesman in horror.
“Thank you for stopping at Foss Fuels—where today’s customers are tomorrow’s product.”
Matt Handle lives in Atlanta, Georgia where he juggles the reality of being a husband, father, and software developer with the imaginary characters and worlds that constantly vie for his attention. You can find some of his longer work including his debut novel Storm Orphans for sale on Amazon. You can hunt down more of his short stories around the web including at Devolution Z, Horror Bites, The Weird and Whatnot, Blank Fiction, Daily Science Fiction, Verbicide, Flash Fiction Magazine, Freeze Frame Fiction, Grievous Angel, and his blog riff (https://matthandle.blogspot.com/)
WHY WE CHOSE TO PUBLISH “Tomorrow’s Dinosaurs”:
Amusing and unexpected immediately come to find when thinking about this wonderful short piece. We can all identify with fuel pump interrogations. Author Matt Handle starts with the customary ones then pushes further and over the top, which is what makes for good humor. But he doesn’t stop there and gives us an unexpected ending that makes us smile. A lot. It’s a well-done piece of writing.