• Horace Windsor stood bundled and shivering against the passenger door of his sleek black Rolls Royce. A cigarette was clenched between his bluish fingers. He exhaled, a shaky stream of frozen breath and toxic smoke hissing from his teeth. Christ, it was cold.

    "Come on, come on," he chattered as the ancient gas pump chugged at a painstakingly slow pace. The numbers on the meter showed little progress. If not for his damned wife, he could have just stayed in the car. Four days of tedious corporate meetings and he was expected to make the three hour journey home without a single cigarette? "It will ruin the interior, Horace," she had scolded, “We only just bought the car last month." On any other day, he would have rebelled, but he didn't feel like putting up with her nagging after returning home from such a long week. He just wanted to get home and sleep in his own bed. The hotel had had an uncomfortable mattress.

    A dark green pickup truck pulled up to the pump next to Horace, interrupting his mental tangent. The noisy engine sputtered off, making room once again for the chilled silence in the night air. There had not been another car on the road since he left the interstate.

    The windows of the truck were dark, but Horace could faintly make out the figure of a man sitting inside. He pulled a small notepad from his jacket, flipping through the pages. The man stopped abruptly, scanned a finger over a page, and returned the book to his pocket. Horace took another puff of his cigarette.

    The driver door clicked open. Horace quickly turned his head downwards, but out of the corner of his eye, he saw the stranger climb out of the cab. He gently closed the door, yet the snap of it locking into place echoed in the expansive stillness. He set what appeared to be an empty beer bottle on the roof of the truck.

    "Excuse me, are you Mr. Windsor?" the stranger asked. His voice was deep and gruff.

    Horace glanced up. He had often been addressed this way at business conventions, meetings or other necessary formal gatherings. Every great now-and-then, he would run into someone outside his work life who had read his book on financial planning. This man, however, did not look like the type of person who would read such books.

    The stranger was very big. Horace could not boast in the ways of height, but this man had to be at least a foot taller than him, if not more. He was slender for his size, though it didn't seem he would have trouble stopping a freight train.

    Temperature did not appear to have an effect on the man, either. He wore a simple jean jacket that hung around his large frame, unzipped and even rolled up at the sleeves. Horace’s jaw clattered away even under his thick winter coat, while the stranger did not even shiver. Christ, it was cold.

    "Do you know me?" Horace replied, making an extra effort to sound smooth. Intimidation would not get to him.

    "No," said the man. His face was hidden just outside the glow of the gas station's light.

    Horace’s brow creased in confusion. The stranger only stared at him, unmoving. Uneasy silence crept up Horace’s back and clung to his shoulders. If only the gas pump would work faster. Damned pump, damned wife. He put the cigarette to his lips and inhaled, loosening the tension growing in his chest.

    The stranger spoke up again. "You shouldn't smoke," he breathed.

    "Maybe not," Horace snapped, a thick fog billowing from his mouth.

    "It'll kill you."

    The fog hung between them for a moment before dissipating. Horace decided to ignore the man's comment. He heard enough about quitting from his wife. Even his coworkers would chide him on it from time to time. He would not stand to hear about it from a random passerby.

    The pump clicked. Horace sighed heavily in relief and exasperation as he tugged the nozzle out of his car and returned it to its rack. Another cloud of icy air flew from his lungs. He turned to look at the stranger.

    “Good luck with that pump,” he chuckled mockingly, “I hope you aren’t in a hurry. You’ll be waiting a long time.”

    The man lifted his long arm to glimpse at his wristwatch. He shrugged. “It shouldn’t be much longer,” he said in a cool tone. A row of ivory glistened through the shadow of his face as the man smiled.

    Horace frowned and huffed at his nearly finished cigarette. A wave of anxiety began to seep through his core. He nodded a farewell to the stranger and pulled himself into the warm Rolls Royce waiting to take him home. The cigarette was still burning in his hand. He could put up with the nagging for one night. Right now, his only concern was to escape the uneasiness. He needed to get back on the road.

    Horace grabbed the set of keys lying on the seat next to him and began to fumble through the ring with his stiff hands, searching for the one he needed. There, this one. He slid the key into the ignition.

    There was a tap on the window. Horace shivered and slowly turned to face the stranger again, peering into the car window. He seemed even larger now. A round, black object was tucked into one hand. “Gas cap,” he grinned. There was no fog creeping from his lips.

    Horace gulped and nodded. He opened the door and climbed from the vehicle to stand in the chilled air once again. The stranger handed him the cap, and he staggered to the rear end of his car. Damned cap, damned pump, damned wife.

    The man watched calmly as Horace carelessly bent to screw the cap into place. Invisible fumes erupted into flame as they met the still-burning cigarette in Horace’s hand. He screamed in pain and terror as the fire shot up his arm and engulfed his face. Christ, it was hot! The stranger stared emotionlessly at him as he writhed over the ground in torment. The orange and yellow danced brutally along his body until he could no longer feel the burning. Horace fell limp.

    When it was over, the stranger glided back to his truck and removed the empty bottle from the roof. He returned to the smoldering remains of the businessman and crouched beside him. A thin, wispy stream of fog trickled from the blackened mouth. The stranger slowly wafted the fog down the neck of the bottle and captured it with his thumb. He smiled.

    “You shouldn’t smoke,” said the man to the wisp floating idly in the bottle. He unscrewed the gas cap of his own automobile, fitted the neck into the opening and tipped the fog into the tank. The cap was returned and the man slipped into the truck. He tugged the small notepad from his jacket, crossing off the last name on the list.

    The engine roared to life as he flicked the ignition. The stranger tapped the pedal and the truck jolted forward. A steep, fiery ramp unfolded in the pavement before him, and the truck descended into the earth. The engine sputtered away. Closing off the forsaken world below, the opening crumbled together and reassumed the shape of the desolate gas station. There was silence.