On the Spot

"Hand me some pretzels, will you Mike?" Ray asked, removing a hand from the wheel.

Mike rooted around the various bags at his feet. "Sorry, Ray, looks like we're out of 'em."

The car came to a screeching halt on the deserted highway. Ray turned to his friend, his green eyes flashing with mock ire.

"What do you mean we're out of pretzels?" he asked in a low, dangerous voice. "It's still five hours before we reach the convention, and I don't intend to spend it just staring at the road and listening to you mutter to yourself. I want my pretzels, and I want them NOW!" He looked at his patiently waiting friend, and sighed. "Just get the map and find the nearest town."

"Aye aye, cap'n," Mike returned, digging in the glove compartment. He brought out a sheaf of maps, one of which he selected and spread out on his lap. "Okay, we're going to be coming to an exit soon: take it, and we'll eventually reach this little spot on the map. They should have a mini-mart to satisfy your pretzel fix." Mike folded up the map, and stuffed it with its fellows back in the glove box. He leaned back in his seat, yawning. "Wake me when we get there."

Ray glared at his reclining friend. In retaliation, he ejected the "Weird Al" Yankovic tape that had been playing, and put in some Def Leppard. Mike groaned and covered his ears while Ray hummed contentedly to himself.

When he reached the outskirts of the town, Ray saw a sign saying "Welcome to Spot." Remembering Mike's words, he groaned and punched his companion on the shoulder, hard.

With a yelp, Mike woke up, just in time to see the town sign flash by. "Well," he said, grinning sleepily, "This should hit the spot, now shouldn't it?" He ducked another blow.

"How long have you been waiting to say that?" Ray growled, looking for a likely munchy source.

Mike grinned. "I dreamed it up while I was napping. Be grateful, the one I had originally was much worse."

Ray merely grimaced at the notion, and pulled into a gas station, parking at the mini-mart it contained. "Let's go: this'll be our last stop before the convention, so get what you need to get, and do what you need to do."

Mike didn't appear to be listening, however. He had made it out of the car, but was now leaning on the door, sniffing the air. "Hark, what scent from yonder store breaks?" he paraphrased, looking across the street.

Ray followed his gaze, and sighed. It was a leatherworks store, of course. No other smell would have caught Mike's attention over the stench of gas. Mike's obsession with leather knew no bounds: his last three dates had all been brought about by a girl wearing a leather jacket.

"Down, boy," Ray instructed, heading towards the mart door. "We'll indulge your leather fetish after we restock. Come on," he insisted, holding the door open for him.

Mike squared his shoulders. "I'll be back," he promised the leather scent, and preceded his friend into the store.

Several bags of twinkies, ding-dongs, chips, and pretzels later, they approached the sales clerk, a small, stocky man, who was reading a Sports Illustrated.

"Will that be all, gentlemen?" he asked, putting the magazine aside.

"Yes, please," Ray answered, echoed by Mike's distracted nod. Trying to make conversation, Ray asked, "Do you get many convention goers? Your town is sort of on the way to the convention center, at least from the south."

The clerk shook his head, totalling up their purchases. "No, we don't get many visitors. Did you say you were on your way to a convention?"

"Yep, Omegacon." In response to the clerk's blank look, Ray added, "It's the biggest role-playing game convention west of the Rockies. My friend and I are on our way there."

"I see," the man answered, his demeanor suddenly distant. "That will be $14.95." He took the money Ray and Mike gave him, and hastily made change. He stuffed the receipt in the bag of food, and shoved it at the two friends. "Here. Have a nice day." That last came out more like a threat than a wish for good fortune. Confused, Ray murmured a response, and hustled Mike out.

"That was Weird," he remarked to Mike as they put their munchies in the car.

"Yeah, they only carried original Doritos: they didn't have any of the new flavors at all," Mike replied, shutting his door. "Come on, laddie, leather awaits," he continued, lapsing into a Scottish brogue. "We dinna have much time."

"Guess who's been watching too much Star Trek," Ray jibed, power locking the car and shutting his door. "You need to get out more. Is that why you want to stop by this leather store? To get some new toys for the ladies?"

Mike pretended not to hear, and with a haughty air, set off across the street, leaving Ray to follow in his wake.

The two friends stopped at the doorway for a moment, inhaling the scent of leather, before going in. Mike immediately headed for a row of pouches hanging from a ceiling beam, while Ray admired some hats. The store owner, his back to them, was speaking on the phone in a low voice.

Mike was just showing Ray some large pouches, "Perfect for keeping dice in," when the shopkeeper hung up the phone, and moved towards the two. Without a word, he removed the pouches from Mike's hands, and hung them back up. Turning back to them, he said, simply, "Store's closed." More out of surprise than anything else, the two nodded mutely, and moved outside, where the door was locked behind them.

"Do we smell bad, or something?" Mike asked, a bewildered look on his face.

"I don't know," Ray replied, glancing around. "This whole place is Weird. Have you noticed that, aside from the people working in the stores, we haven't seen anybody at all?"

Mike nodded. "'It was quiet--to quiet.'" he quoted, scanning the street. He suddenly brightened. "Hey, look, a bookstore! Let's check it out." He started across the street.

"Maybe we should just leave," Ray suggested, starting to feel a little uneasy. He started to follow his friend across the street.

"We've got plenty of time. What are you worried about? You think the whole town is going to come out and get us, like some sort of zombie horde?" Mike asked. He stopped and stared as the door to the book store was suddenly shut, and a "Sorry, We're Closed" sign was hung up. "On second thought, it is getting kind of late, and we should hit the road if we want to get there in time to hear Gary Gygax."

"Now he listens to me," Ray sighed theatrically, turning towards his car. "Uh-oh, we've got trouble."

"Trouble" was four middle-aged men milling around Ray's vehicle, peering in the windows, and talking amongst themselves. One of them tried the door, but found it locked, and so conferred with his buddies a little more.

"Two friends made what they thought was an ordinary pitstop," Mike intoned. "What they didn't realize was that they'd actually entered...The Twilight Zone."

"Shut up, Mike," Ray returned. "Excuse me! Hey, you! Get away from my car."

Instead of scattering, like Ray had hoped, the four men consolidated, forming a line between the pair and the car. Mike and Ray stopped, uncertain what to do.

"Are you the gamers?" one of the men asked, his lip curling on the last word.

Ray gaped. "What does that have to do with anything?" he demanded.

"The man asked you a question," a voice called out from behind him. Spinning around, he and Mike saw a second, larger group of people advancing down the street, the mini-mart clerk at their head. As they watched, the man from the leather goods shop left his store and joined their ranks. They stopped a short distance away, looking at the pair with expressions ranging from curiosity to disgust.

"Yes, we're gamers," Mike answered breezily, ignoring Ray's frantic shushing motions. "Why?"

As if by magic, two nooses suddenly appeared in the leader's hands. "'Cause we hang gamers, that's why." The crowd surged forward.

Ray stood there, gaping. Mike grabbed his arm, dragging him towards a side street. "Come on, Rain Man, I think they're serious!" Ray shook himself and followed, still numb. The crowd roared, and pursued.

Mike led them on a twisty chase, turning corners and ducking into alleys seemingly at random. Ray followed, getting completely lost as he listened to the cries for blood coming from behind them.

Mike entered yet another alleyway, and stopped. Ray groaned: a dead end.

"Now would be a good time, Mr. Scott," Mike muttered to himself, looking around. They could hear the crowd approaching.

"Will you shut up?" Ray yelled, shaking him. "This is not some damn game, you idiot, we're going to die, for real here. Face reality!"

Mike coolly extricated himself. "Calm down Mr. Reality. If we can find a way to get out of here, we'll be ten yards from the car. Any ideas?"

"Yeah. Hide!" The two dove behind a dumpster just as the crowd came charging up. It stopped, and two balding men ventured into the alley, peering around. Seeing the dead end, they hurried back to the main group, which took off once more. Waiting to be sure they had left, Mike and Ray snuck out of the alley, cut into another one, and ran for the car parked just a couple feet away.

"That was easy," Ray said, reaching for his keys. His questing fingers found only loose change. He froze. "Shit," he muttered, looking through the car window. "I must have locked them inside!" He heard a shout, and looked up to see the mob bearing down on them.

He was just about to smash a window, when the keys skittered across the roof. "I saw you leave them in the ignition, and took them," Mike explained. "You want to open the door, please? Oh, and you're welcome."

Shaking his head, Ray unlocked his door, got in, and opened the passenger door. They got their doors closed and locked just as the crowd arrived. They swept around the vehicle, pounding on the windows, and rocking the body.

Swaying, Mike looked at Ray. "Ramming speed," he declared, buckling himself in.

With an evil grin, Ray started the motor. After fastening his own seat belt, he revved the engine. The crowd, now appearing somewhat uncertain, started to edge back. Easing into reverse, Ray backed up, slowly enough for people to move, but with enough velocity to show that he wasn't stopping. Once on the street, he shifted into first, and moved forward, picking up speed, until the crowd, and the town, were left behind.

Mike held out his hand. Ray slapped it, then held his own out, which Mike struck. "Make a note, Michael," Ray said, heading for the highway. "In the future, the town of Spot shall be deemed off limits for all gaming personnel. We should pass that around when we get to the convention. The next group of gamers might not be as skilled and daring as ourselves."

"Noted and logged, Captain," Mike replied, stretching out. He opened a bag of chips. "They sell good snacks, though."

Back in Spot, the disappointed townsfolk milled around, uncertain what to do now. Suddenly the market clerk stooped down, and retrieved a piece of paper that had fallen from the gamers' car. It was a schedule for Omegacon, complete with times, a handy map of the convention center, and directions on how to get to it. A slow smile spread across the man's face as he passed the sheet on.