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Horror Speculative Thriller

This story contains sensitive content

Content Warning: Physical violence, gore or abuse; Suicide or self harm

Bernice could not hold in her excitement. Her shift only had a few minutes left. She could see her relief, Alex, outside smoking a cigarette. She stared past him, to the cars lining up on the highway. She might be a few minutes late, but she was finally going to meet Danny, the boy she had been talking to on Tinder for the last few weeks. What would his voice sound like? Would he look like his picture? What would he smell like?

Excuse me, miss! Can you please get me more coffee?” Bernice was brought back to the restaurant, back to the smells of bacon and burnt potatoes. She looked down toward the blond-haired woman, gave a half-hearted smile, and took a deep breath.

“Of course, ma’am. I’ll be right back with that!” She turned on her heels and walked to the counter to get a carafe. Alex, get in here! She took another breath, grabbed the coffee, and looked over her shoulder to the window. She saw Alex lighting another cigarette, then hand the lighter to a man in a black sweatshirt. Are you kidding me?! She looked to the clock. That ass is going to make me even later than the traffic. 

The dining area was nearly empty – just Jemma, the teenage hostess; Fred and Tony, the old men that came in every evening for coffee and to trade war stories; the blonde woman in the power suit that had no business being there; and Bernice. She took the carafe of coffee to the old men.  Alex can deal with this lady’s attitude. Not like she was going to tip anyway. As she topped Fred’s cup off, Tony looked up at her with rheumy eyes and whispered under his breath, “Something strange in the air tonight.”

“Don’t listen to him. He always thinks there’s something strange in the air. Old kook just had an extra scoop of beans for lunch.” Normally it was easy for Fred to lighten the mood when Tony got weird and creepy, but the fart joke didn’t have as much gusto as it normally did. He seemed distracted, like maybe there was something strange in the air tonight.

“MISS! My coffee?” The blonde let out an exasperated sigh, then mumbled under her breath “I wonder why she works at a roadside diner. Stupid bitch.” Bernice slammed the carafe down on the table and closed her eyes. She fought the urge to spin around and let the woman know exactly what she was thinking. 

DING!  The little bell hanging over the door jingled, and Alex walked in. The smell of cigarette smoke followed him in. Bernice looked at him and let out a sigh of relief. “Thank god you are here. I have to get out of here, I’m meeting Danny. Can you finish up with the guys and queen bitch over there? I will give you a twenty on payday to make up for her.” 

Bernice noticed something different about Alex’s face. He looked strange. Scared. “Sorry Bernie. You can go ahead and get out of here.” He looked almost like he had been crying. “Just don’t worry about the twenty, okay?” 

“Hey al, you okay?”

“Yeah. Just get out of here. I’ll see ya next time.” He looked out the window to where he had been standing with the other man. He was still there, looking in through the window. Bernice gave him a strange look, but didn’t want to be any later to her first meeting with Danny.

“Alright. Good luck.” She hesitated at the door, then walked out past the man in the black sweatshirt. He watched her as she got into her car, then looked back into the window. Alex was pouring the blonde woman her coffee, but looking back at the man through the window. 

“In for the long stretch, huh pal?” Fred broke Alex’s trance. He shook his head gently, then smiled to Fred.

“Yessir. You folks should probably kick off soon, though. A little ice on the roads today. Gonna be worse when the wind comes in.” He didn’t want them to be here. He had to find a way to get them to leave. “I took the service road up from the house, you should be able to squeeze past most of the traffic that way if you go before they start taking the median.”

“Ah, we have seen worse ice than this. Remember a few years back when the state lost the whole grid? Why, I bet me and Tony got a dozen people out of the ditch that week.” Fred looked over at Tony, who just grunted and stared out the window. “Then again, I’m sure your nurse would have my ass if I kept you out too late in it after the bar last month. Let’s get out of here, Tony.” Fred pulled out his wallet and laid a crisp ten dollar bill onto the table. “Night, Alex. We’ll be seein’ ya.” 

As the old men stood up and walked toward the door, the man from the window walked in. He held the door for the old men, smiling like a shark. “Evenin’, gents. Been a while. Fred, the boys from Dharan send their regards.” Fred’s face went white. He looked back at the man. Tony pushed him out the door. 

“Fred, we best be getting home.” Tony had seen that smile too many times – when he was riding in the convoy through mine fields, when his son was shot in Dallas by that bank robber in 2005. When his wife was in the hospital next to the poor woman that was stabbed by her husband. “I told you something strange tonight. We shoulda stayed in.”

“Yeah, let’s get out of here.” Fred didn’t have the same familiarity with the man’s smile that Tony did, but he had definitely seen it before. He just couldn’t remember where. It couldn’t have been Dharan. They walked out of the diner and got into Fred’s old Chevy.

“Alex, would you be a dear and. .” The man cocked his head toward the blonde woman, “introduce your pretty friend here, just like I taught you!” He seemed just as excited as Bernice did when she left for her date.

Alex was sweating, his eyes beginning to water. “I can’t do it. Listen, lady. You need to get out of here.” 

The woman had only been paying the slightest bit of attention, buried in her phone while she finished her bacon. The man took a step toward Alex. “Nuh uh uh! You promised! You have to hold up your end of the deal, or it’s the end of the line for your friend Bernice!” 

Shaking, Alex looked down at the floor, his eyes fixed on the checkered tile pattern. It’s her or Bernie, he thought. The lady he had never met, or the girl he had worked with, gone to school with, secretly loved. . But he didn’t know if he could do this. Maybe the man wasn’t who he said. Maybe nothing will happen. I’m probably just going crazy. This isn’t real, this is just in my head.

“It’s real, kid. Do it, or someone else will. Ball’s in your court.” The man’s voice betrayed his smile. 

How does he know what I am thinking? Alex put his hand in his pocket, and pulled out the small Ruger the man had given him outside. He held it up and pointed it toward the woman. She screamed and pushed herself back against the wall in the booth. 

NO! PLEASE GOD NO!” Alex’s licked his lips as he tried to steady his shaking hands.

“I am just a messenger. I have come – I have come to . .” His voice broke as he began crying. He turned to the man. “I can’t do it. Please, don’t make me do this!”

“Alex, you are my guy. Come on, champ. You don’t want to be the reason Bernice doesn’t get to come back here every day for the rest of her life, do you?” 

Alex bit his lip and swallowed, trying to muster up the courage to do what he had to. His voice still shaky, he lifted the gun back up. “Good, now start over. This time, put a little oomph into it!” The man cocked his head, with that shark grin reaching up all the way to his eyes.

“Look, I’m real sorry lady.”

“Come on, boy!” The man took another step toward Alex, his raised voice digging into Alex’s soul.

“I am just a messenger. I have come to deliver you from this world. He thanks you for the blood that you will give, that it will nourish him and allow him to continue on.” Alex looks back at the man. His eyes are filled with lust, his mouth hanging open waiting for Alex to pull the trigger.

“Please, you don’t have to do this. I will give you whatever you want. Just let me go. I’m sorry. I won’t tell anyone about this.” She has a kid.

Alex thinks about turning the gun on the man, but suspects it would be about as good as shooting the brick behind him. Instead, he turns the gun toward himself. As he is squeezing the trigger, he thinks he sees the man’s smile lower. Just an inch.

* * *

Fred and Tony settle into their regular booth. It had been about a month since that poor boy Alex did himself in right over by the cake stand. Good thing I can’t eat cake, Fred thought to himself. He chuckled lightly. The waitress came to take their order. “Hey, whatever happened to that girl Bernice? She’s been fillin’ up my coffee longer than the President been in office.” 

“Didn’t you hear? It was all over the news.” She leaned in close enough for Fred to smell the watermelon flavor of her bubble gum. “About a month ago, she went out to meet some guy she met online. A couple days later, they found her in a dozen dumpsters all over the county. I figured that’s why Al shot hisself. He was in love with her, you know.”

February 02, 2023 19:04

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3 comments

Raizy Beaton
17:52 Feb 09, 2023

Love this! your storyline is so good!! You have some great lines in there and your dialogue control is excellent...

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Jack Hillier
14:04 Feb 09, 2023

good

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F.O. Morier
11:28 Feb 09, 2023

Wow 🤩 You take the reader right into the story! I like that- the feeling as if the writer is sitting in front me and telling me the story!

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