The Meeting

Submitted into Contest #110 in response to: Set your story in a roadside diner.... view prompt


Horror Contemporary Fiction

She arrived at the diner thirty minutes early. It was like he had said—long, narrow and like an old railroad car with all the windows. The faded sign proclaimed it to be Bubba’s Diner. 

Stacie sat in her car and attempted to come up with a reason to leave. There was none. At none that would hold water anyway. She had parked near the road to make it easy to leave. 

The diner was half way between where they lived. Trey Blackman. His picture showed a handsome man who seemed sad. They had been talking to each other on the phone through video chat for three months. 

Then Trey suggested they meet in person. A big mistake for her. She placed her phone in the pocket in her purse and got out of the car. How bad could it be?

She entered the door in the middle of the diner. The sign said to seat yourself. She turned to the left and took a booth so she could see her car while staying as far away from the other customers. Her eyes went to her hands. They were really claws that barely functioned. Trey hadn’t seen them. Or her arms. 

The scars from the fire had healed. But the scars inside of her hadn’t. She had tried to save them but no one believed her. Years in an institution for setting a fire her brother had set hadn’t done any wonders for her. The last three years weren’t easy. No one wanted someone like her. She was sure Tray wouldn’t be talking her after today.

When the waitress came to the table she smiled and said, “Iced tea. Please.” Her hands were hidden under the table, not wanting see the disgust or pity most would show when seeing her hands.

Her mind returned to that day. Billy was playing with their father’s lighter. He picked up a can of hairspray. “Watch this.” 

He lit the lighter and pressed on the spray button. The flames reached the back of the sofa and the curtains. Within second the wall was on fire. When she reached to take the can from him, the blow torch hit her hands setting her long-sleeved shirt on fire. 

She managed to get it from him, stopping the devastation. She took the jug of water on the table and poured it over her arms. Billy didn’t move, watching the flames licking up the wall. She pulled him outside before going back in. The dog and cat ran out when she opened the door. She kick on her parent’s door. “The house is on fire, she yelled. 

Her father yelled back, “Go to hell.” 

She left them there. Billy walked past her back into the flames, a big vacuous grin on his face. He never came out.

That was when the pain hit her. The flesh on her hands was charred like burnt hot dogs. She sat and watched the house burn, unable to save her family. 

Then they blamed her for the fire. For the next six years she sat in a corner of a psych ward not speaking. No one believed her. Even the doctor didn’t believe her, saying she was delusional and blaming her brother. 

Then the new doctor came. He listened to her. It was the same story she had told the police and the other doctor. It didn’t change. At age eighteen she was turned loose to find a way to survive. 

She had landed an online job and worked from home so no one could see her hand and arms. Loneliness had sent her to a dating site. She wasn’t bad looking but didn’t find anyone she enjoyed talking to until Trey.

Stacie pulled out her phone. He would be showing up anytime now. She left the phone on the table, hiding her hands when the waitress came in her direction. When the waitress left, she took a sip of the tea. 

A car pulled into the diner. It was an SUV. The man who got out was Trey. He looked good in cowboy boots, snug jeans and a long-sleeved shirt. Like her, he paused as if forcing himself to enter the diner. At the door, he hesitated, then searched the diner until he saw her looking at him. 

Within seconds he was across from her, his gray eyes on her. “Good to finally meet you in person.” His voice belied the words, the sound of deceit lacing his words. 

“I’d like to think so.” She stuffed the fear back into it’s cubbyhole, but it didn’t want to stay there. Sucking in fortifying breath, she told him what she had been hiding. “I need to let you know that I was in a fire at age twelve. My hands and arms were severely damaged. It’s the reason I keep them hidden.”

“I’m guessing you are able to use them in spite of the scars.”

“I can, but they look like bones.”

He held out his hand. She put her hand in his. For the first time since leaving the institution, a person who didn’t show pity or revulsion. 

“I can’t imagine how painful this must have been.” He eyes came up to meet hers. “If that’s the only problem you have, then you have nothing to worry about.”

She might as well lay it all out there. No lies or glossing it over. “My brother started the fire. He was fascinated with fire and flames. I’m guessing he didn’t know that hairspray set on fire was like a blow torch. When I went to take it away from him. The flame hit my hands and set my shirt on fire. I got him out, but he went back in and I couldn’t stop him. The pain had set in and I barely could breath.”

“And of course they blamed you for the fire.”

How did he know that? “Yes.”

“I’ve actually been looking for you for the past three years.”

Stacie stared at him. Why would he have been looking for her? Other than the social workers and the hospital workers, no one knew about her existing.

The beautiful smile from the video formed. “I was down the hall from you on teh hospital. You would cry and I would come in and talk to you. The nurses would chase me out, but I kept coming back.”

She remembered the dark haired boy who snuck into her room several times a day. He had said he would find her again when they were older the day he had been discharged.

“But how—?

“I had your name. When I saw it on the dating sight, I hoped it was you. Then I saw you on the first video chat and I was certain. That lovely smile and a laugh like fairy bells. Those big brown eyes that carry the weight of the world in them.”

Stacie frowned. “His name wasn’t Trey.” His name was Russell Duncan. Not Trey Oppenheimer.

“It wasn’t at the time. It is now and I want that beautiful girl at my side.”


“Stacie, I can’t explain it here, but know that I’m that little boy who wanted to hear you laugh and got us both in trouble when we went to the playroom where neither of us were supposed to be.”

All the bits and pieces were correct. But something wasn’t right. It was right there, but kept flitting away from her memory.

“It was fun. Remember nurse Ratchet looking for us that one day.”

He blinked. “I don’t. She did chase us up down the hall, catching me because I couldn’t walk on my foot and didn’t move fast enough with the crutch.”

That was correct. But there was still something off. If only she could place it.

“There is a lot I forgot about that time. The pain and medications made things hazy most of the time.”

“I’m surprised you even remembered me at all.”

A flash of memory whipped through mind. A boy. But his eyes weren’t gray. They were a light blue. Like the sky on a summer day in the afternoon. They even had clouds in them. She had remembered them because he as asked her to put her hand on his arm to guide him around to the play room. Russell was blind. It wasn’t until he came to say goodbye that she figured it out.

“You wearing contacts?” she asked, keeping her voice casual.

“I am.” 

“Take them out for a few minutes please.”

He did as she asked. The pretty blue eyes with the clouds were staring at her. They were unfocused. He took a bottle from his pocket and rinsed off the contact and reinserted them. 

“I’m blind without them. If I want to read I still have to put on thick glasses.” He lowered his eyes to the plate of food that had appeared without ordering. “I wasn’t sure if you would want to see me with the glasses. I can see with these enough to recognize people and to drive. Because I come here all the time, I ordered ahead so you wouldn’t know that I’m legally blind.”

“Me with claws for hand and you with coke-bottle glasses. Maybe we were meant to be.”

“I’d like to think so.”

“So why the different name?”

She didn’t think he was going to answer her. When he did, she didn’t believe him.

“I worked for a crime lord. They moved me to this small town and changed my name and looks as much as possible. What they couldn’t change was my sight.”

“So how did you recognize me from the doorway?”

“You were alone, had the right hairdo and I hoped I was right. I was.”

That meant he knew people really well to know how she would set herself apart so he’d recognize her. That niggling, wiggling, nagging fear kept jiggling her sense of wrongness. “So why are so interested in me?”

“I liked the girl who helped me to be bad.”

Bingo. There is was. He didn’t want to go straight. He like working for the crime lord and he wanted her help.

“I don’t do things like that any longer. If I step out of line, they will put me behind bars instead of a looney bin.”

A confused frown appeared on his face. “What do you mean?”

“I spent the time from when I left the hospital until I was eighteen on a psych ward. They believed I was an arsonist and killed my family.”

His lips formed an oh without saying the word. “So you have to stay on the right side of the law.”

“Correct. If you are a criminal, I can’t associate with you without possibly being charged with arson and murder.”

“I see.”

“Do you?” She didn’t think he did. 

“Did you ever set fires?”

She swallowed. The fear sneaking out of it’s cubbyhole and flooding her with a cold that made her shiver. “Only a campfire with my father helping.”

“And you weren’t fascinated with the flames.”

She stared at the man who wasn’t who he said he was. “No. I’ve alwaye been scared of fire.”


Stacie remembered why. The smell of her hair burning as she ran into the flames to save the elderly couple. Meanwhile her father and Billy stood and watch the house go up in flames. The elderly couple had gotten out but later questioned why she had been there. Without telling them her father and brother had set the fire she had kept quiet before telling them a lie. 

In truth, she had been forced into coming with her father and brother. Her hair had caught fire before she could get out of the house. Her father grabbed her and doused her with the bottle of water he had been drinking. Before he let her go, he softly said, “Be glad the old folks are watching or it would have been gasoline, not water.”

“I’d rather not say.”

“Why were you at the elderly couple’s house the night it went up in flames?”

“I was running away from home.”


“I was scared of my brother and father. They liked fire.”

“And you didn’t.”

“If your hair caught fire and your father put it out then said you needed to be glad it was water and not gasoline, you’d be scared too.”

“When did he tell you that?”

“The night he and Billy set fire to the older couple’s house. I got them out, but I lost my long hair and learned that my father and brother were arsonist who set fires just to see them burn, not caring if someone got hurt. When my father told me that, I understood that he wanted to hear the screams of someone burning.”

“So when he lost his life in the fire you said Billy set, you weren’t that upset, were you.”

“I was terrified. Billy walked back into the burning house. He never made a sound that I heard. I did hear my mother screaming and my father laughing. I let them know to get out, but they didn’t even try.” She stopped. The memory of that day replaying in her mind. “I don’t understand. Why would they want to die in a fire? What was it about fire that made them do crazy things?”

He pulled out a lighter and lit it, she scooted out of the booth, her head swirling, scared that her sanity was slowly seeping away. 

He reached out and took her hand, guiding her back to her seat in the booth. She was shaking, scared of what he would do next. The memories made her mind move in circles. Who was he? 

“It’s only lighter.”

“I need to go. We aren’t suited to each other. Sorry to waste your time.”

“Stay.” The voice was laced with threat that kept her in place.

“Now why were you at the fire?”

Stacie turned into the little girl who didn’t have choices. “Daddy told me I had to go because mama wasn’t home and I couldn’t stay home alone.”

“How old were you?”


“How many other fires did he and your brother start?”

“I don’t remember.” Liar. You remember them all. Every last one. 

“I don’t believe you.”

She counted them up. “Twelve that I know about.”

“Why didn’t you tell the police?”

“My father threatened to burn me at the stake if I opened my mouth and he would have, too. The stake was still there when I went back to sell the land so I had enough to go to school.” 

His face changed. It didn’t matter. He believed like the police that she was fault. That was fine. He could believe what he wanted. Her life was over at age twelve. All she hoped for was a peaceful death. One without fire. She even had a request to be buried. No cremation. Fire had determined her life and lt looked like nothing had changed.

Stacie didn’t hide the tears that began to fall. “I’ve tried to forget I ever had a family. I was the only one who hated fire. They bullied and threatened me but I refused to light fires. My father forced me into starting a campfire. He then tied me up to a tree and made me watch it. That night he set the forest on fire.”


“The firemen who came set me free. But the social worker said I was lying and gave me back to my parents. I was now a documented a liar. No one ever believed me.” She studied his face. “Just like you. You think I’m lying.” 

She gathered up her things and stood looking down at him. “You know what. It doesn’t matter what you or anyone else believes. Today I learned that being agoraphobic has it’s pluses. They can’t blame you for things you didn’t do.”

“But you aren’t agoraphobic.”

“As of today I am. You proved to me that I can trust no one. I’ll always be suspected of doing things I never did. That’s fine. Living alone in an apartment and having everything I need delivered will work for me. I learned in the psych ward that I don’t need anyone, especially ones who call you a liar.”

She looked at the man the boy had become. “I didn’t start any fires and will never start one. I know what flames feel like. Every time I see my hands I remember the pain, the smell, the sounds, the accusations. I won’t say it was nice to meet you again, because it wasn’t. This was my first and last time of trying to make friends with anyone. May you have a nice life.”

“The elderly couple were my grandparents.”

“Then you got to see them again because I went in to get them out. They got to live while I was in a hell where fire was the theme. Looks like I’m still there and will be for the rest of my life.”

She walked away from him and out to her car. When she turned the key, she smelled the gasoline and heard the clicks. His smile was the last thing she saw before her car exploded. In those few micro-seconds she knew who he was. Billy hadn’t died after all.

September 05, 2021 00:38

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