Tuesday, November 08, 2005
Tom was eating a piece of cherry pie and drinking a cup of black coffee. He could hear the old couple in the booth behind him arguing about something they had seen falling from the sky when they were driving down the mountain road that lead into this town. Tom wasn't intentionally eavesdropping, it was just that the old man was hard of hearing and if the volume was any indication, his wife wasn't much better. Tom felt his jaw muscles clench as he set his cup back in it's saucer harder than he'd meant to, he felt so irritated. He thought it was probably because Sheryle was late picking him up and he hated feeling trapped and dependent on someone else. Besides, someone was always thinking they had seen something up in the mountains above town, strange lights, or strange animals. People just wanted to see something that relieved the boredom of their lives.
Old people were the worst, you would think at their age they would have learned better, but here this couple was, making something out of nothing. Maybe he was lucky after all. If Sheryle had shown up when she was supposed to, she'd probably be poking her nose in, getting the old folks to tell her all about it. God, Tom could just see it. They'd all be animated, their eyes suddenly bright as light bulbs on a Christmas tree just before they burned out. Sheryle would be waving her hands around and asking "deep" and "meaningful" questions, leading them on. She was always saying how she was a people person, but Tom believed he must not count as a person anymore. He felt he had been reduced to a pair of ears and a head that could nod or shake as needed. She talked, he listened, nothing more.
Tom suddenly felt queasy. Too much coffee he thought and reached for the roll of antacids he kept in his shirt pocket.
At least the old people were getting ready to leave. They stood by their table digging for change in pockets and purse, digging for keys, digging for cough drops. All this digging and doddering seemed to go on forever until they finally made their snail trek towards the diner's register. Even before they had managed to get halfway there, their booth was taken over by a batch of teenage kids bumping about. Tom could feel them telegraphing their energy through the red plastic seat, the random awkward bumps were snapping at his last nerve. The kids were just as loud as the old farts, but harder to understand.
Tom pulled the foil tab off one of those horrid pots of fake cream and dumped it into his coffee. He wished the waitress would come by and get the kids order. Maybe then he could snag her for more coffee, and if the kids got something to put in their mouths, perhaps they would settle down. Lord they were wound up, what was their drama all about he wondered. The kid's language was nearly incomprehensible but Tom understood that was the point of the secret code of the young. He also knew in time, the "dogs" and "yo's" of today would go the way of "blast " and "groovy" of the past. Cool now, embarrassing later, Dodo words.
"That's what I'm talking about." declared the bulky kid with a shaved head. Tom had already gotten a face full of the black spider tattooed on the back of it a couple of times as the kid had bounced in the seat. "Man that thing was sick, why'd I have to forget my phone tonight? Maybe we could have gotten a video clip or something, then they'd have to believe us! We could have shown Sheriff Jackson..." His voice trailed off.
"Yeah right," the soft blond girl sitting across from spider-head said with a snort, "The sheriff would think we were idiots. Look, it was probably some kid in a costume out pranking and you dudes were just lame enough to fall for it. Whoever it was, is probably laughing his ass off right now".
"Whatever, but I'm telling ya..."
Spider-head's personal thoughts on the subject were cut off in mid sentence by a shriek from the old woman by the register. Everyone in the diner turned as one great beast, to see what event had brought about this most interesting occurrence. She screamed again stunning everyone and they remained stunned as they witnessed the cause of her distress. Stunned and silent. You could hear every dime, nickle and penny of change drop slowly from her hand. She shrieked again and ran, ran like she had been hit by an electric cattle prod, ran like she was six years old again. Ran for the door with her old man right behind her, a couple of geriatric football players who knew the score.
Tom slowly set his coffee cup back down and rubbed his eyes. If this was what the kids were talking about, no wonder they were so excited. This might even cause ol' Sheryle to shut up for once.
Right here, in plain sight of Tom and everyone else, was a thing they all knew about from fiction. They'd all heard of it, everyone had seen pictures, seen it on TV, in cartoons and in the movies. Their kids drew crayon drawings of it and believed it could talk to you, but no-one could believe it would come shuffling right in here, into this diner where nothing of real interest ever happened.
Man if this was a kid in a costume, Tom thought, he was good. It would have to be a kid, because it was only half the size of a man. It was almost colorless, white, somewhat human shaped but with long skinny arms and the wrong number of fingers. It had an impossible nose, like no human would ever have without some serious surgery. It's mouth was just a slit. Tom couldn't tell for sure but it didn't look like it had any lips or ears, but then, he didn't expect any. It was the eyes that Tom couldn't stop staring at. Big and black, with no irises, no whites, just big black eyes imbedded into its pale face. The eyes didn't move, but the head did, it was turning, scanning the room, as the arms gently waved about. Tom thought it looked as it was trying to say something, as if it was in distress.
"Help" a word from the creature drifted into the silence. Tom thought he could hear it whisper "lost, hot". Tom could swear he heard it sob, "Sick, help me." He believed it said, "Lost.", again but the word was covered up by the sound of Joe coming out to the front with bags of ice from the big cooler in the back room. Tom could plainly hear the big stainless steel door snick shut, and then all hell broke loose.
A piece of the creature's body gave way and dropped to the floor. It wasn't a kid in a costume, it had no guts, and it was on the move. It was shuffling for the back room, arms waving in excitement as women screamed and men stood up in shock and alarm. Water glasses were dropped, plates were knocked to the floor, people were yelling as the sheriff came barreling through the diner door. He had his gun drawn and was hollering "halt!" when his feet slipped on the wet floor and he went down on his butt and slammed into the creature with full force. The creature blew apart, the gun went off and the bullet struck the jukebox at the end of the room. It was a lucky shot, the jukebox started playing the Christmas tune "Winter Wonderland" as it burst into flames.
Fifteen minutes later the babble had started dying down. Tom had given up on getting any more coffee. The fire was out, the broken glass had been cleared away, and Joe was mopping. The sheriff and everyone else agreed the best thing for them all to do, was pretend this had never happened, no one would believe them anyway.
That's for sure, Tom thought.
People were leaving, it didn't seem right to order food or continue eating after what they had seen. Everyone wanted to get away, to get back into their cars and trucks and get back into a world they were comfortable with. In time, most of them wouldn't believe they had seen what they had witnessed in this diner. The rest of them might get a shiver thinking about it the next time they saw a picture or movie, but what could they do? If they told their story, they would be laughed at, at best, or at worst, be accused of being nutcases.
Nutcase, who needs that, Tom thought to himself as he watched his wife walk into the nearly empty diner. She was all apologies and multiple excuses for being late to pick him up. Strangely, he felt a wave of affection for her, she worked so hard and Tom suddenly realized her life was pretty boring too.
He drank the last swallow of his grey coffee, stood up and put on his coat. He kissed her forehead and whispered, "That's okay baby, don't worry about it." He gave her an innocent smile and his ticket, "Can you get this for me while I leave the tip?"
She was bending over picking something off the floor under a counter stool when he walked up behind her. She stood up with a carrot and two lumps of coal in her hands, they were still wet. She showed them to Tom with a questioning look in her eyes.
"Here sugar, let me see those." Tom said, as he gently took the coal from her hands. He examined them carefully and then put them in his pockets, one lump on each side. He shrugged and shook his head. "Strange night I guess, but my God, you do look terrific! Your new haircut was worth the wait, my dear. Lovely, simply lovely." Sheryle giggled and placed the snowman's carrot nose on the counter.
It was still rocking gently as husband and wife walked out into the night.
© LDahl 2005