Serial blogging, stories to tell. Short stories and micro-fiction!

Friday, January 31, 2014

Just One More...

By Jesse Edwardson


Charred black by the lightning thrown from Imbah's hands, the soldier's body crumpled in a heap. Blackened bodies peppered the floor all around Imbah as he paused to catch his breath.

The battle though the castle had been long and bloody. At least seventy warriors have fallen before him. Each one a worthy foe. All masters in hand to hand combat, blades and bows. They all fought bravely and earned Imbah's respect, he would pray for their souls before he rested.

His chest, arms and legs were coated in his blood and his enemy's blood. Stab wounds were scattered over his flesh like stars in strange constellations. Two arrows protruded from his right bicep and left thigh like new appendages. Imbah felt no pain, only pulsing energy from his center, his chi.

“Just one more.” he whispered. “Just one more and this is all over.”

Imbah stood before the door to the inner sanctum. A great oak door banded in iron. Beyond this ancient barrier stood his goal, Kyreel. The warlord, murderer of tens of thousands of innocents.

No one alive has ever laid eyes upon the great monster. He commands his army like a coward. He never leaves the keep, he never leaves his private chambers. Legend is that Kyreel has not see the sun in one hundred years.

Kyreel is attended to by a hoard of servants and to serve Kyreel is to sacrifice one's sight. All of his personal slaves are blinded with white hot spikes driven into their eye sockets. To serve Kyreel is also a death sentence. No one who serves him leaves the keep alive.

Here Imbah stood, his mighty hand on the great brass handle of the ancient door, ready to face his final foe. He paused a moment to offer a prayer to his fallen sister and mother, victims of the great warlord's greed.

“Beautiful ones, I will not fail you. Your vengeance is my vengeance. One more enemy must fall and my work is done. You will finally rest peacefully, as will I.

Imbah pulled the mighty door open and stepped into the cold and dim room.

The scented smoke that filled the room assaulted his senses. The room smelled of burning incense, strong and cloying, thick with lavender and clove. Imbah expected a large hall of a room but was surprised to find himself in small room, no bigger than a sleeping chamber.

In the center of the room stood a group of white cloaked slave girls, bathed in rich moonlight coming down on them from the open roof above. They stood in a circle facing outward, their heads were lowered as if in prayer.

Imbah froze in place, he would be required to cut through more innocent souls, he took a deep breath and let it out with a sigh. He was prepared to do what was necessary. He clenched his fist and the lightning crackled around his left hand and forearm yet again.

When he took a step forward he heard a voice, rich and powerful, inside his head.

“Just one more. Is that what you said to yourself out there in the hall? Just one more? HA HA HA HA HA... Fear not warrior. Your soul, what is left of it, will remain intact. You will not need to cut these sweet ones down. I will do it for you!”

All of the slaves raised their heads at once, revealing their dead eyes. From the sockets flowed blood, fresh and hot like heart broken tears. All the faces were twisted in agony, their mouths agape in silent screams. Their bodies shook in pain and torment for long moments and then fell to the floor. Their days as slaves were done.

Revealed by the fallen slave girls stood a baby's bassinet. It glowed bright white in the light of the full moon. From above it's edge Imbah saw a tiny hand waving him forward.

“Come warrior, claim your quarry.” Said the voice that filled his head. The voice had the tone of someone who was bored.

“This can not be...” Imbah whispered.

“Oh, it CAN be! Come warrior, be the first man to see me since my father at my birth, and the second to perish upon sight of me.”

Imbah approached the small crib slowly and warily. His sword hung loosely in his right hand. The lightning was gone from his left.

Inside the crib lay a sweet baby swaddled in the finest linens. He sucked his thumb contentedly. His skin was perfect and unblemished, pink and soft. His eyes though were benevolent and wise and ancient.

“This can not be Kyreel!” Imbah said to the baby. “This is a trick!”

“Oh, no warrior, this is no trick. I am eternal and all powerful! Greatness is not measured in stature, but power! You saw what I did to my servants. Now, raise your sword and be done with me or die where you stand!”

With these last words the beast Kyreel pulled his thumb from his mouth with a 'POP' and bored his gaze into Imbah's eyes. Their eyes locked. Kyreels eyes filled with fire, red and raging. Imbah's eyes were filled with the faces of his mother and sister.

Imbah's sword began to slip from his hand. He could not kill a baby. He thought to himself, “Can this truly be Kyreel? This small child? Is this some kind of trick? If it is a trick, I can not fall for it. I must do what I came to do.” At that moment, when his grip would have given up and let the blade fall to the stone floor, his fist found the strength to close on the handle of the sword, tight and powerful.

The blade came up and down as quick as lightning. The infants eyes opened wide in surprise. Imbah impaled the infant through the heart, the sword nearly cut the baby in half as it cut through the thin mattress and struck the floor beneath. Kyreel's scream filled Imbah's head, full and wailing, nearly driving him insane.

The bassinet filled with thick black blood, soaking the pure white linens. It ran down the blade of the sword and pooled on the floor. The baby's face twisted in torment and then became still. The screaming in Imbah's head ceased. The warrior dropped to his knees, his enemy slain.

Imbah's head was finally silent again, and his heavy breathing was the only sound in the room. A moment passed and Imbah heard a faint cry in the back of his mind. Kyreel's final whisper. 'Mother...'

Imbah looked up, quickly scanning the room, and from a far corner Imbah saw movement in the shadows and heard a blood curdling scream. This scream was in his ears and not his mind, at least not yet.

“Just one more...” Imbah vowed.

Friday, May 10, 2013

The House At Sunset (part 3) first draft

By Jesse Edwardson


For a moment, the world stood perfectly still. No traffic moved, no late flying birds flitted from tree to tree. Reality held it's breath like woman, out on a Saturday night only looking for a good time but finding herself pinned into a dark hallway corner with her skirt pulled up and her panties torn off, suspended in the moment before being raped. Knowing that in a matter of only a second or two she was about to be violated, helpless to stop it and powerless against the brute force of her attacker.

The house thrust it way into our world. The boys stood perfectly still. Later they would swear that they saw the house expand from nothingness, silently plowing the earth into small drifts around it's foundation. The truth of the moment was, one second the house was not there and the next it was. A gust of air blew from across the street as the house filled the empty space of the lot. The boys hair was blown back by its force. It carried with it a foul rotten mildew stench.

“Holy shit!” Max whispered. Eddie was silent.

“Holy shit!” Max repeated. “It's there! It's really fucking there!” Max began to hop in place and laugh in disbelief.

A real estate agent would describe the house as a Bungalow in need of a little TLC. And that would be the understatement of the century. The exterior paint was peeling and flaking off everywhere. It was a darkish non-color. Some of the windows were without their glass. The main front window was caked with something that looked like dried snot. It may have been the remains of an egg thrown on a dare or a Halloween prank. It stood a story and a half tall with a small windowed dormer jutting out of the roof in front. All of this was visible through the bare trees and shrubs that were, seconds ago, scattered throughout the lot but are now bunched up tightly against the house.

Eddie, still motionless, slowly raised the camera to his eyes to snap another photo, the after shot. He centered the house within the viewfinder and paused. Through the camera Eddie could see a face in the upper window. He gasped and dropped the camera from his eyes.

“What the hell...” Eddie cried out.

“What is it? What do you see?” Max asked. He was still hopping in excitement.

“Someone's in there! I saw a face in the upstairs window!”

“No fucking way!” Max said.

“Yes fucking way!” Eddie replied. “Look.”

Eddie pointed toward the upstairs window. Through the dingy pane of glass, Max could see a face. The eyes were wide and dark and the mouth was moving as if the person were shouting. He couldn't tell whether it was a man or woman, boy or girl. The only thing that he could tell was that this person was terrified.

“Oh, my God!” Max said. He had finally stopped hopping around. “What should we do? They obviously need help.”

“I don't know. Maybe we should call the cops.”

“Oh right, tell the police that we see someone screaming for help from inside a house that DOESN'T exist. That'll work out.” Max said.

“What else can we do? Go inside? I don't think so.” Eddie said as he stared at the person in the window.

“Yeah, you're right. Let's go back to my house and have my mom call the cops. Did you get a picture of the house?”

“No,” Eddie said. He raised the camera to his eyes again to take the picture. Though the viewfinder he could see the house and the face in the window. He began to put pressure on the shutter button to take the shot when the face in the window came into clear focus.

“Kyle...” Eddie said. He felt his heart leap into his throat and his breath torn from his lungs.

“What?” Max asked.

“It's Kyle up in that window,” Eddie said when he could gather enough breath. The picture now forgotten.

“No fucking way,” Max said as he turned his gaze from his friend. To Max the face was still indistinct but may be the face of teenaged boy.

“It is him!” Eddie cried. “We have to get in there and get him out! Forget the cops! We have to go now!” He ran across the empty street.

“Eddie, hold up!” Max yelled after his friend as he followed him.

As Max chased Eddie across the street, the face in the window grinned. The grimy window hid the grin well but behind the glass, the thing grinning had no lips. They had been chewed off long ago and all that remained were dried bits of dangling flesh. The teeth in that grin stood long and crooked. They were as sharp as nails and crowded together like a fistful of pencils.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The House At Sunset (part 2)

By Jesse Edwardson


The boys ate a quick early dinner, Spaghetti-Os, then they went to the mall. The arcade was crowded, so much so that they had to wait in a line to play Dragon's Lair even though it has been out since last summer. They took turns playing the Star Wars arcade game. The vector graphics of this game reminded Eddie of the tank game Battlezone. Max thought it was pretty awesome. There was a new game with a big line that they didn't bother trying to play, it was called Paperboy. Max thought it's name sounded too much like a job. Eddie laughed at that.

Before they knew it, they were fresh out of quarters. With twenty minutes or so before Max's mom would show up to bring them home, the boys left the arcade and wandered around the mall.

“So, what should we bring with us tonight?” Max asked Eddie.

“I don't know, a camera maybe,” Eddie said.

“Are we gonna try to get inside of it? I mean if it really shows up that is,” Max said.

“Do you want to?” Eddie asked.

“Not really, I'm just wondering what you're planning to do.”

“Well, let's just see if it even shows up tonight. Take a picture of it and that should be good enough,” Eddie said.

“Ok. Who knows what would happen if we went inside that house. If it disappeared with us inside? That would be weird as hell,” Maxed said with a chill running up his spine.

“Yeah, that would be messed up,” Eddie answered. He had a far off look in his eye.

“Eddie, you don't think that house has anything to do with your brother being gone do you?”

“No. At least I hope not,” Eddie answered.

“Ok, well my mom should almost be here now. Let's go out to the front entrance.”

The boys stepped out into the early spring day just as Max's mom pulled up to the doors in her yellow Ford Maverick. The air still held some of winter's chill but carried the promising scent of the approaching summer. The two boys took a deep breath of the fresh and chilly air at the same time. They each relished the quality of the air, as if they were grown men with families and responsibilities. The boys they are were rapidly becoming the men they would become and these adult notions were becoming more and more frequent. They glanced at each other across the roof of the car before they got in. They saw the man within each other for the first time in their lives. It was only a moment, forgotten almost immediately. They dropped into their seats, shut the doors and Max's mom drove them away toward home.

The boys had about an hour before sunset. They decided to kill the time by playing Max's ColecoVision in the family room.

“So, is there film in your camera?” Eddie asked Max as he directed Mario the plumber up the ladders toward top of the building to save his girlfriend from Donkey Kong on the TV.

“Yeah, there's a few pictures left on it,” Max said.

“We should take a before and an after shot of the place,” Eddie said without taking his eyes off of the TV.

“Yeah, sounds like a plan. Can I have a turn already? You're taking forever,” Max said.

“I'm sorry that I'm awesome at Donkey Kong,” Eddie said grinning a little.

Later, when they were equipped with a Kodak Instamatic camera with nine exposures left and two flashlights, Max called to his mom from the back door. “Mom, Eddie and me are gonna go walking around for a while. Ok?”

“That's fine, just don't be out too late. The sun's going down,” she answered from the living room.

“Ok, we'll be back shortly after dark,” he called back.

“Alright,” she replied.

“See, no problem. We'll go, get our pictures, and be back in plenty of time to see Carson's monologue and after that I'll show you how a real man plays Donkey Kong,” Max whispered to Eddie.

“Yeah, right,” Eddie said

The boys stepped out into the back yard and cut across the neighbors yard to get to Yale Drive. From there it was only four blocks to Delavan Street.

They walked down the street, ignoring the sidewalk, with their hands shoved deep into their pants pockets. Traffic was virtually non-existent. The sun was still up, but just barely. The day had only fifteen minutes remaining and then night would return like a vampire to drain it's life away.

“Man, it's cold out,” Eddie said through chattering teeth.

“Yeah, it is,” Max answered. He didn't really think it was so cold. He knew that Eddie was just getting nervous. He wanted to allow his friend an excuse for his chattering teeth.

The walk to where Delavan comes to a T-intersection with Yale was quick and, other than Eddie's comment on how cold it was, quiet. Max knew that Eddie was doing something important to him so he didn't goof around with him or pick on him. He just walked with his friend.

They reached the end of Yale Drive at 7:35 p.m. The boys turned and walked north along Delavan Street for half a block. As they walked the could see the vacant lot approaching them across the street and to their left.

The lot grabbed all of their attention. It stared back at them, like a lioness crouched in the tall grass tracking prey. It had known they would come.

They stopped when they reached a spot directly across the street from the empty lot. On either side of the lot stood empty derelict houses. They were long since abandoned and cast the appearance of rotting teeth standing as sentinels for the missing tooth that had once filled the gap between them.

The empty lot stood overgrown and weedy. Through it's emptiness, and across the barren land beyond, the sun was visible as a sliver just above the horizon. The sky above was filled with a scattering of wispy clouds that during the day promised of warm summer days ahead. Now, they looked like black polluted puffs of smoke floating through a blackish purple sky. Closer to the ground, the sky turned blood red and faded to a pinkish color. Nearest to the sun it had a deep golden hue. The view was breathtaking and horrible all at once.

Eddie and Max stared across the street into the empty lot and the sunset beyond. Their faces were bathed in fading golden light. Their eyes fixed and unblinking, Eddie swallowed hard in his throat making a loud clicking sound. Max jumped a little. Eddie's nervousness had begun to spread.

“Man, are all of these houses empty,” Max asked, finally looking around at the houses on both sides of the street.

“Probably,” Eddie answered without taking his eyes away from the lot. “The sun's almost gone, we should take a couple of pictures.”

“Oh, yeah. Here ya go,” Max handed Eddie the little camera.

Eddie looked toward his friend and took the camera from him. He slid the lens cover sideways and raised it to his eyes. Through the viewfinder, Eddie could see the empty lot with just the smallest bit of sun peaking out over the horizon behind it. He snapped the shutter button, capturing an image of the weedy lot and the sunset. He dropped the camera from his eyes to wind the film to the next exposure. It was then that the last rays of sunlight dropped below the horizon.

The House At Sunset (part 1)

By Jesse Edwardson


“Bullshit!” Max blurted.

“No, it ain't bullshit. I saw it with my own eyes,” Eddie said.

Max rolled his eyes, shook his head and said, “There is no fucking way that some old house can only be seen after sunset and can't be seen after sunrise.”

“It's not that it can't be seen. It's not there at all during the day. I walked around the lot and through the space that the house stands in at night.

“You've seen the house too?” Max asked.

“Kinda. One time my parents and I drove by it coming home from somewhere and I looked out the car window as we passed it. All I could see was a dark house shape behind a bunch of thick, over grown bushes and trees. We went by pretty fast but I'm sure I saw something there.”

Max crossed his arms over his narrow boy's chest. He looked into his best friend's face, waiting for the crack of a smile that would give away the joke. Eddie makes up fantastic lies all the time and can't be believed about anything. No smile came. Eddie was telling the truth.

“How can a house, a house, be there sometimes and not be there other times?”

“I don't know, but it is,” Eddie said. He sat on the edge of Max's bed with an Iron Man comic dangling from his left hand. Max sat at his desk, across the room and in front of the window. Their backpacks lay on the floor near the door, forgotten. Max and Eddie had gotten out of school half an hour before and were just hanging out together. It's Friday afternoon and they plan to go to the mall and the arcade after dinner.

Max stared at his best friend doubtfully.

“Ok, so how did you even find this place?” Max asked.

“My brother told me about it. Kyle said he actually watched it as it appeared. It was the weirdest thing he'd ever seen.”

“Kyle's been dead for a couple years now though.”

“It was before he died, dumb ass!” Eddie said.

“Oh, duh. Sorry man,” Max said. Eddie's brother Kyle had disappeared three years ago. The family had only recently given up hope that he was still alive and would return to them. Kyle would have been sixteen years old by now and was two years older than Eddie. They were as close as brothers could be although they tended to drive each other nuts most of the time. Mostly it was little brother wanting to do everything that big brother did and big brother not wanting little brother constantly in his shadow.

“No problem, I've just been thinking about him a lot lately and I remembered what he told me about that weedy lot down on Delavan Street. He had heard about it from a friend at school and thought it was cool story. I think he told me about it just to be mean and give me nightmares,” Eddie said as he looked down at the floor.

Max was silent for a moment and then said, “Did it work?”

“What, the nightmares? Yeah. I was only eleven. I still slept with a night light then.”

This busted the tension. Max laughed so hard that tears came to his eyes.

Eddie looked up surprised by the laughter. He was slow to figure out what was so funny. But when he realized what a big baby he must seem to Max, he started laughing too.

“What a pussy! A fucking night light! Really?” Max cried through his tears and laughter.

“Yeah, I guess I was,” Eddie said amidst his own laughter.

“Was?! ARE! You're still a big pussy!”

“Hey now, I'll kick your ass any day of the week!” Eddie threatened, still laughing.

“Yeah, yeah. Whatever...” Max said while wiping his eyes with the sleeve of his Quiet Riot tee-shirt.

“So, do you want to go check out this magic house?” Max asked.

“Yeah, the thought of the house has been nagging at me, it's like I'm supposed to look for it,” Eddie said.

“Whoo Ooo Oo! How mysterious,” Max said smiling.

“I know, it sounds stupid, but I want to find it. I've been dreaming about it,” Eddie said this last part a little shyly.

The truth is Eddie has been dreaming about the house, a house that doesn't exist, almost every night since Kyle disappeared.

“I don't know why, but I feel like I need to see it. But, I'm too chicken to go alone.”

“That's awesome,” Max said with a hint of laugh still in his voice. “Call your mom and ask if you can spend the night. We'll go check it out.”

“Shouldn't you ask your mom too?”

Max raised his chin and shouted at the top of his lungs. “HEY MOM, CAN EDDIE SPEND THE NIGHT?”

“WHAT?” his mom yelled from somewhere in the house.




No reply came back. Max looked at Eddie with one eyebrow raised. Eddie shook his head and smiled.

“I'll go call my Mom,” Eddie said.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Leon (A Christmas Tale)

By Jesse Edwardson



The homeless shelter was crowded. Leon Robinson waits in line for a meal. He is a patient man. He isn't griping like some of the people in line ahead and behind him. He just stands quietly, with his stocking cap rolled up inside of his dark and wrinkled hands, and waits for the line to move forward.

Leon watches people to pass the time, so he looks around the room. So many children, he thinks. Too many children. It’s so sad. They should be tucked in their beds, in a warm house. He sees many single moms, looking lonely and desperate. He also sees several men here. Men like him, black and past their prime, and men unlike him. These men are scrawny strung out junkies and wannabe gang bangers. Everyone here needs something. Some of those here need everything. Leon only needs a meal and a warm place to sleep.

The line takes a step forward.

The front door of the shelter swings open and lets in the frozen December wind. A family of four is coming in. They look lost and half starved. The father shuts the door again as quickly as he can manage. He turns and faces the room and gathers his family together in his long arms. They huddle for a few minutes until a shelter worker approaches them with a warm smile and four Styrofoam cups of hot chocolate. They exchanged a few words and the volunteer leads them to a crowded school lunch table. The mother and children sit down on the narrow bench while the father remains standing. He looks as if he is guarding them. In a way, he is.

“Hey old man, get to steppin” some crack-head startles Leon out of his reverie. The line had taken a couple of steps forward.

“Oh, yeah, yeah. Sorry,” Leon replies. He can remember a time when young people respected their elders. Days long forgotten it would seem. Leon could remind this youngster about respect, but he has learned the hard way that it’s not worth it. Two stab wounds in his belly has taught Leon to bite his tongue.

Leon finally reaches the counter. He picks up a tray and waits to be served.

“Well, hello Mr. Robinson, and Merry Christmas!”

“Hello Sylvia. Thank you. And Happy Hanukkah!” Leon smiles at the short, round lady behind the counter. Leon and Sylvia have known each other for a long time. Leon has been homeless for years and has always come to the Forty-Seventh Street Shelter. Sylvia has been a volunteer here for as long as Leon can remember.

Sylvia came to America with her husband, Karl Steinman, in the winter of 1939. The rise of the Nazis in their homeland caused them to flee Europe. They found a good life in America and through all of their years together they have tried to give back to the community at every opportunity.

“Thank you,” said Sylvia. “What will it be tonight, ham or turkey?”

“A little of both if you can spare it, please,” Leon replies. He doesn’t like to ask for too much but it has been days since his last real meal.

“Of course dear.” Sylvia places a slice of ham and a slice of turkey on a plate and hands it across the counter to Leon. He smiles appreciatively.

“Thank you so much Sylvia, I am much obliged.”

“Oh, don’t mention it. There is plenty here for everyone to have seconds, maybe thirds.” Sylvia returns Leon’s smile.

“Well then, thank you for your kindness and your warm smile,” Leon says with a wink.
Sylvia blushes. Leon moves down the counter and fills his tray with corn, stuffing, cranberry sauce, milk, and a slice of pumpkin pie. The shelter must have raised a lot of money to be able to put out a spread like this, Leon thinks. He is glad for it.

With his tray full, Leon turns to face the room and searches for a seat. The shelter was so full, and far too full for Christmas eve. He spots a seat next to the family he saw come in earlier and walks over and sits down. The father has taken a seat too. He must have decided to relax a little.

Leon nods to the man and his wife and says “Hello.” He also smiles and greets the children. The parents are apprehensive and nervous. It was obvious that they have never spent a holiday in a homeless shelter. Leon feels sorry for them, he knows how it is.

Once upon a time, Leon had decent job running a punch press. He and his wife Vivian, and their daughter Lisa, lived in an old run-down apartment building on the south-side. Life was pretty good, they didn’t have a lot but they had enough. Leon worked on the third shift, ten p.m. to six a.m. He hated working nights. Their neighborhood was dangerous.

One night, Leon was called into the office by his boss. A neighbor had called because there had been a fire on Leon’s floor. The fire department was still putting out the flames and the building had been evacuated but no one had seen Vivian or Lisa come out. Leon ran home as fast as his feet could take him.

As it turned out, the fire had started in the apartment adjacent to Leon’s. Some fool had fallen asleep with a cigarette in his hand. The fire killed him and two other neighbors along with Vivian and Lisa. Lisa was only six years old. They both died in their sleep from smoke inhalation. Leon’s heart was broken.

Vivian was several years younger than Leon and they had tried for many years to have children. They were finally blessed with Lisa one month before Leon’s forty-first birthday. She was the apple of his eye. His pain is still strong, especially on holidays, but it always makes Leon happy when he sees a whole family. He is thankful for this family's blessings.

The boy of the family stared at Leon as he ate his dinner. Leon pretended not to notice at first but then he caught his eye and smiled and gave him a wink. The boy blushed and looked away. Leon chuckled.

“What is your name young man?” Leon asked the boy.

“Michael,” he answered.

“Well I’m pleased to meet you Michael, I’m Leon.” Leon put out his hand. Michael took it and gave Leon a firm handshake. Just like his grand-dad had taught him to.

“Hello, Mr. Leon.” said Michael.

This made Leon laugh again. “You can just call me Leon, son.”

“Okay, Leon.” The boy smiled. Leon reminded Michael of his grand-dad.

“Why are you here, Leon?” Michael asked.

“Michael, that is none of your business!” his father scolded. “I’m sorry Sir. He really has better manners than that.”

“That is quite alright. Children love to know things and asking questions is the best way to get to know things,” Leon said to Michael’s father.

“Well Michael, I’m here because I don’t have a house to live in. Just like most of these folks here,” Leon says as he motions to the rest of the room. “I once had a good job and a beautiful wife and daughter, but now all I’ve got is my grandpa’s harmonica and the clothes on my back. Oh, and my health. I can’t forget about that,” Leon said. And to make his point, Leon stabbed a thick piece of turkey and popped it into his mouth. Michael giggled.

“Wow,” Michael said. “It’s kinda like us. Dad lost his job and the landlord kicked us out of our apartment.”

“Michael I’m sure Mr.... I’m sorry what is your name?” Michael’s mother asked not unkindly but a little embarrassed.

“Leon Robinson, ma’am. You can just call me Leon.”

“Thank you Leon,” she says. “Michael, I’m sure Leon doesn’t want to hear about us. Now please drink your cocoa.”

“It’s quite alright ma’am. I really don’t mind. It’s nice talking to your little man here,” Leon said. “I’m very sorry that you were evicted. Times are tough.”

Michael's mother looked down at her lap while Leon spoke. He could see how all of their struggles were wearing her out.

“You know what?” Leon continues. “You have found the best shelter in the city. They’ve got comfy beds upstairs, good food, and a nice little chapel right through that door over there if you’re so inclined. They take good care of people here.”

Michael’s mom looks up and gives Leon a weak smile.

“Don’t worry honey, we’ll be back on our feet in no time,” Michael’s father whispers into her ear as he kisses her cheek. “I’ll go get us some food,” He says as he takes his daughter’s hand and leads her to the food line.

“You are a very kind man Mr. Robinson,” she says to Leon.

“Well, thank you ma’am. You have a very nice family, I’m glad to have met you,” Leon says sincerely.

“Where is your wife and daughter, Leon?” Michael pipes in.

Leon’s smile falters a little. “Well Michael, they're in heaven.”

“Oh,” Michael says sadly.

“Mr. Robinson, I am so sorry,” Michael’s mom says and reaches across the table and touches Leon's arm.

“Thank you ma’am, it was quite some time ago. And I do miss them something awful. I’m just thankful that they went together. That way, my little Lisa had a hand to hold as she entered the Kingdom of God,” Leon smiled with a tear shining in the corner of his eye.

“Oh my, they went together?” she asks.

“Yeah, some fool tried to burn our building down and the smoke got to them in their sleep. So they went to heaven together, mother and daughter. They meant the world to me, Vivian was the love of my life and Lisa was the life of my love. I miss them terribly, but I’ll see them again someday,”

“That is so sad,” Michael says.

Suddenly an announcement came across the loud speakers. “Attention, attention everyone. I would like to let everyone know that our beds have all been filled. Those of you with children will be accommodated. All single adults, we regret to inform you that you will need to find shelter elsewhere for the evening . Please feel free to try the Fifty Second Street Shelter, five blocks east of here. They sometimes have spare beds when we do not. We apologize for this inconvenience. Merry Christmas to you all and may God bless. Thank you.” Click.

“Well, I guess that means me,” Leon says as he stands up. He had finished his dinner.

“Where are you going Leon?” Michael asks.

“I’m gonna have to go to that other shelter and find a bed tonight. There’s no room for me here.”

“But, I don’t want you to go,” Michael says, pouting.

“Don’t worry young man. I’ll be alright,” Leon tells Michael. He turns to his mom and says, “It was wonderful meeting you and your family ma’am. You all have a good night, and don’t worry, you’ll get back on your feet soon.”

“Thank you Leon, and you be safe tonight. Merry Christmas.”

“Merry Christmas to you too.”

“Merry Christmas Leon,” Michael says while holding out his hand to the old man.

“Merry Christmas Michael,” he replies as they shake hands again.

“I want you to have this,” Michael says, handing a small toy to Leon.

“Well, what’s this?” Leon says while turning the toy around in his large hands.

“It’s one of my army men, I want you to have it,” the boy smiled proudly.

“Well, how nice of you Michael. Say, I've got something for you too.” Leon reaches into his pocket and brings something out. “Here, I want you to have this,” Leon hands Michael his harmonica. “You play that when you feel bad and it will make you feel good again.”

“Wow, a real harmonica!” Michael says with wonder.

Michael’s mother watches this exchange while tears run freely down her cheeks.

“Thanks Leon!” Michael says.

“And thank you Michael.”

Michael got up and ran around the long table to give the old black man a bear hug. Leon returned the hug gladly. They both had tears in their eyes.

Leon straightens up when Michael lets go of him and runs around the table again to rejoin his mom. He wipes the tears from his face and buttons up his coat. “I plan on coming back here tomorrow for the church service, so maybe I’ll see you then,” he says to Michael and his mom.

“Sure thing,” she says, smiling.

“Ok, good night now,” Leon says.

“Good night Leon,” Michael and his mom say at the same time.

“Thanks again Leon, for everything,” Michael calls to the old man as he turns to leave.

Leon pauses, turns back around to face them, smiles and gives them a little bow.  Michael giggles.

Leon walks to the front door of the shelter with a smile on his face. He pulls the door open and steps out into the frozen night.

The wind bites deeply. It is the coldest Christmas Eve in recent memory.

Leon makes the five-block journey to the Fifty Second Street Shelter. No room for him here either. The lady he meets just inside the door sincerely felt badly for turning him out. Leon feels no resentment toward her though. He understands quite well that space is limited and the children come first.

He leaves the shelter and heads toward his favorite alley. Having a favorite alley seemed odd at first, but this alley is behind an appliance store and Leon knows that he can find a good cardboard box to sleep in tonight. This alley is also quiet and far from where the gangbangers hang out.

“Oh lord, it is COLD this evening!” Leon speaks out loud to himself. He pulls his stocking cap down a little tighter over his ears. He doesn't have any gloves, but he has a good coat and he keeps his hands deep in the pockets.  He holds Michael’s army man tightly in his left hand.

On his way to the alley, Leon passes a liquor store. Leon doesn't drink often, he never did, but he thinks that a little something sounds good. He turns around on the sidewalk and steps into the warm store.

Just inside the door Leon stops to shake off the chill and remove his cap.

“Good evening,” says an old Asian woman behind the counter. Her face and tone of voice are expressionless.

“Good evening ma’am,” Leon replies.

The old woman eyes Leon suspiciously. She assumes that he is just some bum trying to stay warm and plans to loiter in her store without buying anything. Or worse still, that he may be planning to hold her up. Either way she has her hand under the counter, ready to grab her pistol.

Leon walks down one of the two aisles running the length of the store. He looks at some bottles of wine and can not believe some of the prices. One bottle cost more money than Leon had seen in the past six months.

“Hoo, Lawdy!” he says under his breath. He reaches the end of the aisle and finds something he can afford. It will cost him nearly half of the money he is carrying, but tonight is special. It is Christmas Eve. He takes the bottle to the counter and sets it down.

The old woman relaxes a little but keeps her hand near the gun while she rings up Leon’s purchase.

“Three, forty-nine,” she says without any enthusiasm.

“And worth every penny,” Leon replies with a chuckle as he hands her four very wrinkled one dollar bills. The old woman doesn’t even make the smallest of grins.

Leon takes his change and puts it into his pocket. He pulls his cap back onto his head, slips the bottle into his coat and under his arm.

“Well, Merry Christmas,” he says as he turns toward the door. The old woman makes no reply.

Leon steps back out into the biting wind and the old woman resumes reading her tabloid.

After a couple of blocks, Leon reaches the alley. He tries to keep a box hidden behind a dumpster so that he will have one when he needs it. The box he has hidden is gone. He looks inside the dumpsters for another box and can't find one anywhere.

“I guess I’ll just have to hunker down between these two bins for the night,” he says to himself.

Trying to be thankful for what he does have, Leon throws a bag of garbage down against the wall so that he had something soft to lean on. Then he sits down between the dumpsters and tries to bundle himself up the best he can. It is going to be a long night.

Leon pulls his wallet from his pocket and opens the pictures that he carries there. He sits, staring at the photos of his wife and daughter. A tear leaks from his eye and freezes to his cheek.

“I miss you two so much,” he says with a choked voice. His finger traces the face of Lisa. It was her first grade school picture. He remembers all the fuss she and Vivian went through that morning trying to get her hair just right. The dress was the easy part that morning. It was her favorite dress, she always felt so pretty when she wore it.

“Oh baby-girl, you are so beautiful,” he speaks to the picture. “You were so proud of that dress, your Princess Dress,” another tear freezes to his cheek.

He sets his wallet down in his lap with the pictures still open and pulls the bottle of wine from his coat and twists off the cap.

“Merry Christmas, my lovely ladies!” he toasts and put the bottle to his lips. He drinks deeply and when he tips the bottle back down he takes a long, shuddering breath.

He looks out into the alley and notices just how quiet the night is. He wipes the frozen tears from his face and feels just how alone he is. Alone and lonely. Leon is not the kind of man who ever feels sorry for himself, but every once in a while the feeling sneaks up behind him and tugs at his coat tails.

He looks down at the pictures in his wallet again. He allows one or two more tears to fall before he returns the wallet to his pocket.

He sat there between the dumpsters, sipping his wine, celebrating Christmas and freezing. The air was so cold that his wine began to slush up.

“Just as well,” he says, setting the bottle down. He pulls his knees up to his chest and leans against the bag of garbage. Trying his best to get comfortable, Leon Robinson settles in for the night.

“Now why did I give that young man my harp?” Leon asks himself. “ A little music would be nice right now. But, oh how his face lit up when I handed it to him. It's right that he has it now, he will get so much joy from it.”

Leon pulls his collar tighter to his face, closes his eyes and begins to sing.

“This little light of mine I'm gonna let it shine. This little light of mine I'm gonna let it shine. This little light of mine I'm gonna let it shine. Let it shine, Let it shine, Let it...” In the middle of the last line, Leon drifts off.

In his sleep, a small voice fills his ears. It's singing, “let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.”

The voice finishes the song and then gently coos. “Daddy… Daddy. Wake up,”

It’s a voice that Leon thinks he recognizes, but it can't be right. Leon opens his eyes and sees the face of Lisa, his baby girl, just poking in between the dumpsters.

“Lisa?” Leon says in disbelief. “Is this a dream?”

“No Daddy, it’s no dream silly. I’ve come for you.” Lisa smiles.

“But you can’t be here baby girl. You’re supposed to be in heaven, with Momma,” Leon says while warm wet tears begin to roll freely down his cheeks.

“I was, and Daddy it’s so beautiful there. Come on, stand up,” she says as she takes her father’s hand and helps him to his feet.

Leon stands up and realizes that he is no longer cold. The tears stay wet on his face and his daughter Lisa, is holding his hand. He can feel warmth and life in her small hand.

“Come on, come on,” Lisa gently pulls her daddy’s hand and leads him along the alley toward the street. Leon takes a glance over his shoulder to the spot where he was sitting on the cold ground. He sees himself, hunched in the shadows between the dumpsters. His knees are drawn up tightly against his chest and his arms are wrapped around his bony legs. His head is resting against the wall behind him and his face is looking toward the sky. He is smiling.

Leon turns his gaze back to his daughter and asks, “Oh baby girl, where are you taking me?”

Lisa turns her smiling face up to her father and says, “To see Momma.”

Leon stares at her, amazed by what she has said. Then something catches his eye and he looks up toward the street. Leon watches the end of the alley and the street beyond disappear in a great flood of light. In the light he can see the silhouette of a woman, she is waiting. Leon recognizes the shape of his wife at once.

“Merry Christmas Daddy,” Lisa says as she leads her father into the light. His wide wonder-filled eyes return to Lisa's upturned face as a deep peace enters his heart.

Leon Robinson enters Heaven while holding his daughter’s hand.




This is a rewrite of the story LEON that I have posted in the past. I think that this is a better version. There aren’t many changes from the original, mostly small tweaks. I did add some things in order to “flesh it out” a little. I hope you like it, I still get a little misty when I read it LOL.


Sunday, July 08, 2012

Charlie’s Chop House

By Jesse Edwardson

The car entered the crowded parking lot. It drove slowly up and down the lanes looking for an empty stall. After several minutes, it finally took a spot in the parking lot of an adjacent business. It was quite a hike, as far as parking lots go, to the door of the restaurant. Tonight was a special occasion though, so no one minded.

“Okay guys, we're here,” Dad said as he turned the ignition off and looked into the rear-view mirror at the excited kids in the back seat.

“Yay!!!” they both cheered in unison. One boy and one girl, who looked like twins but were almost two years apart.

Mom smiled at her husband. “Happy birthday honey,” she said and gave him a quick peck on the cheek.

“Thanks, babe. I love you.”

“Love you too,” she replied and gave his hand a quick squeeze.

She turned to face the kids in the back and said, “Okay you guys, are you going to be on your best behavior and use your manners?”

“Yes, Mom,” they said in unison again. It was clear that they have heard this question several times before.

“Alright then, let's get going. There is probably going to be a long wait. This place is pretty busy,” Mom said.

“Well, it's only been open for a few days. New places are always super busy for the first few weeks,” Dad said as he popped his door open.

They all got out of the car and started for the door. The family weaved through the cars, zigging and zagging. The night was clear and crisp. March had come in like a lion and winter still had a strong grip on the world. Their breath puffed in the cold air.

The son, who was a fantastic big brother, spotted the restaurant's sign. His little sister was still learning to read so he pointed it out to her and said, “Can you read the sign, Sis?” He was always doing this with signs and such. He enjoyed giving her opportunities to use her new skill.

She looked up at the front of the building and read the neon words there. “Charlie's... Chop... House... Good... People Meat... Good... Food.”

“Good job, but it says 'Charlie's Chop House WHERE good people meat good food.' The where must be burned out so it's not lit up,” Brother corrected.

“Oh,” she said. “Where good people meat good food.”

The son looked up at dad and said, “Dad, shouldn't the 'meat' be spelled m-e-e-t?”

“Yeah, but it's supposed to be a joke because this place specializes in steaks and burgers and such. Get it? Ha Ha,” Dad said.

“I guess so,” the boy answered. “But, it's kinda weird.”

“Yeah, it is,” Mom said.

They reached the door and the hostess opened it for them. “Welcome to Charlie's Chop House. How many in your party?”

“Four,” Dad replied.

“And your name?” the hostess asked.

Dad gave her his name and gathered his family around him in the crowded entryway.
“Okay, I have you down. It's going to be about a forty-five minute wait,” the hostess said with an is that okay? smile.

“That's fine,” Dad said.

The hostess walked away. Mom whispered to Dad, “She was kind of pale, wasn't she?”

“Yeah, I guess so. Maybe she doesn't get outside much.”

The packed lobby had benches lining the walls, stuffed with people. A small arcade area, with no room for anyone to play, filled one corner of the room. More and more people came in behind them and the hostess collected their names and checked them in. The family felt like sardines in a can.

The wait was long. The groups that came in ahead of them were called into the dinning room one by one. A bench became available and Dad lead his family to it. They all took a seat. The kids were rowdy in the noisy room, they were bouncing off the walls in excitement as the overhead speakers blasted Hotel California. After about an hour their name was finally called. They followed the hostess to their table.

“Here you are,” the hostess said when they reached a booth in the far corner of the dining room.

“Thank you,” said Dad.

Before Mom sat down she whispered something into the hostess's ear. She glanced at Dad and then nodded to Mom with a smile.

“Natalia will be your server tonight,” the hostess said as she handed out menus. “Can I get you all started with something to drink?”

“Yes, a Miller Lite for me, a glass of Cabernet for my wife and two chocolate milks for the little ones,” Dad said.

“Okay, Natalia will be right over with those. Thank you for coming tonight and I hope you enjoy your meal,” she said and then headed off to the bar to place their drink order.

“Well, I sure hope the food is worth that wait,” Mom said. She tried not to sound grumpy but failed just a little.

“It will be. I've heard a lot of great things about this place,” said Dad.

“At least I got out of cooking tonight so that's a plus,” Mom said with a smile and a wink at the kids. They winked in return and giggled.

Mom looked around the room and asked, “Hey, where do you think the exit is in this place?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, the whole time we were waiting I saw a ton of people come in but no one left,” Mom said with a puzzled look.

“Really? I didn't notice,” Dad said. “By the way, you didn't tell that lady it was my birthday or anything did you?” He asked, smiling.

“Maybe,” Mom said with a sly grin.

“Oh boy,” Dad said, already embarrassed, anticipating the corny birthday song that would soon be sung to him by the waitstaff.

The parents got the kids settled. Their place mats had pictures to color and games to play printed on them. They each had a small box of four crayons to use laying on the table next to their silverware. All of these themed restaurants have place mats like these anymore. It's a good thing, it gives the children something to do while they wait for their food. With the kids all set, Mom and Dad had a few moments to absorb the atmosphere and wait for their drinks.

“This place is pretty interesting,” Dad said as he looked around the room at the decorations that covered the walls. The usual old pictures, license plates and knick-knacks adorned everything.

“Yeah,” Mom answered. “Are those meat hooks hanging from that cable up there?”

Dad looked at the ceiling, “Um yeah, I think so. What is that over there?” Dad said pointing in another direction. “It looks like a bunch of knives all fanned out in a circle.”

“It sure looks like that's what it is,” she replied. “Is it supposed to be pretty?” Mom asked. “Because it isn't.”

“I guess so,” Dad answered. He was just about to point out what appeared to be surgical tools hanging on another wall when the waitress arrived with the drinks.

“Hello, my name is Natalia. I will be your server this evening. Are you ready to order?” the waitress announced as she set the family's drinks in front of them.

The girl standing before them, delivering their beverages, wore an all-black waitress uniform. She was tall and very thin. Mom thought she looked impossibly thin as she looked her over. Her skin was pale, like the hostess', almost to the point of appearing to be gray. She wore little make-up, just some dark eye shadow, red lipstick, and a touch of blush on her cheeks. It helped her gray complexion, but not much. Her hair was straight and long and the darkest black Mom had ever seen. It was tied up in a beautiful red satin ribbon that weaved through the hair in a lattice pattern. It reminded Mom of something she had seen in an old painting once. The girls voice was rather musical and had a light accent, it sounded European or Russian. It was such a light accent that it was hard to place. Her hands looked very delicate with long fingers and long, red painted nails. They looked like the hands of a magician.

“And, for you ma'am?” Mom heard Natalia ask as she snapped out of her reverie.

“Oh, I'm sorry,” Mom said blushing. “I guess I was day dreaming.”

“It's quite all right ma'am,” Natalia said with a smile that just barely revealed the tips of sharp pointed teeth. Mom didn't notice, she was finally looking at the menu.

The daughter noticed Natalia's teeth, though.

Mom looked up and down the menu quickly trying to find something to order. She was embarrassed about how she had been caught staring at the waitress. The items on the menu were definitely named by an overactive imagination. She saw something called Hot Chick Sandwich in the poultry and fish section. Something called Chairman of the Board and Employee of the Month in the steak section. And something called Spicy Italian Bus Driver in the in the sub-sandwich section. Mom felt rushed and couldn't concentrate enough to figure out what the menu items actually were so she just gave up and looked at Natalia and asked for a cheeseburger and fries.

“Hey that's what we're having,” Dad and the kids said in unison. They laughed at themselves.

“Excellent,” Natalia said. “Would you like the chef to drag it through the garden also?” Natalia said as if this phrase were new to her.

“Yes, please,” Mom answered with a smile, knowing that Natalia had just learned a new term for 'put everything on it' from the man sitting across the table from her. Dad and the kids were still giggling.

“Ok, I will have this out to you as soon as it's ready. Please and thank you,” Natalia said with a small curtsey and walked away.

“Please and thank you?” Mom asked her husband with eyebrows raised as she brought her wine glass to her lips.

“Yeah, I know right?” Dad answered. “I don't think she's from around here. She sounds Romanian or something.”

“Or something is right,” Mom agreed.

“Daddy, I drew a picture for you,” The daughter said, tugging on Dad's sleeve and holding up her place mat

Dad took it and looked at it. “What is it baby?” he asked his daughter.

“It's the scary lady that gave me my chocolate milk, silly,” she answered with a proud smile on her face.

Dad stared down at the picture. Mom leaned forward over the table to look too. Together, they saw a picture of a tall, thin, black figure with black eyes, a red mouth and long red claws for hands. She drew streaks of red crayon running from the mouth and down the thing's throat and onto its black clothes. There were also dots of red falling from the things fingers and puddles of red at its feet. Both parents shivered at the same time. They looked up from the drawing and toward each other with wide eyes and gaping mouths.

Dad gulped and turned to his daughter and said, “Well, of course it is honey. Good job!”

The daughter glowed with pride.

Mom glanced over at her daughter's crayons and noticed the black and the red ones were worn down to nubs. The green and yellow ones were still unused.

“We understand that somebody has a birthday to celebrate,” Natalia said. The whole family jumped. They didn't see her walk up. Natalia tried to stifle a giggle at their reaction but failed.

“Yes, my husband's,” Mom answered with a little crack in her voice.

“Well, we would like to sing him a birthday song!” Natalia said as the rest of the waitstaff gathered around, smiling.

“Everyone, can I have your attention please. We have a birthday to celebrate! Please sing along with us!” Natalia announced to the room. Every face in the restaurant turned to look in their direction. Some faces were smiling, some faces looked dazed and confused as if singing a birthday song in a restaurant was new to them.

A chubby busboy took a pitch pipe from his pocket and blew into it. The rest of the waitstaff hummed the note and took a deep breath before they started their song.

Happy happy birthday, we hope you enjoy your food!
Happy happy birthday, aren't you glad it isn't you! HEY!

They all clapped and laughed after they finished their short song. The family clapped too but Mom and Dad didn't laugh. They shared a puzzled look with each other. The crowd dispersed and the other customers returned to their food.

Still laughing and clapping, Natalia looked at Mom and Dad and said, “Your food should be right up.” She walked away.

Dad looked at Mom and said, “Aren't you glad it isn't you?! Just part of the motif I suppose, huh?”

“I guess, but that is the weirdest birthday song I have ever heard,” Mom said.

“Um, yeah,” said Dad.

In a few minutes, Natalia returned with their dinners. Four cheeseburgers dragged through the garden with fries. She gave each of them a smile as she placed their plates in front of them. Her pointy teeth showed, but none of them seemed to have noticed.

“Ok, I hope you enjoy you dinner. I will be back with refills of all your drinks. Please and thank you,” Natalia said and left.

The food smelled fantastic. Mom and Dad each helped one of the kids put ketchup on their burgers and fries and then dug into their own meals. The burgers were the best tasting they had ever eaten. The meat had a rich flavor that they have never experienced before. The toppings were fresh and crispy. The fries, well the fries were just fries nothing special about them.

Natalia returned with their drink refills and said, “Does everything meet your expectations?”

“More than meet them. This is the best burger I have EVER had!” Dad exclaimed. The rest of the family nodded their heads in approval.

“Well, good. Excellent,” Natalia said. “Is there anything else I can get for you while I am here?”

“Actually, can I have an iced tea?” Mom asked. “This wine is very good but I'd like some iced tea while I eat if it's no bother.”

“Oh, no bother at all,” Natalia said. The emphasis on the word bother indicated otherwise. She picked up the wine glass, put it on her tray and headed toward the bar.

Mom looked at her husband and said, “Did I detect a slight attitude there?”

“Maybe a small one. Maybe she's had a long day,” Dad said.

“Well I don't think that's my problem,” Mom said. Her anger was obvious.

“This burger is seriously the best I have ever had,” Dad said trying to change the subject.

“I know,” Mom said losing her anger a little.

“It's like nothing I've ever had before. The meat is so rich. Almost like it's a mix of veal and pork or something. It's SO good!” Dad said and then turned to the kids. “Do you guys like your burgers?” They both nodded and smiled around their sandwiches.

Mom's heart was softened by this exchange. “Are you having a good birthday honey?”

“Yes! You're the best,” Dad answered as he reached across the table and gave his wife's hand a squeeze.

They stared at each other a moment longer and then got down to business on their food. Within ten minutes their plates were empty. Then, at almost the same moment, Dad and Son leaned back in their seats and rubbed their stomachs while letting out a satisfying burp. Like Father like Son, Mom thought and smiled to herself.

“Hey, where's your iced tea?” Dad asked, suddenly realizing Mom's drink never arrived.

“I don't know. It's okay though. I'm ready to go anyway,” She said.

“Okay, well, she should be bringing the check pretty soon,” Dad replied.

“I hope so,” Mom said.

In a short time, Natalia did bring the check.

“Here you are,” She said, putting the check in front of Mom. “ I hope your dinner was exceptional.”

“It was, and could I ask you something?” Dad said.

“Of course.”

“We all ordered the same thing, but I forgot what it was called?”

“It was The Customer's Always Right and it is our most popular burger,” Natalia answered, smiling.

“Oh, right. That was it! No wonder it's so popular, it's delicious!” Dad exclaimed.

“Yes, it is. It is one of my favorites as well,” Natalia said. “When you are ready, you may go through that door in the corner and pay the cashier,” she pointed at a door that the family hadn't noticed until now. “It has been my pleasure serving you this evening and it is my hope that you will tell your friends about us,” Natalia said this with a smirk that made it obvious that she didn't really mean it.

“We will, and thank you for taking such good care of us,” Dad said, obviously forgetting about the iced tea that never came.

“You are very welcome, and I will enjoy you very much. Please and thank you,” Natalia said with a smile and a curtsey before walking away.

“What did she say?” Mom asked Dad. “I will enjoy you very much?”

“I'm sure she meant to say 'I have enjoyed you very much,'” Dad said with a peculiar look on his face as if he hoped he was right about what he had said. “You know foreigners, they're always mixing up words when they speak English.”

“Yeah, you're right,” Mom said.

“Ready to go guys?” Dad asked the kids.

“Yup,” they answered in unison.

“Thanks again, honey,” Dad said to Mom as they got up from the booth.

“You're welcome,” she answered. “Love you.”

“Love you, too.”

The family made their way through the crowded restaurant toward the door. They were all in a great mood. The food was fantastic, the service was good. Creepy, but good. Everyone was happy. They reached the door, paused to put on their coats, and then pushed through the exit.

The four of them entered the exit lobby and saw a small, shriveled old lady sitting on a stool behind a cash register on a small counter. She glanced up from something she was reading when they entered the small room and stared at them blankly.

Mom approached the counter and offered the bill. The old woman snatched it from her hand without speaking. She looked at it and punched some buttons on the cash register then looked at Mom with empty eyes.

Thrown off by the woman's silence, Mom presented her credit card to the cashier. “Here you are,” she said.

The old hag took the card and slid it though the reader and handed it back to Mom. Her expression remained blank the whole time. The receipt printed, and the woman tore it from the machine and handed it to Mom with a pen.

Mom took the pen and receipt, jotted down a generous tip, and totaled the transaction on the slip and handed it back to the old woman. The woman handed Mom a copy of the receipt and then returned her attention back to whatever she had been doing before they entered the room.

The whole transaction lasted only seconds but was one of the most uncomfortable moments of their lives. Mom and Dad looked at each other with raised eyebrows and wide eyes. The look silently communicated, 'Let's get the hell out of here.'

The kids were oblivious to this whole exchange between the adults and were waiting impatiently by the door that must lead to the outside. Mom and Dad joined the kids and pushed their way through the door.

On the other side of the supposed exit door, the family was shocked to find themselves in a brightly lit room lined with ceramic tiles and furnished with stainless steel tables. The tables were the kind you might find in a medical examiners autopsy room.

Mom and Dad were grabbed from behind and the kids were whisked away through an adjacent door.

“How sweet, fresh meat,” a rough voice whispered in Mom's ear. She screamed.

Dad struggled to free himself from his captor. “Let go of me you son of a bitch!” he yelled.

A voice whispered in his ear, “Actually, I'm not a son. I'm just a BITCH!” It was Natalia. She held Dad across the chest in a bear hug with one arm. She was impossibly strong. Her other arm was raised. In her slender hand she held a straight razor. It flew through the air and across his throat as quick as a lightning strike. The blood poured from Dad's open throat and soaked his clothes like a waterfall. He grabbed his neck in a futile effort to save own his life.

Mom watched this happen through blurry eyes as her tears and screams flooded her senses. Dad's dying body was carried to one of the tables by two black clothed men and strapped down. His movements and struggles slowed as the blood flowed from the wound. The cut across his throat looked like some kind of weird mouth that was spitting blood. Natalia yelled orders to the others in the room to gather as much of his blood as they can. She was thirsty.

As her minions collected Dad's blood in stainless steel pails that hung from beneath the table he rested on, Natalia dropped on all fours and began to lap up fallen blood from the floor. She looked like a human dog lapping up red water. She crawled across the floor, following the trail Dad left behind him, making sure that she didn't miss a drop. She paused briefly to bark out an order to strap Mom to a table.

Mom was dragged, kicking and screaming, to another steel table adjacent to the table that Dad's lifeless body now rested. She was strapped down quickly only catching glances of the person doing the strapping. It was the pudgy busboy that had blown the pitch pipe for the birthday song. He looked down at her while he did what he was told. His face was empty of emotion.

With his task completed, the fat busboy left the room.

Mom struggled in her bindings. She screamed incoherent threats, cried worries about her children and the word WHY? Over and over she cried, WHY?

Natalia rose to her feet when she had reached Dad's table. She then walked, almost slinked, across the room toward Mom. Her face held a look that was pure lustful hunger. She leaned in close to Mom's face, her vampire teeth now fully visible. Her lips were coated with a thin layer of blood. One stray drop rested on her chin and was slowly creeping it's way down toward her neck. Natalia lunged with her open mouth toward Mom's throat in a playful manner. She clearly enjoyed this game because she giggled to herself in a playful, childish manner.

The carnage on Natalia's breath, a dark coppery smell, filled Mom's nose. She struggled to keep herself under control, but could feel her gorge rising in her stomach.

“Why is this happening?” Mom asked the pale, yet pretty monster that leaned over her.

“It's my break time and I'm RAVENOUS,” Natalia answered.

“What are you doing to my kids you BITCH?” Mom screamed in Natalia's face.

“Oh, don't worry about them. They will be on the kids menu tomorrow,” Natalia crooned as she lightly stroked Mom's face with her long finger.

Mom's eyes opened wide as complete understanding flooded her with shock and horror. The strange decorations in the restaurant, the funny names of meals on the menu and that strange birthday song.

Natalia smiled, as if to a lover that had just promised their undying love. “Yes, we are the hungry ones, who feed the hungry ones to the hungry ones. We take what we need and well, you know the rest.” She lifted Mom's chin fully exposing her throat and said, “I have enjoyed serving you this evening. And, by the way, I didn't forget your iced tea. I didn't bring it because it makes your blood taste funny...” Natalia's final words were just a whisper as she nestled her face into Mom's exposed throat and plunged her teeth deep into soft flesh. Mom's body jerked and her eye's fluttered as Natalia's teeth broke the surface of her skin. The blood flowed at once. It filled Natalia with a freshness of life that always took her by surprise. Her satisfaction was apparent as her eyes rolled back into their sockets.

After taking her fill, Natalia wiped blood from the corners of her mouth and sucked it from her fingers. She carried a deeply satisfied look on her gentle face and walked to the door that the busboy had escaped through. She knocked and spoke. “Wayne, please come and collect the meat.”

The chubby busboy entered the room. He glanced toward Natalia, subservient and fearful. He took hold of the table holding Dad, another slave collected Mom and they rolled the parents into the kitchen.

Natalia watched them leave. When they were gone, she did a curtsy and then spoke under her breath, because this was her private ritual, “The customer is always right. Please and thank you.” She giggled.
The End?

Note; The phrase “Yes, we are the hungry ones.” is a tribute to Ray Bradbury. It was a line in the film version of his story “Something Wicked This Way Comes” It was spoken by Mr. Dark, the carnival operator and apparent demon who feeds upon people's pain and misery. I kind of cheesed it up by adding the rest but I think it works well for this story. The line “How sweet, fresh meat.” is borrowed from one of the “Nightmare on Elm Street” movies. Thank you Freddy Krueger LOL.

This story was mainly inspired by the horror comics published by EC Comics such as “Tales From The Crypt” and “The Vault of Horror.” The idea for this story occurred to me while Debi and the kids and I were waiting to be seated at Red Robin. We were out to celebrate my birthday. I happened to notice how people kept piling up behind us. Of course people were also making their way out with Styrofoam boxes full of leftovers but I wondered “what if no one was leaving as new people kept arriving, where would those people be?” So, I decided that the people who never left were feeding the new arrivals.