The Diner and That Same Old Feeling Again
by Jeff Brown
|Table of Contents|
Parts 7-9 appeared
in issue 173.
|part 10 of 11|
Do you ever feel like you’re repeating yourself over and over, kind of going through the motions of a mundane existence? Well, the lead character in this story has that feeling — until someone vaguely familiar walks into the diner he is sitting in. Then the world takes on a new feel for him.
Revisiting the Past and an End to Ends
On the fifth pull of the cord the motor roared to life. Water bubbled up as the propeller spun. Tony grabbed the gear lever and began to back the boat up. After he got the boat a safe distance from land he changed gears and turned the rudder, getting the boat to pivot in the water. He gunned the motor, causing the boat to lurch forward. Tony almost fell out at the sudden jerk of the boat but righted himself just in time. He pushed the boat’s motor hard across the water, making it skip along as it sped off.
As the island left the view of the boat, Tony began to smile. I’m gonna make it, he thought and continued across the lake.
It wouldn’t be long — an hour at the most — before Tony would reach the dock at Murphy’s Landing. To Tony, Murphy’s was a safe haven, a place or refuge. Once he made it there he was free. Tony made a promise to himself to never return to Lake Murray — any part of it, for any reason — and he aimed to keep that promise once he touched down at Murphy’s. But, the first thing he would do when he got there was get himself a beer and drink it down — it would definitely knock the edge off of what he had been through so far. He could almost taste the beer as the boat skipped across the lake.
The beer left his mind when the motor started to pop and sputter. He turned the throttle to give it more gas. That didn’t seem to help at all. The motor gave one loud pop then a long hissing wheeze as smoke and steam began to billow from its vent.
“No! No! No! No!” Tony yelled, his voice beginning to sound panicked. “This can’t be happening.”
Tony pressed the ignition button and began to pull on the starter cord. On the inside of the motor something spun each time he pulled the cord but the motor refused to start.
“Come on! Come on, damn it!” Tony yelled at the motor as he pulled the cord.
Tony gave one hard yank on the started cord. When he did he heard a small snap. He fell backwards into the boat as the cord broke off in his hand. There was a moment of pain followed by a tingling numbness in Tony’s arm as he came down on one of the blocks that had been used as an anchor. He had hit his funny bone right on that sensitive nerve. He rubbed his arm trying to get some feeling back in it. He even ran his fingernails across the skin hoping for a slight tinge of pain. There was nothing.
Tony let out a long sigh as he dropped his head to the floor of the boat. He stared up at the graying sky. Night was coming. At first the thought of being on the lake when night fell scared Tony. The fear left him when he realized that the island was far behind him, miles back, and that he was safe from it. He let out an anxiety filled chuckle then began to all out laugh. Though there was nothing funny to laugh at Tony couldn’t help himself. It was either laugh or cry. Laughing won out and Tony did so, hysterically.
The laughter eventually gave way to a deep feeling of tiredness. Tony looked up at the sky again. Purple and pink streaked it as the sun was dipping off in the distance. Tony closed his eyes as the worn feeling completely swallowed him. He let out an occasional giggle but soon he was asleep.
The first bump to the boat didn’t wake Tony from his sleep. It didn’t even stir him. The second bump was much stronger. It lifted the front end of the boat completely out of the water and set it back down with a thunderous crash.
Tony snapped awake and sat up in the boat. It was pitch black out with the only light being from the quarter moon hanging in the sky like a child’s night light. It was early morning and Tony had slept for far too long. He hadn’t even planed to sleep but dozed off from exhaustion. The boat rocked as it was bumped again. Tony grabbed both sides of the boat to keep from falling out of it.
“What the...” Tony started.
There was another bump that was harder than the previous one. Tony felt the boat lift up out of the water then drop back down. He held the sides of the boat tightly as it rocked in the water, bouncing him around as it did so. There were several more bumps then the water seemed to still.
Tony leaned forward after a few minutes of sitting in the boat, holding its sides and waiting for another of those bumps. He leaned to one side of it. He looked into the water on his left. He saw nothing there except the reflection of the quarter moon overhead. He then leaned to the other side. There, beside the boat, was a large log. Tony could see a knothole in the center of it and a branch that ran off and down into the water. He took a deep breath then exhaled it in relief. He laughed at how tense he had gotten. It was the sheer thought that the log could have been something else, something horrible that had come to get him. He leaned forward, putting his hand over the side of the boat. He touched the wet log with one hand and pushed it away. Tony watched as the log slowly began to float away from the boat.
But there was still something... something that felt wrong to Tony. He looked back down into the water. Lying in it was a leaf. Tony frowned as he leaned forward and plucked it from the surface of the water. The leaf was a deep black. All along it were bright red veins that he could see very well in the moon’s glow. The leaf looked to be dead. It even felt brittle though it was soaked with the lake’s water.
Tony’s eyes began to grow wide as he looked at the leaf. His hands started to tremble. Sweat beads broke out all over his body causing him to grow cold. Tony swallowed hard though his mouth had run completely dry. He dropped the leaf and watched as it slowly fluttered down to the water, landing softly on its surface. For a long moment he stared down at the leaf. He was unable to take his eyes off of it. He was afraid if he did something terrible would happen just like it did to Pete and Dolan. He was unable to take his eyes off of it until something stirred in the water below it. Tony squinted his eyes trying to get a better look. Whatever it was it was rising to the surface fast.
There was a brief moment when Tony saw the hands rising out of the water; when he saw the face trailing behind them.
“Oh, shi...” Tony began to yell as he started to pull his head back.
The hands came out of the water too quickly, bringing with them the arms, head and body of Dale Rollins. Dale’s decaying hands were a horrible white with exposed bones in various places. His arms were devoid of any skin or muscle. He grabbed Tony’s head with the bony hands that time had eaten away.
“You shouldn’t have left me behind, Tony,” Dale yelled in a raspy, water-filled voice.
Dale’s face was almost completely rotted away on one side. On the other side were three large tears from cheekbone to jaw to chin. Black mud from the lake’s bottom oozed out of the rips in his face and down his neck. His teeth were rotting shards of bone and his nose was completely gone. His hair was missing in places and matted down in others. Both of his ears and one eye were missing. Dale’s other eye was brown where the white was supposed to be and black everywhere else.
Tony screamed loudly as Dale sunk the sharp bones of his fingers into his head. The smell of Dale’s breath filled Tony’s nostrils. Water replaced the smell as Dale pulled Tony head first into the water. Tony felt a sharp pain in his throat just before seeing blood filter the water around him. He began to sink as the life fled from his body.
The Real Truth in This Whole Mess and the Betrayal of One
Dale Rollins sat in Nick’s Diner. He was drinking a cup of coffee and eating a piece of buttered toast with jelly smeared on top of it. Across from him sat Calvin “Big Bird” Stores. Calvin was also drinking coffee but he ate nothing. They both wore laughter-induced smiles as they talked about what had taken place out on the lake.
At the front of the diner was Mrs. Martha. She was diligently mopping the floors and grunting occasionally as she always did. She had been listening to the conversation and the loud cackles of laughter coming from Dale and Calvin. It was obvious they were proud of themselves for the deeds they had done.
Mrs. Martha shook her head, mostly out of disgust but partially out of pity. The disgust was from what they bragged of doing, which was killing three people in the living world. She felt the pity for Dale, who had no idea what had really transpired. After a few more minutes of listening to them Mrs. Martha had heard enough. It was a statement made by Calvin that sent her to their table.
“You know, they really had this coming to them,” Calvin had said. It was the hundredth time if it was the first that he had made the same comment. It was as if Calvin were trying to convince Dale that it was the right thing to do.
Mrs. Martha slowly made her way to where Calvin and Dale sat. She was dragging the mop along behind her, letting it streak the tiles with soapy water. She stopped in front of their table and propped her arm on the mop, leaning on it like an old cane. “D’you want anything else?” she asked then grunted.
“No, thank you,” Dale said politely.
“No, Ma’am,” Calvin echoed.
Mrs. Martha grunted at them and nodded. She remained standing, leaning on the mop for support. Dale and Calvin looked up at her when she didn’t walk off. They wore those go-away expressions on their faces. Mrs. Martha could see them growing impatient with her as she remained standing by their table looking down at them with her accusing eyes.
“Can we help you?” Calvin asked, the impatience clear in his voice.
Mrs. Martha grunted but said nothing.
“Is there something wrong?” Dale asked.
Mrs. Martha smiled her old woman’s smile. “There most certainly is,” she said matter-of-factly.
“What’s that?” Dale asked.
Mrs. Martha looked at Calvin slyly. She motioned with her thumb at him and spoke.
“It’s your buddy, here,” she said. “He’s the problem.”
“I don’t understand.”
“I don’t expect you to,” Mrs. Martha said, then added, “Your friend here hasn’t been exactly truthful to you about some things.”
Dale looked at Calvin with a frown on his face.
Calvin returned the look, but his wasn’t a frown of I-don’t-know-what-she’s-talking-about proportions. It was an oh-shit-I’ve-been-busted frown.
“What’s she talking about, Calvin?”
“I don’t know,” Calvin responded as he shrugged his shoulders.
“Are you sure?” Dale asked, prodding for some truth. He had a feeling Mrs. Martha knew something Calvin was reluctant to tell. He wanted the information from his old friend, not Mrs. Martha. But, if he wasn’t willing to give it up he would ask her, and Dale was sure she would tell him.
Calvin looked at Dale in disbelief. There was a fake look of hurt on his face and in his eyes that he hoped looked sincere. “I have no idea what she’s talking about,” Calvin defended himself as he shook his head. “She’s been dead so long she’s lost her mind.”
“Ha!” Martha laughed. “You don’t lose your mind when you’re dead, sonny. You lose it while you’re living.”
Dale was beginning to get mad but at which person he wasn’t sure. Could Calvin have been lying to him about something that was apparently pretty important? Could he have been just hiding something? Was Mrs. Martha trying to stir up trouble?
We’re all dead, Dale thought. Does it really matter? He thought on his own question for a moment then decided it just might matter. “Okay, I want to know what’s going on.” Dale asked.
“Look, I don’t...” Calvin started then broke off his sentence.
The door of the diner opened, clanging the old bell loudly as it did so. Entering Nick’s Diner were three very familiar faces. They looked to be in much better shape than the last time Calvin and Pete had seen them. Dale craned his neck back to see who it was.
“You guys weren’t going to invite us to your little party?” Tony asked as he approached the table where they sat.
“What’s up, Dale?” Pete asked.
Bringing up the rear was Dolan. He nodded at Dale then looked at Calvin. He extended a hand outward with one finger pointing skyward.
“Howdy, Asshole,” he said to Calvin. He turned to Dale and winked. “How’s it going, Dale? Long time, no see, huh?”
Dale and Calvin looked at the tree of them. Dale looked very confused suddenly while Calvin looked very scared.
“Scoot over, Big Bird,” Tony said as he pushed his way into the booth next to Calvin. He looked at Dale with his blue eyes and nodded. “Look, man, I’m sorry for what happened a long time ago. I know it can’t be taken back, but there’s something you’ve got to know.”
“Listen, Tony,” Calvin said, “I don’t know what you’re up to...”
Tony turned to Calvin and placed a hand over his mouth. He shook his head.
Shhh...,” Tony placed a finger to his lips and blew out, making a hissing noise. “Pipe down, Big Bird. It’s my turn now.”
“Does anybody mind telling me what’s going on?” Dale asked.
“No, we don’t mind at all,” Dolan said with a smile.
“But, it would be a lot easier if we just showed you,” Pete chimed in.
“Oh, yeah,” Tony said as he nodded his head. “Time for a memory trip, dude.”
It was an amazing thing how quick the scenery could change with a little will power and a lot of illusions. Dale had come to learn this trick from Calvin as he had taken him back and forth between Nick’s Diner and the island. It was something Calvin said was “one of the coolest things about being dead — you can mess with reality.”
As Dale stood on the island with Tony, Pete, Dolan and Calvin he thought about those words. It was beginning to become clear to him that Calvin had persuaded him into doing something he shouldn’t have done, that he manipulated Dale’s reality. Dale said nothing, though, preferring to wait and see what Tony and the others had to say... or show.
“The Lost Island, take one,” Tony said in a mock director’s voice. He pointed to a tree high above them and instantly they were standing near it. Dale stood and watched, as did the others as the events began to unfold before them.
Living Dale was shimmying up the tree as it swayed. Moments later there was a loud crack and Dale began to fall. The other four Living members of the group began to run to see about their friend; to see if he was okay.
The five ghosts never moved as the scenery changed all around them. They stood at the lip of the pit after following the four through the woods and then passing them. They waited for the four memories to arrive. Seconds later they did. The four looked down into the pit. Words were said and moments later the memories Dale thought he had were beginning to change.
Dale, the ghost, looked at the four others around him. Tony, Dolan and Pete all stood, their legs spread a little and their arms folded over their chests. Their focus was on the pit and what was transpiring inside of it. Calvin was standing off by himself, looking into the pit just as the others were — but he looked different. Calvin looked scared.
Up to that moment Dale’s memories had been flying by in fast forward. Now, they slowed to normal speed. Dale watched as each word was spoken, each action made, each false memory replaced by a more accurate one. Everything else around him quickly faded as he focused his eyes solely on the reality of his memories.
“We need to get down there and help him,” Tony said. He turned to look at Dolan, Pete and Calvin. “Who wants to come with me?”
“I’ll go,” Pete said immediately. He started for the pit without waiting for Tony.
“Whoa, big boy,” Calvin said as he placed a hand on Pete’s massive chest. “Why don’t you and Dolan stay up here? Me and Tony will go.”
Pete looked at Tony. His eyebrows were creased into an angered stare and his mouth was down turned into a frown. Tony shrugged then nodded.
“Whatever, man,” Tony said. “It doesn’t matter but we need to go. Now.”
“Well,” Calvin started. “We haven’t heard him scream or anything. Maybe he’s dead.”
Copyright © 2005 by Jeff Brown