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Pancakes in Purgatory

by Tondrika Hayes 2 years ago in fiction
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Your last meal is guaranteed to be a good one.

Pancakes in Purgatory
Photo by Luke Pennystan on Unsplash

Room 24 was hell. At least it felt like it because of the broken air conditioner. It was the worst possible time for the unit to break considering the 100-degree temperature outside and the nonexistent breeze. Nevertheless, it chugged away emitting an obnoxious clanging every ten minutes. Ten minutes had passed since the last time the air conditioner had attempted to sputter to life. This time when the loose bolts rattled together the resulting clang awoke the occupant of the bed in Room 24, Brooke.

Heat washed over her prone body as she attempted to hold onto the last vestiges of sleep, but the sound of the broken wall unit ripped the sleep from her tired body. A long drawn out yawn pulled from her lips as she blinked against the noonday sun streaming through the half-drawn blinds of the motel room. She sat up, quickly swinging her feet over the side of the bed then immediately recoiled when her bare feet touched carpet instead of the cool vinyl of her bedroom. The walls were covered in gray popcorn pocketed paint that looked like it had seen better days, and she could hear the steady drip of a faucet coming from a door on the other side of the room. Brooke could feel the tightness building in her throat as she realized that she was alone, stuck in a motel, and had no idea where she was.

Once she stepped outside onto the walkway the full force of the sun’s heat soaked her skin, instantaneously causing sweat to trickle down her temple. There were no cars in the parking lot and it didn’t appear to be another person anywhere in sight. The only structures in view were a bus stop near the road and what appeared to be a diner across the street.

Quickly she made her way across the street and through the parking lot of the diner. A sign affixed to the window stated that it was open 24/7 and was known for “The Best Pancakes You’ll Eat For The Rest of Your Life”. Unlike the motel, a set of onyx black bikes were parked outside the diner. Just as she made her way to the door, they burst open and a set of teens laughing and shoving each other exited the diner. They barreled into her, knocked her off her feet, and kept walking to their bikes.

“Hey, watch it.” Brooke frowned as she stood and knocked the dust from her clothes.

“You watch it,” one of them fired back, kicking his bike to life.

The teens left on the motorcycles, disappearing down a road to the left. From her new view, she could see that the road she was on led to an intersection. To the left, the desert stretched on indefinitely. In the distance, a massive sandstorm was brewing, making its way over the cliffs, and blocking out the sky above. To the right, the cliffs were haloed by a light that seemed to emit from the sand itself. Brooke turned back towards the diner and made her way inside.

The diner was nearly empty, but that wasn’t surprising considering she was in the middle of nowhere. Aside from her, there were only two other patrons in the room. An older gentleman sat in the back near a window, a bowl of something slowly getting cold in front of him as he sipped on a glass of water. At another booth near the front, a young man sat, shoveling his face full of pancakes and sausage. The sweet smell of syrup and freshly brewed coffee caressed her nose and Brooke sighed as her stomach growled loudly. She walked further into the restaurant, grateful for the cool gusts of air that whisked away the sweat from her overheated body. Instead of finding a seat at one of the booths she sat down on a stool at the counter, just in front of the small window that led back to the kitchen. While she waited for someone to serve her she took the time to look at the diner closer.

Diners had always been a special place for Brooke. She had fond memories of Sunday morning waffles with her father as a kid. It had been ten years since the last time they shared a meal together. This diner for all intents and purposes was the same as any other. A line of booths ran along the outside wall just underneath the windows. There were a few tables in the back away from the flow of traffic. Instead of the red leather seats, she remembered the seats were all gray, but the floor was the same white and black checkers that she was used to. She twisted her body side to side, a soft smile springing to her lips when she remembered falling off a stool when she was younger, despite her father’s warnings. The diner was silent save for the whistle of the wind outside of the diner’s windows and the faint hum of the air conditioner.

“Miss,” a voice said, snapping her out of her thoughts.

Startled she looked up into the gold eyes of the chef. He was standing in front of her, his brow furrowed as he tapped his spatula against the countertop. His raven black hair was pulled back into a ponytail, an ornate gold chain wrapped around the rope of hair and attached to a cuff on his ear.

“I’m sorry. I was looking for a phone. I need to call my friends,” Brooke explained.

“I don’t have a phone little miss. No need. No one places to-go orders,” he sighed.

“What? There has to be a phone somewhere. What if you need help?”

“I’ve done a pretty good job taking care of myself.”

Brooke slumped down, her hands cradling her head in her hands. A stray tear fell onto the countertop, sliding over the edge. Angrily she scrubbed at her face and covered her mouth hoping she could physically force the tears to cease. The clank of a plate on the counter in front of her made her jump and look up. The man had returned and placed a plate of eggs and toast in front of her.

“T-T-Thank you, sir,” she stammered, gasping to suck in another breath.

“Just eat and stop crying all over my counters.”

Brooke attempted to catch her breath as she picked up the fork handed to her and took a bite of food. Almost instantly she felt better. It was the strangest feeling of complete calm and peace. She took another bite, this time trying to figure out why something so simple improved her mood so drastically. When she looked up, her eyes met with the chef’s who only nodded and turned back to continue preparing food. She continued eating her mind drifting back to other memories from her childhood. Camping trips with her father and driving through remote parts of the country in the camper on their way to a secret fishing spot. She realized as she finished the last bite of toast that this was the most she had thought about her father in a long time. Once she was finished she waited for the chef to return to retrieve her plate. He seemed to be the only employee of the diner.

“Feel better?” he asked, clearing the plate and wiping down the counter.

“A little,” Brooke sighed, the realization returning that she was stuck for the time being.

“Good. There’s sure to be a phone in the city. You could probably get in touch with your family there,” he said.

“Why didn’t you tell me that sooner?” Brooke brightened, spinning away from the counter.

The chef caught her arm, forcing her to turn around and face him. In his other hand, he held a butcher knife.

“You don’t pay, you don’t leave,” he snarled.

Brooke’s eyes went wide as she stared at his snarl and the two teeth that were like fangs. Her gaze went from the man to the knife and back again as she turned back to the counter and picked up the bill.

“I don’t have any money,” she whimpered.

“Then you work to pay me back,” he said, letting go of her arm, “come around back and wash some dishes.”

Ten years later.

Over the past ten years, Brooke had grown accustomed to the strange method of service at the diner. Once a customer entered the chef would whip up whatever food he felt they needed. Most of the people came from the motel similar to Brooke but others happened upon the diner, their bodies covered in sand and dirt from wandering in the desert. Guests that arrived with dried tears on their cheeks or brows furrowed in anger always got oatmeal, but none of them ever touched the bowl. If they had they would have noticed the chunks of apple and swirls of cinnamon resting beneath the surface. For happier customers, stacks of pancakes coated in syrup and butter were supplied endlessly. One day she had even served a family that pulled up in a hatchback boasting a crushed in front bumper. They received a buffet of cupcakes, donuts, and milkshakes topped with whip cream. Somehow he always knew what they needed before continuing their journey.

“Order up,” the chef slammed his hand against the bell in the window.

Brooke swept by and picked up the next round of burgers for table seven. The boys at table seven smiled gratefully. She shook her head at them and the flecks of mud falling off of their bodies onto the floor. Every time they came in they were covered with dirt, but they were always kind and tipped well.

It had been a pleasant day so far, but the roar of bikes outside promised to end it quickly. On cue the teens that Brooke had encountered the first time she entered the diner burst through the door. They split up into their usual groups taking up tables six and thirteen. They scrubbed their boots on the floor and tapped out clods of black dirt as they walked.

“Order up,” Andre snarled.

Brooke picked up the plate from the window, balancing the tray of rare steak and Hellfire wings. She approached the table carefully watching the other from her peripheral. They always played pranks on her. Once they had tripped her and her eyes learned how hot Hellfire was. This time the leader of the group grabbed her by the arm dragging her close to his face.

“Sit with us for a while. Put your feet up,” he smiled.

“No,” Brooke shrugged off his hand, turning back towards the kitchen.

A deep growl met her ears as the leader jumped from the booth. Just as quickly Andre appeared in the window brandishing a knife.

“Sit down or lose a finger-like your friend,” Andre spat, pointing to another teen at the table.

The boy retreated to the table but flung a piece of rare steak at the window where it left a trail of blood. Brooke picked up a rag to clean the stain and mouthed thank you to Andre.

“I hate demons,” he hissed.

Brooke froze, her gaze going wide at his words. She dropped the rag and turned back towards the dining room. For the first time, she saw the place for what it truly was, accepting a truth that she had denied for so long. At tables six and thirteen the teens had horns poking from their foreheads. Table seven was surrounded by an ethereal glow from the halos around each of the boy's foreheads.

“See you later,” one of the boys at table six shouted to the sad man who had stopped by for a glass of water.

Brooke stumbled backward and held onto the edge of the counter for support.

“Order up.”

Once again Brooke approached table six, but for the first time in all these years, she was afraid.

fiction

About the author

Tondrika Hayes

I still remember writing about Bloody, the six-eyed heart when I was in 2nd grade. I still have notebooks full of stories waiting to be finished and imaginary friends from my childhood that want a place among the pages of a novel.

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