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Misty works nights at a diner, and one night blends into another like the thick tar they serve as coffee. One night things change when rumors of the undead rise from the newspaper ink. She dismisses it as fantasy until one of the regulars tells her otherwise. They find out together that some things in the paper really are true.Now she finds herself down the rabbit hole of night creatures with a vampire at her side and a Soul Box in her hand. She must use her wits to stay alive, and among the living.
Fate is kind and cruel, and sometimes I wonder if it doesn’t have a sick sense of humor, too.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not the usual kind to go wearing black and brooding. Life wasn’t great, but it wasn’t too bad. I was still on the good side of thirty, but my job as waitress at the local diner wasn’t exactly a future with bright prospects. It was a dingy place off one of the main state highways. A small, cracked-pavement parking lot stood in front of the long, low, rectangular building. There was the usual long counter with its row of hard, plush red, round seats, worn through by the countless heavy tushes of truckers long past. The floor tiles were cracked, the tables along the windows were etched with the names of men and sweethearts alike, and the whole place stank of grease, the house’s special ingredient.
To make matters worse I was the head, and only, waitress for the midnight shift.
That was the shift that catered to all the truckers who craved our famous four-apple pie at four in the morning. The only other person who didn’t smell like diesel was the owner and cook, a cantankerous old man named Ralph who cooked up food that tasted like his name and swore like the old hand he was. He wasn’t much of a conversationalist, but the noise from the kitchen drowned out the quiet at the front.
It was on one of those long shifts that I had my fateful adventure. The night was dark, the weather was drizzly, and my long brown hair was frazzled beyond the abilities of a comb to tame. I ran a little late trying to tame the mane and got to the diner a half hour after my shift started. There was a half dozen trucks outside when I pulled my own beat-up pickup into the parking lot. The hour was half-past five and the day-waitress, Candy, was tapping her foot and serving patrons at the same time. She saw me rush through the doors and nearly dropped her full tray of burgers and fries on my head. The only reason she didn’t was because Ralph would’ve docked her pay for it, labor laws or no labor laws.
“Where have you been?” she hissed.
“My truck had to swim part of the way here,” I replied. That was almost true. The drizzle was aspiring to be a regular downpour, and that promised flooding along the local roads and bridges.
“Well, get to work serving these guys so I can go home,” she replied.
“Yes, ma’am,” I agreed.
I got to work serving the burly but high-tipper clientele, and my coworker hurried out like the place was on fire. The men were a gabby bunch, and I heard the full reports of the local counties.
“That County 12 road is getting worse. I swear my truck almost got swallowed by some of those potholes,” one of the men grumbled.
“What do you expect with everybody fighting over money? They’re all too cheap to spend it on something useful,” another told him.
I noticed one of the regulars munching slowly on his sandwich at his usual booth. His name was Charlie, and you couldn’t find a kinder, gentler giant. He stood six feet six inches tall and had the biggest smile that side of the Mississippi. Right then, however, he had a contemplative expression on his face and only half-listened to the conversation of his fellow truckers. I walked over and refilled his cup of coffee.
“You’re awful quiet tonight,” I commented.
He shrugged and kept munching. “Guess I don’t feel like talking,” he replied.
I raised an eyebrow. This wasn’t like him at all. He was one of the gabbiest people I knew. I sat down opposite him and stared him in the eye. “All right, Charlie, ‘fess up. What’s happened?” I asked him.
“It’s probably those sightings that’s got him scared,” one of the other patrons, a rough man by the name of Ned, suggested. He was my least favorite regular patron because of his harassing attitude toward me and the other truckers. They tolerated him only because he had some good stories.
“Sightings?” I repeated.
“Just some gossip the old women are spreading around. They say there’s a shadow wandering around the farmhouses and scratching at the windows,” Ned explained. Supernatural tales always piqued the interest of the truckers, and this was no exception.
“What’d the thing look like?” another trucker asked him.
Ned smirked, sucked in his ample gut, and basked in the attention. He could only hold the landmass for a few seconds before it spilled back over the waist of his pants. “Well, I heard it’s the shadow of a monster. It sneaks across the walls of the house knocking and scratching at the doors and windows.”
“Has anyone let it in?” the same man wondered.
Ned rubbed his chin and his eyes flitted about the small audience. “I heard there was a family who did in Clark County, and they were found the next day dead.”
I snorted. “How could anyone know they let it in if they were all dead?” I pointed out.
“Well-I-uh-that’s because-um,” Ned stuttered.
“Uh-huh, that’s because no family in Clark County or any other county’s been hit with this shadow thing. I doubt it’s even real,” I argued as I stood. “Now does anyone want anything else? There’s a few slices of pie left,” I offered.
There were a few calls from the truckers, but Charlie still sat there sullen and silent. He dawdled until long after the others had left. Then he strode over to the cash register on the counter, but rather than paying and leaving he sat down on the closest stool.
“Do you really think it’s not real?” he wondered.
I leaned over the counter and looked him over. His face was pale and there were dark bags under his eyes. “Have you slept in the last week?” I returned.
Charlie ran a hand through his uncombed hair and shook his head. “No, not since that night,” he replied.
“That night? Charlie, what happened?” I asked him.
He sighed. “I was over in Clark County four days ago. There’s another diner over there that lets us park overnight, so I was stopping after my twelve-hour shift,” he explained. “Well, there I was in the berth above the cab when I heard something at the driver’s door. It sounded like scratching, like Ned was saying. Well, I thought it was nothing until it moved around to the passenger door. After a minute it stopped and I was almost back to sleep when I heard this polite knock.” He shuddered. “I don’t know why, but that was scarier than the scratching. You know, it’s like whatever was out there figured out scratching wouldn’t work, so it was trying something else. Well, I climbed down and peeked my head into the cab. Sure enough there was somebody standing there at my driver’s door. It was a youngish looking fellow and he had on some dark clothes, but that’s all I could tell, it was so dark outside. The man said to me ‘I’d like to talk to you, sir, but could you let me in first?’ He spoke like it was nothing, like we were old friends. I told him to go away, I needed some sleep. The man took a step closer so his face was just an inch away from the window, and I got a good look at his eyes. They were shining like the devil’s red beacons.” Charlie choked up and clutched his forehead in one hand.
I set a hand on his shoulder. “Listen, Charlie, if this is bothering you-”
He dropped his hand and shook his head. “No, I need to tell this. If anybody’d believe me I knew it’d be my old friend Misty,” he argued. He took a deep breath and continued. “After seeing that I scrambled back up into the berth and-well, I hid under my blankets cowering and blubbering like a baby. The guy down there kept a-knocking and asking me to let him in. He never got mad, just tapped and asked politely if he could talk to me. I didn’t get a wink of sleep that night with that guy standing there all the time until just before sunrise. Then the tapping stopped and after an hour I climbed down and looked out. Nobody was there, but there was his knuckle-prints clear as day where he rapped all nice and polite.” Charlie slumped over the counter and shook his head. “I don’t know if I’m nuts or going nuts, but I swear to my dying day that that fellow was there tapping all night wanting in.”
“Did you tell anybody about this? Maybe the police?” I asked him.
He shook his head. “No, it didn’t seem much like a problem for them. You know, just a guy tapping at my window. There isn’t anything illegal about that, just creepy,” he pointed out.
“And you haven’t slept since?” I guessed.
“Not a wink. Every time I shut my eyes up there in my berth I think I hear that scratching sound. Makes a fellow doubt his sanity,” he commented.
I would have doubted his story were it not for two things. One, this was Charlie and Charlie didn’t lie. The second was how awful he looked sitting there like a ghost of his former self. He really needed that sleep, and that gave me an idea. “You know what? How about you head back to my place when my shift is over? The place isn’t much, but there’s a couch and no truck windows for anybody to scratch at,” I told him.
From his eyes I could see he wanted to say yes. “I-I don’t know, Misty, I don’t want the guys getting the wrong impression about us, and what about your boss? What’ll he say?”
I grinned. “Who’s going to tell him?”