The Midnight Café
By: Decklin Kellen
Richard Norm headed to the Midnight Café, his feet led the way as they have walked the same route for the last five years. It is eight blocks, two lefts, three rights and one more left then continued on down 56th street. This allowed him to zone out, which is just zoning out into empty space but he waited for the day when something would be in that empty space. Tucked under his left arm was a legal pad, the same one that he has carried for five years. The once bright yellow top page now dull and nearly half the page curls up. No matter how much it irritated him he refused to remove it. The thought that it might help him to start afresh never occurred to him, maybe it had and he just blew it off. He bought this pad which came with two others and were current still within the thin plastic covering sitting on the counter of the kitchen in his apartment. In hindsight, buying to single .89 cent one as opposed to the 1.50 for the three, sure not much difference. The reminder of what he no longer was able to do, nearly enough to drive him over the edge.
Reaching for the front door of the café, he gripped the handle to push. He doesn't, instead he was looking at the sign pasted against the glass displaying the hours of operation. As Richard stared at it a thought cross his mind, one of worry for his own will-being. He knew that he has looked at the sign, it was the same one. Perhaps, it was finally effecting him, setting into his ever repeating life or maybe it was just the day.
The phrase following the closing time, is what had him tripped up. The closing time is 8:40 PM ABSOLUTELY NO LINGERING! It is a weird time to close, why not 8:30 PM. Lingering should be loitering, but he has no right to correct anyone's word usage. He then realized why he never let it totally bother him, shrugged and pushing the door open. His hours here were from nine to eleven AM.
The inside of the café was a contradiction of its title. The walls were a dull urine color, the plush vinyl booths and stools at the breakfast bar were agleam with yellow, red and green stripes. The table tops were the perfect example of why confetti and toddlers shouldn't be left unsupervised together. More of the same urine color eaves over each of the lights above each booth and the bar. It was sunny, not at all attractive. Richard always came back, every day, it was his place. It was comfortable, painful to the eye however, but Richard spent most of his time there staring at the legal pad.
His feet did not stop until they were resting under the table of the booth a the far end, to the right of the door. Richard plopped down on to the plush seat, where he could look out a the café to make the light blue lines of the legal pad stop waving in his vision. With a glance around, now that he was seated, nestled into his place. His eyes met another's, Fuck, it is Tuesday, Richard thought.
He was not the only regular customer on Tuesday, he normally have his back facing the café on Tuesday. What was wrong with him today? In a fluid motion he switched booths, relief to be from sight of the patron. Dull blue eyes, balding and dressed in a worn out and foul overcoat, one that might blow off the man in the wind. His over all look was not what got Richard's skin crawling. It was how he fed himself, the meal was always two barely cooked eggs, a large pile of hash browns and a piece of Texas toast. Hidden within his overcoat, he would bring out a small unmarked bottle. It was dark red liquid in it, hot sauce. At the unscrewing of the cap a perfume escaped from it, how he was still alive Richard will never know. The ones unlucky to be within smelling distance, asses and urinary tracks would scream in protest. The man poured not just a few drops on his breakfast, instead the hot sauce became its gravy. Richard shuddered as the image of the first Tuesday he was here, when he was entranced by the disturbing sight. The old man had stared at him with the dull blue eyes, as if fighting to eat Richard himself. The mixture of food and red liquid fell out of his mouth like a waterfall on to his plate, and then proceeded to fork it back into his mouth.
Richard stomach lurched as he stared at his pad. He had taken the pen that he tucked behind his right ear and was rolling it in his fingers.
Kimmy, his waitress for the last five years. They aged together in those said years and two hour spurts. She was tall and Richard could see her slim hourglass figure through the oversized piss-yellow uniformed shirt with a cream colored apron tied about the waistline of her white shorts. Her long fine blonde hair was always tied back and he can imagine it cascading about her shoulders and covering her A size breasts. Only imagine. When Kimmy asked, “The usual?” Richard's mouth took on a life of it's own, “Yes, please.” Habits were hard to break, also she would sense something was amiss. Richard didn't want that, not that there wasn't, when in fact there was. It would mean that he had to talk.
Kimmy returned moments later with a full coffee pot and set down a white mug on the laminated confetti blanketed table top. Richard was now in control and wished he wasn't; as the hot steamy coffee was poured he just watched it. No 'hi', 'good morning' or 'thank you' not even a glance up to look at her smiling green eyes.
“What's the matter, Sug?”
Richard flinched the same as when a kid gets smacked with a ruler across the back of the hand for being unruly. Also, his mind was trying to process that a twenty-something blonde girl used 'sug'. That was a term meant for black women or overweight, smoking trailer trash women.
He tried to act as he wanted to be left alone, yes, he wanted that. At the same time he wanted company, of course, that would require him to perform the for letter word he was dreading. His morning prior to coming here was horrible, and he has been mulling it over in his mind. The consideration of spending more of his day here just to be in the presence of others.
Richard noticed that Kimmy was not beside him, he felt like crying. On a day like this it wouldn't take much before he reduce to a bumbling mess and spilling his guts. Sitting in wait for the food that will just sit uneaten, the pen held between his index and middle finger of his right hand wiggling it up and down. Every now and then hitting ends against the top page causing him to jump as he zoned out. It was baffling to him how the ideas that used to come in droves, suddenly stopped. The accident had perforated the link between him and the ideas, for the last five years he searched for the 'trigger': a smell, a color, a phrase said by someone, anything to reconnect and get the flow back. Flow enough to tell that one great story, that was all, one story and he'd be done. Or the hunt would be less fierce as now. And another thing, he would be able to shove it in his dad's face.
“Here you are Richard.” Kimmy was baring his plate of French toast in one hand and in the other holding a portable syrup rack.
“Thanks, Kimmy,” he looked up, “sorry for my sourness.” Richard apologized.
Kimmy nodded and smiled, “Is writing really that hard?” the question was bluntly innocent.
Richard looked down at the pad, then back at Kimmy.
Here we go, he thought, with a sigh, “it never used to be.” Pushing his legal pad aside and pulling the plate closer to him. The smell of his comfort food relaxed his rigidness now the tears were close.
Habit, now the plate was in front of him.
“For five years I have watched you sit here for two hours, eat and play with that pen. Maybe this is not the place you need.”
Richard considered, she was surely right in that regard. However, he had drawn up the same conclusion about three years ago. At the time he was researching tools that could help generate ideas. One most common pieces of advice, one of which didn't help was, The great ideas are not forced but found. Another found piece of advice one that he actually considered, this one was giving by the noted master of storytelling, Sheldon King. Don't settle for one place to work, especially if no ideas are coming. When Richard tried to follow that piece of advice, he soon discovered that he was drawn back to The Midnight café.
Richard shrugged, “I am fond of this place.” The overwhelming urge to cry was now replace with the urge to spill his guts.
Kimmy seated herself across from him, “You should eat.”
“Not hungry, I guess ordering was just habit.” Richard took the coffee mug in his left hand. Lifted it up to his nose and sniffed the bitter steamy liquid, and then his eyes met Kimmy's green ones.
She was looking at him in curiosity, “Richard, you can tell me to shut up and mind my own business, but out of all the regulars we have here. You are here everyday and you have no story. Even Hot Sauce guy has a story.”
Hot Sauce guy, huh? Richard thought, shit I have been bested by Hot Sauce guy. He took a sip of coffee. For the past five years he hasn't a story let alone a life. His life has consisted of the eight blocks to and from the café, five in the other direction to the discount store, an empty legal pad and phone calls every week from his pissed off drunk father. The call this morning was especially bad and the reason for his want to not want to be alone today.
The bell on the door rang as people entered the café, “Have a nice day, Richard.” Kimmy bid him warmly and before she was fully standing. Richard, in a split second decision, never to know if it was all him or a pull from deep within that knew something.
Placing a gentle hand on Kimmy's arm, “When you are free, come back to hear the story.”
Kimmy nodded and went off the help the new customers.
Richard's heart begun to race at the thought of talking. Hopefully, she'll find a way to get out of listening to the whole sob story. While Hot Sauce guy had a life worth something before he sentence himself to slowly burn from the inside out. Richard was a failed job-doer who had a knack for writing, which for the last five years has failed at it. He had no secret life, no adrenaline pumping career or weird and mysterious friends to talk about. Thirty-one, today thirty-two and was now realizing that his life amounts to $1.50. His wife...late wife always said to be $50.00 or more. A single tear rolled down his cheek he missed her dearly and he felt like he failed her.
Being ordinary, Less Then.
About to mentally start comparing how different his wife's was from his father's idea of ordinary, but that was the time that Kimmy came back asking to have her seat back. She also brought the coffee pot with her.
“If you are hungry, you are welcome to my French toast. Don't want it to go to waste.” Richard said with a hand out stretched to where she was sitting.
Kimmy seated herself across from him, took off the green strip of paper binding: a knife, a spoon and a fork in a rolled thin paper napkin. She took up the fork and cut into the corner of the unsyruped toast, looking at him.
“I know you don't want the whole story, but I was born thirty-two years ago today.”
“Happy birthday!” Kimmy smiled.
Richard couldn't help but to smile back, that was the first time in a long time that he was wished happy birthday and it'd genuine and natural, “Thank you,” Richard inhaled, “you just made my day.”
Kimmy was chewing when he said that and she stopped and swallowed hard, “Are you going to tell me that you don't have any friends?”
Richard nodded, as he poured more coffee into his mug.
“I am an only child, my mom left me and my father when I was seven. My father and I don't see eye to eye.” Richard then added, “for ten years.”
Yes, he heard from him today but not to wish him a happy birthday. But to give Richard a tongue lashing, no doubt after a beer or two maybe even a shot of whiskey. His father told him over the phone when Richard was twenty or twenty-one he couldn't remember just how old. He said, 'that it was because of his unworkable ability that made him drink.'
The call came in at eight, Richard was up at and sitting in front of his computer. No caller ID or answering machine, so he always picked up.
“Hi, Dick!” His father announced into his ear.
“Hi, dad,” Richard sighed being called Dick was more of an insult, when it came out of the mouth of his father, then just another form of his name.
“Listen, deadbeat, you ain't going to get your life together on your own. I'm going to help you do it.” Forced, “your mom had plans for you and so did I, at one time. There is a job, that even you can fuck up being the lazy shit that you are.”
Richard was rattled, more than ever before. He held his tongue with all his might for years, and now he couldn't anymore.
“Dad, stop concerning yourself about me. You might not last to see something come of my life-”
Richard was overrode by his father laughing fully in his ear, “You actually think there is something coming, Jesus, you are more delusional than I apt you to be.”
“Fuck you!” Richard squeezed the receiver wishing to hang up, but didn't want to be the first one to do it.
He heard his father take a swig of whatever he was drinking, “'Fuck you'.” his father repeated the two words back to him thoughtfully, no doubt wearing a smirk, “If it is like that. You are dead to me.” The line went dead in Richard's ear. He dropped the phone and buried his face in his hands.
Richard felt a soft touch on his arm, he jumped and was back in the café. With Kimmy staring at him with care and concern in her eyes.
“Yeah, sorry...Did you ask something?”
Kimmy considered him for a moment, nodded and repeated her unheard question, “How about your wife?” She pointed to his left hand that was wrapped around the mug, on his wedding finger was a faint white band. He unwrapped his hand from around his mug and brought it up under his chin folding his right hand over the other, then rested his chin there.
“That is why I am writing, well trying. She thought I was good.” To his own ears that phrase made no sense to him, obviously, hiding the truth, “I what to give her the best story.” His voice was slightly childish.
Kimmy looked at him sadly now, “How long have you been separated?”
Richard shook his head and squeaked out, “She died.”
Kimmy gasped, with eyes gleaming apologetically at him, “Sorry.”
“It happened five years ago.” Richard slid his elbows out to his sides till his arms were flat on the table, still hiding his left hand beneath his right. He allowed his eyes to fall on the legal pad beside his left elbow, nothing was coming.
He had talked, of course that would not be enough for any psychologist. Kimmy, fortunately was a friend. Details were unnecessary, private. He was not ready to share them aloud, as to exactly what was torturing him.
“She encouraged me to write, I enjoyed making up stories and they were pretty good. She wanted me to try and get one published, but I was always comparing myself against the big name writers.” Richard shrugged and took up the pad, “after she died my ability when with her.” He flapped the pad.
“Well, have you tried talking ideas out loud to someone.” Kimmy hoping to help him.
Richard never had because he had no one to talk to, but now that the opportunity was at hand he was hesitant. If he were to do it, he might come to rely on the talking, which he didn't want. Though, considering that he has gone five years without as much as a single spark for an opening line, he figured it couldn't hurt.
“Okay, no, I have not. Do you think it will help?”
“Let's try and see what comes of it.”
Kimmy slid the empty plate to the side and was in the process of grabbing for the legal pad from Richard. He held it against his chest, like a child holding his favorite toy. Kimmy pulled her hand back and looked at him.
“Sorry,” he lowered his head, ashamed.
“Not a problem,” she pulled out her order pad out of her apron. Then looked at him thoughtfully, she put the pad in front of her and laid her arms across it, “question for you first?”
“What genre are you seeking?”
“Well, she had a thing for horror and mysteries.” Richard met her eyes at that point.
“I have what you might be looking for,” she smiled. Lifting up the corner of the pad and let it flick back down, “if you want to hear the idea, that is?”
“Sure,” he had nothing to lose.
“I am sure that you have noticed the sign on the front door?”
Richard had just today it seemed, he nodded.
“And that the interior does not match the title?”
“It wasn't on purpose, I assure you. The dull yellow color walls against what should be a deep blue. The title on it's opening day was The Sunny Café.”
Richard leaned forward, his way of inquiring for more. Though, his wheels weren't turning yet, but the story barely begun.
“To be a hang out spot open from eleven to two AM,” Kimmy continued, “it opened nine years ago with a huge all day grand opening. Music pumping, people of all ages having a grand time. At the stroke of nine the air inside got heavy, taking everyone's breath away in the suddenness. The lights went out, panic does not ensue right away, instead as if in a trance the customers just looked about. A few tense seconds of stillness is broken when plates, glasses and silverware took to the air. Smashing into walls, the floor and even people, the customers who were able to brake the trance and move, became the prime targets for the dinnerware. Food splattered everywhere and soda and juice mixed with blood on the floor. When the windows begin to rattle in their frames and the door open and close at a rapid pace, this broke the stunned trance over the once who weren't already bothered by the flying dinnerware. Everyone clambering to get out the doors as they continued to swing on their own.
“Starting low and seeming to come from all around, was a throat scream that got louder and louder. It had the same echo quality as someone yelling down a long cement tunnel. The customers were still crowding the doors when the scream intensified to the point they scream themselves. Covering their ears did no good in blocking out the scream. A strong wave of energy, coming from the kitchen, sending everything that was loose toward the front and pushing everyone through the door. Glass showered everyone outside as people, just as scared and confused, help the once who just come out of the café. Bleeding and covering their ears.
“A scared female voice was heard over the chaos, when the voice became panicked others joined in.
“'Sally! Mike! Where are you?' The voice called from the chaos, the voice belonged to a young waitress. The cops were alerted at that point and pushed the crowd to the other side of the street.
“It wasn't till after midnight, when the air normalized and the hairs on the neck and arms no longer stood on end. Did the investigation start and no trace of the kids were ever found.”
Richard allowed time for the story to sink in before saying anything.
“That is a well enough story, but where it lacks is the fact the kids, most likely teenagers, set it up as a prank.” Richard sat back.
Kimmy looked at him in complete astonishment.
Richard raised an eye brow in concern and wonder.
“Did you seriously just say that?” Kimmy raised her voice, losing all her warmth.
“What?” Richard studied Kimmy's flushed face and wide-eye glare, “it is true.”
Kimmy kept her glare for a few more minutes to really drive it home for Richard, “Yes, you aren't dealing with fiction here.”
Question's started to rise in his mind, but he must choose them carefully, most importantly that he had to pay attention to the tone and the wording of the question's.
“So the bodies were never found?”
“No.” Kimmy's voice was calm.
Richard continued aware that he was tip-toeing around a live-wire, “Has it happened again?”
“No, the sign on the front door keeps it from happening.”
“Are you sure it wasn't just a prank?” His voice is innocent and for the fact she never answered that question.
“No, they wouldn't do that.”
“How can you be sure?” Following the line of questioning as if in a interrogation chapter of a crime novel, not meaning to.
“They were my friends!” Kimmy hugged herself with glaring wet eyes, “Yeah, we were fifteen, sixteen. But not the rotten kind.” The words were sharp, and Richard felt them deep.
There was a pause, for both to calm down and consider one another's thoughts and opinions. No matter how unthoughtful or strong they may be.
Richard then in a quiet voice, “How do you know that it won't happen again?”
“The risk is to great.” She answered quickly.
“So no one has been here past nine o'clock since opening night?” Richard inquired quietly.
Kimmy nodded slowly hoping that her feeling was wrong.
Richard knew that Kimmy knew what was on his mind, so he came out with it, “Allow me to test the theory.”
“No,” Kimmy's anger forgotten replaced by concern. She put a hand on Richard's hand, he saw a slight tremble in her hand before it covered his.
For Richard the touch was very nice and long a waited sensation to be felt for sure, but he remained persistent, “Please, Kimmy.” His voice held the right amount of strength and plead he felt it needed.
Kimmy was ready to fight, “What you are asking is suicide.”
“It will be welcomed, I assure you.” His voice held no disregard, “it might have faded away with time.”
Kimmy did not hear the last part, for she was too distraught by the first, “You have a death wish?”
“Yes and no,” Richard didn't think of the want to test a theory, a death wish. He was not looking for death, but if it came he'd allow it.
Kimmy withdrew her hand from his, shaking her head, “I meant to act as a spark for fiction. Not a non-fiction story.”
“It is not my fault I read the story wrong. You opened the door.” Richard points at her.
“No, you are not going to be here at nine, birthday or not, writer or not. Your life is worth more.” Kimmy protested.
Richard stood up abruptly, legal pad in hand and he fumbles with his wallet. Eyes wide and stinging with tears, throwing money on the table he said tears leaking out, “It is not just my birthday today. My unborn child would have been five today.” with the final torturing thing finally out he turned and left the café.
Richard Norm reached his upstairs apartment, an apartment he moved into from a lovely starter home on the other side of the city. Living out of boxes and surviving off savings, which had accumulated over the three years of marriage, saving up for that vacation to London. London was now far from Richard's mind staring at his HP laptop resting on a oversized windowsill. The irony of it, the apartment where he now stood is four doors apart from the one he lived in after escaping his father at the age of sixteen. He made good on his promise to the landlord that he could stay for free if he continued going to school. At the beginning of each month he brought in a copy of his grades. Maintained a B average and worked on weekends, he had a free room and money for clothes and food. Now, surrounded by boxes, standing heavy shouldered and tired. However, for the first time in five years, his mind was racing. No clear meaning as of yet and he knew just how to work it out. Talking and not just talking to the empty space, no, no, that would cause some difficulty to store clear thoughts inside were it was already a jumbled mess.
He set his legal pad on his bed, which was only mattress with an untidy heap of blankets placed beside his work station. Then begun to rummage among the boxes all the while muttering and humming. Finally at the fourth box, he found what he was looking for and announced, “Ah ha!” As he pulled out a Sanyo minicorder with slide switches instead of push buttons.
There was a 60-minute tape in the gadget, and fresh if his memory was right. All the way rewound on side A to be sure it indeed was fresh. Richard thumbed the switch to play.
Rewound to the beginning, slid the switch to Record and the red light came on. Richard let the wheels turn in the machine, hesitant, nervous to speak. The red light flickered every time it caught a sound, right then, it was catching Richard's breaths. A thought came and he spoke it, “Just don't start talking back to me.” Richard watched the light flicker like mad as he said the sentence, it stilled and he waited.
After ten seconds or so, Richard nodded satisfied and thumbed the switch to Stop. Placing the minicorder on the ground he started to look for more tapes. In the middle of rummaging, he reached for the minicorder and thumbed the switch to Record, “I don't know what to believe. If I even believe in the paranormal.” Richard paused in narration to consider the question. Continued to look for tapes, to his disappointment there were none, “No tapes,” he said before sliding the switch to Stop.
He stood up and stared at the gadget, the jumble mess in his head all pointed to one answer. Thumbing the switch and said, “I am going to break in...tonight. Why wait and plan? If what Kimmy said is true then the police won't come till midnight anyway.” He thumbed to Stop and smiled feeling good. So he did believe, while if anything there was a force that was keeping him going to the café. Perhaps this is it?
Richard looked about, what was he going to need? He thumbed the switch to Record, “Dark clothing, a flashlight to write by. Um...” Darkening the red light again. Of course the legal pad but there was nothing else he could think of. This wasn't like a sleepover you have as a child, this is breaking and entering. Meaning jail time, Richard knew this and did not care. He would also bring his newly found friend.
Only noon, Richard did what he had done for five years. Sit and stare at the blank document on the computer screen but this time he was waiting for the right time to go out and get his story. He moved his right hand up in front of his line of sight. How was the naked whiteness still there? It made no sense to him well, on what should be. In all reality the strange whiteness on his ring finger should've cleared up a few days after he removed the ring. To him this is a painful reminder of what happened and what he still had yet to accomplish.
“Merry Christmas.” A tired, cheery female voice said.
Richard stood eyes half opened in the door way of the small living room, “Merry Christmas.” Richard said groggily and smiled.
His wife was sitting in front of the tree her legs folded under her. They had been married for three years and each of those years they agreed not to exchanged gifts. They are just up together for Christmas. Even with grogginess, Richard saw the look on his wife’s face. The look was, 'I'm sorry but I had to'.
“Morgan?” Richard asked fully entering the room.
“Rich.” Her voice was high.
Richard settled down beside Morgan, “We agreed.”
“I know but.” She said as she held out her hand with a rectangular wrapped gift, “This will help you when you have an idea and are not able to write them down.”
Richard gave a crooked smile, half in excitement and half in guilt. He took the gift from his wife's hand and opened up the minicorder.
That was the last Christmas they had together.
That was when Richard's internal alarm clock woke him up at six, as it is the time he would eat dinner. When he woke up he was holding the minicorder, he regarded the gadget bittersweetly he had never used it till now.
He got up to fixed something to eat, which he didn't even taste. After he had satisfied his hunger Richard dressed in the appropriate attire for the night's escapade. He stowed his minicorder in his pocket, tucked his legal pad under his arm and put two pens in the pocket opposite the one with the minicorder.
The dying light shown through the window, he got the strange feeling of unease staring at all the boxes. Like he might never see them again, which was possible, he was going to be doing something illegal. He plucked the minicorder from his pocket, rewound it a few seconds then switched to play and listened to his own voice say, “Flashlight to write by. Um...” He switch to stop. He nodded in concurrence with himself and grabbed the flashlight off of the window ledge. He was ready to go.
Richard walked the sidewalk like he did that very same morning, instead of zoning out and letting his feet lead. He was present and feeling a pull to stop at one of the small grocery marts that lined this and the next street. The one that he happened to be outside of when the pull occurred was, Kipper's Food and Tobacco. A small shanty sandwiched in between two office buildings, bright white light filtered out and casting rectangular shadows of notices, missing pets posters and random clippings of news and self-advertising writers. The sidewalk looked like a chessboard and as he disturbed the shadows going for the front door. His eyes caught a small clipping of paper, Richard could barely read the article underneath the words written in red Sharpe:
The fear. The fear of not knowing if they are okay. Their phone remains unanswered against you. Tears stream and your body shakes. In brief intervals you are allowed to think that it is not as bad as you are thinking. Only to have the brief time swallowed by the fear. The fear is something that can't be fought, only endured. The sudden sensation of great relief when the phone rings and you hear the voice on the other end. Tears of joy fall, you feel silly for overreacting. Though, you can't help it because you love them and care for them deeply. And the fear. The fear can be fought. The weapon is love. For without love we are lost.
“Hmm.” Richard thought as he opened the door of the mart.
The mart held a scent of a sad love affair, the shelves fully stocked and prices fair. Yet the tiles were chipped and the wallpaper, once a lovely blue color now dull and sagging.
The man at the counter, dark and full beard with gray creeping around the edges.
“Hi, man. Welcome.”
“Hi,” Richard said and walked up to the counter.
The man had a cheerful face and an overall relaxed posture, a man with nothing to lose.
“A pack of Camel's please?” Richard asked and plucked a lighter from the display and set it on the counter, “Out there.” He pointed to the clipping stuck to the window right beside the door, “who wrote the little piece of writing titled Fear?”
The man shrugged as he put the pack down on the counter, “People are always doing that. 7.98.”
Richard nodded and paid, taking both lighter and cigs in his right hand. He walked back outside, leaned his back against the brick siding. Dropped his legal pad between his feet and unwrapped the plastic from the carton. Slamming the carton against the palm of his hand, no one will miss me. The fear will not touch anyone if indeed something does happen. He was doubtful that something worth writing would happen, it would be his luck. With a hard flick of his thumb the lid of the carton opened, revealing two rows of neatly packed cigs. Not that Richard was looking at them, he went through a smoking phase that lasted two months. This was before Morgan, Richard could not pin point the reason for this sudden urge to have a smoke.
Taking a cig out and placed in the corner of his mouth. He thumbed the wheel on the lighter and lit the tip. Noticing not the slightest shake in his hand or lip, no shame here. Took a long drag, held it as he laid his head back and exhaled slowly.
I am going to die tonight, Richard wasn't startled by this but at the same time he was. Today turned out to be off kilter. Finishing the cig, he cast the remains and the unsmoked carton into the gutter and continued on his way.
He hid in the bushes that lined the right side of the café and watched Kimmy leave and in a hurry. After her car had turn the corner Richard headed to the back.
Richard found something that he didn't expect, the heavy door was ajar and there was a note, Richard, I am a friend and friend's help one another. Good luck, be careful, I hope your story is here. Kimmy
He let the note fall from his hand as he stood before the ajar door. He took in a deep breath, no backing out now, he thought. He reached inside and pulled the door open just enough for him to slip in. It closed leaving him in darkness, Richard pulled out his flashlight and turned it on. With that he was able to make his way through the kitchen without much difficulty. Reaching the dining area he turned off the flashlight, as not to alert any passerbyers and anyway there was enough natural light left.
Richard sat down at his booth, this time sitting were Kimmy had this morning. Seeing the empty café was indeed a little spooky, setting down his legal pad and minicorder in front of him. The face clock above the door leading into the kitchen read eight-fifty. Ten minutes he had to wait now, as the minutes slowly ticked by the eeriness grew as the sun finished going down.
Nine-oh-one and the café was still, no heavy air or dinnerware flying about or screaming. Richard looked around disappointed in himself and in Kimmy. She had seemed so sure that the one time happening was real and would happen again. Richard was then convinced by her depiction of it that he was here and waiting for the story. He had fallen for a fable because he was so desperate and an idiot for believing such but he had hope. He wonder if that was why Kimmy left the door ajar to teach him a lesson, though he was pretty sure that he would ignore it.
There was a sudden smell of fire and smoke, but there was nothing to be seen. Richard stood up, intending to search for the source but he was shoved back down and there was a blacken handprint on the front of his shirt.
Richard sat stunned as he stared at the thick black ashen print on his grayish black shirt, then looked about. Not fear but in curiosity.
“Hello?” Richard asked the empty café.
“You wish for death, do you not?” an echoy rough male voice spoke.
“That would depend on tonight.” Richard said steady.
“Speak and quickly!”
“If I get my story tonight or not.” Richard said.
“You show no fear.”
“Why not, if I want to die?” Richard questioned.
“But you can't see me yet you are talking to me.”
“Because I don't think this is really happening.”
Richard felt a sharp pain in his gut and screamed as he started bleeding.
“Now is it real enough!” The voice raged, “did you not see ever clearer today?”
Richard laid in the booth hand over his bleeding wound, gasping in pain. Mind unable to think clearly to respond, I have been stabbed, he thought, “What do you mean?”
“For the last five years you have been living in a sort of trance. Today was different as it was the sign of your coming death.”
Richard, on the conscious level, was too high in pain to think much of anything. However, in the far recesses of his mind, what the voice said was true. Unconsciously he knew that he was going to die tonight, hell he even thought it as he smoked.
“What do you want?” Richard said scared, his conscious level was not ready.
“I want to be named and my unmarked grave known.”
Richard gasped, “Why an unmarked grave? You a criminal?”
“Mr. Norm, you are aware that you can die from your wound.” The voice said.
Richard nodded and arched his back in pain, “Just a question.”
“You are the first.” The voice considered, “legends have been made about my great skill with forging iron and steel and me being well-known and highly-spoken of. However, at the ends of all the legends they just say that I disappeared. When I was murdered over a shard of an unknown metal, it wouldn't get hot or bend.” The voice said.
Richard was not liking the fact that the blood was oozing through his fingers steadily, “Please, I want to help you.”
“Why?” The voice asked.
“'Cause my wife and unborn child died in a car crash that should have been me.”
“Boohoo, men always say that.”
“But this time it is the truth.”
“Rich, baby, where are you?” Morgan called from the front room.
Richard was in the bedroom bent over a legal pad with his hand moving fiercely along.
“Hon-” Morgan stopped dead in the doorway just as Richard dropped the pen and flexed his hand, “Sorry.”
“It is ok I just had to get an idea out.” He smiled stood up running his hands up her body as he did and hid his face in her long hair.
Morgan's breath quickened.
“What did you want to ask me?”
Morgan looked at him hesitantly then smiled, “I'll go to the store, you stay and keep working.”
“Are you sure, because I can go.”
“No, I'll go, what do you want for dinner?”
Richard held her close, “Surprise me,” then kissed her fully on the mouth. She was sweeter then a Hershey Kiss.
“Ok, love you, I will be back.”
“The next time I saw her I was identifying her body in the morgue. And a week later I got the news that she was four weeks pregnant.” Richard had tears mixed with sweat but forced himself to continue, “You want to be remembered by name and I want to give my wife the best story I can muster up.” He was then struck with a name and said it, “Gaylin.”
“My name, you knew my name.” Gaylin said choked with tears.
“Yes, please if you can give me more time I can tell our story.” Richard said.
“Norm, you have been dead for an hour now. But I will give you back to the earth to write the story, then you will have your wife and little girl.”
“Girl?” Richard started to cry, “I have a little girl.”
“Yes, hang on.”
The café started to spin faster and faster to the point Richard had to close his eyes. Then after a few seconds he opened his eyes. His wound was gone, the face-clock read ten o'clock and sitting in front of him was a transparent typewriter with a stack of paper next to it. On the other side was the minicorder and the legal pad.
Richard looked up and there stood Gaylin a thick structure, balding on top but had a full dark beard and dressed in blacksmith clothing, dirty and smiling, “Mr. Norm, thank you.” Gaylin vanished.
“Your welcome, and thank you.” Richard said and began to write.
Richard Norm finished pounded the story out on the ghostly typewriter. Took up the minicorder thumbed the switch to Record and spoke his final earthly words. When that was done he set the minicorder beside the manuscript, then tore off the front page of the legal pad and penned, The Midnight Café. And set it on top of the typed story. Appearing at his side was his wife and little girl, Richard slid out of the booth, took both by the hand.
“Let's go home.”
Kimmy is about to open the café, bracing herself for what she might find in there. She had come to love Richard as a brother. Having felt sorry for him, she gave him the only aid she could by leaving the back door unlocked.
Expecting a huge mess of broken glass, she found the opposite when she opens the door.
“Richard?” She calls out hopeful. Hoping against all odds that it was just a one time ordeal.
When she receives no form of an answer her eyes gravitate to the booth that Richard always sits. Her heart quickens as she sees something on the table, and with slow heavy steps she walks to the booth.
Stopping beside the booth, she gasps and collapses into the seat, were she had sat the morning prior. With one shaky hand she grabs the page of dull yellow, turns it right and reads the hand written title, The Midnight Café. A sad smile touches the corners on her mouth when she sees the minicorder. Taking it in her hand, steadying her breathing. She slides the switch down one notch to the play position the reels turn and out comes Richard's voice. As happy as can be.
In life we all hope to make our mark in history before we wink out of existence. I believe this story will be my mark, though, I hope I will be able to clear a mark off of the face of history. The legend of the greatest iron and steel forger, his name is Gaylin. He was murdered and buried here, were the café stands. Through me, his story is cleared of it's blemish and the café no longer needs to fear. I am the last victim and as I am about to leave the lair of the living I give my last bit of advice. Every life amounts to something, just got to go for it and make your own mark.