Gil’s All Fright Diner
The diner was empty tonight. A fog rolled around outside, even though the dry desert air wasn’t cold enough for it. Loretta sat behind the counter, reading a copy of Vogue, waiting for customers.
It was a quiet night at Loretta’s Place, the kind of night when you could hear things crawling under the floorboards. Rats, you’d hope, but given Loretta’s devotion to keeping the place spotless, that was unlikely. More likely, those things were minor escaping horrors from the dimensions of madness, slipping through the cracks between realities. They didn’t often come to the surface, but she kept a hammer handy in those rare instances they did and a shotgun behind the counter for the more stubborn abominations.
“Are you open?” asked Clarence Bodekker, dressed in an ill-fitting tuxedo. His prom date, Felicia, wore a dress made by her mother, a fair seamstress but with an unhealthy love of frills and bows.
Loretta glanced up from her magazine and nodded. She hadn’t heard them enter. “Have a seat, kids. Anywhere you like.”
They took their regular corner booth. Loretta brought them over a pair of menus.
“What pie do you have tonight?” asked Clarence.
“Boysenberry,” she replied.
“My favorite,” he said.
“I thought as much.”
Felicia didn’t say anything. She’d always been a quiet one.
Loretta gave the kids some time to order. They sat at the table, awkwardly not talking. She remembered her own teenage years. She’d been anything but shy. On nights like this, she recalled losing her virginity to Stevie Hurst (as far as he knew) and how he’d proposed to her then and there. She’d blown him off, only to change her mind the day he got hit by that train.
The train had a bad habit of hitting people. Some said the crossing had been cursed, and most agreed it was probably true. But the train had finally derailed a few years back, and the route had been changed. Still, if you listened, on nights like this, you could hear its whistle. And something had demolished Stan Winthrop’s Studebaker parked on those tracks one moonless night, though no one could rightly say what.
“What’ll it be, kids?” asked Loretta.
“Two burgers, please,” said Clarence.
Felicia nodded. You could tell by looking her eyes that she knew. Not everyone did. Clarence didn’t know. Poor kid. Or maybe he was better off. Loretta couldn’t say.
Loretta returned with a burger a few minutes later. The kids were gone, leaving without so much as a tip. Not that she expected one. Ghosts didn’t carry around spare change. She hoped that they were on their way to their prom now, and maybe this time, they’d notice the train bearing down on them in time.
“Loretta!” said Stevie Hurst.
She hadn’t heard him enter.
“Hiya, Stevie,” she replied. “Aren’t you a dapper young man tonight?”
He said, “You’re going to marry me, and I’m not taking no for an answer.”
She smiled. “Alright.”
He wrapped his arms around her ample frame. She’d put a few pounds over the years. Stevie never noticed. He kissed her neck, and she giggled, despite herself. A woman had needs, and when the night was quiet, when the sky was dark, when the fog rolled around, Stevie was around to meet hers.
She turned off the diner’s open sign as the ghost train’s whistle howled across the desert night.