I stared around at the slashed red sparkle vinyl, the chipped cobalt blue Formica and the cracked white wall tile. A quarter of the diner was ruined thanks to a recent bar fight. Alcohol was not what fueled this feud, but the venom of the living. This time it was some passers-through looking for a piece of our scrumptious Gloaming Gap Grapefruit pie. The tartness mixed with the lemon infused brown sugar was a flavor that my patrons, apparently, killed for. They didn’t know. They bit into the flaky crust, tasted the tang, and next thing I knew one of the local untamed vamps jumped the couple and enjoyed the blood of their necks rather than my famous pie.
Ever since the incident the diner had been dead. The living were scared to indulge in my pie for fear that the vamps would indulge in their blood. The diner was empty, broken, in dire need of repair. I was scrubbing the pinkish brown mix of blood and grapefruit off the vinyl seats when the bells clanked at the front door. I looked up and saw a face I recognized but I wasn’t quite sure how I knew her. “May I help you?” I asked in an annoyed tone. My stained apron was not a welcoming sight to anyone.
“Um…are you open?” the woman asked quietly.
“Technically yes, but not really. As you can see I probably wouldn’t pass any health inspections right now. I can fix you a drink but no food right now. What do you need?”
She looked around at the mess. As I stood up to wash my hands at the nearby sink, her eyes widened. She could see the red stains on my apron. She swallowed and sighed, “a job.”
I undid my apron and washed my hands before coming around front. “Now why would you want to work here? I have no doubt you know what went on here recently?” I inquired. She nodded. “I’ve seen you around, I’m Gwen, and I own the diner. You are…?”
She timidly stuck her hand out and shook mine weakly. “Elizabeth,” she said ready to go on.
“Stop right there. I know who you are,” I said sticking out my wrist to her. I shook the red, white and blue glass beaded bracelet with ‘B’ charm on it. “I bought this from you at the Hickory Days festival last year. I don’t believe I have taken it off since. I had wondered if it was inspired by this place. Was it?”
Elizabeth looked down. “Yes,” was all she mumbled. “I wondered who had bought it. I walked away from the stand and when I returned it was gone.”
I stared at her inquisitively wondering why she would make a bracelet symbolic of the diner in the first place, but also that she would remember, nearly a year later, that she had never met the bracelet’s new owner. “Do you come to the diner often? I don’t recall ever seeing you in here and since I’m here all the time, I’m pretty sure I would remember you.”
“I just need a job,” she said.
“Well, I can’t give you any serving hours right now because this place is a god damned mess. The fuckin’ vamps destroyed it last week. I could hire you on to clean but it won’t be pretty. If you work hard I may have you help around here with the cleaning and go from there. What do you say?” She just nodded. “OK then. Aprons and gloves are in the back. Why don’t you try to get the blood and hair out of that Formica counter top for me?” She looked down at the ground again before going into the back.
She was odd. Not one person had come through this door since the feeding. I couldn’t blame them. If my aunt hadn’t left me this place I would have been long gone too. I felt I owed her for caring for me after my mother was savaged when I was 4. The diner and me were her life after that moment. I was raised pouring coffee to the patrons, even the dead. Sometimes with the hottest, freshest pots, I would ‘accidentally’ spill a little into their laps. I was a kid, I could get away with it. But now it had come back to bite me in the ass. My patriotic pride and joy was a bloody mess.
Bren had wanted it this way. Red white and blue through and through. Our town was nothing like an all-American town but that didn’t stop her from trying to keep us looking as normal as possible. The big hit, though, was the pie. Bren was never a great baker but one day she made this pie to serve and from that point on we were the town favorite for dessert. It took a few years before we realized that the grapefruit pie made the living’s blood that much more fragrant to the dead. We never talked about it out loud, but we both knew it. The living’s chances of surviving a chase from a vampire were slim if they had just eaten the pie. It drove the dead crazy and they sought after the taste of blood after a human had eaten a delectable piece of Gloaming Gap’s favorite pie.
Elizabeth came around and we busied ourselves working at clearing the blood stained counters. The replacement tile, Formica and vinyl were arriving in the morning and once it was installed we could officially re-open. I didn’t know if the pie would be good enough to entice the locals back, so I had begun going through new recipes in my head. I figured a Bren’s Blueberry tribute pie could entice a few back to the old joint but what would be the secret ingredient that kept the vamps away? I had no clue so I just kept scrubbing and watching Elizabeth out of the corner of my eye, wondering why she had shown up.
B.L. Boitson is a freelance writer and blogger whose topics include travel, events, and businesses in central Pennsylvania. In addition she blogs personally about Sarcoma cancer and grief (http://www.crazywidow.info) and loves a good story.