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“They’re made of people.”

“Hmm?”

“The meat pies.”

The older and somewhat portly gentleman with the white thinning hair and the white bristly mustache lowers his newspaper down just enough to meet the gaze of his younger compatriot from across the table.

“…”

“The meat pies, Ford. They’re made. Of people.”

Ford places the newspaper down next to the little crème-colored ceramic coffee cup with the blue double lines running along the rim, and turns his full attention to the young black man in the black mod leather jacket with the golden chain and its little gold cross hanging around his thin neck. Ford stares deep into his younger compatriot’s dark and mischievous eyes.

“One of ya jokes again, Ephraim?”

“Naw, I’m being serious.”

“Come on, you’ve been reading too many of them horror comics.”

“No, seriously, just look.”

Ephraim glances to the lonely waiter standing at the lunch counter.

The young man is barely in his 20s, but already he’s sporting the greying eyes and greying complexion of someone well into their 80s. If it weren’t for the patchwork of acne riddling all over his cheeks and forehead, and the blond peach fuzz, he’d look much younger, but as it is the kid looks worse than 30 year-old Ephraim, hell, looks worse than Ford, who’s already pushing 60. The boy is just standing there, staring off into space, as he barely registers the guests’ orders as he jots them down on his notepad. Everyone in the diner seems to be a local, so this behavior doesn’t seem to raise too much of a suspicion, but for Ford and Ephraim it is far too off-putting to ignore.

“Kid’s probably juss stoned. You know how you young’uns are these days, with ya new drugs. Like candy to you guys.”

“Oh come on, that totally looks like somebody who’s caught somethin’ from eatin’ people. Looks like a damn zombie, like from one of them movies, you know, the ones showed at the drive-in back near Baton, the Red n’ Gold Marque.”

“Eh, you’re seeing things.”

“Oh yeah? Then explain to me the cook over in the kitchen window?”

Looking past the counter, the two of them observe the heavy-set, white-haired cook behind the grill. Despite the animated pep in his step, he looks to be in the same partially catatonic state as the young waiter. His nose is ruddy and swollen, probably the early stages of a serious case of rhinophyma.

“Probably a vet. Shell-shock, Dubya Two maybe.”

“That’s what you say about every old geezer we come across who’s a bit off.”

“If the shoe fits.”

“Okay, what about li’l ol’ Mrs. Snutly herself?”

The two turn towards the small booth in the corner near the employee entrance to the kitchen, which is currently occupied by a small woman of about 70 years.

“Tell me that don’t look like somebody who’s got a few skeletons in they closet.”

The little old woman is dressed to the nines in her Sunday best, with a bright red long-sleeve shirt dress with matching laces on shiny black ankle boots, pure white short gloves, and a red and black flower pillbox hat, assented all with lipstick a shade brighter than the rest of the ensemble against her deathly pale face. She stands out, almost literally, like a sore thumb in the otherwise grey and gloomy diner. Sitting there, she is busy solving the morning’s crossword puzzle, all the while grinning from ear to ear.

“What about her?”

“Look at her! Who do you know gets that damn jolly just to do a crossword puzzle? And don’t tell me that ain’t the smile of some psycho-killer.”

Ford picks up his newspaper and continues reading.

“Eh, you’re over-reacting.”

“Oh, yeah? Then tell me, oh mon friar-”

“Fere.”

“What?”

“It’s fere, not friar. Friar’s a kind of priest. See, you’d know that if you didn’t just read them comic books all the time. Learned that one from Robin Hood.”

“You know that only cause of the Disney film, the one with the fox.”

“…So I like me some cartoon movies. Movies are a respected art form. They have a science behind them.”

“Yeah well, whatever, but the point I was gonna make still stands. If it’s all just in my head, tell me about that there paper you readin’.”

“What about it?”

“Hello, spaceman, did you not read the front page?”

Ford flips the paper over.

ANOTHER CHILD MISSING, 5th IN SEVEN MONTHS

“Now you’re just trying to see things in places they ain’t.”

“Oh come on, you can’t be serious. I mean, look at them.”

Ford glances at the waiter. Then to the cook. Then to the sign near the front, the one that reads “TRY OUR WORLD FAMOUS MEAT PIES!!” and afterwards towards the Plexiglas hotbox housing the meat pies themselves, the caramelized brown sugar coating glistening beneath the orange glow of the heat lamps. Then finally he turns to Mrs. Snutly herself.

After a moment of lingering on her and that odd grin of hers, he returns his attention to Ephraim, his lips pursed as a kind of admission that he’s been convinced, or that he’s at least begun to entertain the idea.

“Okay, so what do you want us to do about it? Go to the police? Two conmen on the run decide to play junior detective and it’ll all be fine? And let me remind you, one of us just so happens to be black, and this here is the Deep South. I doubt the locals here will be so inviting.”

“Well when you put it that way, you make it sound real stupid of me to mention it in the first place. But no, we don’t go to the police about this. I say we stick this place up later on in the day, and if we just so happen to take a hostage or two, we can blackmail ‘em for more.”

“Why this place? Why not the pharmacist, or the grocers further back in town. Blackmail is complicating things, Ef.”

“Nah, this town’s too small, cops’ll be on us like white on rice if they just so happen to come out for a piss in the breeze. This place is a bit out of the ways, but still on a main road, and something tells me this place is far better off than any of the other fine establishments these hicks frequent.”

Ford looks around at the diner, and aside from a few truckers, a motley assortment of high schoolers playing hooky, and the staff themselves, the place is almost totally deserted.

“Okay, you’re going to have to explain that one to me. I may be getting on in my years, but my eyes’re still good.”

“That radio I bought?”

“The one you spent the last of our money we owe McNichelson?”

“Yeah, well, that radio’s already started payin’ in dividends. I was listenin’ in on the airwaves yesterday while you was hagglin’ with that gas station attendant.”

“Bastard took the gold watch and the last of our scratch, da greedy prick.”

“Yeah, well, while you was gettin’ reared hard, I was listenin’ to that radio. Caught wind of somethin’ about a church, a bunch of they congregation took a sixteen-wheeler full of food and clothes, and they comin’ down this way to donate it to some podunk that got hit by Claudette down in Louisi. Accordin’ to what they told some of the other truckers on the horn, they’re not too far from this here town.”

“You want us to rob a church? Jesus, Ephraim.”

“No. I’m sayin’ we rob this here diner after the church stops by.”

“How do you know it’s gonna come through here?”

“This here’s the only main road from the highway that runs from where they’s coming from to where they’s headin’. Unless they haulin’ some fine contraband, ain’t nobody drivin’ a sixteen-wheeler gonna gamble on takin’ a backway.”

“And if they don’t stop for a slice of meat pie and coffee?”

“Then we’s shit out of luck. We rob the next gas station and make it past the border and try again somewhere else.”

“Not a very good plan, is it?”

“Saw any pawn shops or jewelry stores in town?”

“No, I see your point.”

“Alrighty then.”

“Alright then.”

Ford waves to the waiter. The young, anemic looking man slouches over towards the two.

“Hey fellas…”

“…”

“…”

“You guys ready to leave?”

“Yeah, me and my friend here are ready to pay.”

“Sure you fellas…”

“…”

“…”

“Wouldn’t like to have a slice of our world famous meat pies?”

“No, we’re-”

“They’re world famous.”

“…”

“…”

“…”

“No, that’ll be fine.”

“Would you like to take home a cherry pie instead? Or a custard? Or a-”

“No, that’ll be fine, just the check please. Damn fine coffee though.”

The two pay for their meals and leave, heading for the stolen sky-blue Chrysler 180 with the fake license plate, the only car besides the two pick-up trucks and the one red semi-trailer tractor. Just as they hop in, they see a lone police cruiser drive up to the diner. Nervously, they watch as they see a large, heavily-grizzled man come out and saunter into the front door. From the cut of his jib and the presence with which he wields his attire, they can tell he’s the town sheriff.

The two decide to leave and head into town, where they know they saw a small movie theater earlier as they drove in. They decide to spend the rest of the day watching the matinees until it was time to stake out the diner.


After an entire afternoon of watching everything from an early showing of a Dr. Evil’s medley, which included King Kong meets the Mummy, the Thing with Two Heads, Satan’s School for Girls, and The Wasp Woman, and after walking out halfway through a rather odd film neither of them particularly liked, simply titled Alien, they return to the diner by sunset and park in the nearby woods.

They keep a close eye on the place, and Ephraim takes the first shift while Ford dozes off to catch a few winks while he can. As night falls, a group of cars drive up and park out back behind the diner, and their drivers enter the building.

“Hey Ford, check that out.”

Ford stirs awake.

“That the church?”

“No, employees.”

One by one they get into their positions. There is a young girl in orange pigtails, a giant of a bald man, a black, grey-haired cook, the young waiter from that morning, as well as the cook, a greasy, black haired busboy, a young cook who looks like he may be the busboy’s older brother, and a rather corpulent girl who looks like a young Mrs. Snutly, doubtlessly the elderly woman’s granddaughter. All of them have that same pale, glazed look as the morning waiter and cook plastered across their faces, though now that they’ve all congregated together they seem to be a bit more animated while in each other’s presence. They even smile to one another, and nod in an odd, esoteric fashion, almost as if they were all in on some unspoken secret, or communed through some obfuscated means.

And finally Mrs. Snutly herself arrives from the backroom, sits down in her booth, and, as if it were all part of some predetermined ritual, sets down to solving her puzzles yet again, grinning all the while.

“Jeez, it really does look like some kind of freaky cult, doesn’t it Ephraim.”

“Tellin’ you, Ford; cannibals the whole lot of them. These white bread towns are always full of crazy crackers.”

“What about the black guy on the line?”

“Eh, probably the local Uncle Tom. Every town’s got one.”

The two of them continue to watch over the diner, alternating between shifts, Ford napping in his off-time, while Ephraim reads the comics he’s managed to get his hands on from the odd garage sale here and there. An hour and a half after the arrival of the workers, a sixteen-wheeler rides up and parks in front of the diner, while a convoy of about 10 station wagons corral around it.

“Hey, Ef, you was right.”

Ephraim looks up from his rather valuable copy of Nightmare #17, with its grotesque cover of a nude woman being pounced upon by an obscenely horned gorilla-like beast, and he looks to the parking lot. He smiles as he places the comic back amongst the others.

“See, told you that radio was payin’ back.”

“Alright, alright. Don’t let it go to your head. You just got lucky, kid.”

They watch as the entire roving caravan shuffles into the diner. The pigtailed girl and the corpulent one seat the women and children, while the menfolk saddle up to the counter, the acne-faced youth there to greet them with a surprisingly warm and inviting smile. Even the rhinophyma-afflicted cook suddenly has a grin on his face, as his pale blue eyes twinkle like two chips of melting ice. Indeed, all of the employees seem more alive than before. Despite their decrepit appearance, they seem almost normal now.

“Now what you make of that, Ef?”

“Don’t know Ford.”

They watch as the diner becomes alive with activity, as the waitresses serve hot food and cold sodas to the women and children, while the cooks carry on saltier, yet still family-friendly, banter with the menfolk.

“Say, Ef.”

“Yeah, Ford?”

“What’re you gonna do when we finally make it to Fresno?”

“Me? I’m gonna be a stand-up. Big money in that now. Only gonna get bigger. The world always needs stand-ups.”

“Yeah, but what about McNickelson? Kinda hard to put your face out there when you got someone looking for ya.”

“I’ll just make enough money to get plastic surgery.”

“You’ve really thought of that?”

“No, not really. Haven’t really thought that far, now that you mention it. But hell, I’m full of comedy gold, so it’s worth trying my hand at it. Maybe I can just make enough to pay him off, with interest, just to get him off my back.”

“Heard the place to be for comedy was New York though. Don’t know what it’s like in Fresno.”

“Eh, you’re just being pessimistic.”

“Realistic.”

“Can’t be realistic if you only imagine the worse, that’s just asking for the world to walk all over you and you thanking it for at least wiping its feet first.”

“Heh, that’s a good one. Maybe you can be one of them self-help gurus.”

Ford smiles.

“A self-help stand-up comic.”

“Eh, that ain’t comedy. Comedy’s all about people getting on the wrong end of their own screw-ups, plus timing.”

“So pessimism, basically, plus timing.”

Ephraim looks to Ford with a wry grin.

“You think you’re so smart, doncha?”

“Only cause I hang out with a smart-assed reprobate such as yourself.”

“Yeah, well, what’re you gonna do when we make it to Fresno?”

“Oh, I don’t know. Probably just get a job in a diner, like this place.”

“Really, that’s it?”

“I’m a simple man.”

“I mean, don’t you have ambitions or dreams, pop?”

“Kid, as a young G.I. in Korea, I tried looking for gold with a couple of my platoon buddies, had this crazy idea the commies hid gold somewhere in the jungles, bullion used to pay off the locals. All that did was get us dishonorably discharged. That was enough adventure for me for a lifetime.”

“Oh, shit. I didn’t know you was in the Army.”

“Marines. And yeah, I didn’t always used to be a conman on the run. Had a future once. Did pretty good in school too. Then it all went to the dogs after I got shitcanned by Uncle Sam. My fault though, totally my fault. Don’t blame anyone but myself.”

“Damn.”

“…”

“…”

“…”

“Hey, wanna hear a bit of my stand-up?”

“…”

“Isn’t it kinda funny how over-protective parents can get? Like, parent’s will get so wound up with one particular thing, the one thing they find the most scary, and they’ll try everythin’ in their power to keep it away from their kids. And that’s ok, gotta protect ya kids, gotta protect them. Scary world out there. But sometimes they dun screw up and make things worse, and sometimes things get really weird. Like, they’ll accidentally go overboard and create a crazy tic in their kids. Take for instance my momma.

“Now, I love my momma, and God rest her soul, but my momma always said nothin’ good came from drugs, and she tried everythin’ in the world to keep me away from the wacky tobacky. So one day, we was walkin’ down the street in our neighborhood, and the local pothead, this weird cat named Chimney Pipe Olly on account of his smokin’, well he walks out of his apartment, and momma sees him, and she turns to me and says ‘Now listen here Ephraim, don’t trust that man over there. He smokes… goofy cigarettes.’

“And of course, my immediate five year-old response was ‘Goofy smokes cigarettes?!’

“From that day on, for the next 3 months, I pestered every single pharmacist in the neighborhood, tryin’ to find Goofy’s special brand of cigs.”

“…”

“Eh?”

“…”

Ford tries to keep from smirking, but Ephraim can plainly see the first cracks starting to form.

“That wasn’t that funny.”

Despite his words, the crack in his voice says otherwise. Ephraim is pleased with himself.

“It’s really not.”

“Heh, I had this other bit in there too, where I pretended to be Fog Horn, but I still gotta work out the voice.”

Ford starts to chuckle, until eventually going into full on laughter, and Ephraim joins him a moment after that. Over in the diner, the congregation busily wolfs down plate after plate of eggs and bacon, hamburgers and fries drenched in ketchup, and milkshakes and soda pops, and slices of cherry and custard pie, and rhubarb and lime too, and of course the menfolk indulge in Mrs. Snutly’s world famous meat pies.


By 1:30 in the morning the diner is closed, and after locking the front door most of its remaining staff leave out the back to get into their cars and make the commute back home. Despite the massive influx of customers thanks to the travelling church convoy the night had been slow and uneventful for the most part, and many of them had been cut early by around 10:30. Only the rhinophyma-afflicted cook and the acne-faced waiter remained, though Ford and Ephraim had lost account of Mrs. Snutly herself, as she had disappeared before either of them. The two staff-members seem to have mostly finished with the nightly cleaning routines already.

By 1:50 the lights go out, and Ford and Ephraim wait and watch to see the last two leave. But by 2:10 no further movements have come from inside the diner. No sound of the creaky wooden backdoor noisily swinging open, no sound of a car engine starting up even. No sign of the cook and waiter anywhere near the garbage area out back. The whole place had become deathly quiet.

Ford and Ephraim start to worry.

“Ef, you think they sleep in there? What’s going on?”

“Too small to have a bedroom… Maybe they got a trailer out back?”

“Didn’t see any this morning when I did a perimeter.”

“Maybe they’ve got a cabin in the woods behind?”

“That’s gotta be it, right?”

“I don’t know.”

“It’s now or never, Ef.”

“Right.”

The two of them hop out of the car, pop the trunk, and grab their guns, Ford with his trusty Remington 870, and Ephraim with his two stolen Auto Mags. Together, the two of them cross the street and round back towards the open garbage area. As they near the backdoor, they prepare themselves.

In the darkness they whisper to one another.

“Ok, you ready ol’ man?”

“Yeah… Yeah, I guess. Not gonna lie though, not seeing them come out makes me wonder if maybe they’ve left through the back with the money already.”

“Only one way to find out…”

Ephraim prepares to break down the door with one good stomp of his size 11 boot. He rears back his right leg and aims his heel for just left of the rusty door knob.

“And if they still inside, you do your dirty work with ol’ Bruce there, and I do mine with Betty and Veronica.”

“Wait, wait, I thought I had Veronica?”

Ephraim yields his stomp mid-delivery.

“What, no, why would you think that?”

“Well Veronica’s my ex-wife’s name.”

“No, it’s Betty and Veronica. They go together.”

“Why?”

“The Archie comics. And why would you think Betty and Bruce would make a pair?”

“Well, of course they would.”

“How?”

“Betty and Bruce.”

“…”

“You know, Bruce Banner, the Incredible Hulk, and his girlfriend Betty Talbot.”

“Old man, how do you even know that? I thought you didn’t read comics.”

“Well I love the classics. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby are modern Shakespeares.”

“Well, whatever.”

Ephraim turns to face the door once again, as he raises his boot up.

“Let’s get this party started.”

The door goes down easily as the old wood splinters, taking with it its loose hanging hinges. Being a rather safe community, Mrs. Snutly had never bothered to replace the door even after so many years. Ephraim looks around for the light switch, finds it, and turns on the back storage area lights. As they enter, they look around at the contents of the rather sizeable pantry.

Upon old metal shelves, cartons of spices, herbs, and condiments are stored in neat arrangements, and their containers seem to be almost pristine in appearance. Not a drop of Tabasco sauce, not even the tiniest dollop of ketchup, can be found, and despite the age of the shelves, with their touches of rust here and there, not a speck of dust can be seen upon them, as they glisten as if just recently polished, so shiny is the chrome. On their left they see a lone table with four chairs, which Ford assumes is their makeshift office and communal breakroom. Next to the table, next to the only window they see on that side, is a dish pit, and it shines almost as immaculately as the dry goods shelves. Not a single drop of water can be seen on any of its surface.

Even the plates which are stacked upon themselves in precisely erected towers above the dish pit are seemingly devoid of any hint that they had been used. Right next to them are the coffee cups. They are all as crème-colored as the day they were broken out, with not a single coffee stain inside of them.

Over on the other side, the one with the backdoor itself, there is a wall of cardboard boxes, which doubtlessly contain straws and Styrofoam to-go containers. After seeing that that particular wing of the building is devoid of people, Ford and Ephraim decide to turn the other way and head down along the cook line.

As they pass the deep fryers and the stoves and the grills, they see that all of it glows with the same cleanliness as the dish pit and the storage shelves. The stoves show no signs of staining at their edges, and the deep fryers are entirely emptied of their cooking grease, totally spotless. Even the grills are strangely barren of any flecks of charred matter, which would normally accumulate over time.

Ford is surprised by this, and suspicious even, but Ephraim is entirely oblivious to any of it.

“Ef, something’s weird here.”

“What?”

“This place is clean… Too clean…”

“Whatta ya mean?”

“I mean, I worked in the kitchen when I was in the Army-”

“You mean Marines?”

“…Y-yeah, the Marines, and no matter how hard you try, you can never get a kitchen to be this clean. It’s like it’s never even been used before.”

“Well, maybe Mrs. Snutly’s been crackin’ these good ol’ boys’ ass and gettin’ ‘em to lick this place clean. Let’s keep goin’. I’m startin’ to think we lost our chance.”

As they continue along the line, Ford imagines that he hears something from the dining hall, a shuffling of feet, or perhaps the ruffling of a large coat. He turns to peer through the long rectangle of the kitchen window, looking past the counter, and into the single continuous row of booths that line the three walls of the dining room. But the darkness keeps him from making out any signs of life or movement inside those cubicles of drab, greyish green cushions, and salt-and-pepper marbled tables.

He anxiously grips his shotgun.

When they reach the other side of the kitchen line, just past the one lonely microwave oven at the very end, they find the large slab of faded yellow and chipped acrylic that is the door to the large walk-in freezer. Looking at the handle, they see that it is unlocked. Ephraim turns to Ford with a look of concern, which Ford returns in kind. Both of their hearts start racing, as they realize that the moment of truth is finally upon them.

Ephraim returns his attention to the freezer door, and he places one of his magnums into its holster.

“Here goes nothin’.”

Ephraim grabs the shiny chrome handle and pulls the door with all of his strength, one trembling hand still tightly clutching the trusty hand cannon. As the door swings open the cold air hits them, and they see that the shelves on either side are lined with their boxes of French fries and hamburger patties and sausage links. Over in the center, on the shelf all the way in the back, they see a lone box labeled MEAT PIE. Ephraim walks in, and for a split second Ford notices that the door’s gaskets lack the usual hint of black, cold temperature mold usual for these kinds of setups. He reaches a hand out to stop Ephraim.

“Ef, don’t.”

“Gotta be sure old man; gotta be sure.”

Ephraim slowly inches his way to the back shelf, though he realizes he is wasting valuable time. He imagines that something is going to pop up out of one of the boxes, like a severed hand or head. He tells himself he really has been reading too many horror comics. But eventually, he makes it to the shelf, and as he stands there he slowly raises his hand to the box. He hesitates for a moment as his anxious fingers rest upon the cardboard flap; he hadn’t thought he would have made it this far. Yet still, with his palms sweaty and his skin riddled with goose pimples, he finds the courage to finger the case open, and he exposes the box’s contents. He gazes into the box, trying to decipher the enigma he’s just unearthed. Eventually, he comes to a rather surprising conclusion.

“Ford, it’s just beef.”

“What?”

“It’s just beef, man.”

Ephraim grabs into the box, and he lifts up a perfectly vacuum sealed plastic bag of grade A American chuck.

“It’s just beef.”

“Huh.”

“Yeah.”

“I guess these folks who run this place are just weird then.”

“Yeah, I guess.”

As the two of them walk back out, Ephraim looks to the alcove across from the freezer, and next to the blue and white refrigerator marked EGGS/MILK he sees a little black safe tucked away in the corner next to the prep counter.

“Ford. A safe.”

Ford looks past Ephraim’s shoulder and sees the safe.

“Well, I’ll be. Ef my friend, we may have Lady Luck on our side yet.”

“Yeah. You get to work on it, I need to take a piss.”

Ephraim walks off to find the restroom in the dining area, just near the booth Mrs. Snutly was fond of sitting in. Ford forgets to warn him of the odd noise he had heard earlier.


Ephraim cracks open the restroom door and reaches in to flip on the lights, and a wash of incandescent, amber-tinted light falls over him and bleeds out into the dining area.

As he walks in, baby blue walls and white linoleum floors greet him, just as they had earlier that day. On one side there is the sole urinal, with the one toilet stall right next to it, and on the other is the hand wash sink. After checking his reflection in the mirror, he moseys up to the urinal, unzip his pants, and proceeds to evacuate his bladder, all the while tilting his head back in relief. He had been holding it in for some time now, ever since the church had left actually.

When he is finished, he heads over towards the hand wash sink. As he lathers up his hands with two rather sizeable applications of mother-of-pearl colored soap from two rather forceful plunges of the tiny seafoam green and pink dispenser, he hears the glug of a bursting water bubble come from the stall. He turns to it, and stares at it for a brief moment. And though the moment lasts for less than a second or two, in this instance, in his sudden apprehension, it feels like an eternity. Another glug suddenly comes from the toilet.

He grabs a fistful of paper towels and dries his hands, not even bothering to finish washing. After tossing the crumbled bundle into the nearby trashcan, he pulls out his guns, and a third glug rings loose from the stall. He takes a step, then another one after a moment, and after one final step he makes it to the stall door. He latches the tiny black nub of the handle with the business end of one of the magnums, and he slowly pulls the door back, the creaking sound of the hinges sounding like a jackhammer in the silence. His heart is beating like he’s running a marathon.

But there is nothing there to greet him, only the shiny black plastic of the toilet seat and the equally gleaming white porcelain of the throne. An air pocket escapes from the pipe and breaks surface, and another glug is let loose. Ephraim sighs with relief, and wipes the beading sweat from his forehead with the back of his gloved right hand, the black leather feeling uncomfortable against his skin. After holstering his Auto Mags, he returns to the sink and finishes washing his hands. He tries his best to ignore the subsequent glugs coming from the toilet.

Turning off the lights, he leaves the restroom and returns to Ford in the kitchen.


Ford is busy trying to figure out the combination for the safe, and with a start he turns to his young compatriot.

“Jesus, Ef, you spooked me real good there.”

“Yeah, well, I think you need to share in summa mine.”

“What?”

“Nothin’, got scared by somethin’ stupid in the toilet… How much leeway you’ve made?”

“Only got the first two. Thank Christ this here’s an older model, but damn if it ain’t hard. I think I’m starting to go in the ears. Damn.”

“Want me to try?”

“Sure, the first two are 23 and 47.”

Ford grabs a hold of the prep counter and rises from his spot, grabbing for his shotgun as he moves aside for Ephraim as the young man lowers down to start working on the safe.

“What’re you two doi-”

Ford doesn’t think. He just turns around and blasts away. The left half of the acned waiter’s face disintegrates into a shower of flying red, as the rest of him crumbles lifeless to the ground. The gore smatters the shiny steel side of the kitchen line’s pre-prepared and pre-portioned goods refrigerator.

“Jesus, Ford!”

“Shit!”

Ephraim gets up to his feet. The two of them look down at the corpse.

“Aw shit, man.”

As the waiter lies motionless on the ground, the red pulp pours out of his opened skull.

“You blew his head open.”

“I swear, I didn’t mean it. He snuck up on us, didn’t even hear the poor bastard.”

“Shit.”

Ephraim places his hands to the back of his head in frustration and spins around, closing his eyes and trying his best to process the situation. Ford lowers his shotgun down as the full impact of his action starts weighing down on him, having never taken a life before. After a moment, Ephraim regains his composure.

“Help me lug the safe out, we’ll work on it later. Too late now to cry over some cracked eggs.”

As the two of them try to leverage the safe out of its confined space between the wall and the prep counter, they hear a ghastly moan from behind. They turn to the only way out of the alcove, to the still corpse of the waiter.

“Th-that… hurt.”

“Jesus, Ford, he’s alive.”

“Naw… Naw, that’s impossible. Half his head’s gone.”

“That hurt so much…”

The waiter slowly turns his head towards Ford and Ephraim, and as he does so more and more of the contents of his skull spill out in meaty, syrupy chunks. He has the beginnings of an alien and evil grin forming upon his pale, ruined face.

“Y’all better run, before Mama Snutly finds you.”

The two of them scramble up from the ground and start running past the prone and mangled freak, run past the kitchen line, and make a break for the backdoor. As they stumble out, they see the vague outline of the rhinophyma cook amongst the black trees, as he slowly walks towards them.

“Howdy there.”

Ephraim fires away chaotically into the darkness, and somehow manages to strike the cook several times. He even completely blasts the cook’s right hand off, the shadowy figure staggering back from the force.

“Now that ain’t neighborly! That was the hand I use for my John Hancock.”

The two of them run around the side of the diner and dash across the street, making a direct line for the Chrysler. But as they near it, its headlights suddenly come on, and standing in the way in front of them is the tiny frame of Mrs. Snutly herself. Behind her, gathered around and inside the car, is the rest of the diner’s staff.

“Now what this commotion all about, boys?”

Ford and Ephraim turn around to start running in the opposite direction, but instead of the open road they are met with the weirdly inhuman smiles of the acned waiter and the rhinophyma cook. Before either of them can raise their guns back up to defend themselves, they are each struck in the face with a tough, rubbery-feeling fist, and they drop to the ground instantly. A second later, both of them fall unconscious, as the sinister shapes of the diner employees crowd in around them.


“Wakey wakey, eggs ‘n bakey.”

Ephraim is the first to regain consciousness.

He looks around, and the first thing he focuses on is the sight of Ford still unconscious and sitting in the chair right next to him. They are back inside the diner, in the breakroom just past the pantry. Ephraim finds that he can’t move his limbs, and quickly learns that he’s entirely bound to the chair he’s strapped in. He looks around at the people gathered around him.

Each one is a pale, freakish looking thing, grinning as they study him over with eyes that look like chips of dirty snow. The lights in the building are all on now, save for the one lightbulb hanging right above their heads, the effect causing the staff to cast their shadows on them in the dimly lit breakroom. Sitting in the chair across from him and Ford is Mrs. Snutly, still in her Sunday best, looking like some white-faced, predatory ladybug in the gloom. Behind them, in the back and in the corner, just to the entrance of the kitchen line, is the acned waiter and the rhinophyma cook. Ephraim sees that, instead of red, a thick white secretion is dripping from the cook’s wounds.

“I see you’ve discovered our little secret, that we here at Mrs. Snutly’s ain’t exactly human.”

Ephraim is afraid to speak, but he finds the defiant spirit to talk nonetheless.

“What are you?”

“Oh, little old us? Why, we’re just a simple folk, living here in our simple little white bread town, just trying to make by.”

“Fuck you.”

“Now now, there ain’t no need for that kinda vulgar language, young man. Especially after what you did to poor ol’ Custard and Cherry over there.”

Mrs. Snutly glances over to the two wounded men. Ephraim’s eyes widen as tries to comprehend what he’s just heard.

“What?”

Ford starts to stir awake.

“Uh… Kid, what happened? Feels like I just got hit with a brick to the face.”

“Lime, Rhubarb, grab a hold of our older friend here. Custard, give him the special Snutly welcome.”

Ephraim looks on in horror as the rhinophyma cook lumbers over towards where Ford is sitting.

“It’d be my pleasure, Mama.”

“Ford, look out!”

Ford manages to shake the cobwebs out of his head, just as the pigtailed waitress and the black cook grab ahold of his head and force his neck erect.

“Wh-what’s going on? Ef?”

The rhinophyma cook reaches him and bends over to lower his head down to Ford’s level. By the time the middle-aged criminal realizes what is happening, the two restraining him force his mouth wide open, just as the rhinophyma cook grabs for his enlarged nose with his one good hand. A shock of terror fills Ford’s eyes, as the cook squeezes his nose so hard the whole thing bursts like a pimple, exploding a thick white substance into Ford’s gaping jaws. The pigtailed waitress and the black cook then force his mouth shut, and pinch his nose, keeping the old man from spitting the stuff out. Ford is horrified, horrified that he’s been so disgustingly contaminated. And yet, more terrifying than the act itself, is the fact that the pus tastes like the best custard he’s ever had. Ephraim becomes hysterical at the sight and starts struggling in his seat.

“Oh God! Aw Jesus!”

He turns back to Mrs. Snutly.

“What the Hell are you people?!”

The rhinophyma cook returns to his spot next to the acned waiter, his ruined nose continuing to leak the white stuff, leaving behind a trail of drops all across the floor where he walks.

“You see young man, we’re a new… how should I put this… We’re a new breed, a new order of life really. A… new branch on the tree if you will. We live off the things your kind try your hardest to avoid, try to keep away.”

Ephraim looks to the others in the room. Ford vomits, but because his mouth is still closed shut, some of it explodes from out of his nostrils instead. Tears run down his face.

“Mold, mildew, dust, and roaches, and ants, the odd spill here and there, and the greasy, burnt remains you leave behind, the stuff you hate to even consider cleaning up after yourselves, we aren’t too picky. Why, for example, Rhubarb over there is especially fond of toilet clogs.”

Ephraim turns to the pigtailed waitress and the black cook. They greet him with those uncanny smiles of theirs, as Ford uncontrollably sobs, his muffled cries ringing from behind the black cook’s palm pressed firmly against his lips.

“But of course, we can’t let you leave this place, now that you know our little secret.”

The acned waiter starts to walk over towards Ephraim.

“You see, it isn’t our meat pies we want to be world famous for. Oh, they’re an old family recipe, and we’re real proud of them, only the best All-American beef for our customers.”

The acned waiter grabs a chair, sets it down next to Ephraim, and then plants himself down in it.

“But our fruit pies are just as tasty, and we hope to spread them out all over the whole country, become a culinary sensation for the ages. You see, that’s how we spread ourselves. We want a whole transcontinental network of sewers, all of it dedicated to spreading our spores. And what’s the harm in that, I ask you? You aren’t even too fond of sewers as it is, would rather just ignore it all and pretend it doesn’t even exist. It’s all just untapped real estate to us, really.”

The acned waiter starts to dig deep into the wound in his head, his entire hand disappearing into the red mush. Ephraim can see the movements of the hand behind the face. He sees the fingers scraping about inside the skin. Ephraim only now realizes the waiter in fact has no actual skull holding his head in shape.

“Now, you’re going to become a part of us. Become another member of this great, big ol’ family of ours.”

The acned waiter pulls something out of the wound, trailing behind a long, thick tether of red along the way. It’s a ball of partially digested flesh, and greyish-black hair.

“Cherry here likes to eat roadkill. A growing boy does need his protein.”

After taking an amused glance at the lump of red, the acned waiter starts to press it to Ephraim’s lips.

“Why, I think that’s a big tree rat I see there!”

Ephraim refuses to open his mouth, and he moves his face away from the offensive offering, trying his best to keep it as far away from his senses as possible. But the sudden cocking of a pair of Auto Mags catches his attention, and he quickly turns to the others. And there, in the hands of the corpulent girl and the busboy, he sees that Betty and Veronica are aimed squarely at his head now.

“Come now, don’t doddle. Don’t keep Mama Snutly waiting any longer.”

Ephraim turns back from the guns to the red thing under his nose, and after a moment of hesitation he slowly starts to open his mouth. His lips quiver, his heart races, and tears roll down his cheeks, until finally he shuts his eyes and starts to chew. It’s hard and crunchy, and his tongue navigates the tangles of stringy meat and pieces of bone, trying his best to masticate it into a fine enough paste in order to swallow. Evidently, the kill is so fresh it is not as thoroughly digested so as to allow it simply dissolve into his mouth. He would have to work to down it all.

It tastes like the best cherry pie filling he’s ever had in his life.


The next morning the town sheriff walks into the diner, and Mrs. Snutly is there to greet him.

“Morning, Tom.”

“Morning, Mama.”

“What you doing here so early? We ain’t finished with prepping the day’s meat pies.”

“It’s about the missing kids, Mama. We found the perp.”

Mrs. Snutly is beside herself.

“Who was it? Who’s the bastard?”

“Well… Well, it was James Hornsby, the high school principal.”

Mrs. Snutly is shocked by the revelation. Her hand reaches up to her lips as she gasps.

“No.”

“We caught him trying to… elicit the services of one of his female students, and when we investigated his station wagon we found some of little Jessie Palmer’s clothes.”

Mrs. Snutly has to sit down, as the distressing news shakes her to her core. She looks off into space as she reflects on all of the children who’ve gone missing over the months, and how easily it must have been for someone as trusted as James Hornsby to have committed such deeds for so long without detection.

“Mama… He’s some kind of… some kind of sex fiend.”

“Oh my goodness. Oh, my goodness. You know, I was Annie Palmer’s godmother. I’ve known her family for close to 40 years, I took Jacob off their hands when he started drinking again and beating Norma… And to think, Annie’s own high school sweetheart, the monster. Her only child. Oh, Tom, it’s just so horrible.”

“I… I know… Well, Mama, we’ve got him at the station now, and I’ve told all the young’uns he’s going off to jail out of state for his crimes. You want him, or should I get rid of him like we did with Henry and Calhoun? Don’t think it’d be smart to try and make him work for the family here though. Best to get him out of town, maybe set him up with a new diner somewhere else? You’ve always talked about franchising.”

“No, no, I can’t take anymore at this moment. We had an… incident last night, and now we’ve got two new hands. Take him out to the pond and sink him. I wouldn’t want him anyway. Don’t want a kiddy didd… a child predator under my roof. I’m also going to need you to help Blackberry get rid of a vehicle for us too.”

“No problem, Mama.”

The town sheriff starts to head back out the door.

“Say, Tom.”

The sheriff turns back to Mrs. Snutly.

“Before you leave, wanna meet the new family?”

Mrs. Snutly starts heading over to the back area, but stops just before entering the breakroom. She turns back to the sheriff with a coy glance.

“Their names are Chocolate and Coconut.”

Meat Pies: Text
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