“So tell me about yourself, good-looking,” the waitress said brightly, “Where do you come from?”
“Everywhere and nowhere,” I answered. It wasn’t that I was trying to be mysterious, just that I didn’t like to talk about myself with other people. I was much more comfortable when I could participate in a simple, detached conversation about someone else.
The waitress eyed me curiously, waiting for some kind of deeper explanation. I smiled just slightly, the curve of my lips no more definite than the blur of the horizon at nighttime.
“Alright,” she said when I made no response, “What do you do?”
“Well,” I glanced at her name tag, “Melissa, I’m a man of many trades. Wherever I go I take odd jobs that pay for the essentials. When I really luck out, I manage to sell off one of my photographs. In short, photography is what I do.”
“Wow,” Melissa answered, dreamily staring out the window, “It must be amazing to be so free. You don’t have any obligations to anyone,” she chortled quietly, “I wish I could just strike out one day and become a photographer.”
I shook my head, “No you don’t. It’s awful lonely.”
Melissa turned from the window and studied me with thin brown eyes. She was an attractive girl, wavy dark brown hair, olive skin. There didn’t appear to be anyone else in the café, it was empty but for the two of us.
“I’m sure roaming around the country is better than my lot. Late nights here, trying to pay for college or at least, what wasn’t covered by the scholarship. I mean, the last thing I want to be doing right now is running a café. Then I have to lock up and go home by myself. My roommate is always snoring by the time I get into bed and then I can’t even sleep and— I’m sorry. You don’t really care about any of that,” Melissa said quickly, as thought she made some sort of blunder. Her cheeks flushed.
“No, it’s fine,” I assured her. She smiled. And then sighed. I took a sip of my coffee.
“What’s there around here that’d make a good photo?” I asked.
“Well… there’s a pretty fountain in the middle of the city. Always lots of people there.”
“Mmhmm,” I nodded. I had passed it earlier as I made my way between the unfamiliar buildings and sidewalks filled with busy people.
“I could model for you,” she laughed. I let out a half-hearted chuckle.
“I’m only kidding,” Melissa said, “I’ve never modeled in my life.”
“You could; you’re a very pretty girl,” I replied politely. Her gaze dropped downward and she traced the grain of the wooden tabletop.
I wondered if I’d offended her or something. She looked up though, and her face was soft as she said, “Do you really want that coffee? You’ve hardly touched it.”
“No,” I answered tipping my head back and chugging the contents of the cup, “But I think I’ll drive some more tonight.”
“Oh,” Melissa uttered softly, “Thank you for keeping me company. You didn’t have to do that.”
“It’s no problem. Does your shift end at twelve?”
Just to be courteous I told her it was 12:04 and offered to wait while she closed down the place for the night.
“Thank you so much,” Melissa said again, “I’ve got to lock up the cash register; I’ll just be a minute.”
I nodded and got up to throw my cup away, standing by the door. I sighed, still tired and waited for the caffeine to kick in, closing my eyes.
Before I realized it, I had nodded off leaning against the big glass window. I scrunched my bleary eyes shut and checked my cell phone for the time.
“Melissa?” I called, “You almost done?”
There was no answer. Though my gut instincts told me not to, I was worried for my pleasant acquaintance and walked to the back of the coffee shop, pushing open the door behind the counter.
Melissa was standing directly ahead of me, her face turned away. Her arms hung at her sides, their previous olive complexion faded like an old sheet and cracked looking.
It was the wrong thing to say. She pivoted slowly, her eyelids closed. I could scarcely breathe. Then her eyes and mouth flew wide open simultaneously, the white sclera and brown rings of her eyes replaced by black. She let out a terrifying scream. My memories of those moments in the coffee shop are punctuated by screams; always. She took different positions around the room without moving, just darting from place to place like teleportation. In another instant she was right in my face, inches away, her scream piercing the silence and her onyx eyes burning into my own.
With no elucidation I was in the middle of the café, half the lights were out and the screaming persisted. I rushed for the door. My momentum flung me out and off the curb. I scrambled to the driver’s side door and jumped in, fishing my keys out of my pocket, and rammed them into the ignition. I sped away from the petrifying scene as fast as I could go.
She suddenly inexplicably in the backseat, her mouth an O in the rear-view mirror, letting out that banshee-like screech as she had in the café. I think I screamed too. It’s hard to remember. But my next reaction was to pull a hard right onto the next block. It worked.
For some reason, she vanished.