A rock ricocheted off Isaac's windshield, waking him in time to see his car hit the guardrail. He yanked the steering wheel and his vehicle writhed like a flambéed tadpole.
Horns cried out behind him. His fishtailing car forced an oncoming truck into the next lane. He didn't hear a collision, and if he had, he wouldn't have been awake enough to comprehend it. He'd been nodding off for an hour, and lassitude having filed off his judgement, his solution had been to drive faster.
An illuminated cylinder beamed in the distance. If Isaac could trust his bloodshot eyes, a sign flickered above the cylinder that read PS Diner. A diner meant coffee! Coffee meant wakefulness and survival.
A single truck squatted in the diner's parking lot. Isaac grinned. The lack of customers meant he shouldn't have to wait long for some hot, heavenly joe. Such enticement made it easier to coerce his melted gum body into the establishment. His dinged up car could wait.
Isaac beheld three customers inside the diner: one at the counter and two in booths, all dining alone and wearing hats. He'd never seen so many folks wearing hats indoors.
There were no waiters around. He tried sitting at the counter, but slipped off the seat. He'd never seen a seat kept at such a low height. Isaac glared at the other customers, lest they get mirthful about his mishap. The customers were all smaller than average. He wondered if exhaustion rendered him unable to assay their size.
The patron at the far end of the counter stood less than five feet tall and had the narrowest of shoulders. He wore an oversized plaid coat, and managed to look both boyish and elderly.
Isaac rapped the counter, hoping to alert an order-taker. The runt in the plaid coat mimicked his rapping. Isaac wanted to tell him off, but decided not to start trouble. He headed for the bathroom, and feeling loopy, yelled out, "P.S., how about some service?"
He enjoyed this witticism tremendously. He was alone in this enjoyment.
The restroom felt curiously high-class, so much so it almost surprised him not to see a bathroom attendant. He would have objected to seeing one. He hated tipping a person for the harrowing task of activating a faucet.
He reentered the dining area. The place now had several more customers, all slight and behatted. It was as if he'd wandered into mankind's least photogenic family reunion.
His menu had absconded, not that it mattered. A waitress busted through the kitchen doors. She shared the wanting physicality of her customers.
"Excuse me, I've been here a while. How 'bout I just give you my order?" Isaac said to her.
She answered in a piping voice, "Wouldn't you care for a menu?"
"No, I wouldn't. What I would like is a black coffee. Black, okay, no milk, and a piece of lemon meringue pie. You have that, don't you?"
The waitress nodded.
"Perfect!" Isaac said.
The waitress plunked down his pie.
"Coffee is brewing," she said before disappearing into the kitchen.
As he scoured for his silverware, Isaac sensed he'd become the center of attention.
"Excuse me, won't I need a fork?"
An undergrown woman rooted herself beside Isaac.
"Pardon me, do you see a fork or spoon somewhere?" he asked her.
The woman grabbed his plate and propelled it down the counter.
"Hey! What are you doing?"
The other patrons dipped their fingers into Isaac's dessert as they passed it around.
"What the devil is wrong with you people?" Isaac yelled.
He got up and followed the pie down the counter. Everyone but Isaac cackled and clapped.
"Are you all crazy?"
Someone yanked Isaac's wallet from his back pocket.
"Give that back!"
The wallet thief skirted into a corner. Isaac had him trapped, but before he could bust his jaw, the thief airmailed the wallet over his head. Another tiny customer caught it and wiggled out the door.
Isaac stalked him across the parking lot and right as he closed the gap, the pint-sized bandit heaved the wallet into the tall grass beyond the parking lot. Isaac grabbed him by the neck and drove him into the asphalt. The bandit's torso sank like banana bread. A ghastly wind exited his body in a single, conclusive flutter.
Isaac slapped the bandit's reactionless face and cursed the quagmire in which he found himself. He'd tackled someone who'd robbed him and now had to sweat a homicide beef.
He moved to the edge of the parking lot in search of his wallet. Across the funereal grass, gleaming in the light cast from the diner, were legions of cat-like eyes. A cavalry of diminutive shadows arose as one.
The diner's sign buzzed irascibly overhead. It flickered and twinkled until two new letters lit up. PS Diner now read IMPS diner.
They vaulted at him from the grass. The other imps tore out of the diner and joined the chase. They closed in from multiple directions. Isaac could do nothing but flee across the highway.
A car and a van rushed towards him. Isaac thought he'd let them pass, but noticed two imps barely a yard behind. He raced across the lanes and into the headlights. He waved at the drivers but they didn't see him in time. Horns raged. Tires screeched. Isaac thought they were the last sounds he'd ever hear.
The van missed everyone. The car swerved right, crushing two imps before skidding to a nasty stop. The driver stepped out. When he saw the stampeding imp mob, he hopped back in and sped away.
Isaac escaped to the other side of the road and kept on running, going for miles, running until his feet screamed like a banshee falsetto.
Two days later, Isaac booked a rental car and set out in search of his vehicle. Dread laid cinder blocks in his chest as he slowed onto the shoulder near the diner. He didn't see anyone inside. His abandoned car remained in the parking lot, along with the truck he'd seen parked there the night everything went wrong.
On the side of the road were three small statues standing side-by-side. They resembled medieval trolls. Piled around them with obvious care were neat arrangements of flowers and small hats. Three impish statues for three dead imps. Isaac knew a roadside memorial when he saw one.
x x x
And how did you enjoy YOUR Thanksgiving meal? This wry take on a roadside diner made me smile and think. If you agree (or if not) let us know on our BBS.