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Table Nine

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“Welcome to ‘Belmont’s,’ may I have your name please?”

“Mayhue; Table nine.”

The short girl standing at the hostess stand greeted us with a friendly smile, almost too friendly, like she had never been more pleased with a dine-in for two.

“Of course! Right this way, please!” she said again, her smile not wavering in the slightest.

I leaned over to my girlfriend, Angela, to confirm what I was thinking.

“That wasn’t odd at all, right?”

“What do you mean? The way she was looking at you? You are just such a handsome guy and all, Ben,” she said sarcastically. She lightly giggled to herself and nudged me, obviously not noticing the same strange behavior of the hostess.

“Oh well,” I thought to myself. “I’ve always overthought things I suppose.”

We followed the hostess through walkways of the small Italian restaurant. You always have to call ahead to get seating here, it is one of the most popular places in town and the only place to get a "real" Italian cooked meal. Or so they say.

I looked around to take in the ambience of the place. I had been here several times before, but I am always a sucker for detail everywhere I go. The paved brick walkways lined with marble, the wooden, shingled walls, the low lighting even for the middle of the day made for a great setting. I’ve always had this place in mind for when the time comes. Today is the day. It has to be the day.

We arrived at our table. Table nine. Right by the window, table nine? This isn’t exactly the way I pictured it with the sun pouring in, but I suppose that is what I get for booking a reservation at three o’clock on a Sunday.

As we sat down, as customary the hostess told us to enjoy our meal and that our server would be right with us. Nothing out of the ordinary. Not until she looked right at me with that same smile she had when we had entered.

“Good luck!” That’s all she said.

“Good luck with what?” I thought to myself. What could I possibly need good luck for when dining at a restaurant?

“You see? There it was again. She is so weird!” I said to Angela, in a low voice.

“I didn’t notice anything strange about her, she seemed friendly enough to me.”

“Friendly enough? She was creepily friendly, like; ‘I am the happiest person alive right now’ friendly. This job can’t be that great, I’ve never seen such enthusiasm.”

She just looked at me for a moment like I was the strange one.

“I didn’t notice anything.”

“Well, okay then.” I laughed it off with her. Maybe I just notice too much.

Angela and I exchanged idle talk while waiting for our server. The place was packed, but with the small size surely it wouldn’t take much longer.

“I need to use the restroom, I’ll be back in a sec,” she said mid-sentence. She didn’t even finish telling me the story she had started.

“Alright, if the server comes, what do you want me to order for you to drink?”

“The usual.”

“The usual?” I thought to myself. Why am I finding this strange? I am never this nit-picky. Why today? It’s a big day. Right. I am nervous. That is it. Our waiter finally approached the table a few moments after Angela got up to go to the restroom.

“Hey, Ben!” the man said with an excited greeting.

It was Tyler Breckidge, a guy I went to high-school with. He had always been a strange guy, but nice none-the-less. As if today didn’t have enough oddities.

“Hey, Tyler. How’ve you been?” I didn’t really care. I just wanted to start with my order, I had been sitting here for over ten minutes now.

“Great, man; great! Can’t complain! Got a decent job recently as you can see!” He laughed with a hint of sarcasm. Surely he wasn’t serious, this was a nice place, but it couldn’t pay that well.

“Definitely! My girlfriend Angela just went to the restroom, she should be back any second.”

Now I was the one delaying. It dawned on me that I had no idea what she wanted. Shouldn’t I know this by now?

There was a good one-minute pause that seemed like it went on forever. Every time I glanced at Tyler, he was staring intently at me. Not moving. Not changing expression. I didn’t want to say anything that would possibly offend him, but the overwhelming uneasiness from his gaze was building like the foundation of a house.

“Sorry! Sorry, I’m back!” Angela said as she approached the table in a fast-paced walk.

Tyler looked over and greeted her as well. But not in the same manner he had greeted me. She may not have noticed, but I certainly did. The quick but disgusted look he gave her before shifting to a generic friendly demeanor caught my attention. Why would he do that?

“Alright, what can I get for you?”

“I’ll take a Sauvignon Blanc paired with the shrimp scampi, please.”

He jotted her request down on his notepad.

“I told you I wanted the usual,” she whispered, leaning in on the table. I felt embarrassed, I know he had heard her.

“Alright, I’ll get this put in for you.”

He looked over at me with a smirk, took our menus, then left.

“He didn’t even take my order! What the hell?”

Angela just laughed. This wasn’t funny to me but apparently she found humor in it.

“Well go tell him!”

I got up quickly to pursue Tyler and catch him before he disappeared into the kitchen, but somehow in the small maze of tables I lost him. How did I lose him?

“Excuse me,” I said to another waiter. “Our guy; I mean server, forgot to take my order and just left the table. Would you be able to catch him for me or perhaps place my order for him instead?”

She looked at me with a puzzled look on her face. “Do you know the name of your server?”

“Tyler. Tyler Breckidge.”

“The name doesn’t ring a bell. Let me go back in the kitchen and check, he may be new.”

“Can’t you just place my order for me? It’s nothing complicated.”

“I’m sorry, sir. The order will have to be placed with your table’s server. It will be just a moment.”

She walked away and disappeared into the back of the restaurant. Today has been such a mess. Why today of all days? This was supposed to be perfect. I suppose it will be a day to remember, though.

I walked back to our table and found Angela just sitting with a very solemn stare. Almost sad. She wasn’t moving and didn’t even seem to be breathing.

“Hey, babe. You alright?”

She snapped back to attention like she was in a trance.

“Yeah? Why? Did you find our waiter?”

“No. He ninja-vanished somehow into the restaurant and the other waitress I found wasn’t any help either. She actually said she had never heard of our waiter before.”

“Hm. Well,” is all she said.

What is with everyone today?

We sat for about another five to ten minutes, never once seeing another waiter or waitress pass by. Angela and I talk in brief sentences the entire time. She seemed to be growing more subtly pale with each minute that passed.

“Angie, are you sure you’re alright? You’ve acted like you don’t feel well ever since we sat down.”

“Yes, Ben; I’m fine,” she said in a stern voice. Almost in an irritated manner.

Then all of a sudden, Tyler comes around the corner with a tray of food. Not one entrée, but two. Two glasses of wine as well.

“Shrimp scampi for the… girl,” he said with an awkward pause. Almost like he was going to say something else.

“And chicken alfredo for Benjamin.”

I was floored. I didn’t tell him that’s what I wanted. I didn’t tell ANYONE that’s what I wanted. But it was. It even came with the same wine pairing that I wanted.

“You two enjoy!” Tyler said in an over-the-top tone. He then turned again and directly locked eyes with me. He leaned in closer, seeming to want to whisper in my ear.

“I hope this goes as well as you do. Good luck, Ben,” he said softly. He walked away after.

“Is Tyler a mind-reader?” I thought to myself.

“Angie, did he come back while I was looking for him and you give him my order?”

“No. I would have told you if he did. What’s the big deal? Isn’t this what you wanted anyway?” she said in that irritated tone again.

I just couldn’t wrap my head around it. If she didn’t tell him, then how? And how did he know today was the day? Now that I think about it, why didn’t the hostess check her reservation list to verify that I actually had a table here? Is it common to just assume I’m telling the truth and to possibly give away somebody else’s table?

I hadn’t noticed much, but the lighting of the restaurant had been shifting to a gray tint, almost like everything was de-saturating. We were sitting right by the window. Was it about to rain? No. The sun is shining. No clouds. Just… gray.

I was about to begin eating my food when I looked up and noticed Angela’s odd behavior. She was even more pale than before. She was shoveling her food in her mouth at an alarming rate, not even seeming to chew her food. It was borderline repulsive.

“Babe… Can you eat like you are in a public place, please? What is with you?”

She didn’t even seem to hear me. Fork-full after fork-full she was taking in her food. Like some kind of glutton my girlfriend was sitting here making an embarrassment of us both. Then I noticed something even stranger about her.

She was gradually gaining weight as she ate. Noticeably. Every part of her was getting bigger, like someone was inflating her like a balloon. “Angie, stop! I think you’re having an allergic reaction! Please, slow down and listen to me!” I said with panic in my voice.

She was as pale gray as the lighting in the room by this point. She didn’t even take notice of what I said. The faster she ingested her food, the larger she seemed to grow. The food seemed never-ending. Disgusting. Absolutely disgusting.

What sat before me was now an obese and hideous creature. Food was all over her face and her chin. It went down from her neck to her now huge stomach. And she just kept eating. How is this real? How is this happening?

Then it dawned on me. It’s time. It’s finally here, it’s going to happen.

The sound of shattering glass filled the restaurant. It all seemed to happen in slow motion. The window beside our table fell into a million pieces. A second later, a spray of bright red in stark contrast with the gray of the room. It was Angela’s blood. It came like a fountain from the side of her head and out into the rest of the room.

A flash of light washed over the restaurant, and I looked down at the floor. Angela was back to her normal self. Dead. She had just been shot straight through the side of the head from outside.

I stood up and looked around. There was nobody else in the restaurant. It was empty. I looked down again at Angela and watched her body slowly fade back to the pale color it was before. Her eyes were wide open. She was looking directly at me, as if she could see my soul.

I felt like I had no soul. No pity. No sympathy for her. Why? Where was everyone? Why did nobody else see this? And where was Tyler?

I walked through the rows of the empty restaurant back to the door we came in. The greeting sign read on the back, “Thank you, have a great day.” Generic.

I stepped outside to what seemed like an alternate dimension. The city looked post-apocalyptic, like something you see in a video game or action movie. Everything was de-saturated, just shades of grays and some pale yellows. It was almost dead silent. The only sound to be heard was the wind blowing into my ears. No sounds of cars, people, overhead planes or construction. Cars were lined up and down the roads as if people had simply vanished from them. None of them were wrecked and there didn’t seem to be any sign of catastrophe, just simply like time had stopped and everyone had disappeared.

I looked around for a sign of life. The only thing that stood out to me was like a sore thumb. The road leading away from the restaurant stretched on for what looked like miles, which was strange for the middle of a city of this size. I could see all the way down it with no obstructions except for one. The road was met with a very large building at the end. It was the only tall building in sight, actually. Everything else seemed to be leveled now that I looked around. All buildings were the same height, four stories tall. Except for Belmont’s. If there were people around, I’m sure they’d be in the most obvious place in the city. I started my walk towards the construct. As I passed by the empty cars and buildings and had nothing but the soft wind to speak to me, I had a lot on my mind. Why wasn’t I freaking out? Why did I not seem surprised to find the city like this? Angela was the love of my life, why didn’t I feel anything when she fell dead before me? Who shot her?

Alone with your thoughts in silence is usually enough to drive you mad, but I stayed calm. The building was within a mile’s walk now. But as I got closer, I realized that this building wasn’t a building at all.

It was the road still, and it was curved to go straight upward. The rows of buildings along with it, it was like something straight out of the movie Inception. I approached the bottom of the road where it curved upward and just stared. It went straight into the clouds and beyond, I had no idea how far this road stretched. How was I going to continue walking? It was already getting quite dark outside. It had to be at least seven thirty now after the long walk I just took.

I decided that the day had been odd enough already, so I’d give it a shot and place my foot upon the wall-like road. I lifted my right leg and planted it firmly against the road and felt gravity shift entirely. I fell forward and flat against my face on the pavement. I was now on the road going upward. Why was I not surprised? The questions were plenty and monumental at this point.

I started my walk upward into the sky. The farther I walked, the darker and colder it got. The more I pressed on, the more guilt I felt. It began slowly building on me. Angela. She was dead. It was my fault.

Turning around and looking out over the city now just looked like a black sky. I couldn’t see the buildings or the bottom of where the road began. It was just a stretch of dark, empty road at this point. There was only one real way to keep going, and that was forward.

The buildings to my right and left all seemed like copy cutouts of one another until I reached a thick mist. The mist was probably the clouds I was looking upon before, but now it didn’t really matter anymore, it was what it was and I was walking through it.

As I walked through the mist, the buildings changed shape. I couldn’t clearly make out what they were, the mist was too heavy. I could see white, though. White shapes dotted among them for as far as the mist would allow.

Then it cleared and I could see what was on either side of me. They were rows of seating. Stadium seating by the looks of it. But why here? I made it a point to make this the last question I asked myself. It never made any sense to begin with.

The white shapes were all people. White clothes. Paper-white skin. White hair. Like ghosts. They were all staring at me. Some pointing, some shaking their heads. But all had one thing in common; a look of disgust. They went on as far as I could see.

The guilt was tremendous now. I am so sorry, Angela. I am so, so sorry.

I kept walking among the white figures. Hundreds of them of all shapes and sizes. Not a sound from any of them. Then I looked down and saw a trail of paper. Conveniently scattered one by one down the road. There was an odd pattern to them; one would look burnt and charred, and the next would look neatly folded and well-preserved.

The first of the pages was one of the charred ones. I picked it up and could barely make out what it said, but somehow the words came to me like second nature.

“Benjamin,

Look at us, writing letters like we live back in the eighties. It does have a more romantic feel to it though, no? Awaiting a letter from the one you love. No text messages, no phone records, just ink on paper. It means more to me, and I hope it does to you. Only we will know what comes of them. Just be careful, okay? We don’t want our secret exposed so early into our endeavor, now do we? I hope to see you soon. Just keep this from prying eyes.

Yours only,
Tyler.”

I didn’t know what to think. What kind of nonsense was this? A note to me, a LOVE note none-the-less, from Tyler?! Why do I feel so guilty? I promised myself no more questions, but this crosses the line. I had to know.

I walked about ten feet to the next piece of paper. This one was neatly folded and taken care of. I opened up to see something that shook me to my core. It was another letter, and it was my handwriting.

“Tyler,

You know I love this cheesy stuff as much as the next guy, but you can’t send the letters to my address! You know she could easily find them. What were you thinking? I suppose there’s no need to dwell on it, though. She didn’t find it and that’s all that matters for now. Everything is still going according to plan and she doesn’t suspect a thing. I have been in this for too long. I am ready for this to be over with so we can begin our life together. Just please be patient.

Love,
Ben.”

I honestly couldn’t believe my eyes. Had it not been my own handwriting I most certainly wouldn’t have. A hoax is what it would be. This guilt… Unbearable.

I followed the paper trail for what seemed like miles. The white figures were my company the entire way. After each letter I could feel their disgust washing over me like a tidal wave. It was enough to match my own. The letters between Tyler and I grew increasingly sensual and impatient at the same time. He was obviously growing tired of "her" and wanted things to end. It was obvious at this point that he was referring to Angela. I procrastinated in each and every letter I sent him. Increasingly so as they went on.

Then I got to the last two letters. The first of the two was one from Tyler.

“Ben,

It has been six months. I have had enough of this waiting game. Looking at you and her from an outside perspective even after we’ve had our time together is sickening. The way she looks at you. She loves you. The way you look at her, do you love her, too? I think you do. I am done with this game. We are going to carry this out once and for all. Two weeks from now. Sunday at three o’clock we carry it out. We get rid of the bitch.

Tyler.”

The guilt is all making sense. This is my fault. I know this is my fault. But why am I here? How did I get here? What kind of world is this? I didn’t die, Angela did. Angela died because of me.

I approached the last folded letter. This one different a little from the rest. It had been taped together piece by piece as if it had been ripped apart.

“Tyler,

I can’t do this anymore. The time we had has been wonderful and God knows I do love you, but who are we kidding? This has to end. We live in a real world where fairy tales don’t exist. Angela is a good woman. She is in love with me, yes. And you asked if I was in love with her. The more time I have spent with her, Tyler, I realize that I am. I love this woman. She is the one for me, and she is bearing something for me that we could never share… She is pregnant with our child. We may be able to adopt, yes; but we will never share a connection like this. I am choosing the wiser of two roads. I am so sorry to break it to you this way, but I couldn’t stand to face you with these words in my mind. Maybe in the future if a series of events separate Angela and I, we can be together and try this again. But now, my friend, I want to have eyes only for her and our life together. I hope you can understand, even though I know it will be hard to do so. Thank you for everything.

Always,
Benjamin.”

Get Rid of the Bitch

The door at the end of the road.

Six months is how long this went on? Six months I betrayed her? How could I have done such a thing? That is not the man I am. That is not the man I was.

I was out of letters. All that lay before me was a building. A building with no windows and only one door. I didn’t want to approach the door anymore than I wanted to believe what was happening, but I had to. I had to conclude this nightmare.

I stepped closer to the door. Scratched into it was a phrase.

“GET RID OF THE BITCH”.

I couldn’t imagine what was behind this door. It was time to find out. I placed my hand on the handle and felt an intense pain on both sides of my head all at once. The pain was unbearable for a few moments and then a white light washed over everything. I could no longer see.

My vision returned, and I realized where I was immediately. I felt calm again. I was at the end of my journey at last.

“Welcome to ‘Belmont’s,’ may I have your name please?”

“Mayhue; Table nine.”

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