A shiver ran down my spine as my hair stood on end. I ran. I didn’t know where I was running to. But I couldn’t run home because HE was going that direction. As I stumbled and ran, people swore and shoved me this way and that out of their way. Some growled and others just bared their sharp teeth with a red glint in their eyes. My heart thudded like a drumbeat in my ears.
I rounded the corner. An arm flew out in front of me from within an alcove. It grabbed my right upper arm and spun me into blackness. I just knew I was lunchmeat all right. When my head stopped spinning and my vision cleared I saw I was facing a small pink building. On the glass window old white lettering, chipped and peeling, read Spaghetti Asgard. I glanced at whoever had grabbed me and was pleasantly surprised. He wasn’t a demon. Or at least he didn’t look like one at the moment.
He smiled before I could speak and said, “Let’s get inside where it’s safer for us.”
I wondered what he meant by ‘for us’. He opened the door which brushed a tiny bell that tinkled as it shut behind us.
“Find her?” a strong male voice called from the back. Delicious smells filled the small room. Garlicy spaghetti sauce and fresh from the oven bread, tangy lettuce and tomato. My stomach clenched from hunger. I glanced around at the tiny diner. It looked like some place from the fifties. Pink and black flocked wallpaper hung on the walls, torn in places and worn where chairs had scraped it. Small square wooden tables sat everywhere sporting white cotton tablecloths topped with golden flatware wrapped in white cotton napkins. Above each table hung a miniature brass gaslight chandelier casting the entire room in a soft amber glow. I instantly relaxed.
“That’s better,” the boy, or man, I wasn’t sure yet, said. I hadn’t realized, but he had been loosely holding my elbow the whole time. He now released it and led me to the rear of the diner.
“Found her, Ralph,” he said to the short, squat man who stood on a stool at the stove. He was stirring a humongous pot of spaghetti sauce with a wooden spoon I would have sworn was a long, thin tree branch.
“Hi,” I said, my voice quivered slightly. The man turned and his extremely pale blue eyes surveyed me like an xray scanner. I felt like he knew every bad thought or deed I’d committed in my life, which I was ashamed to realize was a significant achievement. His spikey blonde hair framed a round, reddened face. His features were insignificant other than being proportional to his stature.
He grunted and turned back to the pot to continue stirring. “I guess she’ll do,” was all he said.
I didn’t know if I should be complemented or incensed. I chose the first and said, “Thank you. I’m Myrna, by the way….”
“We know who you are. We’ve been expecting you.” The small man’s gruff manner was grating on my nerves.
“So you must know why I’m here, then?” I said.
“Can you clue me in?” I said, this man’s abruptness making me weary. “I’d like to get back home. If you were expecting me then you should be able to get me home.” It sounded like good logic to me.
“Can’t do that.” He shook his head. “You have a job to do before you can go home.”
My eyes flew wide. “I have to work HERE? Why can’t I just get a job at home? There are plenty of places in the mall that…..”
The young man touched my elbow and I instantly felt a rush of calm. “He doesn’t mean you’ll work in this diner. He means you have a job to do on this planet.”
My knees buckled and I would have fallen had the young man not caught me. “On this planet?” I squeaked.
He nodded. The small man turned his head, grunted again, then went back to the pot.
“Michael. Take her back home and explain what she needs to know. Take the package when you go. There’s no time to waste.” He flipped his diminutive but chubby hand out in the air like he was chasing away flies.
“Yes, sir.” The young man led me to a chair. He left for a moment then returned with a very long and narrow item in brown paper. “Let’s go back to your house. You have coffee?”
I shook my head then nodded then shook it again.
He laughed and grabbed a can from a cabinet.
I remembered I was out of food and hungry. “Any chance I might get some of that delicious smelling spaghetti to take with us? I, uh, have no food at the house.”
“Of course,” the boy said. He scooped two generous portions onto plates with rolls and wrapped them up then bagged them and handed it to me.
I looked around him at the small man, “Thank you for the spaghetti.”
He grunted without turning.
Back at the house I threw the deadbolt and Michael nodded. “Good idea around here.”
I thought, duh. Hope you’re more helpful than that. But I didn’t say anything. I wanted to get home and decided he might be my ticket.
I made us coffee and spread out the spaghetti at the table. The house was completely silent. Even the usual tick of the clock pendulum in the hall was stilled. It was unnerving.
“So,” I began, scooping a forkful of spaghetti. “How you gonna get me home?”
He shook his head slightly, “You misunderstand. You’re not going home for a while.”
I must have turned white as snow because his eyes widened in alarm. “Are you okay, Myrna?”
“No. I’m stuck on some horrific hell-hole of a planet full of demons and you say I can’t get home. How am I supposed to be ‘okay, Myrna’?” I imitated his tone. “Besides, I think I’m dead. And if this is Heaven, I’m totally screwed.”
“I meant, not yet. You must do something here before going back home.” He took a sip of coffee. “What do you mean you’re dead?”
“The last thing I remember is being in a bad car accident…well, it wasn’t really an accident because some demons caused it, so it was an ‘on purpose’.” I looked at his frown. “I died in a car accident.” My voice dropped, “So did Ben, I think.”
“I can assure you, you are NOT dead. I don’t know anything about a Ben person. But you are NOT dead and this is NOT Heaven, as you call it.”
“Wait, you said I have to do something in order to get home? Tell me what it is and I’ll get it done. I WANT to go HOME.”
He took an infuriatingly long time chewing. “It’s not that simple.” His intensely icy-blue eyes dropped to the table and he shook his head slightly. “Nothing ever is.” He raised his eyes back to me. “I have a lot to explain. Let’s finish eating and get started after. Okay?”
I grunted, like the short man at the diner, I thought and snickered softly.
Michael just looked at me without change of expression. In the light of the dining room I saw that his mass of brown curls had flecks of red glinting throughout and his creamy coffee skin was flecked with coppery freckles. He was quite cute. And about my age I supposed. I especially liked the coppery goatee and mustache he sported. I guess he noticed my appraisal because he suddenly blushed and averted his Arctic-blue eyes.
“Finished?” he asked, rising and taking his plate to the sink.
I wasn’t sure at first if he meant looking at him or eating. I stood and turned, since the sink was directly behind me, to place my plate in it as well and came nose to lips with him. He nearly jumped out of his skin trying to get away from me. I giggled and put my stuff down then pushed in the chair and went to the living room. He followed with the wrapped package.
Did anything…uh….traumatic or horrifying happen to you lately?”
I shuddered nodding.