Nowhere Diner

Her problems faded out of sight in the rear-view mirror and she relished the roar of the highway wind. It carried with it the sunny smell of the cornfields and the biting aroma of potential rain. She pressed her foot down until she smelled gas.

Flatlands occasionally broke into crisscrossed grids of main streets, salt-ridden franchises, and dust-turned-mud parking lots.  She wished for green lights and turned the concrete settlements to shrinking specks in the car’s mirrors.

The storm caught her after the state line, shoveling sheets of rain against her windshield and casting the road in kaleidoscopes of headlight, asphalt, and street sign. With sliding tires and a hollow stomach, she turned her little car towards the next glow of neon civilization. Leaning over the steering wheel, squinting into the storm, she found the buzzing lights of the diner at a crossroad.

The busgirl nodded at her to find a seat.

Night came on fast outside. From the window she watched the bleary horizon disappear in the dark and rain. The storm did not lessen. Impatient, she ordered food when the waiter asked if she wanted coffee. Amidst the plastic menus, the plastic seats, and the plastic cheese on her tuna melt, it was hard to imagine the wild crash and howl.

It still raged when she peeled herself off the booth. She walked towards the door keys in hand.

“You should wait out the storm.” Someone said when her fingers were on the doorknob. She twisted to look at the young-ish man in the booth near the door. He had a cup of coffee and a half-eaten veggie burger in front of him. He was the only one in the diner looking at her.

“With you?” She was too tired to properly sneer. The long clear highway was gone, replaced by a blind run through the night and her mood had soured. The last thing she wanted was trouble in a nowhere diner.

“Oh,” He frowned at her insinuation. She noticed his book now, open and propped to the side of his plate. “No. Please don’t, it’s a small table. I mean here, in the diner, like everyone else is. It’s dangerous out there, in that type of storm.”

“That type?” She said, not asking, as her brows knit together. She grimaced her lips into a polite smile. “Thank you, I’ll be fine.”

The man shrugged and shifted himself back to his book. He looked back up again when the bell above the door fell silent. Outside the blur that was her remained for a moment, visible in the diner’s exterior floodlights. As he watched, she faded, rubbed out by the highway storm.

A thief once, a thief always, I stole the first line of this piece as part of the Legal Theft Project

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Flash Fiction: Just a City

The two o’clock train was late, leaving her to bake on the station bench a little longer. She turned her face to the sun and enjoyed the way the concrete radiated it up. The heat also chased away the crowds, sweating round-faced people who abandoned the platform for conditioned interiors.

Their chatter and crash had filled the empty spaces between the cackle of scavenging crows and the distant sound of the freeway. Now her thoughts rushed to fill the quiet.

She wasn’t running from anything. There were no scars to cover with the endless miles between this place and the letters on her train ticket. No mob chased her out, she wasn’t escaping from any twisted webs. Her departure wouldn’t matter, and that was precisely why it was time to leave.

Now, alone on the concrete platform, perched with her bag on a concrete bench, it didn’t feel like a good decision. It was just a decision.

The destination on her ticket was only those letters and number. It was city. A place she’d picked only when prompted by the glassy-eyed attendant at the kiosk. She’d find out what she was running to when she got there.

Young and Quiet Things

Deep within the yew and cottonwoods, the beast waited. Across the gentle river, a town bolted their doors and did the same, stringing garlands of garlic flowers over their doors.

The beast’s belly was swollen, limbs sore and lacking their normal strength. She was young for her kind and had never experienced the waves of bone-deep pain before. Never had her body betrayed her so, the sharp aches overtaking her like a tide. She sunk against the base of a flowering yew.

Before she’d lost herself amidst the rotting trunks and towering trees, she’d wandered between midwife, inn, and doctor. They shied from her like their horses did from wolves, white around their eyes and nostrils flaring at her scent. When all had turned her away, they closed the gates. Fear, normally a gift to her kind, condemned her. Now, cradled only in moss and mud, she cursed the squat little town and its rank flowers.

The day ebbed away into night, the sky first deepening to amethyst first and then pitch.Her sensitive eyes welcomed the respite and the night air called steam from her burning skin.

In the depths of the woods, the beast gave birth to a son. The babe curled silent but warm as his mother on the forest floor. No longer alone, the took him in her arms and pressed her lips to his brow. He did not cry, as their kind were quiet things.

The new mother cradled her young, cleaning him as best she could with her shift and soiled coat.

Scenting blood nearby, an ambling bear approached the little clearing between the trees. Its head up and nose twitching, the animal stopped when as it came upon the two.

The beast met the bear’s glassy dark eyes. Her arms were occupied by the now squirming and bloody baby.  The animal’s nose twitched, scenting the thing beneath the gore. It whined deep in its throat, shuffling its swinging body backward. It left as quickly as it could through the dense undergrowth.

She watched the bear go, content to let it leave. There would be time for food later, for now, she smiled down at her son and wriggled her fingers before his face. Already quick and alert, the boy’s face lit up at the movement. She repeated the game and he squirmed with delight.

The beast settled against the flowering yew. Morning would come soon enough. The town would breathe in relief and gather their garlands, they’d go about their short lives and some would forget. The beast would not.

For now though, with her son pressed to her chest and the serene silence of the cottonwoods and yew around them, the beast could wait.