Lawrence University Creative Writing Club Spring Serial Story; Part 2
Been flipping burgers here at my diner for twenty-five years now, and I ain’t never seen, heard… or smelled anything like it. I’m alone now: Cheryl and Alvin have wrapped up for the night and headed home. Nothing left to do but hold the fort for one more hour in case a final customer stumbles in. I hope someone does, so I’m not alone with my thoughts again. Writing them down on napkins like this will only keep me from losing it for so long. It’s so quiet, I can hear the flickering fluorescent lights; buzzing, just like the flies. It’s almost black outside the doors, but I can still see a bit of sun peeking over the cows and cornfields; red, just like the blood. It must have been me. It must have been that burger I served him, I don’t see how else it could have happened. For two days, that poor guy was pretty much living in that stall, with what must have been the worst case of food poisoning on this side of the Mississippi. I wanted to call whatever hotel he was staying at and arrange for him a refund, but I couldn’t make out a word he said from behind the door. I left him some more food and water outside the stall just in case, but he never touched it. Can’t say I blame him, though, it was all soon covered in flies anyway. I cooked his burger on the griddle, same as always, and the ketchup and mustard both smelled perfectly fine. I even spritzed some of that fancy sanitizer on the counter before the party arrived, and it was as clean as a whistle, so where did I go wrong?
The name on his receipt is “Henry Elliot,” and people were poking fun at him at the party for being an out-of-towner. Mr. Martin was even joking that I should drop a bit of cow pie in his drink to “give him a taste of country life, Joe!” but that was just banter. He didn’t deserve to die… he was polite to Cheryl, never yelled at me or Alvin to hurry up with his food, and tipped well; what more could I ask for? Not like that old kook Marlin, or “Detective” Marlin, as he likes to call himself; he doesn’t even tip, just grabs his disgusting chocolate and pickle-slice milkshakes and goes… how do you even think to try something like that!? I’ve heard Marlin’s mumblings… he’s convinced Mr. Martin killed that Elliot fella… thinks there’s an affair going on… that Mr. Elliot and Celia Martin went into the bathroom to do something shameful, but that’s a bunch of bull. Celia did go with Mr. Elliot into the bathroom… but that’s just because he could barely stand without getting the spins, saying he needed one of those newfangled x-rays for some reason. Marlin’s also been harping on about the guy’s missing briefcase, but I know he’s lying, I saw him take it… along with his latest disgusting milkshake. God only knows what he intends on doing with it; if he was a real detective, he would’ve turned it in to the real authorities right away. I would report him, but the investigation might come back to haunt me. I want to tell somebody, but if I do, I could lose it all: the diner, my life’s savings, even my lovely Louise. I never meant to hurt anybody. I remember every person who didn’t like my food, like that time another out-of-towner threw his burger on the floor and said it tasted terrible. I went home and cried that night. And now… I’ve killed someone.
It’s all black outside now, but out in the fields, I can see the glint of cows’ eyes looking into the building; it’s like they know what I’ve done… that I’ve killed one of my own for a change. Are they the Supreme Court of Potterfield? Come to think of it… my suppliers say they’ve been acting strange lately. They’ve apparently taken to ambling around in circles for hours at a time, with hardly a “moo” out of any of them, and Farmer Cranston told me they’ve been trying to bite him. Even the… piles they’ve been leaving behind don’t look healthy in the slightest. The last time he remembers behavior like this was during the war. Is Potterfield heading towards some sort of cow uprising or something? I don’t know, I just cook ‘em, but judging by what the farmers have been saying, I’m not finding Mr. Martin’s joke quite so funny anymore. Maybe it wasn’t me… maybe it’s the cows themselves! But… that doesn’t make any more sense. I had my burger for the day, same as always, and when I gave Cheryl and Alvin theirs on their last break before the party, they didn’t say anything was off; the food has been tasting just as good as ever. I’ll be sure to check Mr. Fausette’s report as soon as he’s done examining the body, and maybe then we’ll finally have an answer.
I can’t believe I’m saying this, but the cows are closer. I can see their faces in the yellow glow of the streetlight. I wish they were ambling around in circles, because this is just plain creepy. I went to the kitchen to close the screened window and check the ketchup and mustard again (which still smelled fine), and along with the crickets and grass rustling in the wind, I heard what sounded like something big plodding by. It sounded too quiet to be a cow, but I was so jumpy that reason didn’t mean a thing to me. They weren’t any closer when I came back, which would have been the perfect time to get me, so hopefully, they’re… what am I even thinking… and why am I writing it down!? I’m being paranoid, and this isn’t helping one bit. Even if my food had nothing to do with that fella’s death, if somebody finds this, they’ll throw me in the loony bin instead, if the guilt doesn’t send me there anyways!
Well, the hour’s up now. I’ll turn on the stove one final time, toss this in the fire, and be done with it. God knows what I’ve done…but I’ll be having lots of sleepless nights until I know too. To anyone else who reads this, you’re either God, or a hell of a snoop.