Deadwood Diner – part 4

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Copyright © 2015 Karli Rush

This story is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Please note this short story is a small link in a chain, so to speak. A sequel to another short story titled – The House.

Mary Jane – part 4 

I adjust my cap back on my head and feel that eerie prickly sensation as soon as I step out into the night. Thunder shakes the ground like a Cobra Gunship. I harness my nerves and scout around for Mary Jane through the pitch-dark parking lot. I wait a beat, hoping for that millisecond bolt of lightning to briefly brighten my view. But I’m shit out of luck.

My feet trudge through the pouring down rain and my eyes roam the area. “Mary Jane!” I holler out while passing by a white 1970 Cadillac, it’s the only thing that shows any prominent color. I carry myself on over to the next vehicle and catch a glimpse of her scampering between two more cars. Her drenched form is hunched over and staggering to stand upright in the hammering steel cold rain. “Mary Jane!”

I chase after her, listening to her muffled down whimpers and cries. She’s terrified and I can’t seem to get close enough to her. The punishing rain blinds most of my sight, it doesn’t matter how much I shield my hands over my cap to help, it’s relentless. Thunder slams against the woeful dark sky making my body shake. I grasp a blotchy tall figure lurking behind a truck and I follow it, the shape is too misshapen to really tell if it’s Mary Jane. My gut twists and buckles with uncertainty, but I have to make sure she’s okay.

I slosh my rain slicked boots through a crater-like puddle and terminate my next step. Rain falls thickly along the passenger’s side window of a late-model red pickup, it looks no different from any of the other cars I’d just passed. Apart from the fact that an orange hazy glow pulsates inside, pulsating with a beat. In precise time and cadence to a song by Simon and Garfunkel, “Sail on silver girl… sail on by… your time has come… to shine…” I jerk my head to the right of me, searching for the cause. No one’s inside, the engine from the weather-beaten clunker doesn’t rattle with life, but the old-fashioned chrome radio recites the song from my past.

I slow my movements and strengthen my grip on my duffel bag. My heart pounds like someone called in an air strike, the hairs on the back of my neck stands on end and I breathe in the icy air. I let out a warm humid breath from within me and it reminds me of winter, the dead of winter. My body involuntarily shudders like I’m standing in my skivvies, aggravated and unnerved I sling my soaked cap off and swipe the rain away. Stubbornly I set my cap back on and glare over the truck. “Mary Jane… is that you?

The radio keeps warbling out but when it hits the last track from the song, it carries that unreal static noise that can only come from a record player back in the day. Each time the static is louder, more hair-raising and then the song begins to play…again. I flicker my glances back and forth tensely. I’m lost at what could be the source, how could anyone around here know that song from my childhood? The disheartening thunder drums the shade of the scenery, bleak and wrong. Regardless, I stick with my mission and force my feet to move.

I dog the footsteps of every shadow, every movement, and unnatural sound. The faded cracked pavement becomes nothing but a river of rain, and eventually I find myself on the opposite side of the diner. I cup my hand around my wet soaked mouth, and call out her name. The muttering and detached cries stop and turn into breathless words, stammering and wandering words that I can’t grasp. Words that sound like a thousand voices, crawling over each other, trying to be heard in the deranged storm.

Distant lights fray out along the slickened dark highway and I see her, the small angular shape of her. Cradling her body, with her head swaying low. It takes a breath for me to unfold the grappling iron lodged inside my throat. My boots race soundlessly across the stretch between her and I until I’m standing on the skirt of the highway. The rain showers us both as I ask, “Mary Jane?”

I raise my left hand outward, prayin’ she’ll accept it. Her long dripping wet hair screens her face and I can’t make heads or tails if she even knows where she’s standing. “…It’s not safe here, just take my hand, Mary Jane…take my hand,” I plead, but the only reaction I get is her gripping her arms closer to herself withdrawing from me. I glance up and along the unnerving long road is a curve guarded by trees.

And through the timber I see a beam of headlights quivering between them.

I drown my reserve and stride out to her, meeting her stance I grip her haggard, threadbare arms and command her to look at me. Her down-casted green grieving eyes drag upward, fear infiltrates every ounce of her blanched face. Tangled unavailing words drop from her stark lips so fast that it takes me a moment to catch her trembling chin and ask, “I… I don’t understand—”

“I’m afraid…I’m so afraid…”

I release her chin and wrap my arm around her and try to shield her from whatever she fears. I lower my head and mouth against her damp hair, “It’s okay, I’m not going to let anything harm you.” I brace myself closer, hoping she’ll have enough faith in me to get her off the highway, to get both of us to safety. “It’s too dangerous to be out here, in this rain and in the middle of the…

“But it’s too late… ”

A loud screeching sound erupts through the darkened night and all I can see a blinding light.

To be continued…

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Deadwood Diner – part 3

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Copyright © 2015 Karli Rush

Mary Jane – Part 3

I offer to shake her hand but she flinches back and mouths warily, “I’m… I’m Mary Jane.” Her words aren’t broadcasted without forethought, she whispers it out like she’s exposing something highly classified. Her troubled green eyes dodge madly around the diner, watching, scouting for whatever danger that’s supposedly stalking her. It doesn’t matter to me if it’s all a made-up creation inside her mind, because either way her fear is real. Real enough that I see it as plain as a nose on a man’s face. Maybe it’s my gut instincts or it’s imbedded so deeply in me, but I just want to make sure she’s safe and unafraid for a moment.

“Well… it’s nice to meet you, Mary Jane,” I respond and motion at the waitress to hold on a second. She calmly sits my heated coffee back on its small saucer and waits patiently while I tip my head toward Mary Jane and ask, “Want some coffee or something to eat—?”

“No…” she abruptly answers wringing her hands tightly together, she’s rubbing them so tightly that the tips of her knuckles turn as white as bone and she jerks her head toward the diner door. It dawns on me that she isn’t really answering me directly but rather a silent plea for help. She coils her mud covered legs up to her chest and nearly perches herself like a wounded bird on top of the barstool, she winces once as her eyes squeeze together. Her bizarre reaction makes me think of someone huddling up and bracing themselves for a twister ready to take whatever it wants in it’s deadly path.

“No…  no… no…” she whispers over and over covering her ears and rocking her fragile paling body. I start to ramble out a line of growing, concerned questions, but then I hear a spineless tick hit the glass door. A light metallic sound and then another, a trickling rhythmic tapping slowly one after another until it sounds like the heartbeat of a furious thunderstorm. I strain my eyes harder to see, to see the proof of what my ears are hearing. I watch as angry massive drops of rain sheet and distort the diner windows. Beating and pounding so insanely I bet you couldn’t even see your own hand right in front of your face.

No one inside seems perturbed by the onslaught except for Mary Jane, unexpectedly she whirls herself from the counter and jumps off the barstool and runs out of the diner and into the hell storm outside. I throw a quick glance toward Ray but he doesn’t offer a word other than a ‘I told you she’s crazy’ kinda dubious shake from his head. The jukebox rattles out, ‘I knew Mary Lou, we’d never part, so hello Mary Lou, goodbye heart, so hello Mary Lou goodbye heart…” 

        An uncomfortable pang inside me strips my dispassion away and I can’t ignore the fact that someone, crazy or not, just ran out of here like a bat out of hell. I pull out my wallet, slap a twenty down on the counter and swing my duffel bag over my shoulder.

And hastily head for the door.

Deadwood Diner – part 2

Copyright © 2015 Karli Rush diner snippet

Mary Jane

The young woman is as thin as a rake, but holds an unfading beauty to her. Her shadowed eyes skate nervously around the sudden quiet diner, her hair streaked with proof she’d seen her days of the summer sun pelt throughout. Half sticking straight up, the other half tangled in hellish twisted knots. Skittishly, she tiptoes up to the empty barstool on the right side of me. Ray, on my left, mumbles something under his breath but his mutters go mute.

The woman clings her skeletal-like hands against the metal edge of counter and whispers, “It’s out there…” Her hushed words are so voiceless that I’m not even sure I heard her, but as I bite into my burger, leaning farther forward I hear her say it again. “It’s out there…”

I sway a look over my shoulder, wondering what’s got her so spooked. The diner’s speckled with fewer customers, only a handful sit in booths near the glass door. The darkness outside creeps up starving off most of the light that once shined from the aging street lights. The highway wasn’t much to see unless a Greyhound or a truck shined their daring headlights along the shrouded lifeless road. But I can’t pin point what has her clutching the molding of the counter so desperately. I jump my eyes back over to her and see terror bathed deeply inside the green-eyed girl. It takes me a second to swallow down the bite of my cheeseburger I had just taken, simply because I had never seen someone so damn attractive, yet so damn terror-stricken at the same time.

Her unkempt loose-fitting clothes are not enough protection from the bite of the chilling late night breeze outside. She keeps her head tilted slightly downward so that I can’t see the complete view of her pale face. Her frightened eyes shift anxiously through her disheveled hair, and I try not to stare. She uses the counter as her anchor as she eases herself timidly on the barstool. The nostalgic waitress never delivers herself over to the young woman, never even gives her a welcoming comment like – ‘Be right with you, sugar’. Instead, she wanders off to the opposite side of the diner as if to give a pronounced space between them.

“Don’t listen to nothin’ she says,” Ray rumbles in a low grouchy tone. I catch his subtle head gesture toward the girl. She looks lost and afraid like a doe standin’ smack dab in middle of a hectic highway. A light sound of silverware clanks against a plate and she practically jumps ten feet out of her seat. She curls her skinny body forward and chews on her short frail fingernails feverishly.

I narrow my brown-eyed glare over to Ray and ask with the same low restrained tone, “Is she from around here?”

He grunts and blows out a cynical snort through his nose as he leans on the counter. Keeping his head, his unreadable whiskered expression forward, he replies, “She’s crazier than shithouse rat and it’s best you’d stay far, far away from her.”

I’m not sure what to make of what he just said, so, I steal another curious glance her way. There’s no way someone like her could be ‘crazy’ maybe she lacked good common sense and a decent pair of clothes but then I drop my gaze down to her feet and realize they’re bare and covered in mud. I stop my mind from overrunning with assumptions and judgment but Ray bounces his meaty elbow against mine and mumbles, “She’s gotta a few screws loose up in the head, they had her admitted to Reidhaven when she was young.”

I whisper back quietly and tactfully as I possibly can, “Reidhaven?”

His bushy camouflaged eyes dart my way incredulously. “You know, the hospital they kept sick people in, but…” he shrugs his broad overalled shoulders and says, “…they closed it down. Said they’d run out of funding or something to that effect. I just think it’s a damn shame really, but whatever you do… don’t let her get to ya.”

I’d only eaten three-quarters of my food when I finally had to stop and wipe off my mouth and force myself not to look over to her as she sputters, “They’re everywherein-in the darkwa-waiting…” She cradles her shivering bony hands like a child that’s been hiding from the boogie man all night. Has she been living in this fearful state all her life? The question floats to my mouth, wanting to ask, wanting to interrogate Ray how could some so young lookin’ as her, someone so uncommonly pretty be so distraught?

“I know what you’re thinkin’, Sgt. Knight,” Ray announces as he cranes his head closer to me. Still keeping his voice as low as possible he swallows slowly and informs me. “She hears voices, they say she never could tell which ones were real. So, nothin’ coming out of her makes sense.”

I mentally chew around on his words for a moment, nodding lightly to him so that he knows I hear him. The outdated waitress eventually saunters around and angles a flashy red nail toward my barely touched coffee. “You wanna have me reheat that up for you, honey?”

I idly scratch the side of my jaw and start to answer ‘no’ to her when the woman beside me says, “He wants it heated… it’s cold, isn’t it cold?” My weary eyes connect with her sober green and for the life of me if it wasn’t for her strange, out of the ordinary appearance, I’d never claim her crazy. Her voice as she spoke was clear and concise. And just as soft and polite as anyone else here in the diner.

“Yeah, it is kinda cold,” I evenly reply never taking my eyes away and the waitress quietly hustles herself back to the kitchen, coffee cup in hand. I study her features now that I can, and I find that she bares no trace of someone once locked inside a psychiatric hospital. But something, whatever it is has it’s claws sunk so deep inside her that I can plainly see she’s truly afraid. She tucks her bottom lip beneath her teeth, nervously she looks over me, searching my own features, tryin’ to decipher whether or not I’m someone trustworthy.

“I’m Jason Knight…” I mention and point at my last name stitched across my Army jacket.

To be continued…