On a dark road you find yourself lost in memory. A damp air courses through your cracked car window. You focus only on the stretch of mountain road immediately ahead. The vehicle’s headlights pay little mind to the expansive and impending forest, their vision tunneled like the front sight of a hunting rifle. As you float down the winding pass like a leaf towards a storm drain, your weary eyes fight to remain open. The stream alongside the highway smells of limestone and iron and brings a nostalgic sensation to your mind. A sign indicates that you are 20 miles outside of the town of Rosebud.
As you meander through the blackness of night you think about the fragility of the past, and although you’ve driven this road a thousand times, the town’s name is unfamiliar to you.
Patsy Cline weeps over the radio. She’s crazy for feeling so lonely. The song eventually fades out and a smooth, low voice interjects. “Howdy Partners, this is your pal Ol’ Stone Cypress joining you on Rosebud’s own classic country 83.3. We’re gonna get you back to the music in just a second but first I got to advise you there’s been multiple reports of strange lights in the forest tonight, what seems to be out by the old Blue Labyrinth mining facilities. Local Sherriff Ray Windthumb has assured me he’s got his men out to investigate and that ya’ll have nothin’ to worry about. Probably just some kids messin’ around if you ask me. Now here’s some Hank Williams.”
The silence of a falling star
Lights up a purple sky,
As I wonder where you are
I’m so lonesome I could cry.
You get the sense the DJ might be kind of a lonely guy, and while you try to keep a lightheart at his expense, you relate all too well to the weepy tune. It both comforts and saddens you as you reflect on moments that are now so many miles behind you.
Suddenly, the Chevy’s headlights shudder violently and you jerk in your seat. Out of nowhere, two blue orbs careen through the treetops, swinging over the road with a reckless grace. A deafening crack and an electrifying light shatter the sky. Your engine fails and as the car gashes along the guardrail you lose consciousness.
You awake to find yourself lying in the middle of the road. The driver’s side door is swung wide open and the accessory lights are flashing at random. You’re sickly cold and wet to the bone, much more so than what the light rain would dictate. Upon examination you realize your clothes are dry, and not the outfit you were wearing before. You stagger to your feet as a pair of headlights crawl around the bend. Without hesitation, the truck’s hazards are switched on and the driver pulls right up to your hood.
“You okay, Mister?” A man calls out as he exits his vehicle.
Still dazed, you manage to answer coherently. As the man approaches you notice he is much taller than you, his height accentuated by steel-toed boots and a slim denim jumpsuit that’s ripped at the chest. A cigarette cherry faintly illuminates his unshaven face.
“John Mithril of Mithril Spurs towing.” He sticks out a hand. “You sure are lucky I came along. Let’s say we hook up some jumpers and see if we can’t turn her over.”
You oblige, and slouch into the driver’s seat while John gets the cables clamped. You go to turn the key only to find it missing from the ignition. You instinctively pat your thighs and much to your confusion you feel the jagged shape through your pant leg. You return the key to the ignition and respond to John’s signal. The engine spudders like a bronco gargling on molasses. John peers under the hood. “Say Mister, I better hook you up and pull you into town.”
“The best I can do is try to have her ready by tomorrow morning.” John Mithril stands in the driveway of his garage using a dirty rag to wipe grease from his hands. You inquire about what to do in the meantime and although you’re certain you couldn’t hold anything down at the moment apart from black coffee, you ask where you might get something to eat.
“Only thing open is the Rosebud Diner.” He cranes his neck in a westerly direction. “It’s the last one on the left with the bright sign out front.” With little hesitation you start down the empty road. “And if you’re feeling like wetting your whistle, try the memory blade. It tastes like the first time, every time.”
The inside of the Rosebud is bright like an operating room. The tiled floor looks freshly waxed and the coffee station behind the counter is spotless. A freshly roasted scent emanates from a coffee pot atop a burner. You take a seat at the counter where a menu has been set perfectly alongside a tirelessly polished set of silverware. The waitress is cute. She clocks you with an attentive brow as she tops off another customer’s coffee. “How’s it going, stranger?” She asks with a kind smile and a perky voice.
A man sits by himself towards the other end of the counter. He wears what looks like ragged military fatigues and a survivalist jacket with the hood drawn up in an effort to subdue his unruly hair. He draws his finger across the page of the local paper and what he reads produces something akin to a grimace or sneeze. The diner’s few patrons do not regard him. Daphne arches her back and calls in through the kitchen window. She and the cook seem to have a good rapport. You gather his name is Lucky but his demeanor would indicate otherwise. He makes Daphne laugh audibly before she returns to face you at the counter. She makes no attempt to dampen her expression and you’re suddenly aware of how awful you must look. You manage to order a coffee.
Over a crackling radio situated on the near end of the bar, Buck Owens insists that all he’s gotta do is act naturally. A familiar croon follows the song’s conclusion. “Heya folks, Ol’ Stone Cypress here on Rosebud’s classic country eighty three point three. I’ve received reports of downed trees across highway 2 out by Blue Labyrinth. Hopefully none of ya’ll have business out there but if you’re burning the late night oil like me I advise you to keep both eyes on the road. On the brightside, more downed trees means less work for those developers plannin’ to start clearing land ‘round the end of the month.”
You become aware of the man sitting in the booth behind you as he mutters something angrily. One look over your shoulder and you can already smell that he’s lousy drunk.
“Don’t mind him.” Daphne eyes the man. She poses with one hand on her hip and the other planted into the counter. “Mr. Hollowfield just isn’t very welcome to change. He takes it as a personal affront to his way of life. What way is that again, Donny?”
Donny Hollowfield Sr., a middle aged man with a thin moustache and a winter vest zipped up to his chin, removes his cowboy hat to reveal a hairline that betrays his otherwise boyish face. In doing so he almost knocks over his coffee, which, judging by the Shakespearean effort he makes to save, almost certainly implies that it’s filled with booze. “I’m a simple man Daphne. I take my butter with toast and I cigarette my smokes right down to the filter.” He pauses for dramatic effect. “Once those citys folk settle into their new fangled houses, it’s gonna be to muddys up our downtown. Next things you know is we’ll have big business on the step tryin’ to tear down fine excrements like this one here. Ask the sheriff, I’ll tell you.. he’ll tell you the same thing. Anyone with any sense in this town is in agrievement!”
“Well if you ask me there’s nothing wrong with some new faces now and again.” responds Daphne, turning away from the man in order to discourage any further insights.
The bell above the front door chimes. A man wearing a ranger hat and a tan police uniform heads straight for the counter. Daphne is eager to welcome her new guest. “Evening Doug,” she says with a mischievous look as she pours him a cup of coffee. “I reckon Sheriff Windthumb’s got you working pretty late tonight.” She sets the cup in front of him and leans in close.
“You don’t know the half of it,” responds the exasperated Deputy Tumbler, not willing to play along. “While I sure do appreciate the coffee, I came here to ask a favor of you. Seems my radio’s dead. You got any double As?”
Daphne, disappointed by his brevity, starts to search through the drawer under the register. Doug takes a seat. You think to inquire casually about all the commotion you heard about over the radio.
“Well,” the deputy begins, “we were driving out towards the old mines when we came up on a tree in the middle of the road. We got out to try and move it but then Ray, the sheriff, said he heard a voice in the woods. He told me to hang back so I just waited there. The whole thing felt kinda off and after a while I tried to radio him. That’s when I realized it wasn’t working. Just kept making this crackling sound it’s never made before. Figured the best thing to do was swing over here and see if some new batteries would help.”
Right on cue, Daphne springs up with a spare pack of batteries in her hand. She begins to hand them to the deputy but as she does, the radio springs to life.
Everyone jumps to attention, as some kind of melodic morse code wails in and out of tune. The sound rings like a psychedelic whistle in your head and a spell of nausea hits you like the crown of a helmet right to the chest. You spill your coffee as you stammer towards the bathroom. The radio’s abrasive howls don’t seem to have an effect on anyone else. In fact, they all seem to be listening intently.
Faucet water laces down your forearms as you press the cold moisture into your eye sockets. You’ve spilled what little was in your guts into the undeserving Rosebud commode. As your vision comes back into focus you notice that the walls of the bathroom are lined from top to bottom with a stylish peacock feather wallpaper, as well as a tiny framed sign next to the mirror that reads #greenobscene.
You switch the sink off and are immediately unsettled by the lack of voices coming from the front of the diner. The hallway is lined with momentos that do their part in contributing to the modest lore of this small town. There are elderly folks at the center of family photos, girls in overalls clutching ribbons from county fairs and couples dancing at ag town hall functions. One photo, however, catches your attention in particular; two highschool boys in football pads, each with one arm around the other, both smiling naturally. Your fascination with the photo feels beyond your control. You become aware of the hair standing on the back of your neck and a faint chlorine taste on your gums.
Your face is only inches away from the polaroid when you instinctively untac it from the wall and flip it over. Donny Hollowfield Jr. and Darren Smith. Homecoming. Donny... Darren... Hollowfield... Junior! The man at the booth! You suddenly come back to your senses, tac the picture back to the wall and round the corner.
You immediately notice that the senior Hollowfield is gone as well as the deputy. The only customer that remains is the eccentric military man. Marty Robbins sings over the radio:
I think about the thing i’ve done,
I know it wasn’t right.
They’ll bury her tomorrow
they’re hanging me tonight.
With feeble legs, you climb into your seat to find that Daphne has poured you a new cup of coffee. “I think it’s time we fix you up something to eat,” Daphne seems as genuinely concerned as a restaurant worker can be about someone who has most likely just wrought disaster upon their bathroom. “Lucky makes a mean chicken sandwich, what d'ya’ say I put one in for you?” She shoots a half glance back at the special board. It reads:
“Big Daddy Cluck”
Pickled jalapeno and honey
You feel obligated to order one and hope that it might settle your stomach. Quickly you remember to ask Daphne where the Deputy and the elder Hollowfield went.
Daphne’s somber tone comes into focus. “I thought you heard. The sheriff radioed that he found Donny Junior’s car abandoned on one of the switchbacks up near the mines. Donny Sr. left in a hurry; Deputy Tumbler right behind him.”
You’re confused. The sheriff radioed? Of all the craziness you heard come out of that thing you’re sure none of it was a message from the sheriff, let alone human voice for that matter. You tell Daphne as much and she gives you a funny look, like for the first time in her life she doesn’t know how to respond to someone sitting at her counter.
“Well…” She attempts to recover, “I sure hope everything turns out okay. All this roaming around the woods and weird colors in the sky is more than this gal has an appetite for.”
“You best make some room then, dear.” A gruff voice lands like a hand grenade from across the counter. “No good can come from kids messing around in those mines.”
The military man hobbles towards you. With a collection of papers pinned under one arm and a weathered cane in the other, he has a look on his face like he’s just been bitten by a zombie.
“I seen it myself.” He says now leaned in close enough for you to smell the toast and jam he had for dinner. “Lived here my whole life, but it only took one night for me to know there’s evil in them woods. It was back in my school days. I took my best girl out there for some alone time. We were gettin’ along drinkin’ and foolin’ around when outta nowhere the brightest light I ever seen came in through the windows and everything started to shake!” He grabs the counter with both hands to convulse in his seat violently, forgetting his papers in the reenactment. As they spill across the floor you notice that many are handwritten and littered with frantic sketches. “Next thing I remember I was on my hands and knees outside the car spewing my brains out. I looked back and my girl was sitting in the backseat, posture like a drill sergeant, just lookin’ out into nothin’. I asked if she was alright and she muttered somethin’ about pretty lights. She was smilin’ with blood drippin’ out her nose.”
The man’s tone then changes from horror movie gas station attendant to something more genuine. “That’s the last night I ever saw her. When I got her home her parents shooed me away, told me I could forget about her. Guess they sent her off to some looney bin or somethin’.”
You take a sip from your coffee mug and imagine the amount of red string this guy must have tied up on his conspiracy corkboard at his house. He continues to stare at you. “All I know is this,” he states with a downward and regretful glance. “She’s not the only one who’s come back from those mines different. Kids been goin’ out there long as I can remember, aiming to cause mischief one way or another. Some don’t come back at all. And those disappearances never get solved neither. It’s unnatural. I hear ‘em talking about strange lights over the woods tonight and I know something bad is coming.”
“There you go with your creepy stories again” Daphne looks disapprovingly across the counter. “Our friend here already seems to have had quite the evening.”
The bell in the kitchen window sounds triumphantly and Daphne sets in front of you a hot plate, and it brings with it a warmth to your soul that you previously thought unimaginable. “I’m sure our guest would prefer to enjoy his sandwich in peace.”
The military man says nothing. He stares coldly at you before exiting the diner, another soul lost to the night. Your attention shifts back to your meal and you eagerly take the voluptuous sandwich in your hands. The first bite is sensual.
In the parking lot of the diner you light a cigarette. The rain has subsided for the most part, and the pot holes that riddle the pavement glisten with an iridescent mixture of water and motor oil. A lifted truck whips into the lot and parks diagonally. An imposing man in a hunting jacket hops out and beelines towards the diner’s entrance. You drag your cigarette. A flood light tripped by the truck draws your attention to a cement partition encasing dumpsters at the east end of the lot. The wall is riddled with graffiti, the most prominent work being a hastily sprayed pentagram that seems to have been wiped off and redrawn many times over. It strikes you as odd that such a symbol would persist in this seemingly antiquated and, more or less, god-fearing little town. You toss your cigarette and head back inside.
It’s clear that Daphne and the stranger in the hunting jacket are having some sort of argument. Although you try to enter unnoticed, the bell at the top of the door betrays you. Daphne avoids eye contact with either of you as the counter stool creaks under your weight. You notice through the kitchen window that Lucky is leaning against the prep table, whittling something with a pocketknife. You get the sense that he knows the nature of this quarrel all too well.
“Just tell me whatever it is I gotta do, Daph.” The man petitions with his forearms tensed across the counter’s linoleum. “I’m bein’ serious. I can’t keep my head on straight without you around. Now all I got’s my old lady breathing down my neck every second I’m home, and the fish and game shop ain’t doing well enough neither.”
“Buff, your mother means well, but you two just can’t ever seem to listen to what the other one is saying.” Daphne fiddles with the string of her apron. “I gotta say I never felt like you listened to me much either.”
“Well I’m listenin’ now aint I?” Buff removes his baseball cap to reveal a matted head of hair just beginning to grey. “I’m tellin’ you I’m all outta sorts. I know I made mistakes in the past, but I got nowhere else to turn. I been drivin’ out on the back roads at night, just tryina’ get the voices outta my head. Usually that helps to straighten me out, but lately I been losin’ track of time.”
As much as you’re sure this is in no way a conversation you want to get in the middle of, you can’t help yourself. The words topple like dominos. You ask Buff what he means when he says he’s lost track of time.
“Not that it’s any of your business friend...” Buff peels away from Daphne to meet your eyes with an unhinged look. “But what I mean is that I simply got no idea how long I been out lately. I ain’t been drinkin’ neither,” he states with an embarrassed glance at Daphne. “I’ll be parked somewhere what seems like a few minutes, just listenin’ to the radio and whatnot, and all of a sudden I look down at my clock and see that I been sittin’ there for near two hours.” His voice begins to shake. “It keeps happenin’ over and over! Hell, I headed over here just after 10, and look what time it is now!” (more aggression and power)
He predictably looks to Daphne for sympathy. She seems to hold steady in her determination not to engage with him. “Ya’ll think I’m crazy, don’t ya? You ain’t gotta say it. You don’t have to believe me either!” He wrenches his cap back into his head, low so you can barely see the red in his eyes. “You want crazy? I’ll give you crazy!” And with that he storms out.
Daphne stares into her chest, arms crossed and chewing on her lip, clearly shaken. Meanwhile, your thoughts are consumed only by the bizarre chain of events that landed you in this surreal situation. You rack your brain for the answers you know must be hiding somewhere. Lost time? Auditory hallucinations? Skeeter Davis ruminates:
Why do the birds go in singing?
Why do the stars glow above?
Don’t they know it’s the end of the world?
It ended when I lost your love.
The sound of a coffee pot bursting into a hundred shards deafens the room. Daphne barely notices dropping it as she looks out the window with a face void of comprehension. In a moment she is out from behind the counter and through the front door into the parking lot. Lucky follows instinctively. The bell’s call ricochets horrendously through your skull and you spin around in your seat. What you see through the window stuns you. A young woman, half clothed stalks like a zombie towards the diner.
Lucky quickly wraps the trembling girl in his oversized peacoat, and scoops her up just before her ragged legs give out. Like a wounded animal she is carried up the diner steps and in the light of the entryway you can see now that her forehead and scalp are completely drenched in blood and caked with dirt. Daphne pulls some extra seat cushions from the broom closet to support the girl’s head as they lay her across the table in the nearest booth.
You all keep your distance in paralysed fear as the girl, whose identity is a mystery to all, drifts in and out of consciousness. Her extremities twitch and her eyes fight to keep from rolling back into her head. Lucky begins to administer what little first aid is available while Daphne dials the diner phone with a traumatized hand. “It’s Daphne down at the Rosebud. We need help over here! Right now!”
The girl is in as stable a state as one could hope for. She sits upright on the table, Daphne and Lucky on either side of her. Cushions support her spine against the diner’s front window. Her arms are mostly buried by the sleeves of Lucky’s oversized jacket, but you notice under the blood soaked cuffs that a majority of her fingernails have been partially broken off.
Daphne’s impatience is quickly turning to frustration. “What on earth could be taking them so long!” She taps her fingers lightly and uncontrollably on the table as tears begin to well up.
The girl rolls her head slightly in Daphne’s direction and, although clearly still in shock, seems to be cognizant enough to regard her. She brushes aside a strand of hair stuck to the girl’s forehead.
“Where did you come from, darlin’” Daphne says mostly to herself, expecting no answer, “and why did you end up here at my diner?”
To everyone’s surprise, the girl’s mouth opens. She takes a shallow breath and coughs with a grimace. After what feels like minutes, the girl manages to whisper a single word. “Donny.”
It’s then that two police vehicles pull up to the diner. The Sheriff and the deputy enter with their hats in their hands. A defeated demeanor hangs on their faces. You notice that one of the officers, presumably the sheriff you’ve heard about, has a saturation of discolored water on his boots and on the knee of his tan pant leg. These details are not lost on Daphne and Lucky, both of whom seem scared to speak first.
Without reacting to the girl’s gruesome visage, Windthumb addresses the room. “There’s been a double homicide at the mines. Donny Hollowfield Junior and Darren Smith have both been found dead.”
The girl on the table lets out a painful squall, verbalizing the terror and confusion felt by everyone. Deputy Tumbler does his best to comfort Daphne as she retreats into his chest, wrapping her arms around him with uncontrollable force. Your mind races. Your chest feels like it’s caving into your lungs as you imagine the two young boys from the photo, somehow dead at the hands of this ill-fated evening.
“There’s certainly a lot to straighten out,” Windthumb continues, finally facing the distraught and bloodied girl. “Especially regarding this one. My dispatch told me she just turned up here out of nowhere?”
Daphne nods, unwilling to offer any information. You find it curious that no one is bold enough to mention the girl’s utterance of the dead boy’s name.
“Do any of us know who she is? How about you mister?” Windthumb is speaking to you. “You know this girl?”
You respond that you don’t, and to the best of your knowledge you are telling the truth. You explain that you’re just passing through. Your car is in the shop over at John Mithril’s and you’ve been here at the diner the whole time. Still, you’re worried he might ask about the boys next. Although you’re sure you’ve never seen them before either, the connection you felt with the picture would surely betray the confidence of your word.
Instead, the sheriff turns his attention back to the girl. “I need to get her back to the station immediately. We should get her cleaned up and rested until she’s ready for questioning. Do we know the extent of her injuries?”
“I carried her in here myself,” says Lucky matter of factly. “Didn’t seem like anything was broken or nothin’. Afterall, she did make it all the way here.”
It occurs to you as well that, apart from the fingernails, which no one has made a point to remark on, her trauma does seem to be mostly mental. She doesn’t even have any apparent lacerations large enough to account for all that blood she was covered in when she first showed up.
“Well then Lucky, if you wouldn’t mind giving me a hand I think it’s best we get her in the back of the cruiser.”
Obeying the sheriff, Lucky turns to lift the girl off the table. She reacts with an unexpected burst of physical excursion, pushing Lucky away from her as she attempts to find her footing. You recoil as the girl flails towards you grabbing at your shirt as if to rip it open.
The struggle is brief as she is quickly restrained by the two men. Daphne petitions as they take her towards the front of the diner. Lucky empathizes with a passing glance but seems to value the lawman’s orders more than the sensitivities of his friend.
As they exit the diner with the girl, Sheriff Windthumb directs Tumbler to hang back and get statements from everyone. They then manage to get the girl inside the cruiser. Through the diner window, now stained at its base with blood, you see Lucky grab the arm of the sheriff and tell him something sternly before allowing him behind the wheel. You watch as the taillights shrink into the fog.
Doug Tumbler and Lucky slouch across from each other at the front booth. Daphne paces behind the bar. She offers coffee and everyone declines. You’re turned around in your stool so as to create the impression that you are part of the group, even though the diner at this point feels like a foreign planet. You ruminate on the circumstances that have cosmically tossed you into this mess. . .the inexplicable engine failure . . .John Mithril finding you on the road. . .the Rosebud. . .the girl. Johnny Cash commiserates:
There’s alot of strange men in cellblock ten
But the strangest of them all
Was a friend of mine who spent his time
Staring at the wall
“I can’t take it anymore!” Daphne snaps towards the deputy. “What happened out in those woods?”
Tumbler breathes in deeply through his nose and holds his breath momentarily, and chews on the inside of his cheek. “I’m not sure you want to know, Daph.” He says without looking at her.
“I reckon I don’t really, but I have to.” She walks out from behind the bar and places her hand on his back as she sits close to him in the booth. “It’s probably no good for you to keep it to yourself either.”
The deputy sits up straight and grabs the table with both hands. It seems to take a physical effort for him to begin. It's probably best that I tell this part, as Deputy Tumbler is likely to leave out some of the more gruesome details for Dafne's sake.
* * *
The sheriff and his deputy struggle to maneuver through the mangle of chain link fence that guards the entrance to the Blue Labyrinth mining facility. As they stand in the vast silence of the main chamber they are met with the stale stench of toxic waste and iron. It is then that their flashlights go out.
“These damn things,” mutters Windthumb, smacking the light in frustration. “I can’t see my hand in front of my face!”
The ground is covered in an unnatural slime as the men inch further away from the entrance. As their eyes adjust, a sliver of moonlight beams through the collapsed roof at the other end of the chamber. A vague pile lays awkwardly at the base of the astral glow. It is the corpse of Darren Smith, limbs broken and splayed out and askew, more spiderlike than human.
Windthumb and Tumbler rush towards the scene, careful in the darkness to avoid the treacherous acid pools that rest somewhere near the room’s center between them and the dead boys. Just as they approach, their flashlights flip back on and the horrible vision is fully illuminated.
The floor they stand in is thick with blood. The boy’s pelvis has been crushed, his entrails running almost the length of the building. Bowels and viscera paint the concrete like a sadistic painter’s masterpiece. His eyes have been burned out of his skull but his mouth still gapes in terror, howling lifelessly at the moon. His shirt has been ripped open and ten dots of skin have been cleanly removed, creating a pattern of two circles, one inside the other.
Tumbler vomits violently, adding to the disgusting scene. Windthumb clutches his chest and turns away, but in doing so is met with even more horror.
“Oh my God, no! Oh my God!”
The body of Donny Hollowfield is strung up amidst the exposed rebar and skeleton framework of the near wall, his limbs twisted like the shadows of trees. His head is mostly severed from his body and it hangs from his chest like the tassel of a graduation cap. His shirt is also torn to reveal markings identical to those found on the Smith boy.
* * *
The deputy grabs a pen from his jacket pocket and a napkin from the dispenser on the booth. He makes ten marks and slides the drawing into the center of the table. As promised, his version of events was quite tame compared to what we just read, still the details he has chosen to recount are enough to leave you, Daphne and Lucky speechless and teary eyed. Just then the deputy’s radio goes off. It’s dispatch. “Tumbler you there?”
The handheld snaps from his hip and the Deputy responds in the affirmative.
“The sheriff’s been in a car accident. He’s about a half mile out from the police station. He was able to radio me but he says the vehicle rolled over into the woods after he lost control of the wheel. He’s pinned under the cruiser but he insisted he isn’t seriously injured.”
The deputy quickly responds, already fearing the worst. “He had a passenger detained in the back seat. What did he say about her?”
The air in the room is stagnant as the radio crackles in suspense. “He reports her as unresponsive. He couldn’t get close enough to check her pulse. He didn’t sound optimistic though. He said that just before the crash she undid her seatbelt and started repeating a prayer or something under her breath.”
If one were to now enter through the door of the Rosebud diner, say a fresh eyed paperboy on the first leg of his route, or a logging crew in to grab an early breakfast before they head up the mountain, they would notice nothing out of the ordinary. The smell of fresh brewed coffee wafts dominantly throughout the restaurant, save at the first booth, where a hint of bleach water can be detected by those with sensitive nostrils. Daphne polishes silverware, the last of her side work before she expects to be relieved by the morning shift. Lucky sits at the counter playing solitaire. The kitchen is already prepped for the A.M. cook. In the broom closet, two bloody aprons are stuffed at the bottom of the laundry bin. A note attached reads, “Daphne to launder, tomorrow midday.”
You get the feeling that you’ve worn out your welcome. Maybe you were never really welcome at all. Though you know Daphne and Lucky obviously had no ill will towards you when you first came in, you can’t blame them for attaching your presence to the events that were soon to follow. You’ve paid your tab and you think about taking a walk about town, maybe find a bench to watch the sunrise from while you wait out the rest of your involuntary stay.
When the diner phone rings, all of you share an impulsive look at one another as if to say, “what else could possibly add to this horrific night.” Daphne dutifully picks up the phone, giving only a timid indication that the caller has in fact reached the intended line.
“Yes he’s still here.” She pauses as if receiving instruction. “Sure thing I’ll let him know.”
The phone is hung up with a sigh of relief. Daphne turns to you and let’s you know that your truck is working again. You get up from your seat like a student dismissed from the principal’s office. The bell is already rattling between your ears as you look only towards the front door. Then you feel an uncomfortable sense of finality; a need to digest the moment more completely. As you turn to face the two, you’re aware that you know absolutely nothing about either of them. Does experiencing such events alongside someone give you the right to be familiar? Did it even make a difference that you were here with them? Feeling yourself begin to fidget in your shoes, you can manage only the two words that seem oddly appropriate, “I’m sorry.”
The predawn air is crisp with anticipation, almost as if the night itself can’t wait to be over. You are more alone than you have ever been in your life as you make your way down Rosebud’s desolate main drag. You walk past an alleyway and come upon a dog digging through a ripped open garbage bag. The dog looks up and immediately shows it’s teeth. You take an alarmed step back and hurry on your way.
As you near John Mithril’s shop, you wish for nothing more than an indistinct tune to keep you company. Instead, an unsettling thought enters your mind. It’s the way Daphne said that your truck is working again. She didn’t say it was fixed, or that it was ready for you to pick up. She simply indicated that whereas before it wasn’t working, now it is.
Your vague and unwelcome suspicions are only heightened when you see John Mithril standing in front of his shop. The garage door is open and your car is already running outside, yet John looks like he has just woken up. His hair has a pillow imprint and he’s wearing houseshoes. He begins to holler at you as you walk within earshot.
“Strangest thing, mister! I was fast asleep in my apartment above the office when I heard a sound from the garage, swore it was an engine revving. Naturally I hurried down, flipped the light and sure enough found your car sitting in the exact same spot I left it. I had a weird feeling though, so I got in and tried the ignition and she turned right over like nothin’ was ever wrong! As strange a deal as it is, figured all that was left to do was get a hold of you and tell you she’s good to go.”
You struggle to find a follow up question that could bring anymore clarity regarding the situation.. John disrupts your fruitless train of thought. “ A’ Course you don’t owe me a thing, mister. I was headed back to town anyway when I found you so I wouldn’t even feel right charging you for the tow. Boy I hope Daphne and them were good company for you over at our town’s finest eatery.”
You imagine yourself chuckling at that but instead you yawn. Sensing that despite the myriad levels of weirdness that cloud your brain like a hangover, you have no more business here. You feel a sense of relief knowing that finally, a departure from the town of Rosebud is imminent.
If you would like to guess who the murderer is, MAYBE call a man about his dog.
In exchange for your efforts you can now order the secret drink. Swampcrawler.