First draft, no revisons.



a story by Nancy G.


The windshield wipers gave a droning hum and made a constant slap-slap sound. It was only noise inside the black Cadillac SUV as it plowed through the snow. Though the blast of hot air from the heater was constant, one could almost feel the winter's chill inside the car.

Andy squinted through the glass at the road before him. The large snowflakes were driving at him almost horizontally, like millions of white bees on the attack. He could barely see beyond the headlamps. The blizzard-driven snowflakes had an almost hypnotic effect, and it was bordering madness, trying to ignore them. The road, what little he could see of it, was a carpet of virgin white snow.

It was impossible for Andy to tell which side of the road he was on, so he simply drove down the middle, silently praying that he wouldn't suddenly encounter a big snow plow or logging truck looming out of the pitch-black night.

Pine trees were ghosts lining the state highway, barely seen as the car crept forward at 20 miles an hour. Andy heard his wife, Sue, give an impatient sigh from her seat beside him.

"I wish you wouldn't drive so fast, Andy. Slow down!" Sue demanded.

"We're barely moving as it is, now, sweetheart." Andy said, trying to placate her. "We're already running three hours late. If I drive any slower, we'll be on the road all night. We've not even crossed the New York state line into Vermont, yet! As it is, we probably won't make it to the ski lodge until well after midnight."

Sue squinted out the dark windows, but could see no signs of life, or even any road signs.

"Where the hell are we?" She fussed. "Are you sure we're even on the right road, honey? Maybe you should have cancelled our plans. Stayed in the city."

"What?" Andy asked, so surprised, that he almost took his eyes off the road. "What are you talking about? You were the one who insisted that we go on this trip, remember? Told me not to worry about the weather. It was you who wanted to go skiing this weekend, all so you could meet that Ashley whats-er-name from Hot Trends magazine. Well, we're here in this godforsaken backwater, and yes, according to the GPS we're on the right road, but if you want me to turn around and go home, fine by me, sweetheart. I'd be more than happy to spend the weekend on the sofa, watching the football game."

Andy's wife bit her lip and unconsciously ran her fingers through her dark, smooth hair. She could see her reflection gazing back at her from the window. Was that a trace of a laugh line she saw there? Sue decided that as soon as they got back to their Manhattan condo on Monday, she'd have to call her friends to see if they could recommend a good plastic surgeon. Maybe that glamorous magazine editor, Ashley, could give her the name of a nice spa. She glanced at her husband.

Andy's handsome, tanned face glowed in the reflection of the dashboard lights. His dark eyes staring intently at the two-lane country road. Sue reached over and turned on the radio.

"Maybe we can get a weather report." she muttered, "and find out if this is just a passing snow squall."


"And hope trickles through our fingers like the sands of time." Andy muttered. "No passing flurry, then. Fanfriggintastic."

After an ad for a tractor dealership, country music began blaring out of the radio. Sue gave a disgusted sigh and turned the radio off. Andy glanced at her.

"What'cha do that for?" he asked, "A little music might be nice. The sound of these wiper blades is just about driving me half-mad."

"Country music? Since when did you ever listen to that crap? I told you we should have brought along some of my jazz CD's." Sue said in a petulant voice.

What's wrong with country music?" Andy replied. Then, added in a fake southern accent, "It's the heartbeat of America, ya'll! Got my beer, shot a deer, saluted the flag, I hate fags, ain't got much schoolin' but I ain't foolin', when I say I'm a good ol' country boy!"

Andy sang out the improvised song, then burst out laughing at the look on his wife's face. She did not look at all amused. He turned the radio back on.

Sue reached over and turned it off. Andy frowned and turned it back on. His wife gave him an angry look and turned it off again. Suddenly, the two of them were squabbling over the radio like children, one turning it off, as fast as the other could turn it on.

Without warning, Andy looked up at the road and saw two strong headlamps and flashing yellow lights bearing down on him through the curtain of snow. It was a county snow plow, clearing the oncoming lane of the road. There was no time to avoid it. A split-second before the crash, Andy heard his wife screaming in terror.


"We're here folks. This is as far as I go, before I head on home. There's a pay phone inside, if you need to call anyone." A rough male voice said.

Andy suddenly became aware of sharp cold against his face. That was because it was pressed against the glass of a truck window. He sat up, rubbing his tired eyes. They were in the warm cab of a big orange snow plow, sitting in what appeared to be a deserted parking lot. Sue lay snuggled up against him, apparently unhurt, sound asleep.

Blue neon lights shone through the snow, and Andy wiped the fogged up window of the cab with his hand, to get a look at where they were. In the stormy night, windows gave off an inviting warm, golden glow. The small building looked almost like an old-time rail car, it's sign announcing that it was "Lou's Diner."

"How'd we get here?" Andy muttered, confused. He glanced around the inside of the truck's cab. The driver was a burly old man, wearing a heavy tan canvas coat and a black watch cap. He gave Andy an odd look.

"Don't you remember, son? You almost drove into me head-on, back on the highway! As it was, your car rolled over, ended up in a ditch. You were very lucky, the pair of you, that I was there to pull you out. Otherwise you might've been there for untold ages, waiting for help to arrive. It was on the radio, just now. They've shut down the road. Bad accident somewhere, left some electrical wires down."

Andy nudged Sue. She opened her eyes, then sat up with a start, looking utterly baffled.

"Honey, what's going on? This isn't our car!" She exclaimed.

"I see your wife has a knack for stating the obvious," the old man said dryly, "why don't the pair of you go and get yourselves some hot coffee? It'll be dawn soon, I need to get home."

Climbing out of the truck, Andy helped his wife down into the ankle-deep snow of the parking lot. He looked up into the cab at the old man.

"I don't have a clue where we are or how we got here, but, thanks for your help....sorry," he added, "I didn't even ask you your name."

"Some folks in this country say I'm the liberal media," the old man said cryptically, with a wry smile.

"Ey?" Andy said, unsure what the snowplow driver meant. "Erm--I mean, beg your pardon?"

"The name's Molech," the old man said softly. For a moment he just stared at Andy, with an unfathomable look upon his face. Then, just before Andy shut the door, he shot Andy a mischievous grin, and added, "but, we're all family down this way, so I reckon you can call me Mo, if you like."

Andy opened the door of the diner for Sue. Still seemingly in a daze, she stumbled in. Andy followed, stomping his boots on a small red carpet mat lying on the floor. Looking up, he couldn't find his wife. Then Andy spied wet, snowy footsteps along the diner's linoleum tile, leading to a wooden door at the end of the counter, marked 'Ladies.'

The diner consisted of a long counter, with a row of silver stools which had worn red vinyl seats. Wooden booths were positioned by each of the windows. Behind the counter were the usual shelves full of crockery, glasses and single-serving cereal boxes. On another shelf sat a vintage portable TV set. On the chome cabinet that ran along part of the back wall, an old cash register, a soda fountain, and a coffee urn sat side by side.

There was a long horizontal open space above the chrome cabinet, with heat lamps above it and a revolving order slip holder, where the cook took and placed the food orders. There was also a swinging door there, which Andy assumed led into the kitchen and storage areas. Next to that was a small ice making machine. All in all, it wasn't much of a place to be stranded in.

The place smelled faintly of grease, coffee and cigarettes. A silent jukebox dating from the 1960's was sat in one corner, next to a chrome coat rack, a cigarette vending machine and a rack of newspapers.

Just past the doors marked 'Ladies' and 'Gents,' was an old-time wooden phone booth. Andy pulled out his cell phone and opened it. The signal showed no bars. They must be in a dead zone, this far out into the boonies, he thought with a sigh.

Lou's was quiet, and appeared to be empty of patrons. There was no sign of a waitress or a cook. Andy shrugged, assuming they were back in the kitchen somewhere. He made his way to the phone booth, and sat down inside, closing the doors.

Andy rummaged in his overcoat pockets, looking for some change to place a call with. He found two dimes and a nickel, and went to place them in the slot at the top of the phone, only to give a start. The card on the phone stated that all calls were ten cents. Andy raised an eyebrow. He didn't reckon dime calls had been around since he was a small child.

"Huh." He grunted. "That's weird."

Dropping in a dime to a musical ding-ding sound, Andy held the phone to his ear. It was dead, no dial tone. He tried jiggling the hook, to no avail. It was dead as a doornail. Muttering some less than polite language under his breath, Andy pushed the door open. His wife was just coming out of the rest room.

You OK, Sue?" he asked his wife, anxiously.

"I'm fine, Andrew." she replied tartly, "I simply needed to freshen up after riding in that horrible snow plow. I'm sure no one's cleaned that thing in years. And did you smell that driver? Phew," she waved her hand in front of her nose, "He must've taken a bath in one of those cheap fake designer colognes, if that sort even take bath's, that is."

"What sort?" Andy asked, puzzled. "I thought he was a nice old gentleman. And, he did go out of his way to give us a lift here, darling."

"After he nearly turned us into a motor vehicle pancake!" Sue fumed. "Did we even get his insurance information? What county does he work for? We should take them to court, for ruining our weekend."

"But we're fine, darling. And as far as I know, the car is fine, as well. As soon as we can get to a working phone, we'll have a tow truck there, and be on our way again, in no time at all. You'll see. "Now," he said softly, rubbing his wife's shoulder, "why don't we see if we can get that cup of coffee while we're waiting? And maybe a late night breakfast, too. If the waitress comes back, that is. I didn't see anyone around, place seems to be deserted. Though, with the lights on, there has to be someone working here."

" They're just probably on their break." Sue said, "Those people are always on their breaks when you need them."

Andy turned and headed back towards the counter, then stopped dead in his tracks. There at the counter was sat two senior citizens. One, an old grey-haired man, was dressed in a baby blue polyester leisure suit, straight out of the seventies disco era, and wearing a pearl grey fedora hat.

Next to the old man, was seated a woman who appeared to be ninety-five, if she was a day. She was dressed in a short, tight-fitting red skirt, matching red high heels, a white frilly blouse. She also had a red feather boa draped around her neck, and a posh-looking red hat upon her head.

In a booth near the front door, was seated a chubby, freckled, jolly-faced 20-something man, wearing a safari jacket and an Australian slouch hat. He looked up as Andy and Sue approached the counter, and smiled.

"G'day mate! Helluva' storm out there, ain't it?" he said, in what had to be the worst fake Australian accent Andy had ever heard.

What was this? Andy thought, Some kind of fancy costume party? Dress up today and get a free milkshake? He shook his head. Then noticed that the parking lot outside still seemed to be empty. Not a car or truck in sight. So then, where did these rather odd people come from?

Sue sat on a counter stool, and listlessly picked up a menu. Then dropped it on the counter. Rumaging in her purse, she pulled out a small bottle of hand sanitizer and squirted some onto her hands. Her husband sat down next to her, and looked at Sue quizzically.

"It's this menu." she explained. "Ugh, I swear it's loaded with fifty years of grease and god only knows what else. They probably fry everything here, even the toast. I wouldn't be surprised if our coffee came with oil slicks floating on the top."

Andy sighed, deciding to let it go. But, he picked up the small, yellowed, plastic-covered menu, sandwiched between the sugar shaker and the napkin dispenser, with the tips of his fingers. His wife was correct. It was greasy feeling.

Making a face, Andy opened it up, and looked over the food choices. Breakfast served all day, it said at the top of the first page. The offerings consisted of variations of eggs, with additional choices of bacon, sausage, toast, cold cereal, fried hash brown potatoes or pancakes. The other page wasn't much better. It included four kinds of hamburgers, about a dozen varieties of hot and cold sandwiches, plus hot dogs, soup, cole slaw and French fries. On the back were listed the available beverages and an assortment of pies...and a mysterious blurb at the bottom of the page, that said, "ask about today's black plate special."

"Huh," Andy shrugged and pointed it out to his wife, "I always thought it was supposed to be called a blue plate special."

They were both startled by a figure that suddenly appeared in front of them, from behind the counter.

"Hi! Sorry, didn't see you come in. What'll you folk's have?" Asked a young woman with mid-length auburn hair, dressed quite normally in jeans and a dark, tight-fitting tee shirt. She had a bright smile, and held a pad of order slips and a pen in her hand.

"I'll tell you what we haven't got," Sue spat out, "proper customer service."

"I beg your pardon?" The waitress asked, raising an eyebrow.

"We came through that door almost 20 minutes ago, and this is the first time you've made an appearence. What you were you doing, chatting to your boyfriend on your cell phone?"

"Honey...." Andy said quietly, slightly embarrassed.

"Actually," the waitress whispered in a conspiratorial tone, I'm not really a waitress."

Andy groaned inwardly, burying his face in his hands. Not another one!

"I don't care who the hell you are, I just want a cup of coffee." Sue replied

"Shhh--! Keep it down, or you'll blow my cover." The waitress whispered.

"Oh god, here we go." Andy said under his breath.

"If you look closely enough," the waitress continued, "you may recognize me, from television. I'm Detective Johnson, from Police And Courts: SCD."

"SCD?" Andy asked, unable to stop himself.

"Sexual crimes division. Tell me, ma'am," the woman leaned over and asked Sue, "has this man ever raped you?" She nodded her head in the direction of Sue's husband.

"No!" Andy's wife replied, too shocked by the question to feel insulted. "Certainly not! He's my husband. He loves me."

"Oh." The waitress said, clearly disappointed. Then she perked up, asking, "Well, has he ever forced you to dress like Empress Josephine and have sex with a sheep?"

"What!" Sue exclaimed "No, never!"

"Well, there was that time in Paris..."

"Shut up, Andrew." Sue told him.

"Just kidding, dear." Andy said quietly. Sometimes his wife's sense of humor was sadly lacking.

"Damn." the waitress said regretfully. "I always wanted to meet someone who actually did that. So, you want fries and a Coke with that burger?" she asked Andy.

"What? Erm--I haven't even ordered yet!" he said, confused.

"Oh yeah. Sorry." The waitress sighed. "Truth to tell, I suck as a waitress."

Andy was about to ask the waitress about the 'black plate special,' when a man coming through the swinging doors of the kitchen, made him pause in mid-breath. It was a tall skinny man with wild hair, wearing an apron and chef's whites that were so dirty, they looked grey. But, the most unusual thing about him, was the bright yellow sandwich board he was wearing.

The newcomer had to walk through the door sideways with it, so Andy couldn't read what the wearable sign said at first. But as the middle aged man turned around, it became clearer. The front of the sign read, in small red lettering, "We All Are Sinners And Shall Perish In The Demon Fires Of Hell" When the man turned around to put some crockery on the shelf, Andy cold see the back of the sign, which read in large bold letters, "Jesus Saves!"

"I wonder if they serve athiest's here?" Andy whispered to his wife.

As if he heard this, the man with the sign turned around and stared intently at Andy..

"Je-sus Saves!!!" the cook belted out, abruptly.

"He shoots, He scores!" was Andy's spontainious reply.

Much to Andy's suprise, the man with the sandwich board held out his hand. With a few reservations, Andy took it. They shook, and the cook smiled warmly at him.

"Hey, how ya' doin'? Nce come back mister, I like your style. And yeah, we serve pretty much everybody here. My name's Lucifer Hotspur, welcome to Lou's Diner. You can call me Lou."

"Lucifer?" Andy asked, still eying the sandwich board. Which wasn't difficult, as it was staring him in the face, 10 inches from his nose.

"Yeah, I know," the cook said. "I get that all the time--"

"Look, Luscious," Sue interrupted.

"Lucifer, dear." Andy corrected her. "But he prefers to be called, 'Lou.'

"Whatever," she said, dismissing him with her hand, "Look, you...cook man, our car went off the road....somewhere, in this godforsaken backwoods jerkwater, and we need to get to a phone to get help."

"Cook man?" Andy said. "You're making him sound like some kind of barbecuing super-hero."

"Oooh, how cool would that be?" the cook looked at the waitress and they both nodded in agreement.

"Your company BBQ is going up in flames," Lou intoned manfully, flexing a muscle, “but never fear, Cook-Man is here! How do you think I'd look in a flowing brown cape?"

"Brown?" Andy asked.

"Yeah," Lou answered, "I think a blue cape would clash with the yellow on my sign board."

"Will. You. Both. Shut. Up." Sue hissed through gritted teeth. She started massaging her temples."Bottom line people, is that we need to get our car out of the snow, so we can get back on the road to Vermont sometime before we all die of old age."

"Well, that might be a wee bit of a problem, lassie." Came a voice behind them.

Andy and Sue turned around to see the fake Australian guy standing there.

"Wait a minute, I thought you were supposed to be an Aussie," Andy asked him. "Now you're Scottish?"

"Oh erm--no, mate, I'm as Australian as coconuts." he said, correcting his accent.

"They don't have coconuts in Australia." the waitress said. "Do you have some kind of a coconut fetish, have you used them to sexually assault someone?"

"Erm--no, I meant koalas, I'm as Australian as a koala bear....though I do like the feel of a coconut in my hand once in a while...."

"OK, tell me the truth, if you're not from Australia, where are you really from?" Andy persisted.

"Well, I am from down under...kind of....I guess.... in a round about way, I am from south of here," the fake Aussie said, shyly, still retaining the bad accent.

"Oh?" Andy responded politely, "How far south are we talking about then?"

"New Jersey."

"OK, I think I understand now." Sue said, breathing heavily with anger and frustration.. "Somehow in the storm, a bus load of asylum inmates crashed, and you all are the escapees, right?"

"Hey, ain't we all just prisoner's of our own life, man?" Came a querulous voice from the end of the counter. It was the old man dressed like a refugee from the disco era.

"That's right Frank," Lou told the old man. "but the Lord will set us free."

"Oh, do put a sock in it, Lou." Came a thin, frail voice. This, from the poshly dressed old woman sitting next to Frank.

"Now, you know I mean no harm. I'm just trying to help save a few souls, Boris." Lou said.

"Boris?" Andy asked, raising his eyebrows. He looked again. Now that the old woman was facing him, Andy could tell that she was a cross-dresser. And she--or he, Andy never knew what the politically correct term was, was looking back at him, rather timidly.

"Erm--nice dress," he smiled, and told him or her, "the color suits you."

For that remark, Andy got a sharp jab in the ribs from his wife.

"Oh, for god sakes," she whispered, "don't encourage them! What are you thinking?"

Sue dove her hand into her purse, pulled out her wallet, and took out a twenty dollar bill. She waved it in the waitress's face.

"You probably don't make many tips here, right, sweetie? Tell you what, I'll give you this twenty if you just give me ten minutes on a telephone. That's two dollars a minute. I bet you can buy a real nice fake police badge with that, right?"

"Ysss--wasping ysss--time." said the elderly cross-dresser at the end of the counter.

"What's he...it, saying?" Sue asked the waitress.

"Put your teeth back in, Boris." The fake Aussie guy called out up the counter. "He says that you're wasting your time sheila, like I was trying to tell ya' before I got sidetracked about my geographic origins." He told Sue. "In case you hadn't noticed, we're in the mountains, the nearest tower is miles away. It's a dead zone here, no signal." Jerking his thumb in the direction of the phone booth, he added, "And, the diner's phone hasn't worked in ages."

For the first time, Sue was nearly close to panic. Andy could see her face go pale, her eyes widening, at the thought of being deprived of a phone for...who knew how long? Outside, the wind picked up, and Andy could hear icy sleet hissing against the glass windows. The night was pitch black, and nothing could be seen of the outside world beyond the pale golden light of the windows. It was as if this was the last place on earth which still harbored life. For some reason, that thought suddenly made Andy shudder.

"Hey!" the cook suddenly exclaimed, startling Andy out of his thoughts, and nearly making him fall off his stool.

"What're we doing just standing around here, Johnson?" Lou asked his waitress. "These folks'll likely be hungry. I bet you two haven't eaten for hours. And Frank and Boris need their cups re-filled. "What about you, mate?" he addressed the fake Aussie guy, who had sat a few stools down from Sue and Andy.

"Well...I am feeling a mite peckish. Maybe Detective Johnson can bring me a piece of that delicous Dutch apple pie you got over there in the dessert display, when she gets a chance. Oh. Sorry." he amended, when the waitress glared at him. "I forgot. When your waitress who isn't an undercover dectective, gets a chance."

"Say Frank," Lou said, walking over to the outdated disco grandad, "why don't you go put a quarter in the juke box, it's quiet as a cemetery in here.." He reached into the pocket of his dirty trousers, and pulled out a fistful of change, handing it to Frank. "Find something appropriate to play, maybe?"

The old man got up and slowly walked towards the far end of the diner. He ignored Sue, but as he passed Andy, Frank paused and put a hand on Andy's shoulder.

"Don't worry, we're like family here, we'll take care of you," he said with a kind smile. "You're going to be all right, son. I can feel it."

Don't forget, Jesus Saves!" Lou shouted, as he headed back into the kitchen, expertly negotiating his signboard through the swinging doors.

"When he buys cheap crap!" Andy called out in reply. He heard Lou's laughter from behind the door.

"Now, have you decided on your order yet?" The waitress flipped open her order pad, and smiled down at Andy.

"I'm still waiting for a cup of coffee." Sue told her. The waitress didn't seem to have heard, so so cleared her throat loudly. "Excuse me? Coffee? That hot black stuff you pour into a cup. Me. Want. Some. You. Un-der-stand?" She asked sarcastically. The waitress arched an eyebrow at her.

"I understand quite clearly, Mrs., but as you can see, I am taking your husband's order at the moment. And, since I'm not Doctor Who, and don't have the powers to split myself in two, or grow another hand, I can only take one order at the time. You'll get your coffee when I have the time to get your coffee." The waitress said dismissively.

Music suddenly came from the old jukebox. It was an oldie from the early 1960's that Andy remembered from playing his parent's record collection. "When's the devil gonna' get me? “'Cause I've been soooo-baaadd, Lost and alone without you, I feel so saaad..."

"Now," she said to Andy, "I can tell you that Lou's bacon-cheeseburgers are not to be missed. Best you've ever had. How 'bout it?"

"Sounds good." he smiled back at her. "And ya' know, I think I'll take your previous suggestion, and have fries and a Coke with that, too, please."

The waitress ripped off the order slip, and stuck it in the revolving slip holder over the serving window. Then she grabbed a coffee pot, and went to fill the empty cups of the two elderly gentlemen down at the end of the counter. Walking right past Sue's nose, without a pause.

"Unbelievable!" Sue snapped at Andy. "What the hell is her problem?"

"She's just busy. And you' haven't exactly been very respectful or polite." Andy replied shortly. "I'm going to get a newspaper to read. Looks like we're stuck here for a while."

Andy got up without another word, leaving his wife staring open-mouthed at his retreating back. The old man in the pale blue polyester suit was staring down at the jukebox selections. The lights from the glass window of the machine revealed a melancholy look upon his face. He looked up as Andy approached.

"Don't suppose you have change for the cigarette machine?" he asked, wistfully. "Lou won't give me any. He thinks cigarettes are evil. Says if Jesus knew about the dangers of smoking, he would've preached against it."

"And, here I was, thinking all that Jesus was omniscient. So much for that theory." Andy told him, with a mischievous wink. "I'm not sure I have that much change, but if I do, sure, why not? It's on me."

You sure you want to smoke on a night like this?" Andy asked.

"None better, my boy, none better. Stormy night, good company, nice music, plenty of hot coffee and a cigarette. It's the little things that make life truly tolerable, the rest is just excess baggage to drag around." The old man said softly.

"But, with the state-wide indoor smoking ban, you'll have to go outside, and it's pretty nasty out there. Wouldn't want you to slip and fall." Andy cautioned him.

"Don't know about no ban. Lou doesn't like smoking, but he doesn't tell me not to. He gives me the devil of a look when I sit at the counter and light up, but he hasn't tossed me out into the storm...yet. I appreciate your offer, by the way. I've not had the spare change for a smoke in a while now." Frank countered.

Andy fished some coins out of the pocket of his jeans. He squinted at the vending machine and frowned.

"That can't be right. It says on here it's sixty-five cents a pack. Last time I noticed, it cost over five dollar for a pack of cigarettes. You sure this thing still works?" He asked, looking over at Frank, who was still staring intently at the jukebox selection guide.

"Only way to find out, is to try, son." Frank muttered.

Andy shrugged and dropped in the appropriate coins. He realized that he never asked what brand the old man wanted, so he pulled out a knob and selected an unfiltered brand. His late father used to smoke that brand, and somehow, Frank sort of reminded Andy of his dad. With a soft plop, a red package of cigarettes fell out of the machine.

Handing the pack to Frank, Andy took off his overcoat and hung it up on the nearby coat rack. He got a newspaper from the supply of papers by the jukebox, and turned to head back to the counter. As he turned to go, Frank grabbed his hand. Startled, Andy looked up into the weathered face of the old man.

"Listen son, no matter what happens this night, don't be afraid. Like I told you, you'll be alright. Me and Boris and the others, we'll look after you. We like you. You're a real person. Nothing artificial about you.. And that's what you need to stay here until you're ready to leave. You need to keep true to yourself." he smiled, "Now, you go on back to the counter, and remember what I said. You'll be just fine."

Andy stared at the old man with a puzzled frown for a few seconds, before shaking his head, and going back to Sue. He noticed that she'd moved to a booth near the windows. He offered to take her coat and hang it up, but she refused.

"I don't intend to stay in this filthy hole in the wall diner, any longer than absolutely necessary." she huffed.

"Yeah," he agreed, sliding into seat opposite his wife, "it is a bit....weird, this place."

Andy opened the newspaper, and glanced at the front page. He shook his head, bewildered.

"And gets weirder all the time." He muttered.

"What is it now?" Sue asked, staring out the window at the snow and sleet, flinging itself against the rattling window pane.

"This newspaper. The date says it's the seventh of April, nineteen sixty-nine. Must be some sort of commemorative edition." Andy sighed and looked around them. "Maybe it's some kind of belated April Fool's joke or something."

"Who cares? These hicks are probably so thick, they would think a dead chicken was funny."

Andy decided it would be a good time to change the subject.

"Did you order anything to eat? Looks like we're stuck here until they start clearing the roads. I'm sure when they do, someone will come along to help us dig our car out of the snowbank."

"Yeah, I ordered that black plate special, whatever it is. I asked the waitress if it was fried or salty, and all she would tell me was that it came with nothing in it, and that it was made of fresh meat. I think that cook should fire her. She isn't fit for anything but sitting around, collecting a welfare check."

Andy shrugged and didn't respond. Ignoring his wife, got up and walked over to the counter, with the newspaper in his hand.

"Andy, where are you going?" Sue called out, exasperated.

"Be back in a sec. I just want to check something out." Andy said to her, without turning around.

Frank had come back to the counter, He was sitting between Boris and the Aussie guy. Andy walked passed the waitress, who was busy re-filling napkin dispensers, and gave her a smile and a small wave. For once, she didn't smile back. Instead, she turned away to get more napkins.

Andy sighed again, and walked over to the end of the counter, newspaper in his hand. The three men looked up, but didn't seem surprised to see him.

"Tell me something fellas, I take it you're all locals around here," Andy said, holding up the newspaper. "What gives with this place. It's like it's stuck in some kind of time warp or something."

"Dunno' what you mean, mate." The Aussie guy said, frowning. He turned back to the counter, forked a piece of pie into his mouth, and took a sip of coffee.

Boris and Frank just looked at each other, each refusing to meet Andy, eye to eye.

"Maybe it's all stuff left over from April Fool's Day," Boris finally whispered in his papery voice.

"That's possible," Frank hurriedly agreed, still not meeting Andy's gaze.

"Yeah, maybe." Andy agreed, but not sounding at all convinced.

"Order's up, Johnson!" Lou suddenly bellowed from the kitchen. "Cool it with the napkins and shake a leg!"

"I think your food is ready." Boris said quietly, staring into his coffee cup. "Perhaps you should go and be with your wife."

"What's going on, gentlemen?" Andy whispered, suddenly feeling inexplicably uneasy. "What's up with this place?"

"Go see your wife, son." Frank said gently, but firmly. "There will be loads of time for us to have a little chat, later on."

Feeling more and more unnerved, Andy walked back over to the booth, and sat down. The waitress came over, and placed a thick white china plate before him, loaded down with a thick bacon-cheese burger and an order of fries, along with a ice-filled glass of Coke with a straw in it.

"Do you need any ketchup?" she asked Andy.

"No, that'll be all, thanks." He told her, and she walked away.

"What about my order?" Sue demanded, looking like she was ready to explode like Mount Vesuvius.

"That's Lou's specialty, he doesn't let anyone present the black plate special, but him" the waitress said over her shoulder. "He'll be bringing that out to you, personally."

Andy picked up a French fry with his fork, and bit into it. His eyes widened in surprise, as a smile crept across his face.

"Wow, that's the best French fry I've had in years. I haven't had a fries that tasted like this since...since the health Nazi's outlawed fatty oils. These are simply...amazing! I could eat these every day."

"...And end up looking like Dom DeLuise? No thanks." with that, his wife pulled the plate away from Andy.

"Hey, I was enjoying that!" Andy protested.

"Well Andrew, I wasn't enjoying seeing you kill yourself with that heart attack on a plate." Sue replied tartly.

"Oh baby," Andy said, longingly eyeing the plate, "but what'a way to go!" "Well, that," he added suggestively, "and so is...you know, that other thing we've been known to do together."

"Not here!" Sue whispered, "This isn't the place!"

"Why? Is there a sofa in the ladies room?" He asked, cheekily.

"Oh, sometimes you are so...." his wife began.

"Inventive?" Andy suggested.

"Crude!" She fumed. "You really can be embarassing to be around. I can't take you anywhere."

"You make me sound like I'm your child, not your husband." Andy said, frowning at her.

"Well, maybe that's because you act like one!" She retorted.

"Here you are!" Bellowed Lou, startling the pair of them. "My speciality just for you, Madame."

Andy wondered how he managed to come out of the kitchen, behind the counter and across the room, without them noticng. Lou had removed his sign and changed out of his dirty cook's whites. He'd combed back his hair, and was now wearing black trousers and a black shirt with a red bow tie. He carefully placed a large black shiny plate in front of Sue.

"What's this?" Sue asked him, puzzled. "Your speciality is nothing? Ha!" She laughed sarcastically, throwing up her hands, "Why am I not surprised?"

Lou leaned over to whisper in her ear.

"No, this is my specialty, Susan." he said.

Without warning, Lou's face changed. It became shadowed in black, his eyes glowing red. With a oily laugh he reached into Sue's chest, and pulled out her still-beating, bloody heart. With a wet plop, it landed on the plate in front of her.

Despite the fact that she was technically dead, her brain and vocal cords hadn't caught up with that, and Sue's scream when on for almost a full thirty seconds, before her face dropped onto the plate, on top of her own heart.

Andy was frozen in shock and terror, when suddenly he saw his wife's body, disintegrate into dust. The heart remained on the plate. Andy just sat, staring at it, his face pale, eyes wide with disbelief and terror, breathing heavily.

Then, the heart too, grew black, and slowly shriveled and disappeared. Lou's face had since returned to normal. He glanced down casually at the pile of dust on the vinyl seat of the booth.

"I'll get Johnson to clean that mess up, and I'll go make you a fresh meal. Your food's probably gone cold, by now." he told Andy, as if nothing untoward had happened.

"What the hell?" Andy abruptly screamed, leaping out of the booth. He grabbed Lou by the shirt and shouted again, "What the hell have you done?"

"Hey, watch the shirt, will you? I just got it back from the cleaners. Do you know how much they charge to get blood out of this fabric?" Lou said, calmly.

"What the hell have you done to my wife, you freak?" Andy stepped back and demanded.

"Ah, now you see," Lou explained, "'Hell' is the watch word here, I think. I really am Lucifer...junior. Satan's my dad. But, the thing is, I didn't really want to go into what you might call, the family business. And boy, was my dad ever sore about that. You humans think your parents get pissed off at you sometimes? Try having Satan as a parent. Trust me, when it comes to punishments, we don't get sent to our room's."

"We? What? What the hel--what in pity's sake are you on about?" Andy gasped, suddenly feeling unwell.

"Let me explain, OK? My dad wanted me to be in charge of Hell, but what all I ever wanted to do, was run a nice quiet little roadside diner, you follow?"

"Erm--no." Andy said, shaking his head.

"Well, after a couple of milennea, dad finally got tired of arguing about it, and decided to let my younger brother, Abaddon, be his manager, instead of me. Which worked out pretty well, 'cause Abbadon was always a bully and a saddist. He had a real mean streak, the little shit. One time he pushed me into the lake of fire and held me down." Lou shook his head and gave a rueful smile. "Damn, that hurt.."

"So, you're telling me, that you're the son of Satan?" Andy gulped, still trying to make his mind cope with what he'd just seen, and what he was hearing.

"No, I'm the son of the tooth fairy." Lou said, exasperatedly. "Hello? Is anybody home? God, why is it you humans are so easily impressed by outrageous rubbish and false propaganda, but so hard to convince when you come across the real thing--even when you see it with your own eyes?"

Lou looked Andy somberly. Andy looked back at him, shaking his head, tears welling in his eyes.

"I trusted you. I can't believe you did that. I can't believe you took my wife from me. That she's gone forever."

"She was already gone, and so are you." Lou said, a bit more gently, this time.

"What? What are you saying?" Andy said, liking the sound of this, less and less.

"It was my Uncle Molech that brought you here, wasn't it? Only time he comes around, is when he's bringing me the dead from off the highway. You see, I have this contract with my dad. I get to run my diner, as long as he gets at least one soul every ten years from me. Tonight, your wife happened along to fill my quota. I only take the unpleasant one's though. The rest of you get to hang out here with me and chill, until you're judged fit to either go up and have tea with the goody-two-shoes, or party down with my dad."

"We're dead? You--you mean we really did crash head-on with that snowplow?"

"Yep. Dead as the proverbial doornail. Which is a really stupid saying, considering doornail's were never actually alive. Oh yes, the pair of you died instantaneously. Big red splat of guts and brains, all over the snow. But, just as your souls were leaving your bodies, Uncle Molech came along and scraped them up from the mangled wreck that used to be your car."

Andy boggled at this.

"You mean we were basically after-life road-kill?"

Andy stumbled over to the counter and sat down on a stool, running his hands through his hair.

"Sorry, but, this is just a bit more than my human mind can take in, at the moment." He muttered.

Lou stood in the middle of the floor, looking at Andy. Then he sighed and threw up his hands.

"OK, I give up. I never was much good at explaining things to you humans. Frank, you're better at these things than I am, how 'bout you explaining all this to him, while I go into the back and change. Got to get ready for the breakfast crowd. I've a feeling we'll be busy once those roads get cleared."

As Lou hustled off into the kitchen, Frank sat down beside Andy. All of the sudden, Andy realized that they were all alone. Everyone else had vanished.

"Where'd everyone go?" he said to Frank bitterly, "Didn't want to see the freak show? I should think they'd be used to it."

He looked through tear-reddened eyes at Frank.

"So what are we then, ghosts? And why the hell--I mean, why on earth, is the son of Satan wearing a Jesus Saves sandwich board?"

"Er--well, you see," Frank explained a little awkwardly, "Lou sort of has a thing for his cousin, nothing serious mind you, but Lou likes to stay on His good side."

"His cousin?" Andy queried. Frank pointed up to the celing. "Him, the dude upstairs."

"Who...oh. You mean....Him? I see...." Andy shook his head, bewildered. "No, I don't, actually. I don't think I'll ever get used to this, Frank."

"We never get used to all of it, my boy." Frank said. "We don't like to watch the deaths. That's why the others left. Each of us has lost someone. And we have to stay here, forever, wondering why we're here, while someone we knew and loved was lost to us forever. Lou likes to exaggerate though. Hell is not actually all fire. That's just for the really bad, totally unredeemable souls. For most of us, it's....nothing. Hell is a blank space, a blackness, total nothingness. It's like white-out on the sentence of our lives. At least here, we still have some sense of self. We still are us. At Lou's Diner, there's still a world we incorporate, even if it's only when we're among our fellow dead."

"But...what's to become of me?" Andy asked. "Am I staying here...forever?"

"Well, maybe. It depends on how long it takes the boys in the suits to judge you. Since the republicans took power in the nineteen-eighties, the list of souls has grown rather longer, I'm afraid. But," Frank said, slapping Andy on the back, "it's not all bad, Andy. You don't mind if we call you Andy, do you?"

Andy simply nodded mutely.

"Look, Andy," Frank continued to explain, "you want to know why we're all dressed up so strangely? Well, Lou's really not such a bad fella', once you get over the whole hell and damnation thing."

"Yeah, I'm sure." Andy said dryly.

"No, really." Frank insisted, smiling. "For instance, one of the ways Lou helps make our wait here a bit more tolerable, is that we sort of get to live out the dreams and fantasies of our lives. Johnson always wanted to be a cop. Matey always wanted to be one of those rugged outback guys from Australia--or, that engineer fella' from Star Trek. Boris always dreamed of being a Las Vegas show girl. And me, I longed to be another John Travolta, back in the late seventies." He smiled and sighed.

Then, Frank stepped back and looked at Andy up and down.

"And you, I'd say you always dreamed of being Roy Rogers or Gene Autry, right?"

Andy looked up surprised.

"How could you possibly know that?" he said, alarmed again. "Have you been reading my brain waves or something? I've never told that to a soul, I couldn't. I'd be a laughingstock, at my age."

Frank smiled, and shook his head.

"I didn't have to read your mind, Andy. All I had to do was look at you."

Andy looked down at himself--and discovered he was wearing a colorfully embroidered vintage western shirt. On his head was a grey high-crowned ten-gallon cowboy hat, and on his feet were high-heeled fancy-stitched cowboy boots and jingling spurs. Suddenly, he noticed that there was something heavy at his waist. His hand crept down, only to find a holstered six-shooter belted to his hip.

"What the...." Andy muttered, now feeling totally discombobulated.

Feeling a hot breath down the back of his neck, Andy whirled around...only to see a palomino horse standing behind him, wearing a silver studded black saddle, with a guitar hanging from the saddle horn.

"Welcome to Purgatory, “'Arizona' Andy." Frank said, wearing a big grin on his face. "Hope you can sing. Because if you can't, the rest of us will probably wish we'd gone to Hell." He laughed, as he disappeared into thin air.

Andy stared at the horse, open-mouthed. Then, he gave a great sneeze. Damn it! Even in death, he was still allergic to horses.

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