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“Back in a minute,” he calls as he passes through the door. “Goin’ to smoke.”
“Mommy, I want apple pie.” Tommy stares at the window where the woman is working diligently slicing apples. She stops briefly to smile and wink at him.
“Maybe if you finish the rest of your dinner, sweetie,” his mother replies absently.
Tommy can tell that his mother isn’t really paying attention, so he decides to try his other parent. “Daddy, Mrs. Navarro makes really good apple pies. They taste better than anyone else’s.”
“Who is Mrs. Navarro, Tommy Boy?” His dad sets the menu down when he hears his son mention the unknown name. Four-year-old Tommy wasn’t usually very talkative, but today he seemed to be full of information to share.
Tommy points to the woman in the kitchen visible through the order window.
“How could you know that, son? We’ve never been here before.”
“I know. But that’s her name.”
His sister, ten and too cool to put up with a four-year-old’s fantasy life, rolls her eyes. “Whatever, Tommy.”
“Maggie, be nice.” Mom continues to stare at her menu, not really reading it. She has just experienced another vision of something red and dark, and is trying to figure out where it came from and forget it at the same time. These flashes had been happening a lot lately, and she was sure they meant something.
“Sorry, Mom,” Maggie mumbles as she slumped further down in her seat.
“Evenin’, folks. You ready to order?” The woman with a nametag indicating her name was Eileen asks with a sincere smile.
“Hi, Eileen.” Tommy says enthusiastically. Both of his parents look at him in shock, but Eileen only smiles and tussles his brown and longish hair.
“Hey buddy,” she replies. “I bet you’d like some apple pie, wouldn’t you?”
“Uh-huh, but Mommy says I need to eat something else first.”
“Your Mommy’s probably right. How ‘bout a cheeseburger and some fries?”
Eileen turns to Maggie. “And you, young lady?”
“Do you have mac and cheese?” Maggie wants desperately to be grown up, but cannot deny her youthful tastes when it came to food.
“Sure do. Milk with that?”
Mom and Dad are still stuck on the fact that their son has just identified by name two employees in a truck stop that they were both pretty sure they had never been to. They exchange a confused look, but decide not to ask the waitress about it.
Dad clears his throat. “Tommy, what would you like to drink?”
“Juice!” Tommy yells in excitement, temporarily forgetting to use his inside voice. The rest of his family quickly look around in embarrassment, but no one else in the diner seems to notice.
“Shh, sweetie, inside voice.” Mom corrects.
Eileen smiles as if she understands something the rest of them don’t. “S’okay, Ma’am, I don’t think he’ll bother anyone.”
A large bald black man walks past their table on his way to the kitchen. As he does, Tommy tugs at his apron and grins up at him. “Hi, Fat Mac.”
Fat Mac nods down at him but says nothing as he continues past.
“Can I interest the two of you in the House Special?” Eileen asks quickly before Mom and Dad have the chance to ask the questions that are on their minds.
“Sure,” Dad says absently.
“Great, I’ll get started on that.”
Mom turns to Tommy, the visions still tickling the back of her mind. “Tommy, what is going on? Are you just reading everyone’s nametags?” She knows he isn't that good at reading yet, but can't figure out how else her son would be able to come up with these names. Was he just listening to conversations and picking it up, or was it something else?
“No, Mommy. I just know.”
Dad scoots forward on the booth's bench and moves his head down to be closer to his son’s. “Okay, son, who else’s name do you know?”
Tommy looks around the room. He points to a booth where two men sit; one scowling as he fondles his large gold pinky ring, the other furiously cleaning his thick glasses with a napkin from the dispenser on the table. “That’s Roman and Specs. They’re ghost hunters.”
“And that,” he adds, pointing to a man with a flattop and a scowl who is also behind the counter; apparently adding up sales figures using a pen and a book that had to be older than the truck stop itself, "is Mr. Woczak. He’s in charge.”
A man walks through the front door and heads towards the kitchen. Tommy moves his pointing finger to follow his path. “That’s Paul. He colors people’s skin.”
Mom puts her hand over her sons; lowering it to the table. “Tommy, stop it. You’re starting to scare me.”
“He’s just making it all up, Mom,” Maggie says with a shrug.
Dad isn’t so sure. He gets up and walks over to the man who just came in. “Excuse me, sir, is your name Paul?”
The tattoo artist turns to him and nods silently. “Thanks,” Dad replies then quickly returns to his seat.
Maggie, after witnessing this transaction, turns to Tommy, now as concerned as her parents. “Tommy, how are you doing that?”
Tommy doesn’t answer. His eyes have gotten huge. A man has emerged from the bathrooms, wearing tattered black cargo pants and equally tattered combat boots. His shirtless torso reveals a large tattoo over his left bicep in the shape of a horse’s skull with a large pointed horn emerging from the center of it’s forehead. It is a unicorn’s skull. Tommy’s petrified stare is fixated on the man as he walks to the counter and admires (seemingly with pride) a rack of postcards beside the front counter.
“Tommy?” His sister sees his look of fear, and immediately feels the same sense of dread, though she doesn’t know why.
The flashes return to Mom’s mind quickly enough to cause her to jump in her seat. Something about a paintbrush and terrible pain, but she cannot make out any more than that.
Stammering, Tommy finally manages to speak, as his finger raises once more; this time to point at the monster perusing the postcards and talking casually to the three (or two or one) young women behind the counter. “He did it. He killed us.”
Eileen peers out of the kitchen at the family of four sitting in the booth in the corner.
“It’s getting worse, isn’t it?” Sylvia asks as she places four pies into the oven to bake.
“For certain.” Eileen answered, her gaze never leaving the family.
Cherise walks up beside her and follows her gaze to the empty booth. “What are you looking at, Eileen?”
“Nothing,” Eileen replied. She knew that Cherise would find out soon enough.
Word Count: 1,214