by Melissa R. Mendelson
Melissa R. Mendelson is a Poet and Horror, Science-Fiction and Dystopian Author. Her short stories have been published by Sirens Call Publications, Dark Helix Press, Altered Reality Magazine, Transmundane Press, Owl Canyon Press, Wild Ink Publishing, and The Yard: Crime Blog. Her short stories have also been featured on Tall Tale TV.
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The ride up to Rural was long, but it was even longer with Johnny B. in the truck. He would not shut up for one damn minute, always flapping his gums about his bitch of a wife, and nudging me sharply in the ribs, asking if he was right. He was wrong because the last time the police showed up at his house was when his wife was trying to brain him with a frying pan. When he wasn’t yapping, he was turning up the radio and playing Rap. It drove me crazy. I think it was deliberate. This was not how I wanted to spend my Sunday. I just wanted a quiet afternoon where no one bothered me, but the factory got the call. The delivery was ready, and I could not say a damn word about Johnny B. because his uncle was the boss.
“Hot damn! I’m starving. Are you starving? I am,” Johnny B. exclaimed. “All these damn trees and dirt. So much dirt. It’s like the world ended.”
“It did,” I muttered.
“No sign of life. We don’t find a place soon, I might have to eat you.”
I couldn’t tell if he was kidding, but then I noticed a small, wooden sign coming up on the left. “Maddy’s Best,” I read the sign.
“Well then, let’s give Maddy our best.” Again, he nudged me sharply in the ribs.
The dirt road had me worried for a minute or two, but then it panned out into a large, rocky parking lot. Maddy’s Best looked like a diner that had escaped the sixties. There was no flashing, neon sign but a wooden sign instead. There were no steps of any kind leading up to the glass door, and when the door opened, a small bell gave a jingle. The floor was a checkered red and white. The marble countertops were surrounded by red stools, and across from them were red booths and more marble. The atmosphere seemed friendly enough with a few people acknowledging our entrance. A waitress on roller skates said that she would be with us in a minute. I almost forgot that Johnny B. was with me until he said in a loud voice that our waitress had big breasts.
“Hey,” I said. “Have some respect.”
“Hey,” he snapped back. “My uncle is your boss, and with one phone call you could be like those starving rats in the alleyway.” He held my gaze until I broke mine away. “That’s right. I’m in charge.”
“I don’t need her spitting in my food.”
“I hope she does.” Johnny B. laughed.
“What you boys having?” We both jumped, not realizing that she was standing right there. “Not from around here. Are you?”
“No, honey.” She answered his question but looked at me. “She’ll be along shortly. Now, what would you like to have?”
“You.” Johnny B. licked his lips. “Eggs. Soft, yellow eggs with bacon, sausage, hash browns and toast. Coffee. He’ll have the same.”
She noticed the look on my face. “You might have that wrong.”
“Excuse me,” Johnny B. snarled, and I kicked him in his leg. “Do that again, and I will leave your ass here.”
I moved myself away from him, or at least, as much as I could in the small booth. “Egg whites. Turkey bacon. Orange juice.”
“You got it.” She winked at me before rolling away.
“Retard,” Johnny B. growled.
“That’s not a nice word,” I said.
“You’re on your last strike, buddy.” He pointed an ugly, twisted finger at me, and something caught his gaze outside.
A beautiful woman sat at a counter nearby, drinking what looked like a strawberry milkshake with whip cream on top. She paused mid-sip and looked back at me. She followed my gaze down toward her large belly. My heart dropped as she smiled at me. She turned away, enjoying the rest of her milkshake, and I thought of Janice. This woman was so lucky to be pregnant. Janice couldn’t have kids, and it broke her into a million pieces. One night, she jumped off a bridge.
“What the hell,” Johnny B. muttered.
I looked out the window. The parking lot was near empty when we arrived, but now there were cars everywhere. Mostly women stepped out of the driver’s seat. Some of them even looked pregnant, and again, I thought of Janice. I felt sick. It didn’t help that breakfast had arrived.
“I thought women couldn’t get pregnant anymore,” Johnny B. said. “God knows I’ve tried to plant many, many seeds into my wife. None took. She’s as broken as Janice.”
The food stuck in my throat. I didn’t think I could swallow it down, but I did. I looked down at the rest of my breakfast, struggling to hold on to my appetite, but then I watched Johnny B. shovel his food into his mouth like a pig at its trough. I was done, nearly choking on my orange juice.
“Maddy! Maddy! Maddy,” the women outside chanted. They were lined up at the door. The women that were inside stood before them. Even our waitress rolled back and forth in anticipation. The cook rang his bell, and the women screamed her name even louder.
“What the hell is with this Maddy,” Johnny B. exclaimed. “She’s just another bitch.”
I slumped back into my seat, wanting to disappear. The look that appeared on the women’s faces were terrifying. I thought that they would dive into our booth and tear us from limb to limb, but then I realized that they weren’t looking at me. They were looking at him.
“Shut up,” I whispered to him. “Just shut up for once in your damn life.”
“That’s it,” Johnny B. said as he nearly licked his plate. “You’re done.”
“If you don’t shut it, then we’re both done.” I jumped again as the waitress slammed the bill down onto our table, a sign for us to pay up and get out.
“I’m taking my time,” Johnny B. growled, but the waitress did not roll away so fast. Instead, she stared at him. “Something you want,” Johnny B. asked her.
“Nothing.” Our waitress glanced at me. I didn’t like the look on her face. “Nothing from me,” and she rolled away.
“Maybe, we should go.”
“I’m not done.” Johnny B. drank his coffee with a loud slurp. “Another coffee,” he roared over his shoulder.
I hated working for Johnny B.’s uncle. He was just as revolting as his nephew, but he held the corner in town. If you wanted work, if you wanted to survive, you had to work for him, and Johnny B. was part of that package. I always thought of leaving town after losing Janice, but I stayed. Why the hell did I stay?
“Maddy is here,” the cook announced, and the women screamed in response.
“Jesus,” Johnny B. said, but this time, the women ignored him.
A large, white limo pulled up in front of the diner. I had not seen one of those in a long time. Four large men in black suits emerged. They surveyed the area and then looked at me. I turned away, but Johnny B. didn’t. They moved toward the back and opened a door, and Maddy stepped out, looking like a million dollars. She was carrying a large, silver tray with a cover over it.
“Now, why would someone like that come to a dump like here?” Johnny B. wiped his mouth and threw his napkin into his plate. “I must get her number.”
I didn’t say anything. Instead, I watched the four men in black suits guide Maddy into the diner. The women stepped aside and allowed them through, and they paused near the door, looking in my direction. Again, they weren’t looking at me. They were looking at him. They moved toward the counter, where the pregnant woman still nursed her shake. Maddy even patted the woman’s tummy before placing the large, silver tray next to her.
“Okay,” Maddy said in a syrupy kind of voice. She lifted up the cover and dropped it to the floor with a loud bang. “It’s Sunday Servings.”
Johnny B. and I watched the women pulled out wads of cash from their pockets, wallets or purses. I have not seen that much green since before everything nearly died, and people would have killed to gain that much wealth again. In exchange for their money, the women were given small packages wrapped in plastic. They eagerly carried it toward us, surrounding us, sitting at the counter or nearby booths. They gently unwrapped their packages, revealing a ham sandwich with dripping mustard. Where the hell did they find the ham, and how did Maddy get a lot of it?
“How much is she asking for that,” Johnny B. asked one woman as she inhaled half her sandwich.
“Not for you,” she said with her mouth full. “Only for women.”
“Bullshit.” Johnny B. looked back at the silver tray, which only had one sandwich left. “That sandwich is mine.” Before I could stop him, he bolted from our booth.
“Damn it, Johnny.” I threw my last twenty on the table. “It’s not for you,” I yelled after him.
“Nobody’s talking to you,” Johnny B. yelled over his shoulder.
As he got closer to the silver tray, Maddy’s four men seized him. They slammed him down against the counter. They pressed their weight down on him, nearly crushing him. Maddy approached him, looking at him as if he were a prized pig.
“Is he the one?” She looked my way.
“No,” our waitress replied, pointing at Johnny B.
“He’ll do,” Maddy said in a pleased tone. “He’ll do very well.”
“Go,” our waitress said to me. “Get out of here.”
I watched the cook exit the kitchen with a sharp axe. I turned toward the women nearby, who continued to wolf down their sandwiches. Their stomachs grew big, pregnant big.
“You won’t do,” Maddy said as she grabbed me by the arm and led me to the door. “Here.” She stuck a wad of green into my hand. “Now, remember. You were never here.”
“I can’t leave him.” I looked over at Johnny B., noting the growing panic in his eyes. “What will I tell his uncle?”
“Oh, I forgot.” Maddy nearly yanked me away from the door. She walked me over to the pregnant woman with the strawberry milkshake. She placed my hand over her belly. “Janice says hi.”
My heart stopped. My mouth went dry. Something stirred beneath my hand, a soft kick. It was a girl. I don’t know how I knew that, but I did. I realized that they were all carrying girls.
“Now, you need to leave,” Maddy said, bringing my attention back to her. “You won’t do.”
“No,” I mumbled. “I won’t do.” I walked toward the door.
“Hey! Hey, you can’t leave me here. You can’t. I was just playing before. I was just…” The glass door sliced behind me like the axe to his head.
About a mile or so up the dirt road, I spotted a sign for Rural. Next right. I parked the truck by the turn. I left everything inside including my wallet. I did not need Johnny B.’s uncle coming to look for me. I pocketed the wad of green and walked toward the left. After awhile, another truck came by with one driver. He offered me a lift, asked a million questions, but I hardly answered any of them. I just stared at my hand and thought about Janice and all those pregnant women back at the diner, eating ham sandwiches.