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A Troubled Man

A troubled man walked into my diner last Monday. He had a black baseball cap pulled tight on his head and he was hiding his face. His sweater was also black, with a logo I was unfamiliar with on the front. It looked like a dragon with flames behind it. He sat at the bar and ordered a cup of coffee. I handed it to him and asked for one dollar. He handed me the loony and opened a cream container.

He slumped down and pulled the hood of his sweater over his head. The man he sat beside stood and turned towards the door. He waved goodbye and left. I waved back at him because he is a regular. I had never seen the troubled man before. He had a rough goatee, thin and black. He had a feeble mustache above his lip and dark brown eyes. He rapped at the counter with his knuckles aimlessly. He seemed upset.

I didn’t want to impose on his personal life. I had never seen him before. I didn’t ask what his troubles were. Between the beat of his knuckles on the counter he would whistle a tune I had never heard. Then he would smile to himself and close his eyes. He sat at the counter for about twenty minutes, nursing his cup of coffee. He stood abruptly and walked out the door. I thought nothing of it at the time.

At the end of that day I was left alone, cleaning. I had closed the diner about a half hour before and hadn’t seen a customer near the place since. The lights were off in the front, but the neon sign continued to flicker. I was startled up from my mopping with a knock at the door. There was nobody behind the glass. I looked out the window for the creator of the knock, but only saw a man with a briefcase stomping passed in the opposite direction.

I finished the mopping without incident and pulled the bucket to the back of the place. I poured the water into the industrial sink and rinsed the sink out. I put the bucket back on the ground and wheeled it towards the closet. The closet door was open, although I was sure I had closed it. I must have closed it. I mopped the other end of the hall. I stuck the bucket back into the closet and shut the door with a thud.

I walked through the kitchen slowly and felt a pain in my mouth. It started as a dull ache, but I quickly noticed my mouth filling up with blood. The pain came strongly and in waves. I ran to the sink and spat blood twice. I hurried to the bathroom to look in the mirror. I had broken my tooth in half, somehow. My left front tooth was split up the middle. I watched in horror as blood fell from my mouth.

Before long, and as quickly as it had happened, my tooth stopped bleeding. I stood in the bathroom, staring in the mirror. Blood was all over the sink, all over my shirt and all over the floor. I wiped at the blood with paper towels, cleaning most of it up. The pain in my mouth had left me, I felt fine again. I finished cleaning the bathroom with a bottle of disinfectant before looking in the mirror again. My tooth was still split, but now amazingly painless.

After I had the place clean again I walked into the main dining area of the diner. I again heard a knock at the door, but the second time I assumed it was my tooth. This was all in my head, of course. I glanced at the door and saw a shadow of a man on the pane of glass. The shadow stood tall, coming from a light across the street. Where there should have been a man lay nothing. I was a bit unnerved by this but decided to think nothing of it. I checked to make sure the door was locked before walking to the back rooms in order to escape. Everything was as it should be in the front.

I walked through the doorframe separating the front and back of the diner and saw the troubled man from that morning. He was hunched over a shotgun, stumbling towards me and muttering in low voices something unintelligible. I jumped with shock and ran towards the front door. The man stumbled behind me, following me into the next room. He vanished once I passed through the doorframe.

I entered the front room and the tables had been flipped on their tops. They were sitting in their regular spots, upside-down. My tablecloths were blue or white. They were tied together, strung around the room. They were hanging like curtains along the inside of the restaurant. A yellow light was coming from the jukebox on the east side of the room. It started to play an old Dixie tune, something I hadn’t heard on the jukebox before. The man was standing outside the windows, holding his shotgun.

I heard a blast and the front window shattered. The glass fell to the ground with a crash, breaking into a million pieces. I turned around and when I looked back the man in the black baseball cap was stepping through the window. The gunshot seemed to stop at the window, never hitting anything inside the shop. The man pumped his gun, laughing manically as he stepped towards me.

I thought to myself, “This is it,” as the man from this morning slowly walked towards me. He was muttering and laughing. I began to shake. He then turned to me and said, “We wouldn’t want anyone to see this.” I stammered and told him, “Take the money in the drawer, man. I have kids at home.” I pleaded with him for my life and he stepped ever closer, holding that loaded shotgun under his arm.

He stopped and looked at me. He moved his left hand in front of the barrel of the shotgun and pulled the trigger. The gun recoiled towards him and he caught the bullets with the palm his hand. Dropping the gunshot on the ground in front of me he said, “I love that smell of sulfur. Don’t you?” I was too terrified to speak. I backed into the kitchen, aimed on finding a knife. He didn’t follow me.

I grabbed a knife and ran for the back door. I pushed it but it would not open. It had been barricaded from the outside. The dumpster had been pulled in front of the door. I turned and saw the young man. He was not carrying a gun. He was near the oven, and I saw him turn the oven on. He was muttering to himself. I saw him grab a steak knife that was sitting with the cutlery.

He spoke to me, but I could not hear him. He spoke again, muttering louder, but I could not understand him. He pounded the cutting table with his fist and opened his hand. He looked at me and held the knife straight up in the air. I was shaking in fear and told him something to the effect of, “The cops are on their way.” He laughed at me, pointing the knife at me. He said something and pointed the knife towards the ground. He then stabbed through his left hand, which was flat on the table.

He moved his right hand away from the handle of the knife. He then looked me in the eye and pulled his left hand away from the table, showing no sign of being cut. With a smile he said to me, “Life is eternal, they say.” He walked into the front of the restaurant. I walked past the cutting table and looked at the knife stuck in the metal sheet. There was no blood to be seen.

I walked into the dining room slowly, looking for the young man. I found his gun sitting on the bar. I didn’t see him, but I grabbed the gun. I was holding it under my arm and pacing around the room, looking for him. The tablecloths had fallen to the floor and were in three separate piles. The tables we back on their feet, with the chairs turned on top of them. The window was no longer shattered, but the neon signs were off.

The sign on the door was turned to open. The door was unlocked. I opened it and looked outside. The street was eerily quiet. There was not a soul out there. I stood in the doorframe and held the front door open. I was holding the gun under my arm and noticed lights coming around the corner towards me. It appeared to be a taxi. I hid the gun as the car slid by, then walked into the restaurant again.

I tapped the window and it was as strong as ever. I flicked the neon lights back on and began to search the premises for the troubled man. Carrying the gun, I searched every corner of my diner and did not see him. I locked the doors and cleaned up what was left from the confrontation. I hid the gun in my office in the back and walked to the front to leave.

I walked passed the bar, and noticed a half a cup of coffee on the bar. The dish it sat on was not one of my plates. The cup was the regular kind, white and with a handle. I was tired and scared and walked by pretending not to notice. Unlocking the front door I slid outside into the calm summer night. I locked the door quickly and moved down the street, shaking.

I turned and saw the lights on in the restaurant. I kept walking. I walked home, tired after a long day. I did not get a wink of sleep that night. The next morning I showed up at the diner and the cup of coffee was still in the spot I had left it, emptied overnight. I put it in the back and went to my office. The shotgun was still in the spot I had left it. The bullets had been emptied, and there was a shotgun blast hole in the wall. The young mans body was lying in my office. That is when I called the police.

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