Friday, August 24, 2012

Mark

Every map has one, a quaint little cafe or diner set off a lightly traveled dirt road, along a lonesome highway in the middle of No-Man's-Land, where the best continental breakfast are found that contain some of the world's most intriguing stories. These places are central in the rumor mills, spreading unexplained events and further unexplained faces like viral Internet postings with a side of buttered toast. Every rest stop, along the road less traveled, has one of these hubs, but only one is considered among the conspiracy crowds as being the "Roswell" of gossip. And, as its door opened with its cliched ringing of a lone bell fixed to the blinds as a security measure, the sound of Cozy Mel's next customer stepping in, brought out Francine Durst, Cozy Mel's only waitress willing to put up with the silence and boredom of third shift.

Francine was two months from a decade of service at Cozy Mel's. In all her years, she had heard just about every outlandish story, both of this world and those beyond it, imaginable. The things learned at four in the morning from strangers passing through, some had left her nervous for the remainder of her shift, others were more "cutesy" and humorous and generally the result of a drunken tirade that could only be dispelled by the likes of a full coffee pot and slice of day old pie. She had been robbed blind at least a dozen times, witnessed two murders, helped deliver three babies (four, if she counted the Muller Twins of 2014), saved twelve perfect strangers from choking to death on Jake's "special", mended more marriages than Doctor Ruth, and convinced one kid to skip college to pursue his dream of street art in Florence, Italy, if only for a day. But something felt different about the gentleman who walked in and took a seat at the counter. She sized up the handsome young fellow, wishing she still looked as youthful and adventurous on the outside as she did on the inside, stepping out from the kitchen, wiping her hands on a nearby towel, smiling to only the second person she had seen this evening.

     "Howdy young man. Welcome to Cozy Mel's, where comfort comes by the slice and the smiles are for free, what can I get for you this fine Arizona morning?"

He held his head close to his chest, his hair draping in front of his face like strands of wet spaghetti, his voice was lazy as he answered her. "Just a coffee, black, for now. Thank you." He sounded exhausted to her. Poor thing needs a bed and firm pillow more than a stale cup of coffee, she thought.

     "I'll just put on a fresh pot for you then."

With her back turned to the man, she wondered which category he was going to be placed in. Would it be the young ambitious drifter whose credit card his parents cosigned for had just run out on, forcing him to seek a land line in which to sulk and beg for bus fair home? Or the trick turning drop out who was attempting to hide his addiction from view. Judging by his clothing, a plain white tee-shirt, stone washed jeans and peculiar tattoo on the top of his right hand, she was leaning towards the latter; but, instead of turning tricks for drugs, this one came with a calmness to him that did not worry about the likes of being judged by anyone, or questioned, say, by local authorities.

     "You from around these parts, sugar?"
     "No."
     "Well, if you are passing through, I'd recommend the Nights Inn. It's about six miles up the road. Affordable, if you don't mind the occasional coyote laboring around the parking lot for scraps."
     "Thank you, Francine."

She reached for the coffee pot, "Careful." jerking her hand from the coffee pot, after the strangers warning. "The handle  has a crack along the side of it. I suspect, once you lift it, it will break off and shatter at your feet." Francine smiled. Almost fell for it, she thought. She took the pot in hand and slowly lifted. The plastic handle had slowly separated from the glass pot, over time, and it fell onto the floor at her feet, just as promised, shattering and spraying hot coffee all around her. She stood silent, holding onto the handle with a firm grip that was causing her fingers to turn white. When she realized what had happened, she apologized and scattered into the kitchen for a mop.

Normally, Angelo Free took this down-time to nap in the corner of his grill, out of sight from one of two security cameras in the Diner. He swore Mel had placed it in the kitchen to keep tabs on his late night tomfoolery. What Mel did not know is that the far corner of the grill butted against the end of the freezer, where a three by eight inch crawl space went unseen. Perfect for his late night naps, which Francine never much minded. An unconscious Angelo was never a bad thing, unless she needed him to wake to make a customer his six alarm chili pepper omelet. He was just about to doze off, when e heard something crash nearby. He sprung from his hidden spot, hands at the ready, his ex-military training bleeding through action worthy eyes, searching out its target.
     "Jesus, Angelo, are you trying to bring on a stroke!"
     "Sorry, Francine, I was...What is wrong?" he said, picking up on the tones of her voice.
     "Nothing. Just some customer, you know the kind." she said reaching for the mop and bucket.
     "Christ, what is it this time? UFO enthusiast? Rouge CIA operative in need of a free breakfast?"
She slipped the end of her mop into the yellow stained bucket on wheels, pushing it out the door.
     "I don't know Angelo. Something about this one gives me the chills."
     "I will come out and sit with you, until he leaves then."
     "No. Thank you, but I will be fine. Just maybe hold off on that nap until he leaves."
     "Roger that."
She had not paid her customer any mind, mopping up coffee from the floor and pieces of glass, but was having some difficulty forgetting about how he had warned her, like he had some preconceived notion that the coffee pot was going to break. She knew of people having visions, some claiming to know where the lost souls of murder victims were, and others pretending to know things about a person, based on a series of questions about them. She looked up from her thoughts and noticed the young man was no longer at the counter. She could feel herself ease in the hope he had decided to move on, during her time in the kitchen, only to avoid looking disappointed the moment she saw him emerge from the restroom.

     "Are you all right Francine?"
She looked at him, finding that his face was somewhat obscure in the lighting, like shadows trailed his every move no matter which way his head turned, a constant shadow was there to blanket his identity.

She nodded.

     "Burned my feet a little is all. Have you decided on what to order?"
     "Just coffee. I've already eaten."

It was then Francine recalled a time when she worked a double, during Halloween night, where she served a small party of three. It was two girls and a young man, about the same age as her customer as far as she could tell, all dressed in Gothic clothing, painted white faces, and fake teeth. That's it. It was the teeth of the young man, long, pointed and glimmered under the table light hanging overhead. She had noticed them when he smiled. The way he looked at her while ordering, entranced by his charm, lulled by his words. At the time, she thought it was just some kids having a time with the theme of the evening. Vampires, she thought. Such silly things, even now as she served a Bloody Mary to one of the girls. The young man, however, never wavered from his role, playing the part with exceptional realism. Even his skin, she noticed when collecting the check from him, was cold to the touch. Lifeless.

     "Francine. May I ask you something?"
     "Yes."
The young man moved in his shadowy glow, shifting in his seat, running his finger along his thin pinkish lips.
     "Have you ever heard of the Crux Motel? I am told it use to be out past I-90, about 20 miles south of a place called...Annex. I believe it's where-"
     "Motel Hell." She said nervously.
     "A name the locals gave it, yes. Are you familiar with it?"
     "About three years back, a man named John Writhe committed suicide there. They say he was sick...an escapee from some mental institution in Houston. Here is your coffee. Sheriff came 'round  asking if anyone here had seen anything out of the ordinary. Mel said someone from first shift claims to have spoken to him, briefly, as he came in, ordered, and then left. Awful thing to have happened."
     "How's that?"
     "No one should be so disturbed that they could just take their own life. Plenty of opportunity 'round these parts for that to happen just crossing the street. I've got my own thoughts on this, mind you, but I try to keep my customers smiling."

The young man smiled. Francine was wholesome through and through. The concern was evident in her shifting eyes, looking for the right exit in case he were to leap over the counter, but her loyalty to both her job and to the dwindling doubt of man's overall sincerity was enough to make his own smile all the more authentic.

     "Can I guess?"
The response took Francine a moment to understand. "Excuse me?"
     "Your own thoughts about the Motel. Can I take a guess at what they might be?"
     "Um, all right." she hesitated.
The young man took a drink, holding the brew in his mouth, swishing it as if it were a hundred dollar per glass Merlot. "Wonderful coffee Francine." He then reached into his pocket and produced from it a platinum medallion in the shape of a Celtic Cross, with a tiny blood red jewel in the middle. He sat it onto the counter and gave it a light shove across the surface. "After the death of John Writhe, a series of strange, unexplained, events took place across the countries main cities, Los Angeles, New York, Dallas, Detroit, Miami and Washington D.C. to name a few. I believe you have seen this on news outlets, reporting them as mass rioting, occult terrorism, and some lesser beliefs of it being biblical prophecy. The latter being more fitting for you, am I right?"

Francine's eyes no longer shifted, but focused on her customer now, still fighting the confusion of not being able to identify him. His voice resonated inside her head.

     "It's OK Francine. I promise I will not harm you. I couldn't, even if I thought lesser of you, because you contain important information that I need Francine. I am hoping you will assist me with extracting this information from you without cause for incident."

He took her by the hand, pushing her index finger out, and then picked up the cross. With the click of a button underneath, a tiny needle jutted out from the end of the cross, which he then pricked the end of her finger with.

     "Your motor skills are acting on my brain waves at the moment. Your mouth continues to be your own, feel free to speak your mind."

Her blood, about half a milliliter, collected inside the jewel that slowly changed color, from red to a light blue,  coagulating into a dime sized chip. He then ran his thumb over the jewel, turning it inside its slot, removing the hardened DNA.

     "Are you going to kill me?"
     "I've already told you that you are completely safe from harm Francine. My intentions here are to collect information. Your blood is the most precious source of information the world around you can offer me. It is either pure or tainted, clean or diseased. Human DNA cannot lie. Even after a thousand years of evolution, it is the one thing your species has yet been able to fool. It is because of this devout innocence that your blood is the only way I can find my way...to the beginning."
     "I don't understand."
     "Nor do I expect you to. Had you understood, you would have struck me down the moment I walked through the door. Of course, it would not have been you who would have recognized me. And, if my suspicions are correct, this little piece of you will react with my own blood. If it does that, then I will know."

Francine could only watch. Maybe it was her curiosity getting the best of her, maybe it was just outright fear not allowing her to react as any other would, scream in terror, plea for her life, shutdown at the realization that something unexplained were happening to her. Or maybe it was him, the way his mouth moved without speaking words, at least not in the same sense she spoke with Angelo moments before.

     "What are you?" she asked. It was not an offensive question either, more awe struck with curious intent than unknown and afraid. The figure before her seemed to pause, considering how he should answer such a question in a way she could understand, without being fearful of him. He pricked his own finger, watching the jewel fill with his own blood that also solidified, this one being dark blue in color.

     "Perhaps your question should not be what, but who. 'Who am I?' in a word, I am called Mark. Your kind know of me, but in a more indirect manner, mostly fixed to rumor as a beast, which, in time, was also lost to the many retelling of your Gospels." Mark lay his DNA chip next to that of Francine's and then placed his hand on top of hers. "I believe I am referred to nowadays as a Mark of the Beast."

Her eyes had begun to water. Mark had told her she was safe, but, if Mark was who he claimed to be, there  could not possibly be a happy ending to her meeting him.

     "You're the Devil?"
     "I thought you might assume that. No. I am his advocate. At least in bible speak."
Mark flipped his Blood chip onto Francine's and patiently waited. A few moments later, the two chips blended into the other, turning a final color of black, like oil whose viscosity has long broken down.
     "Ah!" Mark said excitedly. "It would appear as though we are related."
Mark pressed his thumb into the two blood chips, and then reached up and ran his thumb across Francine's forehead, just as the priest had done to her as a little girl on Ash Sunday.
     "Thank you again, Francine, for all of your generosity and honest words. The coffee was excellent."
With this, Mark turned and was gone.

Francine stood motionless for several long minutes. When she finally realized she was alone in the diner, she snapped out of her trance-like state and placed her hand on her chest, collecting herself. It was then she noticed her name tag was not on her apron. Never seeing the man before in her life, she instantly felt violated, shaken by whoever had come to her diner, and above all horrified. She immediately turned for the kitchen calling out for Angelo. The kitchen door opened and screams echoed the diner. In the floor lay Angelo, his neck broken and his blood pooling around his head. His neck had been severely damaged, the flesh ripped and torn as though he'd been attacked or mauled by an animal. Mark's words echoed in her head, "Just coffee. I've already eaten." He had said to her, after he had emerged from the bathroom. Francine heard her wailing, begging for help, desperately searching for the telephone to call the police, while working out what in  God's name she was going to say to them.

As she waited outside the diner for the authorities, she nervously searched her pockets for her cigarettes. Her mind raced with too many things at once. She needed to collect herself and fast. The sirens were screaming in the distance, moving closer and closer with each passing second. No matter how much she tried to get her story straight, all she could think of was Mark's statement to her, after the blood turned black.  "It would appear as though we are related." What in the hell did that mean? And why was she not more afraid, even after discovering Angelo's body? One thing was clear to her, taking one big drag from her cigarette as the squad car pulled into the parking lot, her life was about to take an interesting turn in a direction that was not on any map she knew of.

   

4 comments:

  1. Hey, I live by I-90!

    I read this while giving a break in my own third shift hell hole. I like the way it built up an air of mystery.

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  2. Prophet of The TellingAugust 28, 2012 at 8:52 AM

    I'm surprised Rev has not been here. I know the last series lost you a bit, but I am hoping to reboot your interest in the plot. Of course, it would help to know how it ultimately ended, which might come around one day soon. If not I will try a kindle possession.

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  3. I finally made it here. Sorry it took me so long. But then I've been waiting for an update since May, so I don't feel to bad. (grin, wink)

    All I can really say is Wow. Right back into the story. I love it.

    More?

    I feel like Oliver Twist here. Please, sir.... I want more...

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  4. Good things come to those who wait. Unless you're me, then the wait can be long and unsatisfying. But that is another story.

    ReplyDelete