|Beef Stew from Anna Lou
Author: James Hampton PM
This Halloween you're invited to dine at Murl's Famous Country Buffet, a place where folks gather to enjoy good food, friendly service, and a warm, down-home atmosphere as the world around them comes to a screaming end. Step right in and let our charming hostess, Anna Lou, find you a seat. We hope you enjoy your meal. It's probably your last.Rated: Fiction M - English - Horror/Sci-Fi - Chapters: 12 - Words: 9,638 - Reviews: 25 - Favs: 6 - Follows: 6 - Updated: 10-14-12 - Published: 09-24-12 - Status: Complete - id: 3060752
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Crystal and Shane had an arrangement when it came to sleeping late on a Saturday morning: whichever one got up first made sure not to disturb the other—until noon. Neither of them wanted to sleep that late, losing half the day. On this particular Saturday morning, however, Crystal reckoned Shane could stay in bed as long as he wanted, given his rough condition. But he surprised Crystal by joining her in the kitchen at ten-forty-five, not even an hour after she'd gotten up, though Crystal was now fully dressed and he still wore the clothes he'd slept in. Shane's face was wan, and he was moving slowly, but he looked to have improved some since last night.
"Feeling better?" Crystal asked, pouring herself a glass of orange juice.
"Yeah," Shane said. "I'm still feeling kind of weird, though. Would you pour me a glass too?"
"Sure. You want anything to eat? Toast or…?"
"No, I don't think I'm ready for solid food yet."
Crystal handed him his glass of juice, and then picked up her cell phone, dialed.
"Who are you calling?" Shane asked, leaning against the counter.
"Arlene. I've been trying to reach her all morning."
"What do you need to talk to Arlene for?"
"To explain about last night," Crystal answered, listening to Arlene's phone ring, and ring, and ring.
"Why do you need to explain about last night?"
"Why we left so early."
"But you told her when we left."
"I didn't give her any details, though."
"I don't see why you need to do that."
Having gotten Arlene's voicemail yet again—on which she'd already left a message—Crystal ended the call and set down her phone. "Hey, she's my friend, okay? Besides, she'll understand. She's used to hearing me complain about you."
"I'll bet she is," Shane said, finishing off the last of his orange juice.
"Let me try Donny."
"If you have absolutely have to," Shane said, putting his empty glass in the sink and heading toward the living area. He lay down on the couch as Crystal attempted to reach Donny. She got the same result: voicemail.
"I can't get him, either," Crystal said, following him into the living area. "That's weird."
"I'm sure Rooney and Deedee are just fine," Shane said, his arm over his face.
Incensed, Crystal lightly kicked the side of the couch, jostling him. Before he could complain, she said, "Will you quit with the Doodlebops thing? Donny and Arlene both like you a lot, Shane. I have no idea why, but for some reason they do. And then, for you turn around and make fun of them, it's just not right."
Arm still across his face, Shane retorted, "What about the way you treated Anna Lou when we were in school, Crystal? Was that right?"
For a moment Crystal did not speak. Then, collecting her wits, she said, "That was a long time ago, Shane. We were kids. And I wasn't even close to being as bad as the others were."
Shane lowered his arm now, stared up at her. "But you didn't have to join in with them, Crystal, which I saw you do a million times. I still can't believe how mean y'all were to Anna Lou back then. Everything about that girl was open season: how she lived in a trailer park; how her dad was in prison for armed robbery; how her older sister got pregnant and had to drop out of school. Everything."
"Aren't you noble, Shane? But only last night you were making fun of the people who eat at Murl's Famous Country Buffet. What was it you said? We were going to be thirty years younger and three hundred pounds lighter than everyone else?"
"You got me there, Crystal. Good one." But Shane's tone was hardly admiring.
Time to draw back, Crystal thought, before this gets really ugly. There's no winning for either one of us if this goes on. "Look, Shane, I'm not proud of the way we treated Anna Lou, even though I don't think I did very much that was bad to her. But even so, it's the past. Okay? I can't change it. I wish I could, but I can't."
Shane closed his eyes, breathed deeply. "No, you're right. I shouldn't have brought it up." He reached up, took her hand. "I'm sorry."
Crystal gave him a light squeeze. "Let's just forget the whole thing, all right? Look, I'm going to the grocery store—"
Shane started to rise. "I'll come with you…"
"No, just stay here and rest. It's only a few little things."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes, I'm sure. Do you need anything?"
"No, I'm good." Shane sank back down. "Thanks, though."
"You're welcome." She let go of his hand, went to get her purse.
"And thanks for waking me up on the shitter last night too," he called after her.
Crystal laughed. "Let's not make a habit out of that, okay?"
"I'll try not to. I'm not making any promises, though."
Purse in hand, Crystal went to Shane one more time, bent down and kissed him on the lips. "Be sweet while I'm gone, okay?"
"I'll try to call Donny again," he said as she was about to step out the front door. "I've got his cell."
Crystol stopped, looked back at him. "So you do care."
"Of course I care. I'm sure they're fine, but…you know."
Crystal smiled. "Yeah—I know. Love you." She ducked out the door.
Shane was tired but didn't want to sleep right now. He rubbed his eyes, and then reached for the remote control, switched on the television. Just Saturday morning cartoons, but that was okay. He needed sound and light if he was going to stay awake.
Let's see what-all we've got to choose from, he thought, channel-surfing.
He heard Crystal start her Honda Civic out in the driveway. The sound of its engine faded as she drove off.
Shane's eyelids began to droop. He could feel himself slipping away. He needed to find something loud.
Then: a few sharp knocks.
It took him a moment to react.
Was that our door, or the neighbor's?
More knocking, and sharper, more vigorous, this time.
No, that's definitely us. What could this be? I'm really not in the mood if it's somebody selling something.
Shane hoisted himself off the couch, trudged to the front door. There was a third round of knocking as his hand closed over the doorknob.
This had better be good.
He opened the door.
"Anna Lou…?" Shane squeaked.
For indeed it was Anna Lou on his doorstep. She still wore her hostess uniform from Murl's Famous Country Buffet, right down to the magnetic tag with her name on it.
"Oh, Shane," Anna Lou gushed, "you're all right. I knew you would be. I just knew it."
It was not only Anna Lou's inexplicable presence that unnerved Shane; it was her demeanor. Her hair was unkempt; her makeup smudged; her eyes gleaming with either excitement or anxiety or both. She was trembling a bit too, he noticed.
"What are you doing here, Anna Lou?" Shane asked quietly.
"I've come to get you. I've been waiting so long now. I thought she would never leave."
Shane took a step back in the doorway. "Come to get me for what? I don't know what you're talking about. How did you even know where I lived?"
"I followed y'all after y'all left Murl's. First to that one place, and then all the way home. That's how I knew. I came back here early this morning. And I've been waiting ever since. Oh, I'm so glad to see you're all right. I wasn't sure if it would work."
"Anna Lou," Shane began, choosing his words carefully, "I think you might have gotten the wrong idea."
"No, I haven't. I—"
"I really think you have. I know you have. And I'm sorry to say this, but you probably ought to leave."
"It's okay, Shane," Anna Lou responded soothingly. "I knew you'd put up a fight. You just don't understand yet, that's all. But you will. You will."
"You're the one who's not understanding, Anna Lou. I'm with Crystal now, okay? And I've been with Crystal for a long time. That's not changing."
"Yes it is too," Anna Lou said, advancing on him. "See, that's the thing. Pretty soon you're not going to have Crystal anymore."
"I'm sorry, darlin', but she's about to go away—just like everybody else."