Helen Marry shook the offered hand of the chef and smiled, after a brief conversation she turned and left Cafe Ouija. Her usually pale and unemotional face was alive with colour and excitement. Helen hardly even noticed the December snow that was soaking through her jacket and slicking her black hair to her head. Helen's smile turned to a grin as she stepped onto Park Road and skidded across the street to the chip shop. Her friends were sitting in a window booth and waved as she pushed open the door.
"Lady and gents, you are feasting your bug eyed stare rods at the newest waitress of Cafe Ouija!" Helen threw her arms wide and flung her head back. When cheers and applause were not forthcoming she opened her eyes and frowned at her friends, none of them wanted to meet her gaze and that could only mean one thing. Helen sighed; she pulled off her jacket and flopped into a chair.
"What's wrong with Cafe Ouija?" Every time she found a job her friends felt the need to find out the creepiest, weirdest or just plain dumbest story about the place. Joanna Black turned to the two boys but they refused to look up, she scowled and kicked them both under the table.
"It's nothing really. Just the girl you replaced ended up at Harker Falls because she caught leprosy from the cook." Helen stared at her for a moment before standing up and putting her coat on again.
"Where are you going?" asked Lee Bun, his floppy brown hair drooped over intense grey eyes.
"I am going home. I'm tired of listening to your crap. Just because you lot don't work and you want me to spend all my time with you. I don't have mummy and daddy to give me all my money, I have to earn it. Besides which, if the last waitress had caught leprosy that place wouldn't still be open and the chef is fine. No missing parts or anything so you lot are so full of crap I can practically smell it!" shouted Helen. Patrick Grant, his red hair spiked up with so much gel he could stab someone, winced and slumped down into his chair a little further. As nobody appeared to have anything to say, Helen spun on her heel and headed back out into the snow.
Helen was halfway home when she realized she had left all her paperwork from cafe Ouija on the table at the chip shop. She sighed and stood undecided in the middle of the pavement.
"Fuck a duck" she muttered. A hand dropped onto her shoulder and Helen shrieked and spun around, almost falling backwards over a low wall. Joanna gave a small smile and held out a hand full of papers.
"I think you forgot this."
"Cheers" snapped Helen, snatching them away from her friend. Joanna kicked at a lump of snow and bit her lip.
"Pat's kinda pissed at you" she said. Helen raised an eyebrow and snorted.
"Your point being what? I'm beyond pissed at you three. Everything I do something I'm happy or proud of you lot come along and shit all over it. I'm done, okay? No more. I don't need friends like you." Helen tucked the papers into her jacket and stomped up the path towards her house.
At 8.30 sharp the next morning, Helen left her house in the Cafe Ouija uniform. It consisted of black trousers covered in silver stars, a white rib top with the name of the cafe emblazoned across the shoulders in more silver and a white apron. Helen's hair was pulled back into a ponytail and there was only the vaguest hint of makeup on her face. There had been a thaw in the night and the snow was turning to a sludgy mess that made walking almost impossible. Helen just made it to the back door of Cafe Ouija before she actually slipped over, swearing a little she jumped up and knocked on the door.
"Hiya Helen. Come on in" said Seth Udohaya, the chef held out his hand and Helen shook it. A fleeting image of crumbling skin and digits falling off in her hand were pushed aside as she followed him to the locker room. Two other waitresses were just stepping into their shoes; they both looked up when Helen entered. Seth went to one of the lockers and pulled the little cardboard name tag out, he turned his over and wrote Helen's name on the other side. She put her bag inside and locked it, slipping the key in her pocket.
"Okay, this is Purdy and Star. They'll be training you. Must rush, breakfasts to make and all that" said Seth. He held out a hand and Helen shook it before turning back to the two girls. Purdy was a tall, willowy blonde with a pinched face and Star was a short, plump girl with masses of tightly curled plum coloured hair. Helen smiled and put on her best let's be friends face but the look wasn't returned, she folded her arms across her chest. Purdy smiled and a little and led the way across the room towards the main cafe.
"Sorry, we just didn't realise that Seth was taking anyone else on" she said. Star pulled at Helen's sleeve a little, her voice was distant and almost floaty.
"We thought Goldie was coming back. We liked Goldie." Purdy shushed her friend as the door swung open and a tall, muscular guy with a ponytail squeezed past carrying a mop and bucket. Helen smiled and he winked back before heading into the bathroom.
"Who's he?" asked Helen. Purdy turned her nose up and sniffed.
"That's just Jack. He cleans" she said. Helen decided that Purdy was a snob but kept her mouth shut, she was also wondering who Goldie was. The last waitress she presumed. Before she could stop herself, a question had passed her lips and she wanted to smack herself upside the head.
"Did Goldie end up at Harker Falls?" Star and Purdy stared at her for a moment before glancing at eachother and trying to assume and look of nonchalance that was too little too late.
"We don't know. She stayed behind to clean one night and didn't come in the next day" said Purdy. Helen nodded slowly and changed the subject by asking which section was hers.
The day went well and Helen was almost disappointed when the end of her shift rolled around at 4pm. She collected her bag and Seth let her out the back door.
"I'm very pleased with your progress today, Helen. Do you think you could start a little later tomorrow? I'm planning on closing about an hour early and having a ruddy good clean before the weekend." Helen said that shouldn't be a problem and waved over her shoulder as she headed home.
Helen was so absorbed in her thoughts of the extra money and the following spending spree that she didn't notice the dark figure that stepped onto the path untill they were almost nose to nose. Helen gasped and scrabbled backwards while Joanna raised her arms and apologised.
"Why do you keep jumping out at me? There are easier ways of killing someone then scaring them to death" said Helen, she was breathing hard and leaning against a low wall. Joanna lowered her arms and apologised again.
"I thought you saw me."
"What do you want anyway? Come to take the piss out of my uniform?" Joanna smiled a little and sighed.
"No. We want you to come to Pat's and watch bad movies with us, like we used to. Too much pizza and orange blood?" Helen thought for a moment before swallowing and shrugging.
"Okay. Trot on Dobbin" she said. Joanna grinned and led the way through a little alley to Pat's back door. She knocked and the kitchen window opened, Pat and Lee leaned out.
"Who goes there?"
"Open the door you pillocks!" cried Joanna, stamping her feet against the cold. The door swung open and the two girls hurried inside.
Once inside the living room, Helen shrugged out of her coat before snagging a slice of pizza and a can of Coke. She flopped into an overstuffed leather recliner and flicked off her shoes.
"How was your first day?" asked Lee, he slipped a Blue Ray disc into the player and picked up the remote.
"Good, I really like it. The other two girls there are a bit off, they were calling me Goldie all the damn day. There's also a seriously hot dude there call Jack, I'd hit that" she said, grinning around a mouthful of pizza. Pat frowned and threw his empty can into the bin.
"Isn't Goldie the girl that caught . . . Er that left?" he said, catching himself before the dreaded L word could slip from his lips. Helen shrugged and stared at the screen, she could see Lee biting his lip from the corner of her eye. She should have known they couldn't just have a nice evening.
"I know you don't wanna hear this, but if that Goldie girl did have leprosy then the whole place is contaminated." Helen sighed and laid her head back against the top of the recliner.
"You said the chef gave it to her. I've seen him and he's perfectly healthy, not to mention the fact that nobody else has reported any cases of anything even remotely like leprosy after eating there. It's a crock of shit, I don't know how many more times I can say it" she said, trying to stay calm despite the building temper tantrum she could feel rising in her chest. Lee opened his mouth to speak again but Pat and Joanna, recognizing the signs of a brewing argument, opened another pizza box and quickly changed the subject.
The next day, Helen got to Cafe Ouija for 2pm. This time she wore old jeans and a t shirt to clean in. Her mind was still on the conversation with Lee from yesterday; she turned her head and stared over the rooftops at Harker Falls. It was a huge, white mansion perched on the top of a hill. It had started life as a home for wayward children, then it became a home for the elderly and now it was a kind of hospital for people that couldn't live alone anymore. Helen sighed, she didn't really want to be asking questions on her second day but it was definitely one way of getting her so called friends off her back.
Seth told Helen to work with Jack, they were going to take the first cleaning shift and do the kitchen and then Purdy and Star would relieve them and do the customer areas. They decided to start on the locker room and staff toilet first to give Seth a chance to clear some of the kitchen. Helen grabbed a cloth and started on the mirrors while Jack pulled the lockers away from the wall and began to sweep.
"So, is this just for my benefit or do all the new girls have to clean the place on their second day?" said Helen, picking up the tin of polish. Jack laughed and shook his head.
"Nah, Seth likes to do a really good clean once a week. The girl you took over from was a serious clean freak. She's stay every night on her own and really scrub the place untill it shone. Then she had her accident and we never saw her again." Helen's heart skipped, an accident? That would make more sense and it would explain how Goldie ended up at Harker Falls if the accident was so bad she couldn't take care of herself anymore.
"What accident? I hope she's okay" replied Helen, trying not to sound too interested. Jack sniffed and shrugged before pushing the lockers back into place.
"We don't know. I came in the next day to find a finger on the cooker out there. Seth insisted that she must have been fiddling with the meat slicer and cut it off but I don't think that's what happened. The skin around the edge of all crumbling and flaky, it looked like it just sort of dropped off. We never saw her again. That's happened a couple of times to be honest, random body parts turning up but the police are never called. I think Seth's worried about us being closed down. I've never found a whole body though so as far as I'm concerned, I do my job and keep my mouth shut. I'd suggest you do the same thing. Waitresses don't last long round here." Helen turned to find Jack staring at her; there was a strange look on his face. The only way she could describe it was like a wolf grinning at a cornered sheep.
"Yeah, I'll do that" she whispered. Jack suddenly smiled, his face lightening immediately and turned away to get the mop. Helen took a shaky breath before deciding that maybe a field trip to Harker Falls was in order.
When Purdy and Star arrived, Helen was exhausted and secretly in awe of Goldie if she had managed to clean the whole place on her own after every shift. Helen picked up her coat and crossed the kitchen towards the back door; she stopped for a moment and stared at the meat slicer. The whole leprosy thing was crap, it had to be. If Jack had found a finger then it must have been sliced off or maybe ripped off? That would explain a ragged cut. But how could the skin look flaky and crumbling? Helen shook her head and stepped out into the icy night air. She started up the road towards her house but, once she was out of sight of Cafe Ouija, she turned up the hill and headed for Harker Falls.
Helen stopped at the front door to Harker Falls; she suddenly wasn't so sure she wanted to be here at night. Just as she was turning away to go home, the door opened and a lady stepped out. She was short and plump with glasses and a ruddy complexion, her brown hair was chopped into a sensible bob.
"Hello there. Can I help you at all?"
"Goldie?" The word was out before Helen could stop it. The woman smiled and stood aside, Helen walked through the door and waited for her to close it.
"This way." Helen followed the woman up the stairs and down a short corridor; plain brown doors lined both walls. She almost seemed to pick one at random; she knocked brusquely and pushed it open. Helen stepped into the darkened room and jumped as the door clicked shut behind her.
"Who are you?" The voice was cracked and dry as the desert, it didn't so much float across the room as haul its arse to Helen's ears.
"My name's Helen. I was looking for Goldie. She used to waitress at Cafe Ouija and -" Helen was cut off by a dry chuckle, she peered into the gloom but she still couldn't make out where the voice was coming from.
"Let me guess. You're the new girl, right?" Helen couldn't seem to find her voice so she just nodded, a chill trickled down her spine as another chuckle dragged its way across to her.
"You work with Seth? He's not human you know. I'm not sure what he is exactly but I know he's not human. Seth's infected with a disease, it's like leprosy but it works faster than that. Did he insist on shaking your hand every time he met you?" Helen felt tears prick the backs of her eyes as she remembered Seth shaking her hand, not once but four times in the last few days.
"How is he not human?" she asked, edging towards the door.
"He eats human flesh but he doesn't have any teeth. He infects us with this disease so the flesh just slips from our bones and then he can suck it up." Helen felt her stomach do a lazy flip and leaned against the wall for support. One of the shadows detached itself from the others and hobbled up to her, it stopped in a patch of moonlight that streaked in through the window. Helen closed her eyes but the image wouldn't go away. The thing that had once been Goldie was hunched over; clumps of flesh peeled away from its face and slices of bone glinted in the dim light.
"Horrible isn't it? He only chooses certain people for this you know. You should feel honoured that Seth picked you, I didn't at first but I'm coming round to the idea. We're special, hang on to that idea during your time here." Helen's eyes snapped open; her voice was a hoarse whisper.
"What do you mean? During my time here? I'm not staying here." Goldie raised a hand and, with a movement that was almost too quick to see, she snapped out her hand and pulled something from Helen's hair.
"It's too late. It's already started." Goldie held out her hand to Helen, she looked down and felt the strength leave her legs. Helen slipped down the wall, her eyes never leaving the ragged piece of flesh in Goldie's hand. The door was locked from the outside as Helen stared at what had once been her left ear.