I wake up in a haze. Where am I? I can hear cars outside and I smell fresh coffee. I open my eyes to a bright light. Once they adjust I can see stacks of plates and napkins and salt and pepper shakers. I sit up and look to find that I am in the supply closet at work. A hole in the wall diner off Interstate Forty-Five. The door creaks open.
"You better get back to work. The boss will be here any minute," says an elderly woman with white hair and a blue and green apron around her waist.
"Yeah, I'm getting there," I reply. I get to my feet and adjust my shirt. I open the door to see an empty diner yet again. We rarely had customers these days save for our morning regulars from the lodge. I check the coffee pots and the dessert fridge to make sure everything is in order. Glancing at the clock, I note the time to be 3:46 in the morning. Only an hour left of my shift, but I don't remember coming in. Last I knew it was my weekend off. I walk to the newspaper stand. Yesterday's date reads Monday, October Eleventh. How did I miss three days? It was Saturday when I - wait, what was I doing? The last thing I remember is waking up Saturday morning in my apartment and now it's almost four in the morning on Tuesday.
I grab a cup of coffee and throw my apron on the counter. Walking outside the crisp air hits me like a train. When did it get cold? I brush it off and don't think of it again.
When I get to my car I notice my duffle bag in the back seat. I don't remember packing it. I wasn't going anywhere. I search the bag to find two changes of clothes and my hiking boots. My camping gear is tossed around it as well. What happened the last three days? I search for my messenger bag. Nowhere. Lighting up a cigarette, I walk back to the diner.
Tossing back my coffee, which had almost gone cold already, I go back into the diner. I sit at the counter and try to recall anything. I was in my own thoughts for almost half an hour before I gave up. Where is the boss? He should be here by now. I walk into the kitchen. No ones here. Where did that lady go? I don't even know who she is, come to think of it. I search the diner and when I return to the dining floor I find a man sitting at the counter.
"I apologize, sir. I didn't hear you come in. What can I get you this morning?"
"Coffee, black.," he replies without looking up from his notepad.
I notice his coat is about two sizes too big for him. His hair is black and long and his eyes sunken into their sockets.
"Just passing through," I ask as I place his coffee in front of him.
"You could say that." He smiles, but his eyes seem to look past me.
"Let me know if you need anything more." I walk to the window and, while looking out, I notice that I can't see the interstate. It's always busy. There is no fog to cloud my view so where is everyone?
I couldn't help but feel lost. I am missing three whole days and I can't remember a second of them. Almost as soon as I finish my thought, the lights go out. Darkness fills the diner and parking lot.
"You alright, sir? The emergency lights should kick on soon."
"Yes, I'm fine." The tone in his voice sounds as if he is smiling.
I feel my way back to the counter. Not even the street lights are on to help. I feel a draft pass by me as if someone had run into the kitchen. I turn, but I still cannot see anything. The emergency lights finally kick on and I look to find the man is gone; nowhere in sight. The lights don't help much. They are dim and yellowed from years of cigarettes. I rummage through the junk drawer in search of a flashlight. I feel something rush past again. I jerk upright. Another one passes and then two more. This is just too much. I have to get out. I run outside. Maybe I'm dreaming. I'll wake up soon.
I rush to my car and the radio blares through the speakers as I turn the key in the ignition. I shift it into drive and speed out the parking lot as fast as my car will allow. I drive into the dark; maybe only a minute or two passes until I am facing the diner again. I pull a U-turn and set off again only to find myself back in the parking lot. I stare at the diner in disbelief. This has to be a dream. I just have to get through it.
I slowly get out of the car and make my way into the diner.
"It's just an odd dream," I say to myself.; trying to convince my heart to slow. I pour another coffee and light a cigarette. I smoke three more before I notice my messenger bag in the far corner booth. Papers and notes all over the table. I can't read the notes. It's all scribbles and random letters. I can't make out anything.
As I dump the contents of my bag onto the table, the bell for the door chimes. I look up to see the man. In an instant, my head seers in pain. I clutch my forehead with one hand while using the other to keep myself standing. Within a few minutes, the pain subsides to a dull ache and I see the man. He's surrounded by dark smoke. No, not smoke. Some sort of beings. They are floating, but I can't make out any real shape to them. Three, maybe four, of them surround him.
"Damon," the man states. "I may be passing through, but so are you."
"What? I think you need to leave, sir. I don't think you should be here right now."
"I've come for you. It's time to face reality." His voice is deep this time. It cracks and stutters, but his lips don't move. "It's time you join us."
"Join you? What the fuck are you talking about?" The words escaped my mouth before I even thought it through. "Excuse me, I'm just a bit freaked out right now. Again, I need to ask you to leave."
'We are your family now. Is that not what you wanted? A family of your own?"
"I don't understand. Who are you? What family?" I scream.
"Look again, Damon. Look at the table and read."
I turn towards the booth. Only one paper remains. Stained with blood and dated, Saturday, October Ninth.
I can't keep going. I need a family. I need more than this diner. I'm done. I'm giving in to the thoughts. No one will miss me anyway.
I shook as I read the note. It started to come back to me. The campsite, the river flowing below the cliff. Oh. There I was, next to the river. Lying on the bloody rocks with the note still clutched in my hand. I wasn't pushed. I didn't fall.
Right before the man grabs me, I see blood flow into my eyes.