Under New Management
Police Officer Bill Harriman entered Big Mama’s Restaurant and Ice Cream Parlor during his lunch break. He took the only empty stool at the counter next to a young boy with a mop of red hair and a face full of freckles sitting next to the wall.
Handing him a menu, a middle-aged waitress with severe acne asked in a drawl as thick as peanut butter, “Would you like some coffee? I just made a fresh pot.”
He nodded and watched the old timer to his right grimace as he struggled to his feet and shuffled to the cashier to pay his bill.
The waitress returned, put a cup and saucer in front of Harriman, and poured some coffee. “You know what you want, honey, or do you need more time?”
“How are the liver and onions?” he said, placing a wad of gum in a napkin on the counter.
“The best in town. The liver’s fresh as can be and comes with two sides.”
“Sounds good. Let me have mashed potatoes, green beans, and an extra roll, if you don’t mind.”
“The waitress jotted the order down on her pad and placed it on a revolving lazy susan with the others.
Turning to the left, Harriman noticed a Sears catalogue on the counter and pictures of toys the youngster had marked with a crayon. Since Christmas was only a few days away, he looked at the boy and said with a friendly smile, “What’s Santa bringing you for Christmas, son?”
“There’s no such thing as Santa Claus,” the boy said solemnly.
Shocked by this reply, the policeman wondered if the children at the table in front of the counter had heard this. He moved closer to the boy and whispered, ”Most kids your age do believe in Santa, and they’re gonna be very disappointed on Christmas Day if you’re right. I believed in Santa when I was your age. Who told you there’s no Santa?”
“My mother told me,” the boy replied, turning a page of the catalog.
“Haven’t you seen Santa at the mall and all the kids who sit on his knee and tell him what they want for Christmas?”
“My mother says they’re just men in Santa suits.”
“Do you get presents on Christmas morning?”
“And you don’t think Santa brings them.”
“Nope. My mother brings them.”
“What about the Easter Bunny?”
“There’s no such thing as the Easter Bunny.”
The two little girls at the table behind them heard this and started to cry. Their parents glared at Harriman and the boy and placed some cash on the table. Gathering their things, they hauled the wailing girls out the front door.
The officer regretted starting the conversation about Santa with the boy. The restaurant had re-opened under new management only a week before. The last thing he wanted to do was alienate new customers. He could see in the mirror behind the counter the lunch crowd was thinning out.
The waitress placed a plate with an enormous portion of liver and onions, mashed potatoes, and green beans on the counter and refilled his coffee cup. She forgot the extra roll. Cutting off a generous helping of liver, he saw to his dismay that it was blood red. It was a lot more rare than he had bargained for, but he decided not to make an issue of it or the roll.
While chewing his third piece of liver, he bit into a chunk of gristle. He felt his throat spasm as he extracted the inedible piece of cartilage from his mouth without the waitress seeing and placed it in a napkin beside the plate. On the next slice, he bit into a small bone, which caused his misaligned jaw to gnaw off a piece of the inside of his cheek. He didn’t understand the gristle and bone in calf’s liver, but decided to quit while he was ahead. He didn’t finish the remainder of the raw, mystery meat and pledged never to order liver and onions from Big Mama in the future.
Harriman caught a glimpse of what appeared to be an emaciated woman flitting across the corner of the pass-through behind the counter. Since no one alive could be as thin as the figure he thought he saw, he wondered if last night’s scary zombie movie had caused his eyes to play tricks on him. After all, if Big Mamma was the cook, she couldn’t be thin.
Looking around at the empty tables, he noticed he and the boy were the last two customers in the restaurant.
Picking up his plate with the unfinished liver, the waitress said with a toothy grin, “You look like you still have room for a dessert. How about a root beer float? They’re on special this week for $3.00.”
“Now that you mention it,” he said. “I’m dying for one. In fact, that’s why I stopped here in the first place.” He hesitated and looking at the boy asked, “Do you think it would be all right if I bought him one?”
“I think it would be all right. His mother owns the restaurant and ice cream parlor. She’s also the cook.”
Harriman stuck out two fingers and smiled broadly. “I’d like an extra scoop in mine.”
Looking down at the boy, he asked, “Your mother is the owner?”
The boy seemed puzzled by the question and said, “My mother is a ghoul.”
Startled by the reply and knowing they were having a communication gap, Harriman whispered, “Ghoul? You mean girl?”
The boy looked more puzzled.
To clarify, the policeman asked, “What’s a girl?”
Without hesitation, the youngster said, “It’s a boy with no penis.”
“Did you say your mother is a girl?”
“No. I said my mother is a ghoul.” Someone dropped a pan on the floor in the kitchen.
Harriman said, “What’s a ghoul?”
“A person who’s always hungry,” the little boy answered with no hesitation.
The policeman decided the conversation was going nowhere and finished his coffee without further questions. The little boy continued looking through the Sears catalogue.
The waitress brought two root-beer floats, and the policeman and the boy devoured the contents of the large glasses to the last drop.
When the waitress brought the check, the officer placed a twenty on the counter and said, “Keep the change.” He looked at the boy and said, “It was nice talking with you. I‘ll probably see you again soon. I need to get back to catching the bad guys.”
Before returning to his cruiser, Harriman decided to visit the men’s room. He saw a door at the end of the hall with a sign “employees only”. Through the six-inch crack, he saw the kitchen and smelled the aroma of food wafting into the hallway.
Deciding it appropriate to introduce himself to the new owner and to get a better look at the person he’d seen at the pass-through, he tapped lightly on the door and entered.
On the large stove, numerous pots and pans were steaming. He didn’t see the boy’s mother and shouted, “Hello. I’m the local police officer, and I’d like to introduce myself.”
Stopping at the first pot on the stove, he peeked inside and did a double take when he saw a mixture of human fingers and toes swimming in a clear broth coming to a boil.
As he quickly grabbed his sidearm, the ghoul’s sledgehammer struck him in the back of the neck. He crumpled to the tile floor, unable to move his arms or legs.
He heard a giggle. Then the little boy who didn’t believe in Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny knelt down beside him and took a bite out of his nose.
The waitress with acne had a ravenous look on her face as she smacked her bloody lips and shuffled by with a sign that read, “Closed for Repairs”.
Moments later, she returned and dragged Harriman into a meat locker in the back corner of the kitchen. He saw five human carcasses hanging from meat hooks and knew he would be joining them soon. The lips of the ashen corpses were blue with icicles of blood hanging from their frozen fingers and toes.
Finally, the emaciated thing called “Mother” started hacking away at him with her meat cleaver.
This story is found in Shivers and Other Nightmares
and In Your Face Horror
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