Haberdasher’s, or: The American Classic as an Appetizer to Extinction

The clouds form a lucid hand, which at first reaches out from the heavens towards Ghoul, but then closes into a fist and plunges downward, striking the suburbs beyond a tree line.

“Was that God?” Ghoul says, turning to Spoon for affirmation.

“All things are God,” Spoon replies. “This rock? God. The fallen leaves? God. You, me? God.”

A homeless person stumbles out of a back alley, swigging booze from a brown bagged bottle. He stops and raises a pointed finger at Ghoul.

“Fuck you,” the homeless man vitriols. “Fuck you and that horse that’s there withya.” He trips over nothing and becomes impaled on exposed rebar. The metal rod rams through his sternum, exploding out of his chest in a gratuitous display of gore. Blood and bodily fluid leak out of his orifices. The man convulses, defecates, and dies.

Spoon extends an upward-facing palm towards the soiled corpse. “God.”

“Perhaps,” Ghoul replies.

They continue down the sidewalk towards one of their usual haunts, Haberdasher’s, a diner at the edge of the tar pits. The hole-in-the-wall is the size and shape of an inflated boxcar. The exterior décor is a red neon-trimmed relic facsimiled from the cover of a discarded 1950s travel magazine; fraught with faded facades and fraying at the seams.

The door chime rattles against the glass as Ghoul and Spoon enter the diner. They slide into a checker-patterned booth with a view of the tar pits. The laminate menus are stained and sticky. Ghoul disinterestedly flips through the entrée section before returning the menu to the stand at the end of the table.

The aromatic blend of brewed coffee and burnt toast is ubiquitous. Patrons pepper the padded stools encircling the lunch counter. Some scrape scraps of hashbrown into buttery yolk while others stare with anticipation at the grill just out of arm’s reach. The cook throws strips of bacon onto a frying pan. The grease and fat sizzle-pops.

A waitress stops at Ghoul and Spoon’s booth after checking on a nearby table. She removes a pen from an apron pocket and flips open her scratchpad.

“Unsweets?” she asks.

“Yes,” Ghoul replies. “With lemon.”

“Are y’all ready to order?”

“I think so. Spoon?”

Spoon closes his menu. “Chicken fingers and fries,” he says.

The waitress scribbles down diner code.

“And for you?”

“I’ll have the cheeseburger, please.”

“Fries OK with that?”

“Yes.”

“And how do you want it cooked?”

“Bleeding.”

“I’ll have these right out for you,” the waitress says with a smile. She walks over to the order window, attaches the ticket to a small carousel, and rings a bell.

“How’s she doing?” Ghoul asks.

Spoon shrugs. “About the same. I’m timing her to see how long it takes her to bring us our teas.”

“I meant Fork.”

“She and I are both anthropomorphized cutlery living in a suburban neighborhood constructed near a series of massive tar pits; all of which is contained within a short story written by a group of maniacs that share a single pseudonym because subterfuge sexually excites them. How do you think we’re doing?”

“Well?”

“She’s started to rust.”

“I’m sorry.”

An unexpectedly strong gust of leafy wind stereotypically blows open the diner’s door. Nerdo steps through, shirt pocket protected and d20s in hand. He raises a V and Spocks the entire diner. After surveying the available seating, Nerdo enthrones himself upon a boomerang-shaped booth. He scoots to the middle, scatters his dice across the table, and orders a soda topped with a scoop of ice cream.

Spoon spits daggers from his eyes. “I hate that kid,” he mutters.

Ghoul looks over his shoulder and sees Nerdo slugging down his float with a single endless sip of a straw. “Ignore him.” He reorients to Spoon. “What happens now? Is she getting treatment?”

“The physiology of cutlery is complicated,” Spoon begins. “We’ve consulted with various experts. They’re generally baffled, but all agree the mere fact that we’re conscious and self-aware in the first place defies all currently established scientific and biological principles. However, they surmise the rust is the result of a post-hypnotic suggestion brought on by acute–”

The obnoxious sound of a straw sucking the air from the bottom of a mostly empty cup disrupts Spoon’s train of thought. Annoyance contorts his countenance.

Nerdo picks up a pair of dice and absentmindedly tosses them across the table. Snake eyes.

“Odd,” Ghoul says, staring out the window. “Since when have we been keeping the undead in the tar pits?”

Spoon follows Ghoul’s gaze to the hordes of walking corpses lurching towards the diner.

“Hold on,” Spoon says. He looks up at the digital ceiling (or paper ceiling, depending on how you choose to consume your quality, highbrow literary art.) “Fuckin’ zombies? Really?”

They’re not zombies, we reply. They’re transmortals that self-identify as living.

“Oh, OK,” Spoon says. “That makes sense.”

Nerdo rolls the dice again.

Stop writing for a second. I’m going down there to straighten the narrative before things get out of hand. Hit pause.

||

A patron sitting at the lunch counter spins around on his stool. His face is the Universe. He walks over to the window and sees the transmortals frozen in mid-stride.

“We need to make this story more equitable,” I begin. “It’s lacking balance. It’s missing symmetry.”

He turns towards the boomerang booth and snaps his fingers. “Nerdo. What did you roll?”

“Seven,” Nerdo intones.

“Spoon,” I continue. “What’s your magic resistance?”

“Four-million.”

“Perfect.” The possessed patron produces a single clap with his hands. “Going forward,” I say. “Ghoul – to you, the transmortals will appear as unwieldly walking scissors. And for you, Spoon, they will appear as demonic geodes.” I continue, “But in reality, they’re still transmortals.”

He returns to his spot at the lunch counter.

“OK,” I say. “Bring me back.”

Should we bring him back?

Why wouldn’t we?

He’s a pretentious dick.

“Hello?”

Yes, but he’s our pretentious dick.

Fine.

A spinning vortex of glowing nebulae and illuminated particles opens above the possessed patron. He disintegrates. The portal closes with a flash and a resounding snap of cold thunder.

Press play.

>

“I was mistaken,” Ghoul says. “They’re actually giant sentient scissors (read: demonic geodes.)”

A patron in an unnecessarily large cowboy hat stands from the lunch counter. “There’s only one sensible thing to do now,” he says, striding across the room to a dust-bespeckled jukebox. He inserts a pair of quarters and makes his selection. It’s the End of the World as We Know It crackles through the blown out speakers. The patron pulls a revolver from his waistband and points it at the one remaining customer at the lunch counter.

“I feel fine,” he says, squeezing the trigger.

The customer’s head explodes. Brain pulp and skull chips splatter across the grill, hissing as they splash into the oily fat-grease secreted by the partially-fried bacon. The customer’s body crumples to the floor. The patron pivots, places the pistol’s sight on the cook, and fires. The cook grabs the frying pan and deflects the bullet with ninja dexterity. The projectile ricochets off the Teflon and punches a hole through a ceiling tile. The patron discharges another round. The cook swings and misses. The bullet penetrates his neck, erupting his esophagus into B-movie fountains of gore. His body explodes, redecorating the room with blood and soggy chunks of flesh. Everyone is drenched in crimson. Everything tastes like cholesterol mixed with iron.

“That’s great,” the patron says. “Something. Something. Something. Something. Something. Leonard Bernstein.” He shoves the barrel into his mouth and blows his brains out. His body falls to the floor, making a series of exaggerated cartoon sound effects as it flops into a shallow pool of blood.

The gun randomly discharges of its own accord, putting a round into Spoon’s stomach. He grabs his abdomen and slowly slides to the ground. Ghoul kneels and cradles him in his arms.

“Come on,” Ghoul says through gritted teeth. “Not this spoon. Not today.” He violently shakes Spoon. “Stay with me.”

Spoon coughs up metal shavings and murmurs incoherently.

The demonic geodes (read: unwieldly walking scissors) swarm and slither along the exterior surface of the diner. Nerdo pulls a d20 from his pocket and rolls it on a nearby table.

“I suddenly feel more intuitive,” he says.

The unwieldly walking scissors (read: demonic geodes) scrape the windows and pound at the front entrance. Nerdo crouches down next to Spoon and Ghoul. He places a hand to each of their heads and aligns his fingers with their temples.

“Your thoughts to his thoughts,” Nerdo begins. He closes his eyes. “His thoughts to your thoughts. Your thoughts to your thoughts. His thoughts to his thoughts. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten. Jinx. You owe me a Coke.”

A scissor arm impales Nerdo through the chest, spraying copious amounts of blood onto Spoon and Ghoul. Nerdo spits up frothy bile. He looks down at the monstrous blade jutting from his rib cage. He languishes and rasps, “Saving throw.” He tosses a single d20 to the floor. It bounces several times before rolling to a stop. 1.

The second arm of the scissor bears down on Nerdo, shattering his skull then cleanly slicing him in half.

Spoon and Ghoul’s minds synchronize. The transmortals metamorphose into demonic walking scissor rocks. They crush themselves into dust and blow away with an unexpectedly strong gust of leafy wind.

A waitress appears from a back room with a cup of unsweet iced tea in each of her hands. She crosses the diner, stepping over bodies and being careful not to slip.

“Here you go,” the waitress cheerfully says, placing the drinks on the table. She curtsies and walks off.

Spoon grabs Ghoul by the collar and brings him close, whispering into his ear, “Forty-seven minutes.”

 

Brian Auspice

 

Brian Auspice exists in the dimensions between realities. There, nestled comfortably amongst the incomprehensibly complex geometrical shapes, he roasts coffee. He also has a website: https://www.bauspice.com. BrrZzrbrbr.

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