Cherry Pie

by Nick Kloppenberg

The cherry pie here makes me smile. I discovered this dingy diner after an interesting business trip to Dallas and I've been coming ever since. The water-stained ceiling and scuffed pine green counter almost sealed its fate as a place I would never return to, but the pie is too damn good. It is now a post-travel tradition that I find really calms the old nerves.

I take in a mouthful of coffee, which needs more sugar, and watch the graying haired waitress as she cuts me up a fat slice. Years of travel and cherry pie have given me and Bethany that close acquaintanceship that affords me the tiny benefit of extra inches to my choice dessert. Her waddle forces me to suppress my diminutive giggle as she places the plated pie horizontal to my cooling coffee.

"More mud?"

"Keep it full. That's my motto."

Her smirk assures that those slices will remain as big as baboon fists. An old, timely waitress like her has nothing else to hold onto but those quick zingers (so sad). She leaves without being able to come up with anything clever herself and tends to the rest of the diner flies. One is rambling on about how his sister won't move out of his apartment and keeps eating all of his pea soup. I love diner flies.

Their stories and complaints add that little zest that always seems to be missing. One time, while in the middle of my pie, one of them was drunk and bawling about how his girlfriend had moved out on him and he had a plan to get her back, all the while Carole King's "It's Too Late" belted its way out of the juke box jammed in the corner. I eventually scampered my way past him and got to the bathroom where I cried my eyes out with glee. The scene was just too much to handle. I sip from my invigorated cup of coffee and focus my attention on the prize piece set in front of me.

I sink my fork into the gushing red confection and it reminds me of the first girl I killed. She was a girl no more than fourteen who had such silky legs. Running my hands up those soft beauties was the hardest thing to stop doing. Those amazing screams of hers are enough to bring on a fit of those awkward giggles of mine. I eye the cherry on the end of my fork and feel it screaming out loud.

"Don't eat me!" it bellows.

I have to, though. I can't help myself, really. Maybe if you weren't so delicious my cherry of a chum, but there's something about you I find too irresistible. Don't hold any of this against me, I beg of you. I shove the cherry into my mouth as Bethany passes to prevent her from getting any ideas about talking to me yet again.

The next, dripping cherry on the end of my utensil is almost a perfect replica of the little blue eyeball I plucked from her resistantly moist socket.

That trip to Dallas had not only increased my sales quota, but left my mind with a craving. I was so jittery after getting back that I couldn't go straight home to Cathy. She would've asked questions and wanted answers that would, at the moment, be too impossible to give. I drove around for almost thirty minutes with my mind in a whirl with what to do. That's when I found Ella's Diner and the best cherry pie this state could provide a person. My hand was shaking so bad as the fork hacked its way through the buttery soft pie crust. Now my hand is Steady Freddy as the final bite slips down my throat.

I always tell Cathy my flight gets in an hour later than it actually does so I can afford myself this one guilty pleasure, and it gives me time to reminisce over my other guilty pleasure as well. A man just needs a good breather after a strenuous trip. It's a plan that, once put into effect, has worked without fail. She's the trusting type. I can't wait to see the kiddies but my God can they be a bit grating. Matt might want to play some video games with me. Haley will almost assuredly need a bed time story read to her. They want their little treats and I'm happy to provide. On my trips, I put it in my agenda to have one day for my own special needs and a day just exploring for those gifts that will make them love their daddy all the more. Being a kid was so weird, such a self-centered time of life.

There's just a little coffee left and I slurp it down before Bethany can instinctively refill it. A full cup's my motto. It's getting close to that time I said I'd be back and the last thing I want is a nag situation. I leave her the customary overly generous tip and wish all the best to Paul, her adopted now honors student. The kid looks alright from the pictures I've seen; he might do something with his life. I do the one last pat down of my person for good and reliable measure and head out to my car. Stray hairs can lead to awkward and silent stare downs.

The diner is only a twenty minute stone's throw from my home. With all those dangers (I'm a danger) out there, I find comfort in placing my family in the safety of the suburbs. The house has been fully paid for and well put together by Cathy. I never knew what a loveseat was before I met her and now I have two on the first floor alone. In my childhood I never had a tire swing, so I made damn sure my kids did when we bought the place. They're usually hanging all over it like retarded gorillas when I pull in, not this time. When I step my way out of the car I stick a piece of gum in my mouth, cinnamon, always cinnamon, to mask any leftover pie and coffee aftertastes. Precautions are as necessary as a bullet proof alibi.

I have my light carry on bag in my right hand as I reach out and open the front door with my left. The off feeling I had when I drove up is now given a rather distressing answer. Instead of smells of some recipe in mid-preparation and Haley and Matt up to no good, I see a man. Before me is a stocky man with a rather trim body in a light green track suit that probably cost him a decent amount. This is only an indiscriminant observation to the noteworthy headpiece he has fashioned for himself. It's enough to make me swallow that still stinging, cinnamony stick of gum.

His head is adorned with what I could only describe as an amalgamation of Matt, Cathy, and Haley's faces that have been crudely thread together. The sewing isn't exactly precise but it's a footnote to seeing my loved ones faces now joined together as one instead of the usual separate three. The bloody and distorted disguise lies uncomfortably over his face and his and my family's hair is a ratty tangle atop his head. Truly a sight I could've never predicted or anticipated for (beautifully savage).

I glance and see a motionless arm laying in a collection of congealing blood behind him which goes to confirm that my whole family is far departed. I can't do anything but drop my light weight designer carry on and remain speechless in front of this crafty monster. He decides to make the introductions.

"Connie Dennett."

That name sounds all too familiar (oh shit!). If the man hadn't been wearing his makeshift monster mask, I'm almost positive I would see the same freckled cheeks, a bit more jowly on him I'm sure, and those glorious green eyes. I killed Connie seven years ago in Saint Louis and now her spirit has returned as a psychotic kin member. Without needing an explanation, his rubber gloved hand presents to me a silencer-equipped hand gun and a shot right to my gut (a silencer, perfect). So silent that the neighborhood watch would never hear it over the sound of their glazed donuts. A point made all too clear by the fact that he has decimated my family with what appears to have been little interruption. I land half inside and outside the house and I have time to see the growing, unstoppable stain on my shirt as he lugs me back into my tomb of a home and slams the door shut and then the sound of the lock's function put to use.

He unclips the gun and takes out the bullet that still resided in the chamber and sets it down next to my gushing gut. Oh he's a tease; he knows I could never load it in time. A piece of cheese on a trap for the rat. He then puts a dazzling silver scalpel in my diminishing view and I notice the hint of red on the blade. As I feel the man at work I think about my family and the excruciating end they had. I try to force a tear but it's the hardest thing I've ever done in my life.

BIO: Nick is a recent college graduate living in Saint Louis, Missouri and this is his first story to be published, and he's super psyched about it.