The Chicken Coop
by Rachel Zellers
part 1 of 2
Astar adjusted the pink uniform until she was certain anyone who looked would get a nice eyeful of her cleavage. She bit her lip and glanced down her blouse. Not quite enough. She undid another button.
“That really isn’t necessary,” a man said from the back booth, the flickering fluorescent light casting odd shadows on his angular face.
She stuck out her heavily rouged bottom lip. “Let me at least play with the customers this time, Sam.”
He waved a white long fingered hand at her. “I guess it couldn’t hurt to let you have a little fun first.”
She beamed at him. “Thanks, Sam.”
“Well, no one’s going to have any fun tonight if Aldi doesn’t get off his kiester!” Sam glanced toward the kitchen, but the little round window set in the aluminum door was so greasy he couldn’t even tell if Aldi was there.
Astar plopped down across from him and lit a cigarette, one of those long skinny ones with the flowers on the filter. “He really hates doing this.”
“Yeah, well, rejects don’t get to pick and choose. It isn’t my fault he’s all washed up. By the way, is he still saying that it was him that caused that tsunami?” He smirked.
Astar rolled her eyes. “That and a couple hurricanes.”
“I doubt he could muster a good fart, let alone a mass catastrophe.”
“Go easy on him, Sam. He misses the glory days, just like the rest of us.”
Sam snatched her cigarette and took a long drag. “Sure, sure. But you don’t hear me complaining about it. The past is the past. We have so much to look forward to.”
“Here we go,” she sighed.
“What? I mean, seriously. The Apocalypse has to be any day now.”
“You’ve been saying that since the sixties.
Sam shook his head. “I really didn’t think society could get any worse... and the fashion!”
Astar leaned over the table and winked at him. “It can always get worse, love.”
He flashed his brilliant white teeth at her in a wicked grin. “I’m counting on it.”
* * *
“This is ridiculous,” Aldi hissed, his hands gripping the steering wheel.
Rakshasa swiveled a multi-faceted eye at him. “Quit complaining,” he said in a voice that sounded like a cross between sneezing and throwing up.
“I mean, really. Why do I have to do this? Couldn’t Sam just buy a better place?”
“You know Sam’s broke. Bad investments.”
Aldi snorted. “He’d do better in the stock market if he didn’t insist on investing in only morally corrupt companies, you know.”
He took a hard left into the Waffle Hut parking lot, and Rakshasa slid into him.
Aldi pushed him away in disgust. “Man, keep your antenna to yourself!”
Rakshasa’s paper-thin lips turned up in the parody of a smile. He held up three of his six, stick thin appendages. “Quit driving like a maniac.”
“Wear a seatbelt!”
“They make my thorax itchy.”
“Yeah, whatever,” Aldi grumbled as he pulled the ski mask over his face. “Keep the car running,” he said over his shoulder as he got out of the car.
Aldi cursed all the way to the trunk, took out the crow bar and stalked into the Waffle Hut.
He swung open the door and was assailed with a funk that only Waffle Hut could produce, like an unflushed toilet, stale grease, and B.O . Aldi wasn’t like his pals — bad smells made his stomach turn. He was a nature demon — he’d never been to Hell, but he thought Waffle Hut probably came close.
It was third shift and only two employees were ‘working’. The cook, an enormous man that perspired profusely over the grill, barked, “Welcome to Waffle Hut,” without turning around. The waitress was a skinny girl with stringy, greasy hair and a uniform that didn’t look like it had been washed in ages.
She beamed at him, grabbed a sticky, plastic menu and brightly chirped. “Sit anywhere ya like, hon.”
He just stood there and blinked at her. Didn’t she see the crow bar and ski mask?
“You eatin’ babe, or do you just want some coffee?” The waitress swished a pot of black sludge in his direction.
Aldi shook his head. “Neither, thanks,” he mumbled.
Suddenly, the jukebox blared to life. Aldi cringed. Please, by Ysgaroth’s teats, don’t let it be-
“There are... raisins in my toast!” sang an absurdly falsetto voice.
It was answered by a ridiculous baritone. “Raisin toast, at Waffle Hut.”
He bowed his head in defeat. It wasn’t going to be his night at all. Aldi crouched low and sprang forward on powerful muscular legs. He hopped onto the bar and kicked a sugar dispenser.
The waitress put her hands on her hips. “I ain’t got the code to the safe, jerk!”
He jumped behind the counter and pushed the cook out of the way, sending the big man crashing into the dishwashing machine. “Don’t worry, toots,” he said as he swung the crowbar over his head. “I’m not interested in cash.” He shattered the plates over the grill in one swipe of the crow bar.
Aldi turned his attention to the rest of the diner. He smashed the globe lights. Broke the dishwasher. Killed the toilets. All the while the waitress and cook just looked on with detached interest.
With a satisfied grunt, Aldi observed his handiwork. The place was trashed. They would have to close for the night, for sure.
“What the hell is wrong with you, man? the cook asked, shaking the greasy spatula at him.
“Stuff a sock in it, mortal!” Aldi shook his fist at the big man.
Had it been long ago, the man would’ve trembled before him. He was Aldinach the Wrathful! He’d turned the Nile to dust. He’d sunk Atlantis. And Pompeii... that was him, too! But now... the man just blinked at him. No cowering, no begging for his pathetic mortal life.
“You got issues, man.” The cook shrugged and sat at the bar, pulling a cigar from his apron.
Aldi threw up his hands in despair and stormed out of Waffle Hut.
* * *
“You look pissed,” Rakshasa gurgled.
Aldi sped down the freeway as the lights from patrol cars faded in the distance.
“You do realize, Rak, that this is the most demoralizing thing ever. Mortals don’t fear me anymore.” Aldi tried not to sound so hurt, but his strong voice quavered.
Rakshasa made a wet wheezing sound that Aldi assumed was a sigh. “And the less they fear, the weaker we get. I blame television and computer graphics.”
“What were you like?” Aldi asked.
“I was hideous. I towered at least three stories, had several heads and was always covered in gore. And my stink! I could kill a hundred men with my odor alone.”
Aldi nodded in appreciation. “Impressive. But you’re still pretty disgusting.”
“Thanks. You know what I fear the most?”
“That one day I’ll just keep shrinking... I’ll end up being normal cockroach size, and a mortal will squish me.”
* * *
“What do you think, Sam? Isn’t it just precious!” Astar gave Sam’s arm a tight squeeze.
Sam squinted up at the sign. It was a giant chicken. A cute chicken. With a bow tie. “I wasn’t going for ‘precious’, Astar.”
The demon’s face fell, and her shoulders slumped. “Well, I think mortals will like it and that’s the point, isn’t it?”
“But... I doubt they’ll look at that and get hungry.”
Astar threw down her paintbrush and sighed haughtily. “Screw you, Sam. We don’t even serve chicken. Which begs the question: Why did you name the place “Chicken Coop”?”
Sam turned to her, black eyes glinting in the streetlights. He smiled. “Think about it.”
Astar put a red nail to her chin. “I’m not following.”
Sam didn’t say anything. He just kept smiling.
Sudden realization lit up her painted face. “Oh... you’re quite the twisted boy, Samael.”
He laughed. “I’m twisted? I don’t eat the customers, remember?”
“Then how’d you know that they do, in fact, taste like chicken?”
Sam shrugged. “Lucky guess. After a while, God got lazy. I’m pretty sure most everything tastes like chicken.”
Just then Aldi’s 1984 Buick Century slid into the parking lot, spraying Astar and Sam with gravel and dust. Astar shrieked and brushed the debris off her faded pink uniform before storming off. Sam briefly considered setting the Buick on fire with a hot glare.
Aldi swung his long legs out of the car and stood, his swarthy face darkened further by what Sam assumed was rage.
“Well?” Sam asked.
“The deed is done. Waffle Hut is closed for the night. Losing the police was sure fun. And you want to know the best part?” Aldi was fuming, gesturing wildly as Rakshasa skittered toward the back of the restaurant.
“Please, the suspense is killing me.” Sam quipped dryly.
“The mortals weren’t even scared of me. I even did the ski mask and crowbar thing and they just stood there like they were bored.”
Sam crossed his arms over his chest. “You prefer the alternative? I thought my offer was more than generous.”
“I’m starting to believe that fading into nothing is better than this. At least I wouldn’t be humiliated. I mean, you were once great... one of the greatest. How do you deal with this crap?”
Sam tapped his chin thoughtfully. “You know what your problem is, Aldi? You’re a pessimist. Look, I jumped through a lot of hoops to set up this little party for our friends. Don’t screw it up. This will help all of us.”
Aldi kicked at a loose stone with a scuffed tennis shoe. “I don’t see how.”
The elder demon smiled and held up a bone-white finger. “We’ll make them fear us again. Little by little.”
* * *
“Man, this blows! I wanted some raisin toast!” Larry jammed his hands into the pockets of his hoodie and gave the tire of his El Camino a kick. “If I don’t get something to eat, I’m gonna die.”
Trish couldn’t believe it. Waffle Hut was closed. The place was dark and the doors were locked. In all of her twenty-four years she’d never known that to happen. “Must be the apocalypse,” she muttered wryly to herself.
“Come on, Trish. I’m starving. I’m just gonna drive and stop at the first place I see.” Larry got back into the El Camino and patted the seat by him. Trish slid in next to him.
“Just no Taco Shack,” Trish grumbled. “I’ll be on the toilet for a week.”
Larry chuckled and lit a cigarette. “Hell no. I need some home cookin’. Some fried chicken or pizza... or cinnamon rolls.”
“Fried chicken does sound good.” Trish said.
* * *
Astar stood by the door, almost giddy. Soon she’d get to see some friends she hadn’t seen in hundreds of years. The first patron swung open the door, his distinctive stench of rotting flesh filling the small diner.
“Eronymous!” She squealed in delight. Astar hadn’t set eyes on the demon since the Black Plague.
“Astaroth, my dear.” He placed a slimy kiss on her cheek. “You’re looking well. Better than most of us.”
She tilted her head to the side, blushing. “Well, it seems mortals never tire of sins of the flesh. But enough flattery.” She held out her hand, palm up.
Eronymous quirked a heavy brow at her. “I see Samael is rubbing off on you. All business now?”
She nodded as he placed three crisp one hundred dollar bills into her hand. Astar stuffed them into her apron. “Take a seat anywhere you like, hon.”
After Eronymous came, more demons, most of them wearing human disguises, arrived. Astar couldn’t help but feel a crushing wave of disappointment when many of her old friends didn’t show. They must have faded away, she thought sadly.
Sam must’ve noticed her maudlin expression because he slid an arm around her shoulders in an uncharacteristic display of affection.
She patted his hand. “Things are looking up,” she said more for her benefit than his. “It’s nice for all of us to be together, isn’t it?”
Sam nodded. “Don’t worry, Astar. I’ll see to it that no more of us fade away.”
She smiled and planted a kiss on his cheek.
* * *
Aldi sat in a booth in the far corner and tried not to mope. Frankly, he thought the whole thing was rather disgusting. He didn’t eat, but if he were going to, he would certainly pick something better than those walking, talking meat bags.
The place was far from packed, just as he’d expected, and not one solitary mortal had wandered in. He watched Sam, who was fiddling with the cash register behind the counter. His face was unreadable — as usual — but his stiff posture and jerky movements suggested that he was pissed. Aldi couldn’t wait to say, “I told you so!”
Much to his chagrin, the door swung open, and two mortals walked in.
* * *
Trish made a face and turned to Larry. “Oh, hell no!” she said in a hushed voice.
The place, “The Chicken Coop”, was the first diner they’d found and just as Larry promised, they stopped there. The sign had made her laugh, but the inside was worse than she’d expected.
Grime and grease covered everything, and the place smelled like stale piss and vomit.
“I’m not eating here, Larry,” she said, crossing her arms over her chest.
A waitress dressed in pink, with an obscene amount of cleavage spilling out of her top, sauntered over to them. Her gold name tag said “Astar”. The waitress smiled brightly. “Hi there, sweethearts! You darlings take a seat wherever you like.”
Larry pushed past Trish and grinned at the waitress, who twirled her long blond hair around a blood-red tipped finger.
“I have just the thing for you, sweetie,” she said to Larry in a husky voice.
“Oh yeah? And what would that be?”
“How does a nice warm piece of homemade cherry pie sound?” Astar was practically purring.
Trish felt sick. She didn’t know what she saw in Larry, but she was seeing less and less of it here lately.
She nudged him in the ribs with a sharp elbow. He barely noticed. “I’m going to go sit by myself. Don’t want to get in the way of you making a fool of yourself,” Trish muttered.
She stomped off as Larry was saying, “Pie sounds really, really good.”
* * *Trish shivered, the tiny hairs on the back of her neck standing up. The customers in the dimly lit diner were all staring at her. And they weren’t eating, talking, or even having coffee. Not that she could blame them. She didn’t want to put anything in her mouth in this place either, but the way they looked at her gave her the creeps. Some of them smiled, and others licked their lips. Perverts! Trish raised her chin and avoided their gazes. She chose a booth in the back corner by a jukebox that didn’t seem to be working.
She noticed that the booth was already taken. A man with dark skin and curling black hair was huddled in the corner, his arms crossed over his chest. He was kind of cute. Trish smiled. She had an idea. She plopped down across from him.
Copyright © 2007 by Rachel Zellers