Yellow Mama Archives II

Robert Pettus

Acuff, Gale
Ahern, Edward
Allen, R. A.
Alleyne, Chris
Andes, Tom
Arnold, Sandra
Aronoff, Mikki
Ayers, Tony
Baber, Bill
Baird, Meg
Baker, J. D.
Balaz, Joe
Barker, Adelaide
Barker, Tom
Barnett, Brian
Barry, Tina
Bartlett, Daniel C.
Bates, Greta T.
Bayly, Karen
Beckman, Paul
Bellani, Arnaav
Berriozabal, Luis Cuauhtemoc
Beveridge, Robert
Blakey, James
Booth, Brenton
Bracken, Michael
Burke, Wayne F.
Burnwell, Otto
Campbell, J. J.
Cancel, Charlie
Capshaw, Ron
Carr, Steve
Carrabis, Joseph
Cartwright, Steve
Centorbi, David Calogero
Cherches, Peter
Christensen, Jan
Clifton, Gary
Cody, Bethany
Costello, Bruce
Coverly, Harris
Crist, Kenneth James
Cumming, Scott
Davie, Andrew
Davis, Michael D.
Degani, Gay
De Neve, M. A.
Dillon, John J.
Dinsmoor, Robert
Dominguez, Diana
Dorman, Roy
Doughty, Brandon
Doyle, John
Dunham, T. Fox
Ebel, Pamela
Fagan, Brian Peter
Fillion, Tom
Fortier, M. L.
Fowler, Michael
Galef, David
Garnet, George
Garrett, Jack
Graysol, Jacob
Grech, Amy
Greenberg, KJ Hannah
Grey, John
Hagerty, David
Hardin, Scott
Held, Shari
Hicks, Darryl
Hivner, Christopher
Hoerner, Keith
Hohmann, Kurt
Holt, M. J.
Holtzman, Bernard
Holtzman, Bernice
Holtzman, Rebecca
Hopson, Kevin
Hubbs, Damon
Irwin, Daniel S.
Jabaut, Mark
Jermin, Wayne
Jeschonek, Robert
Johns. Roger
Kanner, Mike
Karl, Frank S.
Kempe, Lucinda
Kennedy, Cecilia
Keshigian, Michael
Kirchner, Craig
Kitcher, William
Kompany, James
Kondek, Charlie
Koperwas, Tom
Kreuiter, Victor
Larsen, Ted R.
Le Due, Richard
Leotta, Joan
Lester, Louella
Lubaczewski, Paul
Lucas, Gregory E.
Luer, Ken
Lukas, Anthony
Lyon, Hillary
Mannone, John C.
Margel, Abe
Martinez, Richard
McConnell, Logan
McQuiston, Rick
Middleton, Bradford
Milam, Chris
Miller, Dawn L. C.
Mladinic, Peter
Mobili, Juan
Mullins, Ian
Myers, Beverle Graves
Myers, Jen
Newell, Ben
Nielsen, Ayaz Daryl
Nielsen, Judith
Onken, Bernard
Owen, Deidre J.
Park, Jon
Parker, Becky
Pettus, Robert
Plath, Rob
Potter, John R. C.
Prusky, Steve
Radcliffe, Paul
Reddick, Niles M.
Reedman, Maree
Reutter, G. Emil
Riekki, Ron
Robson, Merrilee
Rockwood, KM
Rollins, Janna
Rose, Brad
Rosmus, Cindy
Ross, Gary Earl
Rowland, C. A.
Saier, Monique
Sarkar, Partha
Scharhag, Lauren
Schauber, Karen
Schildgen, Bob
Schmitt, Di
Sesling, Zvi E.
Short, John
Simpson, Henry
Slota, Richelle Lee
Smith, Elena E.
Snell, Cheryl
Snethen, Daniel G.
Steven, Michael
Stoler, Cathi
Stoll, Don
Surkiewicz, Joe
Swartz, Justin
Taylor, J. M.
Temples. Phillip
Tobin, Tim
Traverso Jr., Dionisio "Don"
Turner, Lamont A.
Tustin, John
Tyrer, DJ
Varghese, Davis
Verlaine, Rp
Viola, Saira
Waldman, Dr. Mel
Al Wassif, Amirah
Weibezahl, Robert
Weil, Lester L.
Weisfeld, Victoria
Weld, Charles
White, Robb
Wilhide, Zachary
Williams, E. E.
Williams, K. A.
Wilsky, Jim
Wiseman-Rose, Sophia
Woods, Jonathan
Young, Mark
Zackel, Fred
Zelvin, Elizabeth
Zeigler, Martin
Zimmerman, Thomas
Zumpe, Lee Clark

A Good Book

By Robert Pettus


Leaves fell peacefully from the roof down to the damp earth. It was autumn – mid-October. The air – though at this time of year mostly crisp – still periodically fluctuated back into the muggy swamp of summer, blasting a heated breeze into Harold’s still-burned, freckled face. This year, the summer had lasted longer than usual, pushing its way all through September and into October, but it was finally subsiding.

The leaves continued floating down. Tramping boot-steps from the roof shook the balcony on which Harold was reading, as if their weight might dismantle the seemingly fragile structure of the apartment building. Harold was leaning back, relaxed in his outdoor lounge chair, reading his book: The Master and Margarita, by Bulgakov. He loved everything about it. Humanoid, catlike demons romping though the city, decapitating people with their claws, decapitating people with public-transportation. It was a riot.

The boots continued stomping on the roof. The ladder in front of Harold, which was leaning on the cracked paint of his black balcony railing and leading up to the roof, shook as one of the gutter cleaners climbed down:

“I’ll be back!” he said, “I’ve got to go get it from the truck! I’ll be back!”

The ladder continued to shake, though the gutter cleaner still hadn’t come into Harold’s view. It was a tall roof. Cigarette ashes floated down with the continuously falling dry leaves, as if at any moment to alight them and set the building ablaze. They didn’t, though, they fell down just as apathetically as the foliage.

The gutter cleaner’s legs finally came into Harold’s field of vision. He was wearing big brown shit-kickers. It was no wonder he was shaking the whole building. Harold was surprised he didn’t fall through the roof. The apartment building was populated mostly by elderly people, Harold remembered. He would probably fall straight through the roof and into some old lady’s bathroom. She would shriek as he crashed into her shower, just like that lady in Psycho. Hell, an old lady probably wouldn’t survive a diving dropkick from a pair of shit-kicker boots. It would be very unlikely, to say the least. At that thought, a giggle – cracked and muffled by paranoia – escaped Harold’s quivering, sweaty lips.

The gutter cleaner made it to the ground without issue. Harold continued reading his book. He kept thinking about how easy it would be for him to kick the ladder out from the balcony as the gutter cleaner climbed back up. He would fall straight back down, right into the bed of his truck, a look of horrified shock on his face. Scared, but also comedic. It would be hysterical – like something the demons in The Master and Margarita might do. Just for kicks.

The ladder began shaking again as the gutter cleaner and his shit-kickers climbed back up to the roof:

“All right, I got it!” he said, “I’ll be back up in a second, hold your damn horses!”

The ladder shook once more. Harold extended his leg, thinking hard about whether or not he should create a little demonic mischief of his own. He then leaned forward in his lounge-chair, reaching to the ladder and grabbing it by its cold, hollow aluminum sides. His hands were sweaty. His heart was pounding. He was excited. Briefly lifting the ladder from the railing and beginning to push it forward, he saw the gutter cleaner’s forehead rise above the balcony floor. He quickly retracted his hands, sinking back into his lounge chair and burying his face in his book, using it as a shield. Squinting from beyond his manufactured literary-barrier, he could see the remnant marks of his sweaty palms on each side of the ladder. The gutter cleaner, now climbing past Harold’s balcony, noticed him this time:

“How’s it going?” he said nonchalantly, “Ladder’s wobbling a little in this wind, isn’t it?”

Without waiting for a response, he continued his ascent to the roof. The hammer dangling from his belt rapped loudly against the hollow ladder, clanging like an unwholesome dinner-bell. This irritated Harold. He winced – repeatedly blinking and rolling his eyes – struggling to maintain focus on his book.

Leaves started falling again. So did cigarette ashes. A shovel even fell down, wedging itself cleanly into the soft fall grass. It was rusty. Harold stared at it. It pierced the ground, as if that was what it was created to do.

Harold snapped back into reality. He started reading his book again. It was raining cash at the theater in Moscow. The cat-demon, Behemoth, sawed off a man’s head as part of a magic trick. A geyser of blood spurted from his headless neck, before Behemoth twisted the head back on – the formerly decapitated man miraculously returning to life.

 It was getting sunny outside. The bright light gave Harold a headache. He winced again. The roof continued to shake.

“That about got it?” said one of the gutter cleaners.

“Not quite,” said the other, “There’s a big clump of shit over here in this corner. Once we clear that out, I think we’re good.”

The shaking subsided. The gutter cleaners had moved to the far end of the roof. All was momentarily calm. Harold could read in peace. Clouds temporarily covered the sun. The air was comfortable.

The shaking started again, though this time lighter – more of a pitter-patter, as if a squirrel or a raccoon were on the roof. Harold ignored it. He liked animals.

It grew louder – scratching and stamping. It was directly above him. He still heard the voices of the gutter cleaners on the other side of the building. They were jovial, but the nearby scratching was irritating. Harold again winced. His temporarily dormant – though always present – headache returned.

The scratching and stamping drew closer, finally latching loudly onto the gutter directly above Harold’s lounge chair. The gutter bent and rattled; it nearly broke. A furry, purple leg momentarily swayed looping below the gutter. Harold saw it. He thought he must be hallucinating. He had a tendency to hallucinate. It was caused by his anxiety and paranoia, and it also caused even more anxiety and paranoia. It was a terrible cycle.

Not again…” He thought pathetically.

He shrank back in horror. Horrified of himself. He snapped up in his lounge chair, gripping the arm rests, looking around in terror for his invisible enemy. There was no one there. He forced himself to lay back and relax, a manic, wide-eyed smile on his face. He wrenched open his book, struggling to read; the ink on the pages seemingly smearing from his disturbed, blurred vision.

The scratching continued.

The gutter cleaners were walking back to the ladder, characteristically shaking the unstable building. It shook and shook. The scratching continued.

“Shit!” said one of the gutter cleaners, “That was a hell of a job! I wasn’t expecting anything like that. Those gutters were dirty as hell!”

They kept pace toward Harold. The scratching continued.

“Aw, hell. I know! You don’t ever think cleaning gutters is going to be much of a job, other than climbing up and down a ladder, that is – but man! Shit will tire you out sometimes; that’s a fact! You’ll learn that soon enough, once you get more experience under your belt.”

The steps continued. The shaking grew dizzying. The scratching continued. Harold could feel himself blacking out.

Harold briefly saw a cloudy, shifting, dirt-filled claw clutching tightly at the gutter above his head, scraping against the aluminum. Hallucinations.

The sun shone brightly in Harold’s face. It made him wince. His head throbbed.

Harold sat shaking. He closed his book; he couldn’t read. The book’s cover showed a demon-cat wrapping up and clawing at the full moon. It looked crazed and angry. The scrape of its nails – in Harold’s mind – sounded as if against aluminum. Harold blinked. He looked up to the gutter. The purple leg was still there, hanging lazily, but scraping in percussive rhythm against the gutter, as if intentionally creating abysmal music.

“Glad we’re finally done for the day!” said one of the gutter cleaners, as one of his shit-kickers lowered itself onto the top rung of the ladder.

The ladder shook. His other leg twisted around the side of the roof and also stepped into the top rung:

“Hell yeah,” he said, “Let’s get the hell out of here and go grab some brews! I know a place with good fried pickles! You worked hard today; it’s on me!”

The pair of shit-kicker boots continued their descent, rung after rung, from the top of the roof into Harold’s field of vision.

There was then a scuffle on the roof, followed by a pained, pathetic grunt.

Harold saw – through the legs of the first gutter cleaner’s shit kickers – the figure of the second gutter cleaner flying from the roof. He was thrown – like a line-drive shot between short and third – between two branches of the ancient tree in middle of the parking lot; its roots splitting up the asphalt as it continued its inevitable growth.

The gutter-cleaner’s skull cracked against its trunk. He fell to the ground. The small lizards that resided in the old tree scurried frantically into its interior.

The other gutter cleaner, halfway down the ladder – his boots still in Harold’s field of vision – turned around, bewildered.

He scrambled down the rest of the ladder, stumbling and falling face-first down the last four or five rungs. He collected himself in the grass and ran to his coworker, who was obviously dead; Harold could tell that easily from his elevated view – he didn’t need shit-kicker boots to notice that. Harold muffled another giggle. He all at once felt giddy, crazed, sick, and horrified.

“Wha… What?” The remaining gutter cleaner said. It was all he could muster. He knelt next to his fallen comrade, sobbing.

Harold was frantic. He looked for those furry, purple limbs. He listened for the scraping against the gutters. He saw nothing. He heard nothing. He was confused. He blinked and blinked again. He smacked himself in the head, as if to help him snap out of it. He continued smacking, harder with each unsuccessful attempt at mental escape. He closed his book with a thump and retreated into his lounge chair.

The scraping on the aluminum, as if waiting for Harold to sit down, started again as the furry purple leg showed itself.

This time, the creature climbed down from the roof. Numerous other purple legs appeared at every edge of the gutter, as if sprouting out of it.

A massive, shifting head appeared. The legs, it turns out, weren’t legs, but twisted, grotesque arms. It was a creature unlike anything Harold had ever seen. It looked happy; it seemed crazed. It started laughing.

Using its long claws, it pointed to the parking lot, where the gutter cleaner and his shit-kickers still knelt next to his dead friend. The continuous multiplying creatures, now lining the roof, did the same. They all giggled in unison. The demon nearest Harold climbed down onto his balcony, crawled into his lap, and gazed into his eyes.

The creature’s eyes were huge – far larger than human eyes. They shifted color, from blue, to red, to purple, to black. It opened its vacuous mouth. A rancid smell engulfed the balcony, swarming Harold. The creature spoke:

“I really do look like a hallucination! Note my shadow in the daylight!”

Harold looked to the floor of the balcony. There was no shadow. He gasped and tried to wriggle away, flailing around in the lounge-chair, chaotically extracting and retracting its foot-rest.

“Very well, very well!” said the demon, its grin extracting and retracting much like the lounge-chair, its dripping fangs bared, “I’ll be a silent hallucination!”

The demon disappeared. The surrounding echo of the harmonious giggles from the roof ceased. The surviving gutter cleaner, his blood-stained hands dripping, looked up angrily at Harold from the parking-lot. The initial shock wearing off; he was now fully realizing what Harold had done to his coworker.

Harold shrieked and retreated into his lounge-chair, lifting his book to his face to use as a shield. The sun shone through the waxy-thin, translucent pages, reigniting Harold’s headache. Harold winced and shrank further away – his lounge-chair again retracting – into a fetal-position. He buried his face in his book, suppressing a giggle.



The Good Folks


Robert Pettus



Light pierced the thick, large windows. The place smelled like popcorn, pancakes, syrup, and sweet tea. That’s what it always smelled like, at least until that inevitable, rotting stench swept briefly through the place. They didn’t seem to like that—they worked to prevent it—but it happened occasionally. It was unavoidable. A stench like flies, piss, dirty dishes, sticky floors, and muggy dishonesty. It didn’t smell like that now, though—it smelled like sweet tea and salty, buttery popcorn.

I sat at my table, as I always did. Good Folks shuffled from the store into the dining area. I knew they were Good Folks because my Watchers assured me they were Good Folks. They were important—more important than me, even though I was also a Good Folk, technically speaking—just a Good Folk who seemed to have lost favor.

I lifted the plastic, golf-tee-like piece from its wedged place and jumped a red piece. I had never won the game—I wasn’t sure it was possible—but the Watchers assured me it was. They encouraged me to keep trying. They were always so reassuring.

I was miserable.

Kenny Rogers played, singing about the poker game of life—risks and rewards.

Kenny Rogers always played. Him, Randy Travis, Lee Ann Womack, George Strait. Every day—every single day, unceasing.

I jumped another golf-tee, removing the jumped tee from its wedge and placing it by-rote onto the sticky wooden table.

“There you go!” said Felicia, adjusting her hijab and waddling toward me, brushing away dust from her brown apron. She was a five-star hostess—that’s what her apron said.

“You’ll get it!” she continued, “Hey! Would you like some fried okra, some country-fried chicken—maybe some pancakes?”

I winced. My eyes twitched erratically in torture. My stomach grumbled and cramped, rolling into itself, consuming itself.

“Pancakes,” I said, “Please… fucking pancakes.”

Pancakes were what The Watchers wanted Good Folks to order—it was their preferred meal; their specialty.

“Language, mister!” She said, “I’ll bring that right out! A couple big ole pancakes with butter and some sweet tea!”

Felicia turned and walked back into the kitchen. I always asked for food; I couldn’t help it. I was starving. I hated this restaurant, but I couldn’t deny that they had the best pancakes. At least I was pretty sure they did, from what I could remember—from what nostalgia my sniffing nostrils allowed me. My memory was getting foggy.

I was hungry.

I jumped another golf-tee. I couldn’t win; I recognized that. It was impossible—it had to be. I would have to try again. They said they would allow me to leave—or at least give me some pancakes—if I won, but I could never win. Time and again, I failed. This stupid wooden triangle. These infuriating golf-tees.

I thought about throwing the game against the window—or maybe at one of the allegedly polite guests; or perhaps at Felicia—but I didn’t. They hated that, The Watchers. They would force the stench upon me if I did that. The stench was much worse than the ungraspable pancakes, popcorn, and tea. I set the game up again; I had to keep trying.

There was a knock on the window behind my table, which sat at the back corner of the restaurant. I turned to look outside. Cars sped chaotically down Dixie Highway. People who weren’t stuck; people who actually had places to go. Focusing my gaze, I saw an old man glaring happily at me from his rocking chair on the restaurant’s front porch. He waved at me. He was sitting at a cloth-matted checkers table, in the middle of a game against nobody—like that guy from the Pixar short film.

I turned back to my triangular wooden prison key. Felicia walked back out, a sweating pitcher of sweet tea in her hand, a plate of hot, buttery pancakes lifted triumphantly high above her head—her elbow snapped skyward, the plate at the summit of her palm like a steaming, fragrant spire. She approached my table, making to set down the food. Just before the plate touched the wood of the table, she retracted:

“Oh!” she said, “There’s something wrong with this order. I’ll be right back, honey!”

She turned and left. She always turned and left.

I looked down at my glass, which was empty other than its ever-present ice. I tried to swig it again, lifting the glass to my lips to eat the ice, but it didn’t work. It never worked. The ice stuck to the back of the glass as if glued. The ice never melted, and never cooled—always pulsating only enough refreshing mist to alert me of its existence, but not enough to help my worsening dehydration.

I jumped another golf-tee.

My hands were sweating, as was my brow. I was starving; I had no idea how long I’d been in this abysmal place. Perhaps forever. When time doesn’t exist, how is progression possible? Without comparison, can perception exist?

Felicia walked by, sitting a trio of Good Folks at the four-top table next my two-top.

“I’ll be right out with the sweet-tea and pancakes!” She said before sauntering off. Those Good Folks had no idea of what they were in for. It was a family—a mom, dad, and a boy five or six years old. They looked at the menu as if there were options. They were happy, though they wouldn’t be for long. They wouldn’t be here for as long as me, though—I was sure of that. I had seen every Good Folk come into this wretched place, sit waiting for what seemed like years, and finally receive their food—their ice-tea and buttered pancakes—before being gestured from the dining room, Felicia smiling and wishing them well as they left. I had been here longer than any of them. What was this place? Why did The Watchers hate me?

“A damn ‘nother one!” came a distant though booming voice from the back, in the kitchen.

It was Tater; I knew Tater. He had been here nearly as long as I had; he was the only apron-wearing employee—the only one associated with The Watchers—who seemed to complain. Who seemed dissatisfied.

“I already have three full tables in my section!” he said. He was yelling at Felicia.

“I just go by my chart,” she said with authority. That was what she always said when Tater got pissed. Tater then paced from the kitchen into the dining area.

“What can I start you off with?” he said sarcastically to the family of Good Folks, “Maybe some iced-tea?”

“How did you know?” said the mother. “We know what we want—three iced-teas and three orders of pancakes! Maybe some salty, buttered popcorn as a starter!”

Tater stared at them in deadpan irritation. “I’ll be right out with that,” he said, walking back into the kitchen.

I jumped another golf tee. I was out of moves; I would have to start over. I banged my fist against the table in frustration.

“Sir!” said Felicia, “Sir! Please don’t do that. I don’t usually ask Good Folks to leave, but we don’t stand for aggression. This is a family restaurant.”

“Kick me out!” I cackled. “If only that were possible.”

“Oh, shoot!” said Felicia, “You know us too well. We appreciate our Good Folk guests too much to do something like that. There’s nothing ruder—nothing more inhospitable—than throwing a guest out to the curb; out into the street! Such a heathen thing to do. No, you can consider this place home; just imagine you’re sitting down at grandma’s Sunday table.”

I glared at Felicia.

“I’ll be right out with that tea,” she said.

I re-racked the golf tee game.

Tater walked back out of the kitchen, a tray of sweet teas and popcorn on his palm. Tater didn’t lift the tray high above his head like Felicia; he sat it wobbling chaotically on his shoulder.

“Here’s your tea!” he said, setting it down to the other Good Folks’ table before obviously retracting it. “Oh,” he said, “There’s been a problem with your order.” He said monotonously, “I’ll be right back.”

The table of Good Folks looked predictably confused, though not yet angry. They hadn’t been here long enough yet.

Pssst,” I whispered loudly as Tater turned away.

He glanced to me while making the turn back into the kitchen. The tray sat on his shoulder wobbling—the glass of tea spilled from it; the bowl of popcorn scattering across the floor. He glared down at it angrily, as if enraged by the result of his popcorn divination.

I didn’t think it was possible! A change in the hellacious monotony!

The glasses of tea shattered, likely washing the ever-filthy fake, brick-like tile of the floor. The popcorn sat collecting tea—becoming progressively soggier—small, buttery sponges.

“Damn,” Tater said, looking at me with animosity, “Look what you made me do.”

“I didn’t make you do anything,” I said.

“Hey!” said Felicia, scrambling over from her place at the hostess’s stand, “No cursing! Please! This is a family restaurant. And what is this mess? We have to get this cleaned up ASAP, before Rose sees it.”

“Who the hell is Rose?” I said, looking back and forth between Tater and Felicia.

“She’s the GM,” said Tater. “You don’t want to mess around with her. I’m going to be in for it if she sees this mess.”

“She will never see this mess!” said Felicia, her expression frantic—her hijab unfurling in disorder and gluing itself across her sweaty face.

“Can I help?” I said.

“No!” You stay there, Mr. Good Folk—I’ll be right out with your tea and… and pancakes! And some popcorn—on the house!”

“I’ll get the mop,” said Tater.

Just as he turned back into the kitchen, Tater stood stone frozen. I looked in his direction, seeing in his shadow—which was shifting metronomically across the dirty floor with the spin of the ceiling fan—the flickering silhouette of a slouching, cane-wielding elderly woman.

“The hell have you done, Felicia?” she said from the doorway.

“Please!” pleaded Felicia, “It wasn’t me! I didn’t do it.”

“It was me,” said Tater, “I wasn’t holding my tray properly, and one of the Good Folks asked me something as I was heading back to the kitchen. I made the spill.”

Which Good Folk spoke to you?” said Rose.

Tater was silent.

“You better tell me, boy,” she said, “Else you’ll be returned to the back to wash dishes.”

Tater’s legs buckled at that. For some reason, he was horrified at the thought of going back to the dish room.

“It was him,” said Tater, pointing at me.

I jumped another golf tee. I knew I was supposed to be afraid, but this sudden change in the previous, never-ending monotony had me excited.

“That’s what I figured,” said Rose.

She limped toward me, her cane and elderly feet briefly slipping on the spilled tea, which caused an anxious drawing of breath from each of the onlooking wait-staff.

“You made Tater spill his tea,” said Rose upon reaching me.

“I didn’t make him do anything,” I said. “I didn’t touch him; I didn’t push him—he’s a waiter; he should be able to handle his tray.”

“You’re right about that,” said Rose. She turned back to Felicia: “Take Tater back to the dish room. I made a mistake. He’s not ready to be a waiter yet.”

Felicia, though a look of horror apparent on her face, quickly obeyed. Tater’s eyes widened, but he didn’t fight it. He knew it was no use.

“Watch yourself,” said Rose to me, “You may never get out of here, at this rate.”

I jumped another golf tee. Rose chuckled. “Are you ever going to learn this damn game?” she turned to walk back into the kitchen. As she slid away, her brown, oversized apron, which she was wearing backwards, dragged across the wet floor, collecting the tea like a sponge. When she reached the doorway back into the kitchen, the floor was spotless – totally clear.

          I gave a confused start. This place was unexplainable—I already knew that, but I hadn’t yet seen blatant, in-my-face magic. This somehow threw me off.

          I jumped another golf tee. The game was finished. I lost again—I would have to start over.

          Felicia came back to my table, a tray lifted high above her head: “Sorry for the wait, but here’s your sweet tea, pancakes, and pop…”

          “Please shut up,” I said, cutting her off.

          She stepped back in offense.

          “What’s wrong with the dish room?” I said, “Why was Tater so afraid to go there?”

          “Oh, Tater?” she said, “He wasn’t afraid! He’s been a dishwasher for years; he’s completely experienced. Maybe he was a little upset, because the dishwashers make so much less than the waiters, but he wasn’t afraid. Of course not! Anyway, there’s been a problem with your order—I’ll be right back!”

          “Wait!” I yelled.

          Felicia stopped, momentarily glancing back, but then continued back toward the kitchen.

          “There’s been a problem with your order,” she murmured, stressed, “I’ll be right back out.”

          I needed to get into the kitchen—that much was clear—perhaps to the dish room. The answers to at least some of my questions were back there; maybe I could even help Tater, assuming he was actually in a bad situation.

          I waited until the dining room was clear—when all the wait staff were back in the kitchen or out front at the host-stand—and darted into the back. Before leaving my table, I pocketed the golf tee game.

          The kitchen was dimly lit and grimy. Dishes clattered, griddles sizzled, and pots simmered. This clanging, bubbling percussion fused with the music—which was still blaring loudly even back in the kitchen—adding a more aggressive edge to the softer country sound of George Strait’s Troubadour.

           None of the kitchen staff seemed to notice me, or if they did, they were afraid to get involved. I saw them glaring nervously at me side-eyed before turning back to cooking pancakes or popping popcorn.

A knob of butter sizzled, melting on the griddle. Its sweet aroma invaded my nostrils—I was so hungry. I couldn’t think about that, though—there was no time. Squatting, I ducked through the kitchen back toward the dish room, looking like an inexperienced, poor-man’s James Bond. I slipped on some of the grease covering the dirty floor but caught myself before falling to the ground. I saw imprinted on my palm a layer of grease. The dish room was just ahead.

Before making my way through the doorway, I heard a voice from behind: “Where do you think you’re going?”

I turned around; it was Rose. Felicia stood trembling behind her.

“I had to tell her you left your table!” Felicia said, “I have to do my job! I must!”

I began backing into the dish room.

“Don’t go in there,” said Rose, “You don’t want to do that; you’re not that stupid, I don’t think.” Lifting her cane, Rose unscrewed the rubber tip at its base, revealing a glimmering blade. Lifting it to her mouth, she tipped its end with her venomous saliva, some of which fell to the dirty flooring, dissolving through—toxic fumes wafting up from the sizzling remnant.

“Shit,” I said.

She stepped toward me wordlessly, glaring into my soul with her green-slitted, quivering eyes.

I fell back into the dish room, slipping again—this time falling to the floor. Behind me, water sprayed and soap suds floating colorfully, peacefully. The dish washers refused to acknowledge me. I looked around the room; I saw Tater in the back corner. He glanced at me over his shoulder, a tired, fearful expression spread across his face. His light-brown beard was covered in soap and dirty water.

“Looks like we found another dish washer, didn’t we?” Rose was looking back at Felicia.

“Uhm, yes!” responded Felicia, “This Good Folk will make an excellent dish boy! We’re always in need of new washers, as busy as this place gets!”

“You’re right about that,” said Rose, “Business is always booming when you deal in death!” She then took a slithering step toward me. I scrambled backward like a frantic crustacean, toward the large sinks lining the wall. I had nowhere to go.

Rose lifted her cane with both hands, making to plunge it into my thigh: “You may have gotten out of here, eventually,” she said, “But now you never will. You were merely sinful—now you’re both sinful and nosy. Nosy Good Folks get made to be dish washers—and dish washers never leave the dish room. First time in hundreds of years I made that mistake, when I let Tater out onto the floor as a waiter, but I’ll never do that again! He tricked me with his eccentricity—I’ll admit. Dish washers never leave the dish room!”

She looked at her blade lustfully, “Once you’re branded—which you will be in just a moment—you won’t be able to leave.”

“Branded?” I shrieked. I looked over to Tater, who nodded at me sullenly.

I continued scrambling around the dirty floor. Rose raised her cane-blade, readying to pierce me. At the last moment, I took the golf tee game out of my pocket.

I jumped another golf tee.

I won the game!

The brittle wooden game opened like an eldritch container; reality immediately being sucked into it—a reverse Pandora’s Box. The golf tee game shook and rattled in my hand as if to escape, but I held tight. The interior of the restaurant was inhaled by that wooden triangle. All the tables, the pancakes, the sweet tea, the popcorn—even all the Good Folks, who flew screeching spectrally into the container. Lastly, Rose herself was consumed legs first, flying into the box. She fought at the last moment, clawing like a demon, trying to escape this new prison, but she was incapable. Her eyes widened, turning bleach-white before bursting like a crushed pair of white-chocolate truffles.

I gazed ahead as reality disintegrated around me, eventually leaving nothing other than a bright white, ethereal nothingness. I fell to the ground, but there was no ground—I was floating.

“You did it!” came a voice, “About time!”

It was Tater. He was standing above me, staring down happily.

“Thank God!” said Felicia, joining him, “You beat the game! One of you Good Folks finally beat the game! We’re free.

I sat up. The white nothingness took shape—a wide field, a windy wood, a rolling stream, mountains.

“Thank you,” said Tater, walking away.

“Thank you,” said Felicia, doing the same.

I sat up, feeling the grass under my ass. The sun shone down onto my face. I was confused, but I was free.



Robert Pettus is an English as a Second Language teacher at the University of Cincinnati. Previously, he taught for four years in a combination of rural Thailand and Moscow, Russia. He likes writing, but he never found the time or the courage to try and regularly do it until quarantine forced him into a much more isolated lifestyle. He was most recently accepted for publication at Apocalypse-Confidential, Mystery Tribune, and The Green Shoes Sanctuary online journals. “A Good Book” is one of the stories he recently wrote.

Site Maintained by Fossil Publications