Another story written in response to a writing prompt. I tried to work some symbolism in there, I hope you find it. Feel free to leave comments!
The white, streamlined vehicle came first. I reacted as the bright headlights sliced through the darkness outside and came to a stop in the parking lot. It was midnight, and this was not a well-traveled tract. Also, the car and it’s driver didn’t fit into the regular clientele at all. I muted the stereo and yawned, trying to kick myself into service mode.
I eyed the man suspiciously as he entered the Diner. Expensive suit, expensive haircut, expensive smile. ”What can I get you, sir?” A fed or a gangster, I didn’t know which of the two I preferred. The bow-tie, however, belied both theories. Who was this man?
He smiled at me and looked to his expensive watch. ”Nothing right now, thank you. I’m meeting some people here. I’ll just sit down and wait.” He paused. ”A cup of coffee would be perfect, though.”
I started pouring him one from the batch I had made earlier. ”I haven’t seen you around these parts before. Are you traveling?”
”You could say that. But I’ve been here before, many times. It has been a while now, but me and my associates come together at a regular basis, and every time that happens we meet here.”
I was confused. I had been working in that diner for ten years, ever since it opened, and I had never seen this man before. I could have missed him, of course, but I was pretty sure I would have heard about him from my coworkers. But it didn’t really matter. I settled for a polite smile and a knowing nod. ”How do you want your coffee? Milk? Sugar?”
He laughed softly. An expensive laugh. ”No, thank you, I take my coffee black. Black as tar.” I didn’t get the joke, but it was something in his eyes that told me he expected me to laugh. So I did, although stiffly. It seemed like the wisest thing to do, like this was a man used to having things his way.
I handed him his coffee. ”Nice car”, I said just to break the uncomfortable silence. ”Ferrari?”
He accepted the cup and afforded me a condescending smile. ”Maybach Exelero”, he replied and settled down by the window.
A few minutes later the night was again flooded by bright lights as another car, this one larger, pulled up beside the first one. Even after the headlights were turned off, the deep red of the hood still reflected the Diner’s lights and gave the vehicle an almost fiery impression. I watched as a man climbed out of the huge SUV. Even from where I stood I registered his muscular build, and his attire gave him away for a military man – perhaps of some rank.
He entered the door and nodded in the direction of the other man before walking up to me. His features were rugged and sharp, and there was no warmth in his eyes, nor in his voice, when he addressed me. ”I’ll have the steak of the house”, he said. ”And make it bloody.”
”Certainly, sir”, I said as I wrote down his order. Not that I needed to do so, I just wanted an excuse not to meet his fierce eyes. ”Anything else?”
”No”, he replied. ”And skip the vegetables and all the other wastes of time. I just want the meat.”
Then I jumped as he slammed his palm against the counter. ”And you look at me when I’m talking to you.” From pure chock I met his eyes and I could have sworn there were fires burning there. ”You shouldn’t be working in a shithole like this, under these fuck shit conditions. You have to stand up for yourself. You hear me?”
I nodded slowly, and tried to keep my voice from shaking. ”I hear you, sir. Your order’ll be right up.” He eyed me for another eternity before releasing me from his attention and marching over to the table. I could see him adjusting the sheath of a huge army knife on his belt before sitting down.
I tried to regain my composure as I went to work preparing the coarse steak plate. In the background I could hear the two men conversing across the table, but I was not able to make out what was being said. They seemed to know one another well, however, and when a third car pulled up outside they both looked up in silent anticipation. This car was black, and I was surprised to see that it was of a model I knew. Audi A6 was fancy according to my standards, but it posed an almost mundane contrast to the two extravagant monsters that stood parked beside it.
As the driver entered the Diner I registered that his looks matched the price level of his vessel. Smart and professional, but not overblown. He eyed the menu on the wall with a displeased frown before stepping up to the counter.
”I see you are giving away free wheat bread together with the salad buffet”, he said. ”That cannot be tolerated.”
I was completely taken aback by the strange statement. ”What do you mean? Everybody does that. Or do you mean you’d rather have gluten free bread? That’s no problem, we have that too. We just don’t keep it up front because –”
”No, that’s not what I meant. You just can’t go giving out free bread. I’ll look into this, if it’s true that ‘everybody’ does it. Then I’ll get back to you. But for now, I’ll just have a glass of wine and a single slice of bread. With lots of olive oil on it.”
I just stared for a moment. What was this man, some kind of food inspector? Was I in trouble? Instead of asking more questions, however, I just poured him a glass of red wine and took note of his strange order. ”Here you go, sir”, I said and handed him the wine. ”The bread and… olive oil will be right up. That’ll be five dollars for the wine, and the bread is on the hou…” I caught myself when seeing his stern look. ”Eh, that’ll be seven dollars all in all, sir”.
He nodded, and when he handed me the money I noticed that his golden cuff-links were shaped like small balancing scales. He then brought his wine to the table and instantly started talking to the other two.
The conversation at the table died completely, however, when the fourth car showed up. It was nothing like the others and resembled a hearse more than a private car. Its headlights were a strange tint of pale green, and the carriage body was grey. An eerie silence settled inside the Diner as the driver got out, followed by a large, black dog. The man’s walk was supported by a cane with a curved metal handle, and the lamp light fell strangely on it when he entered the door.
”You cannot bring animals in here”, I hurried to say as the man and the beast walked towards me.
The slender, darkly dressed man just looked at me, held my eyes in a calm, cold grip. I felt all the color drain from my face and my throat tighten. ”Hades follows me everywhere”, he ascertained flatly before joining the others at the table. The dog granted me with another ravenous, piercing look before proudly sitting down on the floor beside his master. From then on the voices at the table took an a more serious and respectful character, and even without knowing the subject I could tell that they were getting down to business.
I really didn’t want to walk over there with the plates, but I knew that I had to. The steak in one hand and the bread in the other, I took a deep breath and forced a smile on my face. They were paying customers and, also, for all i knew they might kill me if I attended them poorly. As I came closer, more of their conversations could be heard.
”…and placed a considerable part of my assets into companies such as Marlboro and Prince”, the man with the expensive haircut said as he sipped his coffee. ”It is already paying off – in every way, I might add.” The others nodded and offered words of approval.
The man with the cuff-links cleared his throat. ”You always were the flamboyant one, my friend. I, to the contrary, have focused on exploiting the possibilities of economization. In the last week, I have moved several departments of lucrative, western companies to Third World countries where production in cheaper and working conditions poorer. The result is unemployment here, and inhuman exploitation there. Both of which serve my purposes perfectly. I have also been looking into the potential of out-sourcing, but I’ll come to that later.”
They all looked up at me as I arrived at their table, and all those eyes at once were almost more than i could bear. ”Your steak, sir”, I murmured as I put the plate down in front of the man with the knife. ”And your bread.” I put the other plate down as graciously as I could, but couldn’t stop my hand from shaking.
The pale man with the dog grabbed hold of my wrist as I turned to leave. His grip was cold as the grave and I froze, felt my fingers go numb. ”You are afraid, dear”, he creaked hollowly. ”Don’t be. You have many years yet to live, and it would be a true shame to waste them in fear of us.”
Caught in his grip I could do nothing but stare. At him, at the monstrous dog, at the faces of the other men around the table. And that’s when I knew. Suddenly I understood everything.
Panicking, I tore myself free from that icy grip and backed away in chock. Then I ran. The last thing I heard before I slammed the backroom door shut behind me and locked it was the roaring laughter of the four strangers at the table.
I remained in that little room for hours, until dawn approached and I could hear engines starting outside. Then I opened the door a crack, just enough to be able to see the four men and the dog getting into their cars and disappearing into the twilight, as if they had never even been there. But I knew that they would always be out there, watching, waiting, wallowing.
They had replaced their steeds with the carriers of the modern generation, but I still knew them for what they were. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: Conquest, War, Famine and Death, with Hades in his wake. And even though I had believed the words of Death when he said that I had many years yet to live, I realized that from that day onward I would live my life always fearing them and their inevitable victory.