By Enrique Mandas
The radiator was done for, there was no doubt about that. Danny Cullen, his wife Elisa, and their son Martin were returning from their vacation in California. HAPPY DAYS BRING HAPPY FACES. That’s what the brochure for the vacation package said. Now, as they made their way home, things were starting to look glum. A few miles after the radiator started to smoke, The Cullens had serendipitously found a mechanic. Danny asked the mechanic, Rob, where he and his family could find something to eat since they had nothing since early in the morning. Rob told Danny that if they followed the gravel path across the other side of the road, they would find a diner.
Martin led the way as the Cullens trod along the gravel path, skipping and whistling a tune he had seemed to make up in his head.
“This sort of seems a little sketchy, Hun,” said Elisa. The tone of her voice was soft and gentle. Danny could not detect any sign of worrying, but judging by what she just said it seemed like she was at least a little worried. Women had always been confusing to him.
“What do you mean?” asked Danny.
“Don’t tell me you don’t think something is up here? I mean, what are the odds that, in the middle of nowhere, we have apparently struck a goldmine? We have food and we have a mechanic. Just what we need. How do these people even get home?”
“I think you’re over analyzing this, Hun. We got lucky is all. I’m sure by the time we’re done eating, Rob will have us all fixed up.”
“Well…still…I don’t like it.”
“It’s all we have right now, Babe. We’re just going to have to deal with it.” Admittedly, Elisa sort of had a point. But Danny pushed all worries aside and locked them in the back of his mind, where all bad thoughts went in times like these.
Behind the pine trees that towered above the Cullens, Danny spotted the silhouette of a building in the distance. Black smoke rose into the sky, and Danny could smell something burning. Was the building on fire? The gravel road started to bear to the right, and as they inched toward the silhouette, a small yellow sign read Welcom to Moe’s Cafey in black letters.
“Someone needs an English lesson,” muttered Danny.
“Forget the sign, look at the building!” said Elisa.
Danny’s wife pointed to the shack in the distance. It resembled those wooden outhouses people find at the local lake, only supersized. The walls were filthy, dark, and moldy between the crevices. The black smoke ascended from a brick chimney, except the bricks were stained black from the smoke and looked more like obsidian. A few yards away from the building, a taller sign attached to a 10 foot poll read Moe’s, and a smiley face lay on top of the blocky letters.
The Cullens walked inside of the shack and were greeted by a man dressed in a waitress’s uniform. Except it was not a man, as the Cullens soon found out. Her hair was the color of dead grass and as thin as sewing thread, and a small tuft of hair adhered to her chin. The eyes on her face were a lifeless black, and her upper build was stocky, almost like a female Hulk Hogan, except maybe even a bit more hulky.
An old jukebox sat beneath the pictures, and the tune of “Another One Bites the Dust” hummed through the speakers.
“Hiya, the name’s Blanche. I’ll be your waitress today. Do you want booth or table?” She had a raspy, emotionless voice, and the smell of her breath was like the aftermath of a cigarette fiesta. Danny felt his skin was crawl up his back as his eyes met her blank stare.
“We’ll take a booth,” replied Elisa.
“Alright, follow me.”
Blanche walked three feet to the left, where a rickety table sat between two green benches. The floorboards groaned beneath their feet as they walked. About five feet to their right, near one of the bar stools, a hole in the floor looked like a portal to an inescapable abyss. The ceiling was covered in webs from spiders who had colonized the beams above. As the Cullens sat down, Danny examined the space around them. He looked across the room and saw a wall full of pictures of faces. An old jukebox sat beneath the pictures, and the tune of “Another One Bites the Dust” hummed through the speakers.
“We got hamburgers and hot dogs and salad. What’ll it be?” asked Blanche.
“I think we’ll all take a burger, please,” said Danny.
Blanche went through a metal kitchen door, and five minutes later she returned with three hamburgers. The sesame seed buns were starting to mold on top, and the burgers were burnt on one side and underdone on the other. The meat itself was chunky and smelled rotten.
“Say, could you guys help me out with something?” Blanche asked after she set the water glasses on the table. Her lifeless gaze disappeared and she now looked uneasy.
“Sure, what do you need?” replied Danny.
“I’ve…I’ve been stuck here for five months. I need to get out. You see, the guy, Moe, who owns this place…he’s kept me captive ever since I got here. Moe is not a good guy. The way his mind works…it’s not human.”
“What? Well…okay. Why don’t we all just leave then? Let’s all go, right now.” Elisa and Martin could sense the growing anxiousness in Danny’s voice.
“Moe raised me’n kept me fed up’n healthy until I could help him with his mission. He raised all of us that way.”
“I’m afraid we can’t. Moe’s got cameras watchin the entrance. He’ll chase us and probably run us over or shoot us up. But don’t worry, I’ve been a planning this for some time now. The cameras are all connected to a fusebox in the back of this building. It’s locked, but if we go together, we would have a better chance of fendin him off in case he finds out what we’re doin. Most the people that come here come alone, and they don’t ever leave. But there’s four of us now.”
“Okay, well then…let’s go. You got something to open the fuse box with?”
“Yes, I gotta few bobby pins.”
Blanche led the family through the kitchen. The inside of a giant oven on the left side of the room was red, and the Cullens could feel its warmth, even though they were ten feet away from it. Blanche opened the back door that led outside, and as the Cullens walked through, they noticed that a metal fence enclosed the area. Two figures were shrouded in the shadows of the tall pine trees near the far side of the fence, and they slowly approached the Cullens and Blanche as she locked the door behind them.
“What are you doing, lady?” asked Martin, who noticed the clang of the keys as Blanche put them back in her pocket.
“Just finishing my job, kid. It looks like it’s the end of the line for your little family here. The truth is, I was never held here against my own will. I’ve been here since I was just a little girl. Moe raised me’n kept me fed up’n healthy until I could help him with his mission. He raised all of us that way.”
“What the hell?” asked Danny. “What is this? What is Moe’s ‘mission’? What do you mean my ‘us’? If this is some kinda game, I would appreciate if you stopped this right now. We haven’t done anything to you guys. You are going to let us go, and we will be on our way.”
“I’m afraid we cannot do that.”said an old voice, as the two shadows sauntered out of the umbrage. As they stepped into the light, Danny noticed that the other figure was Rob, the mechanic.
“Rob, what the hell are you doing here?”asked Danny.
“The real name’s Borus, man. Sorry I lied to you, about everythin. Ya see, we’ve been watching your family for a long time. You guys have beautiful faces. Faces we can use. And will use. But we had to get you here first. So some of us sabotaged your radiator when you were at the rest stop about 20 miles back. Lucky for us, you stopped right where we needed ya to. So I went ahead and sent you up here. And now, here we are.”
“W-what do you mean we have beautiful faces? How long have you been watching us?”
“He means we’re gonna kill all of you and slice your faces off,” said Blanche. “Ya see, as soon as you got to that resort, we knew we had to get you guys here. You all have the most prettiest faces we ever did see. You should be excited! After all, you are going to die at the hands of the Children of Eutychia.” The look on her face turned to pure excitement, pure ecstasy. Her voice, however, remained calm and smug.
“Let’s honor our happy customers to the best of our ability!”
“What? Woah woah woah woah woah, you’re NOT going to kill us! I am not having it. No one is gonna kill anybody today. Stop the cult crap and let us go.”
Suddenly, dozens of figures walked out of the wooded area behind the fence and surrounded the outside perimeter. Their faces were shielded with masks, except the Cullens immediately saw that they were more than just masks. They wore the skin of a human face stapled into their own flesh, the mouths of the masks were upright and sewn shut, as if the flesh of the skins were smiling.
“You see,” said Moe, “in these parts, we value happiness most of all. I’m sure you saw that wall of happy customers as you sat down at that booth. Before we kill em for food, we make sure to take a picture of em to remember by. And then we filet the skins off their faces, making sure to keep em smiling, as a way to honor them before we cook them in the oven.”
“You are damn crazy! How could you–” Danny’s sentence was cut off as he felt a sharp pain in his abdomen. Booming echos caused the birds in the pine trees to leave their nests. As he fell, he noticed that Martin and Elisa were already on the ground, pools of blood seeping out from underneath them. As Danny fell, he saw the pain and fear in Martin’s eyes.
“Enjoy your last moments here, and be grateful that your meaningless lives are being sacrificed in order to satisfy our God,” said Borus, pulling a knife out from his pocket. His eyes looked hungry as his sinister smile crawled across his face.
“Alright, Blanche, take the pictures,” said Moe. “Make sure they’re smilin. Borus, get ready to cut. I already have the oven ready. We just need to prep now. Let’s honor our happy customers to the best of our ability!”
Danny lay on the ground unable to move and speak as Borus dragged Elisa out sight. Martin’s eyes began to lose their light. At least we’ll be together after all of this, Danny thought as his vision grew blurry. The final thing he saw was lifelessness on Martin’s face as Borus dragged the boy away .
The next week, on Route 237, another car had broken down. This time, the engine gave out. Rob told the man it was no big deal, told him that if he was hungry he could walk up to Moe’s and have a bite to eat. As the stranger walked out of sight, Rob held back a sinister smile until a cackle forced its way out of his lungs. Another day, another happy customer, he thought.
Photo: Smiley Refraction by Linda on the Bridge to NewWhere on Flickr