I took a seat by myself in the mostly empty diner, It was late, past midnight, but not to the point of early morning just yet. I had gotten off of work early and figured I would treat myself to something at least half decent.
I scanned the old, stained menu, looking for something that peaked my interest. I had no idea what I was in the mood for so I expected it to be a long process. My waitress would probably hate me by the time I made my decision.
Still searching the menu and waging an internal battle with myself, I heard someone sit down at the table across from mine. I took a quick glance out of habit. An older man had taken a seat at the neighboring table.
To be honest, he looked homeless. His entire appearance was haggard. His clothes were baggy and filthy. Most of them had holes and tears in them. I was thankful he was far enough away to avoid smelling him.
Wait, didn’t I see him when I first came in?
I glanced up again to quickly study his face. Yeah, it was definitely the same guy. He had been sitting by the door when I walked into the diner. How strange of him to move closer to me, I thought.
Preparing myself for him to ask, I tried to remember if I had any loose change or small bills in my wallet. I guess the least I could do was buy him a hot meal. My focus returned to the menu, now with a new goal.
The man beside me made an awful noise, some kind of weird screech. My head flew up, caught by surprise. I looked over at him to make sure he was okay. He was already watching me, a big gapped tooth grin on his face. His eyes were wide and wild looking.
I’ll admit, I was a little creeped out, but he didn’t say anything or make that noise again so I returned to my menu. Minutes ticked by in silence. I finally placed my order:, and, without the menu to distract me anymore, I stared out the window as a few cars drove by.
Out of nowhere, the noise came again. I jumped, but didn’t dare to look over at the man. He just wanted the attention. I was sure of it.
This happened several times during my meal. Each time, I struggled to keep a straight face and keep my attention away from the strange man.
I had just finished my meal. The small diner was silent as a crypt. Suddenly, the man beside me starts laughing. It’s loud and hysterical. I glance over, too curios not to give in this time. He’s staring at me, still laughing like the mad man I am now convinced he truly is. At this point, I was positive he was going to kill me. Possibly cook me and eat me, too -- he seemed that off his rocker.
Before he could have the chance to act out my fears, I threw money on the table -- overpaying by more than I’m willing to admit -- and headed for the door as quickly as possible. I listened for footsteps behind me; and, even though I heard nothing, checked over my shoulder frequently on my way to my car. Once I had the car started, I slammed it into gear and flew out of the parking lot as fast as I could.
I’ve never gone back.
Thankfully, I’ve never seen that man again either. I still glance over my shoulder when it’s too quiet, though. I have a feeling he’ll show up when I least expect it. Until then, it’s just a torturous waiting game.