The day started off normal enough. Faith was on her way to work on a Tuesday. Her little Honda sped down the wet lanes of traffic. She wasn't very focused on the road. Her radio was on and she was bobbing her head to the rhythm of the music. Suddenly some idiot swerved in front of her. Faith slammed on the breaks, but she knew she couldn't stop in time. She closed her eyes and- Suddenly she found that her car was by the curb. The machinery was unscathed. She seemed unharmed. She got out of the car and looked for the idiot driver but couldn't find him. Hit and run, Christ, she thought. She considered calling the cops but since there was no damage to the vehicle, she shrugged it off. Had she simply imagined it? She got back in the car and started the engine. Her heart pounding, she continued on her way to work. She glanced at the radio clock. God! She was an hour late! Had she passed out at the scene of the crash? Did the crash even happen? She knew that it would be difficult to convince her manager that a car crash made her late since she wasn't injured and her car was fine.
She arrived at work and decided that she must have dazed off and imagined the accident. she entered the front doors and silently prayed she wouldn't feel the wrath of her manager. She had been late several times this month and she knew that she was a short distance from being tossed out of the restaurant on her butt, fired before she could gather her wits. She needed this job. It had taken her three months to obtain it, and it was her only hope if she planned to get into that crappy community college, the only one that was realistically possible for her to even get into.
She snuck into the back door of the building and set her purse and other belongings on the table cautiously, and tried not to make a sound. If she could just sneak past her manager’s office- Crap. Too late. Her manager banged the office door open.
“Hanning! Get in here!” her manager bellowed.
Faith couldn’t help but smirk when she saw her manager’s purple hue to her skin. Behind the manager’s back, many of the employees called her Patty the Plum, because of her constant angry violet complexion.
Faith slipped carefully into Patty’s office, trying to mask her worry with a stoic uncaring expression.
“You’re late again Hanning! This is the third time this month! I’ve told you a million times if you can’t get here on time, you need to look for employment elsewhere, because I can’t deal with lazy, ungrateful, irresponsible employees!”
Faith apologized quietly and mumbled out some story about a dead car battery. She still couldn't shake off the feeling that something wasn't right. It was your imagination, She thought to herself. Her brain wandered elsewhere until Patty the Plum gruffly told her to get to work.
“One mistake today Hanning, and you’re out of here! Don’t try me either! You know I’m a woman of my word!”
Faith nodded and sighed quietly. She cursed Patty, and wished evil things upon Patty’s kin under her breath after the office door swung shut. She headed to the front to begin the tedious eight hour shift ahead of her.
After inspecting the clipboard, she discovered she was responsible for lobby again and sighed with relief. She enjoyed lobby. The customers were always so nice and lobby was easy to manage. Cleaning tables, emptying garbage, stocking the island, sweeping, and of course chatting with the customers was always a good time. There were tense moments of course, especially Saturdays during rush hour but, being a Tuesday afternoon, the lobby was almost empty. There were maybe two or three people seated at the tables in the whole place, and Faith didn’t find it surprising.
She collected trays, wiped tables and emptied the overflowing trash bins. Before she knew it, the clock on the wall read 6:30. Sighing with relief, she went to go punch out for her dinner break. After gorging herself with her usual chicken strips and milkshake, Faith got back to work. Suddenly one of her coworkers came out from the back.
“Patty wants you.” He said.
Crap, thought Faith. What did I do now? She grudgingly made her way to the office. She was surprised to see Patty’s face a normal color and equally surprised to see her about as calm and content as she had ever seen her. Patty looked up at Faith from her computer.
“Ah, Hanning! Good! I need to ask you a favor. One of our regular night shift workers has a horrible bug and can’t make it. I need you to stay and cover for her. I’ll pay you overtime.”
Faith looked shocked and confused at Patty.
“But I’ve never worked the late night shift before,” she argued.
“Hanning, I need you here! I can’t find anyone else. Now you can either stay voluntarily and possibly get paid overtime or you can leave now and apply for unemployment. Now what’s it going to be?”
Faith didn’t see much of a choice in that. She reluctantly agreed to stay and help, but she told Patty that she’d need to shadow a late night worker. Patty agreed, and assigned Faith to front counter and bagging. She counted up the previous register’s drawer, and placed a clean one in for Faith.
The hours grew later and later. At about midnight, Faith was bored. Almost no customers had come in since 10, and she had already completed all the tasks on the checklist. She propped herself impatiently on the counter, chin in her hands, elbows on the counter. The swishing sound of the door opening snapped Faith to attention. An elderly woman entered the restaurant, which, in itself was odd seeing it was midnight, and most senior citizens went to bed very early. Shrugging it off, Faith reached down beyond her boredom and fatigue and dug out a smile.
“Hello!” she said trying to sound hospitable. “How can I help..." she stopped when she saw the elder’s eyes. They were black. Not just black irises but it was as if the whites and irises were nonexistent and the only thing that seemed to remain was those black soulless pupils. She shook it off and quickly repeated the statement.
The woman didn’t speak. She simply stared at the young Faith, before pointing a long bony finger to the number one combo on the menu board.
“You want the number one?”
Once again the woman remained silent and simply nodded curtly, and Faith wondered vaguely if she was mute or mentally disabled. Faith remained her composure however and told the woman her total. The woman pulled out a very old looking bill and handed it to Faith. Faith inspected the bill carefully and determined the bill to be authentic. She pushed the button on the register to open the drawer. She gathered the change in her hands and turned to hand it to the woman. She was gone. Faith frowned and glanced around the room. There at the back table she sat.
“Ma’am your change,” Faith called out. Deep down in her mind Faith wondered how the hell the woman managed to get to that table so quickly. She wanted to brush it off as she had done with the other strange circumstances, but somehow she couldn't.
The woman looked back at her with those soulless black eyes and spoke for the first time since she entered the establishment.
“Keep it,” she said in a hoarse voice. That voice was harsh, not in the tone sense of it, but just the way it sounded; so dry and old; it ran cold fingers down Faith’s spine. Faith shuddered and went to go bag the woman’s order. If it were any other customer, Faith would’ve left the change on the table when they went to the bathroom or if they left the table, but Faith was shaken and terrified. Honestly she hoped to avoid the woman altogether. So when she finished putting the order on the tray, she turned to her coworker James.
“I- I have to go get some supplies from the back. Would you mind taking this to the elder at the back table?”
James looked at Faith quizzically. “Sure. Are you ok? You look a little pale...”
“Yeah,” said Faith. She cleared her throat. “I’m fine. Please don’t tell Patty.”
“Umm ok?” he shrugged.
Faith thanked him generously and then darted through the back door of the kitchen. Breathing hard she got a drink of water to collect herself. She waited a few minutes and took another sip. The water had just passed her lips when she heard the scream. She knew that voice anywhere. James! Faith raced back up front and looked frantically for James. The other coworkers seemed unfazed by the scream.
“Guys! Didn’t you hear James scream?” Faith’s voice was shrill and she was wheezing hard. She had terrible asthma and she thought she was going to have an attack.
“What scream?” said another coworker.
Faith sighed. Maybe the fatigue was getting the better of her. She calmed down a little.
“Where is James?”
“I’m right here,” he said from behind her.
“James! Oh thank goodness I thought you were..." she stopped and looked up at him. “James what happened to your eyes?”
His eyes had the same black hue as the elder’s. But James frowned.
“What about them?"
“They… never mind it’s not important.” She forced a smile on her face.
James turned back to the drive through to help bag. Faith took a deep breath and decided to put this whole mess behind her. She must be tired. hallucinations weren't a good sign, but she didn't want to stress herself out anymore. She took a deep breath and glanced at the front counter. She saw the woman standing there again.
“Can I help you?”
The woman just stood there. She kept staring at Faith and didn’t move a muscle. Faith felt uneasy. “Ma’am?” No answer. Faith reached out and put a hand on the woman’s shoulder. The woman jerked back and hissed. She barred her teeth and her fingers became claws, extending from her hands. She raked those talons across Faiths face, the sharpness cutting deep into the soft flesh.
Faith screamed in pain and terror. Her head snapped back and she collapsed onto the tile floor. She scrambled across the tile and her back hit the cabinet behind her.
“Get away from me! Stay away!” Faith was crying, her hair dripping with sweat and the blood from the gash. She shut her eyes tightly and sobbed. She felt a hand on her shoulder. She jerked away.
“Faith! Faith! Are you alright? What’s wrong?” Faith opened her eyes to see Patty. For a second she thought she saw concern on her manager’s face but it quickly turned to anger.
“Look! Don’t you see it?” Faith pointed to the blood, not really touching it.
“The blood! It’s right there! How can you not see it?”
“Faith, what are you talking about? There isn’t any blood.”
Faith stroked her marred face and… and the blood was gone. She gasped and felt for the incision, a cut or a wound but there wasn’t one.
“No! It was there!” Faith stood on shaking legs “she cut me!” Her face turned into one of shock when she saw that the woman wasn’t at the counter. She was seated back at that table and her hands were normal.
“Hanning, maybe I made a mistake keeping you here tonight. Maybe you should just go home. No one is coming in really I think we’ll be ok.”
Faith shook her head. "No it's fine." She really must be drained to be imagining all this stuff. "I'll- I'll be fine I probably just need to get something to eat."
Patty nodded. Faith didn't order anything though she sat down at the table rocking back and forth. She needed to calm down, and try to rationalize what was going on. She didn't know how long she sat like that, rocking and murmuring to herself. Patty's voice snapped her back into reality.
"Hanning, we have a customer." Faith sighed and stumbled behind the counter. The elderly woman approached the counter.
"What do you want?" said Faith in a voice bordering on hysteria.
The woman remained silent. Suddenly her already black soulless eyes grew darker, they drooped and seemed to run down her face like ink, her mouth opened wide and she growled an impossibly human noise. Her face stretched like putty, and she grew gradually in size. Tendrils sprouted from her back. They wrapped around Faith's torso and squeezed.
Someone was screaming and Faith had a vague idea it might be herself. The thing, it clearly wasn't a human much less a woman, brought her closer to her gaping jaws. Faith clenched her eyes shut and screamed louder.
She heard Patty's voice again.
"Faith! Faith!" Faith blindly lashed out trying to smack away at the creature. A hand, a normal one, clasped her flailing arms. Faith gasped and opened her eyes.
Once again Patty stood over her. Faith jerked up and looked frantically for the woman.
"She was here! S-she had me in those cursed tentacles! S-she was going to eat me!"
"Faith no one was here. No one has been in over two hours."
"No she was! The old woman! Or whatever the hell it was! It was here!"
“You think I’m crazy, don’t you?”
“No! You’re wrong! I’m not crazy! It happened! I..."
“Faith I believe you. Why don’t you come sit down in my office and we can call the cops?”
Faith nodded and followed Patty into her office. She sat in an arm chair. Patty exited the office to make the call while Faith sat there rocking slowly. She felt so tired. She continued rocking and she soon fell asleep.
She heard voices outside the office.
“I think it would be best if we took her in just for observation overnight. If she’s feeling up to it, maybe she can come back in after a few days.”
“Thank you doctor! She’s in here.”
With horror she realized Patty had called a psyche ward. The office door turned and opened and Faith screamed and tried to push away.
“No! I’m not crazy! I’m not!”
“Faith, sweetheart, calm down.” A doctor in white scrubs approached her.
“No!” Faith leapt up and made a lunge for the door but the doctor wrapped his arm around her in a headlock and plunged a hypodermic needle in her neck. Faith felt herself grow sleepy and the fight promptly left her. “No,” she murmured. Black dots danced in her vision and she passed out.
She woke a short while later. The bright harshness of the lights above her made her shield her eyes. She felt groggy and her vision swam and blurred in front of her. She blinked a few times and realized she was in a hospital bed. the place she was in however was hardly a hospital. the walls were dark and caked with dirt and what appeared to be drying blood. Her head hurt and she wondered how she had gotten here. Then her memory rushed over her like a wave. Panicked she tried to stand but found she couldn’t move her arms. She saw that she was restrained in a straight jacket and she screamed and screamed rolling wildly.
“I’M NOT CRAZY! I’M NOT! LET ME OUT OF HERE!” What was this place? Definitely not a hospital.
A devilish creature with horns came in and pricked her again with a needle. Faith tried to fight but she couldn’t. Once again blackness washed over her and she fell into sleep.
Several weeks had passed. Faith had come to the conclusion that she must have imagined everything that night and she was sure she was close to getting out of here wherever here was. She took her meds and sat quietly on her cot. They had taken off her straight jacket long ago. She wrote with a marker in her journal and smiled. Soon she’d be back at work and would see her family and her sister again. They had come to visit her several times while she resided here. And for the first month, Faith had been convinced she wasn’t crazy. Now she realized she hadn’t been crazy, just simply tired and had been stressed out. It would be any day now.
The doctor smiled as he watched Faith from her cell. To his right sat the elderly woman. He looked at her.
“Congratulations. We convinced her,” said the elder woman.
“Yes Lucy. She almost figured out reality, and came close to figuring out that her workplace wasn’t what it seemed. It’s sad she had to die before she arrived at the gate of hell.”
"Indeed the car accident was quite tragic. However we gained yet another soul."
"Another employee to run this failing hell food business."
He frowned, "where's James? you think he should give her another chance to work."
"You think we should tell her?"
"We're going to have to. She'll keep having anxiety until we do. Poor girl still has hope of getting out of her nightmare. We must destroy it. James?"
James appeared and bowed before Lucifer.
"Release her and put her back to work. Be sure to let her know where she is."
Lucifer smiled and watched James head towards the cell room.