by Christian A. Larsen
“Why’re you here?” asked the old man at the far end of the table. He was dressed all in black, with shoe-black hair, like a Vegas priest without the white square of the clerical collar. The dim light of the red tallow candles played at the crags on his face.
“I―I don’t know,” stammered the young man, tugging at the frayed ends of his concert t-shirt while he knitted his thick eyebrows. “Where am I?”
“You’re at my table,” answered the old man, the right side of his mouth pulling up like a wry smile or the precursor to a flying gob of spit. “My table. And no one ever comes without an invitation.” His voice was gravelly. Baritone. Powerful with experience. Old but not feeble.
“Look, you old fart,” started the man, sticking out his chin. “I don’t know who the hell you are, or how I got here, but it wasn’t my decision, and I certainly didn’t get a fucking invite. I know that much!”
The old man smiled and extended his hand over the table, set with fine china settings and empty silver serving dishes. “Have a seat there. The dishes are all laid out and the food’s almost ready, but we should talk a little bit first―just you and me.”
The chair slid easily across the polished floor on clawed feet, and it surprised the young man, but not half as much as his obeisance.
Curiosity, he told himself. He sat down against the plush velvet upholstery and made an inventory of the room. Thick shadows clung to corners like a generation of cobwebs, and it made guessing its size next to impossible. The dining room was simultaneously claustrophobic and frighteningly vast.
Black eyes stared at him from deep within the face of the old man, and unable to meet them, the young man fingered at the card on his plate―embossed with copper-colored letters in a script so fine it was almost impossible to read. The Feast of St. Fiend, it said.
“What’s the Feast of St. Fiend?”
The right side of the old man’s mouth twitched. “You have a hard time seeing what’s right in front of you, don’t you, son?”
“What the fuck?” scowled the young man. “I don’t have to take this shit. Ask a simple question―”
The old man lifted his hand, cutting the young man off completely. “How about I ask you a question? What’s the last thing you can remember?”
The young man wanted to verbally savage the old man, maybe toss a plate on the floor for good measure, but something was stopping him―the old man’s eyes? The lids pulled away from his eyeballs like empty window boxes, or a set of starving lips reaching for a few scraps of food. “I was―was getting off the bus … hey, guy, are you this St. Fiend on the card? Because that’s a fuckin’-A name.”
“You were getting off the bus?”
“Uh, yeah,” said the annoyed young man. Too much more of this guy, he thought, and I’m walking out of here. He didn’t ask himself why he wasn’t already, mostly because he never asked himself a question to which he didn’t already have an answer. “I was heading to my mom’s to fix the toilet. The super at her place sucks ass.”
“Your stop, huh?” asked the old man, fingering the steak knife and three-tined fork at his place setting.
The young man knitted his eyebrows again, and the unwilling answer he gave seemed drawn out of him. “Well … not exactly.”
“Then why’d you get off the bus?”
“The bus driver … ”
“The pregnant bus driver?”
“The bitch bus driver,” said the young man, remembering what happened with that odd feeling of pride. “She told me to get off her bus. Can you believe it? Like she owned it. I paid my fare and was enjoying a little beverage after a long day when she threw a fucking fit.”
“Knocking one back on a city bus, eh?” asked the old man, running his tongue under his front teeth. “You must have been pretty thirsty, weren’t you?”
“You deserved it.”
“Like she deserved to be shoved to the ground?”
The young man’s head bounced backward, like some invisible hand tapped him on the forehead. “I … she … I didn’t push her that hard, and she wouldn’t get out of my way.”
“I thought you said she kicked you off the bus.”
“Holy shit, mister, what’s with the third degree, and who are you, anyway? Her father or something? She kicked me off the bus for drinking. When I told her to fuck off, she radioed for the cops. What was I supposed to do, wait for them to arrest me?”
“So you pushed her out of your way?”
“She wouldn’t get out of my way,” countered the young man. “I told you that. She was asking for it.” He looked at the bone white china plate in front of him. It looked big enough for him to crawl into with room to spare.
“Sure, I hear you, buddy,” the old man assured him. “Then what happened?”
“I got off the bus.”
“And―I … don’t … ”
“You don’t remember?”
The young man knotted his eyebrows into tiny fists over his eyes as he tried to chase down the memory. “I stepped off the bus … ”
“You stepped off the bus, right back off the curb and into a minivan.”
“Head to grill in a spectacular crunch of human tissue.”
The young man’s head felt wet, like a tear rolling from his hairline. He reached up to touch it and his fingers came back bloody. He probed with his fingertips and felt a slippery flap of rubber, peeling off his forehead over a dent in his skull, crackled like a piece of artwork. But who was the artist?
“I need a hospital … a doctor,” gasped the young man.
“Oh, you’re beyond that,” said the old man, shaking out a pressed napkin and tucking it into his collar. “It’s time to eat.”
“Am I dead?”
“You betcher ass,” said the old man.
“And you’re St. Fiend?”
“You don’t get it, do you, son?” asked the old man, rising. He had a knife in one hand an a fork in the other. “My name? I have many, but nowadays most make it Temeluchus, the angel of torment. This isn’t a feast for St. Fiend―it’s the feast of St. Fiend.” The old man walked toward the young, savoring each step.
The terror in the young man twisted in his gut. “But how can I be St. Fiend? I was going to my mom’s to fix the … the toilet. I go to church every Christmas and rode in the toy drive last October!”
“That’s the saint part,” said the old man, lifting his guest out of his seat and onto the nearest place setting. “The pregnant pushing bully; the lying, cheating menace? That’s the fiend part, and to tell you the truth, that’s the part that tastes best.”
The young man shrieked as the old man plunged his fist into his innards, lifting out ropes of hot entrails like the thickest, reddest spaghetti he’d ever seen.
“I’m tellin’ ya’―this is the good stuff.” He took one ragged end in his mouth and pulled it into him like a snake eating a mouse.
“Oh, God, let me die!” begged the young man, unable to squirm up the slippery sides of the bloody plate. Either he had shrunk or it had grown.
“You’re already dead, St. Fiend,” said the old man, his face clotted with gore. “And the best part is, at least for fans of culinary delight like I am, you’re coming back for dinner tomorrow night. And the next, and the next … ”
The young man would have screamed if his lungs weren’t already hanging limply out of the old man’s sucking lips.