The Road Out: Part 2
The Road Out
Sam saw the sign through the heat shimmering off the road ahead. In faded red letters six feet high it read: LAST CHANCE CAFE.
Belial eased his foot off the gas and let the Mercedes slide into the gravel parking lot. He parked next to the only other vehicle there, a battered Ford pick-up that had seen better days, but not within the last twenty years or so.
"Why are we stopping?" Sam asked.
"As much as it irks me to do so, Samuel, even I have to follow convention at times," Ahriman replied with a slight curl of his lip.
Sam took a moment to appraise the diner. It seemed to be the stereotypical greasy spoon. It was slightly run-down; the desert sand had worn the white paint off its aluminum siding in various places. Two plate glass windows bracketed the entrance, a single glass door with a sign that said. COME ON IN! WE'RE OPEN! The oddest thing about the place was its location. Why the hell would someone try to run a diner out here in the middle of the desert?
"Step lively, Sam. The sooner we get this over with the sooner we can be on our way."
"Who you gotta see, Mr...er...Belial?"
"Actually, it's not me that has to see anyone, Sam. It's you. And as to who that is, you will find out soon enough. Now, enough questions. Let's just go inside."
Sam still had plenty of questions, but something in Ahriman's demeanor told him he might be better off if he kept them to himself. Instead, he opened the car door and stepped out onto the gravel.
The moment he left the confines of the car's cool interior he was struck by a wave of nausea that nearly buckled his knees. The heat was brutal. The sun still hung in it's noonday spot, and Sam actually wondered if the world had stopped turning.
It took every ounce of will Sam could muster to move away from the car and toward the door of the diner. Ahriman got out and strolled easily to the cafe's door, apparently unperturbed by the intense heat. He pulled the door open and ushered Sam inside.
* * *
A tiny bell hanging just over the door announced Sam's arrival into the Last Chance Cafe. The felt blessedly cool after the oppressive heat outside. Ahriman stepped past Sam and headed for a booth in the far corner. Sam started to follow when a voice from behind the lunch counter hailed him.
"Just take a seat at the counter, Honey, and I'll be right with you."
The waitress, a grandmotherly type, smiled at Sam from behind an empty pie rack and motioned to the row of stools bolted to the floor in front of the counter.
The waitress, Doris--according to her name tag--approached and set a tall glass of ice water in front of Sam.
Sam had forgotten how dry his throat had been when Belial first woke him, but the sight of the sweating tumbler in front of him brought his thirst rushing back. He was suddenly parched, as dry as the desert sand outside. He snatched up the glass and began to chug it.
"Whoa there, Sam," Doris said. "You gulp that down and you'll freeze your brain."
Icy bolts of pain shot through Sam's head, and if not for the mouth full of water he would have cried out loud.
"You okay, son?" Doris asked with obvious concern.
"Whew! Yeah. I'm fine, I think," Sam replied. He squinted his eyes and rubbed his temples. "Wow that was cold."
As the pain abated, Sam felt a clarity of mind steal over him, a feeling that was decidedly strange. Something bothered him. "How did you know my name?"
"We've been expecting you for sometime, Sam," Doris answered, "and if you'll be patient with us a while longer, everything will soon be explained. In the meantime, how about a piece of apple pie? It's Mike's special recipe, and I think you'll find it divine."
"I'm a little short on cash, but I suppose I could ask Mr. Ahriman for an advance. He'd promised to give me a job, says he'll make me a rich man."
"His money is no good here, Sam, but if you'd like a piece, just ask me. Sometimes, if there is something you want or need, all you have to do is ask and you can have it."
"Well, in that case, I guess I could go for a piece. I tell you, it feels like I haven't eaten in a month."
"I understand completely, son," Doris said cryptically and then yelled over her shoulder. "Mike! How about a piece of that fresh baked apple pie you made for our friend Sam. And throw a big scoop of vanilla ice cream on top, too, while you're at it."
"Comin' right up, Doris," came a rumbling voice from the kitchen.
"Well, isn't this just the sweetest thing," Ahriman growled from his booth. "We've still got a lot of ground to cover if we want to get to Tophet anytime soon, and you people want to sit and eat pie and ice cream. It's so maudlin, you're making me want to puke."
Mike stormed out through the swinging doors from the kitchen and started to come around the counter until Doris laid her hand on his shoulder. "Easy, Mike," she said softly.
"Listen, Ahriman," Mike growled menacingly, "one more word out of you and I'll come over this counter and bust your ass like I did before."
Tiny flames seemed to dance in Ahriman's eyes as he responded to the threat. "That was a long time ago, Michael. I am a lot stronger now."
"I'm warning you, Belial. You've had your chance, and now it's our turn. You know the rules."
"Ah yes. The rules. Who can forget the rules?" Ahriman spit the word out like a man would spit a piece of worm after biting a rotten apple. "But I will remind you that your time is getting short." With theses final words, he turned to the window and began contemplating the endless miles of desert beyond.
Sam was just sinking his teeth into the second bite of the best pie he'd ever tasted when the bell above the door jingled softly. A young couple walked into the diner, hand in hand. The woman wore a floral dress that reached just below her knees. She looked to be in her mid-twenties. Her companion, a man about the same age, wore a pair of blue cover-alls. They were both barefoot. Still holding hands, they walked over and stood next to Sam.
"Hello, Doris," the young woman said.
"What's cookin', Mikey?" the young guy asked good naturedly.
"Hello, Mr. Bookman" the young couple said in unison, staring at Sam now.
Sam looked up and into their eyes. He knew these people from somewhere. He was sure of it, but for the life of him he could not remember where he had met them.
"Sam, I'd like you to meet my friends. This is Paul Chisolm," Doris said motioning to the man in coveralls, "and this is his wife, Natalie. Is there anything you'd like to say to them, Sam?"
Sam again studied the young couple. Even the names were familiar. He strained to remember and suddenly it started coming back to him, like images flashing across the screen of a nickelodeon--the convenient store, the elderly couple, the gun, the blood...
"Oh, my God!" Sam exclaimed in horror. More memories flashed across his mind: the trial, a prison cell.
Sam tried to stand, but his legs gave out beneath him. He collapsed in a heap next to the stool. He covered his face with his hands and began to weep. He cried out his anguish; he cried tears of shame.
Doris knelt on the floor and began to comfort him. "It's all right, Sam. Be brave. Do you remember what I said earlier, Sam? About needing something and asking for it?"
Sam swiped at his eyes, almost--but not quite--in defiance. He looked into Doris's face. "Yes."
"Well, now is your chance, Sam, and if you're smart you'll take it because you'll never get another one."
Sam gathered himself and stood up. He turned to face the two people he had so badly wronged.
Paul and Natalie stood silently, waiting. They smiled.
"Hurry, Sam," Doris urged. "Our time is almost up."
Sam knew what he had to say, but it kept catching in his throat, these words, this favor he felt he had no right to ask for.
"Remember, Sam. The pie. All you had to do was ask for it."
Sam looked straight at Paul and Natalie. "Oh, God. I am so sorry. Please forgive me!" Tears again erupted from his eyes, but this time they were tears of relief, relief from years of guilt and sin.
Belial Ahriman virtually flew out of the booth where he had been sitting and watching. His face contorted with rage, and Sam saw his true face. It was terrifying, yet Sam was unafraid.
The overhead lights flickered, and the walls of the diner shook as Ahriman bellowed. "You fool! You were mine." Saliva flew from his lips, as he shrieked, then he turned and bolted, through the door slamming it behind him.
Mike started laughing, and Doris soon joined him.
"Did you see the look on his face? That was priceless!" Mike had a few tears running down his face by now.
Paul Chisolm clapped Sam on his shoulder. "That was a brave thing you just did, Sam, and we're all mighty proud of you. I just knew you would make the right decision when it came down to it. Welcome to our family."
Natalie reached out a delicate hand and clasped Sam's elbow. "We can go home now, if you're ready." Her voice was as soft as feathers, and all Sam could do was nod.
The three of them left the diner then. Mike held the door, and Doris smiled at them as they stepped through together.
The sun was just rising over the distant mountains and had not yet evaporated the morning dew that glistened in its soft light. A tiny stream chattered noisily beside the path leading into the gentle foothills, and the woods were filled with the birds happily greeting the new day with their song.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
From the Houston Chronicle [Oct. 3]
[AP] Convicted murderer Samuel J. Bookman became the eighth person to be put to death this year in the state of Texas. He was pronounced dead at 12:03 A.M. He was convicted three years ago for the robbery and murder of elderly store owners, Paul and Natalie Chisolm.
This is one of the first stories I ever wrote. I kind of like it. Comments and suggestions on how I can improve are welcomed.
Thanks to all,