The Final Fare Cafe

My arms were full of food which I balanced against the wall as I opened the cooler door and reached in groping for the light switch on the wall inside. As my hand finally made purchase of the switch, someone else’s hand clamped tightly over my wrist preventing me from turning the light on. Stunned I shrieked briefly, dropping my load, before standing there wide-eyed, and still, unable to move and unsure if I should. As far as I knew, I was alone, all of the other staff in the restaurant had gone home, so I had no idea who to expect. After a few seconds I finally gathered my wits, or perhaps lost them, and hollered, “Who’s in there? Let go of me and show yourself.”

There was no answer, but the hand suddenly released me and I yanked my arm back and slammed the cooler door. I knew there was a safety latch inside, and whoever was in there could still let their self out. Grabbing a rolling pin off a wrack near the door, I waited. Nothing happened, not even a sound. May hands shook, and my wrist still felt the imprint of icy fingers as I braved the door again. I grabbed the latch and yanked the door wide backing away quickly. No one came out. I eased closer and peered into the darkness, seeing nothing.

“It’s ok, I’m not going to hurt you,” I said still brandishing my rolling pin, and slowly reaching around to the switch. This time I flipped it on and as light flooded the cooler, I looked around, seeing absolutely no one.

I braced the door open and began picking up and moving my supplies into the cooler, keeping a watchful eye. As I turned to leave and reached for the switch, it clicked off, on its own. A coincidence I told myself as I hurried out and shut the door.

I knew no one had walked past me while I loaded supplies into the cooler, but I searched the restaurant looking for the intruder.

The place always took on an eerie silence when it was empty after dark, which I had grown used to, and usually welcomed it after a long busy day. I was always here late preparing things for the breakfast crowd.

The restaurant was a renovated underground basement, beneath an old rock building full of little rooms with stores designed to delight any shopper. Noises like pops, creaks, and whines from the old wood, rock, and metal reacting to temperature changes and wind whistling through old cracks and crevices were normal. In the late hours, the building had a life of its own, with a full chorus of sounds.

I had listened to the old building speak to the night in its usual way as I worked. Sometimes this seemed like being an eaves dropper on a private conversation. This particular evening while I worked, this conversation had seemed even more animated as though some sort of real excitement were being discussed. The wind howled outside, branches scraped against windows, the tin awning above the outside entrance popped and complained as the temperature cooled, and the wood stairs creaked as though they still bore the footfalls of the day. My small noises as I put away cooking pans and shoved boxes seemed loud in the absence of other human noises, but the building seemed as though it were trying to be heard over me tonight. I had become lost in my own thoughts.

If I had been truly present in nature’s conversation on that evening, I would have realized sooner, that the building had become quiet. It had ceased its conversation, as though in hushed stillness we both awaited to see what I would find.

It came in the form of blackness, as every light in the restaurant went out. I moved toward the light switch by the back door where shallow light filtered down the outside stairwell from a street light a few yards away. Just as I reached for it, the light nearest me came on, followed by each light across the restaurant, one by one.

I turned to walk back into the kitchen, watching the lights resume burning; there on the floor in my path set one of the very frying pans I had previously put away. I picked it up glancing around as I did, “Ok, who is here?” I laughed nervously, “Come on, show yourself!”

As the last lights came on, I saw him walk toward me dressed in an old style, gray pen stripe suit and a black top hat. Just for a fleeting second he was there, and then he was gone.

There was the sudden loud crashing of several pots onto the tile floor in the kitchen. I turned in time to see the last of them fall from their shelf as though someone had swept them off from one side to the other. I saw no one there to have caused their descent. I rather cautiously began picking them up and replacing them on the shelf. As I placed the last one back in its spot, another one fell, just missing my head. I tried putting it away several times and each time it clattered past me to the floor.

“Alright, so you don’t want that one up there. How about we just leave it on the stove?” I asked setting it on the nearest burner. As I looked up, I was startled to see him standing next to me. He reached and moved the pan from the front burner to the back, and then took two steps away and disappeared.

I stood still, waiting. Then five minutes after his disappearance, the building resumed it former chatter.

I finished my work looking over my shoulder all evening and then went home. The next day the pan I had left on the stove, had been put away again.

“Thank you to whoever put the pan away that I left it on the stove last night,” I said.

“There wasn’t a pan on the stove when we came in,” was the unanimous response.

One of the other cooks stopped and gave me an earnest look, “You met him, didn’t you?”

“Met who?” I asked, not sure I wanted to share the previous evening’ events.

“Dr. Fritz, our resident ghost,” he answered.

I said nothing.

During that day, the good doctor, took a special interest in me. He moved my cup and hid my spatula. Sometimes he would even lay the utensil I was searching for by my side for me to find. I even saw him walk by a few times, as did other staff and even some patrons.

That evening I found myself alone again. I was cleaning the stove which still had hot food on it when he appeared in a rage and threw the pot and its contents at me, and I barely had time to dodge the mass of it. I tried to ignore this and just clean it up, when he shoved another thankfully empty pot off the shelf above onto my head.

As I stood up from cleaning his mess, I realized there were several other ghosts walking the premises. Each wore white gowns that tied shut in the back and they appeared to be searching for someone or something. He was watching them too, looking distraught. Occasionally it seemed they spoke to one another in passing; mumbled voices I could hear, but not understand.

As I worked, they all disappeared again, and it was only him and me. He sat with his head in his hands at a corner table, ignoring me, which I welcomed. I finished my work and left that night.

He greeted me and some of my staff early that next morning with a glass bowl crashing at our feet as we entered the door. Several of the other ghosts were with him. He moved from one to the next to the next as though observing them. At least it was a slow day, but I noticed that these other ghosts, appeared to be patients, whom the good Dr. lost some many decades past, and they seemed to account for his mood.

Some of the patrons observed theses ghosts walking right through tables as though nothing was there. Others would lie down on the tables as though sleeping and simply disappear. None of our regular customers seemed anything but intrigued by all this, leading me to believe I was the last to know of our paranormal friends. The dishes crashing in the kitchen, only mildly startled any of our patrons.

I was sure they thought we were really having a bad day back there, and I supposed we were. A bad mood day for the ghost doctor resulted in our subsequent hardships. Before the evening was over I had to get stitches from the cut a large chef’s knife had left across my arm when it sailed through the air at me. Luckily the last of our customers had left just before this happened.

I have found that the customers come here because they are fascinated with eating where the dead still walk the rooms.

Why are we all still here? Why not find another job? The question is, why leave? The good doctor is temperamental, but he hasn’t lost a patient in 100 years, which makes us relatively safe, except minor mishaps of his moods. And the ones he has lost are still here walking the floors of, The Final Fare CafÃ?©, your only local restaurant housed in a century old renovated hospital morgue.

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