Gregory L. Norris © 2019
All Rights Reserved
I hit the switch. The familiar cold, white glare from the overhead lights rained across the kitchen, prep station, and the industrial dishwasher, scenes of so many long shifts and leg cramps. The light did little to remove the greater darkness that hung over the back of my uncle’s restaurant. The gloom swirling outside had followed me into Abbott’s Table, one of your finer dining establishments along this part of Maine’s Rocky Headlands. Rain pelted the oblong window above the prep-station sink, where I’d cleaned and breaded untold thousands of shrimp. The ghostly aroma of garlic, lobster, and grilled meat hung over the place. Cloying, with an edge of lemon cleaner.
“Hello?” I called.
My heart hammered against my ribcage. I imagined my balls shriveling up against the root of my dick. An icy finger stroked my spine.
“Anyone here? It’s me, Whitney.”
Identifying myself made the creeping sensation even worse. The darkness had pursued me, constantly there at the periphery hiding in shadowy corners. Here in my uncle’s flagship restaurant after hours, the unwanted attention from sinister powers was more tangible, more intimate. I choked down a heavy swallow to find my mouth had gone completely dry.
“Griffin, it’s me. I saw your truck in the lot,” I said, aware of how my lips risked a smile at the mention of his name. Griffin. My heart raced for different reasons after that. “Griff?”
I checked the kitchen—empty. Willing my legs forward, I pushed past the rightward pair of swivel doors, hearing the awful voice of the restaurant’s manager, Marc with a c—Always keep to the right, that’s how it’s done at Abbott’s Table. The dining room sat dark and empty, chairs stacked upside down over tabletops, the floors swept, mopped, and shiny under the green glow of the exit lights.
I checked the bar and both of the public heads, finding the same result: no Griffin. My pulse continued its mad speed. Danger juice soured in my bloodstream. His truck in the far corner of the Abbott’s Table parking lot could have meant a hundred different things on any other night—Griffin out having fun with some of his hockey league buddies, late fun, guy stuff. I knew he wasn’t with the Ice Queen. No, after what had happened and the kiss that followed, Griffin wouldn’t have gone back to confront my cousin, November Abbott.
For a wonderful instant, the storm cloud dissolved, and I was in my car again, his big hand cupping my cheek, his mouth crushed over mine, claiming me as his and offering me all he had to give in return. I remembered the warm scent of pinesap, of Griffin’s magnificent body, the swell of his erection pressing against me as we kissed, and the certainty that what we both felt, while undeniably physical, went past simple attraction. Dare I again think it? Love.
I loved Griffin, and he loved me.
The rain pounding the world outside the restaurant’s windows unleashed eerie silver dapples across the dining room. I stood pondering, waiting for a sound, a sign. When none came, I turned and hastened back in the direction of the kitchen exit.
I dug in my sneaker treads on the rubber mat set between the kitchen and rear door, at first thinking I’d hallucinated Griffin’s voice. But then I faced the direction of the sound and found myself staring at the one corner of the restaurant I hadn’t thought to search: the walk-in refrigerator and freezer.
Reaching the big stainless-steel door seemed to take longer than the actual few seconds. I tugged on the latch. The door resisted, as though someone was pulling at the same time from the other side. The inner voice that had told me a week earlier to turn around, to not travel north to the town of Window, Maine, was back, urging me to get out. Just leave. Run!
I drew in a breath, smelling the rain, the kitchen’s funk, and the trace of clean, athletic sweat from the T-shirt I wore—Griffin’s sweat, and Griffin’s shirt, borrowed on an afternoon that now felt part of another decade. I pulled harder. The door released. A gust of cold, foggy air billowed out.
The front part of the walk-in was already lit up from inside, even though the light switch was off. I pushed through the long plastic strips of the freezer curtain and into the wide space that housed expensive cuts of tomahawk steaks, bins of heirloom tomatoes and other fresh produce from the local farmer’s market, and, I discovered, one sacrificial altar.
I froze, my eyes recording details—the waxy candles, three, burning around the body on the folding table, the sprigs of Datura stramonium Devil’s Snare flowers draped around the nude man’s corpse laid out in a funeral pose. I recognized the patch of hairy, athletic lower leg, upon which a winged lion had been inked.
“Griffin,” I gasped.
A breeze that hadn’t been there the previous second whispered through the walk-in, stirring the leaves of bunches of basil, parsley, and other fresh herbs. My paralysis broke. I moved beside the table, my eyes wide, not blinking. Griffin, naked, his hands folded over his midriff. Even as I reached my trembling fingers toward his and the voice in my head screamed for me to run—run from the restaurant, from Window, Maine, and, above all else, from Griffin—my eyes recorded the pallor of his skin. Griffin’s flesh was gray in the flickering candlelight.
My hand covered his. A chill raced up my fingertips. He was icy to the touch. No, impossible—hours before, in that other era, he’d held me, kissed me. And I had seen proof of our tomorrow together even as the storm clouds raced over our heads. Griffin had pledged his love and promised to return.
I glanced at Griffin’s big jock feet—still sexy despite their grayness, up his legs, past his junk, and all the way to his eyes, clamped shut. I gripped his hands, the fingers interlaced in prayer, and squeezed.
The dead man’s eyes shot open. Gone was their beyond-blue color—what I’d come to think of as twin sapphire gemstones. What focused upon me now was a pair of predator’s eyes with a wolf’s silver sharpness. The hands beneath my fingers abandoned their illusion of prayer and seized hold of my arm. I shrieked, attempting to pull away. Right before the corpse’s legs swung out and the altar collapsed, toppling candles, I saw Griffin’s mouth open. He licked his lips. His teeth chattered. The dead man salivated hungrily.
And then his weight spilled on top of me, and he was snapping at my throat.