We occupied the café, waiting, as always waiting, bathed in music constantly spinning from the Wurlitzer 1015, the Bubbler, the smells of bacon and coffee ever present. We waited on doom, on disaster, on mobilization to rescue the hapless. We were superheroes. We waited.
And we couldn’t leave, not in the ordinary way.
But doom could enter. Today the door jangled open and the newest version walked in, all six feet and black jeans of him. His tennis shoes were red; I guess that’s something different. He asked for pie like they all do, though.
“What kind?” Shirley asked. She waved at the garish signs on the wall. Cat’s Eye Apple Pie, bubbling hot. Sweet Cherry Pie Oh Yeah next to that. Our stale rock’n’roll jokes.
“Apple,” he said in a gravel-filled voice.
While he consumed that slab of cinnamon-spiced deliciousness we grew ever more tense. The nickelodeon was right there, enticing him with choices, and we dreaded every one. Would he choose anarchy? None of us enjoyed straightening out that kind of mess though Captain Bob had a talent for it. Or maybe war. SoldierBlue loved quelling war. I was partial to stopping bank robberies, but that’s just me.
Whatever disaster our newest doom chose, we’d go clean it up.
Beth, a pale young woman with lank hair, except when you looked at her sideways and she muscled up with studded leather armor, sorta like seeing a 3D postcard, Beth said, “Please, Mister, please, don’t play B-17.”
“Ha ha,” I said. B-17 was the house number, the only number that Doom played. And the song was never the same.
“Place your bets,” I said from my wheelchair at the table. That’s me, the Gambler, and not all my bets pay off. But I was up for any of Doom’s adventures, me and my wheelchair of, excuse the expression, doom. My friends and I tossed green paper and shiny coins into a pile on the table. Our wagers were low and lazy and we listened to Doom chewing his way through his slice of pie.
Every bite of pie freaked us out that much more. But there’s an end to everything, and the pie, consumed, ended. Doom pushed back from the counter, stretched his arms over his head, and stood. He tossed something shiny onto the counter by his plate. Shirley snatched it up.
Marco, next to me at the round table, intoned, “Doom, doom, doom,” but not loud. Still, I shushed him. Doom was walking.
I’m not gonna beat around the bush. Doom didn’t push any buttons. He didn’t even look at the list of selections, the titles neatly typed on sheets of paper attached to page-turning levers. He bent at the knees, grasped our jukebox around the midbeam, and stood. Then he did what I assume we always did between the song’s beginning notes and the unspooled crescendos at the end of any great song: he disappeared.
With our Wurlitzer.
Everyone but me and Shirley surged to their feet. One at a time, they settled back down again.
“We should do something!”
After that uncomfortable pause, I yelled, “Hey, Shirley! How about a round of root beers for my friends?”
Shirley woke from the shock that still had the rest of us grounded. “Get it yourself.” She untied her frilly pink apron and piled it on the counter. “I quit.”
“You can’t quit. There’s nowhere else to go.” Not that I wanted to go anywhere else.
“Wanna bet?” She tossed a shiny silvery thing up and down, up and down. “He didn’t pay with a coin. It’s a key.” She shoved the key into the door lock. Mind you, the door hadn’t had a lock even a minute ago, but she turned the key. The snick of the door unlocking and the squeal of the door opening fell into the silence like chords from the loudest rock-and-roll song. She pushed on through. The door swung behind her and settled ajar.
“That must have been some great pie,” I joked. No one laughed.
SoldierBlue lurched to his feet. “Maybe I can catch up with her,” he said, and then he was gone. Superheroes stood, one at a time, and passed through the door, individually. I dropped my eyes and flinched every time the door swung shut behind each departure. And then my good friend Beth stood up.
“It’s not the end, is it?” Her leather armor didn’t flash. She looked scared. And ordinary.
“Of course not,” I lied, knowing once she left I’d never see her again. Why would she return? It was the end, maybe a good end for Beth. No more sitting around the café waiting for disaster to strike so we could fix it. Don’t go, I thought, while I waved her away.
And so she left.
Marco and I played another round of blackjack, both of us unnerved by the unmusical silence of the place. Even the cooking smells had fled.
He threw his cards down and said, “Well, I’m out. Coming?”
“Soon,” I said to his escaping back. Never, I thought. I rolled up to the door. It was still ajar, slightly open to possibilities. But not to superhero powers. I’d be ordinary.
I shoved the door closed. A sign appeared on the frosted glass, red letters blaring CLOSED. But nothing’s forever, I thought. Doom would be back. I rolled back to the table and dealt myself a game of solitaire. Soon.
Jude-Marie Green has published stories in online magazines, anthologies, and podcasts. Her work has appeared in Toasted Cake, Perihelion, and previously in Every Day Fiction. She attended Clarion West and won the Speculative Literature Foundation’s Older Writers Grant.
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