I wrote this story on a tube ride home from the cinema 4 years ago. (Apologies to those who have read it before.) Sometimes tales pop into your head in one go. I’d just seen a horror flick with a friend – you’ll work out which one before long.
This does contain strong langauge and bad jokes and my favourite character to write – Jeff. (I must try and get him into a few more tales). I posted this back on Myspace when I wrote it, but I thought tonight it might be worth airing again. It’s not art, it’s a schlocky parody and it was fun to do.
Speed limit forgotten I’m racing boys in fast hatches on a road in the back end of countryside UK. The woods and the fields never really had it for me. These were the lands of weird country pubs and people who don’t like strangers. I’m trying to ignore the fact that the passenger window rattles when I pass 65mph and turn the music up. Jeff barks along next to me as we duet AC/DC tracks at the top of out lungs, “You! Shook me allll niiigght long.” Jeff howls over the last word with me and I scruff him affectionately. He’s always great company on long journeys as a singing partner and a friend to keep me awake at dusk with a bark or his unfortunate flatulence.
“Jesus Jeff, was that you?!” I exclaim in not so mock horror. He whines a little and licks his chops amiably at me shifting on the passenger seat. “Fucker,” I mutter and open a window. Taking a cigarette from a pack in the central console, I think twice at the wisdom of lighting up next the ‘farty the wonder pup’.
I shoo the dog into the back and light up, considering the darkness that is falling around us. The rhythmic cat’s eyes are becoming hypnotic in the half-light. “Who knew England could feel so big eh Jeffy?” A car approaches with full beams and I squint at it and yawn. Jeff parps softly in the back seat. “Well, it certainly seems like a longer trip with you in the back you stinky freak.”
I watch him through the rear view off and on; he won’t settle and is making small whining noises.
He yaps. I sigh. Spotting a country diner chain I indicate to pull in for a snack and a nature break for Jeff.
“Ok you smelly feller. You empty out, I need to fill up. I’m famished.”
I pull into the car park, not many people in there but that’s ok, there’s not many people who would stop here to eat unless they had to. It’s drab and dated, but promises fried food so I’m in.
Jeff hops into the front as I switch off the engine and is first out the door bounding over my lap as I open it. “After you,” I mutter reaching for my bag and stretching a stiff leg out into the evening.
A quick glance around as I lock the car shows my chosen rest stop to be not unlike something I would expect to see on a crime investigation program. I look at my watch and whisper under my breath. “She was a brunette, about five seven dressed in filthy blue jeans and probably stinking of dog farts.” A bark from the bushes to my right sounds distinctly like satisfaction and Jeff comes bounding out to my relief also. He’s wagging his tail so hard he can hardly run straight. I grin at the stupid thing, “That good huh? Well, if you feel that good I might just take a crap myself. C’mon you big duffer.”
The diner is an English translation. More like a US diner/UK roadside cafe hybrid and not a pretty one. Faded red, white, and yellow Formica looks bleak but not unhygienic. We slip into a booth Jeff tries sitting opposite me until the waitress approaches looking less than impressed at his table manners. “Jeff get down,” I say and take a menu as he settles near my feet.
I look at the waitress smiling expectantly. She looks as though she has worked back-to-back shifts here without sleep for twenty years. Without looking up from her notepad, she licks a pencil and asks me what I want. “I’ll take the all day breakfast please.”
“and can I get a bowl of water and some sausages for the wolf there?”
She looks down at Jeff with distaste, “Yeah. What d’you want to drink?”
“A coffee, thanks. Oh, and I can I get some fries with the breakfast?”
“Oh, um, ok, what about hash browns?”
I notice that her hands are starting to shake and she seems to want to turn away. I try again. “What about potato wedges?”
“No!” She says sharply. “We don’t sell those things here.” She points to a sign above the counter. ‘NO FRIES, CHIPS, WEDGES, HASH BROWNS OR OTHER TUBER RELATED PRODUCTS.’ I grin and scoff at it. “Really?”
She walks back toward the kitchen, shaking her head on the way. I try not to pull a face, but that has to be one of the oddest dining experiences I have had in a while. Best to just shut up and wait for my fried goods to arrive. The sooner I am out of here the better.
I play idly with Jeff under the table; he chews playfully at my foot as I nudge him. A plate slams down in front of me and a coffee cup spills its contents into a saucer as it too hits the table. My dinner. “Thanks,” I say meekly to the back of the waitress. Boy, this place takes beating for service. She returns and puts the bowl of water and sausages on the table as well. She looks at me and I smile weakly. Taking this as a reply, she returns to her counter, apparently occupied with her crossword.
Jeff hits his head on the underside of the table with excitement and I hush him placing the sausages and water on the floor. “Cut it out big-dog or you’ll get us both thrown out before I have a chance to eat.”
The breakfast looks good, but the coffee smells divine and I drain half of it in one go. Roadside cafes might not have it for service but they sure know how to fry food all right.
Enthusiastically I pick up my knife and fork choosing what to dive into first, when I drop both into my lap. My hands have disobeyed me. I feel drunk. ‘Thatssz funnheey’ I think vaguely as I slip backwards and down into the bench seat. My eyes close and open in slow motion. I can see the waitress coming over and I can hear Jeff whining. I can see grey through my eyelashes and I feel the dog fall onto my crumpled legs dragging me further under the table.
A wake with headache and a mouth full of fur. I’m somewhere dark and draftee and have been thrown face down into Jeff. Not a great start.
Picking dog hairs from my tongue I sit up and realise that my feet are tied together, but not my hands. Some real smart kidnapper here I guess. I look at Jeff, he’s snuffling slightly in his sleep, but breathing at least. I don’t relish having to try to carry his heavy rump put of this place.
Asides from Jeff I can smell something worse in the room. My eyes are becoming accustomed to the small shafts of light coming in through wooden walls. There are trays of plants in the gloom, they must be potted in compost, as the atmosphere is warm and rotten. I pick at the rope on my feet and it comes away easily. I wonder at the capacity of the person who did this.
Things come back to me slowly. The waitress? I remember the diner but it couldn’t have been the food as my stomach is still growling for something to eat. I can hear someone outside walking along the wall toward the door. I get up quietly and step behind the opening, listening to someone mess with the lock. The door creaks open and I look wildly about for something to hit out with. Not far from where Jeff is lying I can see a trowel, it’s not much and it’s too far away at the moment but it might work if I can get to it.
A torch beam swings across the floor and over Jeff, then across the ropes I left on the floor. It switches up across the trays of plants. Small green sprouts seem to shiver in the light and then, as one the fronds all move with the direction of the beam. These smart plants transfix me for a moment until the door suddenly crashes back into my face.
Something crunches and I feel warm blood spill over my top lip in a splintery mess. The door swings back and the torch bean shines in my eyes. A male voice asks, “Think you could hide behind the door? You should know I’d guess that, ain’t nowhere else you could be in the shed.”
I flinch at the light and the terrible speech. The torch flicks down and I blink trying to see as someone reaches and grabs my hair pulling me into the room.
“Knew I should have tied you better. I take five minutes to get more rope and you’re up again.”
I’m clawing at the hand that has my hair. Staggering about in some ill-matched dance with the disco light provided by the torch.
“Just you settle down lady. It won’t be so bad if you relax. Won’t feel a thing and then you can help us make the plants grow.”
He throws me down near my dog and I glance at one of the plant trays. From the soil pokes a rotting finger joint and I realise that the compost in here is more than can be found at my local garden centre. As the gardener takes another step closer, his torch light moves over the trowel. Only one chance I reckon. I grab the tool and aim for where I think his throat might be. He grabs at my arm but misses and with a grizzly sound, the rusty trowel makes a connection with his neck. One of his hands flies up to the wound and the other packs me a fine punch below the ribs. Winded I fall to my knees.
He’s dropped the torch and it is rolling back and forth on the ground creating the sensation that the shed is tipping back and forth. I lean forward onto hands and knees trying to reach the light when an upward kick sends me over backwards, hands to my face again. In silhouette from the small light I can see that he has taken the trowel from his neck and is about to return the favour. I can’t move fast enough and hope against hope that this won’t hurt as much as I think it will.
He raises his arm and I decide that eyes shut might be best when a fierce snarl comes from somewhere behind me head. I take a breath and open my eyes in time to see Jeff leap up at the gardener, toppling him, snapping, and biting all the while. Time to go.
I stand on shaking legs and run for the door. The diner is up ahead but maybe not a wise choice unless I can get around it to my car. I pat my pockets and thank someone that I tend to put my keys there rather than my bag, which is now missing. I can’t say I fancy going to look for it now either.
I turn to whistle Jeff who comes to heel obediently looking up at me. There is blood on his coat and I think twice about patting him with so much aggression still in there.
I look to the fields in the dark behind the cafe and take a step that way, halting as a voice from the potting shed croaks after us. “Not the field.”
“Oh yeah?” Jeff has his hackles up again and I put a hand on his neck to keep him by my.
I shake myself realising that this is the sort of delay that gets horror heroines captured. I pull the shed door shut as the voice from the darkness continues. “The potatoes have eyes!”
I keep to the shadows and creep round to the field. It’s pitch black but there is no fence, just low plants and the brick wall of the cafe. I can see light coming from the back window and the radio is playing some easy listening track. I duck low and step softly hoping that no one will be loitering out back. Something catches my ankle, as I get closer to the window. I trip and fall on my face. There’s a pause in the music and I hope that the radio has not been turned off for a reason.
Jeff whines softly next to me and I will him not to bark.
The strangest sensation moves along my leg. It as though whatever I tripped over has begun creeping upward. I tug at it, but the grip gets tighter.
I look back and see a creeper plant pulling out of the ground and wrapping itself around my foot. It heads slowly towards my knee as I start to struggle with it, winding the other way as fast as I can.
Soil falls from the tendril and I can just make out where it is coming from the ground. Something large and cold comes off in my hand as I pull the last leaves from my foot and crouch. Holding the object up to the light of the window I see that I am holding a potato. “Well fuck me, that crazy bastard was right.”
To my horror the potato sprouts fast green shoots around my fingers. I hurl it into the dark. I can hear rustling at ground level and Jeff is whining louder now. We need to leave, but I think there is something more I can do before we go.
Walking back to the shed I reach into my back pocket for my cigarettes. I open the door as quietly as I can. The gardener is still mumbling inside. The stench is appalling, whatever gas is being released into this dark room, I dearly hope it is the right one. If Jeff taught me anything it’s that natural gas can be pretty dangerous.
I place a cigarette in my mouth and light a match. The farmer looks up at me.
“No,” he whimpers, confirming my suspicion. Stepping back I toss the match into the room, sacking starts to burn. In the light of the flames, I can also see canisters. “Looks like we lucked out eh Jeff?”
Before he can answer with a bark, we race across the car park, no longer bothered by the freaks inside.
I try to open the door casually, hoping that no one inside with notice. Jeff jumps in just as I hear the diner door slamming.
I leap into the car and lock the door as the waitress runs towards us apparently waving a cleaver. Behind her, the shed explodes and her step falters just as I managed to get the keys to work in the ignition. We rev and speed away into the night.
In my rear-view mirror I can see the waitress sag and turn back to her cafe, it too has begun to burn along with the shed. Jeff barks, it sounds like triumph.
“Yeah not yet dude, let’s just wait until we hit some real civilisation.”
A few miles on and light is starting to show on the horizon. The gas is looking low but it is enough to get me into a metropolitan area, I think. A petrol station shows up ahead and Jeff parps excitedly.
I open a window to let the stench out and peer at the cafe attached to the gas pumps. A sign in the window says “NO CAKE, NO BREAD, NO CEREAL”. I don’t bother stopping the engine. A voice calls from near the pumps, “Can I help you miss?”
I wave a “No thanks!” out of the window and turn the radio on.
Jeff whines at me licking his teeth. “I know smelly, I’m hungry too, you saw the sign though. No cake, no bread, no cereal. I’d be guessing the corn has ears.” I laugh at my dog and he barks in my face as we start singing to rock and roll on the radio.