“We are meeting every Wednesday night at this place. It is a restaurant. The vibe is weird there but the food is good. So good, in fact, that it is almost addicting,” Maddie told Jenna.
“Sure I will come,” Jenna replied.
An hour after their conversation Jenna pulled into the parking lot with a weird feeling rising from the pit of her stomach to her throat. The building was made of gray brick and there weren’t any windows. Jenna noticed that there weren’t very many cars in the parking lot either, but she did notice the gray transit and kia that Maddie’s family always drove. She parked next to them and turned off the car. The weird feeling flipped in her throat again. She acknowledged its recurrence, but chose to go inside anyway.
Walking up the cement steps, she looked up at the large black door. Once she reached the top of the steps, she reached for the knob; she hesitated. Something was not right, and she could not place it. She turned to look towards the street and noticed there wasn’t a restaurant sign. Actually, there wasn’t any way of knowing this building housed a restaurant at all. She turned back to face the door, contemplating whether or not she should enter. She started to leave, but remembered Maddie and her family were inside. There was no way this restaurant was inimical, because Maddie’s family would never attend there otherwise. Jenna chuckled at herself for being so paranoid and turned the knob, stepping her first foot on old, deteriorated wood. She walked in and noticed an old woman situated at the front desk right away. There were black chairs with green cushions that lined the walls. A few souls sat in the chairs dispersed around the room. Jenna avoided eye contact with any of them, heading straight for the old woman at the desk.
“Excuse me. I am looking for the restaurant” Jenna stated.
“Down the stairs,” the woman grunted.
The voice startled Jenna. It was much too low to be a voice of a woman and the grunt within the voice sounded like a noise from a pig. Jenna shook off the encounter and started for the staircase. Once she rounded the stairs, she saw another door. Turning past the door, she smiled at her second family sitting at a long table covered with a white cloth. Jenna laid eyes on Maddie first, smiled at her, then glanced around the table to see who would be present for dinner.
“Hey Jenna!” Emery exclaimed as he walked to her to greet her with a hug. The rest of the family followed suit. The dinner consisted of family style turkey, mashed potatoes with gravy, and green beans. Everyone passed the bowls around after the waiter placed the food in the center. Jenna observed the waiter while everyone else jumped to serving the food.
He was tall, thin, and had some scruff. He wasn’t friendly nor was he rude; it was that awkward in between.
“What are you staring at?” Maddie asked.
“Oh nothing! I was just thinking, so I stared off into space.” Jenna replied quickly.
“The food is delicious, so you should dive in.” Linda exclaimed.
Jenna nibbled at her mashed potatoes, but because she could not shake the feeling that something was off, she decided it was probably better to shift her food around the plate instead of ingesting it. After hours of laughter and conversation, everyone realized that the restaurant would be closing soon, so it was time to leave. Everyone stood from their chairs overstuffed from the food.
The waiter darted back to the kitchen as everyone began to leave. Jenna exchanged hugs with everyone as they began to head up the stairs towards the parking lot. She was on her way out as well but decided to stop for a restroom break before her drive home.
The bathroom, old and unsanitary, was a destination in which Jenna would spend the least amount of time that she could. The feeling she got in this place was unlike anything she had ever experienced. She couldn’t interpret it, but she could interpret the growling of her stomach since she chose not to eat at the restaurant. The toilet flushed as she stood up. Quickly, she washed her hands and dried them. She opened the restroom door to find that everyone had left. That only made her want to leave that much more. On her way out, she glanced around the room. There were only two other guests dining in the restaurant and the waiter was in the kitchen doorway watching them like a hawk. Suddenly, his dark eyes met hers. She darted her eyes towards the wooden floor. After a couple steps, she glanced at him again. He was glaring at her. Her pace quickened as she reached the staircase. Taking two steps at a time, she made her way towards her car and farther away from the creepy place that gave her a feeling she just couldn’t shake.
The half way point of the staircase was marked by a landing; right as her foot hit the landing a large, disgruntled man stepped out of the door near the bottom of the stairs.
“This place isn’t what you think it is. This place doesn’t just have a restaurant for the money. They don’t make money just through the restaurant either. This place isn’t what you think it is,” he said panicked. Jenna turned to get a quick look at the character shouting such remarks, matching her suspicions. The crazy look in his eye told her that if she didn’t get out of this building right that second she may never see the light of day again. She practically ran the rest of the way up the stairs unaware that the strange man was following her. She ran past the people in the waiting room and the old woman at the desk. The front door shook, but it did not budge as she pulled.
“This place isn’t what you think it is,” the man shouted again. She shook the door as if her life depended on it, because quite frankly, she was pretty sure it did. Jenna observed the door from top to bottom. There were two small locks at the bottom near the floor. Kneeling down, she flipped both locks as the man made his way toward her; she was very aware of his closeness now. The door flew open this time, revealing the empty parking lot with only her car. Seconds passed, and she was in her car with the door shut and locked. She sped off unsure of where to even begin in attempting to process the events that just unraveled.
Jumbles of thoughts shot around in her brain. Did they poison the food? Was Maddie’s family who she thought they were? Was she just letting her imagination get the best of her? She arrived home and prayed.
“Amen,” she ended. She decided that it must have been all a pigment of her imagination. She probably misread the waiter, misheard the man at the bottom of the stairs, and Maddie’s family was her family now. She knew they wouldn’t ever do anything to put her in danger. Jenna thought about talking through the crazy thoughts she had with the family, but decided it was better just to keep it to herself and hope that they would choose another restaurant for the following Wednesday.
“Hey Jenna! We are planning to meet at the same restaurant as last week. I have been craving those mashed potatoes all week,” Maddie exclaimed.
“Oh. I though you said you wanted to cut back on the carbs,” Jenna replied, fishing for a reason to talk Maddie into another restaurant.
“Yeah I thought so too, but those mashed potatoes are all I can think about. I am not the only one either. The rest of my family has been craving the food as well. Meet us there at 7?” she asked.
“Uh I think I have something Wednesday.”
“You just told me you were free through text an hour ago.”
“Oh right… I forgot my plans were cancelled. I will be there.”
The clock ticked by as Jenna felt more uneasy by the second. She tried to convince herself that she needed to get out of her own head and enjoy some fellowship with her family in Christ.
She pulled into the parking lot just as the Youngs were getting out of their car. Molly ran over and opened her car door.
“Hey Jenna! I can’t wait to eat their food! Can you?” Molly yelled while jumping up and down.
“Uh yeah I can’t wait either,” Jenna said nervously smiling.
“Come on!” Molly grabbed Jenna’s hand and led her to the door. The old lady wasn’t at the desk this time nor were there people in the chairs. Molly pulled Jenna down the stairs right to the table they were at the week before. The table was set as if it were the Wednesday before; nothing was different.
The food was served in the same platter by the same waiter with the same weird look in his eye. Oddly enough, Jenna also noticed the same two diners at the same table as before. It was as if it was the following Wednesday and no time had passed at all. Everyone barely let the waiter set the food on the table before digging in. The feeling that overwhelmed Jenna the week before was unbearable this week. It did not leave room for an appetite. She quietly put her food in a slot under the table so that it looked as if she ate the meal alongside them. The waiter eyeballed her frequently, so Jenna had to be sly. Conversation was normal, but everything else was far from, and Jenna was in disbelief that she seemed to be the only one noticing.
Luckily, the night didn’t last as long as the week before as all of them had to be up early the next morning to drive a significant ways away for a job. Again, Jenna had to use the restroom. She thought that if she went right then, then they wouldn’t leave her there alone again. Four minutes passed during her bathroom trip, and she rushed back out only to find an empty table; it happened again. The waiter was in the same doorway except this time he was more intent on watching the couple at the far table. Jenna bolted towards the stairs. Immediately, the door flew open.
“You won’t listen, will you? This place isn’t what you think it is,” the same man from before yelled. Jenna didn’t take the time to look back at him this time. She went right for the two locks, noticing in her peripheral vision the chairs in the upstairs were still empty. She glided out the door to her car.
“There is absolutely no possible way I am returning to this place,” she wheezed to herself, driving home.
The phone rang Tuesday night, causing Jenna’s stomach to flip as Maddie’s name flashed across her phone’s screen.
“Hey Jenna! Are you ready for those mashed potatoes tomorrow?” Maddie exclaimed.
“Uh sure.” Jenna couldn’t believe herself. She just agreed to go to the same place after promising herself not to go.
“Great! See you at 7!” The phone clicked. She would arrive and leave at the same time as the rest of them. No excuses. She also felt an obligation to go to watch out for them. They seemed to almost be in a trance while they were at this sketchy place.
She pulled in a little late as traffic was backed up more than normal. She opened the door to find the old woman back at the front desk. There were around six people dispersed in chairs around the room again. Jenna walked slower towards the stairs to give herself some time to look at the faces of the people. Every single one of them looked as if no one was home. They all had blank stares. Jenna made her way down the stairs, immediately, noticing that the dining area was more crowded than normal. Everyone was at the normal table, but in the back was a long table of special needs adults, each one wearing an identical set of blue scrubs.
Dinner carried on as usual; they devoured the food on their plates while Jenna shoved her food around to make it look like she ate as well. Jenna couldn’t believe that Maddie was more interested in the food than she was in the special needs adults sitting nearby. Normally, Jenna and Maddie would lose their minds over how much they loved any special needs they saw in public. Tonight, Maddie was completed uninterested.
The waiter walked over to the table full of the special needs and slammed the plate of mashed potatoes and gravy on the table. The gravy flew all over the adult nearest him.
“Hey! That not nice mister!” the man yelled. The waiter laughed and turned to walk back towards the kitchen. Jenna’s heart dropped. The Smiths were all exchanging hugs and goodbyes, complete missing the scene Jenna was appalled by. She quickly said her goodbyes before she quickly rushed to find a manager. She reached the manager and lost all control, completely forgetting where she was.
“Your waiter should be ashamed of himself. He should not treat someone with disabilities in the way he did. If you want our group’s business, then you better fire him,” Jenna screamed.
“Oh you will be back regardless of if we fire him,” she replied with a smile and walked away. Jenna was shocked; she turned to storm up the stairs right as the door swung open yet again.
The door swung shut. He didn’t chase her this time. Jenna hustled out the door back to her car. She began processing everything that had occurred every trip she had made there. The realization of what was occurring hit her like a brick to the face.