The Bell

With the holiday season fast approaching (too fast, really), it felt like the right time to break out a festive horror story from the vault. I wrote this story back when I was a waitress, so the characters, the situation, and the layout of the kitchen are inspired by the restaurant where I used to work.

Years later, I gave this story a face lift because I’ve always enjoyed this one. There was a time when I thought about publishing it, but as my writing has changed so much since I first wrote it, the story never felt strong enough. So now, it is my gift to you as this month’s short story. Please enjoy!

And remember not to eat your holiday meals alone.

The night was slow.  It was after the holidays; no one wanted to go out for dinner after the holidays.  People had spent all of their money on parties and gifts, and they had plenty of dinners in the fridge made from leftover turkey and stuffing.  No one went out for dinner after the holidays.  The two waitresses on duty that night were standing out in front of the bar, tongues clacking quickly, eagerly in search of something to end the boredom of the night.  The owner hadn’t even bothered to come in to the small restaurant, not even to say “hello” to the few regular customers who might happen to wander in if they ran out of leftovers.  It was a cold night, and he was at home in his warm bed. 

The lone chef sat by himself back in the kitchen.  He had nothing to do and no one to talk to.  The waitresses had each other for company; they wouldn’t visit him unless they wanted a snack or unless a customer appeared.  The boy who helped him wash the dishes wasn’t in that night. He’d never be asked to come in on a slow night like this. So, the chef was alone.  He read all the newspapers that had been brought in, and he finished reading the book he had brought with him (now he would have nothing to read on the bus ride home).  He had cleaned everything and had gone on countless cigarette breaks, just to pass the time.  Now, he was hungry and decided to make himself some dinner. 

He placed some toast, eggs, and bacon on the stovetop and threw a handful of home-fries into the deep-fryer.  Breakfast for dinner, his favourite.  As he cooked, he listened to the radio above the hum of the kitchen equipment.  Singing quietly to himself to the tune on the radio, he cooked his meal. 

Before sitting down to eat, he looked out the small window of the kitchen door and saw the waitresses standing by the bar, chatting away.  Still no customers.  Good.  There would be no interruptions while he ate.

He was about halfway through his eggs when it happened.  It sprung into the kitchen through the backdoor with a snarl, and the sight of it was enough to make the chef jump out of his seat.  His fork fell to the ground and as he scrambled to get away from the monster. He bumped against the small table and his plate fell too.  Eggs, potatoes, and the crusts of toast littered the floor.  He tried to run from the monster but he slipped on the eggs and fell to the floor with a thud.  He struggled to get up but he felt as if he couldn’t breathe; the air was coming into his lungs in short, useless bursts. 

The monster picked him up and threw him against the counter before pinning him to the ground.  The chef wasn’t aware of any pain, but he knew he had to end this.  He tried to call for help, but no sound came.  If he could just make it to the door he could signal to the waitresses for help.  But he was far away from the door, and the monster had him pinned to the ground.  He barely moved an inch under the weight of the terrible beast, no matter how hard he tried to fight.

He tried to sit up, but was pushed back to the ground. As his head hit the tile floor, he saw something: the bell.  It was the bell he rang when the food was ready.  Whenever the waitresses were needed in the kitchen, either to pick up food or to clean up their messes at the coffee station, that bell would summon them.  When they heard it ring, they were to come into the kitchen as soon as possible.  If he could only get to that bell, at least one of the waitresses would appear and he would be saved.  Not only did he notice the bell’s presence, but he noticed that it was much closer to him than the door.  It was raised up on a shelf so that it was level with his chest when he was standing.  It would be difficult to get to as long as the monster had him pinned to the ground, but it was still a much more obtainable goal than the door.

Struggling against the strangling weight of the thing that clawed at his throat, the chef tried to drag himself across the floor.  It was challenging, and he felt that every time he dragged himself forward, the monster dragged him back.  The endeavour seemed futile, but the dull shine of the well-used bell was beckoning him.  All he had to do was tap the top of it and he would be saved. Keeping the bell in his sight, he pulled himself across the tile floor, grabbing onto anything and everything he passed so that the thing could not drag him back again. 

Finally, he made it to the bell; all he had to do was reach up and touch it.  But the weight of the creature made it almost impossible to do so.  He felt his body growing weaker and became more difficult to breathe. The thing was gnawing at his throat with its big, toothy jaws.  But the bell was so close. It was so close.

He raised his arm as high as he could, struggling against the monster who was trying to pull his arm back down.  This struggle seemed to last for centuries, and the chef wasn’t sure how much longer he would be able to hold out.  Then, with one last determined burst of energy, his arm shot up and his hand tapped the bell.  As the bell’s ring echoed through the kitchen and out into the restaurant, the chef’s hand fell.

The waitresses ceased their chatter as one of them broke away from the bar and walked towards the kitchen, wondering what the chef could want.  She didn’t see him at fist when she opened the door. When she found him, her screams brought the other waitress into the kitchen.  The chef was lying on the floor under the bell.  He was wide-eyed and blue in the face. When the emergency services arrived, they found bruises on his neck and on his abdomen.  There was a piece of egg covered toast lodged in his windpipe.  The bruises, they said, must have from the chef’s attempts to dislodge the food as he choked to death.

“Fuck Christmas,” said the chef. He lightly banged his head against the door to the restaurant before returning to the dish pit to clean the same pan for the third time.

It was an agonizingly slow night. No one wanted to go out for dinner after the holidays. Potential customers had spent all of their money on parties and gifts, and they had plenty of dinners in the fridge made from leftover turkey, stuffing, and everything in between. Almost no one went out for dinner after the holidays. Especially not to an out of the way little restaurant like this.

The two waitresses on duty that night were standing out in front of the bar, tongues clacking quickly, eagerly in search of something to end the boredom of the night. Their voices practically echoed through the empty restaurant. Even though they were too far away for him to hear their words, the chef could still hear the familiar inflections in their voices. He could hear their laughter clear as day.

“What could be so goddamned funny out there?” There was no one around to answer his question.

The owner hadn’t even bothered to show up. Not even to say “hello” to the few regular customers who might happen to wander in if they ran out of leftovers. It was a blustery winter night, and he was at home in his warm bed.

The chef was dying of boredom in the kitchen. He had nothing to do and no one to talk to. The waitresses wouldn’t visit him unless they wanted a snack or unless a customer appeared. The former was far more likely on a night like this. The boy who usually helped him wash the dishes wasn’t even there. He’d never be asked to come in on a slow night like this. The chef was completely alone.

He read all the newspapers that were lying around, and he finished reading the book he brought with him to read on the bus. He only partially regretted finishing the book now that he realized he would have nothing to read on the ride home.

“Guess I could nap on the bus,” he grumbled as he tossed the book into his bag.

With no more reading material, he cleaned everything twice and went on countless cigarette breaks, just to pass the time. Now, he decided to make himself something to eat out of boredom rather than necessity.

He placed toast, eggs, and bacon on the stovetop and threw a handful of home-fries into the deep-fryer. Breakfast for dinner. His favourite. The deafening sizzle brought life into the quiet kitchen, and the smell of bacon grease convinced him that he was much hungrier than he previously thought. Singing quietly to himself, forgetting more than a few words to the song on the small radio by the prep station, he cooked his meal undisturbed.

Before sitting down to eat, he looked out the small window of the kitchen door and saw the waitresses standing by the bar, chatting away.

“Still no customers.” He sighed on his back to the small table where his meal waited. At least there would be no interruptions.

He was about halfway through his eggs when it happened. It sprung into the kitchen through the backdoor with a snarl, and the sight of it was enough to make the chef jump out of his seat. His fork fell to the ground and as he scrambled to get away from the monstrous figure that approached. He bumped against the small table and his plate fell too, shattering on impact. Eggs, potatoes, and the crusts of toast littered the floor. He tried to run towards the door to the restaurant, but he slipped on the eggs and fell to the floor with a thud. The creature pressed a hand into his back until the air was coming into his lungs in short, useless bursts.

The shapeless monster picked him up and threw him against the prep station, knocking the radio to the floor, before pinning him to the ground once more. The chef wasn’t aware of any pain, but he knew that he was in trouble. He tried to call for help, but no sound came. If he could just make it to the door he could signal to the waitresses for help. But since the monster had thrown him across the kitchen, the door might as well have been a block and a half away. And he was still pinned to the ground. He barely moved an inch under the crushing weight of the thing, no matter how hard he tried to fight.

Every time he was close to sitting up, he was pushed right back to the ground. But when his head hit the tile floor, sending flashing lights into his eyes, he saw something through the blur: the bell. Whenever the waitresses were needed in the kitchen, that bell would summon them without fail. When they heard it ring, they were to come into the kitchen as soon as possible. That was the most important rule of the restaurant. If he could only get to it, at least one of the waitresses would appear and he would be saved. Not only that, but the bell was much closer to him than the door. Unfortunately, it was raised up on a shelf. It would be difficult to get to as long as he was stuck on the floor. But was a much more obtainable goal than the door.

Struggling against the strangling weight of the beast, the chef tried to make his way across the floor. But every time he dragged himself forward, the monster only dragged him back. The endeavour seemed futile, but the dull shine of the well-used bell was beckoning him. All he had to do was tap the top of it and he would be saved. Keeping the bell in his sight, he pulled himself across the tile, digging his nails into the grout, and grabbing onto table legs to keep from being pulled back. The joints and bones in his hands and arms creaked in protest.

He made it to the bell, surprising even himself. All he had to do was reach up and touch it. But the weight of the creature made it impossible to do so. It was heavier than before, and it was gnawing at his throat with its big, shapeless jaws. But the bell was so close. It was so close.

The chef raised his arm as high as he could, struggling against the weight of the monster. He wasn’t sure how much longer he would be able to hold out. Then, with one last determined burst of energy, his arm shot up and his hand tapped the bell. The ring echoed through the kitchen and out into the restaurant, and the chef’s hand fell.

The waitresses ceased their chatter, and one of them broke away from the bar. She wondered what the chef could possibly want on such a slow night. She didn’t see him at fist when she opened the door and wondered briefly if it was some sort of prank. Concern only entered her mind when she noticed the broken place. Her heart began to race when he didn’t answer her calls.

When she found him, her screams brought the other waitress into the kitchen. The chef was lying on the floor under the bell. Toast crumbs littered the edged of his blue tinted lips. His eyes were wide with fear and almost bulging out of their sockets. The second waitress attempted to resuscitate him, but it was no use. The first waitress just kept screaming incoherently.

When the emergency services arrived, they found bruises on his neck and on his abdomen. There was a piece of egg covered toast lodged in his windpipe. The bruises, they explained as if this was a regular occurrence, were from the chef’s attempts to dislodge the food as he choked to death.

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