Midnight Shift

Photo by Ahmed Adly on Pexels.com

I wipe the sweat from my bushy brows before it hits the scalding griddle, taking the spatula I flip up the bloody heart patties over. They sizzle and steam; the air becomes an acrid scent of iron. I look over at Raffie as he dips the frying basket full of fingers into the boiling oil.
I bring the patties over to the other counter and slip them into bun shaped skins; then wrap them in thin paper. Raffie brings over the fried fingers already in their sleeves. After I put them all into a carry out bag, I hand them over to the werewolves waiting for their orders. Glancing at the line, which is gradually getting longer, I can see that it’s going to be a long night.
Eight years I’ve been working the midnight shift with Raffie, every night we park the food truck on the corner of Washington and 3rd street; using the cover of the industrial park. We serve the night spookies – the werewolves, the witches, the vampires and anything else that comes crawling to our window. As long as you feed them well; they won’t kill you.
Raffie and I stumbled onto this lucrative venture by chance, we were both chefs that had gotten fired and had decided to start up a food truck business. Our first week was a bust, mostly because we didn’t know how to cook inside an oven on wheels. One night the food truck broke down on Wash and 3rd. We argued for about ten minutes when we felt like we were being watched and sure enough we were. Our first customer was a vampire.
Its skin was a milky hue, almost transparent and his eyes were black orbs that stared through us. Its clothes hung loosely and what little hair it had; was pulled back slick.
“Do you sell blood?” it asked in a raspy voice.
“B-b-blood?” I stammered.
“Yes.” And it made the ‘s’ drag out.
“No we don’t.” Raffie said, shaking his head.
“Well, how about that? Can I have it?” The vampire said as he pointed, with a skinny finger, inside the food truck.
I remember looking down and seeing the dead rat we had killed earlier that day.
“You want the rat?” I said
“Yes, please.” It said, its palm open, waiting.
Raffie picked up the rat by the tail and handed it over to the vampire. It smiled and turned. I glanced at Raffie and he looked back at me; shuddering. When I glanced back, the vampire had gone.

“Raffie, an order of eyeball kebab!” I yelled over my shoulder as I wrote down the order from the witch.
She winked at me and tossed her money on the counter. I smiled as I punched the cash into the register. I looked at my watch before I took the next order – it was 12:45 am.

My brother and I didn’t start the business right away. We had shrugged off that night, thinking that it was some twitch high on drugs. It wasn’t until we told our good friend what happened that night over a pint of cold beer; that we changed our minds. He claimed that he saw late one night, while he was driving back from a baseball game, a pale man hunched over a body. It had peered over at him with blood covering its chin as he stopped at a stop sign. I remember seeing my friend shake in his wooden chair over the memory. Raffie and I told him what had happened to us; afterwards he warned us to stay away from that area.

I shake my head, thinking about that night with our friend, as I shove an intestine into a hot dog bun skin.
“Marty! How many orders of the finger fries?” Raffie says over his shoulder as he stands in front of the fryer.
“Two!” I say, as I grab the small notepad and pencil to take the next order.
Once the smell touches my nose, I know who my next customer is. It’s the odor you get when your dog gets wet and he rolls around on the grass. I look up with my pencil poised over the pad. The werewolf has a long scar running down across his eye, from forehead to chin. What I take for a smile is a a grimace filled with sharp teeth.
“What’ll it be?” I ask
“Liver patty burger with lip rings.” It growls.
“Alright. That’ll be $13.75, please.” I say, passing the order to Raffie.
The werewolf throws on the counter a crumpled ten and five dollar bill. One of them was stained with drops of what looked like blood. I don’t question where these spookies get the money as long as they pay. Raffie comes by with the two orders of finger fries.
“Marty, don’t forget that the Butcher changed the pick up date from Tuesday to Wednesday this week. He didn’t tell me why.” Raffie says, placing the bags on the counter.
“I really don’t want to know. He supplies the ‘meat’ and we keep the truck running. I don’t want to know anything, not even where he gets it from.” I say, sticking my head out the order window and calling out the last order.
“You and me both.” Raffie says as he returns back to the cooking area.

The day we met the Butcher was another strange day. Raffi and I had just purchased new equipment for the food truck the week before and had it fitted with what little budget that we had combined together. We decided not to name our food truck and custom paint it dark gray. Both of us knew that we couldn’t make it look like a regular food truck because we weren’t catering to the regular folks.
Raffie and I were sitting in the food truck with the door open in front of a meat market, we had gotten back from scouring the market for ingredients. The both of us came back empty-handed.
“Did you actually think that they were going to sell dead rats?” Raffie had asked.
“Of course not! Even if we did find that, we can’t sell only that.” I said.
“Maybe we can pick up road kill.”
“That’s a crazy idea! Are you going to be able to do that and not blow chunks all over the place?”
“Are you? I used to pick up trash as a garbage collector for the city. So, I’m used to dealing with disgusting things.” Raffi stood up and paced. “We should have thought of this.”
“Excuse me.” A deep voice came from the open door of the food truck.
Raffie and I slowly stepped towards the opening and peered down. A man with the body of a bear stared back. He wore a knitted beanie, a wrinkled pullover on top of faded denim and dirty sneakers. His black beady eyes saw through us as we tried to keep steady eye contact.
“Yes.” I said.
“I couldn’t help but over hear your conversation.”
“You could hear us?” Raffie said as I noticed his adam’s apple bobbing.
“Yes, it sounds like you might need help getting ingredients for your business.”
Both of us nodded.
“As it so happens I can get you what you need. My name is the Butcher and I work for clients who ask for… special orders.” Butcher said.
“Special orders?” Raffie echoed.
“Exactly what you are looking for.”
“You know what we are looking for?” I asked.
“Is this a game? Yeah. Like I said, I heard you guys talking about getting road kill for your customers.”
Raffie and I stayed quiet.
“Look, obviously you have a unique set of customers and they want something different. Am I right?” Butcher said.
“Yes, that’s right.” I said.
“Ok, then. Meet me back here, tonight, around one. I’ll show you what I got.” Butcher said.

Tugging the hood of my jacket over my head, I scanned the area for Butcher. Raffi had his hands shoved into his jean pockets and timidly searched around. As if materializing from the shadows, Butcher appeared and beckoned us over. We peered at each other.
Raffie and I rounded a corner and saw that Butcher had an ice truck parked in the alley. The back doors were open and he was heaving himself into it. Raffie followed me inside. There were freezers lining the truck’s walls and each one was open. Coils of smoke rose from within them.
“Take a look. If anything looks interesting, I’ll give you a price for it.” Butcher said as he kept an eye on the alleyway.
I shuffled forward, patting my arms as goosebumps raced across my skin; even though sweat dotted my forehead. The icy smoke blinded me and I swatted it away, which I instantly regretted. In the freezer lay livers, hearts, fingers, feet, and then my head began to feel fuzzy. Raffie had staggered back covering his mouth, his light brown skin had gone pale.
“You guys are really new at this, huh?” Butcher asked.
I nodded. Even though my mind was swirling, there were memories surfacing of me as a child on a farm. Memories of tending the livestock and helping with the slaughter. I had gotten used to it. Somehow I had to bring back that courage I had. Swallowing the bitter taste of bile, I peered back into the freezer. Raffie had turned away and was sucking in air, his head sticking out of the back doors.

I place the brain chili on the counter and immediately a decaying hand swipes it away with a grunt. It took Raffie and I some time to realize that each zombie grunt was different and that they were actually words.
“Your welcome and have a nice night.” I say as I reach to the side of the window and pull it close. “Alright, Raffie, that’s it for the night.”
Raffie flips his spatula and slips into his apron, a closing ritual that I had gotten used to seeing.

Having cleaned up and stored the money away, we hop out the back and head to the front, Thats when I see him. I slow down and watch as a police officer heads towards us. His hand is on his holster and he is scanning the food truck.
“Having trouble with your truck?” The officer asks.
“No, not really. We were just checking that everything is secure before we keep going.” I half lie.
“Is this your truck?”
“It’s our truck.” Raffie answers.
The officer glances at him and walks towards the truck.
“Your truck has no name, no colors, nothing that makes it stand out as a food truck.” The officer says.
“Yes, officer, we decided we didn’t want to give it a name.” I say
“Well, how would people know its a food truck or… something else?”
It hits me that the officer is suspicious of what we are doing here and if our truck was a food truck.
“It is a food truck, sir.” I say.
“I’m going to need you to open the back doors.” The officer says.
My pulse quickens and I could feel Raffie stiffen by my side. The keys shake in my hands as I unlock and open the doors for the officer. He heaves himself in and begins to open drawers and cabinets. I glance at the freezer and squeeze my eyes shut, praying that he doesn’t bother to look in there.
As the officer’s hand reaches for the freezer door, his walkie squawks. He checks in with the operator and then turns towards us. Raffie and I step back as he hops down.
“If I see you both with this truck around here again, I will have you arrested and the truck towed. And I will check.” The officer says.
As the officer walks away, his pace slows. Raffie and I stand by as a grunt and then a growl is heard from the shadows. The officer unholsters his weapon and points it at the shadows. One by one the spookies step out of hiding, some of them had glowing eyes. The officers hands begin to shake.
“Stand back with your arms raised!” He stammers.
The spooks continue to approach, some of their feet dragging on the asphalt.
“I won’t say it again! Stop where you are or I will shoot!” The officer steps back.
Still, the spookies shuffle forward. A shot rings out and then another and yet another. Raffie and I grab our ears and crouch to the ground. Two of the spookies’ bodies jerk into spasms as the bullets hit, yet they don’t fall and it doesn’t stop them from coming.
“What… what the hell? What the hell are these things?!” the officer screams.
“They are night creatures, we call them spookies.” I say
“They are our customers.” Raffi adds.
The officer gives us a bewildering look and dashes off down the alleyway.
We look back at the spookies, some of them entering back into the shadows. Then the werewolf with the long scar lifts his chin up and howls.


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