By Garrett Cook


So, we walk to the Café I don’t go to and I feel relieved. I have been given in the form of this redheaded angel of mercy the chance to redeem a shitty pointless sharkmaking day. Then, it suddenly strikes me why it is that I do not go to this other café at all. I have to bite my tongue to avoid filling the streets with the loud echoes of my profanity. The other café is called “Murderland”.

Murderland is a bastion of “reap chic”. The names Murderland and reap chic never cease to annoy me. And neither do the people and décor that populate Murderland and the popular reap chic imagination. We go in and the clientele is a blur of Deerstalkers, dark shades, hooded sweatshirts, black cloaks and clown suits. The outfits are a gibbering, self deprecating Halloween party that laughs at centuries of bloodshed and makes light of what are now thousands of victims. All the Deerstalkers, all the cloaks, all the bloodstained clownsuits and flannel shirts and people walking black labs inside. The fictional blurs with the real as it tends to, when hockey masks and rubber chainsaws and machetes are held merrily in the air, waved about in mock threatening fashions at the waitresses. I see one kid is even wearing yellow contacts to emulate the famous “Cobra Gaze” of Godless Jack. Mack the Knife plays loudly on the jukebox and I hear screeching voices singing along.

“Oh the shark has pretty teeth dear…”

God the shit these kids wear. The music they listen to, the way they conduct themselves. This place makes me long for the glory days of safe rebellion. I long for all the hippies and the goths and the punks and the metalheads and all those other freaks that fade into the woodwork, cause god, these reap kids don’t just disappear and I get the feeling the way they walk and the way they listen and dress and hang on tv screens at bars that reap chic might just be here to stay. This place reminds me that there’s a damn good chance that reap chic might just be here to stay.

“This place is so reap,” the redhead says. Her tone is more observational than disgusted or amazed. I had wished she would be disgusted or uncomfortable but it stands to reason that she’d been to reapjoints before and maybe to this particular reapjoint, it being within walking distance and all. And now I’m stuck here. Well shit.

“Yeah,” I agree. So reap.

A waitress dressed in a perhaps too tight lace up corset and a longish grey skirt with a petticoat, bloomers and long black boots seats us. It appears that she’s going for Whitechapel whore. She pulls it off pretty well although her breasts look huge and awkward in the tightness of the corset. Not only this, but it sounds like she’s probably chewing gum. Not particularly Victorian I think.

“`ow do ya do, gov?” she asks me in the kind of fake accent that makes Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins sound authentic.

“Fine,” I lie and try to fix my gaze on the menu, but the photos on the walls are too distracting. They depict the superstars of the trade. Ted Bundy is looking as oily and charismatic as ever. Gacy looks fat, stupid and content like a cow in a pasture. Berkowitz looks like he has no clue where the hell is. Ramirez looks as if everything’s really funny. Manson looks like he wants to look like. He looks like he’s ready to rip your throat out with his teeth and swallow it. I honestly don’t why the hell it is that reapers are so into Charles Manson. I don’t see what it is that appeals to them about a schizophrenic wannabe rockstar who convinced a bunch of hippies that it would be fun and productive to ruin a perfectly good director’s life and career. The guy is after all, not even a real psychopomp. The computer printouts of fake Ripper letters and autographed photos of Mr. Right, Howard Shaw and the Girl Scout Slasher make me even more uneasy. It leaves me torn between thinking whether this place takes itself too seriously or whether it’s the circus it looks like. Or maybe the circus is taking itself too seriously. It occurs to me that this third possibility is more likely than the others. This third possibility is almost definitely the one. After making this conclusion, I finally get a good glance at the menu.

Milkfed veal. The Sharon Tate. I hate meat and I hate violence. I am a vegetarian, and confusing as it may sound I maintain that I am a pacifist. Here they are serving a baby cow fed on its mother’s milk and naming it after a pregnant woman slaughtered by psychotic drug addled monsters. Sloppy Joes. The Mary Kelly. Things I certainly don’t feel like thinking about when I’m eating.

Some of the reapers are throwing them at each other. They laugh from across the restaurant, give each other the finger. It appears that the swastika tattooed Manson kids look down at the Victorian foppery of the ripper kids. One ripper kid wipes the $2.00 sloppy joe off his cape and feeds it to the son of Sam next to him’s dog. The black lab wolfs down the sloppy joe eagerly and the ripper kid exchanges obscenities with the Manson. All through this the waitresses go about their jobs. This is really just the order of things at reapjoints. My distraction becomes even more evident although the redhead has a lazerlike focus on the menu. It astonishes me, really. She notices my discontent.

“What’s wrong?” says the girl.

I duck a flying bloodsausage.

“It’s just the veal,” I say, “so inhumane.”

I don’t say enough to make myself look square, but I do say what I mean. I feel satisfied with my comment. The Whitechapel whore moves over to another table and I wait for the new waitress to come. She’s dressed conservatively, somewhat tight conservative sweater vest, pleated skirt, heels. Traditional coed clothes. She’s one of those “Bundy girls”. Pretty blonde coed. Look at that little yellow cunt little mommy little empty womb little devil hole waiting to be filled put it in and drop it off and then let it go. The Bundy girl pushes the bangs off her forehead so she can see better. She makes some semblance of meaningful eye contact.

“What’ll you have?”

“Coffee,” I say, “just a cup of coffee.”

I fumble, a little distracted by some smaller, wispier Dark Ones around her.

“Black.” I feel relieved when I discover that they’re only scouts and not breeders. She’s been discovered but it isn’t too late. It’s too late for her to live much longer, certainly, but it isn’t too late to stop the Dark Ones from getting to her. This is a Tuesday and Thursday week, so tomorrow I’ll deal with this. Right now I will sit and I will reaffirm my fucking faith in the kindness and decency of strangers.

“And you,miss?”

The redhead looks up from the menu, face full of certainty. “I’ll have the Sharon Tate.”

My eyes widen and I get scared. She seems to almost be dissolving into the scenery. Another robot playing belligerently in a crossfire of flying meat. How could I have possibly picked so badly?

“Oh the shark has pretty teeth, dear and it keeps them pearly white…” I don’t want to be a shark. I am not an automaton made to eat other creatures. And yet, I can feel my teeth start to grow and go sharp. It almost hurts my mouth. This girl has just about turned me into a goddamn shark and there is nothing in the world worse than another human shark. There are a lot of creatures out there who deserve to be eaten, but I do not want it to be my business to eat them. I callously wonder why these kids don’t clean up their own messes. Why the rippers don’t just pull out their trusty putty knives and scalpels and tear the Mansons to shreds. I wonder why the Sons of Sam don’t just blow them both skyhigh. Only paintball guns. Only toys. The real things aren’t in here. Except for me. This shitty day has gotten shittier. I can’t believe this woman.

“I’m kidding,” says the redhead, and I’m just relieved enough, “I’ll have the Albert Fish filet.”

As Cass often does, she smiles at me and it reminds me that she may very well be a person. It makes me examine the reapers and think what it is they might have going on. Most of them are robots, some don’t really feel so passionate about violence, I think. Some are poseurs. Funny how sometimes a person might be a little more human or a little smarter or a little more compassionate just because they actually are a poseur. The waitress is most definitely human as I can see from the Dark Ones examining her. Funny how they don’t even know sometimes who’s a robot and who isn’t. Funny that even they need to check. These are just larvae, these are just scouts, but the breeders are coming. How lucky this is a Tuesday, Thursday week. It makes me kind of sad though that one of maybe six human beings in the whole restaurant has to die tomorrow night.

“Can’t see how anyone would do something like that to some cute, defenseless little calf. Do you? It just doesn’t seem humane at all. I think it’s really fucked up. But then again, ain’t that the way, nowadays?”

It is. It really is, but I wish she or anyone like her could really grasp it. But it is “so fucked up”, it doesn’t make all that much sense to me. The comment, inane and generic as it is, makes me think of a John Lennon song.

“UFOs over New York and I ain’t too surprised.”

I’m not quite thinking when I say it and I’m quite surprised that I actually do. I usually keep those things in my head. I should have, I realize, because she looks at me like I’m from outer mother fucking space. In a restaurant full of serial killer photos and teenagers tossing meals at one another, all of a sudden I look like a total freak. Amazing.

“It’s a song.”

It still doesn’t quite register with her. The frustration, the shock, John Lennon’s political and social outrage. My political and social outrage. MY alienation. I want to explain how stupid and sick and alien I think all of this is, but I don’t think anyone who says they feel it really does. I don’t think anybody feels like I feel. I don’t think anybody can actually see the town they’re walking around in in the country they’re walking around in in the time they’re walking around in. It makes me choke it makes me feel more than a little awkward here. I am not a regular person. The hardware store clerk is a regular person. The redhaired girl is a regular person and these freaks are regular people. She just sits there. I can count the seconds and my count reaches twenty five before she opens her mouth again.

“Oh,” she says and I wish Cass were here. Because Cass jumps to those connections, she gets impressed and eager and clever. She comprehends. But I feel right now like I’ve been talking to a dog. But I can’t blame her. She’s not the most well educated person you could ever meet. A little slow in fact. She’s just about 19 now that I look at her. She’s going to community college. She has to be an aspiring nurse or veterinarian. I wonder which one because I think might a difference. She looks sort of like the nurse type. She might not have gotten what I said but she’s attentive at least. Outgoing. Something somewhat similar to caring as well. Yeah, sort of like the nurse type, but she might surprise me and in fact be a veterinarian. But she might further surprise me and pull kindergarten teacher or beautician. Lots of beauticians around. Hair and nail salons everywhere. Blows my mind sometimes how many hair and nail salons there are everywhere, but a lot of the women around here need it. But it’s either nurse, kindergarten teacher, veterinarian or beautician.

“What do you study?” I ask.

But after asking, I don’t stop guessing. It’s a habit of mine. Obviously, I do something that requires being able to read people really well. Need to know a little something about everyone you look at. Another one of those things brought up in Godless Jack’s book. Always watch people. Get to know whoever you can and make sure you have everybody sized up. Wouldn’t want to get a blackbelt in Judo or somebody with a can of mace for example. So I think harder and narrow it down to nurse or kindergarten teacher. She doesn’t seem quite mousy enough for a veterinary assistant and there are certain traits that makes me think that beautician might be out of the question as well. Big, sensitive eyes. Little attention to hair and nails beyond the dyeing. Her clothes are also I think about seven months out of style. It seems to me that a lot of beauticians and veterinary assistants are robots. Even robots love puppies and kittens. I think a higher percentage of them than nurses. Nursing takes a fair amount of education and while the nanites reach about 97% of adults now. Still, that much time devoted to education, that much empathy, well, those things are pretty human traits. They might all be people. Maybe some are and some aren’t. Kindergarten teacher or nurse definitely.”

“Actually, I’m studying to be a teacher. I love kids. I just don’t think I could deal with older ones. All the issues and too much material to remember. So, I’m gonna teach kindergarten, because kids are so simple and so nice to be around, I think. Do you like kids?”

I think I like children. I like the human ones at least. I’m very fond of the hope, the fact that maybe this generation might not end up as more robots. And I like knowing that they don’t belong to the enemy, or not yet at least. I feel so certain and happy sitting there with people who I know are usually people. I like knowing that they’re not teenagers dressed up as their favorite killer yet. Maybe it’s just fashion and maybe the problem’s with me. But all the kids seem to be doing it.

“Yeah. I read to kids at the library on Tuesdays and Thursdays.”

She smiles, real warmth.

“That’s so sweet,” she says, “you’re such a nice guy.”

“Yeah,” I answer and then I look at the waitress and I look at the man she’s talking to. The manager. I notice a family resemblance in their features. I read her lips. She says her rent’s due in a week and asks him if she can work tomorrow night too to pick up some more hours. He agrees. You’re the best, Uncle Stan. How immensely convenient. My Tuesday evening starts to fall into place, although I wish it hadn’t. No need for stalking or research or asking around now. I’ll know right where to find her. Thank you Uncle Stan. And America thanks you too.

I sit and then I silently finish my coffee. The redhead talks for awhile about something I don’t really process and I respond with nods and looks of blatant feigned interest. She doesn’t quite notice. Thinks that she has in fact made a real and profound connection of some kind.

“Can I call you?” she asks.

“No,” I reply and then I go home and have a real conversation. In retrospect, I think the redhead was a robot.


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