By Nathan Mair
“What are we doing out here?” she asked as she looked at the others lining up along both sides of the street.
“I told you babe,” Her husband replied, shifting nervously, it was clear he was expecting something “I’m taking you somewhere really special for our tenth anniversary.”
She looked once more along the street, some dirty back alley in the arse-end of town that she’d never even heard of. The whole place had a tense atmosphere that she didn’t like. There was a loose crowd milling around, they seemed to be waiting for something to kick off as well; the tension was thick as old London fog. Her husband accidentally nudged her elbow as he checked his watch, she turned to look at him. His face was stern, he levelled his eyes to hers and pointed to a small grubby door slouching from an equally grubby wall about half way down the block.
“Okay, when I tell you, you need to run as fast as you can to that door and knock like your life depends on it.” He said, his voice trimmed with desperation.
“Why? Where have you brought me to?”
The crowd was stirring, checking phones and watches. The whole place was under starter’s orders and everyone was chomping at the bit.
“That’s the restaurant I told you about, they don’t do reservations so you need to be first to that door.” As he finished speaking a thin click echoed around as a small hatch in the door spat a weak ray of light onto the far wall, a drawling timbre soon followed
“Dearest guests,” It started “The table will be open for service in twenty minutes. First come, only served as always. Please decide between yourselves who will be seated this evening. Thank you for your interest.” Another click sounded as the hatch closed, an almost silent starter’s pistol ringing in the ears of the crowd.
“Go, go now!” He pushed her forwards.
She stumbled from the shove as a half-brick cracked into the pavement between them and a guttural shriek rang throughout the street. All hell had nothing on what was breaking loose in this little alleyway. Singles, couples, groups and gangs all made a mad rush for the door while taking every opportunity to hobble the competition. Bricks and rocks were flying, some had brought weapons with them and the rest were giving the phrase ‘fighting tooth and nail’ a disturbing new twist. She stood horrified over what was happening, all for a table in some backstreet bistro. Her husband grabbed her arm and started dragging her forwards.
“Come on, we can’t miss our chance!” he screamed over the clamouring masses. With missiles flying and weapons swinging from all sides they pressed on. The door was only a matter of metres away but the dash was hectic and fraught, the anticipation of brutal demise stretched out every agonising moment. A bottle caught her a painful blow across her leg, she stumbled again which caused her to narrowly avoid another brick at head height; her husband, however, had no luck at all. The brick caught him square in the jaw and brought him to the ground, a moment later he was dragged into the throng. She had little time to try and save him as another potential dinner guest barrelled into her and launched her backwards. She flailed her arm to regain balance and her hand struck a loud, dull thud against a grimy wooden board immediately bringing the madness to an abrupt, surreal halt. The street became instantly still, every single person there still able to let out a deflated sigh and just started to wander away as though they’d just missed meeting Santa. The small door creaked open behind her and a gentle hand helped her to her feet.
“Good evening, madam. A table for one?” the drawl enquired.
“But... no, my husband.... he...” she stammered
“Yes, I’m very sorry that he couldn’t make it this evening. However, it would be a shame to waste the opportunity to sample our menu.” The drawl continued. Slender hands on spindly arms motioned her inside.
She looked out at the red streaked flagstones, the fallen diners littering the pavement, leftovers discarded before the dinner service had even begun. It may have been the trauma or the adrenaline fogging her head but she allowed herself to be seated.
It was a few hours later that the door reopened and she gingerly picked her way across the threshold. The dinner had been without a doubt the best she’d ever had, although it was strange that she couldn’t remember a single bite of it. What was probably stranger still was how clean the alley was considering what had happened not long before. Of course, between meat and mead, she was in no real state to notice.
“Thank you!” she slurred, a little too carefully to hide her inebriation.
“You’re very welcome Madame,” the drawl replied. “By all means please visit again soon, perhaps you might bring a friend?” the open enquiry sounded suspiciously like an instruction but, once again, she wasn’t in the mood to notice.
A gentle wave of an unsteady hand and she wandered on her way, the door gently slid shut and the alley was still. The chill of the breeze cleared her head a little as she headed to find a taxi home. She couldn’t shake the feeling that she might be forgetting something as she searched her purse for her phone. It was only a moment later that realisation dawned; there was certainly something very strange going on. What kind of a restaurant would let her go without paying? She smiled to herself, maybe she’d try for dinner here again tomorrow…….
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