“We’re not lost, Greta.” Henry tapped the fuel gauge and watched the dial spin in a furious circle. He tapped it again, harder and frowned.
“We’re lost and we need to refuel. Great.” I slumped in my seat and stared through the glass shield at the endless black expanse. “In another hour, we’ll be space debris.”
Henry made a face, scrunching his narrow nose. “Stealing dad’s ship was your idea. He won’t come after us, you said. He doesn’t care about anything except his bottle of gin, too drunk to notice the ship is missing. And you were right. He doesn’t care about anything, especially keeping the ship’s tank full.” Henry cast the fuel gauge a disgusted look and climbed out of his seat. He paced the deck, fists clenched.
My brother was worried which was nothing new. He worried about everything, but most of all, he worried about me. About the way our father got angry— so angry, he punched the walls. Broke things. He worried he wouldn’t be there when dad stopped using inanimate objects to vent his rage and started using me.
Henry was older by three years, and since he’d just turned eighteen, he’d be forced to join the galactic fleet and serve his time. That left me alone and three years short of joining the fleet myself. A lot can happen in three years. Bad things.
“I didn’t have time to check the gauge before we left. You climbed aboard and told me to punch it, so I did. We’d still be on Garvine if I hadn’t gotten us out of there. You weren’t in any condition to fly.” I braved a glance at his left eye, the tissue beneath swollen, skin turning a dark blue.
The injury should have been mine. We weren’t twins but I felt that phantom pain as if we were connected on a deeper level. Maybe we were.
Henry had stepped in front of me. He shoved me aside and told me to run. The plans we’d made in secret, plans we never really had the courage to act on, suddenly became reality.
We ran, stole dad’s ship, and entered free space. Henry was now a fleet defector and I was a runaway.
And now, we were lost. With no fuel.
How long would we drift before we ran out of supplies? A week? Two? We could send out a frequency and try to signal another ship, but we’d already traveled so far out of the galaxy, and there hadn’t been anything on the radar in hours.
I scanned the mass of star clusters, searching for anything that might resemble a planet. Nothing, just hot gas and their pin pricks of light. A well of guilt overflowed in my stomach. If we died out here, it would be my fault.
“I’m sorry, Henry.” My voice felt thick with unshed tears. A painful lump made it difficult to swallow, and my vision blurred, the stars becoming streaks of white light.
“Don’t say that.” Henry wrinkled his brow and sighed. He looked older than his years, features ragged with the truth of our situation and the responsibility of keeping me alive. It wasn’t supposed to be his job, that’s what parents are for. But we’d been dealt a poor hand, a mother who left when we were young, and a father who never got past it.
The red fuel light winked on, and I bit down hard on my lip to stem the sob in the back of my throat.
“Warning. Warning. Low Fuel. Recharge the fuel rods.” The electronic voice sounded sad to my ears, and I almost laughed to think a disembodied voice felt any sympathy for us.
I blinked back the tears and swatted at one that tried to escape. Henry still paced, his steps growing more forceful with each second.
The tinkling bell of an incoming message lit up the screen. I stared in confusion at the flashing message, then swiped the glass and tapped the open button. Henry moved behind me, leaning over my shoulder. We read the message, then looked at each other.
“It’s a map to an outpost,” I said, turning back to the screen.
“Breadcrumbs,” Henry murmured.
He pointed at the words above the coordinates. “Brash Rumb. It means breadcrumbs in the old language. You follow them home.”
“I like the sound of that. I like the sound of anything that isn’t deep space. I say we go there. We can make it on the fuel we have left. Someone sent that message. We can ask them for help.”
“We don’t have much choice.” Henry’s voice was low, troubled.
I nudged his arm. “Stop worrying so much. Everything will be fine.”
The outpost appeared out of nowhere; a dome shaped structure floating in the inky blackness like a mirage in the desert. We docked the ship, coming in on fumes. Either we’d get refueled or this hole in the dark was our new home. I just hoped they had food and a shower.
Henry radioed our arrival, but there was no answer. He looked uneasy, leading the way off the ship.
“Hello? Anyone there?” His voice echoed down a stark white corridor. Harsh light made me squint.
“We come in peace,” I said, smirking as Henry rolled his eyes. We walked down the sterile hallway to the end, stopping in front of a large metal door. Henry knocked. We waited until the eerie silence got to me and I reached up and pressed the little green button near the handle. Henry grabbed my hand, trying to stop me, but it was too late. The door hissed open.
Soft music spilled into the corridor and the barren hallway gave way to small eatery. Red, plastic cushioned booths and laminate tables dotted the room. The floors gleamed, forming pools of light from overhead pocket bulbs. I smiled as heavenly scents assaulted my nose, fried chicken, french fries, and something sweet like apple pie or cinnamon buns. All the booths were empty, and we hesitated in the doorway.
“It’s just like the old diner back on Garvine. The one we used to sneak to after Dad fell asleep on the couch.” I stepped into the room, searching for the owner. It was so strange. Everything was the same, down to the jukebox in the corner. I could almost picture us huddled together in the far booth, dipping fries in a puddle of ketchup, and planning our escape.
“Greta, I’m not so sure about this place.” Henry still stood in the doorway. “Let’s go back to the ship.”
Pots and pans clattered beyond the swinging doors, and I turned to find the doors fling open and a short, pudgy woman shuffled into the room.
“Welcome to Ginger’s diner. You kids look starving. Pick a booth while I get you some menus.” The woman’s shoes squeaked on the linoleum as she grabbed two plastic menus and followed us to the corner. “You two are awful far out. Is it just the two of you?” She plopped the menus on the table and pulled a pad of paper from her apron.
I nodded and scanned the menu. I wanted everything, but we had to be frugal. Fuel was more important than our stomachs.
“Get a burger,” Henry muttered. “I’ll just eat some of your fries.”
The waitress clucked her tongue. “Nonsense. You’ll both get burgers. It’s Two for One Tuesdays, here at Ginger’s.”
My stomach rumbled giving away my hunger. I glanced at the waitress’ name tag. “Thanks Luanne. We’d love that.”
“We need to refuel too.” Henry slid his menu aside and took another wary look around the diner. “Not many customers. Where is everyone?”
Luanne flashed a wide smile. “It’s the slow season. This place really gets hopping when the meteor showers come this way. Everyone flocks to Ginger’s. We have the best view.” She picked up the menus and turned on her heel. “Two burgers with fries coming up. Do you want milkshakes with that?” Not waiting for an answer, she burst through the kitchen doors, leaving them to swing wildly in her wake.
“I don’t like this place,” Henry whispered. “It’s weird how much this place looks like the diner back home. How is that even possible?”
I shrugged. “Does it matter? They have food. We can get our ship up and running again, and maybe Luanne can give us directions to the closest planet.”
Henry frowned and leaned back in his seat. Luanne re-entered the room, humming to the music piped in from hidden speakers. She swayed her hips, and did a little shimmy; all while holding two frothy vanilla milkshakes. Depositing the milkshakes on our table, she wiped her hands on her frilly apron, and then hovered until we took our first sips.
“Delicious,” I said, licking my lips. The sweet, icy vanilla flavor coated my tongue.
“They should be. Milkshakes are one of Ginger’s specialties.”
“And where is Ginger?” Henry chuckled, taking a long swig of his shake.
“I ate her.”
I choked and covered my mouth so I wouldn’t spray vanilla all over Henry. The sugary sweet drink threatened to rise back up my throat. “You what?”
“Lord, look at your faces.” Luanne cackled and swatted her thighs. “You believed me, didn’t you? Such innocent children.”
Henry’s features paled, and I looked at him, watching as his eyelids drooped. He forced them open, and his mouth parted, but no sound came out. Something oily, like fear slid through my veins. The room tilted and swirled. My vision narrowed, and like Henry, I couldn’t keep my eyes open. I heard a sharp crack, realizing too late that my head had hit the table. Henry’s milkshake tipped over as he tried to reach for me, but his clumsy hands slid through the icy liquid.
Luanne leaned over us, still chuckling. She used a rag to wipe up the shake before it spilled onto the floor. I struggled to remain conscious, and as my eyes closed for the final time, her voice sounded near my ear.
“I didn’t eat Ginger. But I’m going to eat you.”
I woke up with a gasp. It was so hot. Sweat drenched my shirt, making the fabric cling to my skin. I moaned and rolled onto my side, still fuzzy from the effects of the drugs.
“Shhh.” Henry crawled to me and pressed a finger to his lips. He pointed up to a steam-covered window where a large silhouette hummed a slow tune on the other side.
“Where are we?” I whispered.
“Some room off the kitchen, I think.”
My head pounded, and I rubbed my temples as I took in the cramped room. Boxes were scattered over the floor, shirts and shoes spilling from their insides. A pile of pants took up one corner. I silenced the cry that threatened to burst past my lips. There had been so many others. We sat in a graveyard of clothes, their owners a victim of Ginger’s specialty.
“She said she was going to…” I couldn’t finish the sentence.
“Not she…it. Luanne’s not human.”
“What are we going to do?” Hysteria tinged my voice, and my breath hitched.
“We’re going to get out of here.”
“How?” I looked at my brother. The one who always had a plan. Always knew what to do. Except this time, I could tell he didn’t know. Which meant for the first time in our lives it was up to me. I couldn’t hide behind him or let him step in front of me the way I had with our father. We’d run away because of me, and now, I had to be the one to get us out of a jam.
I scanned the room, trying to come up with a plan to kill a human-eating alien with only a pile of clothes. And there it was. Almost covered by a leather jacket was a grate in the wall.
“Help me get this open.” I curled my fingers into the metal mesh, waiting for Henry to do the same. The grate came loose, revealing a narrow tunnel.
“I’ll go.” Henry nudged me aside.
“You won’t fit. It has to be me.”
He frowned, big brother disapproval plastered across his face. Beyond the window, non-human Luanne lifted a butcher knife into the air and thunked it down on an unseeable object.
“It has to be now.” I gripped Henry’s shoulder. A curse and a protest formed on his lips, but I ignored him and slid head first into the tunnel.
I barely fit. The passage squeezed me on all sides like a snake swallowing its prey. I slid deeper, the darkness chewing me up. A ninety-degree turn appeared, then a shimmer of light through another grate. This one took all my weight to remove, and I burst into a dimly lit room.
Rows of monitors gave off an electronic glow. In one, I saw Henry, still peering into the grate after me, in another, Luanne gathering spices into her apron. A monitor showed our ship docked and the diner from every angle, except from this perspective, the diner didn’t look the same. Gone were the red plastic seats, the jukebox, and classic memorabilia. Rusted, dirty tables were in their place. It was all an illusion.
My gaze flew to the controls where I spotted a memory projector stick. The device could hack into a person’s memory and show them what they wanted to see, what made them most comfortable. It had lured us in and set Luanne’s trap.
I jerked the stick from the port and crushed it beneath my boot. The monitor flickered and the on the screen, Luanne turned, her eyes meeting the camera. Her friendly human waitress disguise melted, revealing shiny green scales, a thin face with round eyes that burned red.
I searched the controls and found the little red button they always tell you never to push. My thumb came down on it hard. The monitors winked out, and so did the power. The room plunged into darkness, and as I crept out into the hall, I whispered, “I’m coming for you.”
The only light came from a massive pizza oven. Heat radiated from its open mouth and the coals glowed orange. Silence as deep as space itself hung in the air. I scanned the kitchen, my eyes adjusting to the low light.
Luanne was hiding. Fear climbed my back and slithered along my neck.
A cast iron pot clattered to the floor. I sucked in a breath and slipped around a metal work table. Soft laughter reached my ears.
“I was going to save you for later, but looks like I’ll have to cook you first.”
Heart knocking in my chest, I reached for a weapon, my fingers closing on a spatula. Not helpful. Next to it was a ceramic bowl filled with a chalky substance. Flour. An idea took shape.
I picked up the bowl and edged closer to the oven. More laughter sent shivers up my spine.
“I can see you.”
“Not for long,” I muttered.
The attack came from the left. Luanne charged, her oily scales glinting. Her butcher’s knife sliced through the air. I spun and threw the bowl of flour. A million white particles coated her face and eyes. The knife clattered to the floor as she swept thick, green fingers over her face. Blinded, she stumbled closer to the oven.
I didn’t see her in that moment. I saw my father’s enraged face. I saw the unfairness, the childhood that had been stolen from me, and the fear that had forced my brother and I to run for our lives. We’d run from evil only to find a different kind.
The flour settled, and I lunged, pressing both hands against Luanne’s back. She hit the edge of the oven, teetering into its gaping mouth. I dropped low and lifted her up, thrusting her inside. She screamed, the sound cutting off as I flipped the iron door closed.
Air rushed from my lungs and my chest heaved. I smiled, swatting flour from my hands. Fear slowly ebbed as reality sunk in. I hadn’t run, instead I faced evil and won.
I could do it again.
Running away hadn’t solved our problems, but it had given me the courage to face them head on.
I left the kitchen and unlocked the room holding Henry. He tumbled out and pulled me into a tight hug. His face went slack in awe as I told him what had happened.
“What do we do now?” He asked.
I balled my hands on my hips and gave him a cocky smile. “We go home.”
Thanks for reading this short story! I hope you enjoyed it.
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