Ghost in the Kitchen
Deep in the heart of the mysterious, wooded, and highly misunderstood landmass known as Mississippi, it was just another typical workday at Papa's Deli. That is until...
The young teenage waitress collapsed to the kitchen floor in a heap, scattering dirty cups and dishes all over. Almost immediately her coworkers rushed to her aid. John Fogerty, the butcher, picked her up and laid her out on a clear table. Another waitress draped a cool, damp rag across her forehead.
Suddenly, the door to the main office slammed open, doorknob leaving a dent in the wall, and out stalked Papa Toney Cerrano, the deli's founder and owner. Everyone shut up and froze where they were. The old Italian studied his assembled employees pensively.
Finally, he asked ",Alright, what happened?"
The deli's sou chef was shoved forward; he gave them all very dirty looks. With a terrified sigh, Cecil Coin answered ",Well, um, well, um..." He trailed off as Papa Toney's face hardened.
"Spit it out, son!" commanded Papa Toney.
Cecil let out another sigh. "Tammy saw the ghost of Oscar Smalls, boss."
Papa Toney raised one white eyebrow. "Oscar Smalls?" he repeated. "You mean the man who supposedly died here while waiting on a sand which?"
Papa Toney nodded and pulled up a seat beside the table. Folding his legs, the old man rubbed his chin thoughtfully as he recollected the local folk tale; everyone had heard the tale at some point or another in their lifetimes. The tale goes like this: It was the lunch rush hour at Old Man Ashwoth's Restaurant, around 1953 or so. An old man named OscarSmalls walked into the sand which shop and ordered a pastrami on rye with extra coleslaw. Oscar sat at the counter and waited for his sand which. Unfortunately, a clumsy busboy dropped a tray of dishes, scaring everyone in the restaurant literally, in poor old Oscar's case, to death. The old man was pronounced dead on the spot by first responders. From then on people around Pine Hills always claimed they saw old Oscar still sitting at the counter waiting for his pastrami on rye with extra coleslaw.
"So," began Papa Tony ",y'all mean to tell me that y'all believe in childish ghost stories? Heh, I guess I hired a bunch of children then. Tell me, Cecil, John, do you believe in ghosts now?"
Both young men glanced sidelong at each other before replying simultaneously: "Just the Holy Ghost, boss!"
Papa Toney smiled shallowly, all shiny, white teeth, like a shark entering the shallow zone. He even let out a quiet bark of laughter. "I guess they DO teach Protestants well in church." Papa Toney was a devout old-school Catholic, and as such, thought he was still entitled to make religiously-racist jokes.
"Yes, boss," replied John. He ran a hand through his trimmed black hair; a look of barely hidden anger brewing on his face.
Papa Toney promptly stood up and walked over to the stricken Tammy, who was still out cold. Taking the damp dishrag, he began to dab it around her face while gently whispering ",Tammy. Tammy. C'mon, Tammy girl. Wake up please, or your paycheck will be cut-!"
Tammy awoke as if some terrible animal had just bitten her. She sat up swinging and managed to catch Papa Toney a glancing blow to the cheek.
"Ghosts!" the teenager screamed; she snagged the head waiter Mitchell "Nehi" Smith by his shirt front and pulled him close. There was a wild, frantic look in her eyes as she said ",I tell you, Nehi, I just saw old Oscar's ghost, sitting at the front counter. He was greeny and see-thoroughy. UGH! It was disgusting!" She suddenly went quiet. Nehi struggled to remove Tammy's grip.
Cecil looked expectantly at Papa Toney. His expression simply read: "Well?"
Papa Toney caught Cecil's gaze and rubbed the spot where Tammy struck him. Already a bright red welt was forming on his cheek. A fire kindled itself inside his hazel eyes. How could his own staff be so defiant to HIM? Their own boss for crying out loud. He looked at Tammy once again; she hadn't moved anymore since, just sat like a statue.
"Alright, it seems she's caught fright at something," he said. "Probably just a rat. Or heat flashes. Maybe a bad case of PMS. But deffenently NO ghosts."
Papa Toney instructed John, Cecil, Nehi, and the massive head cashier Butch Fogerty to carry the deathly quiet Tammy out to another waiter's car. When they got back, he frog-marched the four of them into his office.
He pointed at the uncomfortable fold-up metal chairs in front of his mahogany desk and took a seat in his own over-stuffed leather chair. Steepling his fingers, the old man sighed wearily. Work had basically come to a complete stand still after the incident with Tammy, so he simply called for Papa's Deli to be closed a full hour early. About fifteen minutes later, the hospital phoned in, saying that Tammy was on minor shock, but there was nothing to be overly concerned about.
Papa Toney decided to clear up this ghost business once and for all.
"So, how many of y'all believe that Papa's Deli is haunted?" he asked.
All four employees raised their hands. He scribbled something down on a piece of paper.
"Mmhm," he said. "And what do y'all suppose we do about it then?"
Butch was the quickest to answer. Fiddling with his knit green beanie, he replied casually ",I know a guy who can help, boss. He's a professional ghost buster and exorcist. Goes by the name of Geno Smith."
"Oh, I've heard of him," said Cecil. "He was on that show that one time on television." He quickly saw this wasn't helping so he stopped talking.
"Thank you, Cecil. Please remind me when I actually care," said Papa Toney as he reached into a desk drawer and pulled out a playing card, a small bag of tobacco, and a match. As he rolled himself a cigarette, he turned back to Butch. "So, this 'ghost buster' Geno Smith, right? He can help us then?"
Butch nodded slowly, not sure where his boss was going with this.
"Good," Papa Toney continued. "We'll need to get this mess cleared up then. I can't be having my employees screaming and running around like chickens with their heads cut off about some ghost that doesn't exists."
"So what're you gonna then, boss?" asked Nehi.
Papa struck the match across the top off the desk and lit the roll-up. Blowing out a thick cloud of smoke, he gave them evil look and said ",Oh, I'm not gonna do anything about it because I don't believe in Oscar Smalls. Y'all on ther hand are gonna call up Geno and help him whatever he needs to get rid of this little ghost problem."
"No problem then. Right?" said Cecil. He glanced nervously around at the others.
"Oh, by the way," added Papa Toney ",no overtime pay for this."
"Well this just sucks, don't it, fellas?"
Nehi took a sip from his soda and groaned. It was going on eleven o'clock; they had been at work for nearly fifteen hours. The others nodded glumly. They should have home hours ago, but instead they were stuck here working the graveyard shift.
Cecil flicked a paper football across the table. "Yo, Butch, when's your guy supposed to arrive? He should have been here over an hour ago."
"He'll be here," Butch reassured them. "If I know Geno, he prob'ly just had to grab some more gear"
"Right," John replied slowly. "Gear for a ghost that doesn't exists."
Cecil lined up another shot carefully. He asked ",What, you don't believe in Oscar?"
John simply shrugged his shoulders and said ",Well, I mean, when you get right down to it... What I'm trying to say is..." Finally, he managed ",Have any of you actually seen or heard Oscar when you've been at work? For all we know, we could just be believing in some old folk tale made up by some old man."
The others looked at each other but didn't say anything; each was wrapped in their own thoughts.
"Oh my God, Oscar is real, dudes!" exclaimed Nehi suddenly. He pointed towards the counter. "He's right there!"
Sure enough, right before their own eyes, a green hazy mist seemed to materialize over the red barstool. At first it was all blobby but quickly gained the shape of a man. The mist continued to focus until an old, balding man could be clearly seen.
Butch flung himself away from the counter while the others ran for kitchen. They made their way into the back freezer, and Cecil slammed the door shut.
Nehi peered cautiously around a frozen slab of pork ribs, as if a vicious undead would rip his head off by his curly brown hair. His voice cracked in fear when he asked ",So, um, guys, now what do we do?"
"Nothing much," replied Cecil.
"Well we just can't sit here and freeze to death, now can we?" said John sarcastically.
Cecil shrugged. "I guess we can't."
John rolled his brown eyes skyward. "No. We can't," he retorted. "We gotta do something fast."
"Heh, I'm not going out there with a ferocious ghost," said Nehi.
The others nodded at another.
Butch slumped against the freezer wall and slid to the floor. Resting his head on his hand, he said ",Then it's settled. We'll just sit in here 'till morning."
There was a knock at the front door of Papa's Deli. From inside their hiding place, they could here a man call out. "Hello? Anybody there? It's me, Geno Smith. I was called by Butch Fogerty to exorcise a ghost from this establishment."
Three heads turned and stared down Butch. Holding up his hands, Butch asked ",What're y'all looking at me like for?"
"Seems like your man is here, dude," replied John. "Better go let him in. Now."
"But there's a ghost out there!" Butch wailed. He looked at Cecil. "C'mon, Cec, you said it yourself: We can't do anything about Oscar."
Cecil folded his arms sternly across his chest. "Butch, really? I didn't say anything like that at all. Besides, you're the one who knows Geno and you called him, so, by default, you should be the one to let him in."
Butch gaped blankly at the others, but they all thought they same thing. The big man let out sigh and stood up. "Dudes, if I don't make it back alive, tell my story of how I died- and make it sound awesome."
Butch walked to the freezer door and gripped the handle. He looked once more at the others. Taking in a deep breath, he pushed open the heavy door with his shoulder; it creaked terribly loud on its ungreased hinges. The eerie, green glow that radiated from Oscar lit up the dining room. Butch dropped flat onto the floor and began to crawl quietly, military style. Keeping a careful eye on the ghost, Butch slowly worked his way along the far wall until he finally managed to make it to the front door.
Nehi pantomimed from the freezer door window ",Open. The. Door."
"Hello?" Geno asked, sounding defeated. "I guess nobodies here. I probably just got pumped again. Stupid kids and their hallucinogenics."
Butch whipped open the door and hauled Geno roughly inside. Pulling him to the floor, he hissed ",Thank God you finally decided to show up, Geno. We've been waiting for hours."
Geno brushed his khaki coveralls off and adjusted his glasses. He gave Butch a look. "Yeah, nice to see you too, Butch. How've things been with you?"
"Spooky," replied Butch, pointing at Oscar who was still just sitting there at the counter.
Geno squinted at the Oscar. "That's the ghost, huh? He doesn't look like much of a threat to me, Butch."
"Well he scared the day lights out of a waitress here, so the boss wants you to do something about it," replied Butch. "Papa Toney doesn't believe in ghosts."
Geno eyed Butch over the top of his thin-rimmed glasses; the corners of his lips were upturned in small, patronizing smirk. He rubbed his neck and exhaled loudly. "Alright," he whispered ",here's what we're gonna do, Butch: I'm gonna go grab some equipment from my van, and we'll get rid of the ghost. Okay?"
"Yeah. Whatever it takes."
Just before the door shut behind him, Geno said ",Hey, and tell your scaredy cat friends to come out of the freezer. That's just embarrassing."
About ten minutes later, Geno returned, armed to the teeth with what looked like a random assortment of power tools Macguyvered together with duct tape, rubber tubing, and string. He handed a yellow flashlight thing each to Butch, Cecil, Nehi, and John, followed by a small handheld portable oxygen tank.
Geno began to explain. "This is what we in the ghost busting community call an ecto-hyper suction device. Simply just flip the switch on top and be amazed as any and all malign spirits are sucked away into the very secure holding chamber until they can be deported into a nearby Ectotank. But before we do anything first, we gotta get a reading on this ghost's ectolevels."
The ghost buster pulled a small device out of his front pocket. It looked like an analog voltmeter with the words Ecto-Reader 3000 painted on top. Geno pulled out its antenna and walked confidently towards Oscar, who still just sat there, gazing into nothingness. The Ecto-Reader ticked and clicked as Geno swept it near Oscar.
Geno briefly studied the readings. "Hm, that's odd, for sure. Everything checks out fine with Oscar; he's got the same ecto-readings as a normal human being. It's as if he never even died."
"So?" said Cecil. "What's that got to do with getting rid of him?"
The ghost buster pulled out a spiral bound notebook and flipped through it until he found the page he was searching for. Small, neat handwriting covered the page, and at the top there was a label that read: Human-level Ghosts.
"Okay," mused Geno ",this is interesting. My notes say that a ghost of Oscar's level isn't really a ghost at all, just a human that doesn't know he's dead."
"Can we still suck him up then?" asked Nehi, holding the EHSD menacingly towards Oscar.
Geno shook his head. "Unfortunately no. It only works on malignant or mean ghosts. Oscar here is about as harmful as a fly."
"Then how do get rid of him?"
Tapping his mouth, Geno replied ",Simple. We just talk to him and see what he wants. Maybe then he'll leave in peace."
Replacing all his tools, Geno sidled up to the counter and took a seat beside Oscar. Nehi and Butch walked behind the counter while Cecil and John headed towards the kitchen, each waiting anxiously for was going to happen.
"So, um, Oscar," Geno began ",how's it going? Everything alright?"
At first the ghost didn't acknowledge Geno, but eventually he shifted position on the barstool and moaned quietly, barely audible, as if a breeze was blowing gently through the woods ",Well, everything's alright, I guess. Just wish they' during out my sammich. I'm starved!"
Geno nodded and politely excused himself then headed towards the kitchen, motioning for Butch and Nehi to follow him. When they were all together again, Geno crossed his arms and smiled at them. He said ",Well, fellas, I think I know exactly what y'all can do to get rid of your little ghost problem."
"And that is...?" asked Butch.
"Give 'I'm what he wants!" replied Geno smartly. "A pastrami on rye with extra coleslaw."
The employees of Papa's Deli looked at each other. Cecil rubbed his hands eagerly together and said ",Alrighty then. I'm ready to go home so let's get that sammich made. God knows Oscar's been waiting on it for sixty-something years."
The staff kicked themselves into high gear. Nehi took Oscar's order; Butch took his ghostly money without question; John selected and sliced the best pastrami loaf in the freezer, and Cecil toasted up the rye bread and quickly made the coleslaw. By the time he finished dabbling the slaw on, John slapped on the pastrami and placed it on a plate. Nehi slid the sand which in front of Oscar.
"'Bout time," grumbled the old man.
Picking up the pastrami sand which, he bit into it and chewed thoughtfully for a few seconds; the kitchen staff watched him expectantly. Oscar took a second bite. A slow smile spread across his wrinkled face.
Nodding approvingly, he said ",Not bad, folks. Not bad at all."
The staff exchanged looks of relief. Geno smiled, his work obviously done here. They watched the old ghost polish off the rest of the sand which then sat amazed as he simply disappeared into nothingness.
"You'll get my bill tomorrow morning, guys," said Geno.
Papa Toney sat down at his desk and began scanning through the deli's mail. Almost immediately his eyes landed on Geno's bill. He opened it and the color drained from his face, as if he'd just seen a ghost.