The number of diners we have in town is alarmingly high, most likely from overestimating the amount of tourist attention we get. However, there is one that stands out from all the rest. It’s surrounded with faded orange caution tape, and the building’s paint has chipped and faded. The shorted-out neon sign that hangs above the door reads: “Anne’s Diner." It sprang up around two years ago. When I say “sprang up” I use the term quite literally. The day before it went into business, it was nothing more than a barren abandoned building. The very next day, we all woke up to find that what was once a condemned hovel was now a cheerfully painted restaurant with glowing signs in the windows and wonderful smells of bacon, eggs and pancakes wafting from inside. We were flabbergasted. There had been no construction site, no noises of work during the night, and no announcement of a grand opening. The diner had just appeared, as though it had always been there.
I had woken up that morning, looked out of my window, and saw the brand new diner shining in the morning sun. Quickly, I got dressed and made my way out to where everyone was standing and gawking at the spectacle. Just as I was arriving, the glass door of the diner swung open, and a woman with a huge smile on her face poked her head out. She stepped out onto the pavement and greeted us all.
“Well, hi there, folks!”
She was oddly mirthful, almost to the point of it seeming forced. She had hazel eyes and auburn hair put into a small bun on the back of her head, and she was wearing bright scarlet lipstick that stuck out like a sore thumb on her pale face. Her brick red dress had a pleated skirt and short sleeves with the words “Anne’s Diner” embroidered in yellow on the chest. She wore a pristine white apron tied around her waist. She waved to us and spoke again. “My name’s Anne,” she said, pointing to the name tag pinned to her chest. “I run the place. If any of you want to come on in and get some breakfast, we’d be happy to serve you!”
There was a long moment where everyone stared warily at Anne and her diner. Then, suddenly, a feeling came over me. Someone in the back of my mind said, Why not? It’s just a diner. What’s the worst that could happen? I suddenly found myself moving to the door, followed by multiple others. Before I knew it, I had entered the building. The interior was just what you would expect, with shiny metal tables arranged around the room and booths lining the walls. There was a bar on the wall directly across from the door, with red leather barstools bolted to the floor, like something out of the 1950s. A large man with a crew cut and a red shirt and khakis was wiping the countertop with a rag. The floor was a black and white checker pattern, and it was polished almost to the point of being reflective. Those who had followed me seated themselves at tables. I sat down at one of the booths next to a large window and looked around.
However, something was... off. I began to snap out of my daze. As I examined the room again, I noticed slight differences. The lights were dimmer than before. The floor had lost its luster, and the painted walls were somewhat faded. My gaze reached the bartender and I audibly gasped. His once perfectly cut hair had become disheveled, and his uniform was stained. He had stopped polishing the counter and was now standing still, staring directly into my eyes. I suddenly got the urge to get up and run out the door. I was just about to do so when Anne came over to my table, beaming. She had changed as well. The bun in her hair was much messier than before, with strands of hair protruding in every direction. Her pristine white apron was now stained with some dark red substance. As she spoke to me, I saw that her eyes now had a wild look in them.
“What can I get for you today?”
Something suddenly came over me. I snapped. Jumping out of my seat, I ran over to one of the other tables where a man was sitting. He was still looking around, his hands clasped on the table, his eyes glazed over, his lips spread in an idiotic grin of pleasure. I grabbed him by the shoulders and shook him.
“Wake up! Something’s wrong! WAKE UP!”
He just stared at me, smiling. He opened his mouth and spoke lazily.
“Eggs, please, sunny-side up….”
I heard a voice behind me.
“Is there a problem, sir?”
I whirled to see Anne and the bartender. Anne stood looking at me quizzically, while the bartender slowly advanced towards me. I backed into a corner, nowhere to run. When he reached me, he grabbed my shoulders and I slipped into unconsciousness.
I woke up back at my house, lying on the floor. I slowly sat up and looked around, blinking. I began to recollect what had happened. Looking down at myself, I saw something stuck to my shirt. Tearing it free, I saw that it was a sticker. Written on it, under the Anne’s Diner logo, were the words “Come back soon!” Petrified, I crumpled the sticker up and threw it across the room. Getting up, I noticed something hanging in the closet. It was a red shirt and a pair of khaki pants, identical to the uniform I had seen the bartender wearing. Pinned to the shirt was a tag with my name on it. I was very confused at the time. However, I would soon get my explanation.
Days passed, and I avoided Anne’s Diner as often as I could. However, one day, I was forced to pass it on my way through town. As I passed the building, staying as far from it as possible, I heard a voice pipe up from its direction.
“Hello, sir! Won’t you come in?”
I froze, terrified. Reluctantly, I turned to face the diner. There, leaning out of the door, was the very same man who I had tried to wake up the day the diner had opened. He was now beaming just as much as Anne herself, and he was wearing a uniform identical to the one I had received. Without skipping a beat, I turned and sprinted down the road as fast as I could. I heard the man yelling from behind me.
“Sir? Sir, come back! Please!”
I did not stop running until I had rounded multiple corners. I could make no sense of what I had seen.
A few hours later, I was sitting in my living room when a strange feeling suddenly came over me. I couldn’t stop thinking about the diner. I had to be there. In fact, I wanted to work there. Similar to when I had entered the diner, I suddenly found myself getting up and walking to the closet. I tried to resist it, but some power was controlling my mind and body. I wasn’t fully conscious of what I was doing. My hand slowly crept up and opened the closet door, revealing the Anne’s Diner uniform. I found myself changing into it. Fighting with my own mind, I walked out of my front door and into the street. I had almost reached the diner when I finally was able to rouse myself. I collapsed onto the street, the asphalt skinning my hands and knees. I crouched on my knees, breathing heavily. What had happened? Just as I was about to get up, I heard a familiar voice from the diner.
“Well, look at that. A new recruit!”
I looked up to see Anne standing outside of the diner, staring at me like a wolf examining its next kill. To my horror, the daze came over me again. Against my will, I stood up and advanced towards the woman and her diner. I felt myself begin to smile widely.
“I’d be happy to work for you, ma’am.”
She clapped her hands with glee and led me into the building. Once we were inside, she led me behind the bar and through a door marked: “EMPLOYEES ONLY." Through the door was a small, dark room. Anne flipped a switch on the wall, and a single light bulb that hung from the ceiling flickered to life. The dim light revealed the bartender, the man from earlier that day, and multiple other people in uniforms standing in a semicircle, all staring intently at me.
“Welcome,” they said in unison. Anne pushed me into the midst of the crowd, and as I fell to the floor, I noticed that a painted circle surrounded me. It was getting harder and harder to fight the feeling. I looked around at the faces above me, still grinning like a madman. They joined into a circle around me and linked hands. They all closed their eyes except for Anne, who looked down at me and began to question me.
“Would you like to work here at Anne’s Diner?”
I found myself nodding. “I would.”
“Splendid,” she chirped, still smiling her insane smile. “Will you encourage others to come to Anne’s Diner?”
“Wonderful. There is one more thing that you must always remember,” she cooed, her smile widening. “Anne’s Diner is your home.”
I began to reply. “Anne’s Diner is my—”
Suddenly, the sound of breaking glass came from outside the room, stirring me from my trance. The circle of diner employees around me broke and they all turned towards the door. The door was suddenly hurled open as men began to pour into the room. Anne started to shriek in anger, and everything faded to black.
I woke up to someone shaking me. I was lying on the street outside of the diner. Standing over me was a ragtag group of locals, who had presumably broken into the diner. One of them was gently shaking me by the shoulders. They backed away as I sat up. Looking over at the diner, I saw that it had suddenly fallen into disrepair. The glowing signs in the windows were gone. The paint had chipped and faded away. The neon sign above the door had ceased to glow.
“Wh-what happened?” I stammered groggily.
“We broke in there to see just what was going on,” the man who had been shaking me replied. “We found all those people huddled around you. That lady started screamin’ and clawin’ at us, but we pulled you out of there and ran out. Then, once we got out of the building, there was this flash of light and now it looks like that.” He pointed to the diner. I looked once more at the disheveled building, relieved that whatever had happened had come to pass.
The men helped me get home and I removed the uniform, which I then burned in my backyard. I didn’t know just what those people had been messing with, but I didn’t want it to rub off on me. Upon investigation, we found no trace of Anne, the bartender, or any of the locals that had been lured into her grasp. The building is still off limits to this day. One lesson can be taken from our experience: if you ever see Anne’s Diner, no matter what they tell you, do not go in.
Written by E Chadwick Reads