I wonder, sometimes, what they do in there. I would have no way of knowing unless I bugged their little meeting, which of course I’m not even thinking of. These people pay big money. Nonetheless, the thought of what’s going on always gnaws a little at my mind.
I’ve seen a wide variety of people over the course of this venture, from the crowd at the Methodist church to the businessmen downtown. Usually their appetites are insatiable. I carry the stuff in on a platter, I could hire other people to do it for me, but I like forming a relationship with my clientele. Wide variety of people, but none like the group down at the abbey.
Hard business, catering. The title alone says it all- I have to cater to those groups so large their stomachs bulge out, or groups so massive that they can’t order from a normal restaurant. Instead, they call me and I get them fixed up. The kitchen is heavy-duty, large capacity, and I have five chefs who know a lotta recipes. We print them up on flyers and stick them around, mainly in the sort of places where our services would be required.
It’s a task, I know, but somebody needs to do it. If it weren’t for mass food production we wouldn’t have made it through either of the World Wars, supermarkets wouldn’t be here. I personally see what I do as a privilege. Some people might take it in the opposite route, but creating massive amounts of food is what we do best. Irascible people, though, they’ve always been one of my turnoffs.
Old hag down on 5th and Maple, wears mascara and curlers in some attempt to win back her youth. Calls us, demands stuff, then when we arrive one guy asked her where the party was and she said she was going to eat it all herself, she screamed at him, told him to get the Hell out. I had to pay that guy extra, according to him she was a raging ball of fury, and there was no massive gathering going on. He told me she was shriveled and probably couldn’t consume that much food in a week.
I go down to the old abbey. Knowing full well what’s inside- I don’t like it, but I don’t know if they’re technically doing anything illegal.
It starts in the florescent kitchen, noises of batter being mixed and sandwiches being slopped together, some light chatter but not much. Out back the service entrance leads to a dark and solemn night where crickets chirp in the trees and way over the lake you can hear a solitary loon crying. Moon’s in the sky, high moon, but in here everything is a sharp gray. Rows and rows of ovens and freezers, reminds one of a morgue. Boxes upon boxes, cakes way back in the sizzling depths, other things which everyone needs to coordinate around.
Out onto the street, not many cars this late at night, parking lot is clear, road is clear. No traffic except on the highway, and even then it’s a sparse truck here and there, nothing heavy. Lights are off in every house I pass by, got a load of quiche in the back. Prepared by our French chef, Michel, gloomy fellow who says he’s here as a refugee. Hasn’t said much more than that. His quiches are subpar, but when you’ve got a hungry crowd, odds are they won’t care about what they’re cramming in their maw, and if they did, they wouldn’t buy the quiche. But the abbey always buys the quiche, that and some sandwiches, infrequently. Soft drinks, too. Typical stuff. But these quiches- I look behind me, and they almost hit the roof of the car. In fact, I could get pulled over for obstructing my view.
This is how it goes. I’m sitting in my office, minding my own business, usually getting on a spreadsheet, which are handy when you have a lot of clients simultaneously. The phone rings, and before I even pick it up, I know what it is. There’s something about the noise that scares me, but they do come weekly, always within the same hour if not the same minute, and the voice says:
“Bring ‘em down.”
Take out the pen, scribble something on a note, bring it to Michel and he takes it without saying anything, then I go back to my office and try to work knowing that soon I’ll be delivering ‘em. It won’t be long. Half an hour, tops, is all it takes Michel to assemble them, get them going in the ovens, take then out and package them. Remarkably fast worker, I need to raise his salary. Put that down in the spreadsheet. There we go, raise Michel. Helps me every time we need him. If he caught the flu who knows where we would be.
Marcel’s quiches don’t smell so hot but I often find myself tempted to try one. Eggs, parsnip, some tomato in there. They would be garbage in France but here in America most people don’t know what a quiche is and I feel alienated as a quiche connoisseur. No time for that, we have the hour delivery guarantee. I press down on the gas, rev it up a little, I’m cruising along nocturnal avenues and the crickets keep on chirping. Rhythm everywhere.
I get on the ramp and head on the highway a little while. Blissfully short. I don’t want to go where I’m going, but I know I need to. They have stomachs, they need to be fed, and they pay well. I count the streetlights. Four, ten, twenty, there we go, twenty lights before I head off the highway and back onto the misty thin little rural roads. No light here, very few public utilities or infrastructure, if my brights weren’t on I’d probably crash.
Cattle rustling around, going to sleep, in their pens and stables they crawl and cluck and squirm. Here and there dotted across the idyllic landscape there’s a barn with one light on, tops. I know I should be used to places like this by now, but I’m not. I’ve lived here five years and the emptiness and monotony of such landscapes is unsettling. Pancake state.
Sky is dark. I recall a dream I had as a kid, a kind of static world, dark shadows moving around in a brown and endless cyberscape. I still have no idea what it meant. Blurry figures, blurry world, but ultimately it was familiar. It was known to me. This isn’t known to me or anyone else. Nobody should reside in such a place. But the people at the abbey do, against all odds. I continue my jaunt, speeding, probably breaking the speed limit but there are no cars ahead of me or behind me. Doesn’t matter.
Out of the flatness arises a monolith surrounded by woodland. This monolith is surrounded by lights which remain on 24/7. They illuminate every plant, every marker, every speck of granite. The thing is gaudy and sticks out like a sore thumb, but I don’t care and nor do the people inside, whoever they are.
Out here you wonder who built it. Some long gone construction company, probably hired and contracted, dissolved by now. No records about this, but here it is- a monument to humanity in the bleak unknown, like Stonehenge or Hy-Brasil, something that shouldn’t located where it is, which took work and years of dedication, and about which credible information is scant. And to see this monolith reach out of the dark fields is highly unsettling.
I pull in from the highway and enter the parking lot, which oddly enough is completely empty despite the fact that there are as many people inside now as there are during the day. No cars save mine. Maybe they park out in the back somewhere, maybe there’s another lot- but I doubt this, and I also doubt that they would walk all the way here from town. Miles and miles. I’ve been here during the day, and there are cars. I wonder where they’ve gone.
Delicate balancing act to stack all these quiches up and hold them. I shudder at what would happen if through some misfortune I dropped them, what the people in there would do to me. Despite this gnawing fantasy I make it up the steps OK. No doorman here this time of night, which is good- that guy always gave me the creeps. Maybe it’s worse not to have him here. I set the stack down, open the door, pick the stack up, and the doors close shut behind me on their gossamer hinges.
Inside. Sterility is the one word that comes to mind when discussing this place. It is built by men, that’s certain, but I don’t feel humanity here. I feel sheer artificial walls, nothing in these halls this late save potted ferns and tables with arcane brochures. Behind me are bathrooms where my footsteps would echo even more than they do on these marble tiles.
I wonder what purpose this building could serve. It is deathly quiet, a tomb of strange architecture. It is no civic building or any Government bureau, but it is a meeting area, a gathering place, a spot where people come together, though for what purposes I can’t begin to fathom.
I pass some rooms, all with names. Janitor’s closet, conference room, lecture hall. There are some offices, too. Small cubicles where people work doing who knows what, and at the end is a window which gives way onto the nightscape. No sounds can be picked up, these halls are devoid of people, and I only make one turn- a sharp right- before I hear the speaker in the room.
The voice grows from a dull murmur to a blasting and riveting speech as I enter the room. The speaker stands on stage at his podium. He tells the people what they want to hear, and while he is not animated by any means, he is effective and he changes up his semantic strategies when he sees fit. Before me are rows of people, all listening intently. No comments are given, no words are implied, no movement is perceptible. They sit like statues in the rows, and though I cannot understand what the speaker is saying- something about spheres, time, past lives- I know he is educated, either that or a very good liar.
I move over to the table which has been set up for me, set the pies out in formation. They vary somewhat in consistency. The table, like everything else, is sterile and clean, spotless and yet somehow outdated. The table, like the chairs the people sit on, are old. The chairs have metal legs and cushions that barely qualify as cushions, old things with artificial materials that might be seen in a DMV in 1979, or a doctor’s office in 1985. The furniture would be considered modern 30 years back. And these men of the past who sit without speaking and who never quit gazing at the stage are of that period, too. The youngest from what I can see is about 40, though he could be older.
The speaker’s hair is slicked back, with a dash of gray at the temples, and his chin tapers down. His eyes are a sparkling olive and he has no facial hair. His gestures are minute yet crucial, he uses no slides or aids, looks out and knows who’s watching him. He doesn’t look at me. He’s dressed to the nines. As I lay the quiches out, I know full well that it could be an hour or two before they’re nothing but crusts- and by that time, I’ll be asleep. I wonder if indeed they’ll be eaten at all.
Behind the speaker can be seen dark blue curtains, to either side of these are some obscure murals, and besides that there are only the hideous gray walls, the ones which make the room seem cramped and unbearably open. From the dark abyss comes a man who trots behind the speaker, taking special care not to detract from the speaker’s words. I’ve seen him before, he is fat and slow, but not short, and he trots down the side steps, cash in hand. I take it from him. Then I leave.
As I exit I feel a presence behind me, and I have felt it before. A presence that tries to keep me from getting out into the night. Of course, there is no such presence, and if I look back there will be nothing. The halls are empty, the lights are on, and sure enough I reach the doors, cash in hand, and exit.
In the woods behind the field I spot some lights. Not flashlights, certainly not matches or fireflies. These lights quiver erratically and move from side to side. What they are I can’t say. They’re not held by humans, but they have some sentience about them. And as odd as this may sound, they don’t scare me. I’m not in the building anymore, they’re a long ways off and can’t do anything to me. They’re alone out there in those woods, behind those trees.
As I drive back to the kitchen, I know I’ll be returning there soon, in a week or so. I’ll get another call, coming through the telephone wires over the dark and silent country night, one of those men in there will call me up again. It’s an unpleasant reality, but so long as those people pay me, I will be back. I don’t know whether I should be scared of that or not.