FREE PIE DAY
“Free Pie Day” was originally posted on a group blog. Participants on the blog took diner-themed writing prompts and turned them into short scenes and vignettes. My prompt was, “The Otherworld Diner is having a “Free Piece of Pie” day to celebrate some event. What craziness ensues?” This is the closest I’ve ever come to writing fanfic, but fear not, it’s not fanfic, not really. Most of the individuals mentioned in the story are other bloggers.
“Hey, lady, I want another piece of pie!”
I glared at the smurf-lipped kid seated in booth 17 and said, in my meanest voice, “No.”
The kid’s face scrunched up like a shar pei. He opened his pie-hole, literally, and let out a wail that would have put James Brown to shame.
“Junior, honey, don’t cry.” The mother, a pointy, thin woman wearing an expensive twin-set and pearls, shoved her piece of free pie to the screaming child. “You can have mine. It’s not on my diet.”
The kid dove in, bits of fruit and crust exploding to either side of him and littering the already disgusting table. Behind me, Brenda, our bus person, muttered imprecations under her breath about “pigs in pokes” and “no home training”.
Ah. Free Pie Day at the Otherworld Diner. Normally we balanced our staff across several shifts, but on this particular Saturday night every one of us bustled around the restaurant, doing whatever job needed doing even if it wasn’t ours. We had to. On FPD, the customers lined up on the sidewalk like we were an exclusive New York nightclub from the moment we opened until the moment we closed, at which point we shooed the unfortunate souls who hadn’t made it inside by our cut-off time.
I was usually happy to be the person who did the shooing, anxious for FPD to come to an end. At our owner Debralee’s insistence, we closed the day after FPD, so everyone could recover from their exhaustion and their hatred of the pie-eating portion of the human race.
When Elvis began to sing “Hound Dog” on the jukebox, I knew there was only one more hour until closing. We’d programmed the juke to spin up a tune on the half-hour if it wasn’t already in use. As if summoned by the King, Jeannie burst through the front door from the sidewalk where she’d been handing out free slices in hopes of thinning down the line. She shoved several empty pie boxes that looked like wolf-dogs had torn them to shreds into the oversized recycling bin by the juke.
Okay, I could do this. We could do this. Normally the staff prefers I don’t wait tables, as surly as I am, but on FPD, we needed even my help. And really, all I had to do was hand out pie. I didn’t refill drinks, take orders or get people ketchup. I just handed out pie. Pie, pie and more pie. I handed out eight slices to a bunch of slavering mongrels who couldn’t possibly appreciate the subtle flavors and delicate crust of Talia’s peach delight at the speed they inhaled it. My tray bare, I sidestepped ChinaMeli and Cheryl, wait staff extraordinaire, and darted behind the counter, where Maggie was stuffing packets of decaf coffee into a canister with an irritated gleam in her eyes.
Aaaaaaand, speaking of pie, which pretty much everyone in our filled-to-capacity restaurant was doing, our pie case was empty.
“Maggie, are there any pies up?”
Maggie shook her head. “Just a couple hot beefs and a chef salad.”
Maggie had been slicing the pies Talia and her helpers baked and then placing them in our pie case for me and the other ladies to distribute. Our cook, Francesca, also had assistants tonight, some strapping dudes who kept kissing her. I peeked through the order window and saw the typical FPD kitchen madhouse but no explanation for the lack of pie.
“I’m going in,” I said to whichever staff members could hear me. Employees who braved the kitchen area on FPD were sometimes not seen for hours if Talia or Francesca roped them into service. They no longer used ropes, though, after the incident.
I pushed the swinging door cautiously and entered the back of the restaurant. Francesca and hunks were frying and chopping and stirring, and Lori was running the industrial dishwasher, her hair frazzled.
“How’s it going out there?” Lori asked.
So that’s where Lori had gotten off to. I checked her ankle to make sure there was no rope and gestured rudely towards the front. “Full of pie cretins. Hey, we’re out of pie.”
Lori’s eyes widened in horror, because running out of pie on FPD was detrimental to everyone’s wellbeing. “Scary. Talia’s out back. Actually I haven’t seen her for a while. Should we nuke the frozen pies?” We kept a pie stockpile in one of our deepfreezes — recently sterilized of a green, glowing mold that wasn’t a health hazard but did have interesting properties — for just such emergencies.
“I’m going to check on Talia first.” We probably had enough to get through the final hour of FPD, but I hated to clean out the stash. “Maybe thaw ten.”
“Gotcha.” Lori finished loading the dishwasher and disappeared into the deepfreeze.
The rear door led to a small patio where we kept our specialized brick oven. Beyond the patio was the gate to the back alley and dumpsters.
The scene that met my eyes on the patio was not what I expected. I don’t know why things that happen at the Diner continue to surprise me, but even so, this was a shocker.
Talia was standing beside the brick oven brandishing her giant spatula like a sword as two young men menaced her. The tall, dark haired one was flipping through pages of an old book in a very menacing way while the shorter blond was crumpling an empty bag of pickling salt with menacing twists.
Our pickling salt, might I add. I recognized the brand.
Surely these weren’t her helpers?
“If you take one stop closer, you’re going to feel my wrath.” Talia threatened. “There’s nothing here for you.”
Gosh, if they weren’t her helpers, I hoped they weren’t customers. I’d spoken with Tali about her occasional possessiveness of her culinary creations before, and FPD wasn’t a great day to revisit that argument. But instead of jumping in, I decided to see how she’d handle it. Maybe our practice sessions about letting the pie go would kick in.
“Don’t try to protect your fellow demon.” The taller one spread the book wide and held it in front of him, his finger on the page. “We’re sending you both back to Hell where you belong.” Then he began chanting something in a language that sounded vaguely like Latin.
I knew Talia had a tendency to adopt strays of all species, but this was the first I’d heard about her aiding and abetting a demon, not to mention being one. Anyone who thought Talia belonged in Hell had obviously never tasted her brownie cheesecake.
“Demons being protective is kinda weird,” the shorter one said. “Maybe it’s her spawn. I mean, they don’t look alike, but she could have taken human form.”
Talia shot them both a disgusted look. “It’s not a demon, it’s a dragon.”
“There’s no such things as dragons,” the blond scoffed. Then he glanced at the tall one. “Right, Sammy?”
Sammy, frowning in a way that looked habitual, continued to read the non-English mantra, his deep voice rolling out the long vowels like he really meant it.
“This has gone far enough. I’ve got work to do and you two are interfering.” Talia kicked at the circle of salt around the brick oven, and tiny pellets sprayed the two men.
The blond’s jaw dropped, and Sammy quit chanting to stare at Talia in amazement. “You’re not supposed to be able to… How’d you do that?!”
“With my Converse, you idiot.” Talia kicked more salt, and they flinched, holding up their arms to protect their faces from the crystals.
When the salt stopped flying, the blond grabbed an old, long-barreled pistol from the back of his pants, where it had been hidden under his scruffy leather jacket. “I don’t know how you were able to cross the ring of salt, but you can’t escape a bullet from the Colt. Stay back.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me. A gun?” Talia exclaimed, echoing my thoughts. I girded my loins to linebacker the blond and disrupt his aim. The Diner being what it was, I didn’t want to involve the police unless I absolutely had to.
At the shock in Talia’s tone, Grim the dragon popped his head out of the back of the oven where he was supposed to remain hidden, the secret to Talia’s perfectly baked goods.
A secret we at the Diner were loathe for anyone to discover.
Blast and double blast. That explained a few things.
“Uh, Dean,” Sammy said. “I think you’re worried about the wrong demon.”
Dean shifted the gun from Talia to the small dragon, who hissed. “Badmen chasing meez through the park. I’s spit at youse!” He inhaled deeply, preparing to hack a fireball that wouldn’t help convince these guys he didn’t belong in Hell. Grim might have limpid pools for eyes, but he also had some serious brimstone and halitosis issues.
Talia clanged the side of the brick oven with her giant spatula, startling the creature. “We don’t have time for that. It’s Free Pie Day. Quick slacking and get back in there. You still owe me after you-know-what.”
With an “Ack!”, Grim popped back into the oven, and I heard the faint but distinctive rumble of dragonfire.
The blond blinked a couple times and lowered the gun. “You’re baking pies? Free pies?”
“That’s what free…pie…day generally entails.” Talia enunciated each syllable as if speaking to someone new to the language. “You two hounding Grim on his smoke break have seriously interfered with the pastry supply. Unless I miss my guess, any minute now, my manager is going to… Oh, hi, Jody.”
I suppose that was my cue it was safe to chime in without getting shot. Or salted. Or fireballed.
Sam and Dean–what were they, surf rockers?–both jumped at the sight of me lurking in the doorway.
I waved. “I came to check on the pie progress. We’re digging into the reserves and we’ve still got an hour to go.”
“Grim and I have a batch almost toasty and another ready to go in. Or we would, if somebody would quit threatening to banish us to Hell.” Talia opened the brick oven door and peered into the red, glowing interior.
“You’re not demons?” Dean asked. “Pie-baking demons?”
Sammy’s lips tightened. “Don’t be stupid, Dean. They aren’t going to admit they’re demons.”
“Nobody here is a demon,” I said in my best soothing-the-irate-customer voice. “We’re employees of The Otherworld Diner. Maybe you’ve heard of us? No? Well, we’re famous in these parts. And Talia here is part of the reason. Talia and her pies.”
Dean studied Talia, her cheeks pink from the heat of the oven, then me. He put his gun away. “She did touch the salt.”
A nod from me, and Talia slipped her giant spatula beneath the first golden brown, perfectly dragon-baked pie and floated it out of the oven. The men’s eyes followed Talia’s actions as if drawn by magnets. Pie magnets.
The sweet, enticing scent of crust and contents filled the air, and even my mouth watered. There was nobody in the world, except maybe Talia, more sick of pie than I was right now.
“Fellas,” I said, when I had at least part of their attention, “can I interest you in some free pie in return for your silence on the manner in which our brick oven gets heated? Demons, from what I understand, are evil, supernatural beings bent on taking over the world, and Grim couldn’t be further from that.”
“I could eat,” Dean said.
Sammy punched him, but he was watching the pie with puppy dog eyes as helplessly as Dean.
“Let’s get you a booth.” I took each man by an arm and urged them into the Diner. Over my shoulder, I called back to Talia. “Bake them the special pie. The caramel nepenthe delight.”
Sam’s pointy nose twitched and his lips thinned. Again. He tried to tug his arm away, but I held on tight. In a poncy voice, he said, “The word “nepenthe” first appeared in the Odyssey of Homer. Literally, it means “the one that chases away sorrow”. It’s thought to be an opium derivative. I don’t think we’ll be eating–”
“Really?” I interrupted, my eyes wide. “We’d heard the part about nepenthe chasing away sorrow. That’s why we call it that. It’s so good, you’ll forget why you’re sad.”
I led the bemused men through the kitchen, where Francesca’s assistants gave them evil glances and refused to let her so much as look at them. Out front, Brenda cleaned a corner booth. Cheryel served them ice tea and ChinaMeli distracted any other customers who might have noticed Sam and Dean got to cut line.
When the pie came out of the dragon-powered oven oozing fragrant steam like a hotsprings, I dolloped vanilla ice cream on top and set the entire pie tin between the two men, who were, quite frankly, both on the thin side.
They stared at the pie, then me. Sammy in particular looked like he figured the pie contained poison.
I grabbed a fork, elbowed them aside, and shoved a luscious bite into my mouth. One bite wouldn’t affect me, and if it did, it would only mean I’d forget how stressful FPD was and we’d have it again next year. When I didn’t turn green, choke or keel over, Dean wielded his own fork and dug into the caramel and melted ice cream.
“Wow,” he said, his mouth full. “Sammy, you gotta try this.”
More fastidiously, Sammy sampled a pea-sized crumb, but when it melted in his mouth (that’s what Talia’s crust does), he scooped a larger bite. And then another.
“So we have a deal?” I asked Dean. “Pie for silence? Anytime you’re in town, more of the same.”
“Ish good pie,” he said, his cheeks bulging like a chipmunk. He grinned at me with good-natured enjoyment and added another forkful to the mass.
“Deal,” Sammy said, licking the tines of his fork.
After they finished the entire plate of caramel nepenthe delight, we kindly led them to their vehicle, a black muscle car, and whispered in Dean’s ear that he had an appointment in Wisconsin. We haven’t seen or heard from them since, although we’ve started keeping an caramel nepenthe delight on hand, just in case.
© 2008 Jody Wallace