THE CANNIBAL BUFFET

by Ryan Block


Jocelyn squinted into the rearview mirror, checking her reflection for the tenth time since leaving the house. A bottle of temporary dye had churned her spiky hair into a grotesque red hat. The rest of her face wasn’t much better. It looked like she’d smeared ketchup under her eyes with a spatula, trickles of red lipstick dripped from the corners of her mouth in a perfect simulation of crusted blood, and a half-dozen cuts oozed pus across her pale, heart-shaped face. Looking like a corpse flung through a windshield, Jocelyn nodded in satisfaction before tucking her keys inside a tattered leather purse. Slipping from the ancient car, she grimaced at the sight of it.

“ Piece of junk,” she thought as she walked towards the door of the bar. Easily the winner of the ‘Crappy Car Award,’ of all the cars in the parking lot hers was the only vehicle whose market value fluctuated depending on how much gas she put in the tank.

As the double doors swung open, the hinges cried out for oil. She strode into ‘The Corral,’ the only place for fifty miles that offered cold beer and good music in equal measure. The fact that Halloween, her favorite holiday, fell on a Saturday was a definite bonus, because it was the last All Hallows’ Eve she’d spend at the bar. After four years of waiting on tables, she was moving to the city in January to go back to school. These were the last few months Jocelyn had in order to put together enough money for the two years her course would run; she could get a job in the city but really wanted to focus on her studies.

“Ready for tonight?” Jocelyn called out. Bea poked her smiling face out of the kitchen.

“Damn straight,” the older woman replied before vanishing like a jack-in-the-box. Bea owned ‘The Corral,’ ever since her husband Steve had a heart attack while playing canasta with the family just over a year ago. For the festivities that evening Bea had dressed as a nurse, the costume was authentic because her sister worked at the local hospital. A stethoscope hanging around her neck and a handful of tongue depressors poking out of the breast pocket made the costume perfectly complete. Cassy, standing behind the bar, was dressed as a princess and flashed Jocelyn a quick smile as she filled drink orders. There were already a dozen couples in various costumes scattered around the bar.

“Where’s Kevin?” Cassy asked warily.

“He’s gone,” Jocelyn replied flatly. Cassy dropped the subject and they admired each others’ costumes for a minute before Jocelyn headed to the kitchen. As she approached, Bea sized up her best waitress. Eyes flitted from the black shoes and red shorts that adorned Jocelyn to the white shirt hacked through in a dozen places and stained with red food coloring. It looked like she’d been brutalized by a mass murderer.

For just a moment Bea’s eyes lingered on her face, especially under her right eye, and Jocelyn wondered if the old woman could tell. She'd spent extra time hiding the bruise, fortunately the costume gave her an excuse for slathering on the make-up. The last few times she hadn’t been so lucky.

“Come take a look,” the older woman suggested. Jocelyn strode into the kitchen, adorned with a trio of ovens working overtime on the Halloween feast.

***

‘The Cannibal Buffet’ was her idea and Jocelyn was proud of it. Every Saturday evening the bar offered a very popular supper buffet. The idea for tonight’s theme came when Jocelyn noticed the roast, ribs, and wings always vanished first. Never the salad, or the fruit plate. Always the meat. So Jocelyn suggested, as a send-up to Halloween, the cannibal theme. Bea agreed in a heartbeat and planning started immediately. Jocelyn spent the better part of yesterday preparing the soup, wings, and meatballs while Bea took care of the roasts, hams, and ribs.

***

“When’s supper?” a friendly voice inquired. Both eager cooks poked their heads from the kitchen window to see Mike and Alyssa Francis in full costume. Draped in a worn trench coat with a deer stalker pulled low over his face, Mike’s rendition of Sherlock Holmes was complete with a pipe in one hand and a magnifying glass in the other. Alyssa rounded out her costume as a pregnant nun with a pillow stuffed down the front of her habit.

“ An hour,” Bea offered hopefully before returning to the kitchen, knowing in that time there would be plenty of customers clamoring for food. Double checking each dish to make sure it would be ready in time, Bea finally cornered Jocelyn and spoke in hushed tones.

“Want to talk about it?” Her smile offered friendship but the young girl shook her head.

Damn near everyone knew Kevin was good for nothing but drinking and starting trouble when he was around, even though he never stayed in one place too long. He’d roll into town on the bus and sleep where he could. He’d also borrow what he could or maybe even hold down a job for a week or three. Then he’d decide it was time to cash his paycheck and move on. While under the influence he liked to express with his fists the displeasure he felt at the hand life had dealt him. Problem was he and Jocelyn had something back in high school and he never quite accepted it was over. She had her own small house on the edge of town and more often than not he’d try to stay with her. Last time it hadn’t worked very well, this time had been disastrous.

“ Are you sure,” the older woman pressed. Jocelyn nodded.

“ I told him a year back if it happened again I’d kill him,” she whispered. “He tried to test my resolve. I broke two fingers and I wouldn’t be surprised if he was six states away by now. There’s been three buses since it happened yesterday before lunch so I know he’s long gone and won’t be back.”

“No one will miss him,” Bea commented.

“You don’t have to tell me that,” Jocelyn quipped.

“Then lets get the food out and forget about him,” Bea suggested.

“Forget about who?”

“That’s the spirit.” The old woman smiled and for nearly an hour both women worked to put the finishing touches on the evening meal.

***

When the results of their hard work were laid out before her Jocelyn cracked a smile that stirred the pain lurking beneath her right eye. Two hundred famished patrons hungrily eyed the buffet table, where virtually every dish was meat. The only exceptions were eyeballs (olives, which looked like eyes if you thought about it,) scalp surprise (angel hair pasta with zesty tomato sauce,) and baskets overflowing with Bea’s homemade buns.

***

The mock menu on display explained everything in gory detail. Ribs had been pried from the bodies of people killed in a bus crash three days ago on Highway 66. Roasts of beef and two hams had been hacked from corpses killed in grisly farm accidents. Dead man’s fingers tasted like chicken, because they were. The boiled flesh soup had been simmering ever since old man Smith had been found impaled on a pitchfork in his barn. The fleshy remnants of each body had been ground up and formed into meatballs now floating in barbecue or mushroom sauce.

***

Hungry patrons surged forward like horses leaving the gate. Bea watched the procession with a satisfied smile and Jocelyn stood at her side. The young waitress mentally thanked Kevin for his help because, mixed in with the meatballs and floating in the soup, he made the cannibal buffet truly authentic.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

After finishing high school with a desire to write, Ryan studied Creative Communications at Red River College in Winnipeg. After graduating Ryan went to work for a radio station in northern Alberta, writing advertising copy for radio commercials. He has since returned to university to finish his degree in Communications. Ryan currently lives in Winnipeg and writes whenever he gets the chance.


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