01 Feb A Diner Open 25 Hours a Day
Late one night, I found myself driving down what seemed like an endless stretch of road. I was on my way back from a week-long business trip, facing at least a twelve-hour drive home. Having always been scared of flying, the monotonous trek was unavoidable. Though tedious and sometimes downright soul-crushing, I’d grown used to the lonely road trips back and forth from state to state.
In an effort to minimize my commute, I usually refrained from making pit stops. I would push through exhaustion and discomfort, making my way home in one fell swoop. I would then enter my bedroom and meet my blankets with a hard thud, falling asleep almost immediately after my head hit the pillow. Picturing my eventual slumber is what kept my foot on the gas pedal.
On this drive, however, I grew particularly hungry. I tried to ignore the feeling, but this became increasingly difficult as the night went on. I found myself longing for sustenance, fantasizing about dreadful gas station food – anything that would placate my insatiable, late-night hunger. I was between a rock and a hard place, as tightly squished as one could be.
Unable to fight off the urge to eat any longer, I gave in to my stomach’s groaning and got off the highway somewhere in Massachusetts. I had been to the state on several occasions, but this time I was in unfamiliar territory. There were many trees – more than the average cape-side town. On top of that, there were no buildings in sight. Despite the lack of residential growth, I was sure I could sniff out a convenience store and indulge in a microwave burrito or a slice of rubbery pizza.
I drove on for what must have been thirty minutes or so. No gas stations, no fast food joints, no buildings of any kind. Just miles and miles of wooded area. Worst of all, I didn’t even have a phone signal to pull up my GPS. I was just about to give up on “Operation: Midnight Snack” when I saw a faint glow off in the distance. This signaled to me that I must have been reaching the outskirts of civilization – furthermore, it meant nourishment was just around the corner.
As I approached the glimmering light, I realized it was that of a large, neon sign. Coming closer, I was able to make out what it said; “Supernova Diner,” followed by an even larger subheading; “Open 25 Hours a Day”. I guessed that they really wanted to drive the “we never close” angle home, and in a cheeky manner no less. Cheekier and larger still, there was a big flashing arrow beneath the sign, pointing to the diner in question.
Hungry as ever, I pulled in without hesitation. I jumped out of my car and rushed towards the entrance, but not before taking a quick look at the place. It was a beautiful, retro-themed, silver, box-car diner. The smooth metal exterior gleamed in the moonlight as I walked up. It was so sleek and well-crafted that I wondered why it was located in the middle of nowhere. Could they really get by on the odd passerby here and there?
After admiring the diner’s craftsmanship, I barged in, intent on satisfying my late-night case of the munchies. The diner was void of life, but I heard a voice yell out from the kitchen.
“Be right there!”
While I waited for service, I surveyed my surroundings. A gorgeous, red checkerboard pattern painted the interior of the building. Lining the perimeter were red booths and tables so immaculate, they looked as though they’d never been touched by human hands. To top it all off, there was a row of similarly red, identical, cushioned bar stools at the counter. The diner definitely had a classic, 50s vibe to it, but it was too crisp and clean to feel truly authentic.
After a few minutes of waiting, a middle-aged man came out from the kitchen, drying his hands with a dish rag.
“Hello there! Welcome to the Supernova Diner. My name is Hank, and I’ll be your server, tonight. How can I help you?”
Hank wore a retro, soda jerk cap, a comically large bowtie, a spotless white apron, and a smile almost too wide for his face. He pointed up at the large menu on the wall behind him where I noticed quirky food items like the “Milky Way Shake,” “Galaxy Sliders,” and “Planet Fries.”
“Yeah, I’ll have whatever the special is.”
I didn’t feel like asking him to translate the menu for me, plus I didn’t really care what I was eating so long as my stomach stopped growling.
“The Nebula Express, coming right up!”
Hank shot me another awkwardly wide smile. To escape his eager glare, I pulled out my phone and glanced at the screen. Still no signal, but I noticed that it was approaching midnight. I groaned a bit, knowing that my detour had cost me a swift return home. Still, I knew I couldn’t ignore my biological needs any longer. I would have ended up stopping at some point anyway.
I put my phone in my pocket and looked back up at the counter. Hank was still there, smiling away.
“Uhhh… shouldn’t you be getting my order?”
He didn’t react to my query. Instead, he remained silent and motionless.
“Okay, then. I’m gonna leave now. Bye…”
Just as I turned around to head for the door, Hank spoke up.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”
“Why’s that?” I asked.
“Well, it would be a waste of time.”
I turned back and glared at him.
“What are you talking about? Are you gonna go get my food, or not?”
He laughed at me.
“You can’t leave now; the fun is just about to begin. Your order is being prepared as we speak. Just sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride.”
Hank pulled out a stopwatch from his apron. The digital read-out appeared to be counting backward from an hour. I didn’t know if it was a restaurant gimmick or a strange prank at my expense, but either way, I was fed up.
“Bye, Hank. It’s been weird. Thanks for nothing.”
I turned around and continued marching towards the exit. As I did this, my jaw dropped. The door was gone. My eyes quickly darted from left to right, revealing to me that the windows had vanished as well. There was nothing but continuous wall on either side of me. Perplexed, I looked back to Hank. He chuckled to himself, then asked me a question.
“So, how do like your meat?”
“…what?” I asked, completely dazed.
“Your meat. How do you like it?”
“Ummm… well done… I like it well done.”
“Well done, huh? I like my meat as red as possible. A little color does the body good.”
I looked at him, confused.
“Hank… where’s the door?”
“Well, let’s just say it’s ‘temporarily unavailable.’ Anything else I can help you with?”
“… Yeah. What the hell is going on here?”
“Well, there are a number of possibilities. I’ve outlined them here on the menu.”
Hank pointed up at the menu again, only this time, the food items were gone. The letters had seemingly been re-arranged to form bullet points numbered one to three. I read them aloud.
“One; during your business trip, one of your colleagues slipped you some LSD as part of a half-hearted practical joke. What you are experiencing now is a product of the drug’s potent, hallucinogenic properties.”
“I like that one,” Hank said, “Unlikely, but it’s fun, wouldn’t you say?”
I moved on to the next possibility.
“Two; you fell asleep at the wheel. This is merely a vivid dream that will continue until you inevitably crash your car and die on impact. Alternatively, you may have already crashed your car and lived, albeit barely. You are currently in a coma, and your sleeping mind has formed a narrative based on the hunger you felt before the accident. The diner is a metaphor for the coma itself, and you won’t escape until you awaken, which may very well be never.”
Hank bore a look of concern.
“A little morbid, I admit, but it is possible.”
I reluctantly looked at the last option.
“Three; something supernatural is afoot. Mysterious forces beyond your comprehension are at play, trapping you in an otherwise normal eatery. These forces will not allow you to leave under any circumstances. The best thing you can do is accept this, and allow yourself to succumb to whatever classic, paranormal tropes are thrown your way. Death will be your only escape.”
“That’s all I could come up with,” Hank said, “I’m not sure myself, but I’m leaning towards number three.”
“What the hell, Hank?! What the fuck is this? And shouldn’t you of all people know?”
“You would think so, wouldn’t ya? But I guess I wouldn’t tell you if I did, now would I?”
He offered me another one of his smiles as a consolation. I wanted to punch it clean off his face. Instead, I partook in a nervous breakdown of sorts. I slammed my body up against the wall where the door had been, I screamed at the top of my lungs, and I even grabbed a few bar stools and tossed them in different directions, as hard as my arms would allow. All the while, Hank remained calm and still, his lips stretched from ear to ear.
Just as I was about to take a swing at him, the kitchen door behind him popped open.
“Oh! Your order must be ready. Please, come with me.”
Hank disappeared into the darkness beyond the kitchen’s door frame. I stayed behind, hesitant to follow him. After a few moments, I heard him yell out to me.
“Come on, kid! Aren’t you hungry?”
It’s true; I was hungry. But I was more so cautious, especially given my peculiar situation. Because of this, I sat down in one of the booths and waited. I didn’t know what I was waiting for exactly, but it was all I could bring myself to do at that very moment. It wasn’t long before I heard Hank’s voice again.
“You can’t wait out there forever, kid.”
As if in response to his statement, the lights in the diner began to flicker. Then, one by one, they went out, spreading darkness from booth to booth. Eventually, I was left with just one bulb above me, wavering in and out of life. It provided me with just enough light to make my way to the kitchen and Hank knew it.
I had two choices. Go to the dark kitchen, or let the bulb go out and sit in the dark diner. Neither option was ideal, but deep down I knew only one had the potential to lead me to answers, no matter which one of the far-fetched scenarios on the menu was true. As such, I gave in to the narrative that was unfolding around me. It was clear to me at this point that fighting it was futile.
As I passed the threshold into the kitchen, the door shut itself behind me. Bright light poured out from the ceiling, washing over the entire room, revealing vibrant white walls and flooring. In the center of the room was a chair, slanted in a diagonal position – not unlike one you’d find in a dentist’s office. Next to the chair was Hank, who had traded in his diner uniform for a flashy, white lab coat.
“Finally! Come. Sit down. Take a load off.”
If only out of fear for what might happen next if I disobeyed, I did as Hank told me. It’s not like I had much of a choice at that point.
I slowly walked over to the chair and laid down. As I did this, leather straps wrapped themselves around my legs, arms, and forehead. I no longer had the luxury of movement or peripheral vision. Hank walked around to the front of the chair and pulled out his stopwatch.
“You’re doing fine, kid. Only forty minutes left.”
Without warning, six or seven shadowy figures came rushing over from either side of me. They brought with them rolling carts filled with what looked like medical equipment and power tools. I tried to make out even a single face in the crowd, but I could not. They lacked discernible features of any kind and moved about in perfect harmony with one another – like animated silhouettes, doing the bidding of some unseen higher power.
Over the course of the next few minutes, the figures poked and prodded me, drew blood, took hair samples, and inserted their utensils in places I rather not discuss. As much as I squirmed and screamed, none of them reacted – not even Hank. Feeling helpless, I eventually stopped struggling and simply braced myself for each needle that penetrated my skin. It made things a little more tolerable.
After a while, the figures stopped. Instead of going away like I’d hoped they would, they traded their needles and test tubes for surgical scissors and began cutting my clothes off of me. This continued until I was completely naked. I tried talking to Hank, but he was too busy playing around with the samples that had been collected. Even if he did respond, no amount of encouragement could have prepared me for what happened next.
Using nothing but scalpels and brute strength, the figures began cutting away at my skin. It was an absolutely horrific orchestra of deadly incisions, and one that continued until they peeled off every last bit of my epidermis. For one reason or another, I remained both alive and awake during the entire ordeal – though, at the time, I wished I could have died.
The pain was excruciating and came in waves. Just when I thought I was going numb, another unbearable, sharp, throbbing sensation would overtake my entire body. I’d never felt anything like it before. By the end of it, my ears were ringing from the volume of my own screams.
“There’s that color!”, Hank exclaimed, gazing at the bloody mess that I’d become.
“Why are you doing this?!”, I yelled.
“I’m not doing anything, kid. I’m just here to observe. Relax. Only twenty-seven minutes left.”
I would have argued with him further, but the figures grabbed the power-tools and started tearing through my muscle tissue. The buzzing sound of saws filled the room, drowning out my cries of agony. Through blood-soaked eyes, I could see Hank mouthing the words “Tick tock, tick tock,” over and over again. I watched him mock me until the buzzing stopped and the next stage of torture commenced.
I never wanted to see my organs. I never wanted to see my bone. I could have gone my whole life without knowing what they looked like. Now, I can’t get the image of them out of my head. I’m afraid I never will.
After successfully ripping apart my skin and muscles, the shadowy demons took hammers to my insides, smashing up my spleen, stomach, liver, kidneys, and lungs. They broke through the brittle, white ivory that made up my skeleton, making sure to leave no bone unturned. They even destroyed my skull and scooped my brain matter into jars. After all was said and done, they cleaned up my remains like fallen hair in a barber shop and swiftly left the room.
You’re probably wondering how I lived. I’m not entirely sure. They stripped away every physical aspect of my being, but I was still there – a sort of bubble of floating consciousness. I could still see and hear, but I was without a material body. As jarring as this realization was, I was just happy to no longer be in pain.
I didn’t realize it, but Hank was still in the room. He walked over to me and leaned in real close, stopwatch in hand.
“See? Now that wasn’t so bad, was it? And looky here, you’ve only got eighteen minutes left. How will you spend them? What things will you see? We had our fun; now it’s your turn.”
Hank turned around and walked out the kitchen door, leaving me alone in the white room. Within an instant, things began to change around me. The walls, floor, and ceiling faded, revealing an array of distant stars behind them. I somehow went from being in a diner on planet earth to floating around in the vacuum of space within mere moments.
Within seconds of the room completely fading from view, I was unwillingly hurled through the universe at light-speed. Everything around me blurred and my bodyless soul spun around uncontrollably. If I still had a stomach, it would have been turning.
I’ll never forget what I experienced in the coming moments, but I’ll never fully remember it either. Even now, I only have access to bits and pieces of what happened. Perhaps the extreme velocity in which I traveled somehow damaged the fragile fabric of my memory, rendering me unable to retain the information I was presented with. Or maybe my feeble mind just couldn’t process the imagery. Who knows. In truth, I can only tell you what I felt. That will never go away.
As I sped through deep space, I was stopped in specific locations. Mostly foreign planets and dead star systems. In these moments, I saw unspeakable things. Gruesome things. Things I never knew could exist in the universe. I was plagued with disturbing sights and concepts of horrific proportions – so horrendous in fact, it made my impromptu autopsy look tame in comparison. I don’t know exactly what it was I saw out there, but I still feel an immense dread whenever I try to recall it.
After what felt like an eternity of torture, I was transported to what I can only assume was a location outside of the observable universe. There were no stars or any light to speak of – not even off in the distance. I was alone in a blanket of darkness, left to suffer with the memories of what I’d endured. Just as I was beginning to accept my circumstances, a light glow appeared in the distance. As it came closer to my position, I recognized its features. It was Hank’s stopwatch. The read-out was approaching zero.
10… 9… 8…
I started to feel weary, almost like I was falling into a deep sleep. I wondered if that was even possible in my current state.
7… 6… 5…
Like a projected movie, the past hour of my life appeared on the black canvas of space behind the stopwatch. It played in reverse at high speed, like a VHS tape stuck on rewind.
4… 3… 2…
Feeling faint, I tried to focus on the imagery. I re-lived everything that happened to me in the diner within a few mere seconds.
Just like that, I was back in the diner parking lot, body and flesh intact. My car was there next to me, right where I parked it. I took out my phone and checked the time – it was 12:01. Everything had returned to normal, somehow. To the way it was before.
Elated, I jumped into my car and started it up. I was about to drive off like a bat out of hell, but I decided to take one last look at the diner. Somehow, within its walls, there does exist an extra hour in the day. How that’s possible and what its purpose is, I can’t be certain. Maybe Hank was right and that third scenario had something to do with it. The only thing I do know is that I survived, and I won’t be making another pit stop anytime soon, no matter how hungry I may be.
Just then, before my very eyes, the diner lifted itself from its foundation and flew upwards into the night sky.