________Lost Souls_______
Open Mike Night

William I. Lengeman III

From outside, the restaurant looked like a dive of the most antediluvian sort. Inside it was hard to tell what it was, since it was so dark. A notice, scrawled on a chalkboard, announced a Poetry Reading - Open Mike Nite. Jim thought poetry and dinner an incongruous combination, but didn't really care. He was starving.

"Great place," Ernest said, slurring ever so slightly. "They cook your food at the table. You see everything. They really put on a helluva show." They edged sideways past an enormous Asian man wearing a rubber apron. Jim's eyes adjusted and he could see four large rectangular tables in the middle of the room. Almost all of the places were occupied, the inhabitants talking in hushed tones and sipping drinks. A withered old Asian man led them to two empty places, took their drink orders and disappeared. Jim ordered mineral water. They had been drinking hard and he was feeling woozy.

Lights came up in front, illuminating a small stage. An announcer came out, the withered old man. He gave a clumsy introduction in broken English and turned the stage over to a youngish, plump man in black clothes and a beret.

"God, how cliché," Jim snorted.

Ernest shushed him and watched intently, taking long draughts from his beer. The poet began reciting in animated tones. Jim didn't care much for poetry, but he found himself caught up in the moment. It was a short piece and not that bad, he had to admit. It ended and the poet paused, looking expectant. Jim almost clapped, but he caught himself. The room was silent. Apparently no one shared his opinion.

The poet seemed nervous as he began again. This poem was a bit longer and was, in Jim's humble and unlettered opinion, much better. Once again, his fellow audience members did not seem to agree. The poet looked distinctly uncomfortable now. Sweat beaded on his forehead. He tried again, stammering in the beginning, as though struggling to cut though the thick silence. He finished to more of the same.

The stage lights brightened slightly and dim lights came on over each table. Jim blinked as four chefs in tall white hats rolled their carts out, each stationing themselves at a table. They fired up the grills, switched on the exhaust hoods and waited expectantly, watching the stage.

As it turned out, you really did get to see everything. The enormous Asian man appeared on stage, joined by an even more enormous companion carrying a staggering array of cutlery. They really did put on a helluva show. Jim couldn't deny that. They worked quickly and efficiently and then the chefs took over. Jim could state unequivocally that he had never seen anything like it. The food was soon ready. There was no questioning that it was fresh and the rest of the diners dug in like they hadn't eaten for a week. As for Jim, he seemed to have lost his appetite.

Copyright William I. Lengeman III 2003

William I. Lengeman III has published non-fiction in Saveur, Historic
Traveler, Terra Nova, and the anthology, An Ear to the Ground. His fiction
and poetry has appeared or been accepted for publication in AlienSkin,
Andromeda Spaceways, Antipodean SF, Banshee Studios, Cenotaph Pocket
Edition, City Slab, Dark Animus, Dark Krypt, Deep Magic, The Dream People,
Flashshot, Fragment, The Harrow, HorrorFind, House Of Pain, Inkburns,
Insolent Rudder, Literary Potpourri, Saucy Tales Of The Supernatural, Savage
Night, SDO Fantasy, Ten Thousand Monkeys, and Word Riot. His humor e-book,
S*** Happened, A Concise and Somewhat Confused Guide to History, will soon
be available. His web site, 499-Word Tales For The Modern Age, is located at
back to Contents