Although she had been feeling nervous—a horrid anxiety had infested and made itself a home in her gut—for the past few days, Kate Knight (her last name had been Rains less than five days ago) felt it even more when she stepped off the crowded Tokyo street and into the dark alley that reeked of urine, cigarettes, and burned food. For some unknown reason, her legs shook with a strange violence, sweat beaded her pale forehead, and every particle of blood bubbled inside her veins. Because of her shaking—not to mention the slippery cobblestone ground, too—she kept a slow pace as she wandered into the darkness, the radiant neon signs behind her starting to fade, as well as the energetic voices of the touristy road that simmered into susurrations. Kate clung to her husband as they descended into the black. Brick buildings enclosed themselves around them, chunky rats scuttled next to the walls and squeaked every so often, and above them, a black night sky, one where no stars resided, seemed to weigh heavy upon them.
“Why are w-we going down this way?” Kate asked as they continued forward. “This is a very odd place.” She turned to the building to her left and glimpsed a disturbing array of hieroglyphics. A chill crept down her spine, and she nestled her head against her husband’s coated arm. Beneath her, a rat squealed.
“You always said you wanted to explore more of a country,” Ralph Knight said. “If I can remember correctly, you said you wanted to get away from tourist traps and actually experience something.” He gulped. “Well,” he started and flicked his arms out to indicate the dark alleyway, “here you go. This is Japan. An odd section of it, if I might add.”
“It’s giving me the creeps,” Kate told him. “Can we turn back?”
Ralph hummed to himself. “Can we go a little further? It’s kind of interesting.”
“Sure,” Kate said and sighed. “Just a little more.”
“I’m actually getting quite hungry,” Ralph admitted. “Maybe we can stop for a bite to eat at one of these restaurants. I bet we’d be getting the actual Japanese experience down here.”
“Fine,” Kate gave in. “A bite to eat, then we go back. Okay?”
“Sure thing,” Ralph said and chuckled. “Don’t be so nervous. How about this place?”
Ralph Knight stopped dead in his tracks and pointed at the restaurant to his right. A dirty front window allowed the newlywed couple to peer inside, and they managed to see a counter, an arrangement of weird Japanese décor, and a solitary table with a lamp dangling above it, letting a dull orange light bathe the wooden surface which looked to be stained by… But before she had a chance to finish her thought, Ralph moved toward the front door of the establishment. Kate went with him, a frown curved across her sullen face. Before she went inside, she looked up at the big sign above the entrance. The foreign words were unreadable. Neither did she care to know what it meant, really. She just wanted to get away from the alley.
When they entered the restaurant, the smell of urine and cigarettes faded, but the smell of burned food grew to point of repulsion. For a moment—just a mere second—it looked like Ralph was about to turn around, but before he could do so, a man appeared behind the counter. Behind the man, a beaded curtain rattled. The man—a bald-headed individual that looked middle-aged—had appeared as fast as a slithering serpent, and he stretched his lips into a devilish grin. An odor the couple could not place invaded the large room. Kate had to fight herself from putting a hand over her nose, and she could tell that Ralph was having the same problem. Both gawked at the bald waiter, who they noticed had white skin. In fact, he was whiter than anybody they had ever seen before—a pale phantasm-like creature with skin almost to the point of translucence.
“Welcome in,” the stranger said in a clear New York accent. “What can I get you guys?”
“We’re looking for a quick bite to eat,” Ralph spat out as quick as he could.
“You’ve come to right place,” the bald waiter said and chuckled. “What can I get for you guys? We have all kinds of goodies here that I can whip up for you. Anything you’d like.”
Ralph hummed to himself again, then said, “Surprise us. Can we sit?”
The bald waiter indicated the solitary table across the restaurant and said, “Sit at the table for eating customers only, and I’ll be out in ten minutes with your food. I’m sure you’ll find it to be amazing.” The man started for the beaded curtain behind him and almost disappeared into the kitchen, but before he could do so, he wheeled around. “Want a drink or anything?”
“Coke,” Ralph said. “We’ll have two.”
The waiter nodded and vanished. The beaded curtain rustled behind him.
“Did you see how pale he was?” Kate asked as soon as she sat down at the lonely table in the corner of the grim restaurant. She leaned in and kept her voice down, a mere whisper. “That guy is American. Did you hear his accent? I think he’s from—”
“New York City?” Ralph cut in with a smile. “Yeah. I heard it.”
“What’s a guy like him doing here?” Kate questioned and glanced at the now motionless, dangling beaded curtain that blocked view of the kitchen. She could see the beads quite well, but the rest of the place was shadows. She shook her head and sighed. “It’s just weird.”
“I think you’re a little paranoid,” Ralph said and reached his hand across the table and put it over Kate’s. Their hands blocked out the red-dyed wood. “I think when we get back to the hotel, you need to take a warm bubble bath. Maybe I’ll join you.”
Kate smiled. “Sounds nice.” She refocused on her new husband—though it didn’t feel all that new because she had been dating him for three years prior to the marriage—and studied every feature of his face. Later that night, she knew, they would take a warm bubble bath, drink a toast to their marriage, make love, then go to sleep on that wonderfully soft hotel mattress. She let the thought glide her tense shoulders down, and her jaw unclenched itself.
“Better?” he asked her and smiled. “You like the sound of a bubble bath, don’t you?”
“Yeah,” she giggled. “I do.”
“Good,” he said and got up. “I have to use the restroom. I spotted it back there”—he held out his arm and pointed deeper into the restaurant, a dark abyss that seemed miles away from the solitary table but was only ten feet or so—“when we came in a few minutes ago. I’ll be back in… Well, I don’t know really. I have to take a number two. Could be a few minutes.” He grinned.
Kate did not grin, though. Instead of stretching her lips into a smile, she looked up at him with a shocked expression written on her face. Her mouth almost dropped, but she managed to keep her lips glued. Her eyes searched him for a moment, then she glanced down at the table. She gulped. “Okay.”
“You all right?” Ralph asked. “You look scared.”
Kate waved a hand in the air. “It’s just this place.”
“It’s a little on the creepy side,” Ralph admitted, “but the waiter looks nice.”
“Yeah,” Kate whispered. “Hurry back.” But something deep down in her gut—something that she could not place or explain or even comprehend—told her that as soon as Ralph stepped in that bathroom, he would never come out. She tried to push that nagging thought aside, because it seemed so farfetched and unrealistic, but it floated to the surface of her mind and stayed there. It bobbed in place and gnawed at her thoughts, then it seemed to shout at her to prevent Ralph from leaving the table. If he leaves, he dies, it seemed to tell her over and over again. She gazed up at him, trying to tell herself that, yes, she was paranoid. None of it made any sense. Ralph would be fine. He would come back after a few minutes. If he was not at the table in four minutes—yeah, four minutes—she would go back to check on him. But she sure hoped he would be back. Something—she had no idea what, but she knew something—was at the back of the restaurant. Something evil. And for all she knew, it was waiting in the bathroom and waiting to be fed. Kate imagined Ralph walking into the bathroom and coming across a whole new dimension. He would be surrounded by mysterious hieroglyphics and horrific figurines that came in the shape of something bizarre and unearthly and that had something to do with a cult or secret society. On top of that, there would likely be an unbearable miasma that would choke him to—
“I’ll be right back,” Ralph said and planted a kiss on the top of her head. “Five minutes.”
And with that, he walked away. Kate began to wait.
A few minutes later, she checked her watch, one of those new electronic ones that Apple had come up with not too long ago. A quick tap on the miniscule screen caused the thing to illuminate and it said it had been three minutes since Ralph had departed for the bathroom. She tapped her foot, each footfall making a thunk, thunk, thunk against the wooden floor. He had only been three minutes in the bathroom, but for some reason, it felt like a century. Her hands began to feel clammy, and an uprising of sweat pooled in the middle of her back. The watch on her wrist went dark. She went to tap it again, but before she would put her finger on the little screen, she caught a blurred image in the corner of her eye. She glanced up. There, across the restaurant and behind the counter, he stood—the bald waiter with a devilish grin planted on his face. His head shined like a spotlight… a fucking spotlight!… and for a millisecond—no more, no less—Kate could have swore she saw an eerie forked tongue jut out of his mouth and lick his bright red lips. She jumped in her seat. But, before she could make it too noticeable, she tried to relax herself, though her shoulders remained as rigid as ever. Kate watched as the man walked over to her. In his hands, a silver dish with the silver dome-like lid on top of it. He set it down on the table in front of her.
“Bone apple teeth,” the waiter said.
“I… I think you m-meant bon appétit,” Kate corrected.
“No,” the waiter said and shook his head. And just like that, he lifted the silver lid off the silver dish to reveal the contents underneath. Ralph’s decapitated head rested on the plate, blood pooling around it. An apple was stuffed in his open mouth, his teeth biting down on it. Not only that, but there was a sharp bone stabbed into her husband’s left eye. His other eye stared back at her, lifeless but full of life at the same time. The waiter watched with a grin. “Bone apple teeth. Do you like it, miss?”
Kate Knight screamed.
Mason Yates is from a small town in the Midwest, but he currently lives in Arizona, where he is studying at Arizona State University. He has interned with the magazine Hayden’s Ferry Review and has served as the fiction editor for ASU’s undergraduate literary magazine Lux during the 2021-2022 school year. His works can be found in magazines/webzines such as Land Beyond the World, Scarlet Leaf Review, Blue Lake Review, Page & Spine, Pif Magazine, and others.