Marina Barakatt

An Afternoon at Chez Francois

     A scream rents the air. Not just a scream - an ungodly piercing shriek, the kind of sound that penetrates eardrums and drives dogs mad. The patrons of the upscale French restaurant - the slim middle aged women in bright summer dresses and the men in pastel shirts and sharply creased khakis - looked around. Mild annoyance crossed their faces. Surely there was no reason for someone to make this kind of noise? The weather was lovely, the seafood was fresh, and very little traffic bothered their outdoor lunch experience. 

     The diners reviewed the expressions of those at other tables before resuming their civilized chatter. Some raised eyebrows and pursed lips, but within minutes the sound was forgotten. They had waited too long for reservations for their languorous lunch to be so rudely interrupted. Forks clinked on plates and rings dinged against wine glasses and whiskey tumblers. The women tossed their hair to catch the rare sunlight while the men leaned back in their chairs and pretended not to notice the other men’s watches. It was a delicate balance to divide one’s attention between one’s food and one’s fellow patrons, and they walked the tightrope masterfully.

     Forks came down as a second scream sounded, longer, possibly closer, shrill enough to make the delicate wine glasses quiver. One or two men, the manliest of the bunch, stood and looked around. Their companions waved over the servers to complain. The inside workers wondered what the customers expected them to do about the sound, but quietly, where the customers could not hear. Brief worry lined the diners’ faces. Should they leave? What would the others think if they surrendered to this obviously deranged individual? Surely that was the screamer’s goal, to interrupt the pleasant afternoon. They would stay.

     The chatter had only just resumed when a very large and round object rolled down the sidewalk on the other side of the street. It was as tall as the single story shops and so wide that it shattered windows and dragged a deep dent through the brick and concrete. The object crushed the people who walked and ate on that side of the street. They had no time to prepare, only to briefly acknowledge that a very large ball was rolling toward them at a very high speed. Then they were squished. Blood, viscera, and body parts carpeted the sidewalk where diners once sat. After a moment of stunned silence, the inside staff of the victim restaurant approached the broken window. One held a tray with cocktails prepared for a now-dismembered couple. An unfortunate pedestrian had tried to dive out of the way, but not fast enough and the rolling object had caught his legs, the result being a moaning torso in the intersection.

     The patrons of the upscale French restaurant sat staring at the moaning torso, which turned into a wailing torso. Many stood, unsure how to proceed. Some wondered how they could finish their lunch. Surely they could not enjoy their chocolate mousse with that torso in plain view, they noted to the service staff. One man, a government employee whose resume listed “critical thinking” as one of his strongest skills, wondered aloud if they should all leave, given recent events. Another man, a law partner who posted on his social media whenever he donated to a charity, commented that the poor souls across the street had chosen to take lunch at a much less expensive and exclusive restaurant. His wife, who had just been to the salon and did not want to return home until no less than thirty of her acquaintances had envied her new hair color, noted that there were an awful lot of fast casual establishments on that side of the street. The other diners murmured in agreement and resumed their seats. Some of the women shuddered at the mention of a fast casual restaurant.

     The wailing torso quieted. A group of three women who had spent their meal reminiscing about parties they attended in college wondered if the service staff could put up some sort of partition so they wouldn’t have to look at such a ghastly sight over their digestives. One of the service staff huddled in the back of the restaurant called her roommate, who worked at the restaurant whose customers had been smushed. They still want their digestives, she said. What should we do? The roommate was too busy tending to the arm of a colleague that had been sliced up by the shattered glass to be much help. The server ended the call and shrugged at her coworkers. They peered out the windows. The clinking and dinging and demure laughter had resumed.

     A third scream, longer, still closer, somehow louder. Squirrels began to vacate nearby trees. The diners shifted. The scent of their fear mingled with the goo across the street. A woman, who did not make enough money to eat at this restaurant but had accepted the invitation of a recently-promoted friend, stood and declared that she was leaving. She walked down the street away from the carnage. Her friend sighed and called for a to go bag from the still-indoors service staff. The gentle chatter turned into nervous muttering. Women began to take their purses from the backs of their chairs and hold them in their laps. Then men looked at each other, waiting for someone else to be the first to leave.

     All of a sudden, a second giant round object barreled down the sidewalk and rolled over every single one of them, except the woman who had left. She turned just in time to see her friend, still waiting for the check, squished as flat as a pancake. A few moments after the object passed, the service staff poked their heads out the door. Silver charm bracelets and bulky class rings glinted amongst the red slush oozing along the sidewalk. The service staff and the woman who left jumped as a giant voice all around them boomed,

 

STRIKE.

17 March, 2021

Marina is a West Coast native living in Washington, DC. She loves writing anything, from sci-fi to creative non-fiction to romance, often drawing inspiration from the frequent travel required by her day job. Her work has appeared in such literary magazines as DistrictLit and Corner Bar Magazine. When she's not writing, you can find her hosting bar trivia, baking something involving peaches, or bothering her extremely patient dog, Daisy. You can read more of her work at marinabarakatt.com.