Sometimes the Reaper comes without notice.
In the small-town LeMelle, Deep South, the day begins as usual for Verna–a chatty, small-time waitress at Chez Antoine. On the outside, she’s as cheerful as one can get, but hidden behind the facade lies a scarred soul, tormented by a terrible secret.
So when the doorbell jangles and a charming stranger crosses the diner’s threshold, Verna excitedly welcomes him, until it becomes clear that he knows more than he should.
Soon she realizes that her ordinary day is about to turn into a nightmare and she will have to gamble with her soul…
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It was early in the morning, and the sun had just peeked above the treetops of the live oaks. The air, thick as gumbo, had a tiny, but a nasty tinge of burning sugar cane.
The man fixed his sunglasses and crossed the road toward Chez Antoine. The bistro sat on the corner of Carey and Main. The only two streets in the town of LeMelle stood empty, all one hundred twenty-two citizens of the ghostly place, still asleep.
A bell dinged above his head as he opened the door and entered followed by a draft of salty air and a whiff of the bayou. Crossing the threshold, he stopped, scrutinizing the small space.
An old gent—the only patron inside the venue—was peacefully sleeping in the booth, farthest from the door. His bony hand clenched a creased newspaper as if he was reading it.
The man smiled, worked his way to the opposite side of the restaurant and sat in the booth by the window. He stared across the empty lane toward the graveyard park, he just left, as a movement drew his eyes.
A dog was lying in the shadows under the dense canopy of a thick oak covered in Spanish moss. It rose clumsily as he watched it.
It was an old, shaggy mutt with dropping ears and a dirt-colored fur. No wonder the man hadn’t noticed it while walking past.
“Just a moment. I’ll be there in a jiffy,” a pleasant woman’s voice came from the kitchen.
He didn’t turn but continued to observe the dog as it slowly crossed the street, stopped in front of the door of the restaurant, wagged his tail twice, then turned around and went back to the park, where it laid on the same spot it had left mere moments ago, fading into the shadows.
The air over the asphalt outside was beginning to shimmer. It was going to be a good day. A hot day, just the way he liked it.
Inside was already hot. An old aircon hummed, evidently broken, blowing hot air in the smoky atmosphere of the room. It smelled deliciously of bacon, freshly baked buns and spices.
A vintage lamp radio, perched at the center of the bar, was trying to outvoice the background noise of the kitchen.
“Aren’t you hot?” someone asked, and the man’s head snapped, to see a woman, around thirty-five, that winked at him. “A leather jacket in this weather?”
“I’m used to the heat,” he answered.
“Hi, I’m Verna,” she gave him a wide smile. “I see you’re not local. Where’re you coming from, honey?” she asked and shoved a hand into her white apron’s pocket, pulling out a small notebook with wrinkled sheets. She smoothened them before reaching for the chewed-up pencil tucked behind her ear.
“South,” he said.
She stopped munching on the gum in her mouth and looked him straight in the eye. “Not much of a talker, aren’t ya? That’s okay,” she said, her smile returning. “I bet you’ll start talking after you try Missus Jezabel’s Trick Dog burger. Everyone’s talking after that,” she giggled.
“I’ll take it,” he said. “And an iced tea.
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