A fellow writer, S. Rain Lawrence, nudged me to get active in my Free-Range Fiction again this week and try out the flash fiction challenge by the ever penmonkey, Chuck Wendig. So, I rolled the dice and got Chef’s Coast. I took creative license and dropped the posessive, to create the 2,000-word story, called Chef Coast. I also saw this meme with Stephen King, which along with some dreams from my husband and I this week, the story took shape. If you enjoy this, please, please comment here on the blog — it takes just a second to prove you’re not some hacker bot and leave your love, suggestions, and comments. I do not poo-poo any positive response on social media, but the love here will help me down the road when I’m trying to sell my brand to agents or publishers. I appreciate you taking the extra step to support me in this manner.
Without further ado…
On the shores of Lake Superior, Chef Coast’s life changed forever. He had been ordered by his doctor to take two weeks off from his restaurant in New York City. Completely offline. No computer. No phone. Nothing.
“I want you to go somewhere and find some quiet. Be in nature. Take some photos. Hike slowly. Smell fresh air. Get away from the city and your too stressful job.”
Chef Coast returned to where his father had taken him as a boy to camp, fish, hike, and just watch the sun rise and set on the greatest lake in the world.
As was his nature he had made a list of everything the doctor told him to do. The one thing he hadn’t checked off after a few days was “Take some photos.” So he browsed the little boutiques on Main Street in Paradise, Michigan, which wasn’t much, but enough for him to find a first-generation digital camera. It was on a “gently used & clearance” section of the store called “All You Need & More.” The man behind the counter was a crusty, old, and limping creature who had seen too much in his life, he wore the ribbons of pain and joy all over his face and his piercing eyes made Chef Coast feel like he was rudely interrupting the old man’s solitude.
“Will that do, eh?” he grumbled.
Chef Coast tapped a finger on the huge behemoth of a camera, “I will need the data card for it, if you have it?”
“Should be in it,” he said. “Otherwise, I can’t help youse. What I can help with is this, and he pulled up a little baggie with various cords and charging bricks for the beastly Cannon.
Chef Coast looked at the camera and sure enough the digital data disc was in it. He scoffed and nodded, “This will do me.”
The man gave a bit of a sneer when Chef Coast held out his credit card, the old man noting the scars on the Chef’s hand, “We prefer cash,” he said.
Chef Coast looked like a scolded school boy, cramming the credit card back in his wallet and emptying the cash out to cover it. He hoped the diner down the way would take his card for dinner.
“Appreciate it,” the old man said, “Especially on the gently used consignment items.” Chef Coast’s face relaxed and he nodded. “The previous owner’s estate had a tab it needed to square up with our establishment.”
Chef Coast raised an eyebrow, “Well, I hope we’re square now.”
“Indeed,” the old man shoved the money in the registered and it dinged when he closed the drawer on it.
Chef Coast got in his rental SUV from the place down in Sault St. Marie and steered the vehicle towards White Fish Point and the Lighthouse. It was a scenic drive he and his father used to take as well. There wasn’t too much traffic on the road, it was a middle of the day on a Wednesday and only the early season tourists, including him, were here on this mid-April day. Patches of snow still flecked shaded areas and some of the higher elevations throughout the Peninsula. But the sun was out and he was starting to forget about his New York Life. His doctor would be pleased. Chef Coast was pleased.
Once at Whitefish Point, he parked and fiddled with the camera a bit. It looked like it was all ready to go and had enough battery to last enough until he got back to his motel room and his lap top. He headed towards the platform built around the working lighthouse hosting a few tourists and those giant binoculars to look out onto the water. The wind whipped as it often did here in Spring, but the sun was so brilliant, the water so clearly of Superior – with its not quite blue, but not quite green colors swirling in the surf at as it hit the upper Peninsulas’ northeast tip. He found a spot on the platform and gazed out, thinking of his father and how he himself must look like his old man now, squinting into the lake that looked like an ocean. His father worked in the shipping industry, however. Chef Coast toiled in the cut-throat stainless steel prep tables of competitive restaurateurs. He felt alone. His father was never alone, his union buddies never farther than a beer run away. He raised the camera up and looked through its lens out at the water. He decided to put it in manual mode – harkening back to his high school journalism classes, before he decided chefs could make more money. The water was soothing, even within its monstrous power. Click, click, click went the aperture. He snapped away, getting lost in the landscape, shifting his view ever so slightly after a few shots and then clicking the button again to capture the scene. After he had a full panorama of shots of Lake Superior, he focused his lens on the beach. There was a grandfather type entertaining two young girls. He looked through the lens at them and sharpened the focus. What he saw through the camera lens, however, was not what he had just seen with his naked eye outside the camera’s lens. He blinked, brought his line of sight out of the camera and looked plainly down on the beach. Grandfather and two granddaughters. He poked his nose down below the viewfinder and looked through the lens again. The man and the two girls had hair all over their bodies. Laughter from them showed fangs. When the smaller of the two girls held up her hands to the man, he could see dark, sharp claws. Chef Coast shook his head, brought the camera down and looked again with just his eyes. Just three people, one old, two young. He looked at the lens. He removed it, took it off, and put it back on again. He tried to see if there was something funny about his camera – maybe the old man at the gift shop had played a practical joke on him? He certainly was the butt of too many coworkers’ pranks to believe the “All You Need & More” was selling hoaxes in the form of cameras.
He went to the edge of the platform and took photos of the lighthouse only. It’s light dark in the presence of the sun, but oh how the glass of its tower shimmered in the Upper Peninsula spring sun. Chef Coast took a big breath, let out his anxiety over the scene on the beach and took more photos of the arrow-like lighthouse, painted all white, with a red-clay colored roof. Then he maneuvered his way off the platform, nearly being mowed down by the two little girls he had hallucinated over, they were crying for “Grandma!” The old man followed shortly after them and he smiled and nodded to Chef Coast. It made Chef shiver, but he blamed it on the wind coming off the lake.
He made his way to the beach, stepping gingerly around patches of snow laying in the shade of the lighthouse, he wasn’t really dressed for snow or sand, but it was vacation, and he could easily drive back to the hotel with the heat blasting and melting or blowing off any detritus from Whitefish Point. Right now was all about pictures, all about checking off the doctor’s list.
Within moments he was in the spot to look up from the beach and take a shot of the lighthouse. What would he do with these photos? His inner critic chimed in his head. He shook off the negativity, feeling the spray of the very cold Lake Superior sprinkle upon him. It was about taking the photos. He had no commitment to actually use them.
“What a waste,” the inner critic said, sounding dreadfully like his mother, for whom he had not seen since his father’s death.
“Just take the photos, Coast,” he mumbled to himself. He decided to do a panoramic from the water’s edge to the capture the whole tourist scene. He started to make a 180-degree semicircle around himself. But, he had to keep stopping every time he looked through the lens at any human in his line of sight: hairy monsters, skeletal monsters, wart-covered monsters, all of them, monsters. He wished he had a wife or a cherished friend with him at this moment, or best yet, his father were still alive. He could see if they saw what he saw – monsters in the skin of banal tourists. The realization then jack-hammered his heart and his adrenaline spiked. Monsters.
He scrambled then as quick as he could, looking all of his 45 years, to the rental. He tossed the camera on the passenger seat, locked the doors and looked out. No one was chasing him. No one was paying attention to him at all. He looked in the rearview mirror, no one behind him. However, his cheeks were flushed with the anxiety of what he had just witnessed and the sprint to the car. He took the time on the drive back to Paradise to practice the breathing exercises his therapist had taught him.
“Jesus, Coach, you’re a mess. The doctor was right, you need to get a grip,” he harangued himself all the way back. For 20 minutes, stuck behind a very slow tractor-trailer, he pissed and moaned at himself to “quit being a wimp.” He pulled into the gas station next to the hardware store and filled up his vehicle, breathing deeply, and calmly talking to himself in his head.
Just as he was putting the nozzle back in the pump, a huge group of bikers pulled up to the gas station, stretching out the whole length of the station and the hardware store. One by one they pulled up to the three pumps and started filling up. Chef Coast was blocked from moving forward or from reversing out of the station. He noticed he just had to wait for one more biker to move around and then he’d be clear to move out. So he pulled the camera up and placed it on the dash so he could see through the viewfinder without actually touching the camera. More hairy creatures stood before him putting gas in huge road bikes. There were a few women on the backs of the bikes that had long fangs and whose eyes looked completely black.
When back on the road he decided to skip dinner and just order a pizza for delivery at his motel room. Back at the Paradise Lost Motel, he did just that. When the delivery kid was at the motel room door, he answered and asked if he could take the kids photo because he was learning to use his new camera. The kid shrugged and made it look like he was posing for a billboard advertisement for Little Caesars, holding out the pizza box just right. Chef Coast put the viewfinder up to his eye and saw that the kid was mutilated and decaying all over. He snapped the photo and kept his best poker face.
“Everything alright, mister? Does the camera work?”
Coach Chef nodded and paid the kid, “Keep the change.” He practically closed the motel room door on the kid’s face.
He put the pie box on the tiny table in the room, and went in front of the mirror. He lifted up the camera aimed right at the mirror and looked through. Scales were all over his arms and legs, and his head had a ridge of thorny bones in the center of his head. He couldn’t look through the viewfinder and see his face, however, the camera so behemoth in size.
He put the camera down and stared and stared into the mirror. He touched his arms, it was skin. He picked the camera up again, and looked through the lens. Scales, slime, and a mutant pale yellow cast looked back at him.