“Are you sure that’s him?” Li peaked over her knuckles from behind the shelf.
“Positive.” Wu’s head hovered above her.
“I didn’t think he was that tall—”
“Well the only photo I’ve ever seen of him was on the back of that book you had.”
Wu stumbled above Li, knocking her over in the process. “You buffoon! Watch it!”
Wu helped her up and they turned to each other.
“You go! I’m too nervous!” Li said, clutching her hands above her chest.
“No way! I don’t even know why he’s here?”
“Hungry, I guess. The guy likes Chinese food, who doesn’t?”
Wu arched his eyebrows and folded his arms across his chest. “You’d think he’d stay clear of places like this. We’re a hole-in-the-wall for Christ’s sake!”
“Fine!” Li forced her fists towards the ground. “I’ll do it!”
Wu tip-toed back from behind the counter, continuing to spy on the mysterious gentleman seated at the table near the window.
As Li shuffled past the counter, she grabbed a menu and approached the man from behind. Tapping her fingers against its spine, she blinked and forced a smile. “Huanying! Welcome, uh—here’s our menu.”
Li’s trembling fingers gave out from beneath the menu, dropping it on to the table. The man’s stare cut through Li and boiled her insides with a mixture of fear and frustration. “Our special for today is wonton soup, succulent po—”
“Noodles” He said stoically.
Li felt a warming sensation on her cheeks and imagined them cherry-red—flush with anxiety. “N-N-Noodles?”
He lowered his head and picked up the newspaper next to him. Li remained on the side of the table, pen and paper in hand, waiting to see if the man would order anything else. After several seconds of silent reverence, she turned toward the kitchen and fled to the store room where Wu stood, watching the man from behind the heating rack.
Li collapsed next to him. Panting, she reached for the book shelf behind the work desk. Wu scurried alongside her. “So! What happened! Did he call you something! Did he even order! Li!”
Li scrambled through piles of books, ignoring Wu’s questions. She located what she was searching for and snatched it off the shelf. Its spine flaked the letters: LOVECRAFT—DAGON. She flipped it in her hands and gazed at the portrait on the back cover. Sneaking behind the storage rack, she held the book so it was level with the man’s frame. She bit her fingers and turned towards Wu. “It’s him! And he wants noodles! Just noodles!”
Wu spun away from the counter and emptied a container of noodles onto the saucepan. The sizzling of the fryer interrupted the restaurant’s silence as she continued comparing the two faces. Wu muttered to himself while working the dish beneath him. “H. P. Lovesshmaft...asshole...dickhole...piece of…”
“Man, how I wish we could just poison his food.” Li whispered.
“Same,” Wu shimmied the noodles onto a plate and cocked his head to the side.
“What’s up? Let me guess, you want me to bring it out too?” Li watched her brother’s body language.
Wu didn’t reply; he was seemingly entranced by the oily pile on the plate before him. “Nothing…I mean, no! Yeah, I thought I—I thought I saw something, like the noodles were watching me.”
Li raised her eyebrows and took the dish from Wu. “You’re losing it. Tell Mom you want morning shifts before you start talking to more food—weirdo.”
Li approached Lovecraft’s table and placed the dish before him. He folded the paper and picked up his fork, digging into the noodle pile. From the side of the table, she stepped back and sighed, glancing once more in his direction before escaping behind the counter.
Beneath her feet, the floor tiles peeled upwards and flashed in chromatic shades. Their contours deformed and enlarged into clusters of black cubes that aligned and melted into the darkness. Li’s hands wrinkled, her tongue stuck to her lips, and her cheeks rubbed against air that felt like sand-paper. She fell towards the counter and lifted her head. From Lovecraft’s table oozed a snot-colored stream. Its apex nearly tickled the ceiling; Lovecraft struggled in the mess.
The counter rumbled underneath Li’s hands as she writhed about, shouting desperately for Wu. She twisted her head back to the kitchen, only to witness its descent into a murky void. A sinister wind ambushed Li’s chest, forcing her to grip the counter and wail in terror. Pulsing lights protruded from the mess and illuminated the perimeter of the room followed by guttural, horrid shrieks that accompanied the alien light—now a ferocious spiral of cosmic gusts.
The noodles deified before Li.
Their appendages burst outward in a frenzy of tentacles, gripping Lovecraft by the shoulders and tearing away at his center. Blood spurted from his dilapidated corpse like a loose fire-hydrant, pumping splashes of his innards to stream down Li’s face and into her mouth. She coughed through the membrane of blood collected on her lips and screamed, “Nyarlathotep! The God! Nyarlathotep—Please! No!”
Lovecraft turned around in his seat. He stared at Li while she screamed on top of the counter, her eyes gazing off into her self-created apparition. Wu scampered out of the kitchen and threw his hands around her shoulders, attempting to shake her from the nightmarish stupor. “The noodles...there was...I saw—” Li whimpered.
“Would you get a grip! And you said I was losing it.” Wu peaked over Li’s shoulder at Lovecraft, who sat quietly observing the commotion.
“I think he’s done. Get it together! Collect his plate! Put you on morning shift—crazy…”
Her stomach churned with each passing step. Pulling alongside his table, she bowed and forced her best smile again. “We apologize for any inconvenience.” He hardly ate; the pile was mostly intact.
She passed the counter and stood before the bin. As her foot pushed down to open the lid, she caught a glimpse of something moving in the noodle pile. She gawked at the ghastly site before her; her eyes met a stray eye—narrow and crusted with black scales.
The eye blinked.
Li lost her breath and felt the plate slip from her hands.
Mike teaches and writes in upstate New York. His work has been published multiple times by 365 Tomorrows and will be featured in upcoming issues of Close 2 to the Bone, Dark Dossier, Sirens Call eZine, & Black Hare Press' Lockdown Sci-fi Anthology Series.