Hello My Name Is...

A customer at Katie's diner is messing with words, and Katie—or whatever her name is now—has got to stop it. Mature.

Katie kept her name tag pinned above the left breast of her pink button-down blouse. It was part of the outfit she had to wear: the blouse, the matching skirt, and the apron she kept her pen and order pad stuffed into. At the start of every shift, she dug her name tag out of the bowl in the back next to the shift schedule, and pinned it to her chest. It was the one part of the dumb, outdated outfit that she had no problem with.

At least, not until today.

Two other name tags were missing from the bowl when Katie clocked in. The first belonged to Liz, who was making herself busy in the late-afternoon lull by tidying up around the register. Her shift would be over in an hour and change, and Katie knew she was just counting down the minutes, because that's what she did herself when she had the eleven o'clock shift.

The other was Benny's. He was just the busboy, but he was six-foot-something and had once tackled someone who'd tried to leave without paying. Katie had never talked to him much, but she gathered he'd played football while he was in school. She was jealous of him, because he didn't have to wear pink.

As far as Katie could tell, it was a normal, slow day at the diner. She'd gone around to each booth and pulled down the blinds, so the sun wouldn't be glaring in through the windows, and had checked to make sure the table of college-aged guys didn't need anything. They were no one she knew, thankfully.


Dragon Pox

Greg's working the holiday rush when he comes down with a swelling case of dragon pox. Mature.

There were only two hours left in the Christmas Eve shift, but Greg was fading fast. Every sniffle he made was thick and glorpy, and he could feel the pressure sloshing around in his sinuses, squeezed against his forehead. If he'd felt like this when he woke up, he would have just called in sick. Now he was dreaming of collapsing on the couch with a big cup of hot cocoa as soon as he got home.

Between customers, he ducked beneath the register, rummaging for another tissue, but the box was empty. When he stood back up, his head throbbed from the sudden change of altitude. He leaned against the counter and glanced around behind the lanes. No sign of his shift manager.

Greg sniffed. His nose tickled. He screwed up his face, trying to hold the sneeze at bay. He sucked in a small breath, then a deeper one, then even deeper, twisting aside at the last moment to keep himself from sneezing directly on the conveyor belt.

"Ah-choo!"

With a great sproing a long yellow horn popped from his forehead. It snapped out straight and narrow then bounced back, curling its tip and spreading out thick at the base. The horn was about as long as his forearm and encircled along its length with small ridges. With the weight of his head suddenly canted to one side, he staggered to the left, bumped up against the divider behind him. Another sneeze was brewing, too quickly to do anything to stifle it.

"Aah-choo!"

A horn sprung from the other side of his head and smacked against his skull as it rebounded. Greg let out an unsteady groan and rubbed his hand across his forehead, massaging the broad bases of his horns where they'd pushed the skin aside, and his swollen brow, bulging thick and protruding from all of the pent-up pressure. The weight of his horns was just one more source of dull throbbing for his head.

"Bless you," a woman said, setting her things out on the conveyor belt. Greg just wanted to go home, but he smiled politely and said, "Thanks," then began to scan her things. Two sweaters, a bottle of sparkling cider, cheddar cheese, club crackers, salami. Grab the receipt, stick it in the bag. "Happy holidays." Try not to sniffle in front of the customer.


Tales of the Strange presents: You Are What You Eat

Some bat investigates an abandoned candy factory and falls victim to its horrors. Guest starring Agouti-Rex's (murrypurry.com) characters.

Rule one of investigating the abandoned candy factory was that no one should know why Mercedes was there. Mrs. McGolly was really insistent on that point. If anyone asked, she was doing a project for school, and had never heard of Mrs. McGolly or her candy corporation. She certainly wasn't getting paid fifty dollars to take pictures of a rival company's abandoned factory.

Rule two was easy, take lots of pictures. Mercedes had a camera, done.

Rule three was weird. "While you're in there," McGolly said, poking a hoof right into Mercedes' face, "don't say 'candy'."

"Uh, why?" Mercedes asked.

"Don't worry about it, just don't say 'candy'. It's my business, not yours." McGolly slapped a ten-dollar bill into Mercedes's hand and swept the bat right out of her office. "Remember—you weren't here," she said, and then ended the conversation by closing the door.

Later that day, Mercedes stood outside the run-down factory, with a camera in one hand and nothing else. She'd been trying to think of alibis for taking pictures, and she had hit on a good one by accident: She was doing a paper on, like, why McGolly's company had opened a brand-new candy factory, when Failtown already had an abandoned candy factory just sitting around.

Actually asking McGolly a question like that would lose her that fifty bucks, though.