Friday evening, I picked up an extra shift at work to help out a fellow hostess. Like most weekends, the restaurant was packed, and a long list of reservations waited for me when I arrived. One by one, I greeted the clusters of customers, escorted them to their tables, and made sure they had everything they needed before returning to my post. Technically, it was a step up from when I started as a waitress, but the inability to get tips meant I ended up earning about the same amount of money for twice the responsibility. So really, the promotion hadn’t been worth it.
It was nearly 6:30 pm, and one of the waitresses gave me a sign that she had a few free tables in her section. I glanced at the reservation sheet, and started calling the next group on my list without giving it much thought.
“Anderson family reunion, party of,” I started, pausing to squint at the text on the page, “one?”
An older gentleman with greying hair and foggy blue eyes approached the desk, giving me a light nod, “Yes?” he asked.
Since no one else moved forward, I figured whoever had taken down his reservation had made a mistake when indicating it was a family reunion. I grabbed a single menu off the shelf and tucked it under my arm.
“Your table is ready. Right this way, sir,” I said.
I led him through the archway separating the lobby from the dining room, and to a small two-person table by the window. At least he’d have something to look at, I figured. I snatched up the extra set of cutlery from the table, and then motioned for him to sit.
“Your server will be with you in a-”
“No. Not here,” he interrupted.
Confused, I replied, “Do you not want to sit by the window?”
Mr. Anderson shook his head and pointed to a larger table a few rows away. It was big enough to sit at least 6 patrons comfortably, 8 if we added chairs on the ends.
“I’m having a family reunion tonight … please, sit us there,” said Mr. Anderson, a peaceful smile spreading across his face.
Suddenly, I felt really stupid. It hadn’t even occurred to me that his guests simply hadn’t arrived yet.
“Terribly sorry for the mix-up, yes, right this way,” I said, sidestepping to the larger table.
He bowed his head, unbuttoned his coat, and placed it carefully on his chair before taking a seat. Mr. Anderson looked quite happy. Giddy, even, like a child waiting to open his birthday presents. I stole a few extra menus and utensils from a nearby serving tray and placed them neatly at the table.
“I hope you enjoy your meal. Your server will be with you in a moment, if you need anything else, ask for Rachel,” I told him cordially.
I waved goodbye and walked back to the lobby.
From my station, I could see his reflection in the large windows that surrounded the dining area. He waited patiently for his guests, smiling and drumming his fingertips along the faux-oak table. Even as the minutes ticked by, he never lost the excited look on his face. I, on the other hand, felt a sinking feeling at the pit of my stomach. What if they’d stood him up? What if he’d gotten the dates mixed up? Would it break the old man’s heart? I tried not to think about him as I continued my work, but I couldn’t help myself from checking in on him from time to time.
After about half an hour, I looked again and saw a few silhouettes at the table with him. Good, I thought. His family must have slipped by me while I was tending to another group. It wasn’t uncommon, especially on busy nights, for patrons to take off in search of their loved ones instead of waiting in line to be seated. As I gave the reflection a closer look, however, I noticed something odd about the Anderson family. I could make out what looked to be a woman and two children, but their silhouettes were blurry and dark. The only part of them that didn’t seem out of focus was their beady little eyes, which reminded me of those on a doll. Mr. Anderson, on the other hand, looked normal. Though his family gave me the creeps, I tried not to think about it too much. There was probably a perfectly good explanation as to the effect. Perhaps there was a spotlight over Mr. Anderson, making him appear more clearly than the others. In any case, Mr. Anderson’s family had arrived, and I was happy for him.
As the evening wore on, I took a much-needed break in a small room down the hall from my workstation. I took a seat, plucked off my heels, and rubbed my aching feet. They throbbed in pain from the abuse of a ninth evening without rest. My break cut short, however, when I heard a commotion coming from the dining room. Quickly, I slipped back into my heels and darted back to the lobby. I caught movement in the window, and saw what all the fuss was about.
Mrs. Anderson stood over her husband, fingers wrapped around his throat. His children were on the floor and trying to crawl up his legs. I could hear him coughing loudly as he clawed at the hands that were choking him, but they held firm.
My heart pounded as I turned the corner and ran into the dining room to help, only to find Mr. Anderson standing alone with his chair overturned next to him. His face was beet red and his coughs had devolved into gurgles and desperate gasps for air. I glanced at the window, and saw the child-like figures pulling ferociously on his legs. Moments later, Mr. Anderson fell to his knees.
I wish I had done something other than stand there in shock, but my body refused to move. Thankfully, one of the waitresses ran past me and jumped into action, attempting the Heimlich maneuver on Mr. Anderson. Unfortunately, her efforts were in vain.
My eyes drifted to the window once more. The silhouette of Mrs. Anderson plunged her hand down her husband’s throat, pulled out a thin black cloth, and tossed it violently into the air. The dark veil fell slowly beside him, but instead of lying flat on the floor, it draped itself around a man’s figure, which took on the same bizarrely hazy appearance as the wife and children. By the time the cloth touched the ground, the double looked exactly like Mr. Anderson. I heard a thumping noise, and saw that he – that is, the REAL Mr. Anderson – now lay flat on the floor, lifeless.
I remember hearing the sirens and seeing the ambulance’s lights in the distance, but my focus was elsewhere. As the paramedics pounded against Mr. Anderson’s chest in an attempt to resuscitate him, I watched the window. The three silhouettes, beady eyes glowing in the glass, dragged Mr. Anderson’s form kicking and screaming into the distance.
In the days following his death, there was a lot of gossip going around. One of the customers told a waitress that an officer had been to Mr. Anderson’s house, and that they’d allegedly found some sort of altar full of occult-looking symbols and objects. Of course, it sounds ridiculous, until you consider that no one else saw those odd shadow-like beings in the window. As far as anyone else was concerned, Mr. Anderson choked on a piece of pork. What reason would they have to make up something like that? Me, I think Mr. Anderson tried to call his family back from the dead. The look of horror on his face as they took him away told me his family reunion wasn’t as pleasant as he’d hoped.