Screenshot of the title and first two paragraphs of the story

Last Stop Bar & Grill

Lyle Skains

New Writing 7:3, 2010

Two short lengths of PVC pipe form a cross, their junction secured with duct tape. The top of the makeshift crucifix holds a fat pink candle, dripping halted wax. Two words and a date are carefully inscribed in permanent ink on the crossbar: ‘Sweet Jenny 8/8/2008.’ The cross’s faded garland of silk flowers rustles irritably in the wake of a passing truck. A film of desert sand sifts over their aging petals.

A hundred yards down the road, the truck pulls into the parking lot of the Last Stop Bar & Grill. The diner stands alone on the desert floor. Its neon is down to 25 percent capacity, and the gas pumps outside are too old to pass government inspection. Occasionally, a tourist stops for directions back to the interstate, and tells his kids a story about how things used to be, before superhighways, restaurant rows, and box stores.

Inside, the restaurant boasts only the owner-slash-short order cook and a waitress desperately collecting enough tips for a bus ticket to anywhere. The booths are ratted vinyl, the windows are grimy, and the lighting flickers.

The waitress’s nametag says ‘Nella,’ inked on tape hiding the original owner’s name. The sun has brightened the freckles across her cheeks, even as it fades the color from her hair. She slides a mug of coffee in front of the man lounging at the counter. She’s seen him before. Sweat stains his gray felt cowboy hat around the band, and his face is carved with a predatory wickedness.

‘Here he comes,’ the cowboy says, but when she glances back at him, he only sips his coffee, his nose twitching.

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