I smiled and pointed toward the salads.
’I’m sorry sir, this is a vegetarian restaurant.’
’We do have a fine selection of cheese steaks.’
This guy was serious, he wanted his meat.
’One moment sir, I’ll get the manager.’
I raced into the back room and motioned to Arti, who was at that exact moment munching his way through a pineapple and kidney bean salad. He peered out past the Vishnu beadcurtain and gulped.
’Oi! Looks like we’ve got a live one.’
Even from the back we could see the queue deepening, so Arti dabbed at his fleshy jowls and pushed through the curtain to the counter.
’I’m sorry sir, what seems to be the problem?’
Art sighed. ’As you can see, we have a full selection of tofu nuggets, quorn burgers, and a variety of pannier cutlets, but I’m afraid this is a vegetarian restaurant.’
Art tried again. ’Perhaps sir would like to pop next door to Arby’s?’
Someone in the crowd suppressed a giggle. The queue was growing restless, and a large woman in a skin tight lilly summer dress pushed forward to the counter. She looked like the sort who stays home Saturday nights discussing religion in the Youtube comments of a Joan Osbourne video.
’Some of us are waiting’
’Listen darling, I don’t care what you want, I’m here for a salad.’
Arti turned to me, and we shared a long look. He shrugged. I reached below the counter and raised the bone horn.
As I pressed the ivory cone to my lips someone locked the door, and someone else began to pull the shutters down. The queue grew silent.
Barah! The horn exploded to life, a resonant throbbing moan that seemed to shake the walls. The crowd began to chant.
’We eats the meat, we chews the meat, we is the meat. We eats the meat, we chews the meat, we is the meat.’
Arti lent down and shifted an iron grate embedded in the floor. A plume of pungent fog lurked up from the darkness. The crowds chanting grew quieter and more melodic. Art reached his arm into the black pit, grimacing.
With a sound like knives on gravel something grabbed hold of him. He grimaced and tried to pull up, but the something held on tight. Inch by inch his arm was dragged further into the hole. He blanched, and I could tell that down there, just out of sight, he was being blooded. With a jerk Arti fell to his knees,
his whole arm in the pit. As the chanting softened I tried to look away. His body went limp, and I watched out of the corner of my eye as the rest of Art followed his head and shoulders into the hole. The crowd fell silent. With an effort I lifted the rusty metal chain and dragged the cover back into place. A little blood had puddled on the grating, and as I looked down to the black, a thick hot tongue, wide as my waist, lapped up for a moment, and was gone.
A couple of customers slid the door and window covers up, returning the place to light. I started shaking, and a young blond girl leaned across the counter to put her arm around me. I shook it off, and stared at the man who’d caused all this.
’Are you happy now you bastard?’