Flash Fiction Challenge 2015

Nigel

Even death can’t prevent him eating his favourite food at the café he loves.

“Eating in the toilet’s unhygienic you know!” I called out over my shoulder after finishing the hourly check of the café’s facilities.

“Let me guess. You heard someone crunching on corn on the cob?” Betty smiled wryly at me from behind the counter.

“Oh that’s what they were eating. Yep. Some weirdo in the end cubicle was munching away. Disgusting! I couldn’t check out the stall because they were in there the whole time with the door locked.”

“I wouldn’t worry about it,” Betty advised. “It’s only Nigel.”

“Nigel?”

“Our resident ghost.”

“Ghost? You’re kidding me, right?”

Betty grinned at the expression on my face. “Nope. Legend has it that he was one of our regular customers back in the 70s. He always had the same food every time he came in. A big bowl of mashed potatoes and a couple of corn cobs smothered in thick, creamy butter. Apparently, he had a heart attack in that very stall and ever since then, people have reported hearing him eating his last meal.”

“I thought Brian just made that up to get more customers in.”

“Maybe he did.” Betty shrugged. “Maybe it’s just a tape recording of someone eating and he has a hidden sound system in there to freak people out or maybe someone really did die in there and their tortured soul has been forced into haunting the bathroom. Whatever. Nigel’s pretty harmless either way.” Betty turned to serve a customer. “Yes, love. What can I get you?”

I couldn’t prevent the shudder that ran through me as I looked back at the toilets I’d just inspected. The idea that a dead person was locking themselves into a stall just to eat corn in private gave me the creeps. I’d never have taken on the job if I’d have known that I’d be cleaning up after a dead person. However, the longer I worked at the Morning Comfort Café, the less he bothered me.

“Morning, Nige!” I’d call out when I went in to clean. It started as a joke, my way of saying to Brian that he wasn’t fooling me with his recording, but it soon became second nature, as if I really were greeting a regular customer.

If I was talking to myself, I didn’t mind. Nigel proved to be a really good listener and I found myself telling him all about my disastrous love life, imagining that he was communicating with me through his corn, one bite for yes, two bites for no. He seemed to enjoy the company and I began to hear him every time I went into the room.

I’d tried to catch him a few times, suddenly looking underneath the door or over the wall from the next cubicle, but the second I peeked in to ‘his’ stall, the sound of eating stopped and there was nothing to be seen, even though the door was still locked from the inside.

Most peculiar.

Everything changed that fateful day.

“Morning Nige!”

As I went into the bathroom, I felt as though someone shoved me from behind, the door slamming on my heels. When I turned around, no one was there.

“Come on, Nige. Play nicely,” I chided, as I began to wipe round the sinks, waiting for the comforting sound of his eating.

Click.

My heart leapt into my mouth as I turned to see the door to Nigel’s favourite stall slowly swing open. I knew that it would (probably) be empty, but I couldn’t prevent the shiver of dread that ran down my spine as I crept forward to see what was in there.

I heaved a sigh of relief when I saw that I was right. There was nothing in there but a toilet that needed a bit of a scrub.

“All right, Nigel. I get the hint.”

Smiling, I turned to get my cleaning things, but again, an invisible force shoved me back and I found myself abruptly sitting on the toilet, the door slamming behind me, the bolt ramming home before my very eyes.

“Not funny, Nigel.” I moved forward to unlock the door, but the bolt wouldn’t budge.

I lifted up a hand to start banging on the door for help.

Be quiet.

The voice came by my ear, so close I should have felt the breath of the speaker, but nothing. I was alone, as always.

I froze in fear. Nigel had never said anything before.

BANG!

I let out an involuntary yelp at the unmistakeable sound of a gun, clapping a hand over my mouth to stop any more sounds escaping.

I lost track of how long I stayed there, locked in the haunted bathroom stall. Eventually, the police opened the door, bringing in specialist cutting equipment when the lock still wouldn’t budge and the door wouldn’t break.

They say that I’m lucky the robbers didn’t find me. They say that the criminals checked every room in the place, killing everyone they found, so why they didn’t just shoot through the door I was hiding behind, I don’t know.

What I do know is that Nigel saved my life that day. He must have known I would never set foot in the café again after that, so he followed me home, where he happily eats his corn in my bathroom. It took me a while to get over the embarrassment of having a spectral voyeur every time I had a shower, but I got used to it and sometimes I even leave out some real corn for him as a special treat.

I wish I knew what he does with the rubbish when he finishes it.