Night Shift

by Carina Stopenski 

Working third shift has its perks at Goodnite’s All-Nite Diner. Between bouts of rolling silverware and refilling caddies of sugar, ketchup, and maple syrup, I get to spend the majority of my time enjoying the dull hum of silence, smoking a cigarette at the hostess stand after all the truckers have filtered out for the night. The few cooks we keep on the late shift usually just screw around in the back and I can hear them talking about all the girls they’ve fucked recently, so I just roll my eyes and do the New York Times crossword puzzle, preferring boredom to the asinine conversation. I hate those fuckers, recycling in and out every few months.

It’s a bitingly cold Tuesday at three in the morning and I start to see the first dusting of fat snowflakes falling. Manning my post, I glance out the window to notice a slender figure standing on the landing, bony knuckles wrapping on the door.

“Excuse me, y’all open? May I come in?”

“Ah, shit,” I mutter, the chair below me groaning as I stand. I yank the handle and welcome the patron inside. “Sorry about that, sometimes in the cold it just seals that door shut as tight as a lock. Here, c’mon in. Just one?”

“Yes, ma’am,” they answer, and I can’t really tell if this person before me is a man or a woman: long, pin-straight black hair plaited into a single braid, smooth torso with a little dip at the waist, no winter coat to cover the bare arms goosepimpling their ruddy skin. “Mind if I take a booth?”

A snort escapes my nose before I can stop it. “You see anyone else in here? Hon, you’ve got your pick of the place.” I walk them over to a booth near the heat vent, hoping that it may warm them up a bit, stuck out in this snow in just a thin-looking suit jacket and loafers with no socks. Handing them one of the syrup-sticky menus as they slide against the peeling red pleather seat, I brush my fingers against theirs and a shiver courses up my spine.

There’s something so striking about this charming stranger, so handsome and pretty all at once. I make a fresh pot of coffee for them and place the chipped mug in front of them. Pressing their hands to the ceramic, a bit of color flushes to their fingertips, a smattering of pink jarring against the rest of their sallow skin. “Thank you, ma’am.”

“Can I get you anything else, or d’you need a moment with the menu?”

“No, just the coffee is fine for now.” The pale stranger stares down into the near-black liquid with a frown. “I’m hungry, but not quite sure for what. What’s good here?”

“Honey, this is a West Virginia diner at three in the morning. Nothing’s too good here.”

“You got liver and onions?”

I stop myself from gagging and scribble the pen against my little yellow notepad. “I mean, it’s on the menu, yeah. You sure that’s what you want?”

“Ask the cook to do it really rare.”

“How rare we talking?”

The stranger blinks, taking a tiny sip from the mug. “Would they give it to me raw, you think?” As they lick their lips, I notice a set of sharp fangs glisten. A calling card, I see.

A smile creeps across my face, and I tap my pen to my chin. I know what the stranger is. I invited them in myself. What are these slow nights without a little action? Those noisy cooks have been getting on my last nerve anyway. “Well, baby, why don’t you go back and ask them? Maybe you’ll find something a little more to your liking back there.”

The stranger lifts from their seat, and darts to kitchen, almost animal in the ferocity of their movement. I watch as the screams ring out, the sound of flesh tearing. A coppery odor mingles with the ever-wafting scent of fry oil, and I turn around to see the pale stranger peeking out from the order window, a little more color in their face now, blood staining their papery mouth.

“You feeling a little better now that you got something in your stomach?” I ask them, moving from the booth to hand them a napkin.

They dab their face gingerly, no longer as skittish as they were when they entered Goodnite’s All-Nite Diner, and return to sipping their coffee. “Much better now, ma’am. How much do I owe you?”

“It’s on the house,” I wink, tucking my pen behind my ear. “You take as much time as you need, and let me know if you’re hungry for seconds. The morning crew comes in at six.”

Carina Stopenski (they/them) is a writer, teacher, and librarian based out of Pittsburgh, PA. Carina received their BFA in Creative Writing from Chatham University, their MSLS in Library Science from Clarion University of Pennsylvania, and their MA in Literary and Cultural Studies from Carnegie Mellon University. Their work has been featured in or is forthcoming from God’s Cruel Joke, iō Literary Journal, Cosmic Double, and Fauxmoir, among others. Carina’s writing centers around the queer experience, body studies, and transhumanist perspectives. You can follow their work at

%d bloggers like this: