Deepa led her dog, Bengi, over the footbridge and down to the deserted
roadside café. It had been closed ever since the bypass opened;
now only the occasional cyclist passed this way.
A sign still swung in the breeze on its one remaining
hinge. Its faded words declared defiantly, 'Burgers, Fries, and Full
English Breakfasts'. It sounded very greasy.
Deepa pushed the door and, to her surprise, it swung
open. She apprehensively looked about and couldn't believe what he saw.
The interior was immaculate, considering how long it had been closed.
Chairs were neatly arranged at tables with scrubbed plastic tablecloths
on which condiments sat in strict formation, and the counter's teaspoons
gleamed on the ends of their chains.
Deepa stepped inside. Bengi whimpered apprehensively.
He might have remembered that dogs weren't allowed in cafés,
or perhaps something else was bothering him? Deepa was too intrigued
to wonder what it was. The café should have been derelict.
Bengi refused to follow her in and remained on the
Deepa confidently went to the counter and would have
bought a packet of crisps if there had been anyone about.
Out of the corner of her eye she glimpsed something
sitting cross legged on the juke box. When she turned it had gone.
By the counter were some swing doors that must have
led somewhere. Deepa pushed them open and walked through. Filling one
wall of the huge kitchen was a cooking range. It had been blackened
with years of burnt fat and the occasional uncontrolled fire.
Then Deepa realised why Bengi had stayed outside
Hovering over the scene of a thousand culinary disasters
was a dense smudge the size of a duvet. It had arms, a tapering tail,
and face with a wide greasy grin. The harder Deepa stared, the more
solid it became.
A white table with a vase of flowers looked very
out of place in this hell's kitchen. The contrast with the blackened
cooking range was so striking, Deepa didn't immediately see the slender,
airy shape sitting beside it. Too tall to be a fairy, this entity had
an aura of celery about it and wore a wistful expression, like a flower
that needed watering.
Deepa turned to run out of the kitchen. The greasy
smudge snatched up a huge iron frying pan and blocked her way.
“A customer! A customer!"
Deepa was alarmed. Ghosts weren't meant to recognise
the living, let alone threaten to cook for them. "Well - I wasn't
stopping - actually."
The smudge wasn't going to allow the interloper to
escape that easily and hovered closer. "But you must!"
"I only have enough money for a packet of crisps."
"You're the first customer we've had for years! We
wouldn't dream of making you pay!"
Deepa thought fast. "Anyway, I'm a vegetarian."
This dampened the greasy smudge's enthusiasm and,
obviously offended, it backed off a little.
Deepa recovered her curiosity. "This place has
been closed for years. I remember the last owners leaving. Who are you?"
"Me? I'm the ghost of a million burnt burgers."
The greasy smudge spun on its tail and flourished the frying pan in
the direction of the white table. "And there sits the spirit of
"And what was that creature I saw crouching on the
The two ghosts glanced at each other apprehensively.
"Oh that creature," moaned the spirit of side
salad. "I'd rather you didn't mention it."
The smudge gave an evil chuckle. "Daren't sit
in the same room - those two."
"Well who is it then?" insisted Deepa.
"He's the cholesterol goblin."
The spirit of side salad floated from its seat. "Well,
as you're a vegetarian, what could be better than a nice salad?"
"With chips," insisted the greasy smudge. "And
I know I have some vegeburgers somewhere about." The smudge threw
open a freezer's lid and rummaged through its contents like a whirlwind.
"No, really," protested Deepa. "I'll have
a meal when I get back - and I said I wouldn't be long."
The smudge tossed a large bag of frozen chips and
a catering size box of strange coloured burgers into a deep fryer full
of boiling fat. "Won't take a minute!"
Hot oil spattered the walls and grated carrot flew
as the two cooks attempted to outdo each other.
"Will you be more careful!” chided the spirit
of side salad as it chopped cucumber and made fancy flowers with radishes.
Between them the ghosts were preparing enough food
to feed a convention of lapsed dieters. There was no way they were going
to get that meal onto one plate.
The greasy smudge tossed the chips and burgers in
the hot oil as though it was flipping pancakes.
“You’ll start a fire!" Deepa warned.
"Fire!" laughed the smudge. "Used to have
them all the time. Happy days!"
No sooner were the words out of its wide greasy mouth
than the deep fryer slipped from its nebulous fingers. The contents
fell onto a red hot element of the cooker and a ball of flame hit the
Deepa ran for her life, back out through the swing
doors into the cafe.
The round, wicked looking cholesterol goblin was sitting cross legged
on the counter, shrieking with laughter.
"No insurance! No insurance!" Then it rolled
onto the floor and bounced up and down like a yo-yo.
Deepa seized Bengi’s lead and they ran. Neither
dared to look back until they reached the safety of the footbridge,
A column of smoke and fire was billowing into the
The fire service answered her emergency call in minutes,
though by the time they arrived there was nothing left of the café.
As it was due to be demolished, not many questions were asked about
the cause of the fire.
Despite what had happened, Deepa knew that its odd
occupants were still out there, in some other cafe, boosting the nation's