As the world dies untol.., p.1
As The World Dies: Untold Tales Volume 2, p.1Rhiannon Frater / Horror / Science Fiction
Katarina has been in the series since THE FIRST DAYS. Though she is not a major character, she has always garnered fan love. I have had many emails asking me to write an untold tale about the plain redhead. Nerit’s protégée has always had a vital role in the fort, but her past was shrouded in mystery.
The online serial briefly touched on her first day story, but it was removed from the Tor edition of SIEGE. As I was working on the revision, I realized her back story didn’t fit smoothly in the narrative and felt tacked on. I was sad to remove it, but suddenly realized it would make a great untold tale.
I’m very pleased to present Katarina’s first day story fully realized and expanded upon for your reading pleasure.
The hot dinner plate was burning her hand, her feet were aching in her sneakers, and the throbbing pain nestled between her shoulder blades seemed to be settling in for the long haul. Katarina wanted nothing more than to take a few Advil, soak her feet, and lay on the sofa at home with an ice pack. Sadly, the breakfast shift wasn’t over for another hour in the small diner decorated in Coke Cola memorabilia.
Maneuvering around crowded tables in the cafe, she aimed for the booth in the far corner. A knot of dread filled her chest as she drew closer. She dreaded dealing with the man seated there.
Randall was a regular customer in the cafe. A long haul trucker, his route took him straight through Ashley Oaks every few weeks. He always stopped to grab coffee and a hot plate of food. His shorn head and scruffy beard, coupled with his usual plaid shirt and heavy boots, always made Katarina think of a lumberjack. Though he always left her very good tips, she didn’t like him in the least. His shrewd eyes were a little too keen on her. She was nothing to look at with her unruly red hair, weak chin, freckles, and pale eyes, but he seemed to relish directing his unwanted attentions on her. It had taken her a long time to figure out that what she didn’t like about his blatant flirting was that he wasn’t doing it because he was attracted to her, but because he could see she didn’t like it. Her discomfort was his enjoyment.
“Oh, good enough to eat,” he said as she slid the plate down in front of him. As usual, he wasn’t looking at the food, but at her. “Delicious and pink, tasty and savory. And just a little salty, I guess?”
“The ham is fresh. Just had it delivered yesterday,” she answered quickly, setting down his silverware and a few extra napkins.
“I like things fresh,” he said, grinning, his eyes on her neck. He had once traced the edge of her collarbone with his fingertips. She had taken a very hot shower to remove the memory of his thick, dry fingers.
Even though her uniform was very modest, pale blue with a white apron, skirt to her knees, her collar just below her collarbone, he always made her feel as though she was flashing an intimate part of her body.
“I’ll get you more coffee,” Katarina said, and made a hasty escape.
Though flustered, she remembered to check on her other tables, smiling in spite of her exhaustion and her discomfort. She could feel Randall’s eyes watching her from across the room.
The diner was open twenty-four hours, catering mostly to the truckers passing through the area. Though they were not on an interstate, trucks cut through the area trying to shave off time. The old highway at the edge of Ashley Oaks was usually busy with only locals and truck drivers. Tourists never made it out this way, though city hall was working hard to make the town a new tourist trap like Fredericksburg or Marfa, Texas. The reconstruction downtown was impressive so far with the hotel being restored, but Katarina thought it was all a pipe dream. Did anyone really care that, back in the golden age of Hollywood, movie stars had vacationed in Ashley Oaks?
“Hey, boys,” Katarina said, checking on a table packed with construction workers. Most of them were new to the area, but she had known Juan since they were in elementary school together. Travis was new, but she knew him because of the massive crush one of the other waitresses had on him. “How’s the food?”
“Great. Almost as good as my mom’s,” Juan answered in his thick West Texas drawl. He was a cute one with green eyes and curly dark hair. He was descended from a long line of cowboys and Katarina liked his gentlemanly manner.
“I’ll let the cook know,” Katarina said with a grin.
“Brenda’s not working this morning?” Travis asked before sipping his coffee.
“Nope. She’s got a later shift. You should come by for dinner,” Katarina answered.
Juan nudged Travis and his friend just smiled bashfully.
Katarina picked up their ticket and their payment. As she walked away, she heard the men scooting back their chairs, ready to go to work. Juan tipped his cowboy hat before disappearing out the front door with his friends, the bell over the door chiming softly. She finished ringing up their transaction and was thankful for the huge tip they had left her. Tucking it into her apron, she mentally added it to her slowly growing savings.
Of course, her savings would most likely end up paying for her mother’s expenses, but she allowed herself a little dream of one day going on a real vacation to somewhere fancy like Cancun without her bitter mother. Maybe it was foolish to even consider the money hers to begin with. The only reason her mother had even allowed her to get a job was because they needed more money. Though the financial crunch was anxiety-inducing, it had liberated Katarina from the confines of her mother’s home.
Even though she was twenty-eight, she lived at home with her elderly ailing mother. Katarina had been conceived for the sole purpose of taking care of her parents after the last of their children had left home. This truth had been instilled in her head since birth. Her parents made sure that she understood that college, marriage, and children were not in the cards for her life. Isolated from the world, Katarina’s entire life until she was twenty-seven was her bitter, emotionally-remote parents and their stuffy home. Then her father had passed away and her mother had demanded that Katarina find a way to financially support her.
Earning her own money waitressing was the biggest accomplishment of her life. She was good at the job and she often wondered if it was her only talent. Sometimes she dreamed about having her own small place and making decisions for her own life, but knew it would never happen while her mother was still alive. Her mother’s sharp tongue was very adept at keeping Katarina trapped in a web of guilt and fear.
Katarina both envied and resented her much older siblings for escaping the clutches of their parents and Ashley Oaks. She doubted she would ever escape.
Snagging the coffee pot, Katarina began to weave her way around the restaurant refilling cups and giving customers their tickets. She could see Randall eating and watching her out of the corner of her eye. It made her uneasy.
Her mother and father never let her have friends or boyfriends growing up. After school, she had to always go straight home to a long list of chores. Katarina didn’t even have a friend until she started working at the cafe. Maybe Brenda didn’t even count since they never hung out outside of work hours, but the other waitress was the closest thing Katarina had ever had to a friend. Her mother hated Brenda. She was convinced that Brenda was turning Katarina against her. Katarina didn’t agree. It was Brenda who helped her see the world in a new way. It wasn’t just about being her mother’s constant caretaker, but about enjoying all that life had to offer. She supposed it was lucky that she was able to go to work after her father’s death, otherwise she would have never even dared dream about one day doing something for herself. And if not for Brenda, Katarina wouldn’t have found out that her wariness about Randall was justified.
Randall was just like her mother. They liked to hurt and dominate people they considered weaker than themselves.
As she poured him some coffee, Randall lightly touched her hip. “Getting skinny. You know I like women with something to hold on to. ”
She cocked her hip away from him, avoiding his touch as she finished pouring. “I work hard here and at home. ”
“I’d like you to work hard somewhere else,” Randall said in that disconcerting tone of his.
Slapping the ticket down on the table, she plastered a fake smile on her face. “I’ll take care of that when you’re ready. ”
“I’d like to take care of you when you’re ready,” Randall said with a wide, yet mirthless smile.
Whipping about, Katarina hurried away, wishing Brenda hadn’t taken a different shift. She had to cover the entire restaurant since Jolene was out sick. Usually Brenda traded tables with her so that Randall couldn’t harass her.
Katarina took the orders from a new table and hurried behind the counter. She glanced over into the kitchen where the cooks were busy making breakfast as their Tejano music blasted away, covering the din of the costumers talking. She rang the bell and handed the order over to one of the cooks. She had a few minutes before she had to circle the restaurant again. Picking up a cleaver instead of a knife, she began to slice up some lemons, keeping one eye on the tables as she worked. She was feeling a little aggressive and the cleaver felt heavy and powerful in her grip. The lemon juice bit at her sinuses, but she liked the smell. It was a clean scent. She kept slicing and sweeping the pieces into a bowl. The restaurant always needed a lot of lemon for sweet tea during lunch time.
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