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 she 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
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 -
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 side salad."
"And what was that creature I saw crouching on the juke
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
"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 ceiling.
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 sky.
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
Despite what had happened, Deepa knew that its odd
occupants were still out there, in some other cafe, boosting the nation's