I started writing stories at the age of 12. If you’ve read my Throwback Thursday post, you have read my first story ever, Mischief in the Band Room. After that experience, I wrote a long and rambling epic trilogy in which I completely ripped off Stephen King’s Carrie. I would write during class, study hall, at home, and then every day at lunch, my friends and I would get together and pass our works around. I wrote a metric ton of stories in that time. However, those stories have all been lost over time. It’s probably for the best (trust me on this), but it created a problem when the most recent prompt for my writing group was to take an old character and revamp it. (I couldn’t revamp my trilogy. We had a 1000 word limit, and I’m afraid of Stephen King’s lawyers filing a copyright lawsuit.)
I realize this may make me a bit of a freak, but I always kept the graded writings I turned in for school. I have a black binder leftover from high school (covered in gel penned Beatle lyrics) that I have saved everything in. Obviously, this was my first resource for the prompt. The original graded copy of Mischief in the Band Room is in there along with What Happened to Julie Byers? which is a “mystery” about my high school marching band in a hotel when our drum major Julie Byers is murdered. (Julie Byers is a real person. She was our drum major. Every character in that story is an actual person, and I didn’t even bother to change names around. I apologize, everybody from Cadiz High School’s marching band circa 1997-1998. That story will never see the light of day.) There were three or four narrative essays from a high school English class, and then I rediscovered Good Gary and the Waffle House.
In my eleventh grade year of high school, I was getting to the point where my schedule finally had some room for fun electives. I took TV 1 that year where I learned to operate the equipment to make the televised school news program the next year in TV 2, but I also took a Mythology class. I have very vague memories of the class. None of my friends were in there with me. I remember watching the Star Wars trilogy and Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and I remember one writing assignment. We were to write a short story in which we featured an archetypal hero, and I was pumped! I wrote a four page tale, single spaced in 12 point Times New Roman, about Good Gary from the swamps of Louisiana (think: Adam Sandler in The Waterboy) who, after his mother dies, finds himself in South Carolina when an evil entity is buying up all of the Waffle Houses, turning them into gyms. I showed up to class to turn my story in and witnessed my classmates turning in handwritten, double-spaced, single page stories. I was a little embarrassed, but the embarrassment was fleeting when I got my paper back and read my teacher’s comments at the top of the page.
This was a big deal because 1.) Cool, she liked it, and 2.) it was the first time I remember an adult (that wasn’t my dad) encouraging my writing. This was a REAL adult; she was a TEACHER, and she wasn’t even an English teacher. I thought this made her “objective.”
All of this made Good Gary and the Waffle House my best choice for this prompt. Right off the top, I cut out all of the archetypal hero stuff because most of sixteen year old Nikki’s knowledge on the subject came from basic Greek mythology and Star Wars. For Good Gary’s unusual circumstances of birth, he was delivered in the swamp by a crocodile, and he never knew his father. It turns out, in true Star Wars fashion, that the villain is actually Good Gary’s father. To prove it, the villain drinks a gallon of syrup after which he’s not crazy anymore because he was just hypoglycemic and needed to raise his blood sugar. Hypoglycemia and fatherhood aside, my villain didn’t change at all. I polished up his dialogue a bit, but he’s pretty much the same. As I was rewriting, Good Gary’s leading lady Ethel Mae became Ellie Mae, and she abruptly took the spotlight away from Gary. Now that I had a heroine instead of a hero, I felt a title change was in order. Good Gary and the Waffle House became The Last Waffle House, and I present it to you now…
The Last Waffle House
By Nikki Gladwell
Once upon a time, in a mystical land known as the Deep South, there was an eating establishment called the Waffle House. It was the most popular restaurant in all the land. In fact, it seemed almost as though there was a Waffle House at every highway exit or at least in every town in the Deep South. Until one day, that is, when the Waffle Houses began to disappear, and one by one, gyms were built in their place. Eventually, there was only one left in a town called Buzzard in that state called South Carolina. This is where our story begins.
Ellie Mae Baker stood behind the counter of the Buzzard, South Carolina Waffle House, serving waffles and orange juice and black coffee to the morning regulars as an old dusty fan spun on the ceiling above with squeaky regularity. She looked at the clock on the wall behind her. 6:54am. The railroad crew would be arriving in six minutes. Time to start another pot of coffee, Ellie thought.
Six minutes, right on schedule, the crew of the CSX signal crew walked through the glass double doors of the Waffle House. Ellie looked up as she wiped down the yellow and orange flecked Formica counter top, and her gaze met the cheerful grin of Gary, her fiance. Gary took his seat at the corner booth with his co-workers Jed, Eric, and AJ. as Ellie tossed the washrag in her hand into a soapy bucket of water on the floor near the cash register. She washed her hands and then picked up the pot of fresh coffee and four clean coffee mugs which she then took to the corner booth.
“Mornin’, fellas,” Ellie said, pouring the coffee and blowing a few stray strands of curly blond hair out of her face.
“Mornin’, Ellie Mae” the men grumbled, except for Gary who simply winked at her.
“What are we having to-” Ellie was interrupted when the glass double doors swung open, clanging loudly. In from the glaring sunrise strode a tall, thin gentleman, wearing tennis shoes and running shorts paired with a tuxedo shirt and jacket with a bow tie. The muscled man tipped his top hat while brandishing a cane.
“Good morning, gluttons!” he exclaimed cheerfully.
“Mr. Healthy!” Ellie gasped. “What are you doing here? My father was serious about calling the authorities the next time you showed your health fanatic face around here. We are NOT selling this Waffle House. Especially not to you. Now get out of here or I’ll call the cops.”
“Silence!” Mr. Healthy banged the tip of his cane on the linoleum floor. “I am well aware that your father does not wish to sell his precious Waffle House, but he must face the fact that times are changing. The health food revolution is upon us. Growing fat and sluggish from years of high caloric food intake is a thing of the past. Come, join us in the modern day, Ellie, or I shall take this Waffle House by force.”
“Never. The Waffle House isn’t for sale.” Ellie crossed her arms and stared defiantly at Mr. Healthy as Gary and his three co-workers slid out from their booth and stood behind Ellie, ominously showing their support of her.
Mr. Healthy chuckled a sinister chuckle. “You have been warned. I will return. Good day!” Mr. Healthy spun around and walked out in the bright sun light from whence he had come.
Gary laid a calloused hand on Ellie’s shoulder. “So, that’s him, huh?” The men filed back into their booth. “That’s the guy buying all the Waffle Houses?”
Ellie nodded. “That’s Mr. Healthy. He’s bought every Waffle House but this one and turned them all into gyms. He’s insane.”
“So that’s what happened to the Waffle Houses?” Eric asked before taking a long sip of black coffee.
“It’s not happening here. We’re not going to let him,” Gary turned toward Ellie. “We’re going start coming in earlier and staying until our shift starts.”
AJ chimed in, “We’ll come by after too. That way, if he tries anything, you won’t be here alone.”
Ellie looked at each of her friends and her fiance sitting in the booth before her. “Oh, I’m not worried about Mr. Healthy. Did you see him? Have you seen me?” She ran her hand down her side, indicating her curves with a wink. “I could squish him if I sat on him. He ain’t nothing to worry about. Now, ya’ll having the usual?”
Days went by. Every morning, Ellie and her employees served waffles and bacon and coffee with nervous sideways glances, waiting for Mr. Healthy to appear with a vicious band of tan and muscled health fanatics and take the restaurant by force. A week went by, and Ellie had begun to forget Mr. Healthy’s warning when the vegetables hit the window. Gary and his crew sat in their corner booth, chatting and laughing with Ellie when the first tomato hit the window, dead center above their table on the other side of the pane. A mighty splat! Red goo and tomato seeds slid down the window, when two, three, four more tomatoes hit the window. Frozen peas began hitting the window like hail. Just then, the double glass doors swung open, and in sauntered Mr. Healthy with a burlap bag slung over his shoulder and an army of goons behind him hurling a plethora of vegetables in all directions. Tomatoes, beans, and kale. Avocados, potatoes, and cucumbers. The early morning Waffle House regulars ducked under the tables for cover.
Ellie Mae put two manicured fingers to her mouth and whistled loud before yelling, “Now, stop it! Everyone just stop where you are!” Everyone froze. Ellie walked over to Mr. Healthy and stood as tall as she could, daring him with her stare to defy her. “Just what do you think you’re doing?”
Mr. Healthy flashed his perfectly straight, blindingly white smile. “My dear, you were warned.”
Ellie snapped her fingers. “Lisa!” The waitress appeared at her side with a plate heaped up high with three fluffy, fresh and steaming waffles, topped with a rapidly melting glob of butter. Ellie snapped again, “Mary!” A different waitress appeared at Ellie’s other side with a tray piled with hot and crispy bacon, juicy pork slices, and spicy linked sausage. Ellie snapped one last time. “Todd!” The waiter walked up behind Ellie with a platter of hash browns decked out with diced onions and topped with cheese. Ellie motioned to Gary and his crew in the corner booth, and the men rose to their feet, picked up a nearby table and carried it over, sitting it down between Ellie and Mr. Healthy. The wait staff came around Ellie one by one and sat the tempting plates on the table. Ellie smirked at Mr. Healthy, “Doesn’t that smell delicious? You look like it’s been a while since you’ve had a nice hearty meal to stick to your bones.”
Mr. Healthy glared back at Ellie, and his eye began to twitch. Suddenly, he lurched forward, grabbing handfuls of waffles and bacon, hash browns and sausage, shoving the food hungrily into his mouth. Butter and syrup ran down the tuxedo sleeves to his elbows. Grease from the bacon and sausage dripped off his chin. He ate and ate until Ellie began to wonder if he would lick the plates. Eventually the plates were clean, and Mr. Healthy sunk to the floor in despair.
Within the hour, Gary’s CSX crew were overseeing Mr. Healthy’s pack of goons as they cleaned up their vegetable mess. Some men swept the floor with big long handled brooms. Others followed behind with the mop. Outside, they hosed off the windows, and then scraped the excess water off with a squeegee. Inside, Ellie sat at the table with Mr. Healthy and Gary, sipping coffee.
“You’ve proven to be quite the foe, Ms. Baker. You certainly put me in my place,” Mr. Healthy conceded.
“Don’t mess with a southern girl,” Ellie laughed.
“What am I going to do with all of these Waffle House gyms? Your food is delightful, but I’ve worked so hard to maintain this image!” Mr. Healthy moaned.
Gary cleared his throat. “You could convert some of the buildings back into Waffle Houses, and keep the rest as gyms. They say a balanced diet is best…some Waffle Houses, some gyms…best of both worlds?”
“And we certainly didn’t need quite so many Waffle Houses,” Ellie pointed out.
So it was decided. Mr. Healthy kept some of the gyms, but gave some of the buildings to Ellie and Gary to be converted back into Waffle Houses. Ellie and Gary were married, and together they managed a kingdom of Waffle Houses that they passed down to their children for many generations to come. And they lived happily ever after.