Joey remembered the first time he dreamt of the creature. How the voice had crooned out a lullaby to him, begging him ever closer.
He'd have followed it if not for the trill of his alarm going off, the tune of a Carrie Underwood classic belting out from the radio at four a.m. as always.
He sat up, slipping on his dusty old work boots and going about his day as always. Even as he went about his morning routine, he couldn't get that sweet voice out of his head.
Barely half an hour later he pulled up to the old diner, neon light glaring down at him in the early hours of the morning.
The desert was still chilly this late in the morning, Joey zipping his coat up a little more as he stepped out of the truck and headed into the warm, inviting doors of the diner.
The disembodied singing still in the back of his mind. Margery - the usual waitress on morning shift - muttered a half-hearted greeting, Joey giving her a short wave and asking for the usual.
Bacon and eggs with a hot cup of black coffee. It was the most bitter coffee this side of Arizona, but he wouldn't have it any other way.
Even with the Mid-November chill, he was dreading the day's hot sun scorching his back.
Only three more weeks on this project, Joey reminded himself. Just three more weeks of building that goddamn parking garage and he could beg his supervisor for an indoor job.
He was sure there was a suburban area to be outfitted or an office to be furnished or something. Anything to make his construction job worth it.
" You don't gotta pay tonight, 'kay doll?"
Joey glanced up, taken aback by the voice. It wasn't Marge who set the plate in front of him, but someone else. A man. Or a woman. Joey wasn't sure, their features indiscernible.
In fact, the more he focused, the more their face shifted, though it stayed androgynous.
Swallowing his surprise, Joey nodded, picking up the fork and forcing himself to take a couple of bites of egg.
It tasted of nothing, the only evidence that Joey had really eaten anything the slide of it down his throat.
" you new here?" he murmured, glancing anywhere but the stranger's face, unable to focus on their features for too long without feeling nauseous.
" Oh, no. I've been here a long, long time, " they murmured, 'I guess you just didn't notice" they stepped away from the counter at that, heading for the kitchen, " Eat up and then we can chat"
Joey glanced down at his food. The eggs hadn't been touched. He poked at them for a moment, his fork not even making a dent.
Maybe it was for the better, he decided, sliding the plate across the counter. He wasn't so hungry anymore, anyway.
Joey glanced past the counter into the kitchen, the old fluorescents flickering. He didn't see Marge or the cook. He could only hope the stranger hadn't done anything to them.
Joey did question himself for a moment, the thought that he was dreaming drifting by. He pinched his arm, fingernails leaving little crescent moons against tanned skin. Nope. Not dreaming.
He got up to leave, both wanting to be rid of whatever the fuck was going on as well as be on time for work. Even if he hated the job, it paid the bills and that was all that really mattered.
Just as he put his hand on the door, the voice called to him again. The same lullaby from his dream. It sounded more familiar now, like he'd heard it somewhere before.
But he wasn't sure, mind fuzzy. He glanced at the kitchen, the lullaby now drifting over the diner's speakers in place of the usual country tunes.
He glanced at his truck, mere feet away on the street outside. He could have sworn the lullaby grew louder.
Joey finally pulled away from the door, drifting back towards the kitchen. He passed the counter - hardly noticing that his uneaten breakfast had disappeared. It didn't matter.
He had to know who was singing.
When he passed the threshold into the kitchen, the stranger was waiting there. They had changed, though, their face now obscured by a sun-bleached- horse skull.
He could see their eyes in the sockets, though. A wonderfully warm brown tone.
" is it you?"
" You tell me, Joey" the stranger murmured. He didn't recall telling them his name, " Are you going to answer?"
He hesitated, mind foggy. The song was filling his head now, obscuring his thoughts. He couldn;t remember what he'd worried about. It just didn't matter anymore.
" Are you going to answer?" the stranger asked again.
Joey stepped forward, their faces far too close now. He swallowed, nervously, his hands finding the stranger's. The creatures, his foggy mind supplied.
They squeezed his hands almost endearingly before leaning and pressing a kiss - he didn't know when they'd taken the skull off - to his forehead. Nothing happened.
Marge barked an order back to the cook, the bell ringing several more times as customers flooded in.
Several asked about the old truck out front, Marge answering snappishly that if it bothered them so much they could call a tow. She didn't know how it got there either.