The incident at tonys bu.., p.2
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       The Incident at Tony's Burgeria: A Shady Hollow Short Story, p.2

           Chauncey Rogers
 
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frequently. The men never came inside with her, but they would often stop in front of the doorway for an extended physical farewell.

  He figured that she was close enough to the register. Johnny needed to get back to the fryer, and he welcomed the excuse to get out of sight of Lacie and her current partner. Johnny went back to the work area, back to the fryer. He reached out to lift it from its mount, but stopped.

  Something was different.

  Something in the fryer was different.

  He glanced around—Mr. Olgen was apparently still in the bathroom.

  Johnny leaned over the fryer and narrowed his eyes, peering past his reflection and the rising bubbles.

  He couldn't see the fryer's metallic bottom—and it wasn't just because a caked-on layer of accumulated food-scrap hardenings covered it. It simply wasn't there. It was gone.

  He heard a vague ping! from the dining area. Lacie coming in, finally? Footsteps. Mr. Olgen leaving the bathroom?

  Behind his reflection, beneath the slowly rising bubbles, where the bottom of the fryer should have been, there was a great open space. It seemed black to him, with tiny points of light embedded in it, like stars in the night sky—only the stars were dimmer and colder, and the blackness was darker and bigger somehow. In the very center of the great open space, looking impossibly far away, was a pulsating red glow. It flared and dimmed rhythmically, like the solemn beating of a giant heart.

  “Excuse me.” It was the voice of the man, their lone customer in the dark suit.

  Johnny didn't hear whether or not Lacie helped him, he was so engrossed in the frying vat and its pulsating red light—the heart of the fryer. It pounded, seeming to quicken and match pace with his own thumping heart.

  “Excuse me.” That voice again. Maybe Lacie hadn't come in yet.

  One of the dots of light winked out, and then winked back on. Then another. Then several more, as if some hand of blackness had momentarily covered them up and then moved on.

  “Sir?”

  Johnny leaned closer. Something was alive in that great open space. It writhed back and forth, covering the points of light with its body, so small and far away, but…. Yes. It was growing larger and larger as it undulated its way towards him. There was something entrancing about its movement, set behind his own reflection and the rising bubbles. He wanted to be closer to it, and he wanted it to be closer to him. It was so beautiful and hideous, so alluring and repulsive, so hypnotic....

  Ping! Ping!

  The sound chirped again from the dining area.

  He leaned closer. The thing rose higher, blocking out the heart and stars. So fascinating....

  The sound of shoes, again, faster this time, squealing on the tile floor.

  Closer. Nearly to the surface now. So enchanting....

  Wham!

  The dark-suited man slammed into Johnny and they both tumbled to the floor, pots and cooking utensils clattering beside them as they knocked over a tray of dirty dishes.

  “Hey, what are you—”

  Johnny's protest was cut off. The dark-suited man had scrambled to his feet, grabbed Johnny by the collar, and hauled him around the corner, effectively choking him with his shirt.

  Less than a second later, the tiles he had just been sprawled across were bathed in a wash of boiling grease, and he heard the fryer clang to the floor.

  What in the world? The man above him had released Johnny's shirt collar and was reaching inside his open suitcoat. Johnny leaned his head around the corner to peer down the work area he had just been dragged from.

  His jaw dropped in disbelief.

  Standing where he had moments before stood was a fast-food monstrosity.

  It easily reached seven-feet tall, standing atop its two feet of giant frosting-slathered cinnamon rolls, with empanadas reaching out as toes. Churros oozing a caramel-filling served as legs, leading up to a fried burrito body. Taquitos linked to one another swished back and forth as a powerful tail, and a hotdog smothered in chili and cheese ran from the tip of its tail and along its back to its head, acting as a neck along the way. It had great, folded, spicy chicken wings on its back, and two corndog arms with tater-tot fingers at the ends hung from its body. The beasts head was an enormous deluxe double cheeseburger—100-percent-beef patties for the roof and floor of its mouth, with a tomato-slice tongue lolling between them, dripping cheesy saliva. The edges of its burger-mouth were lined with razor sharp salted fries. It sniffed the air through onion-ring nostrils, and looked around the kitchen through slitted potato-wedge eyes.

  Johnny pulled his head back in a flash, sick with fear. He felt like he was going to throw up.

  A firm hand gripped Johnny's collar again. “You'll likely lose your head if you do that again,” the dark-suited man said through gritted teeth. He glanced behind Johnny, left hand still on his collar, right hand now gripping a handgun. “What did you see?”

  Johnny was shaking. He knew if he opened his mouth, nothing but puke would come out.

  “Figures.” The man stood tall. “Well, that tells me enough.” He moved towards the corner separating them from the monster, then spared a glance down at Johnny. “You should leave,” he whispered.

  Johnny started to move, his limbs weak and shaking.

  Near the front of the restaurant, the bathroom door slammed open. “Bologna!”

  It was Mr. Olgen.

  The dark suited man muttered a curse, then yelled out, “Sir, get back in the bathroom!” But his voice, even at that close proximity, was mostly drowned out by Mr. Olgen’s own booming cries.

  “Bologna, this is the last lie you'll ever tell! That bathroom still looks like—”

  His voice cut off, and Johnny could hear the sludgy crunching noise of the monster moving to focus on Mr. Olgen.

  “Get down!” The man in the suit stepped around the corner and leveled his handgun. There was a thump as Mr. Olgen dove to the floor, and then the man fired four, five, six rounds in rapid succession before diving back around the shelter of the corner.

  A spew of boiling grease followed after, just missing him to splatter against the walls and shelves beyond.

  “Move it, kid,” the man yelled as he shoved Johnny onto his feet and forward.

  Johnny's feet slid on the slick grease beneath him as he stumbled towards the front of the restaurant, the man following behind. The monster's hamburger head rounded the corner, potato wedge eyes glaring as it huffed noisily through its onion rings.

  Johnny vaulted over the counter and landed hard on his side. The man spun and fired three more rounds at the monstrosity before hitting the counter, rolling over it, and landing in a crouch on the other side. The monster barely winced as the rounds passed through its burger head, scoring the bun and sending large sesame seeds clattering to the floor.

  Mr. Olgen got his feet beneath him again and, with terror smeared across his pale face, moved to the doors as fast as his limp would carry him.

  “Stay down!” the suited man yelled.

  Johnny heard the monster move as its focus shifted to Mr. Olgen. The suited man dove at the condiment tray, grabbing the oversized ketchup container in his hand. He turned to throw it, but was too late. There was a raspy, gurgling sound, and then a thick stream of burning grease shot over the counter and hit Mr. Olgen squarely in the back. He screamed and fell to the floor, writhing.

  The suited man hurled the ketchup container towards the monster's feet. It burst open, covering the floor in ketchup and spattering the monster's body. It stepped heavily forward, its cinnamon feet slipping over the ketchup and grease, empanadas unable to find any purchase. It tottered, then slipped sideways, scraping alongside the warmer and leaving a giant streak of chili and cheese sauce.

  “Diet Pepsi,” the suited man ordered, throwing an extra-large cup at Johnny.

  “Diet Pepsi? But—”

  “I know it's disgusting, just do it!” The man leveled his handgun and began blasting away at the creature's leg, firing repeatedly where churro met burri
to. Cheesy bean and caramel spattered across the kitchen with each shot, and the creature gurgled as it tried to raise its head.

  Johnny grabbed the cup, unsure of where his confidence in this man's insane order came from, and threw himself at the soda fountain, pressing the cup under the Diet Pepsi dispenser. The brown liquid trickled into the paper cup agonizingly slowly.

  “Take cover!” The suited man dove behind the counter again as he yelled. The monster had gotten partially to its feet again. As Johnny dropped to the floor, the caramel sinews of the monster's shredded upper leg finally snapped—the creature's weight finishing the job began by the bullets—and the monster collapsed again to the floor.

  “The Pepsi, quick!”

  Johnny reached up to where he had left the Pepsi, grabbed it, and raced to the suited man. He took it from Johnny's outstretched hands, and leapt over the counter, emptied handgun abandoned on the floor.

  Johnny watched in horror as the caramel filling of the monster's churro legs flushed back up and reconnected with its torn-open bean burrito body, forming a new hip. The monster would be on its feet again in a matter of seconds.

  A splash of brown liquid covered the monster as the suited man emptied the Diet Pepsi onto the beast's hamburger head. The bun drooped soddenly from the liquid's weight, and chunks of it began sliding apart.

  With a look of pure contempt, the suited man kicked through the monster's hamburger head. An explosion of pickles, patty, tomato, lettuce, and soggy bun covered the kitchen area. The body—now spattered with hamburger bits,
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