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Day Three: Orders

This was written from the writing prompt in the Writing Excuses Podcast, episode 5.38 with John Scalzi.

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“Welcome to SmackyBurger, sorry we’re closed!”

Erik looked up at the giant, garish sign that loomed above the restaurant, Smacky the clown projecting his grin across the landscape like a beacon through the darkness to the hungry and the lazy. He leaned out the window. “You’re what?”

“Closed, sir, thank you for coming to SmackyBurger and have a nice night!”

“Look, kid – it’s nine o’clock. You’re a twenty-four hour restaurant. Quit screwing around. I want a double burger with extra pickles, and -”

“We’re out of pickles, sir, sorry. Can’t be helped, have a nice night!”

Erik rubbed his eyes. “Out of pickles?”

“Yessir. Very busy today. We’re getting killed here OH GOD, sorry! Sorry! Not killed, nobody’s killed, everything’s fine.” An audible whimper came through the speaker’s distortion, followed by a breathy, “Have a nice night!”

“Christ almighty. Look, I’m coming in there, and I want to talk to your manager.” He put the car in gear.

“No!”

“What?”

“I mean, no, sir, sorry, no. No, you don’t need to do that. Everything…. Everything’s fine. No manager. Fine. Everything.”

“All right, then.” Erik put the car back in park and started ticking off items on his fingers. “A double burger with as many pickles as you can scrounge up, a superfry chicken combo, and a large cola. Got that?”

“Double cheeseburger.”

“Burger.”

“Right. Double burger with pi…” The kid took a shuddering breath. “With pickles. And a super fry chicken gun. COMBO! Chicken combo, sorry, sorry, oh god, I didn’t mean it!”

Erik blinked. Gun? He shook his head. The night shift was never the place for fast-food’s rising stars, but this kid was obviously on something. Maybe he’d come back and talk to the manager in the morning. He turned back to the microphone. “Large cola.”

“Large cola. Right. That’ll be… Um… Th-th-that…”

“$12.95, I’ve done this before. Jesus.” He put his car in gear and pulled forward, barely hearing the speaker tell him to come around.

He was muttering to himself by the time he got to the window, a habit his wife hated and which was the reason they never went driving together if they could help it. He put the car in park, leaned his arm out the window and tried to set his face in an expression of cool disdain.

There was no one at the window.

Erik waited for a count of ten and honked his horn. After another ten count he slapped the car door and yelled. “Hey! There’s a customer here!”

He was just about to get out of the car when the kid appeared at the window. Nineteen, maybe twenty, good looking except that he was sweating and pale and his eyes actually seemed to be shaking in their sockets. His nametag brightly proclaimed that his name was Phil, and that he was a proud member of the Smacky Family. The bag he held was trembling, a grease stain spreading across the bottom.

“It’s about time,” Erik said. He handed the kid a ten and a five. “I’m definitely coming back to talk to your manager tomorrow.”

“Yessir,” Phil said, in a voice that was almost too quiet to hear over the car’s idling engine. He handed the bag through the window, and as the order was passed over, Phil managed to lock his gaze with Erik’s. The kid’s jaw muscles were trembling. He looked meaningfully down at the bag and then back up at Erik. Then at the bag again.

“Gimme,” Erik said, tugging at the bag. Phil held on a moment longer, his eyes wider now and darting between Erik’s face and the bag. With another pull, Erik got the order in the car. “Jesus Christ, kid, what the hell’s wrong with you?”

Phil’s shoulders sagged. He took the money, and his head turned ever so slightly to look over his left shoulder. He hit the keys on the register with slow deliberation. When the drawer shot out, he winced. He gathered up the change and held it out for Erik.

“You know,” Erik said as he dropped the coins into a cupholder, “you might want to re-think your career choices. The high-stakes world of SmackyBurger isn’t working for you.” He smirked, proud of himself, and pulled away.

He pulled into a parking space and turned on the dome light. Kid probably forgot the damn pickles, he thought. A quick sniff and a check – the pickles were there. Everything else seemed fine. He popped the straw into the cola and took a big sip as he checked the receipt. Double burger, chicken combo, cola, help he has a gun….

Erik read that again, then shook his head and crumpled up the receipt. Definitely talking to the manager. He pulled out of the parking space, turned right on the parkway and headed home.

Behind him, the bright light of the Smacky sign went dark.

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