Storytime: Burgin’.

January 24th, 2018

At the chime of the town clock – helpfully provided by an earnest youth with a big mallet – they gathered for Sunday council, the aldermen and the mayor.
“I have an important announcement,” said the mayor. “I’m about to bite it.”
“Oh nooooo,” said the aldermen.
“Oh yeah,” said the mayor. “I’m going to bite it big time. It’s been a good life, or I think so, but it’s almost over. I’ll croak before the week is out.”
“Oh nooooooooooooooooooooooooo,” said the aldermen.
“I have just one, tiny, simple, eensy-weensy, microscopic dying wish,” said the mayor. “I’d like a burger, the way I had when I was a boy, back before the bombs fell and the streets cracked and the grass grew. I have in my possession an ancient map dating back to the old days, showing the path to a fabled McDonald’s, and I entrust this most sacred and holy of tasks – my last burgin’ before my next life – to two carefully-selected individuals. One is my good for nothing, scheming, malevolent, capricious, selfish, backstabbing, good-for-nothing, atrocious, abominable, wretched, snivelling, gormless, heartless son, Jason.”
“Meheehehhehehehehehehehehehehehehehehe,” said Jason, as his fingers tango’d wildly.
“Right on, my boy. The other is Brad, our neighborhood’s most wholesome and obvious protagonist in twenty years.”
“Gosh!” said Brad, manfully.
“And they can each bring along as many nameless sidekicks as they need. This could be dangerous.”
“Jeepers!” said Brad, eagerly.
“And some food. Lots of it. It’s hard travel.”
“Save it for the road, Brad.”

The valiant duo (and a few dozen nameless sidekicks) departed from The Neighborhood that very afternoon, under the august blessing of the mayor, the frenetic, off-kilter chiming of the town clock, and a fat red haze in the sky.
“Farewell!” called the mayor, aldermen, and townsfolk.
“Bye folks!” said Brad, in passing.
“Hehehehheheheheheheh,” said Jason.
The sidekicks probably said something too, but whatever. The important things were the banners and the cheers and the tears and the sobs of joy. An adventure as big as this hadn’t happened in years! They couldn’t wait to sit at home until someone told them how it’d gone.

Six minutes out of the Neighborhood, Jason tripped Brad into a lawn of quicksod, where he immediately sank.
“Nuts!” said Brad, in a bubbly manner.
“BWA-hahahahahhahahahahhahahaha,” said Jason.
The sidekicks rolled with it.
They had a lot more to roll with by the time that day was out. First came the heat waves, sweeping across the trail in scorching white sheets as the cloud cover thinned, pan-frying flesh and crisping hair. Those who couldn’t reach shade withered in the open, left to stagger home as sunburnt cadavers.
Jason shielded himself under the charred surfaces of three of his more expendable sidekicks, while giggling.
Then after that came the great haze – the seeping morass of mist and leftover ground-sludge that coated everything with a fine orange ooze, rusted skin and burned metal. Into the trees they went, and the laggards were turned unceremoniously to gloop.
Jason climbed up on top of two of his tallest sidekick’s shoulders and waited until the mist was passed, upon which they fell over.
There were also large feral dogs, but those only made a fuss for a few seconds before Jason threw the meatiest sidekick at them and the rest of them all ran away.
Finally, that evening the expedition came upon the Valley of the Highway, and even from that great distance, in that dim light, they could see the gap in the tree-cover, where the corpse of the road lay. And glittering in the distance – half-visible between leaf and leaf – was it? Truly?
“An arch,” proclaimed the head flunky of the sidekicks. “A golden arch.”
“Meheheheheheheh!” cheered Jason. And he pushed the head flunky over the embankment.

The night at the valley’s edge was quiet, deep quiet. The kind of quiet that makes neighbours nervous. Not a raccoon at the garbage pail; not a noisy stupid dog; not even a neighbour and her husband engaging in ritualistic murder or sex or both.
It was….TOO quiet.
Until the rogue ultrafox circling the camp’s perimeter picked up its third victim by their leg instead of their neck, at which point all hell broke loose.
“Get it!” yelled an unnamed hero, who it savaged.
“Run for it!” screamed an unnamed coward, who tripped over the embankment and fell forty feet onto old cracked asphalt.
“HAHAHAHHAHAHHAHAHAH!” commanded Jason, and the rest followed him down, down, down the swirling madness of the on-ramp into the night and the rust-choked debris of the Valley of the Highway, where tetanus scurried underfoot with the rats.
And where the rats scurried, so too did their predators. You could fit a lot of feral cats comfortably inside a single broken car, and here there were hundreds. They’d grown fat and wild and even crazier than usual, and to add to their consternation they’d been invaded by a host of what smelled like squeaking extra-large rats.
It got so ugly it shouldn’t be mentioned.

Dawn found a reduced expedition, fortified atop the rotten hull of an old transport truck. They breakfasted; the sidekicks upon old beans, Jason upon chortles and the sidekick with the weakest heart, who’d stopped moving during the night.
“The arches,” pointed the new head flunky.
Indeed, there they were, just across the way. Dawn had put the cats to bed, and the rest of the crossing was without incident until they had reached the deserted temple of the McDonald’s, brown-walled, red-roofed, vine-choked and silent.
The doors were locked. Someone had crashed a car through the larger windows.
“Hehehehehheheehhehehehe,” commanded Jason, who knew much of the old world through the tales of his father, the mayor. And he was correct: the drive-in window was still unblocked, although very small. The largest sidekick had to come in, after a lot of tugging, as three separate pieces.
Inside was dark and heavy dead. Not a rat’s-breath had moved the air inside since the days before. Vats had idled. Griddles curdled. Fryers fizzled.
“Heh-heh. A-hah. A-heh, hah, HAHAHAHHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHHAHAHHAHAHA!” said Jason. And so it was.
By his word, the sidekicks searched what had been a freezer, for what had once been meat.
By his word, the sidekicks assembled what could be a bun, burned against the surface of what could be a pan.
By his word, the sidekicks minced, chopped, ground and pummelled the meatiest of the three separate pieces of the largest sidekick, inserted it into an ancient meat-forge, then turned it on and discovered it was a half-working furnace.
The second-meatiest piece of the largest sidekick went onto the actual griddle, and it worked much better, which was a good thing because after it was finished the furnace’s gas leak finally found a spark.

Out of the inferno they rose, the last five of the expedition, Jason bearing the burger from the temple’s depths in a gory fist. Across the dread Highway they fled, Jason cackling them onwards, too scared to sleep or pause lest he put his lips to their ears and chuckle them awake. Through the fetid parklands they ran in the dead of night on dying legs, two falling, never rising, until at last in the eyeblink of dawn they stumbled, more-or-less-corpses, past the gates of The Neighbourhood.
“Ahahahahahhahahahahahah!” roared Jason, and all the neighbours came out into the streets and marvelled at what they saw. So did all the neighbours. \
“They return!” cried the neighbours.
“They return!” replied the neighbours. And the cheers rang high.
“To the mayor!” cried the neighbours.
“To the mayor!” replied the neighbours. And through the happy throng the expedition was led.
“Here they are, mayor!” cried the neighbours.
“Here they are, mayor!” replied the neighbours. “And by mayor, we mean Brad, who returned heroically two days ago after you were all eaten by wild and dangerous beasts and the old mayor died in his sleep of a heart attack!”
The neighborhood politely put the cheering on hold for a moment to let everyone figure out what was going on.
Brad was indeed the mayor. He waved at the expedition.
“Heh?” said Jason.
“Hi sport! Stake them all out in the sun for the buzzard-flies!” said Brad, warmly.
And it was done, and so for many, many more happy years, The Neighborhood remained a safe, clean and wholesome place to raise your 2.5 children and dog.
Bit light on burgers though.

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