A gust of wind kicked up dust as a bird of prey somewhere overhead belched an exhausted “skraww,” circling lazily, lifted by rising columns of distorted heat. Blinded, the heel of my boot dragged on the burning asphalt. I staggered and sweat found purchase in my already stinging eyes.
Blinking hard and wiping away the muck, I squinted and peered into the distance at the crossroads before me. To my left, shimmering like a mirage, stood a fast food place about 20 minutes away. To my right, an equal distance away, stood their competition.
My lunch break was only an hour. I’d have to choose wisely. There wasn’t enough time for a second chance. Pick the wrong one and the birds would be in for a tasty snack at my expense.
The decision made I forced my feet to move towards the Jack in the Box. My psyche was still aching from my trip to Carl’s Jr. the other day. Why should visiting an establishment, I asked myself in vain, be the absolute worst thing to happen in the day? I tried to block memories of the drubbing from my mind.
As if in response, an elderly and brittle tumbleweed meandered across my path, paused to look me in the eye, then quickly disappeared into the desert. Dammit. This did not portend well.
Leaving a trail of scruff marks on Route 66 behind me, I finally approached my goal. I was barely hanging on. Fittingly enough, the place looked deserted. An empty parking lot. What a beautiful sight! Enthused, I felt energy returning to my exhausted limbs. Almost there. I forced myself to push on.
And then, fifty feet away, I was forced to halt as a mobility device had pushed for the walk signal. Impatiently I waited as I saw a flash of light on the horizon. It was an ancient car, somehow still running, and approaching from the opposite direction. Damn you, I cursed at the light. Change!
The signal finally read “walk” and it was my turn and I pressed forward again but it was too late. The car had just parked. Three varmints scrambled out and reached the door a nanosecond ahead of me. I waited again as I held the door and they entered first.
The rest is history. I stood and waited for 15 minutes which felt like eternity to the google power. The people ahead of me, the only ones for miles around, still had to decide what to order. They jostled with the clerk. There was laughter all around. All kinds of fun was happening up there except, of course, any actual ordering. It turned out that they knew the clerk and someone in the back, too. The old woman would shout “Mary!” at the back and they’d all laugh again. She did this about 42 times.
Money exchanged hands. Praise God it was going to be my turn. But then, the kid pulled out some money of his own and started a new transaction and the entire process was repeated anew.
At this point my back had long since gone out and I could barely stand. I was balanced precariously on one of my spurs. To pass the time I visualized that spur sticking into the various body parts of the people who had cut me off at the pass.
Finally spent, I guess, the people wandered away to fill their pouches at the waterin’ hole machine. That’s when the clerk acted like he couldn’t see me, turned away, showed me his back, and took off in the opposite direction away from me. Some important business obviously was at hand. He quickly disappeared from my sight.
I was standing there at the counter, waiting like an idiot, with two bits clutches in my quivering fingers. Two bits that were utterly powerless to change my condition.
I had been beaten.
I went back outside and felt the heat engulf me like a long lost lover who hadn’t seen me in so long she actually thought I looked good. I wearily put some place between me and that hellhole. Strength no longer mattered. I only had one task left. I found a nice spot and laid me down in a bit of shade under a cactus and waited for the birds to come…
Is this a mirage? Am I imagining things? Or did you just write a spectacularly fine short story. I think you did!
And, yes. My Friday Drabble would be a fitting sequel to this tale…if my tale was set in the middle of cowpunk central and not Central Station. 🙂
Weird how yours picks up right where mine left off, though. Damn weird. Ominous. Spooky. Coincidental. Hey, why does that black crow sitting atop the fence post over yonder keep watching me with such keen interest?
/cue Blue Oyster Cult
I think I have found the source of all your problems. Your lunch decisions are between Jack in the Box and Carl Jr. Jeebus Cripes, man. Don’t eat that crap!
That said, this post is one of the most beautifully written descriptions of misery in a fast food joint that I have ever read! I know you are taking one for Team Abyss by frequently these hell holes and then reporting on your horrendous experiences as cautionary tales. For that, I thank you profoundly, in case I forget the horror and wander into one of these places.
If one wishes to proceed to lunch on foot, one’s options are limited. And if one only has a 30-minute lunch and it takes X number of minutes to go to a particular place, there isn’t enough time for a Plan B. Either they do their job and you eat or they don’t and you go without. Fun paradigm, eh?
Normally I prefer to bring a lunch or skip it, but sometimes the vagaries of life prevail and I’m forced to forage in the world of crap.
Thanks for the nice compliment on my story. I just re-read it and it is in dire need of heavy editing. I’ll try to get on that before I submit it to the New York Times bestseller list.
I know the necessity is the mother of crappy lunches. I’ve been known to order some crap, too, more times than I care to remember. It is amazing how long it takes to decide what to order at these places with such a limited menu. It’s not as if a waiter is greeting you with “Madame et Monsieur, here are today’s exquisitely prepared specials” that you must ponder.
“I think I have found the source of all your problems.”
Wait a minute! Are you saying I have problems??? 🙂