Flipping out – Chapter 1

“Do you want fries with that?” I asked the guy in front of the cash register.

“Huh?”

“Do you want fries with your burger?” I repeated, contorting my face into a smile.

 The gentleman proceeded to think long and hard. His thick eyebrows furrowed as his brain processed the many variables required to solve the riddle I had thrust upon him.

I wished I’d given so much thought into choosing my college major. 

In hindsight, a degree in Fijian Art History with a minor in Shakespearean Sonnet Appreciation did not exactly set me up well for the world of employment. But hey, you know how it is. I was a young, cocky, generally unbathed, upstart of a man, fresh out of college, armed with an unfinished draft of my ground-breaking fantasy, sci-fi, gothic romance novella. The world was supposed to be my oyster.

Thirty five generic template rejections from publishers, followed by an attempt at self-publishing that was widely panned by the two people who read it, followed by the refusal of unemployment benefits by my now ex-girlfriend, I found myself in the exciting world of flipping burgers.

I still remember my first day at the job – you never forget these things, do you? I stood in a circle with seven fellow aspiring gourmands, in the mechanised underbelly of the McWendy’s kitchen, at the ungodly hour of 5 AM. In the centre, stood a rotund young man in his late-twenties, dressed in the McWendy’s standard-issue ensemble – a shower cap, t-shirt and apron adorned with an image of the iconic McWendy’s smiling burger, and a badge that had the words, ‘Steve – Shift Manager and Trainer’ written on it.

We were surrounded by a cornucopia of cooking paraphernalia – an aluminium fryer that bubbled like something out of Macbeth’s opening scene, a large burger assembly station holding stacks of buns and toppings, an ice-cream machine with spigots for the four standard flavours, a large refrigerator, and myriad other contraptions that beeped and burped moodily.

For the next 3 hours, Steve trained us in the dark arts of fast-food production.

“You’re doing it wrong,” Steve said pointing at me.

“Am I?” I replied, picking up the unfortunate burger patty from the floor with my spatula.

“It’s easy – it’s all in the wrist. Here, let me show you.”

The burger patty leaped in the air, performed a triple somersault, and nailed a perfect ten-point landing on an awaiting bun.

I won’t lie. I was quite impressed with the man.

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Untitled Short Story – Chapter 1

An expectant hum permeates the air. Or maybe that’s just my jangling nerves. A man in a black gown sits beside me, intermittently whispering instructions into my ear. He’s my court-appointed attorney, a luxury granted only to the poor and defenceless, and in rare cases, the indefensible.

The prosecution has set up shop on my immediate right. The prosector looks like something straight out of a Netflix drama, right down to the generously gelled hair and pointed leather shoes. He says something to the plaintiff seated next to him. She’s a confident, middle-aged woman dressed in a conservative black pantsuit, which is complimented by her tortoise-rimmed spectacles. She also holds the highest office in the country’s Department of Intelligence. They let out a collective chuckle.

To the prosecution’s right, inside a wooden enclosure, the members of the jury are in various stages of settling into their chairs. Some of them have smiles on their faces as they make small talk with their neighbours. Others stare blankly ahead. One of them, a young man wearing a crisp white shirt and tie, shuffles his feet and steals a glance at his watch. His face crumples into a frown. Things aren’t moving as fast as he would like. I do not share his impatience.

Straight behind, a wooden barrier, also called the bar in courtroom lingo, isolates us from the audience gathered to watch the trial. They’re a motley group – reporters looking for a headline, law students forced to attend a trial for a passing grade, and voyeuristic members of the public hoping for a good show. A lady thinks about dumping her jacket on one of the empty chairs in the front row. She eventually resists, possibly realising they’re meant for the defendant’s family and well-wishers.

Straight up ahead, across the well of the court, the judge’s bench towers over us. The witness box is to its right, comprised of a chair within its own wooden fence. Isolating things inside enclosures seems to be the guiding tenet of the courtroom’s architecture.

An abrupt silence falls on the proceedings as the bailiff announces the judge’s appearance. A tall, imposing man, in his sixties, or even older, makes his way to the bench. The oversized judicial robes and wig do nothing to temper the sense of purpose and authority that he relays even in this short walk. I feel a tap on my shoulder and turn to see that it’s from my attorney. His gestures make me realise that I’m the only person in the court who’s still seated. I hasten to my feet and brace myself for what’s about to come.

Noise

I live in an old house. You know the type. The floor, the wall, the cupboards – everything creaks.

A side effect of growing up here is that I’m always unimpressed by the so-called horror movies Hollywood churns out. Ninety percent of the scares are just creaky household furniture and fittings. Hah. I’d never lose sleep over that.

But tonight’s different. I’m jarred awake in the dead of night by something I’ve never heard before. Complete and utter silence.

When I look up, my eyes catch it pacing the room. But something’s wrong. The floor doesn’t groan in complaint under its giant, scar-laced feet.

The creature stops to scratch something into the wall. Its claws slowly, but deliberately rip through the paint. And yet, I still don’t hear anything.

As the silence becomes deafening, I slide back into bed, and pray for something, anything, to creak again.

The Twist

The steak was succulent. The chicken juicy. The entire meal had a certain…character to it. Vikram tucked into it with unusual abandon.

Ana finally spoke when Vikram had finished licking his fingers.

“You like it?”

“Like it? It’s magical! Where did you find this genius chef?”

“Oh, he’s good, no doubt. But the magic here lies in the ingredients and also,” she hesitated before adding, “the meticulousness with which they were sourced.”

#

“Stop!” My companion smashed his fist on the bar counter, spilling some of his beer in the process. “I’m not going to listen to any more of this tripe – I can see the twist coming a mile away. This Ana lady served him a human being, didn’t she?” he asked.

I smirked in that annoying way which always got on people’s nerves.

“No, she didn’t. How predictable would that be? And who said anything about there being a twist anyway?”

“Fine. Continue then,” he said.

“Where was I? Oh right, the source.”

#

“Where do you source your food from?” Vikram asked.

“We grow it ourselves,” Ana replied.

“What’s your secret?” he asked as he not-so-discreetly mopped the remnants of the thick meaty sauce from the plate with his fingers and licked them.

“Our animals are on a special diet. So are our vegetables. We don’t use ordinary feed or fertiliser.”

#

“She grinds humans up into the fertiliser and the feed, doesn’t she? Is that it? It’s even lamer than I thought!” My companion raged.

“Why are you being so morbid? And I do agree — that would have been very lame. Now, if you don’t have any more theories, shall I continue?”

He took a large gulp of his beer, and nodded. A cold determination had crept into his eyes.

I smirked again.

#

“I’d love to meet and compliment the chef in person. This was the best meal I’ve had in my life,” Vikram said.

“I’ll summon him immediately,” Ana made a couple of gestures at the server.

A few seconds later, a voice coughed behind him. Vikram looked up to see a tall slender man in a chef’s hat standing over him.

“Well, that was quick. I didn’t even hear you come in,” Vikram said to the chef as he shook his surprisingly cold hand.

“Meet The Count, our head chef. He has apprenticed under a lot of culinary masters and is now a man who possesses the sum of their skills. He’s absolutely lapped up their talents, so to speak,” Ana said.

The Count smiled at him. Vikram smiled back. The Count’s teeth glinted.

#

“Vampire!”

“This, sir, isn’t chic-lit!” I said with as much indignation as I could muster.

#

“What’s your secret?” Vikram asked.

“Would you believe, cauldrons? I always cook in cauldrons. And I like to sing with the other chefs while I do it. That helps immensely,” The Count replied.

“That’s…interesting,” Vikram said.

“Surely, there must be something else?” Vikram probed further. He knew The Count was hiding something.

The Count hesitated for a bit, then leaned into Vikram’s ear and whispered.

#

“Warlock?”

“Nope,” I said.

#

“Salt. Lots of it,” The Count said. “And a shitload of MSG,” he added with a wink.

#

“You’re horrible at spotting the twist,” I said to my companion. And then I ate him.

Telling that story always gives me the munchies.

The Right Swipe

Vivek’s finger moved across the phone screen in a rhythmic dance that had been perfected over many a bored night.

Too tall. Left swipe. Too thin. Left swipe. Too short. Left swipe. Obscure quote. Left swipe. Pet as their profile picture. Left swipe. Too out of my league. Left swipe. Too…

Just right.

Trying to reign in his excitement, Vivek clicked on the icon to bring up the profile information.

His heart sank when he read the first line.

Sorry, but I’m not here for hookups.

Vivek shook his head in disbelief and swiped left. His betrayed mind wrestled with a lot of questions.

Why would anyone using this app say such an absurd thing? What were these people even using this app for? And which app DID they use for hookups?

His gaze moved to the night sky that streamed in through his bedroom window. His fingers did not stop even as his eyes latched onto something in the darkness.

A shooting star. Or at least it looked like one. It wasn’t a regular occurrence in the city’s polluted skies. In fact, now that he thought about it, Vivek realised that he’d never seen one in person before.

Maybe I should make a wish.

Vivek chuckled to himself, acutely aware of how childish that thought was. His reverie was interrupted by a loud ding from his phone.

It’s a match! You’ve both liked each other.

Vivek felt the familiar rush of dopamine which always accompanied that notification. It was instantly replaced by the also usual mixture of dread and despondence.

Probably a bot, a man masquerading as a woman, or even worse – a crazy, desperate woman, he sighed, completely missing the irony in the last bit.

He wished it was someone likeable for once. Someone funny, intelligent, beautiful, and crazy, smoking hot. Someone he could finally quit the app for.

The screen flickered. Vivek adjusted his glasses.

Well, that’s never happened before.

He thumped the phone on the side with his palm – an instinct that had carried over from the days of bulky malfunctioning television sets.

The screen stopped flickering. The notification popped up again. Vivek quickly clicked on it to bring up the profile – a little more anticipation than usual writ on his face.

Violetxa Archionniz, 145.

Uranian. Pilot. I hate people that discriminate on the basis of species. Interested in males with two legs/tentacles and compatible reproductive paraphernalia. Strictly no Martians – I’m allergic to their tongues, bad breath, and general lack of intelligence.

Vivek smiled. In his experience, a weird sense of humour usually translated to a penchant for weird things in other departments.

He scanned the screen for the option to send her a message. To his bewilderment, he could not find it anywhere. But, he did notice an option that he’d never seen before.

Bl454Hasdsadrwk, it read.

That makes no sense.

Putting it down to a glitch in the system, Vivek clicked on the unintelligible option anyway.

He let out a scream as an invisible force lifted his body off the bed, suspending him in mid air, his loose pyjamas dangling off his scrawny legs. He swirled in the air for a long couple of seconds before vanishing into the proverbial thin air.

When Vivek reopened his eyes, a universe full of darkness stretched before him in every direction. His legs flailed in a futile attempt to find the familiar comfort of solid ground. A few silent seconds, maybe even minutes, passed by as Vivek called out into the dark void. And then, an unfamiliar form materialised in front of him. His eyes finally had something to focus onto.

The thing, or creature, looked nothing like he’d ever seen, or even imagined, before. It was majorly composed of what could only be described as sharp, pointy, drill-like things whirring on the ends of several tentacles.

The creature bellowed. A petrified Vivek couldn’t even figure out which part of the creature that eerie sound originated from. One of the drill-laced tentacles stretched towards him, doing a strange dance. The creature bellowed again.

Come to me, you handsome piece of meat.

A bewildered Vivek looked around instinctively to see who said that. There was no one else around.

Come to me, human. Don’t make me wait.

That’s when it dawned on Vivek. The voices came from his own head. The creature put them in there somehow – maybe it was telepathic.

Violetxa doesn’t like to wait.

Vivek looked at the tentacles that made their purposeful way towards him. He put up his hand and opened his mouth to speak. There was only one thing left to say.

“Sorry, but I’m not here for hookups.”

What if(but not really)

Priya looks at him. He’s just a stranger sharing the same blanket now. She lies awake wondering why she let Him go so many years ago.

She doesn’t know him is actually Him after he lost his memory and got plastic surgery to look like Him.

She’s always wondered why her name is spelt with three silent K’s.

The Noise

I’ve grown up in a very old house. You know, the kind where the floor, the wall, the cupboards…everything creaks. I’ve long been used to the creepy sounds they make. One interesting side-effect of growing up in such a house is that I’m never impressed by the so-called horror movies Hollywood churns out. If you really think about it, ninety percent of the scares are just that – creaky furniture. Hah. I’m not losing any sleep over that.

But, tonight’s different. I was jarred awake in the dead of night by something I’d never heard before.

Complete and utter silence.

When I look up, my eyes catch something pacing the room. Yet, I don’t hear the floor groan in complaint. It stops to scratch something onto the wall. But, the walls don’t screech.

As the silence becomes deafening, I slide back into bed, and pray for something…anything…to creak again.