One Whole Chicken
Larry Schmidt hated his life. He hated his stupid, rundown apartment. He hated his stupid, rundown town. He hated his job, his parents, his abnormally plain facial features, the list goes on. He hated the list of things he hated and he hated the concept of hatred. Larry was basically a big ball of self-deprecation and misery. He had no money, no prospects and no interesting qualities whatsoever - which makes him a somewhat unusual protagonist for a story, but then again, perhaps not.
The town of Grubbington, South Dakota, in which Larry resided, was one of the dreariest and melancholy places on the face of the earth. Some days, when the sun was feeling particularly radiant, the grey haze which covered downtown like a pillow used to smother the grandmother you never really liked anyways and who is now currently eating up your life savings slowly wasting away in the hospital instead of passing expediently like a decent human being, would clear to reveal the grey buildings which crowded the grey streets while simultaneously leaving the observer with a feeling of emptiness and despair. On these days, the citizens of Grubbington would look up at the glowing orb, the existence of which they had long since forgotten, and ponder the meaning of their small and utterly useless existences - but only briefly before the dull drudgery that was their lives pulled them away from such pitiful contemplation. It was not a happy place to say the least.
Our story begins one Monday morning as Larry trudged his way gloomily down the cracked and pitted sidewalk that ran windingly along Main Street. You would only know the name of the street if you lived in Grubbington, and hopefully, for your sake, you do not. This was because all of the signs for Main Street had either rusted over completely or been stolen by the rambunctious youngsters from the much happier town a few exits down the main highway. Hopefully you live somewhere sunny and warm with pleasant scenery and great big palm trees in the shade of which you can rest and read literature to your heart’s content. Unfortunately for Larry, he knew the name of this street well for this was far from the first time he had ever walked down it’s serpentine sidewalk.
Larry kicked empty tin cans and various other bits of garbage out of his way as he plodded towards the marker for the bus stop which hung haphazardly from a post that jutted out from the ground at such a sharp angle it was a wonder it was still standing. He whistled a discordant tune to himself as he waited for the solitary bus which serviced the whole of Grubbington to arrive.
“Woe is me,” he thought, woefully.
The rickety old heap sputtered its way out of the mist and squealed to a halt in front of Larry’s worn and shabby shoes. The doors slid open with a hiss and a growl.
“Hiya, Larry!” the overly cheerful bus driver greeted him.
“Morning, Jim,” replied Larry glumly, laboriously climbing the stairs into the coach. His immediate involuntary sneeze seemed to echo in the filthy interior. As usual he was the only passenger.
“What a beautiful morning, isn’t it?” chimed Jim. He pulled the lever to close the doors of the bus.
“Hmm,” Larry replied halfheartedly. He took a seat and squinted through the grimy window, struggling to make out the buildings not twenty feet away through the smog.
The bus lurched, belched, and started off down the road.
“Where are you headed to on this fine day?” piped the bus driver.
“Just to the factory.”
Larry rolled his eyes. As if he ever went anywhere else on a Monday morning. As if there was anywhere else to go in this god-forsaken town.
“Peanut Palace Industries it is!” Jim’s demeanor dug into Larry’s skull like some kind of particularly peppy parasite.
Larry worked at the Peanut Palace Peanut Butter Factory. His job was to affix the labels to the plastic jars of peanut butter. He had been doing this since he graduated from Grubbington High some 12 years previously. It was a thankless job with little opportunity for advancement unless you had a degree in Legume Science. Larry was not so lucky.
The ramshackle vehicle careened down the winding road towards the barely visible smoke stacks spewing odiferous peanut buttery clouds into the atmosphere. Jim continued to make small talk seemingly oblivious to the complete disinterest of his passenger and the fact that his radio had been playing the same annoying song over and over for the entirety of their ride.
“If you like pina coladas…” the speakers repeated for the umpteenth time through bouts of static as Jim pulled the vehicle up to the factory entrance.
“Have a great day, Larry!” Jim called as his lone fare for the day made his way hastily to the curb. “See you tomorrow!”
Larry harrumphed and made his way through the big double doors into his workplace, mentally steeling himself for another day of label attachment
* * *
When the bell rang for lunch, Jim washed the lingering adhesive from his hands and sat down for a thirty minute reprieve with a PB&J minus the J (the only offering from the Peanut Palace cafeteria).
“How’s life, Larry?” asked George, his manager.
“Same old, same old I guess,” mumbled Larry after he managed to unhinge his jaw despite the best efforts of his paste-like meal.
“That bad, eh?” George replied with a knowing smile.
Larry grunted in response, his teeth having returned to their previous cemented state.
“Well listen, there’s a new restaurant that’s opened in town!”
“Hmmm?” Larry was still struggling with his oral conundrum.
“Yep!” George continued unperturbed, “I’m passing out coupons to all the employees.”
He slid a grossly colored rectangle of glossy paper across the grubby table.
“50% Off Any Menu Item at Old Nick’s Bar & Grill” the coupon screamed in bright red old-fashioned lettering. Larry slipped it into the pocket of his Peanut Palace emblazoned work shirt.
“Thanks,” he said, stickily.
“No problem! Let me know what you think!” George stood up and wandered off looking for more employees to foist his promotions on.
Larry hurriedly chewed his way through the remainder of his lunch and prepared for an afternoon of sticker fastening.
* * *
That evening, Jim found himself standing in front of a building he had never noticed before. The bright red lighting stood in stark contrast to the rest of the drab downtown area. The restaurant had certainly seemed to spring up out of nowhere. Bright neon letters pierced the gloam with metronomic consistency.
OLD NICK’S BAR & GRILL.
The colors were disorienting and made Larry slightly nauseous - not necessarily a desirable first impression for a restaurant. There was nothing else to do, however, so Larry made his way through the shiny new glass doors. The restaurant was dimly lit and smoky, but it was a welcome change from the peanut scented haze which permeated the rest of town.
“Welcome to Old Nick’s!” a dapper, sharply dressed waiter intoned, seeming to materialize abruptly from the darkness.
Larry started, surprised. “Uh, hi?”
“Just the one of you?”
Larry looked left, then right, then suddenly felt very silly.
“Yes, just one.”
“Right this way!” The waiter’s eyes gleamed in the darkness. He led the way to a table in the corner. Larry seated himself in a large and altogether much too comfortable chair.
“How’s the ambience for you?” the waiter asked.
“Err, dark?” Larry replied, very unsure of both himself and the meaning of the word ‘ambience’.
The waiter set a couple of red candles down on the table and lit them. Where had they come from?
“Better?” the waiter asked.
Eerie shadows played across the table but at least Larry could now see.
“Yes, thank you.”
“Here is the menu,” the waiter slid a thick vellum page onto the table top. “I’ll give you a moment,” he disappeared into the darkness of the dining room.
Larry glanced over the entrees - or rather entree. There seemed to be only one.
“Fresh Chicken with your choice of side.”
Larry was unfazed. Nothing in Grubbington was ever exciting, even, apparently, the menu of this new restaurant. He scanned the dining room. Not for the first time in his life, he was the only patron.
“Has Sir decided what he will be having?” the well-dressed waiter inquired, having appeared quite suddenly once again.
“Errrm, I suppose I’ll be having the chicken.”
“An excellent choice, sir,” the waiter replied, “and what would you like with it?”
At this point in the story, it should be abundantly clear that Larry was the most boring and banal of individuals. He was not the sort of person who ever deviated from the doldrums of his daily routine, and the fact that he had entered this new restaurant to begin with was unprecedented in and of itself. It should be noted that his response to the waiter’s question was as completely unexpected and surprising to him at the time as I’m sure it will be to you upon reading it.
“A more interesting life.”
Larry was shocked. Had he just made a joke? What on earth could have possessed him to deliver such a candid remark? He burned with embarrassment. The waiter, on the other hand, merely grinned toothily.
“Uh, I mean, fries?” Larry sheepishly followed.
“Coming right up!” the waiter whisked the menu off the table and faded into the shadows once more.
The rest of his meal passed by in what seemed like a blur of activity. Larry was brought a very fresh, albeit appropriately bland whole chicken which he consumed posthaste, eager to return to his apartment to reason out his shocking and spontaneous behaviour. He was so distraught by his out of character remark. He barely glanced at the bill. His hands shook as he signed it - so much so that he delivered himself a very nasty papercut indeed.
“What has gotten into me?” he thought.
That night, he dreamed of dark stormy oceans and gleaming red eyes. Headless golden chickens, baked to perfection danced wordlessly along the wave crests. He tossed and turned and sweated profusely.
* * *
Larry awoke with a start. It was Tuesday. He dragged himself out of bed, stumbled past two weeks worth of laundry snarled across the floor into the bathroom. He positioned himself strategically over the toilet and expelled the remnants of one chicken into the bowl. He sat there for a moment on the floor, clutching the porcelain altar and wiping the sweat from his brow. He rose shakily to unsteady feet and lurched over to the sink staring at his reflection in the mirror. His eyes were dark and red-rimmed.
“Urgh,” he groaned.
He brushed the taste of rotten eggs from his mouth, pulled on a crumpled work shirt and made his way out of the apartment to the bus stop. Peanut butter labels wouldn’t affix themselves, even if he felt like shit.
* * *
“Wow, you look terrible!” Jim the bus driver greeted him with his usual joviality, “Rough night?”
Larry wrestled with fuzzy memories of a dim restaurant interior and recently regurgitated chicken.
“Just take me to the factory,” he managed to request.
“Oh Christ! You haven’t heard?” Jim replied enthusiastically. Larry winced, suddenly becoming the new owner of a splitting headache.
“Heard what?” he replied.
“There was a huge explosion! The factory’s destroyed! The whole surrounding area is practically knee deep in peanut butter.”
“What!?” Larry exclaimed.
“Yeah!” said Jim, never one to deviate from his abominably optimistic attitude, “A bunch of people died! Some in the explosion, some via peanut butter asphyxiation. It’s been all over Grubbington News this morning.”
“Well, I don’t watch the news,” Larry explained unnecessarily. “Err, can you take me anyways?” He was still somewhat shattered from this gross break in routine and not quite sure he could believe what he was hearing.
“Got a thing for gruesome scenes, eh?” Jim replied with a knowing grin, “Sure thing, although I’ll warn you now, it’s a real doozy over there, nothing but blood, shrapnel and peanut butter for miles!”
Jim continued to talk animatedly about the carnage as they sped off towards the recently vacated factory site. Larry clutched the back of the seat in front of him and tried to quell the uprising currently taking place in his gut. Each curve in the road was a new nightmare. He closed his eyes and wished for the dullness of his regular life back.
“What the Hell!” Jim suddenly exclaimed from the driver’s seat. Larry’s eyes snapped open as Jim swerved, overcorrected and sent the bus off the road. The curb knocked them into air and the two passengers of the dilapidated vehicle were momentarily weightless. Their flight path was abruptly interrupted by a very stubborn and immovable tree. Jim was crushed against the windshield and his viscera entangled with Larry’s vision as Larry was propelled forcefully from a shattered window. He came to rest in a broken heap some way from the now smoking remains of the bus. A rosy film tinted his perception of the world around him. His breath came in laboured gasps.
The waiter appeared at his side.
“It’s time to go, sir,” he said poshly, “I hope you’ve found it interesting.”