The Cheeseburgers of Enlightenment

Prologue: Billy

Billy Johnson was a 14 year-old Caucasian who lived in the quiet, complacent suburb of Middleton, Wisconsin. He was Christian and heterosexual. He wore black Nike sneakers, Gap Jeans, an Abercrombie and Fitch t-shirt, Fruit of the Loom Underpants, and a Mickey Mouse hat. In his right hand he held a plate with a slice of apple pie, and in his left he held a can of Pepsi. He had blue eyes, blonde hair, and semi-white teeth, as well as an idiotic grin, which was accentuated by an ugly layer of teenage peachfuzz above his upper lip.

In his right pocket was a leather wallet stuffed with $75 in cash, all of it allowance money from his father, who was a sales manager. In Billy’s left pocket was an iPod loaded with hip-hop songs. Billy didn’t really know much about music, but he was sure that the songs in his iPod were cool; because MTV told him they were cool.

Billy had smooth, white skin and a bodily structure that could be described as chubby, but not quite corpulent. His belly protruded outward, as if something inside was feebly trying to escape. He had no real muscle; just fat that had begun to harden after years of sitting on the couch playing video games on his plasma TV, a habit that also gave Billy a chronic slouch.

His penis? Well, it was satisfactory, I suppose. Circumcised without proper care, and a tad under par in terms of size, but that shouldn’t have been altogether disruptive of his ability to please a woman in bed. Provided, of course, that Billy go the extra mile. Which Billy wouldn’t. For like all other boys his age, Billy looked forward to the day when he would finally receive a blow job, but also like all boys his age, he wouldn’t even consider performing oral pleasure for a female.

This was the way Billy was. He wasn’t exactly like that all of the time, but he was exactly like that at the moment in time of which we are concerned. For at that moment it happened that Billy was alone in the house (his father was at work and his mother had taken the SUV to the grocery store) watching a TiVo’d episode of “American Idol” when he began to feel rather unusual.

The feeling, almost imperceptible at first, had sprouted in his gut and grew progressively until Billy was distracted from Simon Cowell’s virulent insults. Billy’s stomach tightened, his nerves grew uneasy, and he began to perspire noticeably, the way he would if forced to walk up two flights of stairs at a relatively brisk pace.

Billy knew not what was making him more paranoid, so he regressed instinctively toward the television set. He turned up the volume and concentrated intensely on what was happening on screen. But as Billy stared at the screen, the images began to blur and warp. He looked around the house to see if anything else was blurring and warping, but everything else was normal.

The television images continued to blur and warp until a distinct spiral was formed in the center. By now Billy was transfixed. He could not pull himself away from the intense multicolored spiral on his plasma screen. It seemed to take on new dimensions. He was hypnotized now. His identity was completely lost; his entire existence seemed to emanate from that spiral. Soon, Billy began to hear thoughts in languages he had never heard of, and felt feelings he could not possibly have imagined.

The process seemed like an eternity, but actually took place in less than 20 minutes. When it was over, Billy ran out of the house at a velocity that not even the most optimistic observer could have deemed him capable of obtaining. He would not be seen in Middleton again for quite some time.

Thursday Night

“We’re ruined,” Josh grumbled between gulps of Wild Turkey, “we’re fucking ruined. We should just bail right now and hide out in Brazil for the rest of our days.”

“Come on, man!” replied Dennis, his partner. “Stop talking like an asshole, we’ve got to think this through.” It had not been a good day for Josh Specter and Dennis Inhofe. One could argue that it had been an even worse day for Senator Sam Squires, who was now dead, but then again his nightmare was over, while that of Josh and Dennis was just beginning.

They were sitting at a table on the far right corner of the Club Tavern in Middleton, the only ones whose faces were glued to the television set, where the events of the day were being reported on CNN. They didn’t need to know what had happened. They had been there. Josh slammed his glass on the table.

“We’re going to be killed! They’ll bury our bodies in an undisclosed location and that’s it! It’s not fair, goddammit! I’m too young to die!”

“Sssh! Not so loud. Look, quit being so fucking hysterical, we’re supposed to be professionals, here! Look, not many people know the truth about this whole thing. I think we can still weasel our way out of this.”

“Oh yeah, how so, Einstein?”

“I’m going to go to the bathroom and call Euronymous. He still respects us, or at least he respects me,” Josh sneered at this comment, but he knew it was true. “So I’m going to see if I can convince him that what happened wasn’t our fault. I’ll ask if he’ll let us off the hook if we can take care of the situation ourselves.”

“And what if he wonn’t?”

“Well, based on what I’ve seen over the years, we probably won’t be prosecuted, but we’ll definitely be kicked out of the Agency.”

Dennis walked into the bathroom, leaving Josh to stare at the screen and watch Anderson Cooper feign shock and sadness, as if he were the next Walter Cronkite. Suddenly a drunken patron stood up on his seat, tears streaming down his face like Niagara Falls, his finger pointed in the general direction of the television set.

“He was such a great human being,” the man balled, “one of the few respectable public officials we have left in this forsaken country of ours. He was on a mission, I tell you, a mission to bring God back to Wisconsin and America. He was going to save us all from moral decimation…and they killed him! THEY FUCKING KILLED HIM just like Jesus! THOSE COWARDLY BASTARDS!!!” then the man fell out of his chair and passed out.

Josh, too, was a bit disheartened to see the Senator go. Not because he represented moral salvation for America, but because Senator Squires had never missed an opportunity to vote for increased defense budgets and unlimited government secrecy, which, for a CIA man, meant a great deal.

Dennis came out of the bathroom with a stern, serious look on his face.

“Alright, Euronymous says he’ll give us a break if we can find our subject and take care of him before the cops can. He’ll pose as an FBI agent and send a fake tip to the police that the suspects have been spotted North near Green Bay. That will allow us to have the nearby woods to ourselves. Let’s do this.”

“Right on,” affirmed Josh.

They both got up and walked out of the bar without paying (nobody seemed to notice). As they got back into the black Cadillac they put on their Ray Ban sunglasses, even though it was still dark outside.

Wednesday

One more beer. I’ll have one more beer and take it slowly. I can’t get too drunk right now. If I fuck this up I’m screwed.

Such were the thoughts of Al Kilcoyne, once Officer Al Kilcoyne, but that was a long time ago. He had to keep reminding himself that he just can’t get wasted all day like he used to, for now Al had a job for the first time in years. It wasn’t a job he was proud of, but it was an absolute necessity. It was almost impossible at this point for him to find work anywhere else, and the judge wasn’t going to keep letting him off the hook for his missing child support payments. Still, you just don’t expect a forty-two year old man to be working as a cashier at McDonald’s.

It didn’t have to be this way. Al thought as he sipped his Budweiser. If only those bastards had accepted my manuscript. It was fucking great. I could have been the next Stephen King by now. They probably didn’t even fucking read it.

The manuscript in question was a horror novel titled, “The Hand that Would Not Stop Dismembering People.” Written when he was in his mid twenties, the novel was consistently rejected by publishers small and large. With each rejection, Al tried to spice up the novel by adding more sex scenes and cliché terror sequences, but that only seemed to speed up the rejection process.

Finally, he gave up and settled for his back-up dream: being a police officer. It wasn’t a very fun job, but it provided a nice outlet for his anger, and it allowed him to feel a lot tougher and more heroic than he actually was. The only thing that Al Kilcoyne truly hated was when he had to instruct the D.A.R.E. program at the local elementary school. God, did those little brats get on his nerves….

It all came crashing down on him about eight years ago when Al’s wife divorced him and took the kids with her to California. It might not have been so bad had she not specifically mentioned in court “sexual dissatisfaction” as a reason for the separation. Nevertheless, after that Al fell into a downward spiral that included depression, heavy drinking (even on the job), and that one terrible, terrible incident that screwed him over for life. Even today, Al couldn’t even bring himself to think about it…

He never recovered. Instead, he drifted from crappy job to even crappier job, until Al Kilcoyne, an avowed Republican, was reduced to living off of welfare and food stamps.

But not any longer. Al now worked for the world’s largest food corporation, though for a near-slave wage. McDonald’s, the bottom rung on the American economic ladder, was like a last bastion of hope for the truly screwed up. If you hadn’t killed anybody in cold blood over the past 10 years, you were probably going to be hired. Al had almost killed somebody in cold blood, and he was still hired…

As Al got up and paid his tab, the bartender looked surprised.

“You’re leaving early today, Al.”

“Yeah, I’ve got to work,” Al replied somewhat proudly. The bartender burst out laughing.

“You’ve got a JOB? Where? McDonald’s?!?”

“Hey, how the fuck did you know?” the bartender started howling uproariously, pounding his fists on the bar. Al walked out of the bar and slammed the door indignantly.

***

“I’m sorry, what was that you said?”

“I said a CHEESEBURGER HAPPY MEAL! And don’t forget to put a boy toy in there. Every time I’m here you guys screw that up.”

“No problem…”

He felt a little silly in that uniform, and the cash register was freakin’ impossible to work with, but what bothered Al the most was that he was being bossed around by a manager who looked half his age. George was his name, and to his credit, he knew this shit pretty well. He had already shown Al how to ring up orders a half-dozen times, all while taking care of the drive-thru by himself. But there was something about that kid that bothered Al. He looked familiar….

The store finally quieted down around 7 P.M. George wiped some sweat off his forehead and looked up at Al from the drive-thru window. He was about six feet tall, thin, and moderately good-looking with blue eyes and parted red hair.

“So what do you think, man?” he asked. Al shrugged.

“I don’t know. It’s tiring but I gotta pay the bills somehow.” In truth, Al didn’t have any bills to pay (unless you count child support) as he lived in a small cabin in the distant woods. “My question is: what are YOU doing here? It’s September, shouldn’t you be in school?”

“I graduated high school last year.”

“So why aren’t you in college?”

“Cuz I hate school,” George responded with a cocky but good-natured grin, “I mean, why the hell would I shell out tens of thousands of dollars to study some boring-ass books that nobody gives a damn about when I can just make a living doing this and live the way I wanna live?” Al would have told him that he was misguided, that higher education could lead him to bigger and brighter places, but then he realized that he was in no position to tell anyone what to do in life. George took his silence as a mandate to continue.

“Besides, the whole country is going to hell anyway. In twenty years we’ll be completely overpowered by India and China and all these peons who spent their whole lives bending over backwards for the system will find themselves completely fucked when it caves in on itself. Might as well chill out and enjoy what little time we have left.” This crude analysis of the American economic/political situation prompted no reply from Al, who just continued to glance at George and wonder why the kid bothered him so much.

“Hey,” said George, breaking the silence again, “don’t I know you from somewhere?” Al was taken aback.

“Uh, maybe….”

“What’s your last name?”

“Kilcoyne.” At that moment, it dawned on both of them where they had met before. They looked at each other intensely, with faces of chagrin and horror.

Brief Interlude: Eight Years Ago

Officer Kilcoyne staggered into Mrs. Bryson’s classroom 20 minutes late. He had not had a very good day, but today’s lesson was very important. It was the one where Kilcoyne had to explain Marijuana and its dangers as a gateway drug. This lesson, they told him, was the one that made all the difference. If he could muster all of his power into convincing these kids to absolutely fear this drug, which was in reality less harmful than alcohol or cigarettes, then unquestioning obedience to the drug laws would follow.

He had forgotten to bring a lesson plan with him, all he had was a small plastic bag filled with oregano. It was supposed to represent cannabis, but in reality it didn’t remotely resemble even the lowest-quality weed. Anyway, he would hold this bag up for the students and ask if any of them had ever seen anything like it (invariably, a few students would raise their hands.) Then he would go on a long rant about why they must never, ever, EVER touch this unspeakably evil plant.

Though Officer Kilcoyne was substantially drunk, the lecture went rather smoothly at first. The children regarded him, as they always did, with fascination and deference. They seemed so innocent…it was strange and almost sad that he was forced to explain to them things like acid trips, overdoses, and crippling addictions.

To make sure they were all up to speed, Kilcoyne picked on the kid who seemed like he was paying the least attention.

“So, can anyone tell me what they would say if anyone ever offered them this drug? How about you, mister….I’m sorry I seem to have forgotten your name….”

“Huh?”

“What’s your name?”

“George.”

“So can you answer my question, George?”

“I wasn’t listening to your question, Officer.” What irked Al wasn’t that he wasn’t paying attention, it was the blatant disregard for the lecture itself. Most students would have at least feigned embarrassment.

“I said, ‘What would you say to somebody who offered you this drug?'” George shrugged.

“I don’t know. I certainly wouldn’t give credence to the advice of an alcoholic cop?”

What the fuck? Thought Officer Kilcoyne. How did this little bastard know he was drunk? And how did he know what a word like “credence” meant? He was only 11! Al looked toward the teacher, who seemed just as shocked with him as with her student.

“George,” Kilcoyne said, trying to regain composure, “I’m going to give you one last chance. This is something that’s going to affect you for the rest of your life, so I suggest that you pay attention and take it seriously. Now, can you answer my question?”

George seemed completely unabashed, like he had nothing to lose. It was absolutely mystifying.

“Officer, I don’t think you are a very good example of law and order, and your ideas are full of crap.” At this the entire class erupted with laughter. The tension between George and Al had reached cataclysmic proportions. No longer able to contain himself, Al moved his face to within a centimeter of George’s and murmured,

“Listen, you little punk. I don’t know who set you up for this or what you’re trying to pull, but knock it off. I’ve got a job on the line and if I go down I’m taking you with me!” And yet, in the wake of this man who would inspire at least a marginal amount of fear in just about any deviant, George was undaunted.

“You listen to ME, piggy! You have no right to tell me what to do! You can’t even get it up for your wife!”

The kids might not have understood that last remark, but it was the one that finally set off Officer Kilcoyne’s fuse. He immediately took his gun out of his holster, cocked it, and aimed it at George’s head:

“I’LL KILL YOU!! I’LL FUCKING KILL YOU!!! SHUT UP!!!” The kids all began to scream, some of them hiding under their desks. The teacher ran out of the room to get help. After a few seconds of aiming the gun at the child’s head, Officer Kilcoyne realized he was in deep shit. He ran out of the room as fast as his inebriated legs would carry him, sometimes bumping into children and desks.

Looking back, it was amazing that Kilcoyne only served two years for that. The incident shocked the entire town for months. And there are still many out there who wonder just what was the extent of Officer Kilcoyne’s deranged drunken fortitude. As frightening as it sounds, nobody knew for certain; could he have pulled the trigger?

***

The two former enemies stared at each other in horror and fascination for minutes on end. The drive-thru headset beeped and a customer asked if he could place his order. George told him to get the hell out of here and kept staring. A black hole seemed to form between their eyes. Time stood still and long-forgotten emotions were conjured and sucked into a point of singularity where they stood. This time it was Al’s turn to initiate the dialogue.

“You……” he began, his body shaking like Michael J. Fox, “You destroyed my life! You’re an insane monster!”

“Me?” George replied, grinning once again, “you were the one who pulled a gun on me. What was wrong with you?”

“I was drunk and emotionally distressed. But seriously, what’s YOUR excuse? You….your demeanor…it was almost inhuman. What was going through your head? How did you know so much about….my personal life?” George looked at the ground reflectively and put his fingers around his chin.

“I don’t really know what came over me. To be honest, I don’t even remember exactly how I felt on that day. I mean, I remember what happened, but I don’t really know why I asked those questions. I was taken to a therapist for several years after they, but they were never able to conclude anything either.”

Just then a customer returned to the front end counter, his seven-year old son by his side, munching on a cheeseburger.

“Excuse me!” he said with arrogant dismay, his face red like one of Jack White’s suits, “did I not tell you cretins to put a BOY toy in this Happy Meal?!?” He held up a miniature Bratz doll. Had he not been so invested in his own drama he would have noticed the conversation of surreal peculiarity that was taking place between Al and George. But as it happened, he distracted them from their confrontation.

“I’m so sorry about that,” George replied in a feigned apologetic tone, “I’ll get you the correct toy right away.” The kid, for his part, seemed completely indifferent to what was going on. George handed the kid the boy toy-a Hot Wheels car-but the father snatched it himself.

“I swear to God one of these days I’m going to write to corporate headquarters about this place. You people always ruin my meal.”

“Daddy, you’re a narcissist,” the boy said, continuing to munch on his cheeseburger. All three of the adults stared at him in awe.

“That’s one smart kid,” remarked George.

“Damn right!” the father retorted, “I raised him to be smart so that he wouldn’t have to work in fast food for a living!”

“That’s not true.” The kid responded. “You’re actually selfish and inattentive as a father. You go out for hours most nights. You tell us that you have important business to do, but really you’re trying to cover up a compulsive and self-destructive gambling addiction. And these two men aren’t here because they’re not smart, they’re here because they lack ambition.”

By now all three adults were gawking at this child prodigy, as well as several other customers who happened to be nearby. Clearly, this child was not in his element. But other than his newfound intellectual/psychic insight, he didn’t seem out of the ordinary at all. He just sat there eating his cheeseburger, feeling amused that so many people were paying attention to him.

A woman with a daughter of roughly the same age as the boy walked up to the father. The daughter, too, was eating a cheeseburger.

“Sir,” the woman began, “you are clearly a very troubled man, but there is something special about that child. The Lord has blessed him with Enlightenment! My name is Susanne Green, and I would appreciate it very much if you would take this child to the Black Earth Methodist Church this Sunday! This child must be brought closer to God!”

The little girl turned to the boy and said, “My mother is deluded with religious fundamentalism, which she uses to compensate for the shame of years of drug abuse and sexual promiscuity back in the 1970’s.”

“What?” replied the mother, aghast. “Ellen, don’t say such things!” She slapped her daughter on the wrist, but Ellen seemed unaffected.

“You’re right,” said the boy to Ellen, “and it also seems she’s sexually attracted to that manager over there.” George blushed, then grinned. Susanne, distraught with embarrassment, grabbed her daughter and ran out of the restaurant. Then the father of the boy declared,

“It wasn’t the Lord, it was the Cheeseburgers!!!” he quickly ran into the kitchen and, stole a freshly-made cheeseburger fresh from the hands of the Mexican immigrant worker who had prepared it.

The crowd stood around and stared at the father for several minutes, anxiously anticipating the moment where the magic would take place and he would become psychic.

But after ten silent, agonizing minutes, the father clenched his fists and kicked a nearby garbage can filled with old McNuggets.

“Dammit! It’s not working! Why won’t it work?!?” The crowd turned to the boy for an explanation, but none was forthcoming.

“It must only affect children!” someone said.

George and Al looked at each other and breathed heavily. This was the start of something huge.

Thursday

By 4:20 P.M. it had already been an absolutely historic day for the McDonald’s restaurant in Middleton, Wisconsin. They were on track to break their one-day sales records by the time the dinner shift started. What was even more unusual was the fact that almost 90% of the sales had been cheeseburgers. The cooks hadn’t even gone through one tube of Big Mac sauce yet. The store was packed almost wall-to-wall with customers. The district manager Doug even had to be called in to keep things in order.

The hysteria was unprecedented. Word had spread all over town of these curious “Cheeseburgers of Enlightenment” that had the power to turn children into superhumans. Parents had even taken their young ones out of school to have them try some of these special cheeseburgers. Outside, a local news crew was taping for what would surely be the main story at six o’clock.

The phone rang and George answered it.

“McDonald’s in Middleton, how can I help you?”

“Yeah, I’m calling about those special cheeseburgers you’re selling right now. You see I came through the drive-thru and bought for my son today and it didn’t work. He’s just the same as he always is. I’m very disappointed and I want a refund!”

“Well, have you noticed that we never actually said anything about the cheeseburgers being anything other than…well…just cheeseburgers?”

“What do you mean? These are the special cheeseburgers, right?”

“Yeah, but it’s not like we guaranteed that they were special. It’s just a big hype.”

“I don’t understand! Everyone says these are the special cheeseburgers! I want a refund!”

“Yeah, well…OH I’M LOSING CONNECTON!” George quickly hung up the phone, then noticed that Doug was looking at him sternly. A few minutes later the phone rang again. Doug made a point of reaching for it himself this time.

“Hello?…….yes…….yes……really?? Oh my gosh………okay, we can’t wait!” His eyes were radiant with glee.

“Hey everybody, guess who’s coming to our restaurant?”

“Mayor McCheese?” jested George. Doug shot him another stern look.

“No, Senator Squires is coming! Alright, we’ve got to get this place as clean- looking as possible. George, you start with the garbage and bathrooms!”

The anticipation of the Senator brought the level of anxiety among the McDonald’s employees to new heights. For Squires, it was a risky but potentially brilliant P.R. move. The Senator’s intention was to bring his daughter to the restaurant and have her eat one of the cheeseburgers. If she became “enlightened,” the Senator would “officially” declare it a miracle, then give a brief speech in front of the crowd, possibly tying in his heroic efforts to de-regulate the food industry in America. If all went according to plan, Squires’ re-election in a month and a half would be a certainty.

As George was hauling the bags of trash outside, he happened to notice a rather peculiar black Cadillac parked across the street. Inside sat two men in matching suits and sunglasses that made them look like the guys from Reservoir Dogs. Occasionally they glanced at the McDonald’s, but when they noticed George was watching them, they stopped doing so. George was curious, but he shrugged it off. He had too much work to do to worry about it.

At about the same time, a chubby boy in his early teens was standing at the end of the long line at the front counter and attracting no notice from anyone. This was somewhat odd, considering that he was wearing a trench coat and had a possessed, psychotic look in his eyes. Also, his hands were trembling.

The Senator arrived at approximately five o’clock in a stretch limousine. He walked into the restaurant, waving magnificently like Bono, bodyguards to his left and right, his daughter trailing complacently behind him. The people in the restaurant turned toward him, gasped, clapped, cheered. Doug quickly pushed his way toward the man, stuck out his hand, and asked if he would like anything to eat, though he knew full well what the man’s intentions were.

“Good sir,” began Senator Squires, “I would like one cheeseburger Happy Meal, for little Bessie here.” Squires’ daughter, ten, was probably one of the last people on earth to be named “Bessie,” a fact she regarded with quiet disdain almost every day of her life.

“Right away, sir.” Doug ran back to pack yet another Happy Meal. In the mean time, the Senator took the opportunity to “mingle” with his constituents. He categorically shook hands with each person in line, making sure that the moment of eye contact was just long enough to make the meeting seem personal and special. It was a habit he had perfected after decades of being a professional politician. Then he came to the curious boy in the trench coat.

“And what’s your name, son?” The boy stared at the Senator’s face (not his eyes, his face) and took an excruciatingly long time to answer.

“….I… don’t… know….”

“Well,” replied Senator Squires, bewildered with awkwardness, “what brings you to this fine restaurant?”

“I’m here to weed out the infidels…” the boy answered. Silence. The Senator stood in front of the boy, scratching his head. His instincts told him to just ignore the boy and move on, but he couldn’t pull himself away.

Behind the front counter, George gave Al a nudge.

“Say, I think I know that kid.”

“No way, man.”

“Seriously. He was my neighbor, but he disappeared a few months ago and no one knew why.”

“Holy shit.”

The Senator and the boy in the trench coat continued to stare at one another. Doug stood next to them, Happy Meal box in hand, but was too distracted by the bizarre confrontation to hand it to the Senator. Squires made one last attempt at reaching out toward the boy.

“So, uh….where are your parents, young lad?”

“PARENTS?!?!” exclaimed the kid. This was followed by a maniacal outburst of hell-spawn screaming. The Senator slowly backed away, but it was too late. Billy reached into his trench coat, grabbed an Uzi, and pumped nine bullets into the Senator’s torso. Then he shot the two bodyguards, took a glance at Bessie, and passed out cold.

The entire restaurant erupted in a panic that soon reached riotous proportions. People everywhere scrambled to escape, some even jumped through the drive-thru window. Doug ran into the manager’s office and locked the door.

George took a couple of steps toward the boy. He had never really known the kid very well (for he rarely came outside the house), but for some reason he had always felt a little sorry for him. Perhaps this pity wasn’t so much rooted in who the kid was as it was in what he represented. But….what was his name? George struggled to remember, but the intensity of the moment made it hard to concentrate.

Just then, the two men in the sunglasses burst through the door, each holding 9mm pistols.

“Step away from the kid!” one of them shouted. Without any conscious idea of what he was doing, George grabbed the kid from under his shoulders and ran behind the front counter, next to Al, and ducked. Al did likewise, not wanting to take any chances. The two men tried to catch up with them, but they found it difficult pushing their way through the hysterical crowd. Then one of the men stepped on a cheeseburger, slipped, and fell, knocking over his partner as well as 10-15 others in a domino effect. The men struggled to get up, being stuck in a mosh pit of confusion. George seized the opportunity.

“Dude, let’s go!” he said to Al.

“Wait a sec, why am I coming with you?”

“We’ve got to get this guy out of here!”

“Why? He just shot a Senator!”

“I think there’s more to it than that! Besides, I think you owe it to yourself to actually HELP a kid out.” It was a cheesy, melodramatic remark, but Al agreed.

“Alright, I think I know the place. It’s a cabin way out in the woods where I live.”

“You live in a cabin in the woods?”

“Yeah, so what?” Al grew indignant. “It’s a roof over my head, and it’s our last hope now.”

***

And so it was that Al, George, and the poor deranged youth escaped out the back door of the restaurant and drove north toward the woods. They had just exited the building when Josh and Dennis managed to regroup.

“Where did they go?” demanded Josh.

“I think I overheard them saying something about a cabin in the woods.”

“The woods?!? That doesn’t help us a whole lot.”

“Well, it’s better than nothing,” Dennis reasoned. They were just about to try and catch up with the fellows when they heard the police sirens. “Damn it! We’ve got to get out of here. Okay, let’s walk out the main entrance with all these other escapees and sneak back to the car.”

“Then what? We’ve already lost them!”

“I don’t know….let’s go to a bar and think about it there.”

Wednesday Night

11:00 P.M. was an unusual time to be sipping coffee at a Denny’s, but members of the Paranormal and Supernatural Control Department, were rather accustomed to the unusual. Of all the secret organizations within the Central Intelligence Agency, PASC was by far the most notorious among the people who knew about it. Even the UFO Knowledge Suppression Division and the Third World Drug Trafficking departments regarded them with fear and loathing. But their job was important, at least in the government’s eyes. Popular control depended on widespread ignorance of the true, bizarre nature of the world.

Like most of their assignments, this one had only sprung up on Josh and Dennis in the last hour or so. They had been ordered to be at this particular Denny’s restaurant in Washington, D.C., where they would rendezvous with “a man in a blue baseball hat,” who would take them to the location where the exact nature of their assignment would be explained.

Josh and Dennis had only been partners for the past year or so. Dennis was a veteran whose experience in the Agency dated back to the Cold War era. Josh was relatively new, but not entirely inexperienced. However, Dennis noticed, he did have a way of letting his emotions interfere with his judgment.

“So,” Josh said, trying to kill time with conversation, “don’t you think Euronymous sounded a little…I don’t know…grim….when he called us up for this assignment?” Euronymous was their boss. He communicated to them only by vocal messages, sometimes print, and his real name was never revealed.

“He always sounds grim,” Dennis replied, sipping his black coffee. For $1.40 plus free refills, it wasn’t bad. “It’s the nature of his being.”

“Yeah, but I think he sounded a little more grim than usual tonight. Talking about this ‘dark and terrible thing’ going on in Wisconsin.”

“I’ll admit, he has become progressively stranger over the years. Sometimes he sounds like some twisted incarnation of H.P. Lovecraft.”

“Who?”

“Nevermind,” Dennis took another sip, “Anyway, one time way back in the day I was on the phone with him in the middle of one really long and fucked up assignment. He said this one thing…I think it might have been a joke…he says, ‘You know, there are really only two kinds of people out there. There are people who have normal eyes, and people who have testicles for eyes.’ So naturally I said, ‘who the fuck has testicles for eyes?’ and he says, ‘that’s the point, son: fucking nobody. People are all the same.'”

“Wow, that is REALLY fucked up.”

“Yeah, I think he was just trying to mess with my head, to me sure I couldn’t be thrown off.”

They sat in silence for a few minutes. Eventually, a man wearing a Chicago Cubs hat walked in and sat next to them.

“Good evening, gentlemen.”

“It’ll be ‘good morning’ not too long from now,” remarked Dennis.

“Very true.”

“So how far away is it?” asked Josh.

“Not too far. But once we’re there, I’ve got a big surprise for you.”

“Can’t wait,” Josh said somewhat sarcastically. They left an adequate tip on the table and walked out.

***

“Jesus Christ, what the hell is that?” declared Josh. The three were standing at the other end of a one-way mirror, staring into a white 8’x8′ room where a chubby boy of about fourteen was frantically engaging in what appeared to be a virtual reality game in which he shot people with a machine gun.

“Well, how much do you know about our recent mind control experiments?” the man in the Cubs hat responded.

“Not a whole lot.”

“Well, this here is one of the first of a series of projects in Television mind control. Once we learned how to hack into the satellite receiver, it was just a matter of using the right psychological methods. And, of course, picking the right targets.”

“Is this one of your ‘right targets’?” inquired Dennis.

“Precisely. We reeled in this young man about four months ago. It’s gone quite well, he has a very malleable mind.”

“So what exactly is his deal?” asked Josh.

“His ‘deal’?”

“Yeah, what did you guys do with him?”

“Well, he is now firmly confident in his belief that God has selected him as a mercenary. He believes he has been sent directly from heaven to kill whomever God chooses him to kill to purify the land. Basically, he’ll be like one of those psychopaths that goes on a misanthropic shooting rampage, except this one will be completely controlled.”

“Are we to use this lad in our assignment?” said Dennis.

“Indeed. There is a certain McDonald’s restaurant in Middleton, Wisconsin where rumors of strange activities involving the food have sprung up. As of right now we are training this boy to believe that his mission from God is to slay all of the McDonald’s employees in the restaurant, then immediately kill himself. Such an event will completely devastate the community, and the nation as well. It will also doubtlessly put an end to whatever the hell is going on at that restaurant. After the shooting no one will remember what the fuss was all about.

“All you guys have to do is keep his eyes blindfolded until you near the restaurant. When he sees the golden arches, he’ll walk inside and the rest will take care of itself. It’s almost too perfect…. Any questions?”

“What’s his name?” Josh blurted out.

“I think it’s Billy, but that’s not important. He doesn’t think he has a name.”

A few hours later Josh, Dennis, and Billy were on a helicopter headed for Wisconsin. Amidst the overbearing chopping of the propellers, Billy was sleeping intensely. Both Josh and Dennis wondered what the fuck he was dreaming about.

Thursday Night, Part Two

George was amazed that Al could find his way to his distant cabin even when it was pitch black outside. But in fact Al knew his way around the woods better than some of the animals. Even when he was nearly blind with drunkenness he could still manage to make his way home. What he was not used to was hauling around passed-out problem children.

“Jesus, my arms are gonna fall the fuck off,” he grumbled.

“We can take a break if you want, but I wouldn’t risk it.”

“You’ve taken an awful lot of risks as it is. Kidnapping the undisputed culprit in a political assassination…I’m still amazed that the cops never saw us haul him into the back of your car. They were ALL OVER the place!”

“I’m not worried about the cops. No one knows where we are. I just want to make sure that when this kid wakes up he’s in a comfortable spot and not in the dark scary woods surrounded by two weirdo fast food employees.”

“So what exactly are we going to do when he does wake up?” Al asked.

“Well, first thing is we’re going to find out why he came into our restaurant with an Uzi talking about weeding out the infidels, and who those two pistol-wielding fuckers were.”

“Okay, so after he’s done opening up to two complete strangers about the Crime of the Century, then what are we gonna do?”

“I’m not sure, I haven’t really planned this out.”

“You’re not really one for making plans, are you George?”

“Oh, I’m sorry. Maybe I should just plan on becoming a half-assed booze hound cop who pulls guns on defenseless children!”

“If only you were as smart now as you were when you tried to fuck with me that day!”

George grimaced, then sighed and tried to figure out what had come over him on that fateful afternoon. All he could remember were a few hours of tranquility and clear-minded confidence. By dinnertime he was back to his old self. It had been a normal day by just about any standard, except that at lunch his sandwich had tasted rather funny.

***

Al’s cabin looked like it might have been older than the state of Wisconsin itself. It was a single square room about the size of a two-car garage. The one window in the house was cracked and boarded up with cardboard and duct tape. At the far left corner was a small mattress and a sleeping bag. On the opposite side of the cabin was a small, dirty fireplace. Empty bottles of Fleischman’s littered the floor, alongside a few pairs of clothes and a razor. Al lit a kerosene lamp in the middle of the room and George set Billy down on the mattress. At this point Billy seemed like he was finally re-gaining consciousness, albeit slowly. He simply shook his head and muttered indecipherable phrases. George and Al sat down on the bare, dusty floor.

“Well,” George reasoned, “I suppose we should just sit here and wait.”

“What will we do?” George thought for a moment, then remembered the bag of weed and the pipe he had been keeping in his pocket. Well, why not? This night was strange enough, anyway.

“You want in on this?” he asked, grinning once more, as he began to pack a bowl, “it’s good shit.” Al was stunned.

“You have to be kidding me! I was a cop for crying out loud!”

“The key word in that sentence is ‘was’. Seriously, we’ve got nothing to lose right now. Besides, you never really believed any of that D.A.R.E. propaganda, did you?”

Al thought about this. He never really had time to analyze the meaning of what he was preaching to those kids. He was too busy being pissed off over his failed ambitions as a writer. He had said “no” to the green stuff several times in college, but the curiosity never really abandoned him.

“Okay, I’ll give it a shot.” George emitted a true smile, not a grin.

“You probably won’t get high your first time, but you’ve got to start somewhere. Just inhale slowly and hold it in as long as you can.”

***

 

After twenty minutes or so, the air in the cabin was thick with smoke, but the emotional atmosphere was far less tense. George, lit up like a birthday candle, began to admire the way the kerosene lamp colored the objects in the room. Al wasn’t exactly high, but he definitely felt different. He was more aware of his senses, and the world outside the cabin seemed a tad distant. Al turned to Billy, who was now sitting upright, looking around the room, and ejecting long, quiet, monotonous tones through sealed lips. Al pointed this out to George.

“Weird, man. Should I try to talk to him?”

“Sure, go for it.”

“Hey dude! Do you remember us?”

Billy looked at George impassively, as if George were talking in another language.

“Do you remember what happened?” Al asked. Billy only sighed. Clearly, something about this kid was broken. Suddenly, George was struck with insight.

“Shit! I remember your name! You’re Billy! Billy Johnson!” Billy blinked his eyes and nodded his head back and forth.

“Biiiiiilllyyy………” he said hypnotically. He still seemed relatively calm, but Al noticed his hands were trembling. “Biiiiiiilllyyy…. listen to the talking light….shoot strait….don’t pull the trigger, squeeze….need….need leather couch. Need plasma TV. Need more sugar…”

Both George and Al were overcome with pathos.

“Dude, we’ve got to get this kid home,” said George.

“We can’t. He’s a murderer now. Even if he gets off on insanity, he still can’t go home.”

“Then what can we do?”

Just then the door of the cabin burst open.

“That’s not for you two to decide!” Al and George turned to the doorway and were blown away. Their jaws dropped so low that an elephant could fit his penis inside their mouths.

“I don’t like this,” Al uttered nervously. “We shouldn’t have smoked that shit.”

“No, dude. This isn’t supposed to make you hallucinate.”

“Then are you telling me that we are both bearing witness to a TALKING DEER?”

Indeed they were. A majestic fourteen-point buck with green glowing eyes was standing in their cabin. The night which could not possibly have gotten any stranger just got stranger.

“Who….what are you?” demanded Al.

“I am Boucher, the Enchanted Deer of Wisconsin. I came here because I sensed a great disturbance.”

“No way, man,” replied Al.

“Look!” Boucher said impatiently, “if a deer with glowing eyes who can fucking TALK walks into your cabin and starts telling you shit, you should probably believe it!” Al shut up.

“Now,” the Deer continued, “I can see that you guys have gotten into some deep trouble over this poor Billy kid. Part of the reason I’m helping you out is that I feel partially responsible…”

“Why is that?” George asked.

“Let me ask you something: did you actually believe those cheeseburgers you were selling were special in any way?” Al and George both looked at each other and shrugged in pensive confusion.

“Well, it sure seemed crazy,” Al began, “but…what other explanations were there? Clearly there was something going on.”

“Well let me tell you something,” said Boucher, “there WAS something going on, but it did not involve the cheeseburgers. That was a severe error in inference on the part of you humans. The stupid jackass with the gambling addiction suggested it and within hours it was dogma.”

“Okay, so what WAS going on?”

“The source of the children’s enlightenment came from the front door of your restaurant. As you may know, when small children open restaurant doors they don’t use the main bar in the middle, they usually just press their hands against the glass. On that particular day, the glass on the bottom half of that door was, shall we say, ‘enriched.’ It was enriched because the night before I had urinated on it.”

“Aw, gross!” exclaimed Al.

“As you may have gathered by now, I happen to be the possessor of many powerful insightful abilities which are beyond the scope of your human experience. Some of these abilities can be briefly transferred to others when they are exposed to my urine. Thanks to your staff’s negligent attention to cleanliness, some children in your town were able to experience this first hand.” Al turned to George.

“Have we cleaned that door since Wednesday?”

“Yeah, I think we did this morning.”

“Damn it!”

“Yeah, I know…”

“This isn’t the first time such a thing has happened,” Boucher went on, “in fact…George, do you remember that day when this man over here put the gun to your head?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, your intellectual audacity on that day did not come from you. It so happened that the tomatoes from your garden that your mother used in your lunchtime meal had received the same treatment as the front door of the McDonald’s.” George didn’t know whether to feel relieved or horrified. But then again, is one supposed to know how to feel when you’re told that your life-changing moment happened because you ingested magical deer urine?

“So what’s going to happen to Billy?” Al inquired.

“You’ve already realized that he cannot go back where he came from. I’ll have to take him to the one place where he might be allowed to heal.”

“Which is?” asked Al somewhat sneeringly.

“None of your business!” retorted Boucher.

“This is all so terrible,” remarked George. “Poor Billy…” George was always more empathetic when he was stoned. Boucher turned to him.

“Don’t let it bring you down, son. This child is a victim of ignorance, fostered by a deluded, morally bankrupt society, that made him vulnerable to the tyranny of evil men. He was just a pawn in the sordid game of chess that is the misguided world of humans.” George and Al nodded in acknowledgement.

“Yeah, fuck society,” said George. The Deer disregarded him.

“But you two have no excuse. You fucked yourselves up. Look at yourselves. You both have the power to lead, to use your insights and opportunities to help push your idiotic race away from the brink of decimation. You,” he turned to Al, “you’ve spent the last twenty years blaming others for your own shortcomings as a writer, police officer, and family man, each time refusing to correct them. Get a grip, man, you’re pathetic.”

“And you, young man,” he said, turning to George, “you’re a nihilist who chooses to shut himself off from the rest of the world. You’re insightful and independent, but you’ve got nothing to show for it! Go do something with your life, or you’ll grow to be more confused and unfulfilled than the people you mock!”

George and Al pondered the fact that an animal had just lambasted their lives. After a few seconds, Boucher spoke up once more.

“Well, I ought to get going. Will you help lift Billy onto my back?” George and Al did so and watched the beast trot off toward God-knows-where without saying goodbye. Then they decided to get some sleep.

Friday Morning

George and Al woke up to the sound of random birds singing random songs and inhaled the crisp, cool autumn air. The reality of last night’s bizarre events began to dawn on them. It was George’s turn to ask the obvious question.

“What do we do now?”

“Well….I guess we just have to….”

“…move on?”

“Yeah.” They both took long, heavy breaths and pondered the magnitude of their experience. Eventually, George stood up and Al did likewise.

“Well, I suppose we should get going. McDonald’s must be getting awfully suspicious by now.”

“They probably think we either killed that kid or did a ‘Brokeback Mountain’ thing.” Both of them chuckled.

“You know, Al, you’re not so bad after all. You’re just weird.”

“Same to you, man. So, do you forgive me?”

“Why not?” George shrugged playfully. They started to walk out the door, but then Al paused to pick up a .44 magnum that lay under the mattress. “What’s that for? Are you going to pretend to be Dirty Harry?” George asked.

“I don’t know…just in case….”

“Whatever.”

And so it was that our heroes began the mighty walk home, shaded by the ceiling of changing leaves. For a long time they were silent, then George decided to get something off his chest.

“You know, I’ve been thinking a lot about what that Deer said.”

“About how we have to change our lives?”

“Yeah. I think he may be onto something. I mean, he is an Enchanted Deer, so he can’t really be wrong. I think I’ll try to get into a Junior College by the winter semester, then maybe get transfer credits or something. I mean, we’re all born with a chance. And goddammit, I’m gonna take it!”

“I wish had that same level of opportunity. I’ve already messed my life up way too much.” George looked up at Al.

“Dude, don’t say that. You can always redeem yourself. If you work relatively hard you can have my job in six months, tops. Besides, weren’t you once a writer?”

“Sort of…”

“I think you should get back into that.”

“Maybe….”

“One more thing,” said George, “are you going to quit drinking?”

Al pondered this for a moment.

“Hell no! Are you gonna quit smoking pot?” George shook his head. They both laughed and continued to push their way through the forest as the sun gradually warmed the air.

***

Meanwhile, not to far away two disgruntled CIA agents weren’t feeling any warmth at all. They had not slept all night, wandering the forest aimlessly and anxiously, searching for the men who held the key to their futures as government employees. Their bodies felt cold and vulnerable, their guns seemed to weigh their arms down. Their faces were sunken like Droopy after a long bender on Quaaludes.

They said nothing to each other. There was no need. They both knew how screwed they were, and if they were to talk the only things they would have been able to say would have been grumbled expressions of discontent. Finally, Josh stopped in his tracks and sat down against a tree. He couldn’t take it anymore. He waited for Dennis to take notice, but to his surprise, he did not. He just kept walking.

“I’m giving up, man!” Josh shouted. Dennis continued to walk. “Nothing could possibly be worth this shit!” Dennis stopped in his tracks but did not turn around. Josh tried again to grab his attention. “I don’t care if America collapses because of this. I’m taking a god damn nap!” Finally, Dennis turned his head.

“Shut the fuck up and get over here! We’ve got company…”

***

After several hours of inspiring introspection, Al and George now found themselves staring at the barrels of the guns of Josh and Dennis, respectively.

“All right, bitches,” growled Josh. “Time to pay!” But then, with speed and style that would have impressed Clint Eastwood himself, Al drew the .44 magnum on Josh.

“Not so fast, Agent Smith.”

“Oh, you’re a funny guy!” retorted Dennis. “Well I’ve got a joke for you: if you don’t tell us exactly what happened to that kid we’re going to litter this beautiful forest with your splattered brains! You may not think that’s very funny, but I think it’s hilarious.”

“You want the truth?” replied George. “I’ll tell you the whole truth. We took the kid to this guy’s cabin, and he ultimately rode away to an unknown place on the back of a talking psychic Deer.” Al shot George a terrified look. The faces of Josh and Dennis exploded in anger.

“YOU THINK THIS IS A DAMN GAME?” exclaimed Josh. “YOU MUST BE PRETTY FUCKING STUPID!!!”

“Let me tell you something,” Dennis said coldly, “when you decide to fuck with the Natural Order, bad shit happens. My partner and I are here because of something you punks did. You may think you know what you’re doing. You may think that you know more than we do, but goddammit you’re WRONG! Now, I’m giving you one last chance: WHERE…IS…THAT….KID???”

George glanced at Al. He alone had the power to get them out of this, if only he could summon the strength. Could he do it? Could he pull the trigger?

“Okay,” Al said. “Okay, we…” and then he did it. Josh’s skull blew wide open, a geyser of blood erupting behind him. Dennis, instinctively, shot George twice in the face, then turned to shoot Al. But he was too late. Al blasted him in the throat and then twice in the chest.

Al stood alone, trembling, amidst a sea of splattered blood and flesh. He put down his gun and sat against an oak tree, waiting for his heart rate to come back down. Though he had lived by himself for many years, only now did he feel truly alone. It was pointless to ask what next…

He got up and began to ran away, then quickly turned back and stared at the scene for several minutes. Then he turned away for good and walked back toward the town at a normal pace. He knew what he would do now. He would go to the store and buy a few pens and a big stack of paper. He had a story to tell.

THE END

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