Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Misfits: Chapter 1

In honor of National Novel Writing Month I submit to you the first chapter of a novel I am working on, but will not finish by the end of this month.

Jason Gregory had not been sitting in Eric’s diner, on Fifth and Viola, long before he knew he was falling in love.  He was not falling in love with a waitress, or the cook, or any other person in the diner, but with the diner itself. He rarely allowed himself to think about concepts like love.   He simply had too much time for such things.  But, Jason could not help let his guard down in this diner. Jason was simply amazed by the perfection of this restaurant which he had, up until yesterday, never even heard of. Normally things which seemed perfect scared Jason, but not Eric’s. As soon as he had stepped into Eric’s the aromas of perfectly seared beef, fried chicken, French fries and gooey, sticky, sweet, crimson cherry pie did a jig in his elated olfactories. 

The enchanting waitress with the licorice rope hair and the Emerald Isle eyes said, “This way, Hun.”  Jason chuckled and muttered, “Hun…perfect.” He loved when women he did not know called him pet names.  Maybe hearing those words filled just a little bit of the gaping void of human companionship he so desperately needed but would never again allow himself to have. “What’s that sweetie?” the waitress asked.  “Oh nothing,” he replied. Jason smiled a Cheshire smile at the words “hun” and “sweetie” and drank in his surroundings. He was shocked at how impossibly nice this diner seemed. 

The very word “diner” normally brought forth images of greasy fry-cooks with two-day stubble and stained aprons which look like the inside of a toddler’s underwear, waitresses with Iguana skin from years of smoking and hard living, torn naugahyde booths, a slightly sour smell caused by using the grease in the fryer about 100 too many times, and a thin layer of what can only be called “muck” blanketing every possible surface. Eric’s was nothing like the prototypical diner.  The booth seats were genuine leather, the lollipop red tables were spotless, and all the chrome was clean enough to check your hair in the reflection. 

On the surface Eric’s was perfect, but Jason decided to reserve his final judgment of this place until he had tried the food.  Jason wished he had found this place earlier in his stay in Bakersfield. He knew he would likely be leaving today one way or the other.   It was probably for the best he had not happened upon this paradise earlier in his sojourn.  Jason hated making connections, to a person or a place, only to have those bonds torn away every time he was forced to move on. 

As Jason plopped himself down into the booth seat he had been led to and picked up his menu, he actually hoped the food in Eric’s diner would be awful. He realized if he fell in love with this place, he would have an even harder time leaving Bakersfield. Whether he wanted to or not, he was going to have to leave, he always had to leave eventually.  His proverbial winter had arrived and it was time to fly south. He was tired of his perpetual motion. It hurt too damn much. 

Jason had learned, through his years of solitude, when you deny yourself human connections for a long enough time you find yourself much more easily attached to places, foods, even smells.  Sometimes, Jason would find himself becoming misty eyed  over a missed smell, the damp woodsy smell of Lufkin, the smell of cherry blossoms in Hood River, the smell of freshly tilled soil and dried corn stalks in Ames. He had decided humans for whatever reason simply needed something to ground them, to remind them they are real, they belong.  Jason was no longer sure he really was human, but he knew he still had very human emotions and needs to be a part of something.  He needed to belong. Jason wondered how many more times he could possibly be displaced, uprooted.  The thought made him shudder.

“Have you found what yer lookin for yet, Hun?” 

Jason looked up and saw his redheaded waitress had returned. 

“Looking for?” Jason asked in a puzzled tone.

“Yes, have you found what you want to eat in that menu you have been staring at for the last five minutes?”

Jason panicked for a second when he realized he had become lost in the labyrinth of his own thoughts and forgotten to actually look at the menu.  He had picked the menu up and stared at it, but his brain had never engaged its contents enough to make any type of decisions as to what he would eat. 

“Uhhh, What’s your biggest burger?” 

“The Destroyer.”

“The Destroyer?”  Jason asked through a chuckle.

“Yep.  Two half pound patties, four slices of thick cut applewood smoked pepper bacon, two slices of American and two slices of smoked gouda, and then each layer is covered in sautéed onions, mushrooms, and jalapenos.”

“Well, it sounds like it lives up to its destructive  moniker there.”

With a gleam in her eye the waitress looked at Jason and smiled.  “Yeah, I told Eric he should call the damned thing something different.  I said he might as well call it the ‘The Myocardial Infarctionator,’ but he told me that men have a need to feel like they are facing up to some danger or challenge, or they simply do not feel alive.  I guess he must be right, because people order it more than any other item we sell.  Apparently, this burger is one of the only dragons some men can find to slay anymore.  They come in here in groups after work or a softball game, and challenge each other to see who can finish one of ‘em and a basket of fries off the fastest.  Maybe they feel like they are not only beating the burger but death itself.  I don’t know. Men have never made any sense to me.”

“Myocaradial Infarctionator?” Jason asked with a furrowed brow.

“Yeah, it’s just medical terminology for heart attack.  I was in Medical school at the University of Houston for awhile.  That’s where I met Eric actually.  He was just finishing up when I was starting.  I never finished.”

“So, in your professional opinion this burger could kill me?”

“I didn’t finish remember?  I cannot legally have a professional opinion,” she said through a smirk. But, I would say if you ate it like once a year or so you should be fine, but if you ate it very often, then…maybe.  You look like you are in good enough health. I don’t think a a young gentleman in his mid-twenties or so should have anything to fear.” 

“There are very few things I fear anymore and myocardial infarction is nowhere on the list. So, after your wonderful sales pitch there Red, I think I am going to have to mount my trusty steed and face up to the Destroyer.”

“Feeling the need to take on a Dragon, Hun?”

“Not really, dragons got nothing on me.  I have beaten the worst they have to offer.  I just like a good burger.  Go ahead and give me the fries as well…and how are your milkshakes?”

“They are way too good.  I have to limit myself to one a week, so I don’t turn into the Michelin Man… or Michelin Woman, I guess.  The best one is the Mama’s Mountain Berry Medley.”

“That sounds perfect. Lemme have one of those as well,” Jason said has he handed her the menu.

“Alrighty, Sweetie. I will be back with your food in about ten to fifteen minutes, ‘kay?”

Jason nodded and thanked her.


“Red,” as Jason had taken to calling the engaging waitress, came back with his food even quicker than she had promised. Jason closed his eyes and offered up a mock prayer to a God he did not believe in, “Please let this food taste of dung and cause Exorcist-like projectile vomiting, Amen.”   Eric smiled over his insane prayer.  He did not understand why he still felt the desire to pray at times even though he had lost faith in the existence of any type of divine being many years ago.  Some habits die hard he guessed.  His mother had made him pray before he could eat anything as a child, even just a snack. He guessed subconsciously after all these years, somewhere he still wanted to please his mother.

Unfortunately, the food was more than good, it was heavenly. The burger had proven to be a St. Helens of juiciness as soon as his teeth had pierced its seared skin.  The beef was perfectly cooked and seasoned. This was one of those burgers where you have to wipe your chin after every bite, because it is marking its territory. Jason moaned a little with each bite.  “The Destroyer,” was not simply food it was art.  The shake and the fries were every bit as good as the burger.  They were masterpieces. Jason wondered if Eric had sold his soul in order to be able to create food of such caliber. 

The food was so delectable Jason imagined husbands and wives had probably divorced from the arguments over who got to eat the leftovers when they got home.  With each bite of burger and fries, and each pull from the straw of the shake Jason felt a sense of calm sweep over him. The food was having an ambrosia- like effect upon him. He was being washed clean and redeemed by “The Destroyer.”  Jason laughed at the irony.

The burger, shake, and fries even washed away the very reason why Jason had come to Eric’s Diner.  Jason’s memory was soon ripped back into reality.  When Jason was halfway through his conquest of The Destroyer, the door of Eric’s diner opened and two mismatched men stepped in.  Upon seeing the two men Jason was torn from the security of the Diner’s womb.  Jason’s stomach suddenly became the Gordian Knot. These had to be the men whom he had been summoned to meet.  He had received a cryptic e-mail a day previous which said, “We know who are and we would like to talk to you about an opportunity to belong to something worthwhile.  Please meet us at Eric’s Diner on the corner of Fifth and Viola on the 28th at 7 p.m.” 

Normally, Jason would have simply packed his bags and moved on.  These types of meetings never ended well for him.  The people who tracked him down always wanted something from him, something “only he could do.” He was tired of being used.  Tired of being told about his duties to humanity or whatever other bullshit pitch they used to convince him he would be a terrible person if he did not accept their offer.  The word “belong” had entrenched itself in his mind and even as he packed his bags, he could not help but heed the siren song of belonging.

And so, he had come to Eric’s, despite his trepidations, to meet, he assumed, the two men standing at the entrance. The man on the right was tall, impossibly skinny, with wiry dirty blond hair stuffed under an old dingy fedora. His hair shot out in all directions from under the hat as if his hair was trying its damnedest to escape and find another head to place itself upon.  He was dressed in an ill-fitting wrinkled olive green suit. Jason immediately thought of the villain “The Scarecrow” from Batman as he absorbed the sight of the man. Jason laughed as he looked at the second man despite feeling sick and angry.  The second man looked exactly like a penguin to Jason.   He was short and round, dressed in black with white cuffs. The penguin man even rocked from side to side like a penguin as he shifted his weight repeatedly from one foot to another.  Even though the man did not really resemble “The Penguin” from Batman (no top hat, no umbrella, no impossibly long pointy noise, no monocle) Jason decided henceforth these two men would be known as “The Scarecrow and The Penguin.”

As Jason looked more closely, he realized The Penguin’s outfit was actually the garb of a priest. Jason pursed his lips and gritted his teeth wondering if it had been the Catholic Church who had tracked him down.  Maybe, the offer to belong was just some religious ploy.  He cursed himself for his frailty.  He could not fathom what the Church might want with him.  He didn’t guess it really mattered, for he wanted nothing to do with them.    

Were these really the men who had summoned him to this Nirvana?  Jason found himself wanting to hate both of the men.  They had briefly given him the gift of escape by leading him to Eric’s, and then they had untimely ripped him back into reality, simply by their arrival at the door. Jason laid his burger down and fought back the nausea which was quickly overtaking him.  He watched as they scanned the room looking for him and stopped when their eyes alighted upon him.  They both began their trek towards his booth.  The Penguin still rocked back and forth even when he was walking. Normally, Jason would have laughed at the site, but he could taste the bile in his mouth.

The Scarecrow reached Jason’s table first and attempted to fold himself into the opposite side of the booth table. The Penguin did his best to insert himself into booth next to The Scarecrow but do his rotund stature it was a tight fit and took a little effort. 

“I am glad to see you here Mr. Gregory.  I calculated the odds of you showing up at 32.89 %.  We have already beaten the odds simply by getting you to show up. I am pleased.” said the Scarecrow with a smile.  The Penguin said nothing.  He only sat and glared at Jason.  “I am Dr. Emil Christopher. But, you can all Emil or simply “M” as the others do. I will allow my associate to introduce himself.”  The Penguin turned and glowered at the Dr., Jason could see the muscles in his jaw twitching. After a moment of staring at the Dr., The Penguin turned his gaze back toward Jason and continued staring. Jason squirmed a bit under the stare, The Penguin made him feel anxious. “My apologies to you on behalf of my associate, Jason.  He is not really a very happy or nice person.  He also seems to have taken some sort of vow of silence sometime within the last week in another vain attempt to get his God to remove his abilities.”

“Abilities?”  Jason asked.

“Yes, Mr. McCann he is like you, well at least somewhat.  He is able to do things which most humans cannot.”

“What do you mean by abilities?”

“Jason, you know what I mean.”

Jason stared mouth agape for a moment shocked to hear there were others beside himself. He collected himself and said, “I wouldn’t call what I have an ability,” Jason said as he crossed his arms.

“Oh, what would you call it then?”

“I don’t know. For me, I would say it is more of an inability than an ability.”

“That is very true, Jason.  So, tell me.  How many times have you actually died?”

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