Wednesday, April 13, 2011
Chapter XII: Lights out at Burger King
Juliet puts a smiley face on the cheeseburger she was preparing. A couple of deft hand movements later and she found herself admiring her artistic ability. If she was roll playing Dungeon and Dragons she would have passed her dexterity roll perfectly! A yellow smiley face was imprinted on the burger, she put some pickles were the eyes were supposed to be. She made two burgers like this and puts special allergy stickers on them warning against onions. With any luck she could eat them for lunch if no one ordered them. Worst case scenario, some stranger who doesn’t like onions will find themselves with a couple of smiley burgers.
The lunch shift just started. Her two bosses were out smoking a cigarette and would be back inside in a few minutes. They told her to watch the newbie’s. Only eight employees worked the undermanned shift and five of them were on their first week. There were not many people in the lobby. People there were on lunch break, a few college students, and a whole bunch of homeless people. Most people arrived after twelve and it was still quarter to noon.
One of the homeless people freaked her out and she sometimes wished they would leave. There’s a bunch near the entrance who are eying people’s trays. She told two of the newbie’s to work in the lobby and to keep things in order but they keep on slacking.
Two other newbie’s are being trained in by her and were preparing food. There wasn’t anything hard in preparing sandwiches. Everything being cooked had timers and bells. The tricky part was to make sure sandwiches are made the same. The two new employees are called Sara and Cecelia. They are on a work study program from high school that allows them to work at Burger King for half the day.
Behind the cash register is Tim. Tim is a long term employee. The other gentleman is Roger who is a retired professional who liked to work mornings. She did not understand why someone would want to work at a place like this if they didn’t need the money. They had things under control. She wasn’t sure where the other workers were. Maybe they were smoking a cigarette with the boss or maybe they were goofing off in the freezer?
Juliet tries to have a conversation with Sara, “Do you roll play?”
Sara is startled out of making her first chicken sandwich and quickly responds, “What’s that?”
Juliet instantly knows the conservation will not go anywhere, “It doesn’t matter.”
It’s obvious these teens prefer cooler activities. She decides to ask something else as she deftly wraps up five burgers within seconds. Cecelia can’t seem to wrap one burger in a minute.
“Cecelia, can you salt the fries?” She wonders why Burger King hires teens that don’t care about doing a good job. Who knows, maybe other Burger Kings are better than hers?
She’s about to start working on a chicken sandwich when she notices the ketchup missing the burger. She tries again and watches as she misses a second time. The burger slides down the metal rail and falls to the floor.
She hears Cecelia scream and looks up. Her vision tilts as she feels her whole body pitch to the left. Sara falls into Cecelia whose hands reach out to grasp for leverage. Cecelia’s hands miss the sides of the grease pit and fully emerge into the hot grease. The fries are still boiling in the pit. She screams louder.
Juliet feels her toes grip the hard tiles through her tennis shoes but it isn’t enough. She falls where Sara stood. She feels food from the plastic containers fall on her as freshly made hamburger patties hit her in the face.
Over head the lights flicker off and on and she can hear something that sounds like a crash coming from the entrance. Windows instantly shatter as beams crash down around the entrance. The last thing she sees is light dissipating around two homeless people near the entrance. One is a war vet with one arm and the other has a card board sign saying the end of the world was coming. She briefly wonders if she is hearing a siren in the background or maybe the ringing is coming from her own ears. The lights flicker off and she feels herself lose grip of her awareness as darkness comes crashing down.
A few minutes later
Juliet found herself somewhere else. She was not Juliet, she is Jasmine. She was a blood elf and she was in the process of buffering her party. They were on a quest. There was a dragon up ahead. Her hunter had a keen eye for traps and while looking for treasure. She needed some manna to cast a healing spell. Where was her manna? She heard a rustle and felt fire shoot by her. The hunter was screaming and was on fire. The dragon wasn’t supposed to attack them at their camp!
Jasmine felt frantic as she scours her memory for spells that could protect against fire from dragon. Wait, where was the priest? Where was the tank? They were running. The dragon was eating the hunter. Fire was everywhere. She heard a feint noise that sounded like a siren and smelled burning flesh.
The dragon turned its eyes onto her. She looked deep into its amber eyes. She wanted to piss herself but couldn’t. It opens its jaw and teeth glimmer while blood drips from its tongue. A tongue double forked tongue flickers out as the dragon finishes eating the hunter. Its eyes won’t leave her. She knows she has to strike or die. Finding strength she doesn’t know she posses she passes her fortitude check and leaps at the dragon. There’s no going back.
Right before her blade meets the dragon’s scales she hears a loud siren pull at her awareness. She isn’t Jasmine. Who is she? She wanted to be Jasmine.
Something oily is on her face. She sneezes as she breathes in pepper from the beef patty. She can’t see. Why can’t she see?
Her ears are ringing but she hears the siren. Her name is Juliet. She hears sobbing. She flings the food off of her face and sits up. She’s surrounded by something that smells like food. She still can’t see.
Juliet can hear voices.
Is that Sara? She calls out, “Sara, are you there?”
She hears a sob and then Sara’s young high school voice breaks the sirens repetitive noise.
“I’m alright,” and then more frantically, “What happened! I can’t see! I’m blind and I can’t see!” Sara starts to scream and this is met by other people screaming. Suddenly there are over a dozen voices all trying to talk at once. She can hear others crying. Juliet cannot pinpoint who or where they are. She tries to get up but ends up falling again. The ground hasn’t stopped shaking.
Unlike the beginning the tremors were slight after a few minutes. The ground was moving one way a few inches before it started to move the other way. Each time the ground shifted things would slide on the floors and more things would fall and break.
A few minutes later and the ground stopped moving. It was very dark and she still couldn’t see. She gets to her feet but was afraid of reaching out. What happened to Cecelia?
“Cecelia, are you there?” There is nothing but silence.
After a minute she heard Sara shriek and cry out, “Oh my God, I think I found her. She isn’t moving. I think she is dead?”
Juliet couldn’t help herself and answered, “If she isn’t answering then she is probably dead.” Sara didn’t try to be quiet as tears started to pour freely.
“Juliet, what do we do?”
Juliet did not know what to do. She started to scream out for either of the two bosses but they did not answer.
After a few more minutes of intense crying something good finally occurred, one of the homeless people had a flashlight.
The light instantly becomes a symbol of hope. It came from the homeless vet who had one arm.
He calls out to everyone as he turns on the flashlight, “People, we have an emergency. We need to keep calm and get our wits together.”
Juliet instantly called out to him and directs him to the cash register. There were a few Burger King Toys that had flashlights made in the plastic. The toys mimicked a new Disney cartoon. There were also matches and batteries.
The vet quickly makes his way to her and introduced himself, “I’m Harry, sorry to meet you under these circumstances. How can I serve you?” It’s obvious that Harry was once respected and she instantly feels herself trusting him.
Juliet doesn’t want to be scared. She decides the best course of action was to try to make things as best as they could possibly be. She purposefully does not look in the direction where Cecelia was working. She knows the other girl is dead but doesn’t know how to feel. The best thing was to keep busy and think of it later. The cashiers were not behind the register. She doesn’t have time to find them. She calls out their names and is relieved when Rodger answers. He somehow made it the middle of the lobby.
“Rodger, help us find the flashlights that came with the toys.” He agrees and slowly makes his way to them throughout the rubble.
Harry interrupts, “If you don’t mind, I have a plan after you hand out the lights. By the looks of things we are blocked in and there was an earthquake.” He turns the flashlight to the entrance. Everyone around Juliet and Harry gasps as they see the carnage.
The front entrance caved in. Unlike most Burger Kings the building was built in a old building complex and did not have windows outside the ones at the entrance. The earthquake knocked out the supporting beams and completely covered the entrance. Light was not coming into the cracks and they could not see outside
Harry instantly reminded Juliet of a natural leader as she agrees to let him take initiative. She quickly shrugs off any responsibility of Burger King as she reminds herself that she is just employee who makes minimum wage.
“The first thing we have to do is take inventory.” Rodger and Sara are near them. There are a whole bunch of homeless people and a few scared college students.
Harry continues being insightful, “We need to determine who is healthy and who got hurt. How many people do we have and what are our resources?”
Juliet responds, “What do you mean by resources?” She has a bruise on her right arm but outside of that she is fine. Within seconds over half a dozen small light beams are turned on and people make noises of comfort and happiness. People stop screaming but many are still crying.
Juliet shines her light at Sara and Rodger and asks them to help figure out the damage. Three of the homeless people know Harry and volunteer to help. The college students gather in a group and huddle away from the others. She made sure to give them some flashlights and they thank her. They however are using their lights from their phones and many of them pocket the toys for future use.
While walking back to her group Juliet looks around her surroundings more closely. She sees something that looks like a shoe. She shutters as she realizes it’s attached to a leg that isn’t moving. Was that one of the employees? She is about to walk forward when she feels something buzz in her pocket
She finds herself jumping and hitting her head on a pipe from the ceiling that is hanging haphazardly. Light from the cheap toys only showed a few feet in front of the people using them. Everybody has one. She heard random gasps as people started yelling when their phones started to work.
She felt a little stupid after her heart settles down and pretends the dead body wasn’t near her. She puts Harry on hold as she frantically tries to call her mother.
The number does not connect but at least her phone was showing a few bars! For a moment she only cares about her family and Burger King didn’t exist. She tried calling a second time when a message pops on her screen.
ALERT DC ALERT DC ALERT DC ALERT DC ALERT DC ALERT DC ALERT DC
She could hear others around her gasp. Murmuring instantly goes from person to person as the ones with phones told the ones who didn’t what was entering their screens. Gathering supplies did not seem important if she could contact the outside world. Something new was entering her screen.
THIS IS NOT AN EMERGENCY. STAY TUNED FOR FURTHER INFORMATION. STAY WHERE YOU ARE AND EMERGENCY PERSONELL WILL SHOW SHORTY.
The message continued to repeat itself. Juliet’s heart fell when she couldn’t connect online. After a few minutes the college girls start to cry. It is dark and cold in Burger King. Dust can be seen through her light beam making it hard to see details past two feet.
The ground stopped rolling and things were settling. Juliet felt the ground under her feet and it seemed that the ground was slightly tilted. Before the earthquake the floor was flat. The Burger King building was built in a small strip mall. Subway and an Asian fast food restaurant hugged Burger King to the right and left. The entrances faced outside.
As if things weren’t bad enough something started to hiss like a snake to her left. It sounded soothing but wrong. Everyone went quiet. The college students paused pawing at their cell phones.
It took her a second until she realizes it sounded like compressed air? She is about to ask somebody for their opinion when she hears Harry yell.
“The gas is going to blow! Turn off the gas!”
Of course nobody moved. How could they?
Juliet did not want to be here and closed her eyes. Maybe if she closed them tight enough things would get better. Maybe she could wake up.
Harry was moving forward. He was shining his light at the grills and started to frantically turn off the gas valves.
Juliet new the noise was coming from the gas valve near the fries. There was a dead body near the fries. She looked down and noticed the shoe. It was Cecelia’s shoe.
Juliet started to cry again. She forced her arm out and shines the light at the fryer. The valve was to the right.
She sees Cecelia slumped on her stomach; she can’t see her arms or face. She doesn’t want to.
She had to be tough. She had to be like her paladin. She reaches past the body and flicks off the switch.
The hissing instantly stops and people relax a little. Harry is at her side and doesn’t seem to be bothered with the dead body.
“Good job.” He briefly looks at what Juliet is looking at, “There is nothing you can do. Don’t look at it.”
Everyone quiets down while he talks. He looks at Juliet.
“Snap out of it. We need to take inventory. It might take first responders up to three days to rescue us.”
Juliet feels strength in his voice and stops the tears. She didn’t know if her parents were safe or not. It would be stupid for her to assume that they were hurt. Maybe just Burger King and the mall were destroyed?
Harry notes with a little satisfaction that the crowd in listening to him. He continues, “We need to make a pile of everything we need. You girl, what is your name?” He shines the light into Juliet’s face.
For some reason she didn’t understand she responded, “My name is Jasmine.” She hears a snort from Rodger but he doesn’t refute her. Harry doesn’t look at her name tag and is now pointing his light at the others.
She didn’t want to be Juliet anymore. Juliet was weak and wasn’t special. On the other hand, the moment she said she was Jasmine she felt strength. Her paladin from World of War craft could handle any situation. Her right hand slips over her name tag as she puts it in her pocket.
She feels surer of herself as she continues to shut off the rest of the gas lines. She doesn’t remember who the other people are. They become faces within shadows that have no meaning. She briefly wonders if this is what hell is like?
Harry is directing people while shining his light as he barked orders. He quickly had the college students, Juliet who was now known as Jasmine, and a few homeless people gather lights, batteries and water.
Within minutes they were able to admire their handy work. 9 small toy flash lights, 3 cases of bottled water, 9 small water bottles, 4 match books, 13 triple AAA batteries, 1 heavy duty flashlight, and some random assortment of things that people thought would be important.
“Harry, what do we need to take inventory on besides this?” She handed out one water to each person.
The homeless man with the sign saying the end of the world was coming pipes in with a high pitch voice, “The local emergency station WTOP 1500 am could help if we had a radio.”
Juliet had an idea, “Maybe there is something like a short wave radio in the manager’s office.”
Harry arced his light looking for the way, “Lead the way. We also need more things. Hey you, what’s your name?” He pointed his flash light at one of the male college students who was trying to cajole one of the females by patting her on the back. A few homeless people disappear from the crowd but nobody notices.
“I’m Jack, what’s up?” He doesn’t seem to care for a homeless person ordering him around.
“I need you to gather all the wounded and by the time we come back let me know who has what injury. I want three groups. The groups are to be regarding burns, cuts, and other. Can you do that for me?” After Jack agrees Juliet starts to direct them to the back. There was a lot of rubble, much of the food that was waiting to be put in wrappers were in plastic containers all over the floor. She almost tripped a few times.
There was another body near the hallway. It appears that part of the ceiling fall onto someone. Was that one of the new employees who were slacking?
She briefly shuts her eyes and tells herself that a paladin would march right down the hallway and get the quest done. She misses when Harry softly calls out her name, “Jasmine. Jasmine, please slow down.”
After a second she realizes he is talking to her, “Oh sorry, I can’t believe this happened. How did this happen?” They are at the end of the hallway; they are passing the time clock she uses when she starts her shift. She is terrified of the dark and can’t stop shaking.
She hears someone happily mutter to another through muffled voices, “Which one do you have? I have chicken. Oh this is so good.” The voice has much satisfaction in his voice.
“I have a hamburger; I will give you two hamburgers for your chicken sandwich.” The second voice is shrill. She recognizes it as the homeless person who had the message on his chest. Deep down she falters and doesn’t want to deal with them.
Harry passes her without hesitation and enters the room.
“Hey you guys, what are you doing?” He sounds neutral as he points his light into the smaller man’s face.
The man squints and turns around as he shovels as much of the sandwich as he can into his mouth.
The other homeless man smiles and tells Harry, “This is a great day! Look at the free food! Do you want a hamburger?” He flourishes a bag filled with sandwiches from the timed out counter.
Juliet feels rage as she softly accuses him without thought, “Those burgers are for the people who ordered take out! Put it back!”
The two homeless men start laughing hysterically and do not put the food down, “Girl, wake up and smell the coffee! The end of the world came and they are all dead!”
Juliet couldn’t believe what he was saying. Who did he think he was? Of course something happened but everything on the outside was fine. Within minutes fireman and police men were going to break the rubble down and safe them!
She looks at the homeless person with the sign, with much contempt she says, “You’re a looter and don’t deserve that food!” She felt what her paladin must feel when slaying a monster. Deep down she didn’t deserve to be here and she certainly didn’t deserve to watch this evil man laugh at other people’s misery.
Without thinking of the consequences she reaches up and tears the hamburger out of his hands while screaming, “Get out of this office! Get back to the lobby and stop smiling!” She starts to sob.
The homeless man with the sign on his chest shrieks, “Who do you think you are bitch!” He lunges for her.
Juliet instantly freezes as she feels his hands squeeze around her neck. What should she do?
Her knees buckle and she can’t respond. She feels her eyes falter and her vision starts to swim. She drops her flashlight and desperately claws at his hands. She feels him grip harder and she can’t breathe.
Harry steps up and simply says, “Enough of this nonsense.” As fast as lightening he reaches out with his only arm to the homeless man who was choking Juliet. His arm quickly darts underneath the bigger mans elbow and snaps the bone in one hit. Juliet feels the pressure ease from half her throat and is able to break free of the other hand by twisting to her left.
Harry continued to execute the combination he learned in Korea. Stepping into the homeless person’s right foot he kicks at the muscle above the knee cap in the inside of the leg. The bigger man grunts in surprise as Harry finishes the combo by smashing his elbow into the guy’s temple. The second homeless person drops his sandwich and instantly backs up. The first man falls into a heap and starts to cry while holding his arm.
Harry is alert and steps back from the fallen homeless person, “I don’t ever want to see you attack a woman again. Now get your ass into the lobby and do not cause any more trouble.”
The man standing helps his friend and they head back towards the lobby. Half way back they hear a shrill voice menacingly threaten from the shadows, “This isn’t over, and you better watch your back.”
Harry laughs and says whatever. He starts to go through the manager’s office with Juliet.
It’s not a big office. The office only has two desks for the managers, a black board for scheduling, ten lockers, and a bench. There wasn’t even a place to smoke a cigarette or a fridge. She quickly goes to her locker and takes out her bag. She doesn’t want to wear her Burger King shirt anymore. It’s too dark for Harry to see her nude so she quickly puts her casual shirt on. She makes sure to throw her name tag into the shadows. She tells herself it’s really not time for Juliet.
Harry draws in his breath as he makes a happy noise, “This is what I’m talking about. I found a short wave radio.” He quickly switches it on but all they hear is static.
“Shit, well at least we have one.” After looking around the desks Harry finds a few more things of interest. He found a small fire extinguisher, a first aid kid, some shipping plastic and tape.
Juliet was confused about the plastic and tape, “Why those things?” she points her flashlight at them to make it clear what she’s referring to.
Harry patiently explains, “We don’t know what happened. If its biological or radiation we will need to put as much plastic up as we can.”
Juliet snorts and tries to make a joke, “Past that rubble? I couldn’t even see sunlight.” She starts to get frantic being in a closed place and has to remind herself to be like her Paladin.
Harry looks at her back pack and tells her to come to him. He unzips her pack while explaining, “I’m going to need you to carry the first aid kit and some other things. You’re the official bag carrier and medic. Can you handle the job?”
It’s not exactly how she viewed herself as a Paladin but she shrugs it off, “However I can help.”
On the way out of the office she comes up with another idea, “Should we gather the remaining food and hand it out when it’s needed? I would hate a few people to eat all the food in one day.”
He looks at Jasmine with a small amount of respect, “That’s a good idea. Let’s see what the physical damage is to the people.”
She stops in the hallway and remembers there is another health kit in the employee bathroom, “I will meet you in the lobby, I know where another medical kit is.” She isn’t afraid of the dark anymore and quickly gets the kit. She briefly looks into her back pack. She has two health kits, her purse, pepper spray, and some extra clothes. She remembered being attacked by the homeless man and decides to put a put a butcher knife used to cut lettuce in her pack. She remembered seeing a bottle of whiskey in the manager’s office that Harry and the other homeless people over looked. She quickly went back in and put that in her pack. She didn’t want to get drunk but if she was going to be a carrying the medical supplies she might as well have a disinfectant, or maybe someone would like it in the lobby if help didn’t come that night.
Juliet makes her way back to the lobby. Harry is a natural leader; he seems to have shrugged off the image of being homeless even though he is still wearing the same clothes. Everyone outside the one homeless person whose arm he broke seems to be appreciating his guidance. He had the short wave radio on the floor but it wasn’t working. Harry seemed very confused and started to curse as he turned the box over and over.
One of the college females interrupted him with the idea, “I heard there was a lot of solar flare activity this week. Last year China lost millions of dollars in telecommunications, maybe it won’t work because of that.”
Harry mutters, “Maybe.” He then tells Juliet to help the injured. There are only sixteen people in the lobby. A whole bunch of lights face the center where everyone has congregated. They managed to drag a few tables together. Three people had broken arms and ribs, eight people were cut on the face, chest, and arms, and one person could not remember his name. She was worried about the person who couldn’t remember anything. The man had a cut on his forehead and one eye was sealed shut. He kept on shaking like he was cold.
People were talking in hushed tones when things went bad to worse. She was cleaning someone’s cuts when they heard a large boom. It was a deep boom that rattled the broken building.
Harry quickly says, “That sounds like it might have been a gas line in Subway.” No one knows what to do so nobody responds. After doing as much as she could for the injured she feels a little hungry and enlists the help of Rodger to scavenge for edible food.
Twenty minutes later they have a pile of what wasn’t eaten for lunch. 56 cheeseburgers, 29 hamburgers, 14 chicken sandwiches, 29 salads, at least a hundred chicken nuggets, and 16 fish sandwiches. They decided to not gather the fries from the fryer. She even found her two onion free burgers but decides to put them in her bag for later. She only wanted to eat a chicken sandwich at the moment.
There were 7 dead bodies. Harry was the only one who would touch them so he piled them away from the others and draped jackets over the causalities. He would have preferred putting them in the cooler but they couldn’t reach it. The ceiling caved in around it. Hopefully they wouldn’t be in here that long.
Posted by Greg L. Miller at 10:52 AM