Chili-Burger to Go!

Qualified Entry: Fiction Category

By: J.R.McRae

Ten miles out from Oolooran, it hit.  I needed to go, again! Jock wasn’t impressed, “What the… ! You just went back at…”

“I KNOW! Must’ve been those chili-burgers. STOP! There!”

We were headed for Alamanka, way out woop woop, to see my tough old Gran and Great Aunt who still ran their goat farm at eighty. We were coming up to another semi derelict relic of a mining boom long gone. Kinkudurrah, population 10. The ‘1’ looked like it was crossed out. An overgrown sports oval greeted us on the outskirts and, tucked discreetly into a stand of straggly saplings, was A TOILET BLOCK.

Jock pulled up at the boundary fence, what was left of it, and I ran, turned, ran back and grabbed the tissue box we kept wedged on the console between us.  I raced across the oval, through grass waist high in places. Any other time, I’d have insisted we go into town. Snakes!

It felt like I’d never get there and when I did, a bolted door greeted me. The smell from that place was revolting!

I was about to opt for the cover of bushes when the thought of scaly slithery things hit home despite my desperation.  I ducked around back. There was a bit of an alcove. Back in the shadows, the door to the men’s hung crazily on half a hinge. I barged in, dark and all, and paused to get my bearings. On one side was a stainless steel washbasin, very grubby, urinals, worse. Someone had left their glasses hanging around the tap. Metal surround, fairly standard, unisex, they were similar to my own, but the glass had a sheen, like sun on the iridescent oil slick of a polluted pond. Ever the ‘do-gooder’, I pocketed them almost subconsciously. We’d drop them in to the town, in case…

Opposite were two cubicles. One shut. The other had no door and a glance revealed no seat, no toilet paper (no surprise that) and graffiti everywhere.

My need was now so urgent, I didn’t even try the closed cubicle. I perched over the open loo and, “Aaaah”, ‘relief’, pure, simple relief. I was still holding up my skirt and juggling tissues when I thought I saw something under the raised cubicle divider. It glistened. I blinked. Did it move?

My glasses were back in the car but, almost subconsciously, I reached for the ‘found’ pair, a perfect fit. Those glasses… it took me a moment to register… Something was different. I mean… weird.  The cubicle was there and the light still filtered vainly through the semi obscured doorway but…  the air was moving, moving like the ghost of long dead fires or strange vapours. And that glistening thing … it had knuckles!

I barely got my knickers up as I cleared the cubicle and raced out, rounded the building, not daring to look back, and headed into the grass.

Something shimmered, wavered at the edge of my vision. It was coming from the damn toilet block. I pocketed the glasses and fled!  The run across the oval revealed nothing different. Jock was still sitting in our car, drumming his fingers on the steering wheel.

“Let’s get out of here!” I shrilled, slamming the door as I bundled in.

“Caw! What’s got into you? You’d think all Ireland’s banshees were after you!”

“Don’t ask! DRIVE!”

Jock chuckled and started up. The car sputtered, choked, lurched and limped into town. Not exactly a quick get away. Right opposite what looked like the only place in town with any life in it, the car conked. Dead.

“Well, I guess that’s handy.” Jock grinned. He had this inbuilt optimism that could be plain annoying at times. The place we stopped was a sort of pub come store, petrol station, post office. I grabbed for the glasses, strangely foggy, but managed to read, ”Kinkudurrah General & Overnight”. A rickety phone booth stood a stone’s throw away from the only petrol pump.

A faint disturbance in the air seemed to emanated from the building. I thought my glasses must be dirty, took them off to polish and gave a nervous laugh. I’d mistakenly put on the freaky pair. What was it with those damn specs!

Jock got out and went up to the store. The screen door swung open to his push and a bell jangled a warning to whoever was inside. I locked myself in the car and looked furtively around the place. Without thinking, I put those glasses back on. Like they willed me to put them on. The street was empty.  The buildings were in various states of disrepair and seemingly empty, except…

Those glasses – things seemed to hover at their rims like they were trying to break in on my sight. I shuddered, reached up and pulled them off. My hand almost tingled as I shoved them in my pocket.  I grabbed my own glasses, still where I’d left them on the dashboard when I ran to the loo. Jock didn’t seem to notice my swap. Had he even seen those glasses – in themselves nothing remarkable? Everything was back to normal. I decided it must have been the chili-burger, the pain, whatever. Face it. I must have imagined it all. Freaky glasses with ‘powers’, yeah, right!

A deep breath, I opened the door and was stepping out towards the store when Jock appeared.  He pulled a face, motioned over his shoulder and grinned.  Behind him ambled a tall, skinny guy in worn jeans and flannel shirt, sporting a growth that said I forgot to shave last week and won’t remember any time soon and a slouch hat that shadowed his eyes.

“This’s Randy Aiken, he owns the place. “ Jock turned and gestured from Andy to me, “My wife, Marnie and the Kingswood.”

“Howdy” Randy kept his hands in his pockets, “Oil’s round the back in the shed. Help yourself.” He flicked his chin over right. Jock headed off leaving me standing awkwardly, wondering what to say. Shouldn’t have worried.

“What you got there?” Randy looked pointedly at my right hand.  I was still holding the damn glasses. (How did that happen…?) I proffered them to Randy.

“Uh, yeah, found these in the toilet block on the oval just out of…”

“I know where you found ‘em. Give ’em here. They don’t belong to you!”

“No, um, yeah, of course, we were going to give them in to the police station.”

I raised the glasses almost self-consciously, no idea why. But, as I did, I got a glimpse of his face through one lens. His eyes glittered like those unearthly lights you get dancing over marshes, corpse candles, will-o-wisps. The hairs on the back of my neck prickled.

“No cop shop here.” Randy’s voice broke in like rocks on a grater.  I started. He took the glasses out of my hand and dropped them in his shirt pocket.

“You know who owns them?”

“None of yer business.”

“Well…” I looked around awkwardly for something to say. Thankfully Jock rocked up swinging an ancient oilcan.

“How much?” he held the can up under Randy’s nose.

The price was exorbitant but Jock paid up without a murmur.  We mightn’t find another can for miles.

Jock lifted the bonnet and went to top up the oil. Randy leant under the hood, “Don’t see many of these now.”

“Sort of hobby with me,” Jock grinned. Anyone who took an interest in his Kingswood had to be ‘real folks’.  Randy leant in further. The glasses slipped out of his pocket. I caught them mid fall before they hit ground. Randy didn’t seem to notice.

Why on earth did I take the freaky things back! It was almost like they were adhering to me.  I didn’t like what they showed but maybe, just maybe that was good, rose coloured glasses in reverse. NO! What was I thinking! I consciously resisted the temptation to keep the things.   I’d hand them in, next town’s cop shop.

Jock, Randy watching, tinkered a while. Finally, he straightened up and put the hood down.  “Righto! Let’s get going!  Thanks Randy!” Jock proffered his hand. Randy kept his firmly pocketed.

The car started up first go. We waved and headed off.  In the rear view mirror, I saw Randy standing in the middle of the road watching us. He put his hand up to his pocket, bent his head down turning it side to side, scanning the ground.  His fist shot up in the air and shook it after us.  I looked across at Jock, hoping he didn’t see,  “Can we go faster? We’ve lost so much time…”

Jock speeded up to right on the limit.  He turned to me with a smile, “Don’t want to upset the local lawmen and besides, let’s see the country, we won’t be back here again any time soon.”

I forced a grin and glanced back. Randy had disappeared and the roadhouse come petrol station was a dot in the distance.

Next town, Childabin, hours of winding road and a mountain range away, was as dusty and skew shuttered as the last but there was some life.  Two scrappy looking kids, who should have been at school, played ball in a one tree park on the edge of town. They stopped to watch us pass. I waved and tossed a handful of Mints out to them. The grins and return waves said to me treats didn’t come often here.

The first house we passed stared blankly back at us through empty windows. Then there was a succession of verandahs with old folk watching for something, open doors with busy over something sounds and a lone delivery truck taking a something to someone.

Late afternoon shadows marched in silent salute to another day done for.

“Here’s good as anywhere, I guess,” Jock waved his arm in the direction of a friendly enough looking café diner with peeled blue paint over grey weathered wood.

“Ma’s Place”, I murmured, “sure, why not.” I’d glanced periodically in the rear view mirror over the last few hours just in case. But there had been no sign of Randy, much to my relief.

We seated ourselves near the window to get the last warm rays of afternoon.

A comfortably plump woman in a blue checked apron came over with a menu. “Chicken’s off,” she chuckled, “ I mean off the menu. But the chef’s special is good, goulash. “

Jock looked at me and I nodded. “Two goulash it will be! And coffee?“ again Jock looked towards me. I nodded. “Two coffee, one with full cream, one black.”  What an angel!

Over the meal, which really was good, all local produce, I produced the glasses and told Jock what had happened.

“Why on earth didn’t you say something? “ Jock turned the glasses over and over in his hands.  “Glass is weird…” He held them up and looked through them. “Nothing looks different to me though. Mmm…”

Then he put them on and looked out the window, down the road the way we’d come. His face froze. He took the glasses off, blinked and stared. Put them back on, “Something’s coming from that way.”

“WHAT!” I thought I’d be sick. “Why?”

“That ‘disturbance’ you reckon you saw, well it was very slight just before, down the direction we’ve come. Now it’s more obvious. You reckoned Randy wanted those glasses back.”

“You think he’s coming for them?”

Jock signaled for the waitress, “You have a police station here?”

“Yeah, sure, why?” she looked eagerly at us, almost expectantly.

I thought to myself, bet this is the most excitement here in years!

“Ah, we have an item, lost property, we want to hand it in.” Jock held up the glasses.

“Well, I’ll be, those look familiar… not sure why. Ah, you better get going though, police station shuts at 5 on the dot, you’ve got five minutes!”

Jock handed her way more than enough for our meal, “Keep the change!” over his shoulder as we ran out.

“Uh, why, thanks! Mister, Station’s that way!” she pointed at right angles to the café.

We made it to the station just in time.  Sergeant Rudd was just putting on his coat and the shutters were already drawn. A glance through those glasses showed the ‘disturbance’ in the air was now edge of town and coming…

“Damn, folks, couldn’t that have waited till tomorrow?” His deeply furrowed brow reflected the many folds under his chin.

“Well no, see we are traveling through, Aramanka by morning,” Jock ventured proffering the glasses, “And my wife, Marnie here, reckons there’s a body in the toilet block last town we came through.”

“Sergeant Rudd gave me a look like ‘typical woman’ and when Jock hurried on to relay the incident with Randy Aiken, the Sergeant laughed so much all his chins and his considerable belly bounced in time. “You city types must think we came down in the last rainstorm! Well, I’ve got no time for practical jokes.”

“JOKE!?” Jock and I chorused.

“Yeah! Joke! That place’s been a ghost town forty odd years. Last resident was old Randy, but he went mad. Thought aliens’d put probes in him. He came up here and burst in demanding we pull the stuff out of him. We put him in the clinker overnight to cool him down. He broke out, climbed up on the roof and danced starkers but for those glasses. We had him committed to a place in Cannibra. Can’t have folk getting up to that sort of stuff in a nice town like ours, can you.  But, he escaped some years ago and came back. He was found hanging soon after from the light fitting in the toilet block at Kinkudurrah – the one you reckon has a body! “

“But…” I took the glasses from Jock and stuck them under Rudd’s nose.

“I don’t mean to be rude, but I’ve got dinner waiting! “ Sergeant Rudd maneouvred us towards the door.

I turned, I was determined to get rid of the freaky things. “We’ll just leave these here.” I tossed them on the counter and forced a smile “They’re not ours.”

“Well, I’m not filing a report tonight!”  and with that he almost shoved us out.

“No problem,” Jock lifted his hands. “Have a nice evening.” He called that over his shoulder as we hurried down the cement steps.

A “Humph!” followed us to our car. We got in and waved back but Rudd was already headed to his car round back of the station.

“Well at least whatever it is won’t follow US now!” I smiled at Jock, smug in the knowledge we were ‘safe’.

We made it to Aramanka late that night and had to rouse the none too friendly motel keeper. “Any idea what time it is!?”

“You have a vacancy sign.”

What is it with these folk, I thought, you’re supposed to be a business. My face must’ve given me away. The motel keeper shook his head and all the jowls hanging from his cheekbones waggled at me.

Our cabin was on the end under the neon sign, “Road Home Inn”.  The room was adequate, all vinyl and polyester but clean. Jock and I hit the sack soon as we had our bags in.

Next morning, we turned on the TV whilst we ate our motel brekky, coffee ‘n cornflakes. The local news blared out. We were in for a shock…

“Just breaking from Childabin! Our reporter in the spot, Allanah Prissott, has the shocking news. What is the latest for our viewers, Allanah?”

“Those of you, who have just woken, will not know of the horrific events that unfolded overnight at the little town of Childabin.  The local police sergeant, Sergeant Rudd, was found at 10.30 last night by officers called in from Alamanka. He was stark naked, dancing on the roof of the station, screaming something about aliens and probes.”

“Sergeant Rudd’s wife, Pomona, had rung about 7.30 when her husband failed to show for dinner. We will cross to her now…”

“Mrs Rudd, would you tell the viewers what happened…”

A red-faced woman with chubby cheeks grabbed the microphone from the reporter, “YES! It was awful! He’s NEVER late you know. NEVER! LOVES ‘is food. There it was sittin’ getting’ cold like..”

The reporter broke in, “What about Sergeant Rudd?”

Pomona, snatched the microphone back. No one was taking her 15 minutes of fame. “Like I said! His dinner was all on the table an getting’ cold. He LOVES his food. He don’t like it cold! I waited. Well, I could like put it in the oven, I thought. But then he might walk in and it‘d be all dried out, the meat like!”

The reporter lost patience, “ Mrs Rudd called the Alamanka police at 7.30 and …”

Pomona stuck her face in the camera, “An they didn’ come for hours! Me husband’s dinner was all ruined!” The screen went blank.

When it blinked back into focus it was back to the newsroom, “We’ll cross now to Sergeant Crook of Alamanka who is with our downtown reporter Sissy Lumpit. Over to you Sissy…”

“Sergeant, this is shocking news. Can you tell us what happened?” Tall, thin Sissy of the ample boobs leaned over short, stocky Sergeant Crook.

“We got a call at 7.30 from Mrs Rudd. At first, “ the sergeant coughed. “ we, ah, didn’t respond.  She rang in the middle of our dinner break and, well, we thought, you know, he might have taken a leak on the way home, or somethin’. Anyway, she rang back at 8.00 and again at 8.30 , I mean it’s a three hour drive to Childabin.  Well, nothin’ else was happenin’, so we  thought we’d take a look…”

“And what did you find, Sergeant Crook,” Sissy leaned over expectantly.

“Caw they’re… umm… what was the question?”

“WHAT did you find at the Childabin Station?”

“I mean he was naked. Starkers! Dancin’ on the rooftop and screamin’. Everthin’ danglin’ an janglin’ like Christmas baubles…”

“WHAT was he screaming, Sergeant?!”

“Ah, yes, that. Very strange. He reckoned he’d been interfered with by aliens, probes and stuff. He was yellin’ for folk to pull ‘em out! Oh, yeah, and he had these glasses on. Looked like his own ‘cept they had this weird sheen like stagnant pond water…”

“And then?”

“We tasered him. Too dangerous to have a crazy on the roof, families and little old ladies out in the street watchin’. Had to do something.”

“And then?”

“He fell. Hit his head on the cement steps. Never did get to his dinner.”

“Thank you Sergeant. We’ll now cross back to the newsroom at Alamanka.”

“Thank you Sissy. Sergeant Rudd has been moved to a temporary morgue in the freezer room at Cutler’s Meats. He will be moved to Cannibra morgue for an autopsy later today. Now we’ll cross to our agricultural reporter, Matt Dunne. Matt, I believe you have some good news for farmers on fertilizer prices?”

We clicked the telly off and sank back. “Wow, that was a close call, hon!” In chorus, Jock and I looked at each other and laughed. The oddball coincidences hadn’t escaped us.

                        *************

Back at Kinkudurrah, Norton Rudi, elder of the Exclusive Exclusionist Temple, pulled over in a pique. He had told his wife NOT to indulge in the chili-burger at that cheap burger joint in Oolooran, BUT she NEVER listened. Now she was suffering the pangs of just retribution.

Judi Rudi jumped out and ran as fast as her sensibly shod little feet would carry her. The toilet block was on the far side of an overgrown oval. She HAD to hold on. HAD TO!

The women’s was blocked, locked, nothing would give. The smell was vomitous! She glanced over her shoulder. Her husband was watching. No chance to dash into the bushes, she would never live it down. She raced round the back. She would just tell him the labels were unreadable. The men’s greeted her with open arms. As she ran in, she noticed a pair of glasses hanging on the lone tap on the dirty hand basin. A cupboard kleptomaniac, she couldn’t resist. They were so like her own and she still hadn’t been able to tell Norton she’d lost them  – the second pair in ten years, unforgivable! She put the glasses on, a perfect fit on her pert little proboscis.

The urgency of her situation made itself felt again. Two cubicles. One had no door. No, unthinkable. She pushed and pulled at the door of the other cubicle. It gave suddenly, sending her flying back against the wall.  There on the floor of the cubicle lay a putrid corpse with a rope round its neck.

Judi wanted to scream, she needed to scream, she tried to scream… But, against all the inclinations of her nature and nurture, she had this strange unnatural urge and it was growing…

Elder Norton Rudi started banging the palms of his hands on the steering wheel. They would be unthinkably late for the Tenth Anniversary Temple Convention at Alamanka. Jodi’s behaviour was ill considered at best! He mentally rehearsed a lecture to snap her back in her place. He went over and over it until it had just the right degree of censure, the perfect mix of reproach and condemnation. His concentration was broken by the sound of a large tourist bus pulling up behind his sedan. A stream of occupants in a variety of garish gear poured out, and headed hurriedly across the oval. As they approached midway, they all stopped. Hands flew in the air, cameras came out, there was laughter and raucous exclamations of an unrepeatable nature.

Then the crowd parted and moved around the object of their fascination, continuing on their path to meet a more urgent call.

There, revealed in the centre of the oval, gyrating licentiously in nothing but her glasses, was Judi!

Norton stormed out, travel rug in hand towards the offending Judi. Every naked bit of her jiggled scandalously up at him. He hadn’t seen her naked since that time … he found himself involuntarily responding… NO! He had to run, half crouched, trying desperately to cover the inexplicably, licentiously libidinous Judi. He bundled her unceremoniously into the car, travel rug and all, before the tourists met one call of nature and came back for more of another.

He tried to start the car. It coughed self-consciously, sputtered, choked and threatened to die. He managed to get it to crawl in to the town, Judi babbling ecstatically all the way about alien doctors and some obscene sounding procedure that both scandalized and titillated him very inappropriately. He would never forgive her!

The car finally stopped dead in front of the only general store come petrol station, roadhouse in the place. Norton summonsed all his self-control. Waited till he was ‘decent’. He put on the child lock. There was no way Judi was getting out.

He marched up to the screen door and hammered. No answer. He was about to yank open the door and barge in when out came a tall rangy looking man in weathered jeans, flannelette shirt with a hat pulled down over his eyes. Behind him stood a shorter, very thickset man in a crumpled police uniform.

The policeman pushed forward, “You got a problem?”

“The car…” Norton’s voice barely squeaked.

The tall rangy man advanced towards the sedan, “I’ll take a look.”

As he neared the car, he looked at Judi, grinning stupidly and wriggling her way out of her rug cocoon, “Sergeant Rudd, arrest that woman, she’s got the glasses!”

When he came to, Norton was on his own, slumped over his steering wheel where he’d fainted. Judi and the two men were nowhere to be seen.

Norton, who firmly believed discretion to be the better part of valour, started up his car and, no engine problem being evident, left. When he arrived at Alamanka, late that afternoon, he just made it to the Police Station before closing. He dutifully reported Judi as a missing person. Sergeant Crook was very understanding. He would send out a search party first thing in the morning.

The Convention assembly was sympathetic. None of them had really approved of Judi. “It’s always the quiet types that go off.” Elder Prune whispered to Elder Nonce.

*****

As planned, Jock and I visited Great Aunt Arimathilla and Granma Hunney on their goat farm, fifty kilometers out of town. We did photos and memorabilia, delivered all the goodies from my Mum, stayed for dinner and headed back late to our motel room at Alamanka for the night.

Next morning’s news proved interesting.

“Always thought country folk were supposed to be peaceable,” Jock gave a crooked smile, looking at me sidelong.

“Peaceful! Come on, you’ve met Grandma Hunney She still does her own slaughtering!”

“I meant the news.”

Till that point, I hadn’t really been listening.

“A woman’s clothing has been found scattered over the oval outside the abandoned mining town of Kinkudurrah” Allannah Prissott was in her element. This was SO much better than ag reports. “Sergeant Crook, can you give our viewers an update on this very disturbing case?”

“Well now, the items of lady’s clothing ‘ve been sent to Cannibra for forensic testing, Allanah, so’s I can’t really tell you more than this is a BAD business…”

“You suspect foul play then, Sergeant?”

“Yeah, Allanah, ‘fraid so. I mean there it was, knickers n’ all, the whole length of the oval. Very suspicious.”

“Do you have a suspect, Sergeant Crook?”

“Well, there was this shifty, starchy suited, city type, who reported a missin’ wife last night. Late it was. We’d like to talk to ‘im!”

I clicked the telly off. “Any more detail and I won’t want brekky! OOK!”

A little later than planned, we pulled out of Alamanka on the next leg of our journey, homewards!

We drove into Childabin, lunchtime. The waitress at “Ma’s Place” recognized us.

“You missed the drama! Tell you it was better’n Reality TV! Everyone’s talking about it. Pomona’s a celebrity! She’s even got a guest appearance on My Kitchen Rocks!”

“Then there’s the missing lady,” Jock winked at me on the side.

“OH! Don’t get me started… BUT, orders first! What’ll it be?”

A couple of truckies’d pulled in and joined our table to get in on the latest.

Lunch was accompanied by way too much information. Evidently, Norton was picked up as he left the Convention in full view of the censorial Eldership. There was still no body, we got to know everything about her underwear AND there were theories involving her with half a dozen middle-aged tourists on some bus…

We made Kinkudurrah late afternoon. I glanced at the roadhouse come petrol station as we went through.

“Did you see that?”

“What?”

“I’d swear I saw that Randy chap through the window. Must’ve had a twin, hey! This chunky cop was with him. Couldn’t see the face, something familiar…AND, AND there was this bird in a poncho? You didn’t see them?”

“Nope! But then I AM watching the road. Maybe the ghost town’s coming to life.”

Half a mile further on, I turned to Jock, “You ever had an unexplainable urge to dance in the buff?”

Jock grinned, “I guess that could be arranged!”

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