Wednesday, October 25, 2023

“Golden Arches” • by Eric Farrell

Look, this all started out innocuously enough. Slim Jim and I were smoking a doobie, I was hungry, and I asked when a certain seasonal rib sandwich was returning.

Jim got all excitable, and sent me off. He told me to drive to the golden arches on Nutwood Avenue, way out on the outskirts of town. I needed to bring a pack of grape Swisher Sweets, an eighth of cosmic kush, and six 25-foot-long extension cords. This all seemed excessive, but I figured a trip to the golden arches was a net positive one way or another. Jim insisted that this was the only way to learn when the rib sandwich would return. I vowed to return with food and possibly an answer.


There are only two cars in the parking lot when I arrive, belonging to the employees manning the restaurant this late in the evening.

I punch the doorbell, and meet Donny Hammersmith. Jim said Donny’s a sweetheart once you get to know him. By now, I’m having my doubts about this whole scheme, but Donny seems friendly enough once I fork over the Swishers and kush.

He lets me in through the service entrance, and leads me through the kitchen.

“Jim tell you the order that you gotta plug every cable in?”

He’s brought me to the dining room that’s been closed for the evening. He splits a cigarillo, emptying the tobacco into the nearest trash.

“Start over by the bathroom,” he continues, tearing bits of kush up with his fingers. “It only works if you go clockwise, starting at the north end of the restaurant.”

He’s nearly ready to light his blunt by the time I’ve laid the cords out. They form a hexagram within the dining room.

“Here,” he says, tossing me a pair of gloves.

I walk around the restaurant, plugging each cord in. The final outlet is behind the service counter, next to the soft serve machine. There’s a note taped to the machine. Out of service.

“…it’s not out of service, bro,” Donny says, following my gaze. He’s halfway through his blunt, and grinning at my antics. “…the machine just automatically shuts down when it needs to be cleaned. Health precaution kind of thing.”

“So, every time I walk into one of these places and see no soft serve, it’s because you guys don’t want to clean it? Like, ever?”

Donny shrugs, his eyes red.

“Look, it works. See for yourself. But just, fair warning, it won’t be any kind of soft serve you’ve seen. People like you and Jim play with fire, abusing little loopholes like these.”

This machine is plugged into the final outlet. When I plug in below it, blue lightning sparks, and a bolt of energy shoots straight up the appliance’s power cable. The two levers of the machine begin glowing a ghostly hue of cobalt.

I grab the chocolate handle, and pull down.

What meets me is a purple frown. A rotund, furry, bean-shaped creature is summoned in the center of the hexagram. The mascot ghost of the golden arches’ pulpy past.

I hadn’t anticipated this strange purple thing. It has an amicable enough face, waving with its two wimpy little arms.

But Slim Jim specifically told me the masked bandit would ultimately answer my rib sandwich query. Not the weird clown, nor this amorphous blob. So I’m confused.

It doesn’t help that black ooze is sliming out of the soft serve nozzle. A viscous, glistening gloop drips down past the catch tray, splashing near my feet.

Donny starts laughing out loud, glancing from my grimace to the monster summoned before me.

“You pulled the wrong lever,” he says, “Vanilla. You need vanilla.”

The gentle purple beast begins rattling off a list of celebrities and corresponding cross-promo combo meal releases. Insightful information, but not what I need.

Across the restaurant, the lone cook is fulfilling a drive-thru customer’s order, wholly unfazed by the dark arts in the dining room.

Donny’s hysterical over the spectacle, but manages to impart a keen warning before handing the order off.

“Don’t let that gunk get you, man,” he says, puffing at the roach in his fingers. “If it covers you completely, it takes you with it to the other side. Where are all these dead characters live. It’s pretty far out!”

Now that I’ve removed my hand from the chocolate lever and pulled on vanilla, the masked bandit materializes in place of the purple thing. Dressed in a garish cape and matching mask, the burglar solidifies form just as the goop overtakes my waist.

“You’ll get your rib sandwich soon, human,” the specter says. “November of next year, you shall be satiated beneath these golden arches once more.”

The ooze is up to my neck. I can’t even turn to spot Donny for help.

My hand’s still on the lever, and the darkness is still spewing out. The slime covers my lips, and coats my eyes. The world begins to swirl in on itself, as I follow the masked bandit down through the hexagram.

“Come on, man!” Donny shouts, and slaps my hand off the lever. “I can’t have another person get swallowed by the restaurant when I’m on shift.”

Mercifully, the ooze disappears once the spell’s been broken. It takes a moment to get my bearings before noticing Donny full on pointing and laughing.

“Alright, unplug your shit and get out,” he says. “You’ve had your fun.”


After removing the hexagram, I excuse myself to the bathroom, splashing cold water on my face.

Donny’s handling deep-cleaning tasks, already over my presence. I’ve mostly lost my appetite, but I promised Jim I’d return with food.

“Hey Donny, you mind ringing me up for a couple things?”

I order one of everything off the dollar menu, figuring that would cover all bases. Then I motion behind Donny, to the soft-serve machine.

“Any chance you can clean that thing? I’m really craving ice cream.”


Eric Farrell lives in Long Beach, California, where he works as a beer sales rep by day, and speculative fiction author by night. His writing credits stem from a career in journalism, where he reported for a host of local and metro newspapers in the greater Los Angeles area. He posts on Twitter @stygianspace and has recent fiction with Aphotic Realm, Haven Spec, and HyphenPunk.


Have a Kindle? Find out what you’ve been missing!
Buy the four latest issues with just one click!

(Or buy just one, if that’s what you’d really prefer.)


Made in DNA said...

All the ghosts of our burgers past! *burp*