Tuesday, July 9, 2024

The Odin Chronicles • Episode 42: “The Same Bratwurst Every Day” • by Carol Scheina

…Previously, in The Odin Chronicles

By the 56th week of the time loop, Hans had perfected the art of building the perfect bratwurst sandwich, despite having no sauerkraut. 

“This is excellent,” said the deli’s first lunchtime customer, Constable Jenkins.

Hans didn’t mention the 27 times he’d tried and failed at a sauerkraut replacement—using pickles. Jenkins’s thin lips had puckered every bite.

The cabbage delivery was already late when the time loop struck, as deliveries took forever to arrive at the deli on the remote mining planet of Odin III. The deli co-owner, Ray, was visiting a cheese shop on the neighboring Odin II, looking for easier delivery routes. It was just Hans running the deli, telling customers repeatedly that the bratwurst sandwich with its homemade sauerkraut wasn’t available.

But with his new sauerkraut recipe, he had happy customers every day, over and over.

Hans grinned as he looked around the deli, with its wooden barrels of pickles, the meats and cheeses behind the glass display. Everything was prepared for the lunch crowd arriving in—Hans checked his watch—less than three minutes now.

Except a dusty miner stumbled in, followed by a train of cats.

That was different.

Hans arranged his best customer-service smile. “Can I help you?”

The miner coughed. “I’m looking for cabbage.”

“No cabbage here, but would you like a bratwurst? I have a new recipe.”

“Naw, I’m vegetarian. But, what’dya mean, new? No one changes unless…” The miner’s eyes widened. “Do you know about the time loop?”

Hans nodded.

“Great! Me and the cats do too! I’m Ortwin.” A cloud of dust followed Ortwin’s strong handshake. A tabby cat meowed at Hans’s feet.

“Cats aren’t supposed to be in the deli—health code violation. And how do you know the cats know about the time loop?”

Orwin waved a hand. “They’re not following any set pattern.”

Hans frowned. “I think it’s normal for cats not to follow any pattern?”

The deli door gave a little bell jingle as and several Odin residents walked in. Lunchtime. “If you’ll excuse me, I’ve got customers.”

“Customers? Haven’t you been trying to figure out how to end the time loop?”

Actually, no, he hadn’t. Life much less stressful now that he knew exactly what to expect. He knew exactly how to please each customer, exactly what to say to make his wife, Marge, smile. His blood pressure was the best it’d ever been.

Hans mumbled about developing a sauerkraut substitution since there was no cabbage. “I couldn’t leave people hungry.”

Ortwin slammed a dirty hand onto the glass countertop, leaving smeary prints. “Cabbage! That’s one of the clues. I’m so close to solving it all.”

The growing line of customers looked at the miner curiously. Hans hated keeping people waiting, but the miner seemed quite distressed. “Are you okay?” Hans asked.

No! Do you know what I’ve been doing in the mines? Sorting rocks. Someone mixed the ore with the discarded rocks. So every day, I sort rocks. Every. Day.” The miner slapped his hand on the glass display once more.

Hans wondered if Ortwin had washed his hands after sorting rocks, for beige streaks of dirt were nestled into deep crevices. “Why don’t you just not sort?”

“Every time I stopped, I got fired. I still need a job when the looping ends.”

A fluffy orange cat jumped up onto the glass counter and began to waltz toward the meat. As Hans shooed it off, he heard a customer whisper about cat hair getting everywhere.

For the first time in quite a few weeks into the time loop, Hans felt his blood pressure rise “As I said, there’s no cabbage here.” Maybe the guy would leave.  

“There’s cabbage on a delivery drone that’s heading for the surface this evening. The drone’s gonna fly low enough to hit a dust storm, and it’s got some crystal-engine powering it. The crystal-engine from the drone somehow activated time particles in the dust, creating time bubbles that trapped me.”

“And me, I guess,” Hans added.

“And the cats.”

Hans waved away a white cat sniffing the cheese. “Did you figure that out sorting rocks?”

“No, there’s an engineering guy living in the caves. He figured the crystal-engine stuff out.”

“Can’t he help you?”

“No, he’s stuck in the loop. Forgot everything the next day.”

Hans nodded. So the cabbage delivery did come in; he just hadn’t known about it.

A customer, the local bartender Ingrid, cleared her throat.

“I need to help her,” Hans said.

Ortwin continued on like he hadn’t heard, slapping a dusty hand on Hans’s back. “But we stop the delivery and we stop the time loop. And it needs to be done tonight, before 8 p.m.”

Hans looked at his deli. Two cats were up on the countertops again. Ingrid was walking out the door with squared, angry shoulders. “Why do you need me?”

“You can call into the drone and cancel the order, but only you. It’s got voice recognition software, so it’ll only respond to the buyer. You bought the cabbage, right?”

“How do you know all this?” Hans asked.

Ortwin’s hands gestured wildly. “I’ve spent weeks studying the timeline, talking to people in between sorting rocks. Haven’t you been doing the same?”

No, Hans had been making sandwiches.

“I’ve got to get back to cleaning. Remember! Cancel the cabbage!” A desperate look crinkled around the man’s eyes. “Please.”

He scrambled out the door, the cats dashing after him. One tabby had a long string of sausages in its mouth. Hans started to chase the cat, but too late, it slipped out the door right as it closed.

Hans looked around his deli. Most of the customers had given up and left, several Swiss cheese slices were on the floor, and he could feel his blood pressure pounding. He remembered how stressful running a deli could be when there wasn’t a time loop.

At home that evening, he recounted to his wife that the day hadn’t been great. Marge rubbed his shoulders. “Tomorrow will be better.”

It could be, if maybe he didn’t cancel the order. The time loop would reset. This could all be a bad memory to forget.

Then Hans thought of Ortwin. The man’s wide eyes, like he had a few rocks loose rattling around in his brain. What had the time loop done to him? Day after day of tedious mine duty and running with cats? Could he leave a customer unhappy? For Ortwin had become a customer the moment the miner entered the deli. He could fix things with the other Odin customers, but for Ortwin, there was only one service Hans could provide.

Marge interrupted his thoughts. “Want to head to bed early?”

“I’ve got to make a call first.”

As Hans pulled out his comms, the clock ticked toward 8 p.m., and he felt a heaviness in his chest. For a time, he’d had a wonderful break from the uncertainty that came with the future.

“Hello? I’d like to cancel my cabbage order.”

Then to bed, to snuggle with Marge and see what tomorrow would bring. Maybe he could look into starting a vegetarian menu. After all, one didn’t need a time loop for that.


New to Odin III? Find out what you’ve been missing!
Check out The Complete Episode Guide

Coming Saturday: Episode 43, “More Than Just Ore,” by Gustavo Bondoni


Carol Scheina is a deaf speculative author whose stories have appeared in publications such as Flash Fiction Online, Escape Pod, Diabolical Plots, Stupefying Stories, and others. Her writing has been recognized on the Wigleaf Top 50 Short Fiction Longlist, and she has become a fan favorite for her finely crafted flash fiction pieces on the Stupefying Stories website. You can find more of her work at carolscheina.wordpress.com.

If you enjoyed this story, be sure to read “True Love is Found in the Bone Sea,” here on SHOWCASE, or “The Burning Skies Bring His Soul,” in STUPEFYING STORIES 24. Or at the very least, read “The Disappearing Cat Trick,” in The Odin Chronicles, Season 1. 

This link will take you to a unorganized list of Carol’s previous stories on this site. I’m particularly fond of “The View from the Old Ship.” You should read it. You should also take a look at “The Burning Skies Bring His Soul,” which you’ll find in SS#24, which is now FREE for Kindle Unlimited subscribers.