EP559: Vegetablemen in Peanut Town


AUTHOR: August Marion

NARRATOR: Trendane Sparks

HOST: Norm Sherman

about the author…

about the narrator…

narrator Trendane Sparks

Originally born in Texas, Tren eventually escaped and wound his way through a mystical series of jobs in the San Francisco Bay Area where he has worked as a software QA Tester for both graphics drivers and video games, a freelance mascot performer, and several jobs on a PBS kids’ show. For most of his life, people have told him that his voice is a pleasure to listen to. But since being a werewolf phone sex operator can get boring, he decided to use his powers to entertain a broader audience.

 

 

Vegetablemen in Peanut Town

By August Marion

Otto scanned the grassy countryside for any sign of marauding vegetables. The steeple he and Darby were in wasn’t quite thirty feet tall, but it was taller than any other building in Peanut Town, so it offered an unobstructed view of the surrounding farmland. There were acres and acres of genetically engineered, perambulatory peanut plants shuffling around in scattered groups, probing the rich soil for nutrients with their roots. Everything looked perfectly safe. Peaceful even.

“Hey, genius.” Darby said acidly. “North is that a way.”

“Oh.” Otto said, as he turned around. He refocused the binoculars he was using, and then he saw them: vegetablemen. The same strain that had so annihilated Manhattan that even the rats had given up on the place. There were about three dozen of them scattered over the gently rolling hills. They lumbered toward the town slow and heavy on their long, stout, green stalks. They were still far off, but he could tell from the coloring of the peels around their thoraxes that they were the same cultivar that the king had sown on Manhattan.

Otto lowered the binoculars. He swallowed hard.

“Well?” Darby asked. “Is them the ones from Manhattan?”

“Those are they, yes.” Otto confirmed, as he tugged at his collar. He hated hot weather. It didn’t fit his wardrobe.

“We’re going to have to fight them.” Darby grinned madly.

When word had arrived that the vegetablemen had been spotted near the county line, the whole town had evacuated. Only Darby had stayed behind to defend the town alone.

Otto thought Darby seemed a little too excited about the prospect to be sane. Personally, he would rather go toe to toe with a hailstorm of disease-carrying nuclear warheads. Unfortunately, they were trapped. The last car carrying the last drop of gasoline had rolled out less than an hour before Otto and his group had coasted in on fumes.

Otto handed the binoculars back to Darby. “I already told you we aren’t going to fight. We aren’t warriors. We’re restaurateurs.” He said, and started down the ladder.

The ladder led down to a kitchen rather than a chapel, as Darby had had apparently been converted to a diner years before.

Aria and Griselda were waiting in the kitchen.

“Well?” Aria asked.

“It’s them.” Otto replied. “The same strain from Manhattan. Do you have the grease?”

Aria read the order ticket. “You ordered one can of bacon grease carrying the scent of fresh, young love on a dewy spring morning with plenty of dry-aged red meat and smoked cheddar with no loss of its bacon-esque essence.”

“That’s what I ordered.” Otto confirmed.

Aria handed him a can.

Otto opened it, and inhaled deeply. “Fabulous.” He remarked.

It was exactly what he had asked for. How Aria whipped it up so quickly with only bacon, honey, fennel, and garlic he didn’t know. She was a brilliant chef.

Darby climbed down the ladder hand over hand. Both his legs had been taken off at the hip years before in the last vegetable war. From what Otto could tell he had been waiting all this time for revenge.

“If you’re not going to fight,” Darby asked, “Then what’s your plan?”

“We’ll just get them all gathered in this restaurant of yours, lock the doors, and set the place on fire.”

“And just how are you going to herd a group of man-eating plants in here?” Darby asked incredulously.

“Don’t you worry about that.” Otto responded confidently. “We ran one of the most popular bistros in New York. Even on Tuesday nights we were always busy! And we’ve faced vegetablemen before. The king sowed them all over New York, but we handled it.”

What he didn’t say was that only four and a half members of their dining collective made it out of Manhattan alive. Griselda only half made it out—the other half was devoured by vegetablemen, and had been replaced by spare parts from an auto salvage yard in Pittsburgh.

“You ain’t going to get far trying to run a restaurant.” Darby said. “We have to fight! Go at them like savages!”

“That will never work.” Otto chided. “This is war, and you can’t win a war with violence. Trust me, I’ve seen people try.”

Darby looked at him queerly, and mildly disgusted. “Man you really don’t know how to do anything but run a restaurant, huh?”

“Maybe that is the one thing we’re good at.” Otto admitted. “But it’s fine to only be able to do one thing, as long as you can do it really, really well.” He motioned Darby over. “Alright, my good man, just come right over here, and we’ll begin. I promise you that if our plan doesn’t pan out, I’ll help you fight them the old fashioned way.”

It was a lie, of course: If his plan failed he didn’t really count on being alive to help Darby do anything at all.

Darby walked over on his hands.

“Don’t you have a wheelchair, or something?” Otto asked.

“Can’t see that I need one.” Darby responded flatly. “What are you doing?”

“Guerilla marketing.” Otto responded. “We’re going to drum up interest with the vegetablemen via word-of-mouth.” He dipped some of the bacon grease from the can and started rubbing it into Darby’s unkempt hair like pomade.

“What’s that for?” Darby asked, his face wrinkled in disgust.

“You have to smell like a good meal. If you don’t smell like you just came out from a good meal, they’ll never believe it.”

“Why can’t you just put up a sign?” Darby asked.

Otto looked down at him contemptuously. “You know nothing about marketing a pop-up restaurant. We have to get all of them inside. Understand? All of them. If even one of them doesn’t participate it’s going to be a disaster. With a wonderfully designed sign we’ll maybe get fifteen or twenty trickling in at a time, but we’ll never get them all at once.” He took a neatly folded piece of paper out of his coat pocket, and carefully inserted it into the breast pocket of Darby’s shirt. “OK, on the off chance you are bleeding heavily from the throat, make sure you don’t get too much blood on this. They have to be able to read the address. You understand?”

Darby’s eyes bugged out. “Just how dangerous is this marketing plan of yours?”

“Extremely dangerous.” Otto replied. “You might end up disemboweled, but that’s a risk I’m willing to take.”

“Wait a minute here!” Darby yelled. “I ain’t risking my life for some cockamamie marketing plan dreamed up by a bunch of no-nothing city folks!”

“All you have to do is go out into the field, and act like you just came out from a great meal. Make sure the vegetablemen get a good whiff of you, and then just accidently drop the flyer where they’ll see it.”

“Are you nuts?” Darby pushed the bacon grease away. “I’m not going out there armed with nothing but a greasy hairdo and a piece of paper!”

“Don’t worry, they always eat the best things first. It’s how vegetablemen work. If we convince them there are better things to eat than you–which shouldn’t be too difficult with that body odor of yours–they’ll go for that first… I mean, hopefully.”

Darby backed away. “Why don’t you go market it yourself?”

“I need to manage the front-of-house.” Otto responded.

Darby shook his head.

Otto motioned to a rusty old Schwinn that was leaning against the wall. “Look, I found this bike. If you’re afraid you can’t outrun them on hand, then you can use it–”

“I ain’t got any legs, moron!” Darby yelled.

Otto opened his mouth to speak, then clamped it shut again. He never seemed to encounter anything but problems when he dealt with hayseeds. If they managed to make it to San Francisco alive, he was never going to leave city limits again. “Fine, I’ll have one of the other two do it. Did you give all the produce, and whatnot, to Aria, by the way?”

“Yeah, it’s all in the cooler.” Darby replied, then added proudly. “If there is one thing this town can do, it can provide for all your wants and needs. It’s a great bunch of agriculture we do here. We all pooled our money, and paid to have the peanuts and pawpaws engineered especially for us. You can’t get them nowhere else.”

“Well, that sounds grand. You must be very proud of your little community.” Otto said with a remarkable lack of sincerity. HE turned to Aria, “So you have everything you need to make the most delicious bacon double cheese burger on chicken breast in flyover country?”

“Unfortunately we’re missing a few ingredients, so I’m going to have to improvise.” Aria replied.

“What are we missing?”

“Hamburger for one, cheese, bacon, and chicken.”

Otto ran through the recipe in his head then responded, “That doesn’t leave much.”

Darby sat at a table in the corner. “I gave her everything I could find.”

“What could you find?” Otto asked.

“Peanuts.” Aria responded. “He brought me three thirty pound sacks of dry roasted peanuts.”

“What else?”

“That’s all.”

Otto looked over at Darby. “You brought three thirty pound sacks of peanuts?”

“Of course I did.” Darby responded proudly. “I have no legs, but I’m not a cripple.”

“What? No, that’s not what I mean. I thought this was some great agricultural community that could provide for all of our wants and needs?”

“That’s exactly what it is. The peanuts have been engineered to contain all the vitamins and minerals a person needs. That’s what makes them great.”

“Well we can’t very well make bacon double cheese burgers with nothing but peanuts!” Otto retorted.

Darby shrugged. “The pawpaws ain’t in yet, all we have are last year’s peanuts.”

“There is one bright spot.” Griselda said. “We still have three bottles of that Bordeaux in the truck. It’s light on tannins, and heavy on fresh fruit. I think it will pair well with peanuts.”

For some reason Otto found himself being reminded of their recent journey through the Adirondacks. He remembered being very depressed after their experience in Manhattan. He remembered drinking until he blacked out. The next thing he remembered was waking up hung over with the aftertaste of a bucolic French countryside, and fresh fruit accompanied by a surprising lack of tannins on his palate. He shook the memories away. It was no time for sad remembrances.

Otto turned to Aria. “Well, can you work with this?”

She shrugged. “Looks like I’m going to have to.”

“Alright then, get to it.” Otto ordered. “Griselda, I need you to help me out with marketing. I need you to go out into the field–”

“That’s not happening.” Griselda stated.

“But someone needs to–”

“Not it.” Griselda declared. “I’ll put the dining room together. I don’t do marketing.”

Otto looked over at Aria, and started to speak.

“I’m busy cooking.” Aria responded before Otto could even get the first syllable out.

“Well, I can’t go. They’ll recognize me when they come in, and then the whole thing will be for nothing.”

Aria came around from behind the line. “Alright, bend down.” she said. She deftly removed a lock of his hair with her chef’s knife.

“Hey!” Otto protested.

“Calm down.” She kneaded up some sort of doughy putty along with his hair then covered his nose with it.

“What the heck is this?” Otto asked.

“Peanut marzipan.” Aria replied as she finished her prosthetic. “There. Now you have a new nose and a mustache. Your own mother wouldn’t recognize you.”

Griselda fetched a mirror, and held it up for him. He wasn’t the most handsome man on a good day, but now he looked like he had some diseased hairy snail crawling up the center of his face.

Otto looked around, and gritted his teeth. He pulled the flyer out of Darby’s pocket, and grabbed the bicycle. “Amateurs!” He spit at them. “No dedication to the craft! Not from any of you!” He scolded as he wheeled the bike out of the kitchen.

#

The rusty Schwinn squeaked and groaned as Otto peddled it slowly and uncertainly down the dirt road toward a nearby pair of vegetablemen. He tried his best to pluck up his courage as he approached, and hoped the hot afternoon sun didn’t melt his nose off like it was melting the wonderfully fragrant bacon grease out of his hair.

The two vegetablemen were stumping through the grass just off the side of the road scooping up peanut plants in their leafy hands, and stripping the nuts from them. Their green arms were like anacondas: long, leathery, and thick. They had chests like wine barrels, atop of which sat roughly cylindrical heads the size of five gallon buckets.

Both the plants stopped, and turned their gnarled faces toward Otto when they heard him approach. They eyed him with grim hunger. If vegetables could be happy they would have been at the site of two hundred and twenty pounds of protein peddling its way right into their eager leaves.

Otto tried to avoid eye contact, and ride by innocently. If they were on the other side of the county line it would have been too close for comfort. Three feet away was almost more than he could take.

As he passed, one of the vegetablemen reached out with a huge fingerless hand the size of a serving platter, and swatted him off the back of the bike like one might swat a teacup poodle off a dining room table. Otto landed flat on his back, and before he could move the vegetableman was on him. They could move quite fast when they wanted to, or when their hunger commanded it. The plant wrapped its mitts around Otto’s upper arms, and halfway around his ribcage. It lifted him easily off the ground, and towards its gaping maw. Just when it was about to take a big bite, it stopped. It sniffed at the bacon pomade in his hair.

Otto struggled to talk. The wind had been knocked out of him, and it was tough to catch his breath with the heavy tendrils squeezing him as tight as they were. The marzipan blocking his nostrils didn’t help much either. He managed to say, “boy, I just had the best meal in ages, and it was… Uh…” He tried to remember his lines. “So packed with protein, I don’t think my bowels are going to move for a week! But don’t tell anyone! The proprietor–who is a dashingly good looking gentleman–told me that supplies were limited!”

The vegetableman bared his crooked teeth in an evil sneer. Its mouth looked like two bundles of long glass shards. The second vegetableman walked over, and sniffed Otto’s hair deeply. They locked their horrible yellow eyes on him. Deep, heavy, angry grumbles emanated from their barrel chests.

Otto closed his eyes tightly, and averted his face. He managed to pull the handbill out of his pocket. He unfolded it, and held it up for the vegetablemen to read. It was the only thing between him, and complete evisceration. The flyer contained a picture of an artfully rendered hamburger, and read:

 

Roasting Flesh Café

100 Main Street

Peanut Town

 

Today only: ENORMOUS Bacon double cheese burger on a chicken breast only $49.99*!

 

Over 5800 grams of protein!

 

*Free for all plant-based life forms

 

The vegetablemen stared at the handbill for a long time. Plants generally didn’t read very quickly, and this was especially true for vegetablemen. They both grumbled, turned their massive heads, and looked down the road toward the town. Then they swiveled their heads back toward Otto. Without another sound, the vegetableman dropped him roughly in the dirt, and they both headed toward town, walking in lockstep.

Otto watched them lumber way for several moments. Then he patted himself, and took stock of his various parts. Everything seemed to be intact. It had worked! He tore off his terrible fake nose, and tossed it away. He quickly grabbed the bike, and headed toward town via the back road.

Fifteen minutes later he was skidding to a stop in front of the diner. He bailed off the bike, and looked up toward the steeple. “What’s it look like?” He called.

“They’re at the vegetable war memorial.” Darby yelled down.

Otto rushed into the food truck. He washed up, and put on his best suit: Immaculate purple and gold paisley coattails. He left the food truck just as Darby was exiting the diner.

“There’s only two of them coming.” Darby said. “I thought you could pack them in? Burning two is about as good as burning none.”

“We’ll get them.” Otto responded, “We just need to put on a good spread. They’ll come. We know what we’re doing! I have a plan!”

“You keep saying that.” Darby replied skeptically.

Griselda walked out of the diner with a wine bottle in one hand, and a half empty wine glass in the other. She staggered slightly as she approached them.

“Ah, Bordeaux.” Otto said. “Perfect!”

“Actually, no.” Griselda responded, as she handed him the bottle. “The Bordeaux was all gone. All that was left were empty bottles.”

“What?” Otto asked, feeling not quite as shocked as he thought he rightly should be.

“It’s OK, I have a replacement.” She hiccupped.

Otto examined the bottle. “What is it? It looks like the Bordeaux.”

“Well, we didn’t have wine, but we did have brown sugar, dry vermouth, three-in-one oil, antifreeze, fingernail polish remover, watermelon juice, and a loaf of bread for filtering. I put it in the Bordeaux bottle, and re-corked it.”

“And this tastes like Bordeaux?” Otto asked.

“That it does.” She swayed a bit.

“Best sommelier in Manhattan right here.” Otto said to Darby.

“Lemme try some!” Darby said.

She handed him the glass.

Darby sniffed at the liquid. “Is this stuff safe to drink?” He asked.

“Apparently so.” Griselda responded. “I had to drink about three glasses before I got the portions correct.” Her eyes unfocused, and glazed over. She staggered back, then collapsed.

They picked her up, and sat her down on the bench in front of the diner.

“I don’t feel so good.” Griselda moaned.

“I’m not sure you’re supposed to drink antifreeze.” Darby said.

“It’s okay.” Griselda responded. “My liver was replaced by a modified Buick radiator in Pittsburgh.”

Darby examined his glass. He then threw the contents over his shoulder.

Otto patted Griselda’s cheek, and lifted her head. “OK, come on, Griselda, you have to do your thing.”

She regained some of her composure after a few minutes, and Otto helped her to her feet.

“Pull yourself together.” Otto said, as he straightened her tie. “I told you to look sharp, Griselda. You were supposed to wear your best suit.”

“This is my best suit.”

“I wish I would have known that before. I would have told you to wear someone else’s best suit.”

Griselda grimaced.

“OK, I guess you look about as good as you’re going to look.” Otto said finally. “Are you ready? You know what to do, right?”

“Yeah, sure.” She replied. “We’ve done this a hundred times.”

The two vegetablemen came around the corner down the street. The tops of their heads were higher than the rain gutters on the nearby buildings. Their yellow eyes peered around angrily as they strode down the center of the street. They kicked up clouds of dust as their feet pounded the ground like thunder claps–heavy and hollow, the sound of vegetable death.

When Griselda saw them, the bottom of her heart dropped out, and all her courage drained into the dirty gutter. “I don’t think I can do this.” She said, her voice dripping with dread.

“Great, keep up the… Wait, what?” Otto asked. “You can do it. You have to do it!”

She looked down the street toward the vegetablemen, then back at Otto. Her face completely drained of color.

Otto propped her up. “I mean look at it this way, worst case scenario you’ll die. But on the up side you’ll be the first one, so you won’t have to watch the rest of us running for our lives, and maybe not making it.”

She started to crumple like a paper doll in a hard rain.

“Boy, you’re a terrible manager.” Darby said.

Otto ignored him, and continued. “If I can face them you can face them. Just think happy thoughts: Foie gras, lobster frittata with caviar, you know.”

“Pavillon Rouge du Château Margaux.” She added, and cheered up a bit.

“There you go.” Otto encouraged her.

“Snickers bars.” She half smiled.

“Snickers bars?” Darby asked.

“I have good taste. I’m not snooty.” Griselda responded.

Otto looked down the street at the approaching vegetablemen. “OK, show time.” He said, as he harried Darby around the corner. They stayed within earshot, so Otto could make sure things went according to plan.

The vegetablemen clumped heavily down the street like the unstoppable force of genetically engineered nature that they were. A few stray peanut plants that had wandered in from the fields shambled out from in front of them as they lumbered toward the pop-up café.

Griselda brushed the dust from her suit, and stood ready in front of the door. She could feel the vibrations of their footfalls through the soles of her feet when they got close. She leaned against the building with her arms crossed, and tried to look nonchalant. She attempted to whistle, but all she could manage was a dry, strangled stream of air.

The vegetablemen stopped walking, and stood directly in front of her. They looked down at the handbill that one of them was holding, then up at the address on the side of the building, then down at Griselda.

Griselda stared past them into the distance.

The vegetableman with the handbill held it in front of her face, so she could read it.

She looked at it as if noticing them for the first time. “Oh…” Her voice cracked slightly. She cleared her throat, as she read the paper carefully. “No idea. Never heard of the place.”

Darby peaked around the corner, then turned to Otto, and asked in a hushed tone, “What the heck is she doing?”

“Making the place seem exclusive.” Otto answered. “Quiet down.”

The vegetablemen looked at the address on the side of the building, then back down at the paper, their little vegetable minds trying to grow a solution. They turned glowering faces back toward Griselda, and showed their spikey, jagged teeth.

She looked back at them absently, and just a bit insolent. “What? I have no idea where that place is. Stop bothering me.”

One of the vegetablemen grabbed her up in both its leathery hands, and flung her aside like a ragdoll. She crashed against the side of the building next door hard enough to crack the wood siding, and fell face down in the dirt at the entrance of the alley.

Darby gawked at her.

The vegetablemen ducked into the café.

Otto swung his fist, and remarked hushed, but victoriously, “Perfect!”

“Are you okay?” Darby whispered.

Without moving her body, Griselda lifted one unsteady hand, balled it into a fist, and then extended her thumb upwards. She couldn’t help but groan with pain when she attempted to pick herself up.

Otto walked down the alley, and entered the kitchen through the back door. He grabbed a clean, white, linen towel, draped it over one arm, and continued on into the dining room where the two vegetablemen were waiting. “Ah, two for dinner.” He said warmly. “Right this way.” He led the two vegetablemen to a nearby table, and seated them. Sitting down they were about as tall as Otto, and Otto was taller than most. “Something to drink?” He asked them.

The vegetableman held up the handbill.

“Ah, excellent choice, vegetable-sir. Right away.” He turned, and headed back into the kitchen.

Aria was sweating over the stove behind the line.

Darby helped Griselda into a chair at the table in the corner of the kitchen.

“Are you sure you’re feeling OK?” Darby asked Griselda.

“I’ve had worse.” Griselda responded. “I once had a job serving beer at the FIFA World Cup in London. Now that was crazy.”

Otto said to Aria, “alright, you better have the best bacon double cheese burger on chicken that mankind has ever seen. I would rather not send these plants away hungry.”

“I’m trying to make an earth-shatteringly-good hamburger with nothing but peanuts.” Aria responded. “You’re going to have to stall for time.”

“Alright then, I’ll stall.” He grabbed the faux Bordeaux and a wine key. He picked up his chin, straightened his suit, and pushed his way through the swinging door into the dining area. He displayed the wine bottle to the vegetablemen.

Without warning one of the plants snatched the bottle out of his hands, bit the top clean off, and spit the broken glass onto the floor. It then poured half the bottle down its gullet, and slammed it on the table.

The other plant grabbed the bottle, and finished it off.

Otto didn’t know if getting them drunk was good or bad. He imagined alcohol would mellow plants, but vegetablemen tended not to behave like any other plants he had known, so it was tough to say.

He smiled and said, “Excellent.” The wine hadn’t lasted nearly as long as he was hoping. “Might I interest you in a…” His mind raced. “Starter?” He ended simply.

The vegetablemen issued low grumbles, and glared at him.

“Right away.” Otto said. He bowed slightly, turned, and walked briskly back toward the kitchen.

He burst through the kitchen door, and stated, “Alright, I talked them into a starter, uh… I think… What have we got?”

“Peanut soup, or green salad.” Aria responded.

“I can’t come back with peanuts. They’ve been eating peanuts all day.”

Aria put two salads up in the window. “Here you go.”

Otto inspected them. “I can’t serve plain green salad to plants, Aria. Can we at least get a little dressing on these things?”

“All they have here is ranch, so the answer is ‘no.'”

“Aria, be reasonable. If I try to give a plate of their dead cousins to these guys they’re going to–”

Aria pounded the heel of her chef’s knife on the line. “I am not serving ranch dressing out of my kitchen!” She yelled.

Otto straightened his tie, and waited a few seconds for Aria to decompress. “Alright then, I need two peanut soups, sans peanuts.” He said at last.

Aria stopped working, and looked at him quizzically. She shrugged, and prepared two bowls.

Otto grabbed the bowls from the line, but Aria stopped him. “Wait!” she said. She garnished each bowl with a sprig of parsley. “OK.”

Otto removed the bowls, and carried them out into the dining room. He placed one bowl in front of each vegetableman. “Peanut soup sans peanuts.” He said.

The vegetablemen looked down at the two bowls of slightly salted, tepid water. Then they looked at the handbill, then back at the bowls, and finally back at Otto. The vegetableman with the handbill held up the advertisement, opened its mouth, and issued a deep, guttural, furious howl that reverberated in Otto’s chest, and caused his hair to flap. The other vegetableman balled up its fist, and slammed the table hard enough to break the end of it lose, and send it rattling to the floor.

“I see.” Otto said, like the consummate professional that he was. He picked up both bowls, and walked smartly back into the kitchen. Once in the kitchen he noticed Darby’s hungry face. He placed the bowls in front of him.

Darby licked his lips, but his face fell once he got a look at the contents of the bowls.

“They sent them back?” Aria asked.

“Yeah, it reminds of that time we catered that Middle East peace conference. When the orders got mixed up, and we accidently served whole roasted suckling pig. Are the burgers almost ready?”

“I need a few more minutes.”

Otto eyed the salads. He sighed heavily as he picked them up. “Alright then, I’ll see what I can do.” He turned, and headed back into the dining room.  He placed the salads on the table in front of the vegetablemen.

The next thing he knew he was lying on the floor. He didn’t even see the hit coming.

The vegetablemen were still seated, but the table was nothing more than smashed splinters of wood. They were looking even angrier than before, which Otto didn’t think was possible.

Otto picked himself up, and dusted off his coattails. His head was spinning, and his face hurt. They had really clocked him. They could sure move when they wanted to. “I’ll let the kitchen know you are ready for the main course.” He said curtly. He headed for the kitchen, and made a mental note not to give alcohol to vegetables.

He pushed his way in through the swinging door, walking briskly, and holding his towel to his bloodied nose and mouth. “I’ve stalled just about all I can. I think we’re going to need to serve the main course now.” He stated.

“Perfect timing.” Aria said, as she placed two bacon double cheese burgers on chicken breasts on the line.

The burgers were the size of car tires. The cheese perfectly melted. The juices from the meat ran just the slightest bit bloody. The chicken breast buns were golden brown, and toasted crisp.

Darby looked at the burgers with complete and total awe. He left his chair, and walked toward them on his hands as if hypnotized. His mouth watered when the aroma found its way into his nose. He reached one hand up toward the massive pile of protein.

Aria smacked his hand down with a hot greasy spatula. “Don’t you dare!” She warned.

He pulled his hand back. “Where’d you get it?”

“What do you mean?” She asked. “You brought the ingredients.”

“But all I brought were three sacks of peanuts.”

“That’s all they’re made out of: Peanuts and spices.”

Darby looked at her incredulously.

“Cooking isn’t just about the ingredients.” She explained. “Technique is important too.”

“The woman has skills.” Otto said as he picked up the massive burgers one at a time, and placed them on a cart. “I would never work with a second-rate chef.”

Otto wheeled the cart out into the dining room. He kicked the shattered remnants of the table out from between the vegetablemen, and pulled the cart between them. He then presented the giant hamburgers with a flourish of his hand. “Bon appetite.” He said grandly.

#

A few minutes later Otto pushed his way into the kitchen from the dining room. He wore a look of total triumph on his battered face. “Well, that’s it.” He declared. “Service was a success.”

“Are they dead?” Darby asked.

“Of course not. They just left.”

“Left?” Darby spat out. “What do you mean left? So this is your plan? Feed them a good meal, and send them on their way.”

“Exactly!” Otto said. “You know nothing about food service. How this diner stays open even in this little flyspeck of a town is beyond me.”

Darby leapt off his chair, and climbed up into the steeple. A minute later he called down. “They’re heading back out to the field. What a waste!”

“Hardly.” Otto snickered.

“We’re generating word-of-mouth.” Aria yelled up to him.

Otto climbed up into the steeple, and took the binoculars from Darby. He watched the two vegetablemen as they lumbered back out into the field where the rest of their ilk were still savaging the peanut plants.

The two satisfied diners stood motionless, and looked around at their fellows. The rest of the vegetablemen slowly gathered around the pair in a loose group. They all stood looking at each other, or looking at nothing in particular as they absorbed the returning pair’s pheromones and pollen. After a few moments the entire bunch all swung their heads around like synchronized robots, and looked toward the little town. Then all at once they started striding in.

Otto handed the binoculars back to Darby with a satisfied grin, and started down the ladder.

Darby peered out at the field. He dropped the binoculars, and climbed down the ladder after Otto. “Holy crow! They’re all heading in! All of them! Every single plant is marching down here like they’re following orders!”

Otto smiled at him smugly.

“And that is how you operate a restaurant.” Aria declared.

“Here, here.” Griselda said, apparently starting to feel better.

“And that is how you win a war.” Otto added. “You have some biodiesel, and something to light it with, I understand?” He asked Darby.

“All that you could hope for.” Darby responded.

Otto stood and clapped his hands. “OK, staff, we have a reservation for a party of thirty six in about fifteen minutes. Let’s prepare for dinner service! It’s going to be one hot meal!”

END