Here’s a short story I wrote last night on a vague prompt. I wanted to write a thriller, and this gave me the opportunity. They say short stories are the best places to experiment, so consider this as such. I hope you enjoy it.
“Would you like fries with that?” The kid behind the counter picked at a pimple as he punched in Mark’s order.
The sounds of the mall around them almost drowned out the words, but Mark got the idea. He shook his head. He moved his newspaper to his other hand and dug his wallet out of his pocket.
“Iced tea, please,” said Mark.
“That’s six seventy-five,” said the kid, turning aside to get the drink.
Mark didn’t have any change, so he dug a ten out of his wallet, accidentally sending a picture of his two young children to the floor. He picked it up, then handed the bill to the kid when he turned back with the drink and the receipt. He was number twenty-six. With all the noise in the food court, hearing it would be difficult. He found a close table and sat.
The mere smell of grease emanating from the fast food restaurant was making him thirsty. He took a sip of his drink. It was almost as sickening as the smell. He grimaced and put it back onto the table, unfolding the newspaper and skimming the headlines. As he read, the sound of the food court faded into the background.
Someone touched his elbow. “They want you over there,” said the man at the next table. He was almost shouting over the noise of the people around them.
Mark looked up and saw an acne-ridden kid pointing to a tray of food. He frowned. “What does he—“
“You ordered that, didn’t you?” asked the man.
Mark frowned, looking around. There were people all around him, eating and talking. It was like a giant restaurant, but there were different restaurants encircling the room. “What is this place?” he asked.
“Quit it,” said the man. “Pick up the food you ordered and eat it.”
“But I don’t remember ordering it,” said Mark. “I don’t remember coming here. I don’t remember you—are you someone I know?”
The man shook his head. “Listen, if it makes you feel better, I’ll get your food for you.” He sighed and stood up. “Where’s your ticket?”
Mark frowned. “Ticket?”
The man sighed and walked away, motioning toward Mark as he took the tray from the kid at the counter. He brought the tray back, set it on the table, and sat back down in his chair. Mark just looked at the food.
“You’re supposed to eat it,” the man said eventually.
The man threw up his hands. “Look, man, if you’re going to eat, then eat. You ordered this food, whether you remember or not. Eat it.”
Mark swallowed. His ears were beginning to hurt with the incessant noise. He didn’t know where he was. He was about to ask when he saw the man’s warning look and decided against it. He turned back to the tray.
Mark picked up the burger gingerly. It seemed like there was too much grease on it. He sniffed it and set it back down, wiping his hands on a napkin. He picked up a paper cup and peered into it. There was a brown liquid inside. He took the cap off, struggling a little with the straw, and sniffed the drink. It smelled sweet. He was thirsty. He drank.
It was as if someone punched him. All noise left Mark’s ears, leaving only a ringing sound which gradually grew into the roar of hundreds of people all around him. He looked around. People sat at small tables in the middle of a large room, eating and talking together. It looked like a community banquet hall, but there were restaurants along the walls. He could smell the grease from the one closest to him.
As he looked around, a man at the table nearest to him looked at him with scorn. How could he have offended this man already? He was just looking. He didn’t even know this place.
“What is it now?” asked the man. “Just eat.”
Mark looked back at the table in front of him. The food on the tray there looked unappetizing, though he did feel hungry. It was some sort of meat patty.
“How did I get here?” he asked the man, turning around again.
“Not this again,” said the man. “Listen, you are here to eat food. So eat food.”
“But I didn’t come here,” said Mark. “I know I didn’t. I don’t remember…”
The man frowned. “This is a really weird joke.”
“I’m not joking,” said Mark. “Who are you?”
“Better safe than sorry,” said the man, digging something out of his pocket and pressing a few buttons. He put it to his ear. “There’s a man here who can’t remember who he is or why he ordered his food…”
Mark ignored him. The man was obviously crazy, talking into that little black thing. Mark stood, looking around again.
“Hey, sit down,” said the man, pulling at his sleeve. “No, I’m talking to this guy… No, he doesn’t look drunk.”
Mark pulled his arm away and pointed at a pimpled kid behind the counter of the nearest restaurant.. “Do I know him? He’s looking at me.”
The man shook his head. “You don’t know him— No, I was talking to him again. He’s wandering around now. …Yes, I’ll see that he doesn’t get hurt.”
Mark walked toward the kid at the counter. “Who are you?” he asked.
The kid pointed to his name tag. “Zach.” He picked at one of his pimples.
“Do I know you?” Mark squinted at the kid. He didn’t seem familiar, but neither did anything around here.
“I don’t think so,” said Zach. His gaze was intense, his fingers working furiously at a scab on his face.
Things weren’t adding up. Why would he be here, in this rowdy place of strange foods? He was hungry, but what would possess a man like him to… Mark was struck by a sudden thought. He didn’t know what he was like.
“Who am I?” asked Mark.
The kid looked ecstatic. A wide smile broke over his face.
Mark frowned. People were confusing. He turned away from the kid and looked back over the room. He didn’t recognize anything. He looked down. There was a cup in his hand, full of brown liquid. He put it to his mouth.
“Hey! Stop!” shouted the man from the other table, running toward him. “It’s poisoned!”
Mark froze, the cup almost touching his lips. Poison he understood. It was bad. “How do you know?”
“You don’t remember anything?” asked the man. Carefully, Mark shook his head. The man slid the cup from his hand and looked in it. “I think there’s something in your drink,” he said, looking into it. “I saw the cashier put it in when he got it for you. I thought you had asked for sugar, but then you started acting oddly. It must be poison.”
Mark licked his lips, but they were fairly dry. He couldn’t remember any of it. He turned and looked at the kid behind the counter. His face was pale as death. “I did it,” said the kid.
“We know,” the man snapped, putting the cup firmly onto the counter and glaring at the kid. “I saw you.”
“I made the powder and I put it in your drink,” the kid said, looking at Mark. “I’m sorry, sir, I just… wanted to see if it would work.”
“Work?” the man shouted. “This man could be dying and—“
“Not dying,” said the kid. “It’s just memories. See, the powder interferes with the… well, it takes his memories. Eventually his immune system will destroy it and he’ll get his memories back.”
“Eventually,” said the man, making a face. “Stupid kid.”
Mark swallowed hard and collapsed. When he woke up, it would all be better. When he woke up, it would be better. When he woke up…