I run through the questions I want to ask Trent in my mind as I wait for him to finish in the kitchen. What’s a typical work week like? Who will I be working with? Is there anything in my resume or background that might prevent my application being successful? Careful, well-researched questions; each syllable perfectly designed to showcase how enthusiastic and engaged and any other quality a potential employer looks for in a model worker. God, I hate them. I don’t want to be here, doing this. Being someone I’m not, someone happy and bright and… the image of a Sartrean waiter comes to mind and I push my nerves away.
Trent finishes what he’s doing in the kitchen and comes over to where I’m sitting: a nice plastic table in a nice café. Cream coloured walls and metal cutlery. I hope I get the job. Trent wipes his greasy hands on his apron and collapses into the chair opposite me. It squeaks under his weight.
“So, David,”—he scratches his salt and pepper stubble— “Tell me about yerself.”
Easy. “I study Literature up at Fenton University. Worked at an Indian place for a while in High School where I gained experience…” I give my pre-prepared answer, trying hard to make my voice sound employable, speaking in Hemmingway sentences.
“Huh,” he grunts when I finish. “Why d’ya wanna work here?”
“Well, my previous experience—”
He interrupts. “Don’t gimme that textbook crap, kid.”
So, he’s one of those types. I risk a joke: “Money.”
“Ha! I admire yer ‘onesty. That it then, cash?”
“My dad used to take me here,” I say, surprising myself. “As a treat we’d come in, order a couple burgers, and just talk. It was nice. So when I saw you were hiring, I figured why not? Might as well give it a shot. Beats working at McDonalds.”
“Dad went missing a couple years back,”—a notch in my throat makes it hard to swallow— “Just didn’t come back from work one day.”
There’s a pause. Trent’s beady eyes dart around inside their sockets, his mouth opening and closing like a fat goldfish. Before the silence becomes awkward, I trot out one of my questions:
“So, what’s a typical work week like here?”
Trent lurches to his feet. “Come on, I’ll show ya.”
I follow him into the back kitchen and it’s like stepping into a completely different building. The kitchen is there for one purpose and one purpose only: to make a lot of food as quickly as possible. It’s dirty, too. Thin sheets of grime cover everything, the deep fryer, the knives, the sink. A staircase in the back leads down to a locked metal door, which must be the entry to a pantry.
Trent gestures to the deep fryer. “Know how to work that?”
I take a closer look at the machine. It needs fresh oil. So, I pour some in from a large canister by the sink. When that’s done, I twist knobs and manoeuvre trays, and soon there’s a pretty good bubble going. Looking up, I see Trent lock the front doors and hang a closed sign up. He waddles back to the kitchen, floorboards creaking beneath him.
“Good,” he grunts. “Make me some chips.”
“Where do you keep them?”
I get a packet of frozen chips out of the freezer and submerge them in the fryer, making the oil hiss and spit. When they’re nice and brown, I take them out and put them on a plate.
“Now, this is important, so listen up. Ya take this,”—Trent picks up a red saltshaker— “And sprinkle it on them.”
I take the saltshaker from him and go to dust the chips, but what comes out isn’t exactly salt. It’s thicker than that, more like red dandruff. It fizzles on the hot chips and makes them look all golden.
“What is that?” I ask, turning to look at Trent.
“Secret ingredient,” says Trent, and then he hits me in the face with a frying pan.
The first thing I feel when my consciousness returns to me is a blinding, angry pain behind my eyes. I go to massage my temples, but my hands jerk behind my head. Chains rattle, there’s a cold feeling around my wrists. I’m chained to a wall, I realise, this isn’t real. I hear grunting and open my eyes to stare directly into Trent’s fat, hairy arsecrack.
Oh, so I’ve gone insane. Good.
Trent straightens up, and behind him I see a body slump to the floor with a gooey squelch. Its skin has been removed, and its red muscles are bleeding in the open air. Patches of flesh cling to the body in places, but they look jagged, like someone has gone at them with a blunt knife. I watch Trent pick the body up and carry it to a pile of equally mutilated corpses, about eight in total. The ones at the bottom, black and rotting and maggoty.
“W-w-wha’?” I stammer. “Wha’ tha’?”
“Secret ingredient,” Trent grunts. “Here, yer may find this interesting.”
He places a wallet on the ground in front of me and opens it. Then lumbers up the staircase to the kitchen. I look down at the wallet and my father’s face smiles up at me from his driver’s licence. I look over at the pile and realise that the freshest one is somewhat familiar… the clothes… the hair… oh my God.
Trent comes lumbering down the staircase holding the saltshaker and a shiny metal cheese grater.
“We’ll start with the legs,” he says, rolling up my trousers.
“You bastard,” I say.
Trent just laughs and steadies the cheese grater.
I promise myself I won’t cry until after he’s gone.
I don’t keep that promise.
Harman studies Psychology at the University of Newcastle, Australia. His short fiction has previously appeared, or is forthcoming, in numerous magazines including Flame Tree Press Newsletter, After Dinner Conversation, and Cosmic Horror Monthly.