Science Fiction: Elmer

 

Elmer came from the idea that chaos isn’t always bad. Even in the most awful of circumstances, there’s always someone in the middle that doesn’t care. There’s something comforting about that.

 

- Author Eric Thomas on his feelings about his short story, Elmer.

 


 

Elmer unwrapped his biscuit, curling the paper with his fingers. He smoothed it flat and sighed, looking at the heap of dough in the middle of the greasy wrap. It was limp and soft, not a hint of brown from toasting.Every day brought the same problem. He would ask for a biscuit “toasted but not burned.” Never, not even once, had he gotten a biscuit that satisfied this simple request.Most days were like this, untoasted. On others, it was burnt. He would just marvel at the scorched mound with the flecks of black encircling it. It was never edible but Elmer respected whoever burned it. At least there was evidence of effort, an acknowledgment of the life inside the person who placed the order.

Today’s biscuit was made by an absent mind. The butter that stood in the middle looked exactly as it had when knifed from its container. Normally, he would just eat the thing and deal with it but once every few months he decided to protest. Protesting never yielded the right results but maybe today was a day he would get what he
wanted.

He spread his hands on the table, lifted himself out of the booth, and took careful steps towards the counter, abiding by the “Wet Floor” sign on the bone-dry linoleum. A group of young ladies were talking behind the counter; all dressed the same except one in stripes.

“I am so freaking tired right now.”

“I mean, it was so much fun though.”

“Yeah?”

“Did you take pictures?”

“We got so freaking wasted.”

“Did you put them on Facebook?”

“Why didn’t you text me last night?”

Elmer raised his hand halfway, waving. “Excuse me?”

“That place was crazy.”

“I would have gone.”

“It was so awesome. Tons of cool people.”

“Was he cute?”

“Not bad.”

Elmer raised his hand again. “Pardon me?”

The girls ceased their conversation and stared at Elmer. The one with the stripes leaned forward. She spoke in an exhalation. “Can I help you?”

He pushed the mound of dough into the middle of the counter. “I wanted this toasted.”

Another held out a hand in protest, her face turning into a scowl.

“Um, I toasted that.”

Elmer looked again at the pale mound. “But it isn’t -”

The girl in the striped shirt grabbed the wrapper and its contents off the counter, slamming it into the wastebasket. “I’ll make another one for you.”

Elmer pushed his chin into his chest, humiliated. The girl in stripes grabbed a biscuit out of a wire basket. She thumbed the sides open and placed it on a conveyor toaster, tapping her foot dramatically as she waited for it to return.

Elmer stood silently. When the biscuit emerged the woman grabbed it with metal tongs. She smeared it with a bit of butter, clapped it closed, and covered it with paper. She slid it across the counter.

“Sorry for the inconvenience, sir,” turned to the other employees “Now where were we?”

Elmer walked the biscuit back to the booth. He sat down and unwrapped it. It was worse than the last one.

The door to the restaurant swung open. A foul air smelling like fire and gas came rushing in. The open door amplified the sound of screams and cars crashing. The sound hung in the restaurant. The person opening the door was covered in blood. Elmer remained seated.

A moment of stunned silence, then the restaurant swept into chaos as if signaled.

The people by the doors were out in a flash, shoving the rest into the door casing. There was a gruesome shriek as people wedged in the door were snapped in half by the rush of oncoming humanity. The sound of windows smashing was everywhere. People now crowded the streets, covered in gore. Elmer watched, eyes wide.

A roar rumbled the ground. A wave of people ran for their lives, but were packed by the narrowness of the buildings on either side. They were screaming, desperate, and all were looking up. A giant black foot came down. A crunch and a great rush of blood came from beneath it, the black hair on the foot was already clotted and hanging in clumps.

Another roar and the foot came down again. More people crushed. Survivors pressed against the walls of the buildings crying, sliding to the ground in petrified heaps.

The roars were now moving past. The only sound that met Elmer’s ears were the cries from the street. The giant feet left, revealing a disaster of smashed together meat, bones, and clothes. Elmer sat motionless. The restaurant stood empty. Nothing remained except echoed screams and shards of broken glass. He closed his eyes, listening to his breath. When he opened them again he noticed the lump of cold dough in front of him, and the empty counter. Elmer lifted himself up, walked behind the counter, and fished out a biscuit out of the wire basket. He squinted at the toaster, turned a plastic knob on the side, and felt heat radiate towards him. He
thumbed the biscuit open and placed it on the belt.

When each half dropped out he smeared them with a knife-full of butter. He walked back to the booth.

Elmer unwrapped his creation and found what he had always wanted, a perfectly toasted biscuit.

 

He heard more roars in the distance and the faint sound of gunshots. He popped out his hearing aid with one curl of a finger and leaned back, enjoying the silence. He continued eating, reveling in the morning he always dreamed about, with the satisfaction that he did it himself.

 
 

You can follow Eric Thomas on Twitter at @etflint.

 
 

 

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