Everyone knows the best part of a night out is falling into a fast food shop and stuffing yourself with greasy carbs until you’re sick. After I drank much more than I thought possible, the idea of a juicy burger wouldn’t leave my mind. Me and Joe had left the club early, but our normal place was closed. We hadn’t lived in the area long, and our uni was miles away from any food shops. But we were desperate to find somewhere.
So we walked on about a mile, the buildings all merging into a grey haze. My eyes were drifting around the area, searching for a glimmer of neon, the promise of greasy beef keeping me on my feet. Joe was a lot more sober than me, so he had an arm around my shoulder, making sure I didn’t trip over and knock myself out. I promised myself I wouldn’t sleep before I ate, so KO’ing on the pavement wasn’t an option right now.
As we were close to giving up and hailing a cab, something caught my eye. As I began to focus my bleary eyes, I noticed a small shop tucked around the corner of the street. The signage was in a different language, but a small cartoon mascot of a pig in a crown was enough to win me over. As we walked closer, there was a sign in English. “Burgers, Pizza, Chicken.” I’m not a religious man but I was ready to get on my knees and pray that this place was open.
And sure enough, as we stumbled within walking distance, the door swung open and a guy walked out. With food! I jumped through the door so fast I almost knocked him back inside. Joe shook his head and politely held the door open. Fuck that, I thought. I’m hungry.
As I enter the small dining room of this restaurant, something seems really off. It’s too clean here. All the other fast food shops in the area were greasy, dirty. A shitty rainbow of stains from the variety of bodily fluids and spillages. But not here. The whole room was lit with neon pink lighting, and the booths were black leather. Yes, you heard me correctly. REAL LEATHER.
Whilst pondering the interior decor of the restaurant, Joe had walked in and already placed his order. I joined him at the counter, and looked at the menu on the wall. I noticed two things at this point. Number one, there are no words on this menu, only pictures. Okay, that’s fine, I know what burgers look like, no biggy. However, my other observation was that there were no customers here. We’d usually be battling fifty other drunks for a taste of greasy delight, but there was literally one other person here. The young girl behind the counter, who looked barely old enough to be out of school, let alone running a restaurant on her own.
My turn to order came around. I pointed at the burger, near enough reaching over the counter and touching the picture. I made sure she understood exactly what I wanted, these things are important when you’re as intoxicated as I was. I was salivating thinking about how quickly I was going to eat. I had earned this meal.
The girl nodded politely, and walked off round the corner into the kitchen. We had a great view of the small kitchen, and to my amazement, it was also sparkling clean. There was definitely a secret cleaner around here somewhere. Perhaps she scuffled out between each customer and went back to hide because she’s shy. I don’t know. It’s not important.
I was impressed to see the talent this girl had. She was mixing ingredients, chopping onions, frying garlic. She was the real deal. A mini Gordon Ramsay.
About ten minutes later, after me and Joe had been talking about nonsense for a while, the girl presented our meals in two white styrofoam boxes. We paid, smiled at one another and walked off. As we turned around, I could still feel the girl watching us, her stare burning into the back of my head. Against better judgement, I turned just as I walked through the door. The girl muttered a few words.
“I’ll see you soon”.
I nodded politely, but I assumed I’d never see her again. This place was over a mile from uni, and I only come out once in a blue moon. Fuck knows how I’d ever get here again, even if I wanted to. That didn’t help settle the anxious voice in the back of my head though. Something was off.
Fast forward twenty minutes, me and Joe are on the bench, chomping through layers of moist beef and crispy lettuce. I had mayonnaise in my beard and down my t-shirt, but my god was it worth it. We talked a bit about life, girls, getting older. He showed me a ring he had bought for his girlfriend. Apparently he’s been keeping it in his jacket ready for the right moment. Good on him. I could never settle down at our age.
We finished our food and parted ways. I got home, threw up and feel asleep on the floor. Brilliant night.
The next day at uni, I wasn’t feeling all that great. I don’t usually get bad hangovers, but this was all focused on my stomach. I had puked a couple of times that morning, and now I felt starving. I tried to eat some cereal but it came right back up. All I wanted was another burger. I was desperate for meat, minced flesh fried into a perfect disk in a bun. Joe wasn’t at uni. He wouldn’t answer his phone although I tried a couple of times. He was either feeling the burn worse than me, or he’d lost his phone. Whatever, he’s an adult, he can look after himself.
At the cafeteria after my first seminar, I couldn’t for the life of me find anything good to eat. There were salads, sausage pastries, soups. But no fucking burgers. Now I’m all up for a meat free Monday to help the earth and climate change, but what kind of place only sells burgers once a week on a set day? God help me. I felt sick to my stomach, and anything else I attempted to eat just came right back up the way it went in. If it wasn’t so looked down upon by society, I’d be biting down into Kathy the plump lunch lady right at that moment. I wanted a slab of meat, I didn’t care if it was cooked or not.
I gritted my teeth and spent the rest of the day in class. Right after, I decided I was finding this pink neon burger place again. There were restaurants closer to campus, but I’d tasted heaven and I wanted a second turn. I raced in the direction I remembered, and after a few false moves, found my way. Luckily, this place didn’t seem to close. There were a few more people in there since my last visit, but I was happy to join the queue.
As expected, little Gordon Ramsay was behind the counter. We exchanged smiles, I pointed, she cooked and presented. I ate it there on the spot, and took another for later.
This continued for two weeks. I swear to God, the only thing I could eat was this burger. I tried a couple of other items from the menu, but they barely touched the sides. I didn’t even bother with the buns or salad after a while. Pile up the meat and let me eat. Good slogan, I’m gonna use that next time.
Apart from there won’t be a next time.
I went back yesterday, and to my horror, the place had a notice on the door. “CLOSING DOWN TOMORROW”. I slid through the door, and the girl was behind the counter, crying.
I went to comfort her. She couldn’t explain anything to me, but was trying to rush me out. She obviously wanted to close right there and then. She escorted me out the door, and before I had a chance to think, she had locked up and disappeared back into the kitchen.
I couldn’t understand it. The restaurant was doing really well, and many of my friends really liked it there. She couldn’t have been strapped for cash. I also hadn’t seen Joe since our first night eating burgers. Perhaps he finally got the balls to propose to his girlfriend. It didn’t sit right with me that he hadn’t called, but no-one else seemed too worried. Good on him I guess.
At this point in time, I was desperate for one last taste. I imagine it’s what drug addicts feel like. One more hit and then I’m done. I didn’t know how I was going to go on after today, but I was sure of one thing. I’m getting one more taste.
I slipped around the wall, and noticed a back entrance to the kitchen. It was a risk, but one I was willing to take. I snuck up like a ninja and crept through the fire door. The girl was nowhere to be found, but as if by magic, there was a burger frying up right now! I could quickly swipe it with a napkin and slip out before she saw me.
I picked up a few napkins, removed the pan from the heat and grabbed it. It was searing hot, so I dropped it onto the side for a second. It fell into a puddle of blood juice, but I wasn’t bothered. That’s the garnish sorted.
I blew on it for a few seconds, standing with my back to the wall in case she came back. I took a few bites, and it was everything I wanted it to be. Juicy, moist heaven. My ecstasy was short lived when I heard a scream. It was quickly cut off, as if covered with a hand.
I snapped back into reality and decided to get out now. I walked over to the same fire exit I came in. And then I saw something on the side. I walked over, and was in front of a large walk-in freezer. There were empty boxes covering the floor, but I wasn’t looking at them.
I was looking at a purple jacket, perfectly folded and placed on a rack shelf with many other clothes. I walked up the rack and grabbed the jacket… and out fell a ring. The same ring Joe was going to propose with. Oh shit.
I don’t know quite what I was thinking at this time. Why would he have left his ring and jacket here? Perhaps he had left them outside and the girl brought them back in. That would make sense. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case.
Inside the walk-in fridge, I saw the worst thing I have ever seen in my life. Piles of bloody body parts, detached fingers, hands stripped to the bone. This was a professional job, no wastage. Piles of bones and prepared body part snacks. There was a mincing machine just outside the fridge. As I looked at the bloodied metal of the industrial grinder, I saw a body part hanging inside, half minced. It was a foot, with a distinctive tattoo. In the year I had known Joe, I told him that getting a tattoo of a camel on his foot would be a stupid and childish thing to do. He remarked that it was hilarious, and in the case that he was ever murdered, people would be able to identify him.
He was fucking right. God knows where the rest of Joe was, I’m pretty sure some of him was in my stomach. I rushed out, called the police and went straight home. I don’t know what happened to the girl. Joe’s family found out and it was hell.
But something is really troubling me. I didn’t feel sick running away from the scene. I didn’t feel nauseous around the metallic smell of stale blood. I felt hungry. I had eaten some of my best friend in the most literal sense, and I wished for only one thing.
I wish I could have had one more bite.