Mike and Diane Wilson -
Free Spirit Writers
"I'm sick of veggie burgers!" Brinsley muttered as he tipped sunflower oil onto the hotplate. "If only something would happen!"
Brinsley was manager, chief chef and pan washer in The Shack and he was bored. Even today's horryscoop promised a bad heir day. If business didn't pick up soon, his dad, Baron Ironfist, would sack him. Brinsley needed something to make his fortune.
The door opened and a helpful breeze assisted two carters to the counter.
"Two veggie burgers. Heavy on the sauce." The man resembled a pile of tyres wrapped in cotton. On his chest was the slogan "Carters do it with." Brinsley knew there was more but couldn't make out the word as it struggled to escape the rolls of fat.
"Two veggies," Brinsley murmured and turned to the fryer, kicking the dragon awake.
Brinsley's concentration was interrupted when he heard the word "Beefburger." He gasped. He nearly choked. He fought for breath! The word was so unclean it positively reeked with filth and depravation. Ever since Imperial Blair had banned meat, words like that had never been uttered. By anyone. On pain of . . . well something extremely painful!
But two strangers were talking about it, in plain daylight. Brinsley's ear stretched towards the carters, waiting for that word. He continued mixing vegetables, his ears straining to capture more of their conversation. A youth of stiffer backbone might have questioned the carters, but so enormous was that prospect that Brinsley contented himself with a whisper. "Beefburger." He let the word slip from his mouth and waited to be zapped. Brinsley had never before uttered aloud such a controversial word in any of his eighteen years. It was unlikely that he would ever do so again.
Brinsley's limbs twitched. "Whaaat?" he stammered, turning to look at the second carter, whose ruffian visage sported a walrus moustache and caterpillar brows.
"You said 'Beefburger'."
"Er, er, er." Brinsley didn't know what to say.
"You do know what a beefburger is, don't you?"
"I've heard of it. It's meat, isn't it?"
"Meat, boy? I'll say it's meat. It's delicious. Don't tell me you've never tasted beefburgers."
"N . . . no, I haven't." Brinsley's head hung in shame.
"What?" The man nudged Pile-o-Tyres, who was watching the maelstrom of traffic outside. "Here, Pilo, this kid's never eaten beefburgers."
"What? Never eaten beefburgers? I don't believe it!" Pilo's mouth dropped open. "You haven't enjoyed that tasty concoction of minced beef, onions and eggs, lad?"
Brinsley shook his head. "Never."
"Never? I don't know what to say, Walrus. I mean, he looks normal, but he can't be if he's never eaten beefburgers."
"But, you see . . ." Brinsley started to explain.
"What?" Pilo and Walrus came closer and stared into Brinsley's eyes.
"Er, we're all vegetarian here. That's why you have a veggie burger when you come." Brinsley was getting his nerve back.
"We have a veggie burger here because it's a change from blood red meat. You can't get veggies once you're over the border. You've got a nice operation here, lad. Don't go spoiling it. Why, this place is famous for its veggie burgers." Pilo's face moulded itself into a grin. It was the same as his grimace, but grins came with teeth.
"But . . . just once, I'd like to taste . . ."
"Yeeeees?" The carters looked at each other and then back at Brinsley.
"Beefburgers!" Brinsley said it out loud, the "Bs" exploding from his lips.
The carters stared.
Brinsley grinned. "I said it, didn't it?" A feeling of relief swept over him, like an outsize double-thickness heavy serge overcoat dropping to the floor.
"After that, lad, let me treat you to a drink. What'll you have? Ironbrew, pokypola, lemmynide?" Walrus threw a handful of coppers onto the counter.
"Er, lemmynide please." Brinsley wasn't quite sure why he was being rewarded but he needed a swift sugar intake to bolster his courage.
Pilo turned to Brinsley. "Now, lad, I've an idea. It's Thursday. Why not declare today half-day closing and shut your shack?"
"Sh . . . shut my sh . . . shack?" Brinsley stammered, lemmynide spraying from his open mouth.
"Yeh. Just for an afternoon. You're entitled to some time off, surely?"
"Well I never thought of that." Brinsley considered his father's reaction if he asked for even half an hour off. But . . . nothing gambled, nothing won. "I . . . s'pose I could."
"Right, lad. Cancel the veggies. Come on."
"C . . . come on, come on where?" Brinsley's face sported such a puzzled expression it resembled a crossword.
"With us. We'll introduce you to . . . beefburgers."
"B . . . beefburgers?
"Stop stammering, boy. You fancy eating a beefburger?"
"Oh, yes! Where are we going?" Brinsley hurried round the shack, discarding his cooking, stoppering the dragon and blowing out the lamps. He hung his smock on the claw on the door then locked up. He nearly dropped the key when he heard the simultaneous reply:
"Cowsville? But that's in the next county, it's miles away," gabbled Brinsley.
"'Course it is lad. But you'll be able to taste beefburgers at last."
"B . . . b . . . b . . ." Brinsley couldn't finish it. He stood there, his eyes staring into the distance.
* * *
The cart drew up beside a pile of haphazard timbers. Across a doorway were the words "The Snack Attack," artfully constructed from pieces of twisted metal. Brinsley clambered off the cart, as Pilo and Walrus dismounted behind the unicorns.
"Here we are, lad. Time for your first beefburger."
"I'm starving! Can I start now?"
"Righto!" Pilo and Walrus lifted Brinsley with a fist in each armpit and hoisted him on to the doorstep.
"Open up then, lad!" The men stood back as Brinsley reached out a trembling hand.
The door swung open and Brinsley's nostrils were assailed by the most captivating, salivating smell he'd ever encountered. He knew, without a shadow of doubt, that the smell was beefburger. It was so exotic, so unworldly, so . . . meaty. Brinsley licked his lips and stepped inside.
Pilo and Walrus followed him into the gloom of The Snack Attack. In the far corner, a man stood amid a pale blue haze with a hint of flame. He was bowling ball round, only five feet tall. He wore a vest of knobbly cotton the colour of a setting sun and trousers which days before had merely been grubby and stained.
The man swung round, his huge glistening face beaming at the trio. "What'll it be, lads?"
Pilo announced, precisely, with spaces between the words: "Three beefburgers, just plain burgers, no brown sauce, no ketchup . . . in white baps with a mere smearing of grease."
"Yo-kay!" Big Red turned and busied himself.
Pilo turned to Brinsley. "You wait, lad. You wait until that beefburger grease dribbles over your tongue. You've never lived until you've had beefburger in your mouth. It's gorgeous, it's . . . it's . . . You wait, lad."
"How long?" Brinsley gabbled, hopping from one foot to the other. "How long?"
"Only a minute or two, lad, that's all. Then you can have . . . beefburger!"
Brinsley's ears tuned into the sounds. Slightly subdued by the hulk of Big Red, there was a chorus of crackling, a susurration of sizzling, the staccato spitting of fats exploding on the griddle. Brinsley licked his lips, and took a deep breath, filling his nostrils with meaty smells.
"Lad! It'll taste as good as it smells." Walrus laid a hand on Brinsley's shoulder. "Life will never be the same again, lad. Not once you've tasted burger. You'll become a carnivore, a meat-eater, a devourer of flesh. There'll be fanatics who'll condemn you, and others will sneer. But you'll have eaten burger. Of all creation's meaty things, burger is the most delicious." Walrus offered the information with an air of authority.
Big Red turned and placed three sizzling lumps on three halves of bap. "Here you are, three beefburgers." He flipped another three halves on top. With a gentle caress of his huge fists, Big Red squeezed the baps down on the platters.
Brinsley picked up a bap, tentatively at first, then more confidently. He looked at Pilo, then Walrus.
"Eat up, lad!" said Big Red. "Enjoy!"
Brinsley yawned his jaw so that his teeth were out of harm's way as the delicacy entered his mouth. His tongue touched the bap and the edge of the burger. Brinsley closed his mouth and his teeth cut through the bap until they met. He chewed once, then twice, then quicker as juices from the burger mixed with the bap until his mouth was filled by a most heavenly taste.
Brinsley swallowed and licked his lips. He gazed at the three men in turn then breathed a sigh of sheer pleasure. "De-e-e-e-elicious," he said, and opened his mouth for another bite.
Within seconds the burger had disappeared. Grinning, Brinsley dragged the back of his hand across his face. "Delicious," he said. "I'm going to make beefburgers. I'll sell them in every village. I'll paint my name on the shop doors."
"Brinsley's?" shouted Pilo and Walrus and Big Red.
"No!" said Brinsley. "My surname. McDonald's!"
This story won me a certificate and a trophy in the NAWG competitions for 2006.