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Mr. Bauer brings us a saucy tale of the surreal nature of delivery pizza…



Chris Bauer

The doorbell rang.

For a moment, Kit imagined a sparkling, friendly brunette outside his door, full of energy and personality, wearing a short skirt and clingy top and a glittering smile. Anything was possible.

            He answered the door.

            A young man wearing a black Death Jam T-shirt and MegaPizza baseball cap held three large pizza boxes.

            “I didn’t order anything,” said Kit.

            Balancing the boxes on one arm, the young man studied the ticket stuck on the top.

            “You Kit Brown?  One sausage, one pepperoni, one pineapple. Debit card, it says.”

            “I don’t have a debit card.”  

            The young man read off a cell phone number. 

            “That’s my phone.” 

What the hell, spend the money while he had it. Kit dug into his pocket and offered a five dollar bill.

            He shut the door and stacked the pizzas on the kitchen counter. The aromas of pizza sauce, sausage, and spices seeped from the boxes.

            Kit mentally shrugged and opened the box. Pineapple was baked into the sauce and cheese to form the word ‘Answer’.

He squeezed his eyes shut, and looked again. ‘Answer’.

He flipped open the next box.

The sausage formed four letters, D-O-N-T.

            Curiosity’s momentum made him rip open the next bock without thinking.

            The pepperoni read ‘PHONE’.

            He took a step back and stared.

            It couldn’t be a genuine message—there were better ways to communicate. Words on birthday cakes or farewell cakes or anniversary cakes, yes…but pizzas? No.

            But, it was free pizza. Maybe an omen that things would improve. He pulled out a slice and bit off the tip.  He savored the taste.     

Good, but still a little too hot.

            His cell phone buzzed. Kit twisted the phone around with his free hand read the caller ID. MegaPizza.

Without thinking, he flipped the phone open. “Hello?”

A deafening sucking sound roared in his ear.

The three words flashed through his mind, but too late.  A vacuum pulled him in headfirst.  He felt himself shredded into atomic particles and ride the cell phone microwaves on a stomach churning roller coaster.

His eyes popped open.

            He was standing in a small, windowless one-room apartment. Too much was stuffed into the space--a bed, a nightstand with a photograph, a wall sized TV, the smallest bathroom in the world, and a rack of blue and yellow restaurant uniforms.

Still dizzy, he collapsed onto the bed. The photograph was directly in his line of sight.

A woman. Dark hair, eyes that glimmered with intelligence, energy, personality and a lot of other things he saw but couldn’t name.  She wore a blue and yellow fast food uniform.

“Cliff Brown! Time to wake up!”

Kit jumped up and spun in the direction of the sound.  The TV showed a young woman in a short cheerleader’s skirt and MeggaPizza sweater bouncing with manic enthusiasm. She back-flipped out of the picture, and the company logo filled the screen.

            Kit remembered the phone call.  He fumbled in his

pocket for the cell phone, and pressed re-dial.

            One ring. He was certain he’d hear the sucking sound again, to feel himself shredded into atomic particles, and end up back where he started.

“MegaPizza.” The voice came from outside the door.

He dialed 911. No signal. He pushed speed dial for his friend Whitney. No signal. Mom. No signal. He carefully punched in the number. No signal.

“Customers!” blared the TV.  The cheerleader did a summersault, and landed pointing her finger at him. “Cliff Brown! You have customers!”

Customers? Somebody else’s, not his.

He marched to the door.

Kit froze at the bathroom mirror. He wore a blue and yellow uniform, with the word MEGAPIZZA stitched across his chest. He gritted his teeth and mentally reversed the backwards reflection of the name tag. It said ‘Cliff Brown.’

            Who in the hell was Cliff Brown, and what was he doing in his uniform?

He grabbed the door handle and pulled.

The smell of cooking pizza washed over him. Men and women in blue and yellow scurried around the pizza kitchen, shouting orders, answering phones, carrying boxes to the front. Customers in a dozen different fast food uniforms—Chicken Supreme, Burger Barn, Indian Express—he didn’t know how he knew the restaurant names—crowded the counter picking up their orders.

She was there, the woman in the photograph.

She turned from her work and gave him a smile and a  little wave. For that instant the noise ceased, swept away by her eyes and smile.

He was still frozen in place when she gave him a hug. He felt her press into him, the swell of her breasts, the hardness of her hips. 

            “No hug back?” she asked.

            Kit squeezed back. He wasn’t sure why, but it came naturally.     

            “See you next shift,” she said, handing him an oversized ring of keys. Kit looked at the keys, trying to think what to do, and failed.

            “Cliff, are you OK?” she asked. “You don’t look right.”

            “I’m not myself,” he answered.

            “See you third shift.”  She gave him the smile from the photograph, and walked toward the rear of the restaurant. He turned to watch as she pulled off her MegaPizza cap, and dark hair cascaded free.

She opened a door in the back wall, and Kit caught sight of a room much like his.

            He should have looked at her nametag.

            “Excuse me,” he called, “I—“

A dozen closely spaced doors bounced open in the restaurant’s back, spewing men and women in blue and yellow uniforms.

Mimicking the cheerleader’s attitude, they exchanged places with the other employees—standing in the exact same spot, picking up the same pizza boxes, fingers over the same cash register keys.

            Kit followed them with his eyes, and gulped.

            The mall’s food court sprawled into the distance. He traced the restaurant signs—Mexican, burgers, Greek, Indian, more burgers, Chinese, Chicken Five Ways, burgers again—until the signs faded in the distance. 

            “Uh, like, uh, you’re in the way.”

            Kit turned to see a young man with pimply skin and greasy hair tucked under a MegaPizza hat.  His nametag said Jerry.

            Beside him, a conveyor belt splattered with tomato sauce spewed out pizzas.

“Have you ever seen the toppings make words?” Kit


            Jerry whipped an empty box from a stack and caught a veggie pizza as it dropped off the conveyor belt. “No way.  Every pizza has the same consistent quality.”

            The cheerleader’s voice exploded through the food court, bouncing off the walls.           

“Cliff Brown! You have won the promotion lottery!”

            “What’s the Promotion Lottery?” asked Kit.

Jerry’s mouth dropped. “You forgot? It’s what every associate dreams of!  Their name being picked out of the bucket—“

A pizza slid off the conveyer belt, exploding on the floor in shrapnel of sausage and pepperoni.

            “I’m not paying for that pizza,” said Jerry.

            A torrent of blue and yellow balloons dropped from the ceiling, landing on employees, the kitchen floor, and unboxed pizzas. Stray balloons landed on the conveyor belt, popping as they caught in the rollers.

A man and woman and blue and yellow business suits bounded over the front counter.  “We’re the Promotion Team!” they shouted.

The woman pushed in front of her partner. “Cliff Brown! You’re number was picked at random from hundreds of entries!. You’re on your way to a fabulous new Promotion!”

Her associate took Kit’s arm. He shook himself free. “I’m not Cliff Brown. I don’t belong here.”

The woman from the photograph burst from her door in the back, arms outstretched. She slammed into Kit at a run, her arms pulling him close. He felt her tears as she nestled her head between his neck and shoulder.

“You’ve been promoted,” she sobbed. “I’ll never see you again.”

“I don’t understand.”

 “But you have to go.”  She sniffed and wiped her eyes.  “It’s been a wonderful six months, Cliff.” She hugged him again, whispering. “It has to be, but I’ll miss you.”

A blizzard of blue and yellow confetti dropped. Kit was blinded, and she slipped from his grasp.

“What’s your name?” he called. He pushed his way into the confetti storm, arms outreached. “Where are you?”

“MegaPizza! MegaPizza! MegaPizza!” poured out of loudspeakers. 

The Promotion Team grabbed Kit’s arms and propelled him backwards.

Kit broke away. “Keep your hands off me.”

An electric shock ran through him, filling his vision with blue fireballs. He woke to find the Promotion Team stuffing him into yellow and blue golf cart. The vehicle lurched into gear, and whirred away.

He tried to form words of protest, but only garbled noise came out.

The woman pointed a stun-gun at him, its tip crackling with blue electricity. She grinned like a tigress. “I like using this.”

Her associate was driving, and glanced over his shoulder. “Cliff,” he said, “Keep things in perspective. This is a promotion. Your career is what counts.”

The numbness was wearing off, and Kit struggled to turn his head. He sounded like he had just spent an hour in a dentist’s chair. “My name’s not Cliff.  I don’t belong here.”

“How hard did you zap him?” the driver asked.

The woman responded with an artificial smile. “His name is Cliff Brown and he just won the Promotion Lottery.”

Kit heard the words, but the electric shock still buzzed through his brain. “I didn’t enter a lottery.”

The woman twisted Kit’s head toward her, and held the stun gun to his nose. “Work with me or you’ll end up in the Unemployment Draft.”

The golf cart slowed, brakes screeching, and stopped beside a pair of elevator doors.

They whooshed open, and symphonic arrangements of eighties rock music poured out. The Promotion Team pulled Kit to his feet, and shoved him into the elevator.

“Wait! There’s been a mistake,” yelled Kit in desperation. He searched the elevator walls for a stop button, or any button. There wasn’t any.

            The doors swished shut, and the elevator climbed.

*          *          *

            The rear door of the elevator slid open.

Row after row of office cubicles spread as far as he could see.

A grey-haired woman popped from around the corner and grabbed Kit by the arm.        

Kit broke free.

“C’mon,” she pleaded. “I won the Retirement Lottery and can’t leave until you’re trained.”

“You have the wrong man.”

“No I don’t. You just got promoted.”

“By lottery?” asked Kit.

            “It’s the only fair way.”

The woman reached for his arm, but Kit dodged her.

“It only takes a minute. Please?” she whined.

The electric buzz from the stun gun still lingered, but he ran anyway.

 Row after row of cubicles passed in a blur as he jogged down the hall, then slowed to a stop.

            He stood in the maze of cubicles. Lost. He should have spent less energy being angry, and more on paying attention to where he was going.         

The lights in the office blinked.

            “Quitting time!” announced a chorus of voices.

            Cubicles spewed a blue and yellow horde of employees  pushing their way through competing mobs. Kit clung to a vacant cubicle, resisting the human current.

The rush of uniformed bodies thinned, and now was the time to escape. The office had to have an outside wall, and maybe an outside wall would have a door.

Kit passed legions of cubicles, and a giant room labeled Happy Hour, with cigarette smoke, music and

conversations pouring through its entrance. 

A beige, featureless wall loomed before him. The door was only a few cubicles away.  At eye level, in small beige letters were the words ‘This Is Not An Exit.’ Kit pushed the door open. No alarms, no flashing lights, no sirens.

The door led to a downward stairway. He stopped to think his next step through. The door might lock behind him, trapping him in the stairwell. He wedged his pocket comb into the lock.

At the bottom of the stairs was another door, the same beige color, with the same beige warning. Bits of dirt and trash littered the floor along with scraps of food wrappers, and a crushed plastic straw.

He shoved the door open.

Kit blinked in the golden glare of the setting sun. The air was cool, not uncomfortable, but crisp enough to let him know he was alive. In front of him sprawled a parking lot, its lines faded, and an occasional dumpster on its side.

“That’s my door,” said a woman’s voice.

She wore remnants of several fast food uniforms. Her red hair was sprinkled with grey, and she looked clean scrubbed.

“I didn’t know it was your door.”

She looked him up and down. “You look like a newbie. You don’t know any different.”

The woman held out her hand. “I’m Athena.”

He shook hands. “I’m Kit.”

“Your uniform says ‘Cliff.’”  

 “That’s the problem. I don’t belong here. I just came out of…” he gestured behind.

“We all did,” she said.

“We? You escaped?”

“Anything’s better than living in that beige climate controlled fast-food hell,” she answered.

“Where do you live?”

She pointed toward one of the dumpsters on its side. “You just empty one out, get help tipping it over, and scrub it out.”

“Don’t they try to get them back?”

She walked to a nearby dumpster shoved against a steel garage door. “Never have before. They just push out another one. Must have an infinite supply.”

She lifted the dumpster lid. “Since you’re the newbie, you have to get supper. In you go.”

With the mention of supper, he realized he hadn’t eaten since that one nibble of pizza in his apartment. He tried to compute how long ago, and gave up when his stomach growled.

He peeked inside the dumpster.  He smelled fast food.  Fresh. Not the usual sour stink of garbage. 

Kit pulled himself up to the edge, then swung himself inside.

He stood on pizza boxes, fried chicken boxes, burger bags. He bent and selected a pizza box, half expecting it to have a message. The pepperoni was scattered across the cheese at random.

“This doesn’t look like garbage. It all looks good. Why throw away perfectly good food?” he asked.

“That’s the way it is,” she answered. “Find me a pizza.”

Pizza and its ramifications made his stomach twist, so he selected a bag of burgers for himself.

“Want to join me for dinner?” she asked. Athena pointed to a dumpster, next to a mall mound of dirt sprouting a few struggling daisies.

At her dumpster, Athena pulled out stools and a short table made of duct taped pizza boxes.

Kit craned his head back and watched grey dusk creep across the deep blue sky.  He could smell distant greenery and the fresh air of unconfined spaces.  Images of his former life came to mind, followed with the tearful face of the girl who hugged him goodbye.

 “How did you escape?” Kit asked.

“Just walked out,” she said. “Had walk out or go crazy.” Athena opened her pizza box and studied the sausage scattered over the cheese. “Did you ever imagine the toppings made patterns?”

Kit put down his burger. “That’s how I got here. Some kid shows up with three pizzas, and the topping made words. Don’t answer phone, they said.”  He dug into his pocket and pulled out his cell phone.  “The phone rang, and I got sucked through it into MegaPizza.”

He dialed his mother’s number. No signal. He shut the phone and slid it into his pocket.

Athena had stopped eating, and was staring at him. “Sucked into this place by cell phone?  That’s pretty bizarre.”

“Honest to God, that’s what happened.”

Athena turned her pizza around to look at the sausage from different angles. “Hmm. No words.”

She selected another slice. “You can join us,” she said. “Life is good. Fresh air, nice weather, free food. You’re a free person out here.”

Kit rolled her words over in his mind. He sat back and watched the darkness creep across the sky.  He could make out hints of stars.

 “There’s this girl, back at MegaPizza,” he said. “There was something about her. I need to see her again.” He shrugged and bit into his burger. “Chemistry, I guess.”

“You can go back in,” said Athena  “We do it all the time.” She waved around. “You don’t see any bathrooms out here, do you?  We use the executive baths on the third floor. Gold plated faucets, crystal shower doors…“

“If people can go in and out, why do people stay inside?”

“Maybe they don’t know any better.”

A gentle breeze stirred through the growing darkness.

“What’s her name?  The girl inside?” she asked.

Kit looked down at the ground. “I didn’t catch it.”

“Everybody wears a name tag.” She pointed to Kit’s chest. “Yours says Cliff.”

“I’m not Cliff,” he said. He noticed he sounded less convinced than before.

Kit thought of the girl inside, how she smiled at him, how he felt good just being near her.  He took a deep  breath and stood up.

“I’m going back in,” he announced.

*          *          *

Jeanne and Kit lay nestled together in bed like spoons on their sides.

With his fingertip, he gently traced the mound from her hips down to the valley of her waist, and then up to the shoulders.  He lifted her hair and kissed the back of her neck.

The television exploded to life. 

“Time to wake up, Jeanne Begoode!  You have customers!”

The cheerleader in the MegaPizza colors bounded across the screen and landed in a split.

Jeanne stirred, and rolled over.  She looked at Kit in surprise. “You’re still here!”

“Why wouldn’t I be?”  A tendril of hair had fallen across her face.  He tenderly brushed it aside.

“I thought you’d go back upstairs. You’ve been promoted.”

“I can come and go as I please, and I want to be with you.”

She reached for his hand.

“Jeanne Begoode!” blared the cheerleader.  “Customers, Jeanne.  Customers!” The TV switched itself off.

He kissed her on the forehead.  “Go to work.  I’ll come with you.”

The MegaPizza was the organized chaos he remembered-ringing phones, employees rushing back and forth with pizza, packages of toppings, bags of dough.

Jeanne disappeared gone into the rush.

Kit paused to watch the orders come in on the giant video screen. His eyes went wide.

“Who’s got that order?” he yelled.

His voice was lost in the noise. 

From the corner of his eyes, he saw the back of a black T-shirt and a MegaPizza hat going through the door with a stack of pizzas.

“Hey! Stop!”  The door shut, then opened.  The young man balanced the boxes against the wall.

“Do you remember me?” Kit asked.

“Should I?”

“You can go in and out right?  You deliver pizzas to people’s houses?”

The young man scratched his head. “Well, yeah.”

Kit had found the way out. He could deliver pizzas to himself. Just walk out with this stack of boxes and…

He thought of Jeanne. He turned and searched, glimpsing her tucking a stray bang under the cap as she took a phone order.

“Bring me those pizzas,” said Kit.

He unzipped the delivery bag.

“You shouldn’t do that,” said the young man.

Kit ignored him and opened the first pizza addressed to him. Sausage, the chunks of meat formed in no particular pattern. He opened the second, random pepperoni.  The third was pineapple. 

A horrible thought came to mind.  Maybe the other Kit would answer the phone, and end up taking his place. 

He wasn’t ready to leave.  He wasn’t as ready to go back to his old life as he had thought. He treasured Jeanne

and the parking lot’s quiet and fresh air.  Maybe he would take Jeanne outside one day. Thanks to the kid in the black T-shirt, Kit even knew a way back.

Kit had everything a man could want. He couldn’t let the other him make that phone call.

He knew what to do.

            “Throw those away,” he ordered. “Wait here. I’ll make them myself.”

            He laid out three pizza crusts, slathered them with sauce, and scattered the tops with cheese.  He grabbed a handful of sausage, and on the first shaped the letters   D-O-N-T.  Then he took a handful of pineapple, and on the next pizza wrote the second word….