“How long on those fries?” Mr. Finkleton cried as he wrapped burgers in grease proof paper and thrust them into a bag.

“Thirty seconds,” Dominick said, watching the timer on the front side of the fryer.

Fries took two minutes to cook. Onion rings took three; chicken patties took four and a half. Dominick knew all the times by heart. It was something he’d been proud of once, back when he was still a kid and this was just an after school job he’d taken to earn enough to keep gas in his car.

That was six years ago. He’d graduated high school with little thought for his future other than just getting out of his parent’s house.

College had never really been an option for Dominick Hanrahan. He’d never had the drive to keep his grades up beyond just squeaking through at a solid D average, he’d avoided all manner of sports like a zombie apocalypse, and he’d never been able to spell extracurricular activity, much less know what one was, so a scholarship was out of the question. His parents had always seemed to be between jobs which made a college fund something akin to Bigfoot, so paying his way had never been an option.

He’d been told by his high school counselor, on more than one occasion, about the various Federal Aid programs that might help pay for his post-secondary education, but in the end, Dominick just wasn’t interested in more school. He’d never had the kind of fond memories of his days at Eudora High that hearkened back to the fabled ‘Glory Days’. He’d always just been one those walking-the-halls teenagers who had generally tried to avoid getting beat up, a task he’d often found unsuccessful.

At twenty-two, he still felt like the same guy. But instead of classrooms, classmates, and lockers; he had walk-in freezers, coworkers, and fryers. He couldn’t imagine a life that would ever be much different.

The fryer beeped at him. The fries were done. He turned off the alarm, pulled the basket from the oil, shook the excess oil from the fries, and dumped them into the scoop station where he used the specialized fry scoop to fill a medium sized colorful box with the hot fries. It was, in fact, his last medium fry box.

“I need fry boxes,” Dominick announced. He shuffled out of the cook aisle before Mr. Finkleton could respond and made his way into the back room where they kept all of the supplies.

A minute later he found small fry boxes, large fry boxes, even super extra-large fry boxes, but no mediums.

He stuck his head around the corner to look up the cook aisle.

“I don’t see any,” he called out.

“Try the basement,” Mr. Finkleton shouted back. “We got them on the truck two days ago.”

The basement.

Dominick hated the basement.

There were spiders in the basement.

He caught Mel’s eye as she threw him a look of mock terror. He only scowled in return.

The Happy Hamburger had been built so that you weren’t able to get to the basement from within the building. Meaning that Dominick had to leave through the back door and take the steps to the right that led down underneath the pavement. He stood at the landing and gazed into the dankness that was the bottom of the concrete steps. Nothing moved, but he knew the spiders were there.

The last time he’d been in the basement he’d seen a lizard. Mel hadn’t believed him, but he had seen it all the same. It had been a tiny little thing, but it had been clinging to one of the concrete walls. All Dominick could think of from that point on while he’d looked for a box of cups was the horror of lizards and spiders dropping down on top of him from the ceiling. He could feel them crawling beneath his shirt even now as he stood looking down the stairs.

He didn’t have to go down there. He could quit. Just walk away. There had to be better places in this city to work. Jobs that don’t require you to brave falling spiders and lizards.

Two thoughts changed his mind and got his feet moving down the steps.

The first was his fifty dollar-a-month comic book habit. If he walked away now, he wasn’t guaranteed to find a new place of employment right away. It may be weeks before he would be hired on someplace else, and he couldn’t miss picking up any of his issues.

The second was the thought of starting somewhere new. Being around people he didn’t know and being put into a situation where he would be forced to get to know them. It all sounded like a lot of work. Plus, he’d have to learn how to do this new job. It would be like starting all over, which, in fact, was exactly what it would be.

So he made his way down the stairs, pausing on the final step to give his surroundings the sort of visual inspection that would cause even Sherlock Holmes to comment on the high degree of obsessive behavior. Satisfied that there were no spiders or lizards about, Dominick stepped off the last step, opened the door to the basement, leaned in just far enough to flick on the lights, and then shuffled inside.

To be continued . . .

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