In a Stew

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The catering is a low building covered in metal sheet and ventilation piping. It's like a coop, but for humans. I think I'm gonna like it here.

Surprisingly, the place is almost empty. Rodrigo is probably recovering at home, but I was at least expecting to find Leon here. Is everyone just spreading the word of how bad the food is and going somewhere else? Shit. Unless they appear in the next half-hour or so, that wasn't the best way to find the guys.

The line is weirdly made: it's self-service that looks like it's mean to be served instead. I have to go behind the tables to grab enough fries to put on my tray. There is a sturdy-looking white man in his forties at the end of the line. He nods approvingly at the tray covered in fries and the small ketchup dish.

"You have to eat lots," he says in a dispassionate voice, "it's important to be fat and healthy."

I nod politely and scurry along. There isn't really a point in answering that. It's not the first or the last time that guys are gonna feel free to comment on what my body looks like. 'Too skinny', 'Not booby enough', 'Not enough exercise' are a common theme. Too bad none of you are the people that I want eyeing me. So, I'll do what I want with my body, and you'll all stop acting like I'm a product you get to criticize before buying. Deal?

I sit at a long table that is entirely empty. Eating is quickened by the fact that no one speaks to me. I also get the creeps with the way all the employee look like soulless puppets. Working here for too long seems to be pretty damaging for everyone except Dave, I guess. He seems to be fine. He also seems to spend as little time working and meeting his coworkers as he can, so there might be a clue to continued sanity here.

Obviously when I return Dave is still gone. His lunch break is likely to last two hours at least. I'm tempted to go on a short walk, but I ultimately just put my green gloves back on and get scrubbing. What else am I supposed to do, short of skipping work entirely?

When he comes back, all that's left is a fifty feet floor length of dirt and grime. With the two of us it gets done pretty quickly and we go on to the next one. When we enter the new building labeled 'B18', my senses are assaulted by the now familiar smell of bird decadence. I feel very heavy at the idea of doing that job again from the start. Is that how the other workers end up looking like zombies?

Dave doesn't mind, though. Whistling, he hands me a shovel and gets started happily. He looks like he's cutting into a fucking birthday cake. I'm happy to be paired with you, man. You're a bit of a loony, but you're good for the mood.

Several hours in, the afternoon bell rings and I sigh in relief. Today, I'm not gonna do any visiting or looking for things or climbing hills anymore. I'm done. The only person I'm seeing is Domenica and little Nathan if he's around. I don't even have the energy to get nervous about it. Yay.


* * *


The noise alerts me a few blocks away from the house. Crashing sounds. Indistinct yelling. Something is wrong over there.

I get down from the bike and approach the origin of the noise. Is it a hostile situation? Does someone need help or is it just children playing a bit rough? The only way to know is to go there and find out. Alternatively I could call the cops and look like a fool if the noise turns out to be nothing bad. Screw this, I'm going.

There are four people trampling on Domenica's lawn. Three of them are wearing the HappyBroiler's uniform. Is that Ms. Suey I see among them? Anyway, this is the largest factory crowd I've seen. I can't really tell what any of them is doing at this distance, but they are yelling at the house. One of them picks a tree branch laying there and throws it towards a window with a very poor aim. Behind the frame, I see Domenica lowering the shutters just in case they start aiming better. Domenica! What the fuck is going on?

Has she done something to deserve this? Even mowing the lawn at midnight shouldn't get you a lynch-mob. Maybe she went and tried to get some artifact from the factory and they followed her back here? I guess it's time for serious mediation and also calling the cops after all. Just as I raise my phone to make the call, one of the factory crew turns towards me and starts growling. This could get pretty bad, pretty fast.

"Youoo!" he says loudly. "Hahgha glianf!"

What the fuck does that mean? I back down. He follows me. Another follows and howls: this is definitely Ms. Suey. Has she gone even more bonkers over the last 24 hours?

I would like to say that I stand my ground and fight them off. Maybe even just stare them back, growl a little. Truth is I'm just so spooked that I run, phone in hand. I don't look back because I hear them following. Next plan: find an open shop and get the fuck out of the way. A pub, a hairdresser, anything? It sucks to be in such a majorly residential area. All I can do is keep running. Once in a while, I look back: they're not very fast. It's like they're all dumbed down. Apart from their incomprehensible yells, they don't do much of an impression.

I keep running and kiting them away. With a little luck, I could get them far enough away from Domenica's house to double back and call the cops over there. Now that I have time to think, she quite likely already called them. All I have to do is lose them.

I feel a little guilty inside, seeing as I'm treating these people more like wildlife on a rampage. I don't know what they're on, but it would be basic decency to try to get an explanation. Why are they running after me like they wanna eat me and decorate their house with my skull?

Thinking back, maybe that's why I don't want to stop and talk. I've been running down the city's major slope until now as it makes it easier to distance them than if I was going towards San Gregorias. It's a large church that never got upgraded to cathedral for some religious reason I'm not aware of. It's also the highest point of the city, with a beautiful view. The kind of view you only remember in association with leg cramps and breathing difficulties. Not the kind of climb you wanna lose an assailant on.

Anyway, I know my way in the old town. They're a bit far away now. I suddenly go in a side alley then run into another that directs me towards Domenica's house. I think I've lost them, but I'm not gonna stay and wait to check if they're still there. More quietly now, I climb back up the hill. Fucking mountain town. I hope nothing happened to my bike. They looked angry enough to bite the tires if they thought it had looked at them funny.

I only realize how hard my heart is thumping when my breath quiets down. Seriously, what was that? I've never seen people behave like this, so definitely out of their minds.

As much as I hate to admit it, there is something else that is just as scary. They probably all worked at the factory. Near the mountain. That Domenica wants to set foot on.

I'm afraid this can no longer be called a coincidence.

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