I burst through the Wombo World’s glass double doors like a sheriff entering a saloon filled with outlaws. Ethan was right behind me, sporting a few shiny new bruises from our training session. I scanned the area, and grinned when I spotted Aesop and Jade sitting in the corner booth. Jade was looking at her phone, headphones covering her ears, but Aesop raised his hands in a where the donkey farts have you been? gesture.
“Can I take your order?” asked the gangly, pimple-faced teenager behind the register.
I glanced at the menu. “Yeah, I’ll have a triple patty Wombo Combo with no tomatoes, two large fries, a Wombinator with extra cheese, three peanut butter cookies, a large fries, a Wombo Melt with onion rings on the side, three large fries, and, uh…what do you call those drinks that make your teeth glow in the dark?”
“A Toxic Sludgee?”
“Yeah, a large one of those.” I paused, then looked back at Ethan. “You want anything?”
He raised an eyebrow. “You’re going to eat all that by yourself?”
“What can I say?” I asked with a shrug. “Beating the snot out of you works up the appetite!”
He glared at me and stormed over to where Aesop and Jade were sitting, which I took to mean he wasn’t hungry. That was just as well, considering what we were planning to do to him. A few minutes later, I balanced my heaping tray of food over to join them.
“What took you two so long?” Aesop demanded as soon as I’d sat down. “We’ve been waiting for almost an hour!”
“Sorry,” I said, unwrapping my first burger. “McGus wanted to smack me around for a while.”
“You poor thing,” Ethan said, rubbing one of his bruises.
I bit into my post-workout meal, eyes rolling back in my head as deliciously unhealthy grease bathed my tongue.
“Okay,” said Ethan, “can someone please explain what’s going on already?”
“Erff brrurr erff—”
“Don’t talk when you’ve got half a cow in your mouth, Henry,” Aesop interrupted. “Ethan, what our barbarically mannered friend here meant to say is, it’s better if you see it for yourself.”
Ethan narrowed his eyes. “You guys know that doesn’t make me feel better, right?”
“Of course not. Why else would we say it?”
I shoved a handful of fries into my mouth to keep from laughing. Through the window near our table, the Dusk Dimension’s sky glowed a burning orange. The sun sat just above the western horizon, like it was a few minutes away from setting. It never budged an inch, though, giving this dimension its name as it cloaked the world in endless twilight. Beautiful, in a Halloween-ish sort of way. Jade, Aesop, and I came here to hang out every couple weeks.
“So, uh…Jade?” Ethan spoke up a few minutes later.
To my surprise, she looked up at him. I had thought she couldn’t hear us, what with the headphones covering her ears, but she must have been curious enough about Ethan that she’d turned her music down. That in itself was unusual, being in public the way we were— and more than a little dangerous. I opened my mouth to bring it up, but then stopped myself. Talking about things like that…about her…wasn’t a good idea while Ethan was here.
“What?” she asked coldly. Her hood was down, letting her long black hair spill down her back, but her bangs still obscured the right side of her face.
Ethan swallowed under her piercing stare. “I was, uh, just thinking. Back at school, you never told me what you were.”
I tensed up. Across the table, Aesop’s eyes widened and I could tell he was ready to bolt if things turned ugly.
Slowly, Jade reached up and pulled off her headphones. With a glare frigid enough to send shivers down my spine, she asked, “Why do you care?”
“I’m just curious,” he said with a nervous shrug. “I’m sitting here with a freaking leprechaun, you know? And since you’re here too, I guess I thought that you…you know…”
“You assumed she wasn’t human just because she hangs out with us?” I asked.
Ethan shrank back into his seat, cheeks reddening. “It sounds kinda racist when you say it like that, I guess.”
Aesop snickered at that. “Ach, Ethan, ya li’l gombeen! Scarlet with your mother for havin’ ya!”
“This is all just so…” He paused, then looked at Aesop. “What?”
“I just be twoodle-oodlin’ ye in the ol’ bunderswump, ya great October swiddlepea!”
Ethan stared at him for a few seconds. “You’re just speaking gibberish now.”
Aesop grinned, but didn’t contradict him. Slowly, the tension around the table melted away, and I let out a sigh of relief. Jade was still watching Ethan like she was waiting for him to throw a knife at her, but at least Ethan had stopped asking dangerous questions.
“I need a refill,” I announced, raising my empty cup.
“You just got that!” Ethan exclaimed. “Where did you put it?”
I let out a five second long rootbeer burp that left my nose tingling.
“That answer your question?”
He rolled his eyes, and I stood up, making my way across the restaurant. There was a line at the drink fountain, so I settled in to wait, letting my eyes wander. Most of the other people here were just normal humans, but there were a few exceptions. A second head here, fur and a tail there. Unlike the Earth I lived on, the Dusk Dimension’s Earth was more accustomed to nonhumans living out in the open. I could probably have taken my N.O.S.E. off without anyone giving me a second glance. I didn’t though, just because keeping it on my face was easier than stuffing it into my pocket.
Once my cup was full of fizzy goodness once again, I headed back toward my table. As I walked, I couldn’t help but overhear the conversation at another table.
“Man, the burgers here are so dry,” said one of them.
“They’re not that bad,” said the other.
Darn right, I thought. If the burgers here were any greasier, we’d have to eat them with a straw!
“I just wish they’d use more ketchup.”
I grimaced. More ketchup? Ketchup was good, but too much of it would overpower the taste of—
WHAT DID HE JUST SAY?
I froze as a flash of green came from our corner of the restaurant. Turning, I could see Jade sitting up straight with a look of panic in her eye. Dropping my cup, the bubbly brown liquid splashing all over the floor, I sprinted over.
“Come on,” I said, grabbing Ethan by the shoulder. “We need to go. Now!”
He looked up at me, nonplussed. “What’s going on? What was that green light?”
“No time to explain. We need to…”
My voice trailed off as the floor began to shake beneath my feet.
“Oh, mayo and corn chips.”
With a crack, a section of the floor nearby heaved upwards and burst, sending a geyser of thick red liquid shooting into the air hard enough to splatter against the ceiling. The other customers screamed in fright. From their perspective, it probably looked like a fountain of blood had just erupted in the middle of the Wombo World. But a bit of the red stuff splashed onto my cheek, and I licked at it, confirming my fears.
“Come on, time to go!” I said again, hauling Ethan out of his seat.
“What’s going on?” he yelled, staring at the ketchup fountain. “Is that…”
“Yep, it’s exactly what you think it is.”
“Wh- What do I think it is?”
Over by the soda fountain, a wall burst open to spill even more ketchup into the restaurant. By now people were running back and forth in a blind panic. Most of them were smart enough to make for the exit, but there were a few who obviously thought they were witnessing the end of the world. The zit-faced cashier was still standing behind the counter, asking his boss if this meant he could go home early.
“Uh, Jade? I think we should listen to Henry,” said Aesop.
I spun to see Aesop struggling to get out of his seat, but the way was blocked by Jade, who just sat there staring blankly at nothing. She clutched her headphones so tightly that the plastic cracked.
“Guys, what are you waiting for?” Ethan shouted from the door, waving frantically for us to join him.
Something nearby rumbled. I looked up just as the wall right above our table begin to bulge outwards.
“Jade, come on,” Aesop begged her. “Seriously, let’s go!”
He pushed against her, but she refused to budge. Being a leprechaun, not one of the most physically intimidating races out there, there was nothing else he could do.
“Jade,” I said, grabbing her by the shoulder, “get up.”
“Just leave me here,” she whispered.
The bubble in the wall above our table continued to grow, the wood groaning, and ketchup began to trickle out of the cracks that were forming.
“I’m not going to do that,” I said. “And you know why?”
She didn’t answer.
I leaned in close. “Because ‘Jade Xiwang: Drowned in Ketchup like an Idiot’ would be the most embarrassing tombstone ever, and I won’t let my friend suffer like that!”
Jade didn’t laugh, or even smile, but I hadn’t expected her to. Still, slowly, she got to her feet. Aesop scrambled out of the booth behind her, squeezing past us to dash out the door without a backwards glance.
“Henry?” Ethan yelled, eyeing the growing ketchup zit in the wall behind us. I was surprised he hadn’t booked it just like Aesop. We were the last ones in the restaurant by now, though a crowd had gathered outside to watch the chaos unfold.
Together, with Jade’s arm in mine, we walked out. Behind us, the wall finally burst, adding another river of ketchup to the catastrophe. Once we were safely outside, I looked back. The entire restaurant was filling up with ketchup at an alarming rate. Bits of food floated in it, making the whole thing look like some kind of aquarium for chicken nuggets.
We found Aesop and Ethan waiting for us at the edge of the crowd. None of us said anything as we crept away, and everyone else was too preoccupied with what was happening inside to pay any attention to us. From down the street, I could hear the wail of firetruck sirens, though only the whoopie cushion in the sky knew what they thought they could do.
Finally, once we were out of earshot, Aesop broke into a grin. “Ha! Now that was fun!”
“What the hell is wrong with you, Henry?” Ethan demanded, doing his best to scrub the ketchup from his arms onto his already ketchup-stained clothes. “Why would you do something like that?”
I looked at him in shock. He thought I had done all that? I opened my mouth, ready to give him a biting retort, but stopped when I saw the look on Jade’s face.
“It was just a prank,” I muttered. “Calm your tits, dude.”
Ethan’s face was almost as red as the ketchup smeared across it. “A prank? You call flooding a restaurant a—”
Luckily, Aesop came to my rescue.
“Ethan, my boy!” he said, throwing one arm over Ethan’s shoulders and honking his nose with the other. “It’s all just a little bit of fun! By tomorrow, everyone will have forgotten about it.”
Ethan recoiled, rubbing his nose. “But you guys—”
“You have more important things to worry about, anyway.” Aesop stepped up close to him, grinning maliciously. “Because now we’re heading to Feverdream Field!”