I mentioned in my “On Writing” post that I had, at various points, kicked around the idea of writing collections of short stories, either with specific themes or through-lines of characters or overarching stories. A couple of years ago I had come up with an idea for one of the former, which was to be entitled “Bizarre Tales of the Bizarre!”
This collection would have been a set of short stories featuring my favorite type of writing: straight up random insanity and wackiness. This particular story is the only one for which I completed a first draft, featured below with some minor edits (so I guess this is really just a second draft?)
I hate onions. I really, really hate onions. One of my favorite food-related sayings is “Onions are the devil!” So one day I thought, okay, what about an actual onion monster? So here it is. It’s pointless and ridiculous – my favorite kind of story to write.
The Hideous Assault of the Devil Onion
“I’ll just have the house salad, please,” Frank said, giving the waitress a smile. He handed the menu over and turned to look at his date Jen, who returned the look with a strange expression.
The waitress turned to Jen, who said “Steak, medium, potato side.”
The waitress scribbled on her pad while humming a few bars to herself before turning and walking off.
“So,” Frank began.
“Salad?” Jen arched an eyebrow.
“Yeah.” Frank was beginning to feel the full weight of her skeptical stare. He felt his face warming up.
Dammit, he thought, I hope she doesn’t think I’m weird.
Salad? Was that a good idea for a first date? The restaurant was drenched with the smell of cooking meat, and oh how he would’ve loved to sink his teeth into a good burger, but for the lousy advice of his doctor…
He cleared his throat and smiled. She looked away, for a moment, and he felt his gaze drawn down her low-cut dress. He soaked in the glorious sight for a moment before nervously flicking his eyes back to her face. She was still staring off to the side.
“So, you work at a bank?”
“Yeah,” she said. Frank couldn’t help but notice a slightly absent sound to her voice.
There was an awkward pause. “So what do you do there?”
She finally turned back to him, and Frank thought he caught an annoyed look in her eyes.
“Banking,” she said.
“Ummm… and what does that involve, exactly?”
She sighed, rested her chin in her hand, and narrowed her eyes.
“Why do you need to know?”
“Oh,” he said. “I’m just… just trying to… get to… know… Well, small talk?” He cleared his throat again. This was not going as he had imagined.
Then again, these things never did.
Kirk yanked his hand out from the flow of scalding water and shook it.
“Hurry up with that next batch!” his manager, Perry, snapped at him. “We need more clean plates. Get the plates first!”
“All right, all right,” Kirk said.
He tried to adjust the water to be a little less ‘hellfire’ and a little more ‘cool and refreshing’, but he’d only ever noticed about five degrees difference between the water at its hottest and coldest. He muttered angrily to himself as he dumped the leftover food from a plate and tossed it into the sink, repeating the action over and over, trying not to think about all the food going to waste, or about the pile of homework waiting for him at home, or the argument he’d had with Becca in the hallway just after study hall had ended…
He grabbed the sprayer and began to hose the remaining chunks off the plates before tossing them in the washer.
“Got a real dweeb out there,” Roma said as she swung into the kitchen. “Trying to impress a woman with boobs out ’til Monday. Ha!” She snorted and put the order sheet by the cooks. “She’s way outta his league.”
“Stop judgin’,” one of the cooks said. Kirk couldn’t tell, with his back turned to them, which cook was talking. They all sounded like they had gargled with the business end of a weed whacker.
“Ah, why not?” Roma said. “Probably gonna leave a lousy tip anyway, after she humiliates him. They always do.”
“Well he’s probably got a lot on his mind,” said the cook, or possibly a different cook. “You don’t know what it’s like.”
“Oh, I know enough,” Roma said. “I been through the ringer a coupla times, you know.”
Kirk tried not to snort at the surprise in the cook’s voice.
“Yeah. Anyway, pretty slow night tonight, huh? Don’t know where everyone is. What, they eatin’ at the burger joint or somethin’? Think real food isn’t good enough?”
“Real food?” the cook put in. “One a them’s getting a salad!”
Kirk rolled his eyes. So what? Salad is healthy. He’d learned that much in health class. And if it was so slow, what was the big rush on clean plates, anyway? Kirk snorted to himself. Bosses.
He was considering saying something, despite being the low worm on the food chain around the restaurant, when he was startled by a loud clanging sound.
Caitlyn laughed with glee as she pumped the pedals of the bike. This thing was fast! She hit a hard turn, controlling her movement with expert precision. She decided that grabbing the unguarded bike was probably one of her better decisions. Sure, she might feel a little paranoid riding around the cops, but-
Speak of the devil, she thought, as a cop car appeared from around a corner. The street lamps were on, and she could clearly see the officer inside the car, bathed in the yellow-orange glow, watching her as she pedaled along.
Why won’t he stop looking? Does he know I stole the bike? Nah, probably just bored.
But she could feel his stare and began feeling a bit prickly in the back of her mind. She slowed and glanced around the street. She wasn’t familiar with this particular block, but she spotted a friendly looking place with the ridiculous name Happy’s Foodery. She hopped off the bike, stuck it in a bike rack, and headed inside.
“Hi welcome to Happy’s how many in your party,” the hostess said in a bored, mechanical tone.
“Uh, just me.”
She was escorted to a small table and sat down.
“Roma will be your server today what do you want to drink.”
It didn’t really sound like a question, but she answered anyway. “Um, ice water, please.”
The hostess nodded and walked off. Caitlyn took a deep breath and glanced around. The place was almost empty. One table had a couple of bearded, leather jacket-clad biker guys; another had a model type with a visibly floundering nerd. A booth in the back had a couple of love-struck twenty-somethings gazing into each other’s eyes. Not much else was going on, and nobody looked like a cop. Caitlyn relaxed.
“So, um, Jen, what do you, ah, think about… um… the weather?”
Jen glanced back at him, and in that moment, he knew she was wondering why she’d agreed to this date. Frank had assumed it was pity, or boredom, or some combination thereof, but he knew she was now feeling a strong hit of regret.
“Weather? The weather sucks. It hasn’t been sunny in days, dammit!” She hit her fist against the table to accentuate the depths of her anger toward the cloud cover above. “Now they’re saying rain. Rain! Can you imagine that?”
Frank was taken aback. “Well… yeah, it does tend to rain sometimes during the summer…”
“But it will mess up my hair!”
Now he knew she was just messing with him out of boredom. Or possibly contempt.
Or some combination thereof.
“Okay, well, you know what,” Frank said, feeling irritated at her making a fool of him.
“No,” Jen said, leaning closer, hitting Frank full-on with an icy glare.
“I don’t know why you’re here or why you’re being so rude to me, but you really need to st-“
A loud crashing sound boomed out from the kitchen area. The distraction derailed Frank’s anger with an idle curiosity about who dropped what.
Caitlyn sipped at her ice water as she glanced at the menu. She’d just ducked in here to get out of the cop’s site, but the delicious scent of cooking meat made her stomach growl. She placed an order for some beef tips and sat back, drumming her fingers against the table. She began to feel like an ass, sitting there alone in a restaurant. She grabbed her water and wandered over by the two biker guys.
“Hey fellas, what’s up?”
“Not buying,” one said. His beard was longer, greyer; the other nodded in silent agreement.
“Whatever you’re selling, sister.”
His companion nodded again.
“Hey, I’m not-“
The less silent one turned and stared at her. His frown was strong enough to knock her back a step.
“Okay, okay,” she said, throwing her hands in the air, “I’ll leave you gentlemen be.”
She turned with a huff and took a few steps toward her table – not that she was entirely sure which it was, they all looked the same – when someone flew through the kitchen door and smashed into a table. The stranger crumpled in a pile of snapped wood and sugar packets.
Caitlyn looked down, her eyes wide, and looked back at the still-swinging kitchen door.
“What. The. Hell?!”
Kirk turned from the sink and looked over his shoulder. Everyone was looking over toward the source of the crashing sound. But if everyone was staring in curiosity… who had made the noise?
Near as he could tell, some dishes had fallen behind an island counter. He began to worry; if the dishes had fallen of their own accord, surely they would blame him for not putting them back properly, but he knew – knew! – that he always did.
“What was that?” asked one of the cooks.
“Don’t know,” the other replied in his nearly identical voice.
Kirk took a few steps toward the island. He could feel soap bubbles drip from his hands as he moved, so he brushed them against his apron a few times. He edged around the island and saw some dishes piled on the floor. But not just piled, no – they also shifted around as he approached. He stopped, unsure what was going on.
“Well?” asked a cook.
“Something’s moving back there.”
“Rat? Possum? Gorilla?”
Kirk looked back at the two cooks, unsure which had asked, unsure if it had been a joke. They both looked on with serious expressions, however, so Kirk turned back.
That was when he was attacked by an onion.
At least, that was his impression – something launched from the pile of dishes, and in the blur of flying tableware, Kirk saw a massive, onion-shaped blur headed straight for him.
He felt an impact.
He felt himself launched through the air, thought how impossible that would be and that he must be imagining it.
He had an impression of pounding through the door and crashing into something hard, and then everything went dark.
Caitlyn crouched down over the apron-wrapped body. She could tell that he was still breathing. She began clearing away the chunks of table and chair as she heard a strange yelp from the kitchen. She looked up to see the biker guys running in but freezing in the doorway, either from confusion or fear.
She looked back down when the guy that had trashed the table began to groan.
“Hey, don’t worry, guy. You’ll be okay. I think.”
He shook his head and looked up at her.
“Oh. Hey. I’m Kirk.”
She almost had to laugh at the absurdity of the introduction, given the circumstances, but returned the favor as one of the biker guys came out from the kitchen.
“Everyone out of the restaurant right now,” he said.
The twenty-somethings in the back had got up and started edging toward the door at the first sign of trouble, but now they broke into a run and dashed outside.
The model-looking woman was tugging at the nerd guy, trying to get him to stand, but he sat there wide-eyed and unbelieving.
“Hey,” Caitlyn said, “someone help me with this guy.”
The biker turned toward her and began to say something when he was knocked down by what appeared to be a giant ball of some sort. It bounced over his falling body, landed on a table, and bounced again, but not before Caitlyn noticed it seemed to be at least somewhat humanoid, with arms and legs coming from the ball, but with no visible head – just some sort of lump on top.
“What the hell?” Kirk said. He began to push himself up, and Caitlyn grabbed his hand and helped him to his feet.
The ball-thing landed atop another table and paused. Caitlyn saw that it had faint lines going down its body, sort of like a kid’s drawing of a pumpkin, but its outside was made up of a strange, papery skin. The top petered out into a small, curled stump, and a strange, twisted, hideous face peeked out from right in the middle of the great round body.
“Good god,” the nerd-guy said, “is that an onion?”
And so it was. The creature standing on a table, glaring ferociously at everyone it saw, was a walking onion. Or, at the least, something that looked exactly like a walking onion.
“Oh, you have got to be kidding me,” Kirk said.
Frank shook his head and sighed. Surely the three foot onion-esque entity standing on the table, gibbering and shaking its tiny, papery fists, was not real. Surely it was a figment of his imagination. In fact, this whole evening surely had to be one long, ridiculous nightmare. He looked at it again, looked back at his gorgeous but supremely disinterested date, and back again at the entity.
Yes, he thought, this surely is a nightmare.
He looked down, half expecting to suddenly be nude and with the entire restaurant pointing and laughing. His clothing was all still there, though, and the onion leaped again, landed on another table, and gibbered some more. The voice was guttural yet squeaky – inexplicable, yet at the same time, he wondered, exactly how else could an onion sound?
“Well, that’s my cue to exit,” Jen said. She began walking toward the door, having given up on budging Frank. He felt for a moment that he should accompany her, but given the way she had been treating him earlier, he decided to stay where he was and continue goggling in confusion.
The entity hissed and leaped again. It landed in front of the exit, paused momentarily, and then charged straight toward Jen. She gasped and dove out of the way, her movements remarkably agile for a woman in an evening dress clearly not made for tumbling. She didn’t quite make it in time, however, and the entity clawed into her leg. The clawing didn’t slow the creature down much, though. It continued forward, still propelled by the inertia of its charge.
The large, bearded fellow in the kitchen doorway, the one who had warned everyone to leave, now attempted to tackle the creature. But the creature had regained control of its movement and was now able to turn course with speed and grace. The man landed in a heap on the floor. His compatriot, having left the kitchen, rushed to his side, even as the rest of the kitchen staff came out.
Kirk grabbed Caitlyn and dragged her back into a corner. He wasn’t sure what was going on, or why this onion-looking beast was attacking everyone in the restaurant, but at this point he didn’t care. The front entrance was clearly a no-go, and the staff was clustered around the kitchen entrance, so getting through to the back exit would be difficult as well.
“How do we get out of here?” Caitlyn asked. She was eyeing the front windows as though thinking of diving through the glass.
“That’s a good question,” Kirk said. “Maybe we should try hanging back until this whole thing blows over.”
“Blows over?” Kirk winced at the incredulity in her voice. “How long do you suppose it will be until this whole attacking-magic-onion-monster thing blows over?”
“That’s another good question.”
He began looking around. A nearby table still had a few silverware sets neatly wrapped and waiting for the restaurant’s patrons. He grabbed two bundles, whipped them open, and handed a knife and fork to Caitlyn. He took another set for himself.
“What in the hell are these for? You aren’t gonna try and eat that thing, are you?”
“Do you have any better weapons?”
By now the thing had caught sight of them and was heading their way. Kirk placed himself between it and Caitlyn and brandished his cutlery as menacingly as he could.
“Eat butterknife!” he yelled, swinging at it, hoping to bury the blade in its body and, possibly, whatever passed for a heart or brain on the thing. The thing, however, had other ideas, and it leapt over him, opening its tiny fists and clawing at Caitlyn’s face as it arced through the air.
Caitlyn swung her fork up at its body and succeeded in scraping it along its skin near the face. The thing let out another strange howl and sped away, toward the still-gathered kitchen staff.
“Nice shot,” Kirk said.
“Yeah, right?” Caitlyn grabbed his arm. “Come on, let’s get out of here while it’s going the other way.”
Kirk watched as Roma swatted at it with her order pad.
“We have to help them.”
He could see Caitlyn facepalming, from the corner of his eye, as she muttered “Not another do-gooder.”
“Well, you can go if you want.” And so saying, he leapt back into the fray.
Caitlyn looked at the door, thinking this might be a good time to bust on out, before any cops showed up. Hell, there had been one just outside before. Why weren’t they here now? Surely those running twenty-somethings would have alerted someone by now.
But no help appeared to be forthcoming, so Caitlyn cursed to herself. The goody-two-shoes was right. She couldn’t stand idly by while people were attacked by a rampaging onion. An onion, of all things!
She hated onions with a passion, so there was that, too.
By now the gathered restaurant staff had scattered about, some on the floor, some running. Kirk and the still-standing biker guy were attempting to corner the thing with little success. It feinted and then bolted in another direction.
Straight toward Caitlyn. Again. She sighed.
“All right, have it your way.”
She dove head-first toward the thing, knife and fork outstretched. She thought she caught a look of shock on the little monster’s bizarre face just before the knife made contact. Unfortunately, being a butter knife, it did little damage, but the impact did stun the creature.
One of the cooks removed his apron and threw it over the stunned creature.
“Someone help me with this,” he rasped. Caitlyn scrambled up and grabbed the other side of the apron, and together they pulled it closed.
“Someone wanna get something to tie this thing shut?” Caitlyn gasped, as the monster thrashed wildly within the bundle.
One or two of the still-standing staff vanished into the kitchen. Kirk and the nerdy guy both came over to try and help with the nearly out-of-control bundle as the nerd guy’s hot date slipped out through the front door.
The bundle bounced around like crazy and the four of them could barely hold on. Someone ran out of the kitchen with a handful of twine and yelled for them to make room.
Then the bundle stopped moving.
“Did… did we suffocate it?” the nerd guy asked.
“Do onions breathe?” Kirk said.
“Is it an onion?” Caitlyn asked.
The cook grunted. “Maybe we knocked it out. Maybe it knocked itself out. Was bouncin’ around pretty good.”
“Someone wanna tie it shut just in case?” Caitlyn didn’t particularly care why the bundle had stopped moving. She just wanted to make sure the thing couldn’t attack again.
But of course things didn’t work out that way, as she supposed things never did when dealing with rage-fueled mobile onion monsters. The heavy fabric of the apron seemed to explode and disintegrate, and the creature was again free.
Frank screeched as the entity burst forth from its temporary confinement and whizzed past in a blur. It rand through the kitchen doors and the restaurant went silent.
It was the young woman talking, the one who had come in to patronize the restaurant just before all… this began to happen.
Everyone looked at one another, or down at the floor.
“Bears,” Frank whispered to himself.
“What?” asked one of the cooks.
“Bears,” Frank said, with a little more volume. “Bears eat onions, don’t they? Or… deer? Perhaps a deer could help us…”
“Are you suggesting,” this was the young man from the kitchen, probably their dishwasher, “that we bring in some animals to eat it?”
“Well… it could work. If only we knew what kind of animals enjoy onions.”
Now the young woman was staring at him with a strange expression.
“Do you have a deer stashed there under your vest?”
“Well, I wasn’t saying-“
“Is there a zoo or a park attached to the back door of this place?”
“I am not sure, I didn’t say that it-“
“Then why are you even bringing it up?”
Frank felt his face burning. It had just been an idle thought, he hadn’t even meant anyone to hear it, and now she –
“Maybe we should all just, you know, go out the front door right now while it’s in there?”
Everyone turned to see the waitress – what was her name? Ruby? Frank couldn’t remember – as she edged toward the door.
“I mean, you guys can stay if ya want, but I’m outta here.”
This was the best idea Frank had heard all evening, so he began to follow her. But it seemed the onion entity was not finished with them, as it made its reappearance just then, barreling out of the kitchen and straight into the collected humans. Frank turned in time to watch them knocked about like so many bowling pins.
He allowed himself the luxury of a giggle before again being overwhelmed with fear.
But then the onion stopped and stared at him. Its face twisted into an unreadable expression. The eyes, tiny black dots though they were, seemed to look him over. He looked at the mouth and realized he couldn’t understand how it could move around, open or shut, without affecting the papery onion skin which covered the thing. He saw the strange little hands flexing open and closed before finally locking into a clawed position. He noticed all of this in the brief moment before it charged for him.
And then something broke within him, something which had been holding him back. He felt his foot swing up involuntarily and then felt a satisfying crunch as the onion charged directly into it. It staggered back from the impact, and he swung his foot out once again. The sharply angled toe of his dress shoe hit the onion square in the face, and it let out an unearthly howl of pain.
Just then the young woman, having regained her feet and her former weapons, leaped forward and thrust the blade of her knife into the back of the creature. This time the great force of her blow drove the blunt blade into the onion’s body and it staggered forward. The tiny arms reached back in a vain effort to find the knife and dislodge it. But it wasn’t the onion that grasped the knife; it was one of the cooks, who lifted the entire creature by the handle.
The onion howled louder.
The cook squinted at it.
“Strange thing,” he said. The then threw it to the floor, face down, and smashed his boot down on the knife, driving the blade entirely through the onion’s body.
The restaurant went quiet as the howl ended in a hard grunt.
All was silent for a moment, and then the onion began to shrivel and smoke as though burning. Not a flame was visible, yet the onion continued shriveling and smoking until nothing was left but some burnt-looking scraps and a bit of ash.
Everyone looked at each other, but all seemed too confused to speak. Caitlyn struggled to find her voice.
“What in the flying hell just happened?”
One of the cooks shrugged. “Where did that thing come from?”
“The kitchen,” Kirk said.
“Before the kitchen, though.”
Kirk looked at him but had no answer.
“And what did it want?”
Caitlyn looked at the remaining scraps with a tempest of whirling feelings. She didn’t know what to think about any of this.
“We’ll never know what it wanted,” she said. “That’s just how it works, I guess. Sometimes strange stuff happens, and you don’t know why.”
“At least,” Frank said, “not until the scientists figure it out.”
Caitlyn nodded, but as she looked down at the remains of the creature, she felt that she would probably never know the answer.