“Josie and Dhanesh, help me unpack these things,” Steve hollered from the back room.
The two walked over. “We were just leaving,” Josie said. “The registers are closed. The store is clean. The garbage is in the dump. Can it wait until tomorrow?”
Steve stared at her and cast an impatient sneer. “If it could wait until tomorrow, I wouldn’t have asked you now.”
Josie and Dhanesh looked at each other with knowing glances. They hated the night manager. Hated him with a passion. “Sure, Steve,” she finally replied. “No sweat.”
Steve set the three boxes in the center of the floor. “Open ‘em up and stock the front cases with them. Whatever doesn’t fit, put ‘em on the tie-in shelf.”
“A new tie-in?” Dhanesh asked. “Ooh, what’s it this time?” Dhanesh loved the tie-ins. He hoarded them and sold the harder to find ones on eBay. Working at McDonald’s had its rewards, however few they were.
Josie opened her box first. “Ouija boards? Are we trying to bring Colonel Sanders back to worm the secret recipe out of him?”
Dhanesh snickered. Steve didn’t even crack a grin. Typical. “No,” he muttered. “It’s a tie-in for Steven Spielberg’s new “Ouija” movie.”
“Strange tie-in,” Josie said as she unpacked. “Kind of occultist, isn’t it? What if someone tries to reach one of Satan’s minions?”
Steve had already been trained to answer just such a question. He held up one of the boards and pointed to the small print at the bottom. “See,” he said. “This toy is for recreational use only.”
“Ah, I stand corrected,” Josie replied. “Guess calling up the evil dead isn’t considered recreational.”
Again Dhanesh snickered. Steve merely sighed and rolled his eyes. They unpacked the boxes in silence after this.
That is, until…
“Hey Dhanesh,” Josie said as she stocked the last board. “Isn’t this store supposed to be haunted?”
“So they say. I dunno. Whenever something gets bumped, broken, or burned, the management blames it on a ghost. Personally, I think they’re covering up for the rat problem.”
Steve broke his silence. “There is no rat problem. Please never utter the word rat again. There are no rats. I repeat, no rats, no mice, no rodents of any sort, whatsoever. However…”
Josie and Dhanesh looked over at their boss in newly-found fascination. It was the way he said the last word. “However?” they both asked in unison.
Steve sat down in one of the booths. The other two ran over and sat in the facing seat. Steve inhaled, deeply, and then continued. “However, the ghost story is not so far-fetched. You guys haven’t been around that long; us old-timers have all seen it, or heard it. Well, not seen it, exactly. But knobs do get suddenly turned on. The microwave starts beeping for no apparent reason. The registers shut down, even though they’re all plugged in.”
The pair sat there, slack-jawed. “Um, sounds like an electrical problem to me,” Josie finally said.
“I suppose. But then there’s the death thing to consider,” Steve responded, with his characteristic straight face.
“D…death thing?” Dhanesh asked, almost in a whisper.
“Yep. Guy died in here, oh, about fifteen years ago. Just after that, the strange things started happening. But if either one of you brings it up while the store is open, I’ll firmly deny it.” He pointed a cautionary finger at them.
“Well,” Josie said. “That brings me to what I was getting at. Seems to me we have a whole storeroom full of Ouija boards, not to mention one apparent dead guy. I say we contact him and ask why he’s still hanging around this dump. Did he not get correct change or something before he died? I mean, I’dve gone into the light a long time ago. Sounds to me like this guy is one French fry short of a Happy Meal, if you get my drift.”
She was up and running before her coworkers could say anything. Quickly, she returned with one of the Ouija boards. Dhanesh and Steve looked at her, appalled. “You’ve got to be kidding,” Steve said, to which Dhanesh added, “Yeah, kidding.” Then again, neither got up to leave.
“Of course I’m kidding. After all, we have to stay recreational. Besides, what have we got to lose?”
“Our dignity?” Dhanesh said.
“Too late. We work at McDonald’s.”
For the first time, possibly ever, Steve laughed. “Fine. I give it five minutes. Then we’re out of here,” he said.
He put his hand on the plastic pointer. Josie followed suit. Dhanesh, however reluctantly, did the same.
“Okay,” Josie began. “Keep your hands on the pointer and your feet on the floor. No bumping the table. I’ll ask the questions.” She paused for effect and looked the other two dead in their eyes. “Here goes nothing…spirit of McDonald’s, are you here?”
The tiny, plastic pointer stayed in place. Josie coughed. “I said, spirit of McDonald’s, are you with us tonight?”
The light above their table dimmed for the briefest of seconds and the pointer, in the blink of an eye, moved just below the word “Yes” that was printed on the board. A slight breeze gusted across the table and sent a shiver up their spines.
“Stop fooling around,” Steve said.
“Wasn’t me,” Josie said, trying her best to squelch the fear that was evident in her voice.
“Me neither,” Dhanesh added.
“Uh oh,” Steve said, staring in disbelief at the pointer. “Ask another question, Josie. Quick.”
“Um…uh…spirit of McDonald’s, why are you haunting this place?”
Again the pointer shifted. “F-R-E-N-C-H-F-R-Y”, it spelled out, using the letters that ran across the board.
“French fry?” Dhanesh asked. “It’s hungry?”
The pointer beneath their fingers slid to the word “No”.
“It hates French people?” Steve took a stab.
The pointer shook but stayed on “No”.
Both men looked to Josie, who, in turn, shrugged. “Well,” she said. “He died here. Maybe a French fry killed him.” The pointer nudged left, in between the “Yes” and the “No”. “Ah,” she said, “Now we’re on to something.” She paused and scratched her head. “Spirit of McDonald’s, you died here and you haunt this place because of something to do with our French fries?”
That did it. The pointer slid to “Yes” and then bounced up and down and zoomed off the board. But that was just the start of the turmoil that was quickly to follow. All at once, the windows rattled and the doors shook, violently, and all the lights flicked on and then, one by one, blew out, sending tiny shards off glass raining down from the front of the store to the back. The trio screamed and them promptly cowered beneath the table; which was a smart move, considering the amount of debris that began to fly across the room. The registers were the first to come crashing over, followed by several dozen Ouija boards, a few hundred cups, and dozens of trays. Just about everything that wasn’t bolted down or in a refrigerator or cupboard went soaring over the counters and into the main dining room. The noise was nearly deafening.
Fortunately, no one got hurt, though their nerves were sorely shattered, and rightly so.
When all become thankfully silent once again, the three, ever so slowly, peeked up over the table, exhaled deeply, and returned to their seats. One last piece of material was still floating above their heads, and it came wafting gently downward before landing face up on the table. All of them stared down at it in wonderment. It was a list of ingredients for McDonald’s food products. One section was smeared in blood red – gratefully, it was only ketchup – and it read:
Potatoes, partially hydrogenated soybean oil, natural flavor (beef, wheat and dairy sources), dextrose, sodium acid pyrophosphate (to preserve natural color). Cooked in partially hydrogenated vegetable oils (may contain partially hydrogenated soybean oil and/or partially hydrogenated corn oil and/or partially hydrogenated canola oil and/or cottonseed oil and/or sunflower oil and/or corn oil). Contains derivatives of wheat and dairy.
“Why is this guy so gung-ho about the French fries,” Josie asked, peering out of the corner of her eye to make sure nothing else came flying at her. “Are McDonald’s French fries evil or something?”
Dhanesh grabbed the paper and, with wide-eyes, asked Steve, “You said this guy died in here about fifteen years ago?”
“Give or take.”
“Wasn’t that just after McDonald’s switched to 100% vegetable oil to cook its French fries?”
Steve closed his eyes and thought about it. “Yeah, I think so. Before that, we used mostly beef tallow. It’s what gave our French fries their unique flavor. What are you getting at? This guy’s mad at us for switching to vegetable oil?”
Dhanesh didn’t answer. Instead, he leaned over and picked up one of the Ouija boards and a pointer.
“Oh no,” Josie said. “Not that again. Look what happened the last time.” She indicated the mess around them. “Which, by the way, I’m not cleaning up. I say we report a break in and then get the hell out of here.”
“Not yet,” Dhanesh said. “We have to send the spirit into the light.”
“How about we send him to the Burger King next door instead?” Steve tried.
Dhanesh ignored him. “Everyone, put your fingers on the pointer.” They reluctantly obeyed. “Now, spirit of McDonald’s, are you angry that we switched to vegetable oil?”
The pointer shot to the “No”.
“Thought not,” Dhanesh said. “Okay, did you only start eating the French fries once we switched to vegetable oil?”
The pointer slid to the “Yes”.
“Spirit of McDonald’s, are you, by chance, a Hindu?”
The pointer bounced on the “Yes”.
“What does that have to do with anything?” Steve yelled, staring at Dhanesh.
Dhanesh took his hand off the pointer and looked at his coworkers. “I think I get it,” he said to them. “Hindus are strict vegetarians. No beef. Never. It’s Dharmic law. Ahimsa – the principal of noninjury. It’s a Hindu’s first duty in fulfilling religious obligations to God. Um, it’s like this, all of our actions have karmic consequences. If we inflict injury, or pain, or death, even indirectly by eating other creatures, we’ll experience an equal measure of suffering sometime in the future. In a next life.”
“I’m lost,” Josie said, holding the reddened paper in her hand. “This guy didn’t eat French fries cooked in beef. He ate them cooked in vegetable oil.”
Steve groaned at what she’d said. Pointing at the sheet, he said, “Cooked in vegetable oil, but flavored with beef. That’s how we kept the French fry flavor we’d always had.”
“But didn’t he know that? After all, it says so right here,” Josie said.
Steve shook his head. “No, now it says it. But back them it only said ‘natural flavors’. Beef was never mentioned. No one saw the need. To our credit, though, the new French fries are a hell of a lot healthier.”
Now it was Dhanesh’s turn to groan. “But that wouldn’t do a dead Hindu any good. Great that he died healthy; not so great that he broke with Ahimsa, even inadvertently.”
The building surrounding them shook, apparently in agreement with what Dhanesh had said.
“So why is this guy still hanging around here?” Josie asked. “Is he trying to make our lives a living hell for screwing his soul over?”
One of the pointers that was on the floor flew up in the air and came crashing down on the board, landing smack dab on the “No”. It was followed in rapid succession by one, two, three, and then four others, all of them landing in a dull thud on top of the first one.
“I think our spirit is trying to make a point,” Dhanesh said. “It’s not our living hell he’s worried about. It’s his.”
Just then, the stack of pointers shifter to the “Yes”.
“Man,” Josie said. “I knew I should have went to college. These kind of things doesn’t happen to educated folks.”
“Anyway,” Steve interrupted. “What does hell and McDonald’s have to do with each other. Besides the obvious stuff.”
Dhanesh sighed and then explained. “Okay, first off, Hinduism is based on the concept of perpetual reincarnation, and Hindu hell is just a point in the cycle where souls burn off their evil before proceeding to the next incarnation. There are a whole bunch of levels to this hell, each realm corresponding to a different sin, and this is where the spirit rids itself of its bad karma. In the case of our spirit friend here, he’d be punished in hell for breaking with Ahimsa.”
“Only he’s not in hell, he’s in McDonald’s,” Josie interrupted. “Close, but no cigar.” She quickly added, “I suppose he’s trying to avoid hell by staying here instead. After all, he sinned only by mistake – and our mistake at that.” The pointers bounced and then flew across the room, embedding themselves in the wall across from where they were sitting. “Um, well, that’s getting old really quick. In any case, what does he want with us?”
“To come back.” The answer was spoken by Steve, though it didn’t exactly seem like it was coming from him. His voice sounded like it was raked over hot coals. Dhanesh and Josie stared up at him. They didn’t like what they saw. Steve looked like himself, though with one obvious difference – his eyes were now a burning, molten red.
“Uh oh,” Josie said, her mouth going slack and here eyes growing wide. “I think Steve’s been, um, possessed.”
With a wicked grin, the body of Steve lifted one of the Ouija boards and pointed to the word “Yes”.
“B…but, you can’t have Steve’s life. Miserable though it may be, he’s still living it,” Dhanesh stammered.
The spirit pointed to “No”.
Josie tried another tactic. “Well, you’re in the body of a man who’s mean, vindictive, bitter, and cruel. Won’t taking over his soul be bad karma? Won’t you have to pay for his sins too, at some point? And let me tell you, he’s full of them. You’ll end up in hell twice as long as you would have.”
Steve grabbed his head and shook it, and then he wiped his eyes. When he opened them again, they were no longer red.
“Well, that’s a relief,” Dhanesh said, looking over at Josie. Only it wasn’t Josie he was staring at. Now it was her eyes that were a startling, glowing red. So Dhanesh tried the same tactic. “Out of the frying pan and into the fire, spirit. Josie’s just as messed up as Steve. She’s dissatisfied with her life, has never lived up to her potential, and has missed out on one opportunity after another. Taking over her soul will be like jumping two giant steps back on the incarnation trail.”
The smile left Josie’s face and, as Steve had done, she shook her head and wiped her eyes.
“Nice job, Dhanesh,” Steve said. “I think he’s gone.”
Dhanesh, his eyes afire, pointed to the Ouija – “No”.
But in a heartbeat, he flung his hands in the air and his whole body shook and trembled; and then, so did the building itself, sending the three toppling over into the pile of debris. When the tremors subsided, the coworkers looked at each other in startled bewilderment.
“He’s gone,” Dhanesh finally said. “Into the light.”
“Gone?” Josie asked. “But how? Why?”
Dhanesh hung his head down to his chest. “My soul was even more troubled than the two of yours. I’m a Hindu that has forsaken his religion. The spirit might have eaten beef, but I serve it to countless thousands. So the spirit had a new idea.”
“Atone,” Steve interrupted.
“Yes, atone,” Dhanesh replied.
Josie understood. “I need to go to college and get on with my life,” she said. “And Steve needs to stop treating people like shit, not to mention himself that way. And Dhanesh needs to continue on the path his soul was meant to take.”
“Yes,” Dhanesh said, pointing to a Ouija board with a wry smile.
“Hey,” Steve said. “I wasn’t that big a prick, was I?” To which Dhanesh and Josie both responded to by pointing to a “Yes”. “Okay, okay. I get the message,” Steve amended. “We atone, get our lives in order, and, in turn, the spirit did his karmic duty and moves on to a better life and a less harsh hell, right?”
Again the two pointed to a “Yes”.
“Quit it, please. No more Ouija boards.” He groaned and looked at the store around them. “Now, who’s gonna help me clean this mess up?”
“I don’t work here anymore, Steve,” Josie said, the smile returning to her face. “I won’t have time, what with my studies and all.”
“Don’t look at me,” Dhanesh said. “I’m out of here, too. Vegetarians don’t eat meat, and they certainly don’t serve it.”
“Fine. Me neither then. It doesn’t seem like working for McDonald’s is too good for the soul.”
The three stood up, brushed themselves off, and walked into the sunrise together. They never looked back.
And as for the movie “Ouija”, it didn’t even crack thirty million in domestic sales. The universe got a big karmic laugh out of that one.