Gertie and Bridget stop for a bite
“Just stop it!” Bridget shouted to the back of the minivan, where Peter and Faye Nessing had been arguing.
“Why would I go to a place that advertises endless greasy food?” Faye asked, quoting the billboards they had been seeing since they entered the state of Perria.
“Why would we go to a chain we can go to any time?” Peter countered.
“Bottomless Pit is a chain!”
“But only in Perria!”
“Shut up!” Gertie yelled. There was a blissful moment of silence.
“I think the real question is why any of us would choose to willingly ingest salad,” Ernest mumbled.
Faye scowled. “If I have to sit in a restaurant with the smell of chicken and beef, I’m going to throw up.”
“We both know that’s not true,” Peter said, rolling his eyes.
“Okay, look,” Vivien pointed at a road sign. “This exit has a gas station, a Starlights, a Bottomless Pit, and a Burger Palace for good measure. We’re stopping and we’ll split up for lunch.”
Vivien directed the magic driver to pull into the parking lot off the exit and stop. The group struggled to get out of the minivan on sore legs and sleeping feet, stumbling over the various backpacks, books and snacks that were spread over the car’s floor.
“So,” Bridget grabbed her bag from the middle seat. “I’m going to Starlights. Who wants to come with?”
“I do,” Faye said, pointedly standing behind her to go to the salad place.
Charlie honked in agreement and went to stand with his sister, who could translate his order for him. Since being turned into an ostrich, Charlie had learned that salad bars were great for his dietary needs.
“Gertie?” Bridget reached out to her sister, thinking she would know to eat healthy.
“I, uh, actually…” Gertie hesitated.
Bridget rolled her eyes. “Fine, go eat your body weight.”
“Thanks!” Gertie said, nearly jumping with excitement.
The two groups split apart, with Ernest, Vivien, Gertie and Peter heading towards the restaurant with a cheeseburger falling in a hole as its logo. The four teenagers pushed open the door to Bottomless Pit. They were greeted with the most interesting fast food restaurant they had ever seen.
There were the familiar red booths and tables made of plastic so everything was easy to clean and funky music of a bygone era floated down from the speakers.
However, there was no counter to order at, and no wait staff bringing food; just a conveyor belt running through the whole restaurant. It passed every table and barstool. And it was loaded with appetizer-sized plates of food.
“Welcome,” a server said as he noticed them. “Table for four?”
Ernest nodded and they were led to a booth in the back corner, across from the kitchen. Bottomless Pit had a window, but instead of being used to pass food from fry cook to server, the chef placed the little plates on the conveyor belt to be swept away and delivered to tables.
“Have you been to Bottomless Pit before?” the server asked. They all shook their heads. “You’re in for a real treat. You can eat as much as you want, just take the plates from the conveyer belt as they come past. Each plate is a dollar. At the end, we’ll count up all your plates and you’ll pay. Sound good?”
“Definitely,” Peter said, grabbing a plate with a small basket of curly fries on it before it could get away.
“Excellent. What’ll you have to drink? Four waters?”
Over at Starlights, Gertie and Faye placed their orders at the counter while Charlie guarded their outdoor table, ignoring the stares of the other patrons.
“And last, can we just get a bowl of the sunflower seed topping?” Faye asked.
“A bowl of sunflower seeds?” the high school student at the register repeated, doubtful.
“Yeah,” Faye looked over the list of toppings again. “And maybe some corn?”
“This food is great,” Vivien said, chowing down on the tater tots she had pulled from the conveyor belt. Gertie stole some from her plate and Vivien playfully stuck out her tongue.
Another server came by and started counting up the plates the group had polished off. She removed two stacks of ten and replaced them with four blue plates.
“Huh,” Ernest said, staring at the empty plates that still remained. “I’m still not really full.”
“Who cares?” Peter said, pulling a serving of fish fingers down. “Everything’s a dollar!”
“The enchantments on your jewelry are all so different,” Bridget said to Faye. Her left eye had been enchanted in an accident many years prior, and could now see things that a normal eye couldn’t. For example, the charms that allowed her friend to talk to animals.
“Really? The spells are all really similar,” Faye said, playing with her salad and not really paying attention.
“What’s that do?” Bridget asked, pointing to one of Faye’s necklaces.
“It lets me talk to cats,” Faye said and sipped from her soda.
“Why?” Bridget took a bite of her salad.
“I wanted to figure out what was wrong with Ms. Pebbles. Our cat,” she clarified when Bridget lifted her eyebrows. “It was the first translating charm I got, actually.”
“What was wrong?” Bridget asked.
“Oh, she was pregnant,” Faye said. “And then I could talk to her kittens. It was awesome.”
Charlie stopped making a mess of his seeds and corn to squawk in agreement.
“What about that one?” Bridget pointed to the rook piercing in Faye’s ear with her fork.
“Bears,” Faye said with a mouth full of lettuce. She swallowed and continued. “I figured if I ever ran into one, I’d want to be able to talk to them.”
“That one?” Bridget pointed to a bracelet.
“Pigeons. To tell them to leave me alone.”
“You’ve got to try these chicken wings,” Gertie said, offering the last one on her plate to Vivien.
“Don’t you want it?” Vivien said.
“I can always get more.” To prove it, she turned and pulled another serving from the conveyor belt with a grin.
“Onion rings!” Peter pointing to the oncoming plates, gesturing that Gertie should get them for him since she was closer.
Gertie laughed and pulled down two plates and put them in front of him.
“I can’t wait for another one of those sliders,” Ernest said, licking his lips as he noticed a whole batch being placed on the conveyor belt on the other side of the restaurant.
His expression fell as, one by one, they got picked up by the tables in front of them along the conveyor belt.
“Another batch will be along soon,” Vivien said, patting his arm reassuringly.
“And that one?” Bridget asked as Faye fidgeted with a ring. They waited by the car, staring at the door to the Bottomless Pit.
“Pigs. I volunteered at a farm. What is taking them so long?” she groaned, checking her phone for the fifth time. “I thought we were going to be late, with how long it took them to get Charlie’s food.”
Charlie squawked in agreement.
Bridget shrugged. “Let’s go see what’s keeping them then.”
Faye nodded. “Charlie, stay with the car.”
He grumbled but obeyed.
The two girls swung open the door to the Bottomless Pit to the sound of chatter. The place was completely packed.
“Wow,” Bridget said, taken aback.
“Is it the smell for you too?” Faye said, putting her hand to her mouth. “It feels like there’s fryer fat in the air.”
“No.” Bridget shook her head. “All the food...it’s magicked.”
“Yeah. Everything on the conveyor belt.”
Bridget scanned the room, looking for her sister and fearing something awful had happened to her and their friends.
“Bridget!” a voice said from behind her. She turned to see her sister drying her hands on her jeans. “There weren’t any paper towels in the bathroom,” Gertie explained. “Hey, you’ve got to try the food here. The chicken fingers are fantastic!”
“No way,” Faye said acidly.
“Gertie…” Bridget looked at the stacks and stacks of plates on every single table. “How much have you eaten here?”
“Not much, I’m not really full yet,” Gertie said. “Come back to the table with me.”
“Humor me,” Bridget said. “What did you eat?”
“Okay. Uh, maybe three sliders? Then there were the fish sticks, the chicken fingers, the chicken wings, the mini hot dogs, the jalapeño poppers, the, uh, the nachos…” Gertie frowned, looking around at the tables they passed as she led them to the booth. Everyone had forests of stacked plates around them. “The tater tots, the mozzarella sticks, garlic knots, the normal fries, the sweet potato fries, the waffle cut fries...you know, I did eat a lot.”
Ernest, Peter and Vivien greeted Bridget and Faye with grins and spouting adoration of the food. They squeezed to make room for the two new guests, and Bridget leaned in to keep anyone else from hearing.
“The food all has magic on it,” Bridget told the group. “I’m not sure it’s even real.”
“What do you mean?” Gertie’s eyes went wide. “Are we going to get sick?”
Another server appeared, barely visible behind the stacks of plates at the side of the table. “Are you all finished? I can get started counting up the plates-”
“What’s going on here?” Peter demanded. “We’re not even full and we’ve eaten all this stuff! And my friend here says that all the food is enchanted!”
To their surprise, the server smiled. “That’s the Bottomless Pit guarantee. We have a secret recipe that keeps the food delicious but not very filling, or fattening. It’s all the pleasure of eating without the guilt.”
“It’s like a duplicator spell?” Vivien guessed, remembering how practitioners had tried and failed to make more food during hunger crises. Splitting food could make the illusion of mass, but not nutrition.
“That’s a trade secret,” the server said firmly and started counting up the plates. “I assure you it’s perfectly safe. You can check out our license if you doubt me.”
Bridget turned to Gertie and shrugged. Maybe the whole thing was benign after all.
“One hundred and fourteen, one hundred and fifteen. That will be one hundred and fifteen dollars, please.”
“What?” the group exclaimed.