Paladin Pizza in Central Lankville has been in business since 1972. They operate out of a mean, one-story building nestled in front of a defunct factory. The parking lot is cracked and worn and the sidewalk in front of the door has nearly returned to dirt. The windows are covered by weather-beaten cardboard and the lighted sign has been burned out every since I started living above the knives and puzzles shop across the street.
Finally, I had had enough. What the hell is up with this place? I aimed to find out.
I am Zach Keebaugh: Investigative Reporter.
I went in at lunchtime. The small, poorly-lit seating area was completely empty. Pieces of newspaper littered the floor. It felt like no heat had been on in the place for ages. There was no counter– merely a ragged chasm in the brown paneling that offered a view into the kitchen. A pulpy middle-aged face suddenly appeared in the breach.
“Let’s have a pie, make it a large and a steak sandwich too,” I called out. The pulpy face nodded very slightly and then disappeared. I took a seat and looked over the ancient laminated placemat. There was a little maze on there– you had to lead the pepperoni through the maze to the pizza on the other side. That was cool, that occupied me for a little while.
It was then that I became aware of complete and total silence. Nothing moved through the chasm. It was the absence of sound that stunned me, it was an absence of life as well. They have killed all their customers it suddenly occurred to me. The ovens are inoperable. There will be no pizza. There will be only the end. This is your denouement Keebaugh, I thought.
“Yo,” I called out. It was desperation, more than anything else. The pulpy, expressionless face returned. “Yo, are you making that pizza, that steak sandwich?” I started backing away towards the door– I could feel the thin strands of sunlight as I drew closer. The pulpy face said nothing. Relax, Keebaugh I thought. I breathed.
And then a bag was pushed through the chasm. The bottom was covered in grease. But there was something inside. It was the sub (and, as I unexpectedly found out later, the pizza too). They had shoved the pizza into a paper bag. It was eldritch, this pizza, made by phantoms.
I threw a twenty at the chasm. Some change somehow appeared.
“Enjoy your meal,” the chasm said. The pulpy figure was gone. I looked at the chasm. It grew suddenly grey outside. Nothing further was coming, I knew it. I thought about approaching, thought about trying to get a glimpse into the kitchen. But there was just no way, man. It was over. I had to accept it. The chasm had accepted it.
The pizza was good though. And so was the sub.
That’s what you should take away from this, man.