The Human Wok
When Soylent Green is served from the Human Wok, you’ll be hungry again in a half hour!
“I’m dying for Chinese food!” Hal said.
“Dying? Really? Don’t you think that’s a tad hyperbolic?” Rachel replied. She found her boyfriend’s dramatic side to be endearing, and enjoyed teasing him about it.
“Maybe if you said you were ‘literally’ dying for Chinese, I’d be inclined to believe you,” she zinged.
“Whatever,” he replied, not nearly as amused as she. “Let’s just find me some!”
“Sure;” she replied — she was eager to help him before he turned hangry. “Let’s try that new place by the mall, the Hunan Wok.”
The place was dark, but kind of cozy. It was late morning, and the couple was ahead of any lunch rush; they had the entire place to themselves.
Their host was also their waiter, and he guided them into a booth with gestures and low grunts — Hal figured he didn’t have a good command of English. The man pulled a pen and pad from his apron and looked down expectantly at the pair with dark, vacant eyes.
“Ok, well I guess we’ll order now,” Rachel said, smiling at her boyfriend and looking up at the waiter. “I’ll have the lo mein plate and a diet soda.”
“Bring me the cashew chicken and a soda,” Hal ordered. “And an eggroll appetizer. I’m half starved!”
The waiter grunted, turned and shuffled away to the kitchen as Hal and Rachel traded looks with each other. Hal was smirking, and Rachel raised her eyebrows high.
“Well that was kinda weird,” Hal said.
“Ya think?” Rachel replied. “He didn’t say a word to us. I don’t think he even looked at us; it’s like he was looking through us.”
“And is it me, or did he … smell?” Hal asked. “He smelled like … like rancid beef. It wasn’t strong, but it was definitely there.”
“Yeah, I think I got some of that,” Rachel replied. “I think it’s probably just a sour uniform. As long as the food is good and comes quickly, I’ll be happy.”
With that, she stood up.
“Gonna try your ‘fast-service’ technique?” Hal asked.
“Of course!” She replied. The couple had a theory that they liked to test; the theory held that whenever they dined out, their food would come whenever one of them went to use the restroom. “Don’t sneak a bite off my plate if it comes. I’m hungry, too!”
“Don’t worry — I ordered plenty for myself,” Hal replied.
Rachel walked away, and Hal occupied himself by looking at his phone. The first item he saw was a news alert, but it was so bizarre that he thought he’d accidently gone to one of those parody news sites instead of a legitimate news page.
“Zombie Pandemic Rapidly Spreads Across Southeast U.S.” the headline read. As Hal scanned the article, fear welled up inside him as he realized they were at the epicenter of the outbreak — the government research lab where the experimental virus had escaped was just a half mile away from the restaurant they’d chosen.
According to the article, in less than 24 hours, the bug had virulently spread to three states, and the authorities were only at the moment getting a grasp on the nature and extent of the problem. Hal didn’t have all the facts, but he did connect the dots to their weird experience with the waiter, and realized they were at risk — and needed to flee.
“Rachel!” he shouted, jumping out of the booth. To his relief, she was coming back to their table. But that relief turned to terror as he saw their waiter quickly shuffle up beside her, grab her arm and attempt to bite into it.
Rachel screamed and kicked at the zombie-waiter, while Hal ran to her aid. He grabbed the closest object he could find — a porcelain vase — and slammed it over the zombie’s head. The waiter fell to the ground like a wet towel dropped on the floor, and Hal grabbed Rachel’s hand and dragged her to the restaurant’s doors.
“What just …?” Rachel asked, stunned form what was happening.
“Zombies!” was all Hal said. He fumbled for his keys while still pulling Rachel to his car. “Get in and buckle up!” he barked. He ran around the back of the car and jumped in. He was glad to have sprung for the turbo model, though he didn’t at the time think that he’d ever need it.
Hal shoved the gear into reverse and slammed on the gas; he was determined to get them out of there safely. A glance in the rear view mirror showed a throng of zombies — the entire restaurant staff, it seemed — pouring out the back door of the restaurant toward them. He slapped the gear shifter into first and sped forward, spraying the small mob with gravel.
“Watch out!” Rachel shrieked. In front of them, a man — no, it was another zombie — was on a ladder at the restaurant sign. Hal tried to dodge the obstruction, but as he sized up the scene, he noticed that the zombie was painting over the sign with a sticky red paint — was it sweet and sour sauce, or? — to re-name the restaurant into “The Human Wok.” Instead of veering around the obstacle, Hal instead clipped the ladder with his front fender, spinning the creature around in a precarious pirouette before sending it crashing onto the pavement below.
As they sped down the road, Hal let out a small laugh, showing his relief at their narrow escape.
“I didn’t get my Chinese, but somehow I’m no longer in the mood,” he said. “Doesn’t matter I suppose — it never really stays with you anyway.”
“Not like brains do,” said Rachel, in a deep, throaty voice.
Nervously, Hal looked over to his girl, hoping to see her cute smile. Praying that this was another of her cheesy jokes. His eyes met hers, and he found them suddenly dark — and vacant — just like the eyes of their waiter. She must have been bitten in their narrow escape; already she was changing.
Hal screamed in terror as Rachel slid across the seat toward him and took her first big bite of take-out food … from the Human Wok.