The First Sandwich of a New Era
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Neil Seebach lifted the corner of his sandwich, and recoiled in horror. Looking around cautiously — the service station was deserted, save for him and a few miserable staff members — he raised it to its lips. A sniff, a tentative touch with the tongue, and then, throwing caution to the wind, a nibble. He grimaced. It was just as he suspected.

The sandwich was delicious.

It wasn't offensively delicious. On another day, in another place, he'd have been delighted to have received a sandwich like this. Maybe a shady little spot on the corner of a cobbled street, in one of the towns he drove past and always hoped one day to visit. Neil could see the image in his mind, and when he looked around…

There was the service station. A block of glass and concrete nestled on the M6 Southbound, surrounded on two sides by tarmac and forested on the others by fields of saplings, tied to wooden stakes in some vague nod of remembrance towards the forests of old. It wasn't a nasty service station, in the same way that, relatively speaking, many sewers are fairly clean. But it was a service station, and Neil had resigned himself to a certain level of culinary discomfort.

This, on the other hand…

He peeled the bread — perfectly crisp and light, flavourful without being overwhelming — back for another look. It was ostensibly chicken salad, but where he had come accustomed to limp slabs of off-white protein, there were slices of mouthwatering grilled chicken breast. The kind of food that you would expect to have not only seen an animal during its production, but to have come directly from inside one. The kind of food that, if the chicken itself were to see it, would probably make it throw its feathery form into the machinery in order to hasten its marinated destiny. Dashed with a condiment that was piquant and creamy in a way that made mayonnaise look like crushed glass, and garnished with… herbs? Were those herbs? Neil shuddered involuntarily.


No response from the kid manning the checkout.

"Hey!", he said again, louder. "Come over here!"

The kid rolled his eyes, and slouched his way over. It shouldn't be possible to travel by slouching. The kid managed it anyway.

Neil held up a hand before he had chance to speak. "Don't. Just…" He paused. How could he convey it? How could he sum up this aberration, this disruption in his otherwise uneventful evening? Nay, his otherwise uneventful life? He lifted the sandwich off its plate (Plate? What plate? Since when did this place give out fine china?) and handed it to the kid. "Take a bite. Tell me what's wrong."

The kid, whose name was Kevin but whose friends would call him Kev if he had any, sighed. "Listen, I can get you another one if it's expired or something. You don't have to make a fuss."

"No no no no", said Neil, deep in a fit of gastro-religious fervour, "Please. Take a bite. Just a small one."

Kevin hadn't had his lunch yet, and saw this very much as a win-win situation. He bit into the sandwich. His eyes widened. "Blimey," he said, "this is good."

Neil nodded furiously. "Too good, right?"

"I mean-"

"Think about it. Think about where you are, where this is. This is absurd."

Kevin started nodding too, slowly. "Yeah. Yeah, man, this is weird."

"I know! I know, it- it- it's…" A word floats to the surface of his mind. "An anomaly! Completely unexplained!"

"You think I should contact my manager?"

"Might be a good idea. This could be something big."

"Yeah, I'll tell him, I'll tell him…" Kevin paused and grinned. "That someone's sandwich is too good. I bet he'll want to close the whole place down, launch a government investigation into whatever rogue baker's been slipping this deliciousness into our stock." He put the sandwich back on the plate and patted Neil on the back. "You've been overworking yourself mate."

As Kevin slouched back to his position behind the counter, Neil leaned back in his chair and sighed deeply. Maybe he was right. It was, in hindsight, a ridiculous thing to get overworked about. A sandwich? Christ almighty. He needed more sleep, that was the problem. Four in the morning was no time for lunch. He'd known when he signed up that the night shift was going to be the death of him.

Neil smiled. A sandwich that was too good. Ridiculous. Eyes still staring up at the grimy tiled ceiling, he reached for his diet coke.

His questing hand, after a moment's searching, settled on the stem of a tall, thin glass of red wine. Neil knew without even looking that, if he checked, he would find the bottle at his table as well. It was likely inordinately expensive, and potentially older than he was.

After a moment's consideration of his options, Neil screamed.

"That was… something. Definitely something."

Cornelius slumped in his seat, head in his hands.

"I thought he'd like it!"

Michael patted him on the back. "It's alright", he said, "you just need practice. It never comes easy, and you're… not really an ideal conduit. You just need to think more subtly. You overdid it with the napkins, I think, and then everything after that was a fiasco."

Cornelius looked up and scowled. "It wasn't that bad," he said. "He's stopped screaming, hasn't he?"

"Yes, although…" Michael craned his neck out from their booth, "Don't look now, but I think that might be because he's gone into shock."

Kevin, Kev to his close circle of nonexistent friends, watched the two peculiar men leave. He smiled to himself, humming a little song as he dragged a mop over the faux-tiled floor. He didn't know what it was, he didn't know what had changed, but somehow, for some reason, he felt happy. He was awash with a sense of purpose as he wiped down the tables; as he stacked up the shelves and prepared to hand over the shift, he felt a warm glow of satisfaction in a job well done. It was something that he hadn't felt in a very, very long time, and its presence was equal parts alien and welcome. Something about the sandwich incident — even the thought of it now made him chuckle — had awakened a strangeness inside him.

He collapsed into bed that night exhausted and bursting with pride, eyes already closing the moment his head hit the pillow. One simple fact drowned out his thoughts, and carried him off to sleep amidst dreams of promotion and retail management.

He, Kevin James Wooting, eternal underachiever and procrastinator extraordinaire, loved his job.

In the back of a taxi accelerating away from the service station with considerable speed, Cornelius flexed his fingers. Subtle, eh? He could do subtle. Sparks crackled from fingertip to fingertip as he felt Kevin's happiness flicker back and forth across the emotional aether.

"Yes," Cornelius thought as he leaned back and tried to make himself comfortable, "I could get used to this".

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