CHEESEBURGER BROWN: Novelist & Story-wallah
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Reaper at the Picnic
A short story from Cheeseburger Brown
Reaper at the Picnic, a short story by Cheeseburger Brown, illustration by Matthew Hemming


A whole crowd was waiting for Sarah at home: not just Dad and Hunter, but Jordon and Tabby and Paramjit, too. "Hark! T'is a bachelor of science!" crooned Jordan, pointing dramatically.

Sarah bowed. They laughed. Dad buried her in a swinging hug, Hunter jabbed her in the ribs playfully and then touched her shoulder with a fleeting pat of tenderness. "Good to see ya, sis," he said.

"Guess what?" grinned Dad. "As soon as your mother gets home we're going for a picnic. Gran and Andy are meeting us at the park."

"Everybody?" asked Sarah.

"Damn right," said Tabby, her round face beaming. "We pooled our vouchers. It's going to be a pah-tay."

"Where's Mom?"

"At the post office," explained Dad. "The net's down again."

They wandered out to the end of the driveway to wait for her. Across the road the Sashar family appeared to be packing up for a trip, so Dad sauntered over to shoot the breeze with Mr. Sashar.

He returned looking a little glum. "Sashars' are off to a controlled zone, eh?"

Sarah was shocked. "What for?"

Dad shrugged, rubbed his neck absently and looked around. "Rashid says it's voluntary. He gets a big tax break. It's supposed to be just a few months, until they relax the threat level or whatnot."

"Jeez," said Jordan.

"Sucks to be brown," said Paramjit with an uneasy chuckle.

Everybody waved as the Sashars drove away.

When Mom pulled up in the two-seater it was all smiles, because Mom was easily worried by a long face. She always thought it meant somebody had died. "Sarah!" she beamed, hugging her daughter. "Did your father remember to bring out the extra cooler I called him about?"

Dad groaned and went back into the house.

"We'll meet you there, kids," said Mom.

And so even before she'd had a chance to throw her knapsack into her old room Sarah was squished into Jordan's beetle blue hybrid -- pinned between Tabby's ample thighs and Hunter's squirming bum. Paramjit twisted the volume up to full, assaulting their senses with a gay frenzy of bouncy pop. "Let the madness begin!" he shouted over the din.

"It's so good to be home," gushed Sarah a moment before she was thrown back into her seat by Jordan's aggressive acceleration. "You'll lose my parents!" she pointed out.

"They know the way," said Jordan.

Hunter screamed out the windows at the passersby as the nimble blue car hummed out to the main road and merged into the thin traffic. "Jesus," remarked Sarah; "does nobody drive anymore or what?"

"Commuters save their vouchers for the commute," said Tabby. "Everybody else is pretty much getting used to going without. The bike shop's been crazy."

"I'll bet."

"I'm in a car with teenagers playing loud music!" Hunter yelled at a knot of his friends hanging around outside Tim Horton's. He waved and they waved and then, inexplicably, they all gave one another the middle finger and laughed.

"Your friends are weird, Hunt," noted Sarah.

"And yours aren't," groaned Hunter, pointing to the back of Paramjit's head.

"Stop that now," said Paramjit.

"How did you know?"

"I'm going to be a doctor of neural computational architecture. I know everything."

"You got accepted at McGill?" asked Sarah.

"I did indeed," replied Paramjit proudly. "I have to get my passport shit done so I can get into Quebec without getting rendered -- and then, come autumn, I'll be working under Dr. Zoran himself."

"Wow," she whistled; "everything's coming up everybody!"

In the wake of the speeding hybrid pink apple blossoms fluttered free from the roadside trees and swung lazily to the ground. Birds chirped. The sky had never been more blue.

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CHEESEBURGER BROWN: Novelist & Story-wallah
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