Free Story: The Fast Food Diet

450px-29042007283_(477045052)A note from the author: this short story is from a collection called Unbegun Tales Volume IV. However, due to copyright issues with some of the stories, I’m not sure when I will be able to publish it. So here it is, my favourite story of the collection, which I hope that some people will enjoy reading as much as I enjoyed writing.

The Fast Food Diet

“You’re really going to write a biography on Rayston Crock?” Gerry asked me, as he brought our coffees to the table. “Why on earth would you want to do that?”

“It’s not been done before, amazingly.” I said. I blew on the top of my coffee. It was not yet cool enough for me to drink. But I don’t like milk in my coffee. I like it black, and bitter. I won’t even put any sugar in.

“Yeah, well, the Crock of Gold Corporation doesn’t really like people writing about them, unless they say nice things. I’m sure that you heard about those environmentalists he they took to court.”

“Well, I’ll make sure that I will only write down stuff which I can actually prove.” I said. “But what do we actually know about Rayston Crock, apart from the fact that he founded the company which bears his name, one of the most ubiquitous companies in the world. Look, there’s one, just over the world, you can see the golden rainbow over the door. Look, there are people going in right at the moment, going in to buy their burgers and milkshakes, despite knowing that they are incredibly unhealthy, despite what their adverts might say. We are turning into a nation of the morbidly obese.”

“What do you mean turning?” Gerry asked. “Already turned. But be careful with anything to do with those people. They’re not fluffy and light like in those TV adverts. I heard that, back in the eighties, some newspaper journalist wanted to do a story about Rayston Crock. That was back when Crock was alive, of course. The thing is, that journalist disappeared off the face of the earth. He disappeared, and was never heard from again.”

“Are you saying that Rayston Crock had some journalist killed just because he was going to do some story about the Crock of Gold Corporation?” I asked.

“I’m not saying anything bad about the Crock of Gold.” Gerry said. “Not with so many people around. All I’m saying is that you should be careful with what you are doing.”

“That sounds more like some urban legend.” I said. “I don’t suppose you know the name of the supposed journalist? No, I didn’t think so. But I’ll be careful, I promise. I don’t want to end up in one of their burgers.”

I was careful, as I began my research for my proposed biography of Rayston Crock. I was sure that once the corporation got to hear about my book that their lawyers would be on to me in a flash, trying to stop me unearthing any unwelcome truths. So I tried to do as much as I could before they found out.

I began in libraries and public records offices, trying to find as much information as I could about the secretive man who had founded the burger chain, setting up his first Crock of Gold back in ‘55, before they spread like wildfire across the Unites states of America; and, after America, then across the world. There were Crock of Gold restaurants in countries all over the world, from India to France, the Philippines to South Africa. I understood that they had even opened one in Nepal.

I found plenty of early promotional material, relating to that first ever Crock of Gold. it had been given a lot of favourable coverage, back in the early days. But there had not been any actual interview with Rayston Crock. Even back in ’55 he had liked to stand back from his company.

Nothing from that material from ’55 was really of any use to me. It didn’t tell me about the real Rayston Crock. It didn’t say what he liked, or where he had gone to school. It did not even say where he had come from.

I tried finding out where he had been born, who his parents had been, and so on. After all, Crock was not the most common surname in the world. But I could not find out where he had been born. In fact, I could find no trace of somebody called Rayston Crock ever having been born, at least in the United States of America.

There were two possibilities, as far as I could work out. One was that Rayston Crock had been born outside of the United States. The other was that Rayston Crock had changed his name.

I considered the first possibility, before rejecting it. If he had been born in some other country I guessed that you would have heard about it by now. You would have had people in some Czech village, or wherever, saying that they knew the house in which Rayston Crock had been born. The fact that had not happened suggested that the man had not been born as Rayston Crock, and that, at some stage, he had changed his name. I supposed that did not preclude him still coming from abroad, though.

Maybe he had changed his surname to Crock just so he could call his restaurants Crock of Gold. But, whatever his name had been before 1955, I could not discover it. He had simply covered his trail too well.

From 1955, though, there was more of a paper trail. I could find out a lot of the purchases which Rayston Crock had made, as he had built up his fast food empire, from the site of that very first Crock of Gold restaurant right up to the Golden Rainbow mansion, where Rayston Crock had spent the last years of his life as a virtual recluse.

I wouldn’t have minded getting into the mansion to look around. But I knew that was completely impossible, even though Rayston Crock was dead. The mansion was still closed to outsiders. And if I had asked to have a look around it would have revealed that I was doing a biography on Rayston Crock, something which I did not yet want his corporation to find out. They could find out when the printed book was on the way to the shops. By then it would hopefully be too late for them to do anything about it.

I was getting nowhere. I had some evidence of the rather rapid expansion of the fast food empire. I knew about the purchase of the mansion, and I could even find out some of the things which had been fitted into the mansion, such as a swimming pool and so on. But I was still not getting close to Rayston Crock the man. I did not know what he was like, or what had driven him to that first Crock of Gold in Dallas, Texas.

I decided to drive down to Dallas, and check out that first ever restaurant, since it was still going. In fact, it was a very famous place, with several burger fans travelling just to that place, so that they could say that they had eaten a burger in the original Crock of Gold. Personally, I could not see the point in doing that, as the Crock of Gold Corporation prided itself on the fact that its burgers were the same wherever you purchased them, whether it was in the first Dallas restaurant, or in the one just opened in Alice Springs in Australia.

Maybe I would find something useful for my book if I poked around in Dallas, as I did not even have chapter headings yet. Maybe Rayston Crock had grown up in Dallas, and that he had opened the first of his burger joints there because that had been where he lived. If that was the case then it was not beyond the bounds of possibility that there might still be somebody alive who knew Rayston Crock before he became Rayston Crock and set up his place. It was only a slight possibility, I supposed. But somebody like that would now probably be in their eighties, and people were now living longer and longer. It was not impossible.

It was a long drive down from New York. I ended up sleeping in the car, rather than booking into some hotel or motel, as I was trying to keep costs down. I would not get any income from this book until I managed to sell it; and I would have to write the damned thing first. I picked up some food along the way, including one of the burgers from a Rayston Crock.

The experience of eating the burger was not actually all that pleasant. The burger did not have any taste above the condiments slathered onto it, and I might have been better putting sauce on the package it had come in, and eating that. I would certainly have got more roughage.

Yet, the thing was, around half an hour or so after I had eaten the burger I really fancied having another one. Why that was I did not know. I was pretty sure it could not be anything in the burger. Maybe it was just psychology. Even the Crock of Gold Corporation would not have put anything addictive in their burgers. There were plenty of additives. But not anything addictive.

I carried on my road trip, down to Dallas, Texas, where one of our Presidents had been assassinated by a lone sniper sitting at a window in a book depository. I’m not a conspiracy theorist, and I don’t think that there was some other assassin standing in the grassy knoll. I don’t believe that 9-11 was planned by the American Government. And I do believe that mankind walked on the moon.

It was the first time that I had been down to Dallas. It was the first time that I had been to Texas. It was a place which I had probably subconsciously avoided in the past, because I was what other Americans called a ‘liberal’ and I had always had the stereotype at the back of my mind of Texans being rednecks, the natural enemies of liberals.

I drove to the first ever Crock of Gold. It was in the north of Dallas. It was easy to tell that I had gone to the right restaurant, as there was a big sign telling all and sundry that it was the first ever Crock of Gold restaurant. And there was an artist’s image of the legendary Rayston Crock smiling down from above the sign. A painting, rather than a photograph. I realised that I had never actually seen a photograph of Rayston Crock.

I parked my car in the large car park. I ran my hand over my chin, feeling the stubble. I could do with a shave. But that would have to wait.

I wandered into the restaurant, and had a look around. It looked pretty much like any other Crock of Gold restaurant which I had ever been in. I was not sure what I had been expecting. Something a little different, maybe. Perhaps photos of the person who had founded it all over the place.

I ordered some fries, and sat down to eat them. I had decided that I was not going to eat any more of their burgers. I knew how unhealthy they were, despite all of the adverts making claims to the contrary. A few fries would not hurt.

The fries tasted of salt and nothing else. They left my mouth dry, in need of a drink. I had to have a diet cola. But, looking around the place, I could see that the vast majority of people were having normal colas – and the really big ones, as well.

I looked at the other people in the restaurant. Most of them were overweight. A lot of them would end up getting diabetes, or having strokes, or other things associated with carrying too much weight around. But they all still carried on eating. It was almost as though they had been seized by a collective madness.

I looked around for somebody who was really old, who might have been coming here for the last sixty odd years, right from the start. But I could not see anybody who looked older than sixty. Besides, if somebody had been coming here for that long then they would probably have died of a heart attack by now.

I thought about asking the staff about Rayston Crock. But they were bound to want to know why I was asking such questions. Besides, looking at the spotty-faced boy who had served me with my fries, I doubted if he knew anything illuminating, anyway. I would probably have got more information from off the website.

I decided to have a walk around the area. I did not know how much the area had changed in the last sixty odd years. But maybe there were still some people in the area from the Fifties.

I walked around the area. It was a really hot day, and I had to shade my eyes against the glare of the sun. It was one of those days so hot that the asphalt almost started to melt. You could have cooked a fried egg on the bonnet of my car; you did not need a griddle on such a day to do any cooking. What I really could have done, right at that moment, was some iced water. And yet people were still getting out of cars in the car park, and waddling into the first ever Crock of Gold restaurant.

Most of the buildings in the area looked more recent than ’55. I guessed that the place had changed a fair bit over the decades. But, as I walked around, I came into a poorer neighbourhood; one with more black people in it than white. Some of the houses looked like they had been there a long time. But most of the people I saw were fairly young, no more than thirty years old or so.

Then I saw some old black guy sitting on a porch, enjoying the sunshine. He looked ninety years old if he was a day. I hoped that he had lived in the area some time. I walked over to him.

“Excuse me, I wonder if I could ask you a few questions?” I asked. He raised one eyelid to look at me.

“I’ve already got a Bible, and I got no money for anythin’ else.” he said.

“I’m not selling anything. I just want to ask you a few questions.”

“What questions?” he asked. He opened both eyes and regarded me suspiciously, as though I had come along only to cause him trouble.

I explained that I was writing a book on Rayston Crock – I did not give my name – and said that I was looking for somebody who had been around in the area when the first ever Crock of Gold had opened.

“Yes, I was livin’ here back then.” he said. “Never went in that restaurant back then, and never been in it since. They didn’t let no blacks in their doors, back when they started, did you know that?”

“No, I didn’t.” I said. I made a note of that fact. I had not realised that the nice, shiny Crock of Gold Corporation had once been supporters of segregation. They never mentioned that fact on their website. But I should not really have been surprised, as it had been like that all over the South before the Civil Rights struggle of the 1960s.

“Yes, sir, they did not want the likes of me in there.” the old guy said. “Of course, once the white politicians started speaking up for equal rights that all changed, and they pretended that they had never been against segregation in the first place. But I know what they was like in the early days. I used to walk past that place just about every day, as I went to work, and back, and I saw all of the white folk in there, stuffin’ their faces with burgers and getting’ fat. Even back then they was getting’ fat, and they used to eat away like there was no tomorrow, and they had to get as many of those burgers down their throats before Judgement Day.

“Well, I can’t say much about that place ‘cause I never went into it, but I did see that Rayston Crock a few times.”

“You actually saw Rayston Crock?” I asked. He was the first person who I had spoken to who had actually seen Rayston Crock in the flesh. But I supposed that I had not yet spoken to a lot of people yet.

“Yeah, I saw him a few times, coming out of that burger bar. He looked just like he does on that sign they’ve got up over the place. I reckon that he must have been around fifty, back then. Maybe he was younger and just looked older.”

Rayston Crock had been dead for a few years, and he was supposed to have been in his nineties when he had finally passed away. His death was only announced by the corporation some weeks after the event, by which time he was supposed to have been buried, although they did not say where.

“Funny thing is, I saw him a few times over the years, back then, when he was just starting out, and every time he looked exactly the same. Always wore exactly the same clothes, that old white suit which they use in the publicity now. I never saw him wearing anythin’ else.”

That was all that the old guy had to tell me. I thanked him for his help and moved on. It did not really tell me anything about the real Rayston Crock, though. I still knew nothing of his life before he had opened that first burger bar. His early life was still a blank slate.

I wasted weeks trying to find out where he had gone to school, who he had studied with, and so on. But I simply could not find any information beyond the official information on the company website. And I no longer trusted that. I was beginning to think that there was some sort of conspiracy here, to hide the true origins of Rayston Crock, although I did not yet know why.

It had been the 50s when he had started out. I wondered if he had had to hide his origins because of what society had been like at the time. It had been the time of the House UnAmerican Committee, of a witch hunt against anybody who had been communist, or even had socialist sympathies. A lot of good directors and actors had been blacklisted because they had been seen as being a little bit too Red.

I could not really see the creator of one of the biggest corporations in the world as ever having had socialist sympathies, though. Maybe he had been born Jewish, instead. that might explain why I had not been able to find the birth certificate of Rayston Crock. Maybe he had not had one under that name, and he had hidden his past to fit into the ideal of the American Dream.

Still trying to find something to write about, I contacted a former director of the company, a man by the name of Theodore Cranston who had agreed to see me. I hoped that due to the fact that he was no longer employed by the company that he would be willing to give me some insight. So far I did not have enough information for a magazine article, let alone a full-sized biography.

Theodore Cranston lived up Montana, in a small town close to the Canadian border. I didn’t drive, this time, but caught a plane up to Helena, and got a hire car from there. It was still a drive of over two hundred miles from Helena to the small town in which Theodore Cranston had chosen to retire to.

When I reached Cranston’s house I had to check the map to make sure that I had come to the correct place. As he had once been a former director of the company I had expected him to have been living in luxury. But he was living in a one storey house in a small village, the sort which only had two streets, making a crossroads in the centre of town. The place was not much removed from being a shack.

Theodore Cranston was waiting at his door to meet me. He looked to be in his eighties. But it had been some ten years since he had stepped down from the company. Still, though, looking at him, it looked as though he had the weight of the world on him, rounding his shoulders, weighing him down. His face was lined more than a New York road map. But his eyes were still bright.

He asked me my name, and he glanced around as though to check that I was alone. It was only then that he invited me into his house.

“Thank you for agreeing to see me.” I said. “I…”

“Does anybody from Crock of Shit know that you’re here?” he asked, with a sharp edge to his voice. I was shocked to hear him refer to his former company in that manner.

“Well?” He almost snarled that at me, as he stood a little bit too close to me, invading my personal space.

“No, nobody.” I said. “I’m trying to do this biography without anybody from the Crock of Gold Corporation knowing anything about it.”

He stared at me for a few more second. Then he seemed to relax. He went and collapsed into an old armchair.

“Sit down.” he said. That was an order, rather than an invitation. I sat down in one of the other old armchairs.

“Well, you certainly live in an out of the way place.” I said, as I tried to relax.

“Did you drive through the town?” he asked me.

“Erm, yes, I did, when I was looking for your house.”

“Did you notice something?” he said, as he stared at me. “There’s no Crock of Gold in the town. One of the few places where there isn’t a restaurant yet.”

“No, actually, I didn’t notice that.” But he was right – there was no Crock of Golden in the town, no golden rainbow. I guessed that the town was too small for it to be worthwhile to open a franchise.

“They haven’t got their claws into this place yet.” he said, and cackled. I wondered if Cranston was alright in the head. He had been a director of the company. But he sounded almost paranoid about the company of which he had been a director. I wondered if I had made a mistake in coming all of the way out to Montana to see him. But I was not going to make the long drive back to Helena until I had interviewed him. He might have something useful to tell me. after all, he must have known Rayston Crock.

“I suppose it’s only a matter of time.” he said. “They are gonna take over the whole world. That’s the point of it, isn’t it? That was why I got out. I could see where it was heading. Hell, I wish that I had got out sooner.”

I let him speak. I got out my notebook and pen, just in case he said anything which was useful. But it was Rayston Crock the person which I really wanted to know about, rather than the company which he had founded. I knew what big corporations were like.

He carried on complaining about the ubiquity of the company which he had worked for. Then, eventually, he seemed to recall why I had wanted to speak to him in the first place.

“But you wanted to hear about Rayston Crock, didn’t you?”

“Yes, that’s right.” I said, hoping that he might have some juicy details about the subject of my biography.

“You know, in all of the years that I was at the company, I don’t think that I ever saw Rayston Crock more than half a dozen times.” he said.

That surprised me. I had imagined that he would have seen Rayston Crock all of the time.

“Only half a dozen times?”

“Yeah, I reckon that’s about right.” the old man said. “But you know what the funny thing was? Every time that I saw him he looked exactly the same. He was always in that same white suit, that one which you see in the few publicity shots showing him. I guess that he must have had loads of those white suits made, as I never saw him in anything else.

“Like I said I only saw him around half a dozen times. But those encounters were stretched out over a few years. But you know the funny thing? He looked exactly the same every time I saw him. The last time that I saw him he looked no older than the first. I guess that he must have had a pretty good plastic surgeon or something.”

“When was the last time that you saw him?” I asked.

“Oh, when would it have been? I reckon that it would have been around five years before I retired from the company. It must have been one of the last times that he left that mansion of his, that Golden rainbow mansion, that was what it was called. He just shut himself up in there, in his last years, and hardly ever came out. No real need for him to do so, by then, as the company was running itself, and old Rayston Crock was already richer than Croesus by then.”

“And he looked just the same as the first time you saw him?” I asked.

“Have you seen that old publicity still, the one where he is standing in front of that first restaurant of his, in that white suit of his?” Cranston asked.

“Yes, of course.” I said. I had downloaded every Jpeg I could find showing Rayston Crock – all the half a dozen pictures of the founder of the biggest fast food franchise in the world, all of the pictures coming from that time when he had just launched that burger bar. I had not been able to find a single photograph of Crock from the 1960s or later. The guy had definitely been camera shy.

“That was how he looked the last time that I saw him.” Cranston said. “Except that he was not in black and white, of course. He looked exactly like that. He had not changed one little bit.”

“That’s not possible.” I said. “The guy would have been forty years old.”

“All I can say is what I saw. And I’m telling you, with my hand on my heart, that is God’s truth.”

I talked with Cranston for a little longer, but he did not really know anything else about Rayston Crock. He knew a lot about the company, but not about the guy who had founded it, and that was what I had wanted to find out. In the end I simply thanked the old guy and left, as I was not really finding out anything new.

If one of the former directors of the company did not know anything about Rayston Crock then where could I turn? I could not think, not for a while. Rayston Crock had spent the last years of his life as a virtual recluse, it seemed, holed up in his Golden Rainbow mansion. Not apparently connecting with anybody from the outside world.

Then a crazy idea occurred to me – I would break into the Golden Rainbow mansion. All of the secrets about Rayston Crock had to be in there, such as his missing birth certificate, information on just where he had gone to school, and so on. There should be everything there that I needed.

Of course what I was contemplating was a criminal offence, one which might land me in the courts. But who was I harming, anyway? All that I would be doing was trying to find out the truth. And as far as I knew nobody would be there. The mansion, in California not all that far from Los Angeles, had been shut up ever since the death of Rayston Crock. It was certainly never going to go on show like Gracelands had done after the death of Elvis Presley.

The more that I turned the idea over in my head the less crazy it seemed. I thought about calling Gerry, and asking him for his advice. But I didn’t want to get him involved in all this, just in case something went wrong. Besides, I could guess what he might say.

So a few days later I was around five miles away from the outskirts of Los Angeles, staring at the gates of the Golden Rainbow Mansion, and wondering just how I was going to get inside.

There was barbed wire along the top of the walls. The walls were far too high for me to climb over. It had to be the gates.

The gates were wrought iron. Once upon a time the gates had been painted gold. But the hot California sun was causing the paint to peel, revealing the fact that the gates had originally been painted black.

There was a hefty padlock on the gates, through the links of a chain. The padlock and chain were both beginning to rust.

Through the gates I could see the Golden Rainbow mansion, or, at least, some of it. There was a gravel drive leading up to the front doors of the mansion. I could see a huge lawn in front of the mansion. But the grass was long, and was going to seed. Just like the mansion itself, I supposed.

I had thought about just climbing over the gates and exploring the mansion. But occasional cars coming down the roadway put me off, at least for the moment. I was far too visible. I decided to come back after dark.

After dark, and I jumped down from the top of the gates onto the gravel the other side, jarring my left knee as I did so. Perhaps I should just have let myself down from the gate. But I had been in a hurry, fearing that some car might come along the road and pick me out in its headlights.

I scrambled into the shrubbery to my right, and hid in there. I massaged my knee, as my heart thumped in my chest. But no car came along the road. I was perfectly safe. Nobody had seen me. Still, though, I forced myself to stay in the shrubbery until I had calmed down.

Once my heart had stopped doing jackhammer impressions I slunk up to the front door of the place, keeping to the shadows as much as I could. Over the main door to the mansion there was the painted image of the golden rainbow, the symbol of the Crock of Gold restaurants. The paint had begun to peel, just like it was on the gates.

I wondered to whom Rayston Crock had left his personal wealth, including this old mansion which was going to seed. He had been a millionaire many times over. To the best of my knowledge he had not had any children. But there was so little that I actually knew about him. Maybe secretly he had had some children, somewhere, ones which nobody knew anything about. Well, if that was the case, it didn’t look like he had left the mansion to them, anyway. Maybe he had not even made a will. I had not heard of any reference to one, in my investigations into him. Maybe he had simply not bothered.

I tried the door. It was locked, and it looked a little bit too sturdy to force. Besides, I was not going to break anything at the front of the house, just in case anybody passing on the road outside noticed.

I went around the side of the house, to the back of the mansion. I felt safer around the back, anyway, as I would not be seen from the road. With the large walls around the place I would not be seen at all.

There was a large swimming pool at the back. But it had clearly not been used in years. The water was stagnant, and smelled, and had leaves choking the water. I kept away from the pool.

There were some double doors at the back, leading out onto the area between the house and the pool. I tried the double doors, but they were locked. The doors had a glass panel near the top, and I pondered breaking the panel and reaching through the doors. But it was still possible that, even if I did that, that I might not be able to unlock the doors. I decided not to break anything which I didn’t need to. I was not some vandal; and I did not want to leave any evidence that I had been here, despite the fact that it looked like nobody had been to this mansion in years.

I checked my hands. Yes, I had remembered to put my gloves on. I did not want to leave my fingerprints on any of the surfaces of the place, just in case.

There were a couple of other doors, leading out of the mansion. I tried those, but they were all locked.

I tried the windows, but I could not find any which were open. I would have to break something, I guessed, if I wanted to get into the house.

I paused, worried that if I broke a window that some silent alarm would go out, summoning the police. Then I told myself that the place had been shut up for years, and all of the utilities turned off. Of course there would not be some alarm which was still turned on.

I chose a ground floor window, one with a latch and which was large enough so that I could easily climb through it. I looked around for some rock to break the window, but I could not see anything.

I punched through the glass of the window, trusting that my leather gloves would protect me from getting cut by any broken glass. I made a surprisingly big hall as a section of glass shattered. No alarms went off. I reached through to the latch and opened the window wide. I climbed through the window into the inside of the mansion. I was in.

I needed light. I felt around through my pockets, thinking that I had forgotten the pencil torch which I had intended to bring with me. But I found it in my jacket pocket. I got it out, turned it on, and shone it around the room.

It looked like the room was some sort of lounge. I could not see anything which might have held any paperwork. So I left the room, and began slowly moving around the rest of the mansion, looking for something that I could use to fill in the massive gaps in my biography of Rayston Crock.

I found myself moving as stealthily as I could. Which was silly, as there was nobody in the mansion to hear me. But I could not help myself. I guess that it was human nature.

I found a downstairs library, a place with a lot of old dusty leather-covered tomes. If there was going to be anywhere with paperwork, then I guessed that this was the place. There was a bureau against one wall, and I looked in there.

I shone the torch on the papers in the bureau. The ones at the top appeared to be old bills, mainly connected with the Golden Rainbow mansion. There was a receipt from a man who had come in to clean the swimming pool, and bills from people who had done work around the place. I thought about trying to make copies of them with the camera in my mobile phone. But they really weren’t that interesting. They didn’t tell me anything about what sort of person Rayston Crock had been, or just what had driven him to build that first burger bar in Texas. I still did not know anything about the real man behind the legend, apart from the fact that he had liked to have his pool cleaned.

I got out more paper, examining them bit by bit. There were more bills; communications between him and the directors who had run the company in his name; and other things which were not all that important.

There were a few snippets from newspapers which had been cut out and kept, articles about the company which Rayston Crock had founded. But there was nothing which I had not already read before. I threw bills over my shoulder, as I desperately searched for something which would justify my breaking into the mansion in the middle of the night. But there did not seem to be anything there.

Suddenly the lights came on above my head. I spun around, to see Rayston Crock standing at the door. He had just flicked on the light switch. He was staring at me.

I stared back. He looked just like he had in some of the publicity stills which I had seen from when he had founded that first ever burger bar of his. He was the same overweight shape; he had the same pale hair (blonde in real life, rather than almost white in that old black and white photo). He had the same annoying little goatee beard. He was even wearing the same white suit.

“It’s impossible.” I said. “You’re dead.”

Except that my eyes were telling me that Rayston Crock was still alive, and still living in his Golden Rainbow mansion, and not looking a day over fifty, despite the fact that he had to be over a hundred by now.

“I am not dead.” he said. His voice sounded surprisingly soft. For some reason I had expected that it would be harsh, with a strong Texan twang. But it was not like that at all. “What are you doing?”

I didn’t see any point in lying to him. I had been caught as an intruder into his house, rifling through his papers. Maybe if I told the truth he would be lenient towards me, and not call the police.

“Well, I was looking for the truth concerning you.” I said, trying not to panic. Rayston Crock could see my face, but he did not know my name, yet. He did not know that I was a journalist, or where I had come from. For all he knew I was just a burglar. (So why did I tell him the fact I was seeking the truth concerning him?). “I wanted to know where you were born, and who you are, and why you started the chain of Crock of Gold burger bars in the first place.”

He gave an odd, high-pitched little laugh just then, hee hee hee. It did sound very odd.

It suddenly occurred to me that there was a padlock on the front gate; and that the mansion gave every appearance of being abandoned, in that it looked as though nobody lived there.

“Why are you pretending to be dead?”

“Because humans do not live long enough.” Rayston Crock said. That seemed like a very strange answer to me.

“What?”

“You will not believe the truth. No one will believe the truth, so it is safe to tell you, thief. If someone comes to investigate they will not find me here, for Rayston Crock is dead. He died years ago. You will be seen as crazy man conspiracy theorist, thief.”

The way that Rayston Crock spoke was strange. It was the way that he used inflection on certain words, and not on others. I really could not place his accent. But it was certainly not Texan.

“Tell me.” I said. “I have to know. I can’t even find a birth certificated for you.”

Hee hee hee. Again, that really annoying, really high-pitched little laugh. I bet he really got beat up a lot at school. But I was soon to find out that that was not the case.

“No birth certificate here, for I was not born here. I came to Earth to fatten you up for the harvest. The harvest will come soon, when all of you are fat enough. Soon there will be a Crock of Gold everywhere in your world, and all of you humans will be eating food designed to fatten you up. Then the rest of my people will come for the harvest, and my task will have been successful. Just a few years now.”

“You came to Earth..?” Was Rayston Crock actually saying that he was some sort of alien? The idea was stupid. He had obviously gone senile in his old age, even if his body did not show the rigours of time.

“Yes.” he said. And then he took his Rayston Crock mask off, revealing his grey, alien head underneath, which unblinking eyes of pure black evil, ones like great black pupils of darkness. He began to take off the rest of his man suit.

I had seen enough, though. I ran out of there, out of the other door of the library – thankfully it had two – and back into the lounge, back out of the window, running full tilt around the side of the house, no longer caring who saw me. I just had to get out of there.

I climbed up the wrought iron gate, scaling it more like a monkey than a human being. I did not look back, just in case the thing with the large black eyes was chasing me. I feared that it was hungry, and that it had decided not to wait, but to start on the coming feast there and then, with me as the entrée.

I jumped down the other side of the gate, and ran to my car. All that I knew was that I had to get out of there. I was suffering from culture shock. My world had been turned upside down. I thought that I would not escape. But nobody chased me. No alien flying saucers appeared in the sky, buzzing me. Although I suppose that I was lucky not to get pulled over by the police, as I think that I may have exceeded the speed limit that night.

I pulled into the car park. It was three days later, and I had had three days in which to calm down, and think about what had occurred.

All that had occurred to me was that the thing which had pretended to be Rayston Crock was correct, when it had said that nobody would believe me. They would think that I was a lunatic, or one of those crazy conspirators who spread their lies all over the internet. Nobody would believe the truth.

I locked my car, and walked into the Crock of Gold restaurant. I had to keep down an urge to giggle. I ordered the largest, unhealthiest burger which they had. And then another one. And then another one…

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