Early the next morning, Wendy along with her two escorts set out from the White Castle. Wendy had never left the castle grounds before, and as she stepped through the large gateway and down the drawbridge, she felt a thrill of excitement. What was out there? She had seen all sorts of people come to the castle: nobles and government officials, farmers and peasants, soldiers and scholars. The variety of people fascinated her and now she had a chance to see where they came from and what they did.
Not more than a mile beyond the castle walls laid the bustling little village of Holdermayo. As it happened to be a market day, the streets of the village were bustling with buyers and sellers. Wendy gazed wide-eyed as she passed by crowded stalls filled with fruits and vegetables, the butcher’s counter where a dozen people were shouting out various orders, and a tinker’s wagon where a number of pots, pans, and other utensils were set out on display. Weaving in and out of the crowds were little children running, laughing and playing. Wendy longed to join in on the fun. Baskin must have sensed this desire because she gently placed her hand on Wendy’s shoulder.
“Not today, Miss Wendy,” she said with a serene smile. “It’s much too crowded here and you could be easily lost.”
“There is still a great deal to see,” added Robin. “We’ve only just begun our adventure.”
The three continued to follow the high street through the village, Wendy eagerly drinking in her surroundings. Soon the crowds began to thin, and the shops and stalls gave way to small cottages where families were hard at work performing chores and tending small gardens. Occasionally, someone would look up from their work and glance at the travelers. Wendy always smiled and waved. Some returned her greeting, other continued to stare bemused, unsure of what to make of the pint-sized redhead.
Eventually, the rows of cottages dwindled and stopped and the land opened up to farmland and pastures. Before the three travelers, the dirt road seemed to roll on endlessly, sliding over hills, disappearing from view, then reemerging at the crest of a farther hill. The land on either side of the road, patch-worked in golds and greens also spread out in a vast carpeting of plant life. Even the sky seemed bigger. Wendy was utterly astonished at the scene.
“It’s all so…big.” Never in her life had Wendy fathomed that there was so much space anywhere in the world. “Is this ALL part of the kingdom?”
“It is,” replied Robin. “As far as the eye can see and beyond.”
“This is where most of the kingdom’s food comes from,” said Baskin. “Everything that we make at the White Castle, the burgers, the ice cream, many of the ingredients come from these farms and ranches.” This information shook Wendy’s worldview. Due to her fairly sheltered life, she had always considered the White Castle to be the center of the universe. Everyone came to the castle; everyone sought an audience with the Burger King or the Dairy Queen. Important things were done at the castle. Wendy thought that if the castle didn’t exist or the royal couple weren’t around, the world simply wouldn’t be able to function. She had never once considered that the residents of the White Castle relied on others in the kingdom as much as the kingdom relied on the White Castle. It was a profound and humbling thought for the girl. She had always considered herself clever for her age. Now she wondered just how much she DIDN’T know.
“Are you all right?” Asked Baskin. “You’re awfully quiet.”
“Quite unusual for you, I must say,” Robin said with a wink. Before Wendy could reply, the sound of barking erupted from a nearby wheat field, followed by indistinct shouting. From the road, Wendy could clearly see a disturbance in the wheat as whom- or whatever, was causing the noise moved steadily through the grain towards the three travelers. The barking continued until suddenly from the field burst the funniest little dog that Wendy had ever seen. It was small and long in shape, with floppy ears, and a long thin tail. The top portion of the dog’s short fur had a reddish tint to it, while its bottom half was more blonde in color. The dog spotted Wendy, Baskin, and Robin and happily trotted toward them, tongue lolling casually out the side of its mouth. If she didn’t know any better, Wendy could have sworn that they were being approached by a four-legged hot dog. No sooner had the dog joined the travelers when a ragged-looking boy crashed out of the field and onto the road.
“Sonic!” He yelled, scrambling up and pulling on his floppy hat which had fallen off. “What are ya doin’ runnin’ off like that? Ya crazy…” It was then that he noticed Wendy and her companions. “Oh,” he said, stopping short. “Hello.”
“Hi,” Wendy replied as she crouched down to pet the dog. The dog for his part panted cheerfully, his tail whipping frantically back and forth. “You’ve sure got a friendly dog.”
The boy grinned.
“Oh, yeah. Sonic loves everybody. He probably heard ya comin’ and dashed off looking for a free pat on the head. Not that he needs it.” The boy dropped to one knee and gave a little whistle. Sonic returned to the boy with the same enthusiasm that he showed to Wendy.
“His name is Sonic?” Wendy said, standing up and brushing off her dress. “That’s a funny name for a dog.” Baskin made a shushing noise and Wendy glanced up at the disapproving look she was being given. “Well…” she stammered, “it is.” The boy merely laughed.
“I suppose it is a bit funny soundin’, but Sonic here is a funny sort of dog. One of a kind, I’d wager.”
“What kind of dog is it?” Asked Wendy. “I’ve never seen one like him.”
“Ol’ Sonic is a pure bred Coney Dog,” replied the boy, giving Sonic’s blonde belly a rub. “As far as I know, the shire I come from is the only place that has ‘em.”
“And what might your name be, young sir?” Asked Robin.
“Me? Oh, they call me Portillo, Ma’am,” the boy said, standing and removing his floppy hat.
“Portillo?” Piped Wendy. “That’s a funny na…mmrrpphh!”
“We are pleased to meet you, Portillo,” said Baskin, removing her hand from Wendy’s mouth. “Aren’t we, Wendy?” Wendy nodded grumpily.
“What brings you to this part of the kingdom?” Robin asked Portillo as the now four travelers continued down the road. Sonic trotted ahead of the group examining fascinating new smells.
“Mostly to seek my fortune,” Portillo replied. “I come from a poor family. My folks couldn’t afford to have me educated, and there were no jobs to be had where I lived. So me and Sonic set out a couple of weeks ago.”
“What are you hoping to find on your journey?” Baskin inquired. Portillo shrugged.
“I’d like to open up my own restaurant someday, so maybe if I can find an apprenticeship somewhere that will train me in art of restauranting, that would be good. But for now,” Portillo grinned, “I wouldn’t mind finding myself an adventure or two.”
“That’s what we’re looking for!” Wendy said excitedly.
“Is that right? And where do you three hail from?”
“The White Castle,” responded Wendy. “I’m Wendy, and this Baskin and Robin.”
“Baskin and Robin,” Portillo said in awe, “I love your ice cream!” The two women smiled serenely.
“I invented the Frosty!” piped Wendy, not wanting to be left out.
“What’s a Frosty?” asked Portillo.
“Let’s go find an adventure, shall we?” Baskin said hurriedly, before Wendy could respond.
It was dusk when the weary travelers found themselves standing alongside a split rail fence which bordered a large farm.
“Perhaps we can find a place to stay the night here,” suggested Baskin, looking at the small farm house.
“Maybe some supper too,” added Portillo. “I’m starved.” Just then, a figure came bustling out of a nearby barn, a pail in each hand. He was a strange-looking figure; tall and rail-thin with long, lanky hair. His clothing was disheveled, dirty, and too small for his frame. When the man turned to look upon the travelers, Wendy also noted the large, protruding, front teeth and slightly crossed eyes. With a goofy grin, the man loped over to the fence. Wendy stifled a giggle and Robin shot her a warning look.
“Evenin,’ can I he’p you?” Drawled the buck-toothed man.
“Yes,” said Baskin. “My companions and I are looking for a place to spend the night and to perhaps find a meal. Would you be able to accommodate us? If not, perhaps you know of another place we can try.” The man put down his pails and with one hand, rumpled his hair absent-mindedly.
“Gee, I dunno. Reckon you’re gonna haveta talk ta Mr. McDonald. He owns this here farm. Maybe he can ac…acom…acco…domate ya.” He turned toward the farm house and yelled, “Mr. McDonaaaaaald! There’s folks wantin’ ta see ya!” A few moments later, the farm house door opened and out stepped a large man with bright red, curly hair which clashed terribly with the bright yellow overalls and the red and white striped shirt that he was wearing.
“That you doin’ all that yellin,’ Jimmy John?” said the man with a jovial grin.
“Yes sir, it’s me,” replied Jimmy John. “There’s folks wantin’ ta…”
“Aye, lad, aye. I heerd you the first time.” He strode over to the group. He was a pleasant-looking man despite his unfortunate taste in clothing. Although his belly tended to bulge, he gave the impression of strength, no doubt developed by years of hard farm labor.
“The name’s Ronny McDonald,” said the farmer, leaning casually on the fence.
“And I’m Jimmy John!” added Jimmy John proudly.
“I think they already know that, boyo. Now,” McDonald said as he turned his attention back to the travelers. “What can I do for you lot?”
“Please sir,” Baskin spoke, “we’re looking for a place to spend the night, and perhaps find a meal as well.”
“Well lass, you’ve come to the right place. You won’t find any food better than McDonald’s, and that’s the truth. Unfortunately, there’s not enough room for all of you to sleep in the farm house, but the barn is clean and the weather has been pleasant of late. It’ll make for a comfortable night’s rest to be sure.”
“I don’t mind spending the night in the barn if that helps.” A young man, tall, muscular, clean-shaven, and red-headed like the farmer, had come from around the farm house. McDonald waved the man over with a grin.
“This soul of generosity is my son, Angus.”
“Friends call me ‘Big Mac,’” said the young man with a smile as he ambled toward the group.
“Hi Big Mac,” said Wendy.
“Hello to you, small fry,” Big Mac said with a laugh. “And who might you be?”
“I’m Wendy,” said Wendy. “And this,” continued the girl, gesturing to each person, “is Baskin, Robin, Portillo and his dog Sonic.”
“And I’m Jimmy John,” said Jimmy John. McDonald let out a sigh.
“You know, Jimmy lad,” said McDonald, putting an arm around his farm hand and tapping one of the pails with the toe of his big red boot, “I think I hear the chickens a’callin’ you. They’re wonderin’ where you got to.”
“What?” Jimmy said confusedly.
McDonald leaned forward and whispered, “The hens aren’t goin’ to feed themselves, now are they?” The farmer looked pointedly at the pails.
“Oh right!” Jimmy quickly snatched up the pails. “I got to feed the chickens!” And with that, he hurried off.
“Jimmy may not be the brightest star in the sky,” said McDonald, shaking his head and laughing, “but he does his job well.”
“He gets about twice as much work done as the both of us put together,” said Big Mac. “He’s freaky fast.”
“Aye,” added McDonald, “but freaky good.”
“So what brings you to our little piece of heaven?” asked McDonald, pushing away his empty dinner plate. The meal had been burgers and fries. Although Wendy preferred the grilled meat that the Burger King insisted on, McDonald’s burgers did have a unique quality to it. What Wendy enjoyed the most were the fries.
“They’re homemade,” Big Mac stated proudly as he watched Wendy shoveling several fries into her mouth. “We even grow our own potatoes. In fact, that’s our main crop. People come from all over the kingdom to buy from us.”
“So, how are you likin’ them fries, Wendy lass?” inquired McDonald with a twinkle in his eye. He had noticed how much the girl had eaten.
“Mrrrmmphh,” replied Wendy, her mouth crammed full.
“Don’t talk with your mouth full,” chided Baskin. Wendy nodded, chewing quickly, then swallowing.
“Well?” asked McDonald, grinning. Wendy smiled and reached for more fries.
“I’m lovin’ it!”
It was agreed that Wendy, Baskin, and Robin would stay in the farmhouse, while Portillo, Big Mac, and Sonic would spend the night in the barn. As McDonald had said, the weather proved to be pleasant. The hay was clean and comfortable and soon the barn’s occupants were fast asleep. No one heard the approach of the masked stranger as he quietly made his way to the farm house.
He crept to the back door and gently turned the knob. The door, unlocked, swung open, just as the stranger knew it would. He had been watching the farm for a number of weeks now and had carefully noted the comings and goings of its residents. Although he had been a bit surprised by the arrival of the visitors, he had decided that they would pose no threat to his plans. He would do it tonight.
It didn’t have to be this way, the stranger mused a little ruefully. It was just that people couldn’t seem to take him seriously. He had the talent and ambition to be one of the finest chefs in Dryvthru. It was his unfortunate speech impediment, however, that people only seemed to notice. In his struggle to gain capital to start up his first restaurant, he was laughed away by one investor after another. Now in desperation and bitterness, he turned to crime, stealing anything of value in order to sell on the black market. If everything went according to plan tonight, the stranger determined, McDonald’s farm would provide his biggest windfall yet. He might even make enough money to finally start his own restaurant.
For years, there had been a persistent rumor among restaurateurs that Ronny McDonald possessed a secret ingredient that he added to his burgers and fries, causing those who consumed them to form a mild addiction to the food. This apparently resulted in much repeat business for the farmer. Proof of such an ingredient had yet to surface, but the whispers continued. If it turned out that there was indeed a secret ingredient, there was no telling how much people would be willing to pay for it. So thought the masked stranger as he silently crossed the threshold and entered the kitchen. He began to carefully examine all the jars and bottles that lined the cabinets, all of them neatly labeled. Salt. Pepper. Cinnamon. Oregano. Nothing seemed to be out of the ordinary. Growing frustrated, the stranger started to think that this might have been a wasted trip when his eyes lighted upon a bottle that was pushed toward the back of one of the cabinets. The stranger’s heart began to beat faster. This bottle didn’t have a label on it like all the others. And it looked as though the person who had used it last wanted it to be as inconspicuous as possible. This was it, the stranger thought excitedly as he took a step forward to claim his prize.
“Yaaah!” Suddenly the stranger’s feet slipped out from under him and he crashed to the floor. His hand landed in something wet and sticky. In fact, it seemed that he had fallen in a large puddle of the unknown substance. He raised his dripping hand and cautiously sniffed it. Was that chocolate he smelled? Suddenly a lantern flared to life, momentarily blinding the stranger. He scrambled to his feet and as his eyes adjusted to the light, he saw a scowling little red-headed girl in a night dress, spattered from head to toe with the chocolaty liquid.
“Look what you did!” growled Wendy as McDonald, Baskin and Robin stumbled bleary-eyed into the kitchen.
“Wendy, what has happened?” Baskin asked in confused apprehension.
“Who is this man?” Robin blurted out almost simultaneously.
“Faith ‘n Begorrah! What’s happened to my kitchen?” McDonald bellowed, taking in the mess around him. “There’s melted chocolate ice cream everywhere!” Just then Big Mac burst through the open back door with Portillo and Sonic close behind.
“We heard a commotion,” said Big Mac, picking hay out of his tousled hair.
“I just wanted to make a Frosty,” Wendy fumed. “And this guy came in and splashed chocolate all over me.” All eyes turned to the masked man.
“Just what the devil do you think you’re playing at breaking into my house?” McDonald glowered menacingly. The stranger knew that there was no escape for him. However, he now had an audience, and a chance to justify his villainy. He would eloquently and boldly confess his plan and condemn those who had driven him to it. He would confront McDonald and his unethical use of his secret ingredient. But when he opened his mouth, it wasn’t the grand speech he envisioned that came out. To his mortification, his speech impediment reared its ugly head.
“Robble robble,” blurted the Hamburglar miserably.