Amber, a young meerkat journalist, sat in the last booth of ‘Rod’s Roadside Café.’ A plump coyote waitress ran to and fro into the kitchen behind her. It was late evening and the sun was quickly fading into night. The woods past the parking lot were turning from a pleasing orange into black.
The meerkat, dressed in a skirt and semi casual blouse, reached into her purse and checked her essential items: Recorder? Check. Notepad and pen? Check. Pepper spray? Check.
It certainly wasn’t her first choice for meeting a contact, especially considering the scathing review Amber had done on the place back when she wrote for the local eats section. These days the run-down, greasy diner had a one-star rating on every review she found, yet there seemed to be plenty of customers. Perhaps they were all from out of town? Amber bounced her pen on her button nose in deep thought before she was woken out of her reverie.
“Are you ordering something or not, hon?” The coyote waitress asked, flicking open her notepad, her ears flattening in annoyance.
Amber swiveled her ear back. “Uh, yeah, pancakes please. With a cola.” The coyote waitress scribbled the order down before huffing and turning away.
Amber cradled her head in her hands, claws massaging her scalp beneath her long red hair: It seemed the service was still terrible. The young meerkat shuddered at the prospect of the food. Last time it had been cold, and she had nearly broken a tooth on an overcooked biscuit.
That had been in her early days as a journalist, before she’d moved up the ranks to being an actual investigative reporter. Amber had definitely ruffled some coats: exposing corruption, uncovering evidence that led to convictions, the ‘Vrosnir Affair’ that got the District Attorney arrested on extortion... a one-star restaurant was likely the least of her worries.
The front door opened, setting off a ring of the bell, and a stoat entered - wearily eyeing the patrons with red, tired eyes and walking with a nervous patter of feet. He was dressed in a white button-up shirt with rolled up sleeves and slacks, carrying a plain black briefcase. The stoat nearly collided with a rat businessman as he made his way to her booth and flopped down opposite her. He was panting as if he had been running. Amber swiveled her ears back as she regarded the stoat.
“Everything alright?” She asked.
The stoat took a breath as he smoothed his arm fur out. “That remains to be seen.”
Amber clicked the record button and sat back. “Mister... Foose, was it? You claimed you had information for me.”
“Yes!” Foose shouted, causing a few diners to turn towards them.
Amber shushed him and leaned in. “Not so loud, not so loud. Take a breath.”
Foose nodded, dabbing his forehead fur with an overused handkerchief. “Yes, yes, sorry. Thank you for agreeing to meet me. I’ve been sitting on this for some time and I really need to let someone know.” He paused. “Uh, you will protect my identity, yes?”
Amber nodded, “Not to worry: we can edit your voice to be distorted and I’ll bleep your name.”
The stoat sighed, then leaned in, conspiratorially. “Well, I work for the third largest mega-business in the—”
“—Orders here!” The coyote waitress blurted out slamming a tumbler of soda and a plate full of pancakes on the table. She pointed down at the stoat. “Does this one want anything?”
Foose quickly piped up. “Waffles and eggs please!”
The coyote once again huffed and scribbled down an order. “Comin’ right up.”
Her eyes regarded Amber again. “You look familiar, you a regular?”
Amber shook her head and smiled. “Oh no, I just have one of those snouts.”
“Hmph,” The coyote strode away.
Amber looked back to Foose. “Now then, you were saying you work for a large company?”
“Yes, Discatrom. We’re a software company, we make all manner of software programs: antivirus, word processing... we even have a few PC games.”
Amber nodded, letting the stoat elaborate about his work. The meerkat dared to bite on a piece of pancake and instantly regretted it: The pancake was crunchy as if it had been left out under a heat lamp for too long. Amber choked down on the dry crumbs and washed them down with the cola.
“...Lately though, our latest programs have been concerning.”
“How so?” Amber asked after a few coughs.
Foose looked side to side, as if his employer was somehow in the booth as well. “It all started when our board executives returned from their retreat. Suddenly the company started changing: I’m pretty sure something happened to them while they were away.”
Amber sighed. “Well I would imagine they decided there had to be changes.”
“Oh of course! They fired over a dozen employees without cause!” Foose replied.
Both jumped when there was a crashing sound from the kitchen. Amber had the sickening thought it was a customer’s food and that it was probably going to be scooped from the filthy kitchen floor and served to them anyway.
Foose drew in his breath. “...Then there’s the new software they’re creating. It’s radically different.”
Amber nodded. “Well technology does change, sometimes rapidly.”
“Not like this! Oh no! This? What I’ve seen?” He leaned in even more, his snoot almost touching the cold syrup on her pancakes, and whispered.
“...Is not of this world.”
Amber closed her eyes and laid back her ears and took a deep breath in before counting to three and letting it out slowly. She prayed this was just a figure of speech.
“Mr. Foose…” She began.
“It’s alien technology! No one on this planet would make a spreadsheet application with that many options in their pivot tables!”
Amber slumped in her booth, throwing her fork which CLANGED against the dirty dish that her overcooked pancakes were resting upon. She rolled her eyes and began cleaning up.
“Thank you for your time, Mr. Foose, I think—”
“—Wait a minute, Miss Zazueta, just wait a minute!”
“Do you have proof?” Amber asked, sliding back into her seat and already running through what she would watch on Dingo Plus when she got back to her apartment.
“Of course I have proof! Our entire board of directors has been replaced by shapeshifting reptilians! Just look at these emails I received from the Ufology society...” He began fiddling with his suitcase.
“Oh lord,” Amber breathed. “Mr. Foose, I think we’re done here. I represent a reputable news agency, not some... tabloid. I suggest you contact Fact Battles, they buy into that drivel.”
At that point the coyote waitress arrived with Foose’s food. Mr. Foose was rattled and started yelling.
“I should have known you wouldn’t believe me, Miss Zazueta! No one believes me: not HR, not my mother, not my landlord!” He scoffed. “The mainstream media is blind to the truth! The reptilian aliens have already begun their advances!”
The coyote looked from the stoat to the meerkat.
“Zazeuta? You’re that reporter who wrote that nasty review!”
Amber wanted to teleport away. She sank down into her seat and waved dismissively, a chagrined smile on her muzzle. “That was years ago, heh.”
The coyote slammed her palm on the table, “It was before I started working here, but my boss still has the article. He’s told all of us to find him if you ever poked your snoot back in here.”
Amber sighed, throwing her napkin down on the booth. “Fine, this interview was going nowhere anyway.”
With that, the canine practically sprinted to the kitchen. “Rod? ROD!” Amber hastily gathered her things and started to stand up.
“Miss Zazueta! Please! You’ve got to believe me!” Foose pleaded, leaning over to catch the sleeve of her blouse. “Listen to me, they’re not mammals, they’re already here! You’re next! We’re all next!”
Amber pushed past Foose, her sleeve tearing, just as a huge wolverine in an apron emerged from the kitchen and pointed a claw at Amber.
“‘The owner is as bad a chef as he is loud’?!” He bellowed at the startled meerkat, holding a pan in one hand and an article in the other. “If I see you in here again you’ll be the daily special!”
The meerkat fled, running between customers and avoiding discolored stains, nearly slipping on the greasy floors and accidentally knocking a biker wolf over as she ran and pushed the diner door open.
“‘If I never have to eat this crap again,’” Rod continued, screaming, “‘It’ll be ten thousand years too soon!’”
Chaos was behind her as the biker was trying to pick himself up, Foose was holding himself and rocking back and forth gibbering and babbling about the secret reptile takeover. A bobcat cub was crying.
“‘The owner is probably a drunk and should be disbarred and thrown in a dungeon!’”
“I never wrote that!” Amber yelled back. “And you’re no lawyer!”
The parking lot was inexplicably full of cars. Amber fumbled with her keys and managed to get her car’s door unlocked. ‘Rod’ had followed her into the parking lot, still yelling.
“Is that your car, missy? I’ll make note of it! You come back here and at least try the chuck roast! I want another chance, come on!”
She nearly backed into another vehicle before she sped out of the parking lot and onto the city streets. She was still high on adrenaline as she turned the dial of her radio to an easy listening station and took a breath: she was looking forward to Dingo Plus and a glass of wine as the city lights beckoned her back to civilization.