CONTINUED FROM PART 1
After the strange sensation had passed, I found myself standing on a road with the Masticiphiator (or whoever he was) next to a bright red Royal Mail box with a small slot near the top. “You’re not going to try to tell me that we were in there, are you?” I demanded.
“Of course I’m not going to try to tell you that. I’m just going to tell you that. Because we were in there.”
“That’s impossible!” I insisted. “You couldn’t even get one of us in there if you tried. And what about all the controls and gadgets and blinking lights?”
“It’s smaller on the outside,” answered the Masticiphiator.
“Right. So where are we supposed to be?”
“We’re supposed to be in Cleveland.”
I looked up at a street sign that read Blvd Charles de Gaulle and commented, “this doesn’t look like Cleveland, or Paris for that matter.”
“It’s not,” he replied while he poked at some device in his hand.
“Then where are we?” I demanded.
“Ouagadougou” was his answer, which he gave without batting an eye.
“Do you mean to tell me that you were trying to fly…or warp…or transmute…or whatever…You were trying to get us to Cleveland, and you managed to set down in Ouagadougou instead?”
“Oh, that’s just great,” I huffed. Then I realized it really was about the same either way. We walked past Avenue du Burkina, and the Masticiphiator finally started to explain what had happened:
“As I was saying before you got us off on this tangent, you started writing all those stories on that web site about various strange snacks. What was it called again? Something about Funnel Cake?”
“You know what it’s called.” I glared. “You blew your cover while we were still inside that…mailbox.”
“Oh, right. So anyway, we were writing all of these snack stories. And if I hadn’t been undercover, I would have seen the big red light flashing on my control panel. You know, the one that signals the imminent destruction of the universe! But I didn’t see this coming until it was almost too late. Except for that one time when I had a bad feeling about something…”
“And when was that?” I asked.
“Do you remember that time when you found that package of drink mix that had one label on top of the other?”
“Of course. The Momordicae Grosvenori drink mix, that said Shireqing Flavoured Beverage underneath the label.”
The Masticiphiator seemed to shudder when I even mentioned those words. “And do you remember taking a picture of it both ways? With and without the label?”
“Of course I do.”
“And what happened when I sent those pictures to you?”
“You only sent me the Shireqing one. What ever happened to the Momordicae one, anyway?”
“Could you please stop saying that word?” he said as he clenched his teeth. “I deleted it from the camera. That’s what I did.”
“Why did you do that?”
“I told you. I had a bad feeling about it! And I was right. Now, do you remember what you did after that?”
My memory was starting to return. I don’t know if it was was from the hot sun of Burkina Faso, or if it was just being out of that stuffy mailbox, but I did remember what happened. “I bought another package of it.”
“You bought another package of it. Then what?”
“I took another picture of. So I could write an article about it, for the web site.”
“Well, I started seeing Momordicae Grosvenori everywhere.” The Masticiphiator winced at the sound of those words. “It was on that drink mix, and it was in the Canton Love-pes Vine Drink, and then it was even right there on the shelf. The fruit itself.”
“Wait, what’s Canton Love-pes Vine drink?”
“I don’t know. It’s still in my refrigerator. I never actually tried it. But it has Momordicae Grosvenori in it.”
“And you’re lucky it’s still in there,” the Masticiphiator scolded, “since if you had managed to destroy the universe you would have destroyed your refrigerator in the process.”
“I still can’t remember how I almost destroyed the universe. Are you going to tell me about that?”
“Oh yes, that was what got all this started, wasn’t it?” observed the Masticiphiator. “It all started when you sat down to try to write that article about Momordicae Grosvenori. But when you saw the horror of that cursed fruit, you didn’t even know where to begin. You struggled valiantly to find some way to write about the fruit that smelled like a dead tree on the outside and looked like a horror movie on the inside.”
“You’re right,” I interrupted, “the inside really does look like a giant legless, headless, pregnant spider exploded and all of the babies came scurrying out.”
The Masticiphiator anxiously brushed some imaginary insects off of his arm and continued, “Thanks for that image. Anyway, after dozens of hours of writer’s block, you wished you had never even bought those stupid fruits. You wished you could go back in time and buy the Shocking Popping Candy instead, with its four delicious flavors and the bright colors and the pointy packaging with the googly-eyed guy on the front who has the cola can exploding in his mouth…”
“Snap out of it!” I shouted. “You have to finish explaining this to me before you get hypnotized by those imitation Pop Rocks again!”
“Right, right. You found yourself staring into an innocent-looking rock. But what you didn’t realize was that it was actually the Heart Of The Fungus Cake. The center of time and space that links everything together, at least as far as snacks are concerned. It pulled you in, and spread you throughout time and space. How stupid could you have possibly been? Why did you stare into the Heart Of The Fungus Cake?”
“Stupid?” I protested. “You just said it was innocent looking! How was I supposed to know it was the key to the whole universe?”
“Didn’t anyone ever tell you not to stare into random rocks? You never know what they might be!”
“Well don’t stare into random rocks! You never know what they might be!”
“I know that now.”
“You found yourself spread throughout time and space, and you somehow got the brilliant idea to put references to Momordicae Grosvenori everywhere. For some reason, you thought it was a good idea to just throw them out there. You had the chance to put up big warning signs, or post threatening messages to yourself on Facebook, or even prevent Momordicae Grosvenori from ever evolving in the first place. But instead you plastered the name all over everything, and that made you so incredibly curious that you just had to get yourself some of that fruit!”
“But wait,” I sputtered. “Wouldn’t that be a paradox? I mean, buying the fruit is what caused the writer’s block, but the writer’s block is what caused me to put all those references out there, and those references are what caused me to buy the fruit. How is that possible?”
“Oh, now he gets it,” sighed the Masticiphiator to no one in particular. “Of course it’s a paradox! That’s how you almost destroyed the universe! Ten more seconds and the whole thing would have been reduced to a quivering lump of grass jelly. You’re lucky that I was keeping an eye on things and not busy computing the standard deviation of Shocking Popping Candy!”
“Good timing for a paradox, I guess.”
“Just tell me one thing. Why did you put all those references out there? Why didn’t you just go back in time and tell yourself not to buy Momordicae Grosvenori?”
“Well, I thought it was a good idea at the time.”
“See! That’s what you get for thinking!” exclaimed the Masticiphiator.
“I thought it was a creative way…”
“Look what happens when you get creative!”
“It was supposed to be so spooky that I’d be scared away from it forever.”
“You’ve eaten raw duck eggs that have been soaked in calcium hydroxide and stored at room temperature. Did you really think a few strange coincidences would scare you away from a little round fruit?”
I fired back with, “You just told me I shouldn’t think.”
“Good point. So now you know. That’s how you almost destroyed the universe. Have you learned anything from this experience?”
“Don’t stare into random rocks?”
“Excellent!” exclaimed the Masticiphiator. “Don’t stare into random rocks! You’re practically a genius now.”
We retraced our steps along the streets of Ouagadougou and arrived back at the red Royal Mail box, which was right where we had left it.
“You called this thing the SIDRAT”, I began. “What does that mean?”
“Snack Investigation Device Resembling A Tomato, of course.”
“A tomato? It looks like a mailbox to me.”
“Well, it’s red, isn’t it?”
“Ah yes,” I agreed, and then I snickered. “You said to-MAH-to!”
“Well of course I did,” retorted the Masticiphiator in his Estuary accent. Then he pushed a button on something he had in his pocket, and we were suddenly back inside the SIDRAT.
When I had recovered from the shock of being squeezed through the tiny mail slot, I asked, “So, where do we go from here?”
“Where we go from here,” replied the Masticiphiator, “is right back to where we were before you started this whole mess. Eating strange foods and pondering strange products. I’ll write my articles, and they’ll be shared by hundreds of people throughout the world. You’ll write your articles, and well…you’ll write your articles.”
“Hey! My articles get shared too!”
The Masticiphiator snorted, but he said nothing.
“So that’s it?” I continued. “You have this amazing…SIDRAT…that can go anywhere in space and time. You’re responsible for maintaining the snacking balance in the whole universe. And I’m supposed to just pretend none of this ever happened and that I don’t know about any of it?”
“That’s basically it,” replied the Masticiphiator.
“Since you’re an Earl of Edibility, and you know all these things, at least answer one question: do we ever become famous?”
“We?” he chortled. “Let me just tell you this. In a few hundred years, there’s going to be a galaxy-wide surge in the popularity of vaguely Anglicized Vietnamese noodle soup. My likeness will be on every package. Do you know what they’re going to call me?”
I thought for a moment and then answered, “The…Masticiphiator?”
“Of course not! They’re going to call me The Face of Pho!”
I groaned and said, “I should have known.”
“Now,” said the Masticiphiator, “we’re going back to where we came from, and you won’t remember any of this. You’ll think it was just a funny story that you wrote for your blog. I’ll force myself to say to-MAY-to and you’ll be none the wiser as to what’s really going on. But this time I’ll be keeping a closer eye on you to make sure you don’t try to destroy the universe again!”
I started to protest. I thought that surely I could be entrusted with knowing these secrets of snacking, but it was too late. The Masticiphiator pulled a lever, then he turned a dial, then he pushed a button.