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“Pass the ketchup,” she said softly, but not soft enough for my liking.

I’d reminded her too many times that when we were in a mustard province to be prudent about her use of the ‘K word.’

After the Comedy Civil War of 2019, the Blue State/Red State Civil War of 2020, the Religious Schism of 2021, and the Gender Revolts of 2022, the country was at risk of fission, atoms just waiting to divide and explode over any and every minor difference. Things got worse, leading to the short-lived but ugly Siri-Alexa uprisings and the Electric Scooter Conflict, so it wasn’t a surprise when 2031’s Condiment Insurgence further splinted the nation.

While history books will tell the full story, from my perspective there were currently two shadowy figures a few tables away and a naked, beckoning hot dog in front of Trina. I hadn’t seen the violence first-hand, and I hoped to keep it that way.

Her eyes met mine, moved to the ketchup bottle, and flitted back, locking into me. Without a word, I slowly slid her the stone ground mustard, keeping my eyes on hers. Stone-ground wasn’t a beginners mustard, it was a condiment that suggested you regularly traversed in the seed. Unlike a honey mustard, the potency of a stone ground meant you were serious. I hoped it might throw off any suspicious onlookers.

Had we not missed a major exit off the interstate, we could have actually stopped for a bite in a district I knew offered more to ketchup sympathizers.

The Insurgence was still young enough to lack well-established borders between the sides. The figureheads were drowned out by provincial and radical factions, gangs that were responsible for the nightly scraps, their misdeeds plastered throughout the evening news. Neither of us knew enough about our whereabouts, so the only reasonable defense was to expect the worst.

For two road warriors like us, the only certainty was uncertainty.

I didn’t want to tell Trina “no” because it would set off her lousy sense of composure. I also didn’t want to tip her off to the onlookers sitting her in blindspot. Her general stubbornness mixed with her distorted sense of safety and her love for ketchup made her less than the ideal partner for this moment. I was the metaphorical duck, keeping calm and unruffled above the table, while paddling like hell below it, checking my ankle holster, and feeling around for the silencer.

Seconds passed like hours, without Trina accepting the mustard offering. The ketchup still sat within arms reach, a land mine waiting to decimate a seemingly tranquil moment, at the first touch. I checked for the closest exits and the waitress, to make sure she wouldn’t become collateral damage.

For some reason, ketchup and mustard had always been drawn up as enemies even though they shared more than the marketing companies of America wanted to admit.

Both covered sandwiches’ shortcomings, both shared an aisle in the supermarket, and hell, they often complimented each other. But like cats and dogs, or John Travolta and Nicolas Cage, the narrative was written long ago.

They made the first move, breaking the surface tension of our prisoner’s dilemma, and putting all of us on an inevitable collision course. The two men, rising and walking as one, headed toward us in unison. The empty diner was a perfect setting for a violent scene—or escape, if you had faith as small as a mustard seed.

As the men closed to ten feet of Trina, they both reached into their trench coats for…

All at once I shouted for Trina to “GET DOWN,” flipped the table, and unloaded a round into the introducers’ midsections, aiming for their hands and weapons. As quickly as their bodies hit the linoleum, Trina and I jumped up. Time was the only remaining enemy.

Trina said she’d check for other threats and I rushed to search the men for identification to get some idea of what kind of trouble we had created or avoided. The men were motionless, lying in nearly unbelievable action movie-sized puddles of blood. As I felt for their weapons, reaching along their bodies, I finally realized how actually fucked we were.

“SHITSHITSHIT Trina,” I bellowed, I wailed, I sobbed.

Trina returned to see me sitting next to the deceased, holding the busted ketchup packets, I found inside their coats. Their peace offering now mixed with spilled blood, the sanguine remains of another senseless condiment death.

Josh Bard

Josh Bard is a guy. A sports guy, an ideas guy, a wise guy, a funny guy, a Boston guy, and sometimes THAT guy. Never been a Guy Fieri guy, though.

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