Don't start reading here! Go back to the beginning of this story, and Choose Your Own Adventure!
For those of you already adventuring, you chose Option 2:
"Try to play along with their charade and somehow alert his friends to what’s really going on?!"
"What are you going to get?" Latoya said, her face as blank as a mannequin. "I want the grilled salmon." She pointed to the newspaper clipping crumpled in her fist.
"I don't care what I have as long as it's a huge steak," Toby said in the same dull tones, a bead of drool trickling down his beard as he turned slowly towards Michael, grinning ear to ear. He looked more like a crazed homeless bum than the kind man he had met at the music store.
Both his friends' eyes were vacant. Even though they were looking around, Michael knew they couldn't see what he could. They were still trapped in the illusion of a restaurant.
"How about you, Michael?" Toby swayed forward adding, "It's all on me."
"I don't know," Michael said slowly. He relaxed his grip on the baseball bat, pretending that he had reached over his shoulder to scratch the back of his neck. He scratched slowly up and down, his eyes wandering, trying not to stare too long at any of the Mendigans surrounding them.
He knew now that he couldn't risk destroying the heart-brain if his friends were still in a trance like this. He had to wake them up. He had to warn them somehow. But he also had to do it without the Mendigans realizing they had beaten the brainwashing. He didn't know how they had tricked them. All he knew was that each of them had broken through it before, and they could do it again.
Michael lowered his hand, slipping it into his pocket, feeling the warmth of his cellphone. The ringtone had cured him. It had to work on his friends. He closed his fingers around it, drawing it slowly out of his pocket, beads of sweat forming on the back of his neck. Don't make any sudden movements. He could feel countless alien eyes watching him.
An overpowering stench made him lurch forward. Their server, Michelle, had brought a trash can lid and on top of it was three dirty glasses filled with a dark green liquid and a vegetable that was wilted and brown but otherwise unidentifiable. He held down the retch fighting its way up his throat. Don't let them see you can smell it, he warned himself.
"One blooming onion, piping hot," she said, placing it on the table.
Toby and Latoya oohed and awed over the garbage rotting before them. Michael tried to keep a smile on his face, but the smell was making his eyes water. He nearly lost it when the two of them took the glasses and sipped from them. Apparently they could not taste what he smelled. He wasn't sure if he envied that or not.
"How are you folks doing?" a soft male voice asked.
Michael forced himself to stay still, his nerves flashing painfully. He hadn't even heard the other Mendigan approach but now he was towering over their table, leaning in close to examine them. His gaze stopped directly at Michael.
"I'm Rick, the manager, and I wanted to make sure you were being taken care of."
"Isn't that nice?" Toby said, "The food is delicious," he said, swallowing a bite of the garbage.
"I also heard," the manager continued, "That it's your birthday today, Michael."
He froze in fear. They knew his name. What else did they know? And why did this particular Mendigan sound so familar?
"Michael, you didn't tell me that," Latoya said sadly, her expression not changing.
Michael knew he didn't have much time. He had to act faster. He couldn't be subtle anymore. The fear in him grew as he slid his thumb along the screen. He hoped he knew his way around the touch-screen menus enough that he could do it without looking. All he had to do was navigate to the ringtone volume menu and turn it up all the way.
When the sound didn't come, he knew he had slipped and he dared a look down to his lap. He had brought up the text messaging menu by mistake. He couldn't waste any more time and he furiously clicked towards the ringtone volume menu.
Finally the tone began and it was the purest music. He would forever play this heavenly song on repeat. It only lasted for two seconds before he was pulled off of the crate he had been sitting on. His iPhone slipped through his fingers and skittered across the concrete floor, the song fading out as a countless number of Mendigans stepped towards their table from all corners of the room. He reached for his bat, but it was yanked from his hand and snapped in two.
"Let's give Michael a song!" the manager crooned and that was the moment when Michael realized who it was. His voice was the one they had heard on the Bach record. Latoya had been right. It was a trap, and he had fallen for it.
He fought against the manager, but his grip wasn't human, it was Mendigan and it pinched him like a vice-grip.
The Mendigans began to make a whorbling noise through their breathing tubes, rising in volume, their tentacles fluttering.
"Toby! Latoya! Wake up! This isn't real! It's not a restaurant!" Michael screamed at the top of his lungs, but it was lost completely under the pounding decibels of the Mendigan's song.
Michael screamed until his voice gave out as they dragged him away. The last thing he remembered before passing out was the heart-brain glowing a neon-yellow, pulsating along with the Mendigan's tones.
* * *
The next time his eyes opened, he was peering through oily amber liquid. A breathing apparatus was fastened around his face. He couldn't move but that wasn't what alarmed him the most. Just beyond the glass wall surrounding him he could see the blurred visage of Mr. Bernstein. A tear floated away from his cheek.
"I hope you had a happy birthday, Michael," said Mr. Bernstein, smiling.
Care to Try Again?