When he proposed the idea he had a glint in his eye usually reserved for those in the industry of taking fingers. The heavy silence that followed did little to ease the sudden tension that often settled in whenever he had an “idea”.
“Are you in?” Sam inquired after a long silent stare at his comrades.
“In on what?” Matt and Jon asked with a puzzled look on their faces.
“Yes or no?” Sam stated with a simple insistence.
“You still haven’t told us…”
“The details are unimportant. There is only one certainty – - we will need to get cheeseburgers.”
Silence overcame the room as Matt and Jon looked at one another in bewilderment.
“Are you in?” Sam reclined in the car seat and and folded his arms across his chest.
“I’m in.” Matt said, similarly leaning back and folding his arms moments before he remembered he was driving.
“Okay, how about you, Jon?”
“Yes or a no. Are you in?”
“Oh all right. I’m in,” Jon said with a tone of nonchalance.
Ten hours, twenty-four beers, and a hastily constructed and detonated firework later found the intrepid trio driving the seven miles deep into the heart of farmland in Washington County, Minnesota with a Tupperware container full of microwaved White Castle cheeseburgers. It was not until then that Sam finally revealed his plan.
“So, we go out to this spot in Washington County that’s supposedly the highest point?” Jon asked from his position in the back seat.
“That my friend is correct,” Sam nodded enthusiastically.
“And we climb up it?”
“Then eat a cheeseburger?”
“Well, let’s do it,” Jon shrugged. “It’s as good as any place to have breakfast I suppose.
As the Toyota began easing over to the side of the rural road, Sam took a worried look around. “We just have to watch out for the neurotic Nazi ninja monkey who, by a staggering coincidence are all named Mr. Tinkles.”
Matt and Jon, normally allowing such nonsensical tripe to pass without comment, both gave Sam a puzzled look and began subliminally calculating how long until the car was traveling at a low enough velocity to jump out.
“What the hell are you talking about, moron?!?” Matt demanded before his silence reflex could kick in.
“I’m just saying, this is neurotic Nazi ninja monkey country, and it’s been warm enough that they’re probably done hibernating. I just hope we don’t stumble on to one of their group hugs. A neurotic Nazi ninja monkey is most dangerous when he’s hugging.”
Simultaneously Matt and Jon’s mental calculations turned to how much damage would be incurred if Sam were to be pushed from the moving vehicle while accelerating. Both arrived at the conclusion that apart from a little hippie-splatter the car would probably be fine.
Just as Matt’s hand was slowly snaking towards Sam’s seatbelt release button Sam’s arm shot out causing both Matt and Jon to jump.
“That’s it!” He announced enthusiastically. “Pull over here.”
Jon and Matt exchanged one more glance of unease as Matt pulled the Toyota toward the side of the road next to a large empty farm field.
“So where is it?” Jon said, squinting out the window.
“There!” Sam pointed.
“I can’t see it, is it near that dirt-mound?”
“It IS the dirt mound.”
“You what?!” Matt and Jon both turned towards a smug-looking Sam.
“That, my friends, is Bissell’s Mound, the highest geological point in Washington County. And we, my friends are going to climb it. Oh yes, we will climb it and eat cheesburgers atop it while we take in the glorious view of…” Sam was interrupted by Matt clicking the release on his seatbelt and kicking with all his strength while Jon leaned over and opened his door causing Sam to tumble from the car in an indignant heap of profanity and lightweight hiking boots.
“Thank god for that,” Jon said flopping back down in his seat.
“That might have worked better,” Sam’s head suddenly popped back up, “if the car was actually moving.”
“Damn,” Matt said as he looked at the keys in his hand.
“Double damn,” Jon said as he realized they would never get another chance.
“Ok, let’s go – and don’t forget the cheeseburgers,” Sam said as he gestured towards the tupperware container cooling on the seat.
“Damn,” muttered Matt, the parking brake catching his foot and preventing him from kicking himself. “Now what?”
“Looks like we scale a mound,” Jon sighed.
“Ok, what if we were to break an ankle getting out of the car?”
“I if you were to cut your foot off completely he’d still make you climb.”
“It wasn’t MY ankle I was thinking of.”
“It won’t help.”
Thirty seconds later, after convincing Matt to leave the aluminum bat behind, the three adventurers began trudging along the edge of a muddy farm field towards what appeared to be a gigantic earthen pimple on the otherwise flat expanse of landscape.
“Hey, are we trespassing?” Matt observed the wooden fence that ran the perimiter of the field.
“Hey, yeah! We should probably get the permission of the landowners before we do this!” Jon chirped, “I bet that’s their house right there.” He pointed at the house with conspicuous satellite dish in the front yard.
“That’s a good idea!” Matt nodded a little too enthusiastically. “I bet they have ESPN.”
“Oh for God’s sake, you guys!” Sam suddenly halted and spun on the pair. “It’s maybe a hundred feet of walking up an incline, it’s not like I’m asking you to crawl across a field of broken glass with your pants fly unzipped!”
“That’s a good point,” Jon mused. “But on the other hand it’s a hundred feet of walking up an incline.”
“He’s right,” Matt patted his shoulder. “It had to happen sooner or later but he’s actually…”
“Just walk, you spaghetti-spined whiners,” Sam said as he turned and continued on towards the dirt-heap.
“I think he was talking about you,” Matt whispered to Jon as they followed along.
It wasn’t long before the mound loomed before them in all its vertical glory. Surrounded by a perimeter of trees it sloped steeply upwards to, as was mentioned, the highest point in the county.
“I think if we circle to the left a little where the trees are thinner, we could easily get through,” Sam said, pondereding the potential routes upward.
“Or, we could just set fire to this side and wait a few days. The way would be clear then,” Jon stated, stroking his chin in what he hoped was a thoughtful way.
“Don’t be stupid,” Matt poked him in the ribs. “The cheeseburgers would be cold by that time. Does your chin itch or something?”
Jon stopped stroking his chin and returned to moping.
“Or, if we could get through the underbrush here it would be an easy ascent. Did either one of you bring a machete?” Sam stoked his chin in what was indeed a thoughtful way.
Matt and Jon stopped giving each other threatening looks and turned to Sam in unison with bewildered look on their faces.
“No, sorry,” Jon answered. “I left it back at my apartment next to the weed whip and the barrel of agent orange.”
“And I don’t believe in defoliation,” Matt said, folding his arms defiantly. “It’s against my religion.”
“Right, this way then,” Sam led on, completely missing the sarcasm that was oozing out of every pore of his traveling companions.
“Hey, look! There’s a beaten path through the trees right over there! This is going to be easy.” Matt began towards the opening but Sam’s arm shot out and stopped him.
“No!” A wide-eyed Sam half whispered, half shouted. “That’s a neurotic Nazi ninja monkey trail! If they’re nearby they’ll sense our disruption and come running armed with pointy sticks and self-doubt.” He studied the path intently. “It looks like they just got it the way they like it, so you don’t want to disturb a single blade of grass there. Believe me, they’ll know.”
“Uh-huh,” Matt nodded. “Yeah, I can see how that would be a problem. Say, on a completely different subject, have you eaten any strange-looking mushrooms in the last few days?”
“Have you had any severe blows to the head?” Jon asked.
“Do you want one?”
“You got it.”
Quietly the group wound they’re way around the base of the mound until they found a spot where the trees didn’t quite form an impassible wall. Sam, being the more experienced hiker, deftly wove his way through them while Matt and Jon simply plowed through with clumsy determination. Halfway in Matt whispered to Jon.
“Are you getting thistles in your underwear too?”
“Yeah!” Jon grinned goofily.
When they finally emerged from the dense undergrowth the three were startled to find themselves half way up the hill. Jon looked back as the last traces of their path disappeared, reabsorbed into the thick foliage.
“Let’s do that again!” He almost sang.
“NO!” Both Sam and Matt shouted back.
“And take that raspberry vine out of your pants!” Matt added.
“Oh please yourself, then. Just be aware that raspberry stains are even harder to explain to the girlfriend than they are to wash out,” Sam shouted over his shoulder as he continued up the steep incline.
“I’ll take my chances,” Jon muttered as he followed after.
“Just don’t drop the cheeseburgers.”
“Are we there yet?” Matt sighed.
“Actually… yes.” Sam suddenly noticed that the slope had become far less vertical and only sky presented itself when he looked upward.
“We are?” Jon said stopped and realized the only change in altitude that he could make was now downwards. “We are!”
“We made it?” Matt looked around startled.
“We are officially at the top of Bissell’s Mound, gentlemen,” Sam said as he smiled broadly. “Time to break out some burgers.”
“Right, then.” Jon set the Tupperware container on the ground and popped the lid off letting the smell of soggy microwaved White Castle cheeseburgers waft out. Each man took one of the small sandwiches and stood looking out over the landscape.
“Cheers!” Sam held up his burger as if it were a fine wine in an expensive crystal glass. Matt and Jon each held theirs up as well and “clinked” them together causing a few onions to crumble to the ground. The only conversation that followed was the unmistakable sound of chewing and savoring.
When the first three burgers had been devoured the three adventurers allowed a moment to pass as they gazed at the landscape stretched out before them. It was mostly farm land, with a few brushy clusters of trees dotting the areas where it was impossible to drive a tractor. Far beyond was the faint sound of the highway, muted by distance and a lingering humidity that wasn’t quite fog. Jon was the first to speak.
“Wow. From up here everything looks so…”
“Majestic?” Sam ventured.
“Awe-inspiring?” Matt guessed.
“Remind me not to talk to you later, will you?” Matt sighed.
“Who’s ready for seconds?” Sam rubbed his hands together, eager to end the conversation.
As each one reached down to pick up another cheeseburger a sudden cracking of twigs could be heard behind a clump of dead trees. A few whining wails could be heard drifting on the light breeze and the overpowering smell of sauerkraut and wasabi wafted past the three friends.
Matt squinted in the direction of the sounds and smells. “What the hell is-”
“SHHHH!” Sam, now wide-eyed, motioned for everyone to crouch down. “Keep down, and whatever you do don’t say anything supportive in Japanese or they’ll come running!”
“Who?!” Jon demanded in a harsh whisper.
“What do you mean who?! I’ve only been talking about them all day. It’s the neurotic Nazi ninja monkeys! If they catch us they’ll force us to listen to all their problems in haiku form and then try to annex Poland!”
“Well, that doesn’t sound so bad,” Matt shrugged.
“Yeah, it might actually be kind of funny,” Jon began to stand but Sam pulled him back down.
“And they’ll also beat us up and throw feces at us. Did I mention that part?”
“Are you seriously saying there are actually a bunch of monkeys over there who are not only ninjas, but who also have severe personality hang-ups?” Matt whispered incredulously.
“And throw their poo, yes,” Sam hissed.
“That is wholly unbelievable,” Matt countered.
At that moment a small furry hand appeared above the level of the undergrowth. It was held ridged at an angle with the palm down as if it were…
“Holy crap, is that thing giving a nazi salute?” Jon gasped.
“Yes! They hate anything that isn’t their own race, and that means us!” Said Sam.
“We should probably get out of here,” Matt said nervously.
“Wait!” Sam held up his hand.
“We haven’t finished our cheeseburgers!” Sam exclaimed, holding aloft his precious meal.
“He’s right!” Jon looked in horror at the burger in his hand.
“Ok,” Matt, obviously conflicted between his love of grilled meat and his love of being able to walk under his own power, finally came up with a solution. “Eat fast!”
Without a moment’s hesitation all three simultaneously began stuffing the small cheeseburgers into their mouths and frantically chewing.
“Oh mahh aahhth guuuhhd,” Jon mumbled through a mouthful of processed meat and cheese.
“Lethh go,” Sam said, swallowing.
The three began creeping on hands and knees back the way they came as quietly as possible through the dried weeds. Every now and then they could hear a high pitch howl of emotional pain and confusion behind them. Just as the group reached the tree line the howls built in volume and frequency until they hit a crescendo of animalistic wailing.
“Oh, God! I think they’re hugging!” Sam’s face paled. “We’ve got to get out of here. Now.”
“I don’t think they know we’re here,” Jon whispered back. As if in answer to this statement a small silver object flew past his face and buried itself in the trunk of a tree.
Jon blinked. “Was that a-”
“Throwing star!” Matt screamed.
“RUN!” Sam stood and made a break for the trees.
Matt and Jon needed no more encouragement as the clamor of screeching simians was beginning to quickly close in. As they ran Jon hazarded a glance over his shoulder and immediately snapped his head back.
“Is it just me,” He panted as tree branches and other assorted bracken whipped past him. “Or do they all look a little like Woody Allen in tiny black jumpsuits?”
Matt looked back for a moment and nodded the best he could with a squirrel’s nest narrowly missing his face. “They do bear an uncanny resemblance.”
Without warning the three suddenly broke through the tree line and found themselves running across an open field. “There’s the car!” Sam shouted.
“I think they’re getting closer!” Matt realized their pursuers would overtake them long before they made it to the car. “I also think we’re screwed.”
“Wait! I have an idea.” Sam stopped and turned to face the howling throng of angry monkeys.
“What the hell are you doing?!” Jon called to him as he ran past a few steps and stopped.
“You’re insane! They’re going to bore you to death!” Matt stopped slightly behind Jon.
Ignoring both of them Sam raised his finger, pointing to a spot somewhere behind the horde of simian supremacists.
“Hey, Mr. Tinkles, look!” He hollered at the top of is lungs, “It’s Ben Stiller in drag!” To everyone’s amazement the monkeys stopped and looked around.
“And I think he’s got Prozac in his pocket!” Matt added, catching on.
“And he’s signing another movie deal in which he plays a guy living in New York but has to cope with something outside his element!” Jon shouted. “And they’re paying him twenty million to do it!” He added for good measure.
This seemed to instantly enrage the spandex-clad primates and they ran off in random directions, screeching angrily and clawing at their eyes.
“That was close,” Jon said. As he turned around he was greeted by two fists that introduced themselves to his face at high speed, knocking him to the ground.
“OW! What was that for?!” Jon rolled around on the ground cradling his jaw.
“Don’t even joke about that!” Matt kicked him in the side.
“I’d rather face the monkeys naked and covered in banana paste than even think about another Ben Stiller movie!” Sam stomped his foot down on Jon’s gut.
“All right, all right, I’m sorry! I panicked!,” Jon coughed and wheezed. As he began to catch his breath both Matt and Sam grabbed an arm and helped him back to his feet.
As the three walked back to the car Matt turned to Sam. “So, is it always like this?”
“Nah,” Sam shook his head. “Sometimes it’s actually exciting.”
“But it’s always cheeseburgers?” Jon asked.
“Ever since Sir William Weber scaled Mount Sirloin with a Hibachi strapped to his back.”
The crew walked on in silence for a while until they finally reached the car. The sound of angry neurotic Nazi ninja monkey nazis tearing the mound apart in their fruitless search echoed across the landscape as Matt unlocked the doors.
“So,” Sam said as he stretched out. “What are you guys doing for lunch?”