James’ life was forever changed when he bought that haunted hot dog cart.
He’d always wanted to start a nice vegan wrap truck going, but the trucks were all way out of his budget, and all he’d been able to afford was this second-hand cart. He’d fixed it up, repaired the tires, and gotten his license. Everything had been coming together so beautifully, it was like magic. The money for the new green umbrella had been offered by the family of the guy who’d owned the cart before. They’d even offered to pay for any new parts the cart needed, but it turned out it had just needed cleaning, and all worked perfectly.
The first weird thing he’d noticed was back at the garage, when he was trying to stick new decals on the side of the cleaned-up cart. The decals showed the five initial menu choices he and Jenny had decided on, with nice pictures that they’d taken a few days earlier of their sample meals. As soon as he applied a decal, it came peeling off. He tried four times, and then called the signage company, who immediately sent over replacements that also peeled right off. He tried taping the corners and that had also failed, so he’d had to settle for gluing all the decals to two posterboards and leaning them against the cart.
He’d placed a fold out table and two chairs, plus his beautiful vegan wrap stand with its bright green umbrella right next to his uncle’s garage- a great corner, honestly, that he’d never have been able to afford without his family. They were very lucky, and very optimistic. Jenny had made herself a beautiful sandwich board with big photos advertising their non-GMO organic veggie options on the cheap, and would be standing out by the traffic acting ridiculous to bring in customers, until they could afford to pay someone else to do it. James excitedly put on his apron and stood ready to pass out as many lunches as possible.
“I love you, Mr. food cart co-owner!” Jenny called out from her spot on the corner.
“I love you, too, Mrs. food cart co-owner!” James called back. They grinned at each other and got ready for customers.
And so, ‘Two Jays Vegan Wraps’ had gotten its start on a beautiful May morning, with James and Jenny cheerfully standing at the ready as the first lunch customers started pouring out of the financial district, walking toward the restaurant district, and right passed the cart.
Six people had walked by before their first customer stopped. A nice middle aged lady. So exciting!
James smiled as the nice middle aged lady ordered an avocado mock turkey wrap.
And that’s when all hell had broken loose. The cart went crazy, cabinet door slamming shut repeatedly. The nice middle aged lady had squealed and walked away.
The cart settled down only once the lady was all the way out of sight.
“What the heck was that?” James said, scratching his head and putting the cart back to rights.
Jenny had walked up, worried looking, “I have no idea. Is there an animal in it?”
They searched the entire cart, no sign of anything wrong, and definitely no animals. Strange.
Then a grey-haired man in a grey suit had walked up, and James thought he was in the clear, because the cart did nothing. That was, until the grey-haired man ordered a mock chicken wrap with vegan cheese. Then, suddenly, the cart started acting up again. Plus now the umbrella started flapping open and closed like a flamingo. The signs had all flown like Frisbees off into the street, and the grey-haired man waved his arms in defeat and said there was no way he was ordering food from the crazy cart.
All day it continued, with customers being driven away by the cart, and with James and Jenny getting more and more worried that their investment was going to drive them into financial ruin. A hipster who stared at his phone the entire time had only had time to check in on Yelp before the cart had flipped out. He never even got a chance to order anything.
As night fell, and not one successful sale had occurred, James had started packing up.
Before everything was put away, a man with a child in tow walked up. The kid was chomping on a hot dog he’d probably gotten from another cart somewhere, and the man ordered the veggie wrap with vegan cheese, and the cart had done nothing. James had started preparing the food, and still the cart did nothing. The man received his wrap, and paid for it, and the cart did nothing!
The one and only order of the day to be successfully placed, prepared and paid for walked away, leaving James scratching his head. Maybe the cart would let him do this after all. He packed up and went home, exhausted from picking up after a hot dog cart that was throwing tantrums like a toddler.
The next day, it took James and Jenny only two walk-ups to realize that just wasn’t going to happen. If they kept this up, the cart would tear itself apart with all the banging around before they made enough money to buy another block of vegan cheese. It had to be solved today. He started packing up the cart, planning to ask every single expert on hauntings that he could find on the internet exactly how to exorcise a demon from a hot dog cart.
As Jenny was packing up the table and James was pulling the umbrella down, a woman walked out of the $5.00 psychic shop across the way. She was dressed as a typical gypsy, but she looked more like a trailer park mom than an exotic moorish beauty.
“You realize that the cart is haunted, right?” The trailer park gypsy ran a finger along the cart surface.
“Yup. Never seen anything like this. We’re considering our options, but,” and James leaned in tight for this one, to whisper in the trailer park gypsy’s ear, “right now an exorcism seems about right.”
“Unnecessary, truly. And that’s not a demon. He’s not evil at all. He’s just pissed off.”
Jenny walked up, “He?”
“Yes, He. His name is Marco, and he used to own this cart. He’s over there scowling at you right now.” The gypsy pointed toward the spot to the rear of the cart where James had been standing all day. James shuddered.
“My name’s Louise, by the way. I can help you. I won’t charge for my help, except to ask that I can get a free lunch when I want one, which might be every few weeks. And also that you sometimes send people my way and tell people I’m the real deal. But only if I solve your problem. Deal?”
James looked at Jenny, and she nodded vigorously, eyes huge, waving her hands in a low pushing motion. James interpreted that as a yes.
“Okay, sure, Louise. I‘m James, this is Jenny. And apparently, that’s Marco.” The cart made a small squeaking noise.
She stood staring at the cart for a very long moment, then closed her eyes for a few seconds and murmured things, then she opened and rubbed her eyes again.
“Okay, put your cart away, and then come on over to the shop. I’ll be ready for you guys then.” Louise trundled off.
Jenny laughed and said that she wasn’t sure whether Louise been taking a short nap, or communing with spirits or what. But a few minutes later, there they were. James and Jenny had never ever entered a $5.00 psychic store with their stupid glowing signs, but hey. Anything was better than a haunted hot dog cart.
Louise’s shop was not draped in scarves or long curtains or tassels the way James had been expecting. In fact, it looked like a run down store-front with a nice table in it, mostly. Very disappointing. Jenny’s slight frown said she felt the same way.
James and Jenny both sat down across from Louise, who was laying things down on the table across from them. There was a crystal ball, a tarot deck, a shaker of salt, and a few talismans and such.
They both expected some kind of mumbo-jumbo about holding hands or closing their eyes. Instead, Louise spoke plainly, “Now, normally, I do a whole shtick, trying to get people to open up. But you guys don’t need the shtick. What you need is to listen to Marco.”
“How did he tell you his name? Can you hear what he says?”
“Well, my whole damn life, I’ve been able to talk to the dead. It’s kind of my thing. Runs in the family. Some of us can actually do something helpful like helping them find the light, but me? No. I can only listen. Trust me, it isn’t fun, it isn’t inspiring. It’s just a pain in the ass. But it’s nice to think I might be able to use my pain in the ass to help out a nice young couple with their pain in the ass. Especially since you guys look like you’re still wet behind the ears, and you sure won’t know what to do on your own.”
Having said all of that, she sighed and grew quiet. James looked a little insulted and like he wanted to argue, but Jenny held his hand, and James calmed himself.
“So, what are you going to do?” Jenny looked at Louise, eyebrows furrowed in worry.
“I won’t do squat here. You have to be the ones to do anything. But I can tell you what Marco is yelling about, and you guys can come up with the big ideas.”
Louise settled in, and started ticking things off on her fingers, like she was trying to remember lots of details on a laundry list of things.
“Well, first, he yelled at me about the know-nothing kids that have his cart now, and how you’re feeding people trash as if it was hot dogs. Next, he proceeded to tell me a long and boring story about coming over from Italy as a child, and how his father and mother had lived in poverty for fifteen years, saving every penny.” She rolled her eyes. “Just be glad I’m giving you the highlights. Marco went on and on. Like how all the kids had to work, and he’d never gone to school. He’d saved every penny helping his parents. He never learned math, or read a single word, but his parents had helped him save up all the money needed to buy his hot dog cart, and he’d learned how to make hot dogs, sell hot dogs, and work the till. Blah blah blah. One day he’d sold a hot dog to the prettiest girl in the world, and then they got married, had kids, and made enough money with his hot dog cart to help his kids make it all the way through college. And he’d worked his cart until the day he’d died, selling hot dogs to feed the good plain folk of this city.”
Louise sat back. “That’s about it.”
“What the heck are we supposed to do with that?” James said, flustered. He looked over at Jenny, “What the heck?”
Jenny shrugged and rubbed her eyebrow, “Look, I admire that kind of work ethic. Why is he trying to stop us from doing the same thing?”
Louise grunted loudly, “You don’t get it. He was proud of selling hot dogs. You guys are basically freaking him out with the whole vegan thing.”
“Makes sense,” Jenny said. “He’s not the first person to bitch me out for wanting to eat sustainably and healthfully. You’d think we were the ones doing harm the way some people freak out.”
“Oh man,” James ran his fingers through his hair, and looked over at Jenny, “What should we do?”
Louise looked at both of them, “You could just start selling hot dogs, right? Make enough money to sell the cart, and start over?”
James and Jenny answered in unison. “No.”
“Well, then you shouldn’t have bought a haunted hot dog cart. ‘Cause you’re never getting away with selling green stuff in that cart. ”
Jenny said, “Well, we’ll have to come up with another answer.”
James and Jenny thanked Louise for her help, and got on their way. They stopped for coconut milk green tea lattes on the way home, and then pow-wowed for the rest of the day and late into the night. The day after that, the cart stayed in the garage, and they did some internet research, ordered new food sent their way, and got busy making new signage. At this point, they were way, way way out of money. They scraped together as much money as they could find, even checking the couch cushions before they found enough to order the new decals, but they both went to sleep happy.
When they woke up the next day, James overhauled the cart, while Jenny prepped the food. The new decals arrived – a great big picture of a hot dog, with ketchup and relish on it. Another of a hot dog with mustard and sauerkraut on it. James smoothed them onto the surface of the cart, and they stuck fast.
Another decal with no photos said simply:
TWO JAYS (VEGAN) HOT DOG STAND
OUR RULES ARE WEIRD – SO READ THIS ALL THE WAY THROUGH.
THERE IS ZERO MEAT IN OUR VEGAN HOT DOGS, AND ALL ITEMS IN THIS CART ARE ORGANIC, NON-GMO, SUSTAINABLE AND COMPLETELY FREE OF MEAT OR DAIRY. ORDER EVERYTHING AS IF THESE HOT DOGS WERE NOT VEGAN. ALL ORDERS MUST BE PLACED WITHOUT MENTION OF BEING VEGGIE, GREEN, VEGAN or MEATLESS. WE RESERVE THE RIGHT TO REFUSE SERVICE IF YOU BREAK THIS RULE, EVEN IN SPIRIT. THANK YOU!
The cart was filled with vegan hot dogs swimming in water, vegan hot dog buns, and all plastic was actually biodegradable, such as the cellulose forks and knives. Not a single thing in their cart was toxic in any way. Every part of their operation was sustainable. They were so proud.
The first day out on the corner, they were understandably nervous. But, no one’s food was thrown, the cart stayed silent, and Marco was obviously sure he’d won. Two Jays said nothing, and if people asked, they simply pointed at the sign, or handed over a detailed flyer that answered every question that they could come up with.
There were a few minor incidents, but if James acted offended when someone ordered anything vegan, the cart didn’t throw a fit. After a few days, they settled into the new routine. Eventually, they developed regulars, and everyone who came by seemed to already know about Two Jays’ weird rule.
The buzz from their quirky rule created huge crowds. A vegan magazine called it a brave attempt to normalize Vegan foods, and a bold political statement. This brought lots of supporters who all followed the rule in solidarity. James didn’t bother explaining.
A few weeks later, they needed four tables. Jenny started bringing along her laptop so she could manage the social media buzz while helping the customers, and so they grew their business.
Three months after that, Jenny informed James over the breakfast table that they had the money to retire the hot dog stand and get a truck.
“What if we don’t?” James leaned across the table to kiss his wife on the nose.
“Don’t what?” Jenny answered.
“It feels sad to make Marco live in a dark garage.”
“Aw, that sounds awful. You’re right… but… well, how else can we manage it?”
They put out a strange ad for someone “not afraid of ghosts” and ended up hiring a guy named Mick to run the stand, with plenty of warnings that it was haunted, but it never acted up for Mick, and he honestly thought the bosses were probably just a little eccentric. It didn’t help that Louise’s free food was extended to a lifetime supply, and he was ordered to occasionally recommend her services. At that point, he decided they were definitely a little cuckoo. But they were nice people, so he stayed. Mick had two little kids under the age of five, and the cart seemed to brighten up some when the girls were there playing.
In present day, Two Jays’ has twelve carts and six trucks in three cities and offers more than 40 menu items. Three of the carts continue to only offer hot dogs. James and Jenny continue to always work the same truck together, and make all the rules together.
Two Jays is known far and wide because, to this day, no one is allowed to say the word ‘vegan’ when ordering.
This story is republished from Stories My Friends Started, where someone provides us with a sentence, and the author must turn that sentence into a story.