2% Milk, 98% Mystery (Short Story)
Big mystery. Small town. What could go wrong? The milk isn’t the only thing that smells off
It was the summer of 2010. A great summer. Perhaps the last good summer. I was eighteen. “Tik Tok” by Kesha was rising on the Billboard charts. Angry Birds was your favorite app. People still liked J.K Rowling. I didn’t know what Rogaine was. It was a simpler time.
Our story begins in a small town in Minnesota. It was a hot summer day, at least 50 degrees (hot for Minnesota). It was a Saturday. I was still living in my parent’s house, because again, I was in high school. Pretty standard stuff. My mom asked me if I could run to the grocery because we were out of milk. Sorry, I don’t know why I just called it “the grocery.” I feel like that makes it seem like this was the 30s and there were only three buildings in the whole city and I had to ride a horse there. Anyway, I really didn’t want to run errands because Rachel, my crush, wanted to go to the park. She was very cute, and although she didn’t come to my Bar Mitzvah even though she was invited, I still liked her. I figured, hey, what’s a quick trip to the grocery store?
But that’s the thing about life: things don’t always go as planned.
[At this point please turn on some mysterious instrumental music]
The time is half past noon. I arrive at the grocery store and promptly ask one of the employees where the milk is.
“Have you ever left the house before? Do you also want me to take the ACT for you? You idiot.” He said.
“Um, okay,” I thought, “An aisle number would have been fine, but yeah cool.”
Side note: why are grocery store aisles so confusing? “Dry goods that start with vowels…Modern ingredients for old kitchens…” There should be four aisles total: 1) Pasta stuff 2) Toothpaste and things 3) Chips and snacks 4) Dessert.
I finally find the aisle with the milk, no thanks to the mean employee. We’re a 2% milk family. I hate it. Every day is its own nightmare. How is milk legal? Against my better wishes I find the perfect gallon. As I remove it from the shelf I see something strange. There’s something behind it. Actually, no there’s nothing behind it — that was the weird thing. I started frantically clearing some of the milk around it to get a better look. But I can’t see anything. I reach out as if to grab something, but there’s nothing there. It’s dark, empty. My voice is echoing. That’s when I started to put it together: this is a tunnel.
At least six people walked by while I was doing this. I’m looking around as if to say, “What kind of Whole Foods is this?!”
I eventually climb in, immediately regretting my decision. I feel like Indiana Jones but less hot. A lot less hot.
There’s no turning back now. I mean, I could have gone back, I just didn’t think Whole Foods was mentally prepared for someone to climb out of the dairy refrigerator. I think it would have raised a lot of questions. The store probably would have been shut down. Employees would have been fired. I wasn’t ready to shoulder that kind of responsibility.
So I start making my way down the tunnel. I’m ever-so-softly singing “A Thousand Miles” by Vanessa Carlton, but replacing “making my way downtown” with “making my way down tunnels.” Pretty funny stuff.
It’s dark. It smells bad. It’s basically a Hollister. I’m crawling. My elbows are hurting. The weird thing is the tunnel is large enough to fully stand, but crawling just felt right. How many times do you just get to hang out in a secret tunnel? I’m not going to pass up this opportunity.
At this point I feel like I’ve been in the tunnel forever. I can’t see anything in front of me. I can’t see anything behind me. I’m lost. I must have been in there for at least five hours. I look at my watch: it’s been exactly three minutes. I think about stopping and giving up. Maybe this random tunnel hidden behind the dairy aisle in Whole Foods is just where I live now. I’ll raise a family here. We’ll make it our own. Our holiday cards will be hilarious.
But just when I’m starting to lose all hope, I hear a familiar voice call out, “I’ve been waiting for you,” it says.
I turn towards the voice and say the only thing I can say, “Holy shit, you’re…you’re The Rock!”
He’s like, “Yeah, pretty cool, huh?”
I’m pretty nervous so I say the first thing that comes to my mind, “Mr, Rock, I’m such a big fan. I loved you in The Scorpion King.”
He responds, “Nobody loved me in The Scorpion King. But thanks.” Then it was just thirty seconds of awkward silence.
We keep walking. The Rock grabs a torch off the wall to light the way. It was awesome. Very Indiana Jones.
It’s still silent. Every once in a while we try to start small talk at the same time, interrupting each other and making things even more awkward. Eventually, The Rock thinks he sees a light at the end of the tunnel. He turns to me and says, “Jon, I think I see a light at the end of the tunnel.” I start walking faster.
My new best friend The Rock yells to me, “Good luck, friend.”
“Aren’t you coming with me?” I ask.
He looks at me, “No.”
Well, that was anticlimactic. I have so many questions. The most obvious being, what is Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson doing in a secret tunnel in a Whole Foods in Minnesota? Unfortunately, now was not the time or place to consider this.
I keep moving and finally get to the end of the tunnel. I’m all alone. It’s Junior Year Prom all over again. I notice something in front of me. It’s two corn mazes, one going left and one going right. I see a path of some kind of strange substance leading into the left maze. I’ve seen my fair share of detective shows and I know I should probably follow that. I get closer to the substance and pick up a handful. I hold it. I smell it. I taste it.
“Good thing I have an appetite for mystery” I say out loud to no one, which is too bad because I thought it was pretty clever.
I know exactly what the substance is. I’d know that taste anywhere. It tastes like an everything bagel. But not quite….Ah, of course! It’s Trader Joe’s ‘Everything But the Bagel’ seasoning.
Then I remember something my mom used to tell me each night before tucking me into bed, “Remember son, Trader Joe is real and he bleeds ‘Everything But the Bagel’ seasoning. Maybe someday that will be helpful to you.”
Yeah, thinking back I’m not really sure why she said that. But I’m glad she did.
I start to put it all together: someone must have kidnapped Trader Joe. Or worse, what if they killed him? Or even worse, what if they’re holding him hostage until he removes all of the good frozen snacks from his stores? Nobody comes between me and my Trader Joe’s gnocchi.
I spring into action. I start walking through the maze a bit faster. I rip off my Junior Varsity tennis zip-up so I can be more agile. It’s fine, I’ll get my parents to buy me another one for Hanukkah. Now I’m in an all-out sprint because for all I know if Trader Joe dies, all the stores disappear with him. It’s a race against the clock. It’s like 24 but the stakes are much, much higher.
All of a sudden I step on something as I’m running. There’s a loud noise as I feel the ground start to move underneath me. A booby trap! Very Indiana Jones. Next thing I know I’m sliding down what seems to be a water slide. I whip around a curve, then another one. Not going to lie it’s pretty fun. I finally get to the bottom. There’s a lifeguard.
I have to ask her, “Do you like the movie The Scorpion King?”
“No,” she says.
I see the Trader Joe’s ‘Everything But the Bagel’ seasoning continuing in front of me. I get out of the water. I’m coming, Joe. Hang in there. Protect my frozen gnocchi.
I walk a bit farther until I reach the end of a path. I miss the lifeguard. Maybe we could have been friends in another life.
I clear some bushes to reveal a gigantic stone structure ahead. It’s huge. It’s a castle of some sort. It all feels very Indiana Jones. There are two guards standing out front. The trail of seasoning leads right up to the castle door. This must be the place. I figure I can just go right up to them and talk to them nicely if they’ve captured Trader Joe.
I calmly approach the guards. I realize I need some kind of disguise so I close one eye like I’m permanently stuck winking. Perfect.
Now I’m feet away from the castle entrance. The taller of the guards looks at me, “Are you Postmates?”
“No, I’m Jon,” I say in my most confident voice.
They look at each other, growing more suspicious by the second. It’s so silent you could almost hear the “h” in gnocchi. I’m running out of time. I know if I ever want to make it back home I have to think fast. I do the first thing that comes to my mind which is to sing “Collide” by Howie Day as loud as I can. They let me in immediately if I promise to stop.
I agree and go inside.
Honestly, the inside isn’t that cool. Maybe my expectations were too high. Maybe I’m too harsh of a critic. I don’t know. I just think they could have hired a better interior designer. In some places they’re really leaning into the whole castle thing. In other places it feels more modern. One room has this cabin vibe. It’s a total mess.
I remind myself that I’m on an incredibly important mission and pull myself together. I proceed to turn a corner, entering into a large room. There, in the very middle of the room, a throne. On the throne, a woman.
She looks directly at me, “Are you Postmates?”
I’m frustrated, “What? No, I’m not Postmates.”
“Oh, well we ordered a while ago and I’m not sure where our driver is,” she explains.
“Have you tried contacting them?” I said with good intention.
“No, I thought I’d give it a few more minutes. But thanks.” She says.
“Sometimes they just get lost,” I say, trying to be optimistic.
She continues, “Yeah I get that. Anyway, do you know who I am?”
I respond truthfully, “Honestly, I can barely recognize my mom in public half the time. Like I see the back of her head but she has a pretty common haircut, especially from far away.”
She didn’t think this was funny at all.
“My name is Betty.” She pauses, “Betty Crocker.”
I gasp. What could Betty Crocker want with Trader Joe?
It’s weird because I don’t remember taking shrooms, but at this point that’s my only explanation. I’m honestly thinking, did I do shrooms today? Did I accidentally trip and fall into a giant pile of shrooms?
As I consider whether or not I accidentally did drugs, Betty Crocker starts giving this whole speech about Trader Joe and how he’s her nemesis. I guess they used to date in college or something.
“With Mr. Joe out of the way, I can finally rule the world. People will buy my products again. They’ll post Instagrams of my brownies. My food will be on TikTok!” She screams.
That’s when I stopped her, “I’m sorry, did you say Mr. Joe? As in Joe is his last name?”
“Oh, yes, it’s a common misconception. His first name is Trader and his last name is Joe,” she says.
Now I’m even more confused, “Wow, I just thought that would have been more common knowledge.”
She’s like, “Yeah, pretty crazy, right? Anyway, unfortunately I have to kill you now.”
I really didn’t want Betty Crocker to kill me. I’m going to the park with Rachel later. My parents have no idea where I am. And to make matters worse? Jake is throwing a big party this weekend because his parents are out of town and everyone’s going to be there. I know you don’t know who Jake is, but he’s like the coolest guy in the whole school. He doesn’t even wear a backpack, he just carries it.
As I think about being the only person in my grade who isn’t going to Jake’s party, reality sets in. This really may be the end for me. I ask Betty Crocker if I can get my one phone call.
“That’s for when you get arrested,” she says. But she reluctantly agrees.
I’m like, “Actually, nevermind I forgot I hate talking on the phone.”
Now she’s really mad. She points this weird gun thing at me and starts counting down from sixty. That seems like a lot of time so I sit down. My life flashes before my eyes. I think about how I should have taken more walks outside. Thirty seconds. I think about how I should have called my friends more. Fifteen seconds. I think about how I went to five Dave Matthews Band Concerts. That’s like fifteen hours of my life. Ten seconds. All I can think about is how nobody appreciates The Scorpion King (2002).
She continues counting down, “Three…two…”
I close my eyes. I don’t want to see this. I can’t take this. Tell my parents I love them. Tell them I met The Rock. Tell them I died doing what I loved (sitting down).
And just when I’m ready to give up all hope, I hear a loud thud. I open my eyes. I can’t quite make sense of the scene in front of me. Betty Crocker is on the ground and there’s a figure standing next to her. Who is it? I get a closer look. It’s a Postmates delivery driver.
“Talk about a special delivery,” I say enthusiastically.
We both have a good laugh. But it was a long day and it was time to get back home. And so feeling grateful, albeit somewhat confused, we made our way back through the castle, up the water slide, across the corn maze, and through the tunnel back to Whole Foods, promising to never talk about the day again.
Oh wait, we did forget to find Trader Joe, though. Totally forgot. It completely slipped our minds. No excuses, but there was a lot going on. Don’t worry, he eventually escaped unharmed.
Sam, the Postmates driver, received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from The White House. I would go on to name all six of my kids after her.
I never saw The Rock again. Only when rewatching The Scorpion King.
As for me and Rachel? We did end up going to the park that afternoon. It was wonderful. We laughed. We danced. We made two inside jokes. I officially asked her out. We dated happily for three school days before she broke up with me in math class.
I went back to that Whole Foods a few weeks later. I had to know for sure if what I had experienced was actually real. As I was making my way to the dairy aisle, I overheard two employees whispering to one another, “Did you see all that ‘Everything But the Bagel’ seasoning on the floor this morning? So weird. It was everywhere. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
And I haven’t had a glass of milk since.
THE REAL END
About the Creator
Jon Savitt is a writer and comedian from Minneapolis featured in places like Funny or Die, College Humor, Washington Post, TIME, NBC News, and more. You can find him on Twitter @savittj.