The man in black fled across the desert, and the Hot Pockets Heiress followed.
“Jim,” she croaked to the dusty, distant figure galumphing away from her shores with haste. She ignored the acrid searing in her lungs as reasonably as could be expected. “Let me explain! It’s not what—Oh God, why do people in compromising positions always choose that line? It’s exactly what it looks like. But if you’d just…”
The words were molded correctly, articulated with care; most people never even considered that for those of her persuasion, a simple “Oh God” might carry anywhere from thirty to fifty-five distinct connotations, depending on the province and season in which it was uttered. Delivering each with perfect nuance and a meticulously-matched facial expression was not a skill one could simply unwrap and begin wielding overnight. Phillipa Blakesley-Smithe had invested heavily, paying with her formative years. Now, hobbling across the Sonoran in $3,000 sand-packed heels after a frenetic stand-up comedian, it occurred to her that choosing a solid pair of boots and intermittent camping trips over her elocution recitals would have proven more pragmatic.
Somehow, everything had gone incredibly pear-shaped.
She’d treated herself to an exquisite bath earlier that morning. Not a shower, but a proper bath, with scented dissolvables, essential oils, and hot stone pressure via Natanael, Camelback Mountain’s most in-demand massage therapist. Sweat dripped into her eyes, trickled down her back, mixing with the grime and dust. Her favorite Valentino—beaded silk chiffon, royal purple—blended with her pores, binding itself to her skin. Phillipa stared at her phone again as she trudged on, as if to guilt the device into miraculously sewing better reception.
“One bar,” Phillipa grumbled to the bobcat trotting beside her. “What kind of service is that?” Her feline companion stared at a cactus nearby, gently swishing its tail.
“To provide an adequate answer, my good Heiress,” the bobcat replied in a silky velvet baritone, “I would need to be real.” And before Phillipa could squint closer, the animal quietly dissolved into wisps of sand, trailing embers of her own dehydration.
How long had she been shambling out here?
“Why did I tell him? Goddamn it, Phil, what did you think was going to happen?”
Three hours ago, the object of Phillipa’s affections had been casually enjoying his breakfast at T. Cook’s, a laid-back, 10-minute stroll from the Heiress’s resort. He’d relished the spicy chorizo and manchego cheese omelette, churro waffle with delectable dulce de leche drizzle, brioche French toast. The timing was impeccable; he’d almost forgotten how savory the End of the Tour Celebration Breakfast could be.
Jim Gaffigan had cultivated the “lazy dad” image for himself beautifully, but the truth was that he rarely stayed still. Morning shows, languidly meandering through airports that seemed to stretch ever onward, proofreading chapters from his next book, parenting via Facetime, molding new jokes in the hours between gigs…who had the energy to enjoy a parmesan-encrusted sea bass with coconut couscous? Jim’s stamina and schedule would permit, at best, the Country-Fried Steak at Cracker Barrel. And this morning, halfway through a bite of perfectly-prepared chorizio, he’d finally remembered that the faithful shall be rewarded, and the sun will shine out the clearer, and then she sauntered in.
“What you gon’ pick?”, the standup comedian mumbled to himself as he bipped and bopped ahead, bereft of any discernible purpose or destination. His alabaster skin seethed and peeled, shouting its torment to an audience that could not hear it. “Hot Pockets!”, Gaffigan sang quietly in falsetto. A tiny guffaw slipped through his chapped lips. “Always figured this might be a possibility,” he murmured to the bobcat on his right, who’d been ignoring him for the past two miles.
“Which part?”, the animal yawned. The sound was surprisingly loud, a pressure front much too large to have formed in such a small passage. “The fear that your most successful bit would one day literally haunt you? Or the fact that your wife is an entirely different woman than she was yesterday?”
Gaffigan opened his mouth mid-stride—and paused. The predator waited.
“Phil loves Hot Pockets,” he said softly. A newborn sand cyclone about the size of a medicine bottle smashed into his glasses like a mosquito hitting a windshield at Mach 5.
As required by virtue of his Midwestern roots, Gaffigan suffered from an acute inability to complain about his good fortune: two books, a sitcom, several comedy specials, multiple Grammy nominations, a career spanning three decades that continued to thrive after he’d watched so many other colleagues stall. And the nucleus of it all was the Hot Pockets rant, the bit with which he’d be eternally associated. He yearned to tweet a couch selfie or a photo of the kids opening their Christmas gifts without seventeen people immediately yammering about crisping sleeves and indigestion. In recent years, he’d even begun to hear “HOT POCKETS!” yelled in his direction by overzealous fans, every one of whom somehow imagined they were the first to attempt such witty discourse.
“I built an entire career on lambasting her livelihood…which she conveniently forgot to mention every day for the past twenty years! You know that I actually believed she was a producer? Everything we’ve been through, and it turns out that she’s been secretly controlling SATAN’S FAUX-MEAT GRENADES??!” Gaffigan’s voice ratcheted up too quickly, cracking slightly. “The level of deception here…the betrayal…can you even fathom?”
The feline sighed. “People have their reasons, Jim. And their justifications.”
“Well, I don’t—” The temperate dropped just a smidge, but the comedian noticed. Gritty air whistled through his teeth. His face throttled to half-speed. “This isn’t right. I’m…I’m married to Jeanne. We’ve been together for 20 years. We have five kids!”
“And you still have them! Delightful little scamps. Listen, James: this is actually quite simple. Your wife is now Phillipa Blakesley-Smithe, the Hot Pockets Heiress. Jeanne Gaffigan has stepped back into the role of Jeanne Noth. In about”—the bobcat checked its watch—”an hour or two, you won’t recall this conversation or the timeline shift. And frankly, that’s going to benefit everyone involved.”
Gaffigan stumbled to a halt. His thoughts felt like deep-fried cotton candy, thudding against paper walls. He glanced around wildly, as if his targeting system had suddenly shorted out. “Why…are you..wearin’ a watch?”, he managed.
“Because I’m not here, James,” the thing that strongly resembled a bobcat said soothingly. “And you’re not concerned by that. Animals don’t behave this way, nor do they speak, right? So I’m clearly a mirage, created by your confusion, the climate, and pure exhaustion.”
“Oh.” The comedian exhaled slowly, thin streams of tranquility beginning to seep through. “Of course.”
“What you gon’ pick?”, his new friend smiled.
“H-Hot Pockets?”, Gaffigan’s falsetto voice piped. He hoped he’d understood the question properly.
Half a world away, Dr. Jutta Stroszeck clenched her jaw, shifting slightly in her bed. For days now, her sleep had been perforated with strange dreams, her waking hours accented with a general malaise. None of it made sense; the Kerameikos excavation had scored massive headlines, and one didn’t need to be an archaeologist to understand that press translated into future-dig funding.
There were whispers, of course, but she and her team had unearthed a plethora of treasure from the submerged tombs. Coins, wine-mixing supplies, some clay laps, cooking pots…and yes, the Cursed Tablets. Thirty slabs of spells, harnessing chaos through the Gods of the Underworld. Was she, a consummate professional, seriously expected to pretend she hadn’t spotted them?
Stroszeck muttered something inaudible, the tension in her body rapidly draining. Her sheets felt so comforting. After a moment, any sign of distress that might’ve been trying to sound the alarm had disappeared from her expression. A mile away, in the center of Kerameikos, two of the tablets on Stroszeck’s table continued to gleam, tufts of faint indigo light enveloping them. A third, vengeance-starved and curious about the new reality to which they’d all woken, joined its sisters.
And the others watched with interest.
Back in February, this meme made the rounds:
I reposted that tweet to Facebook, and friends added their own versions, including this one:
So I did.
The actual Hot Pocket Heiress is named Michelle Janavs, and she was in the news that month (thus inspiring the meme) because a federal court in Boston sentenced her to five months in prison. Along with other wealthy parents, Janavs hired a “consultant” to improve her daughter’s college admission chances via fraud and bribery.
When I write stories inspired by news items, I often use real names. “Michelle Janavs” didn’t seem heiress-y enough, so she was rechristened “Phillipa Blakesley-Smithe.”
My apologies to the Gaffigans.
The Stroszeck excavation is real, and the story broke only two weeks before the Hot Pockets meme started. Why the team didn’t immediately NOPE out of there puzzles me. Hasn’t anyone in Greece ever watched a movie?