It was April, and the afternoon sun oozed out through cracks in the clouds. It shone off Superfudge's almond eyes and his rippling chocolate colored cape, pulled out of mothballs for the occasion, as he stood at the podium, addressing the crowd.
"It is with mixed feelings that we are gathered here today," he said. “We of the One Sweet Whirled League were always made from a base of hope, swirled with ferocity. And we have always held chunks of regret."
Chubby Hubby stood at the back of the crowd, trying to be unobtrusive, which was hard given his bulk. He scanned the crowd, noting the familiar faces, not finding any he really wanted to talk to. He started to wonder why he'd come. He'd spent enough of the past 20 years wallowing in grief. Surely it couldn't be good for him to dig up old pain and rub salt in his wounds like they were peanut-butter filled pretzels.
"All I am any more is Chubby Widower," he thought. "At least I don't mind the fact that I'm eating myself to an early grave." He ran his hands over the bulk of his belly. "At least if I keel over from a heart attack I'll be with her again."
Superfudge Chunk's voice continued to pour from the loudspeakers. "We are here today to remember our greatest dangers, our finest victories, and the sacrifices of our fallen comrades. We are here to celebrate the beginning of a bright new future, and to remind ourselves of the threats that still stand in the way of our One Sweet Whirled."
There had been a time when Chubby was proud of his bulk. He'd lived in Vermont most of his life, and he became an inspection worker at the Ben & Jerry's plant in Waterbury when he was in his mid-twenties, after several years of hard work in the shipping department. It was his job to cut open a few pints from every batch of ice cream produced, look to see that the chunks and swirls were well distributed, and take a small taste to verify the product's creaminess. Around the globe, the Colder War was growing in intensity. The UN and the threat of global destruction prevented open warfare breaking out into World War III, but nations great and small set their scientists to work on subtle biological weapons which could be inserted into the food supplies of rival nations. Many countries viewed ice cream as the symbolic pinnacle of American excess, and the frozen confection was ideal for preserving biological agents until they got to market, so it also became the duty of the inspection workers to test the pints for foreign biological agents.
That fateful morning, Chubby was very tired. He'd been up until 4 am talking to one of the women who ran the milking equipment at one of the nearby farms. Her car had broken down on her way home from work, and her cell phone had run out of battery power. Chubby had stopped to help her call a tow truck, and they'd ended up going out to dinner together. Then they went out for drinks. Then, when every restaurant and bar in town was closed, they went out to watch the stars.
Chubby had worked on less than two and a half hours sleep before, but he didn't like to do it. Quality inspection was an important job. He should have just called in sick. But he hoped that maybe he'd get a glimpse of her again delivering a shipment of milk. And so it was that Chubby skipped ahead a page in his inspection procedure and took a bite of ice cream before administering the test for foreign biological agents. It was just as rich and creamy as always, with a delightful peanut butter swirl. But something seemed wrong.
Then Chubby realized he'd skipped the page. He went back and ran the biological agent test, expecting it to come up negative as always. Surely no one would ever stage an attack against a company as beloved as Ben & Jerry's. He looked at the printout. The results had a warning message highlighted in yellow.
It is fairly common to find trace amounts of fungus in peanut butter. If you eat enough of it, it will raise your chances of getting cancer. Of course, you have to eat about eight peanut butter sandwiches a day every day of your life for the risk to be statistically significant. When Chubby sent the questionable pint to the lab, the first round of special tests showed an abnormally large percentage of fungus. The second round of tests showed that the fungus was engineered to alter the genome of anyone who consumed it. Chubby was worried. He was terrified. He'd heard lots of horror stories about people's flesh melting itself into goo from genetic weapons. But he'd also heard those few stories about unintended effects of the weapons, times when they malfunctioned and made a person stronger. And so he clung to hope.
He decided that the only thing to do was to try to take his mind off the tainted peanut butter. So he called the woman from the dairy farm, whose name was Bess. Chubby wanted to ask Bess out to dinner again, and maybe a movie or a concert. But when she picked up the phone, Chubby could tell from her voice that something was wrong. Bess sounded weak and barely coherent.
"The doctor says he never thought he'd see a case of it in his lifetime," she said with effort. "I've sure never heard of anyone getting cowpox. It was just some thing in history books that you heard about when people talked about smallpox and how vaccines work."
"Gosh, Bess. That's really strange. And, you know, awful. Can I bring you anything to make you feel better?"
"Oh, I don't know," she said weakly. "Soup I guess?"
So Chubby drove to the store, and he bought some chicken soup. In the parking lot, he was reading his receipt, and a car ran right into him. Chubby looked up, and the car bounced right off his love-handles and back onto the curb. He and the driver looked at each other, both baffled. The car's back end had slammed into the row of nested shopping carts, and it was stuck fast. Without thinking, Chubby walked over, grabbed the car, and pulled it free. And so it was that Chubby discovered that the fungus had made his muscles super strong and turned his fat into a perfectly elastic suit of armor.
A week later, when Bess had recovered and returned to work, she sang a song, as she sometimes did. Bess loved to sing opera especially. She finished an aria just as she finished cleaning some milking equipment. When she looked out the window, she saw the yard flooded with cows. Every cow within ten miles had come to the yard, their ears flashing with tags from six different farms. There was a quality to their mooing sounds that she'd never heard before. It was more harmonious than normal, as if many voices were speaking as one. Then she understood what the voices were saying. "Welcome, Bovinity Divinity. We greet you and stand ready at your command to be of service to the humans."
Back in the April rain, Superfudge Chunk was retelling the story that everyone in the One Sweet Whirled League knew all too well.
"The world may never know who created the retrovirus which permeated the vat of pecans that Snidely Klump fell into, but we can never forget what he became. Maddened by his time spent trapped under the nuts and enraged by his experiences with hypothermia and near drowning as he was mixed into a batch of butter pecan, he became the greatest villain the ice cream world has ever known. By day, Klump pretended to be unfazed and continued to live the life of an ice cream magnate. But by night, he was the diabolical Dastardly Mash, founder of the Nutty Waffle Cone-Glomerate, a group of madmen and bioterrorist sympathizers who hoped to bring chaos and disunity to the world through sabotaging the ice cream industry. The Cone-Glomerate’s diabolical plans ran the gamut from replacing chocolate chips with raisins in batches of otherwise decadent ice cream, to out right bombing our beloved Ben & Jerry's headquarters here in Waterbury, Vermont.
“But now, 20 years after the great battle of Le Mars, Iowa, the Ice Cream Capital of the World, we stand here in the Green Mountain State to celebrate the reopening of the Ben & Jerry's Waterbury Factory. We come to celebrate this new beginning, but also to remember those who are no longer with us. We come to show that we stand with our brethren abroad against the few gelaterrorists that remain in the world, like the scourge of Ireland, Dublin Mudslide. We come to affirm that the spirit of the One Sweet Whirled League still holds strong, and to remember that our trials and tribulations together made us more than family. My friends, blood may be thicker than water, but neither is as thick as ice cream. My thanks to you all for being here today."
Superfudge stepped down from the podium to a gale of applause and returned to his seat among the other speakers, between red-white-and-blue spandex-suited Americone Dream and the highly contorted Karamel Sutra. Maple Blondie took the stage, her maple-caramel lariat snapping the air for attention.
Chubby decided he'd had about as many inspirational speeches as he could take for the day. With effort, he extracted himself from the crowd and let his feet lead him to the one place he most wanted to visit and most dreaded: the flavor graveyard.
The little plot had been donated by Ben and Jerry themselves in the early days of the Colder War as the final resting place for anyone afflicted with an ice cream-related genetic mutation. Heroes and villains alike rested there now. Chubby glanced at the names on the end. The infamous bomber Kaberry Kaboom rested beside Holy Cannoli, the great healer and prophet who received diving wisdom by looking into mascarpone.
Chubby stopped towards the back, where the entire row was filled with those who lost their lives in the final battle at Le Mars. Shakily, he knelt in front of a gravestone. He couldn't bring himself to read it, but he didn't need to. He'd been here enough times in the years just after the battle that he could have found her grave blind. He whispered to the ground, "Oh, Bovinity Divinity, my Bess. Why did you have to be the one to die? It should have been me. Without me, you'd still have your cows. But without you... I don't know what to do with myself anymore, Bess.”
Some time later, the rain paused and the wind shifted. Chubby knew by scent before he even looked up that he was no longer alone in the row. He didn't really want to talk to anyone, but even more he was sick of moping by himself. He grunted as he got to his feet and walked over to the other man. "Hey, Cherry," he said.
Cherry Garcia was standing near the end of the row, in front of two graves with fresh flowers laid upon them. One was for his twin brother, Cherry Garcia Low Fat. The other gravestone bore two names, though it only stood over one man. Cherry's little brother had started the war as Jerry's Jubilee, a hero who could shoot fireworks of cheery-red plasma and dark chocolate brownie matter from his hands. Then one day he disappeared while on a special assignment. No one saw him for years. It was only at the end that Cherry Garcia realized that Neapolitan Dynamite -- Dastardly Mash's new pet demolitions expert, after Kaberry Kaboom blew himself to smithereens -- was none other than his little brother. Both of Garcia's brothers met a grisly end, as Low Fat tried to telekinetically suck the lipids out of his brother's body before Dynamite could set off his cherry bomb clusters, but in the end both were caught in the blast.
Cherry Garcia looked Chubby Hubby in the eyes, warily. "Hi, Chubby," he said. The two of them had never really gotten along. Chubby had never entirely been sure why.
All Chubby could think of to say was, "You'd rather spend time with the ghosts than listening to all those speeches, too, huh?"
Cherry grunted. "Superfudge always did think a lot of himself. I'd rather spend time with people who are more..." He scuffed a shoe at the ground, "Down to earth." They stood in silence for a minute, unsure what else to say. Chubby looked around at the other stones, then his eyes locked on one and he walked over. "Wavy Gravy," he said. "Remember that joker? What good times we used to have?"
Cherry smiled a little. "Yeah. He knew how to have a good time." Cherry looked farther down the row. "Remember our tour of duty over in Europe? Now those were good times. None of our problems seemed so bad when I got to start every day with a big platter of strawberries and shortbread, and Cool Britannia's smile."
Chubby smiled wistfully. "I was worried they had us in Lucerne, though."
"You mean that time From Russia with Buzz told us the Cone-Glomerate wanted to meet at a neutral location to talk peace terms? My heart just about stopped for a full minute when I heard all that cackling, and we realized that Totally Nuts and This is Nuts both had all their crazed goons surround the compound."
"Yeah. And then Buzz started doing that humming thing of hers, and I thought she was going to vibrate the whole Whirled League team into a pile of jelly."
"Then we heard that rumbling sound, and we realized she'd started an avalanche. I don't think all the Nutty goons ever knew what hit them." Cherry sighed. "I always wanted to thank her for that. I always wanted to tell her how amazing I thought she was to have spent that much time undercover with the Cone-Glomerate and still hold on to her sanity and free will. But I never got the chance."
Chubby knew Cherry must be thinking about his little brother again. Dastardly Mash had broken the minds and wills of many good men and women. Cherry wasn't the only one who'd lost a loved one to the Nutty Waffle Cong-Glomerate. Chunky Monkey's twin sister had become the mad roboticist, Monkey Wrench. One of the great founders of the One Sweet Whirled League, Phish Food, had also fallen into Dastardly's clutches. Although he did not turn to the Nutty side, the experience left him broken and changed. He'd spent the past twenty five years in a rest home, wandering among his fish tanks and singing along with his CDs of whale song.
"Hey, Cherry?" said Chubby.
"Why didn't you ever seem to like me very much?"
Cherry Garcia blinked, startled by Chubby's bluntness. "Well, gee, Chubby. I mean, you really want to know?"
"Yeah," said Chubby. "It's been a long time. There aren't many of us from the original gang left. I figure, maybe we should clear out all the old bad stuff, so those of us who are still here aren't so alone."
Cherry looked into his eyes. "You know Chubby, that was always the problem with you. You're so goddamn nice."
"You never noticed how good you had it. Everyone liked you -- Bovinity, Marsha Marsha Marshmallow, Cinnamon Buns. You were everyone's buddy, the big jolly guy who everyone always listened to when he told a joke, the guy everyone always wanted to have over for a drink. And you just took it all for granted. And me, what did I have to offer? Dude, I had a magic guitar and what did it get me? I thought musicians were supposed to have roadies. I thought singers were supposed to get all the fans. But no one paid any attention to me, except my brothers and Cool Britannia. No, people paid attention to the fat guy with the super strength. You were like Santa Claus and an NFL player rolled into one. Who could compete with that?" He sighed.
"Gee, Cherry. I never knew."
"Of course you didn't know. That was half the problem. If you knew, you would have told everybody, 'Hey, guys, Cherry's feeling lonely and sad. Let's all pay attention to him.' And then everyone would have showered me with attention for a day because you told them to, and then the next morning they'd forget me again. A friend of mine eventually explained it to me, though. See, you were the tough guy, and my magic guitar was the back-up. You were the fighter and I was the bard. Nobody ever cares about the bard."
Chubby was looking at his feet. He looked up into Cherry's eyes. "Well, I always liked your music. So did Bess. Chubby frowned. "You know, after Bess died, none of those people thought I was so great anymore. I think all along I was just basking in her reflected glory. I mean, in a world full of ice cream terrorists, she had the only truly safe herd of milk cows left. We were all ice cream lovers, and we all loved her. If people loved me, it was because I was the big jolly guy scooping up the sundaes we made from her ice cream. Once she was gone, so were all of my so-called friends. Even my hero name is meaningless without her. I'm not anyone's Hubby anymore."
A shaft of sunlight poked through the clouds and into the flavor graveyard. "Hear that?" asked Cherry Garcia.
"I don't hear anything," said Chubby.
"Exactly. Speeches must be over. C'mon, I think they're opening up a sundae bar under the big tent over there. Let's get some ice cream."
"Sounds good," said Chubby.
"Then maybe we can ditch the crowd again and go back to my place and just shoot the shit about the old days. I can dig out my guitar and play you a song or two. You know, Chubby, it's good to be able to talk to someone about the old days who doesn't want to prance around in their old costume and pretend it was all fun and glory."
"Sounds like a plan," said Chubby.
And so they walked to the sundae tent, where Magic Brownies was levitating scoops and toppings into bowl after bowl. And then they got in Chubby's car and drove off together, away from the crowds. For the first time in years, they felt like they weren't alone.