Food Fight (an excerpt) by Larry D. Thacker

Only Arty Hatfield knew for sure how long Arty’s Stop-N-Go hotdog stand had existed in the northeast corner of the Woodsprings A&P parking lot. Some swore he’d been there before the store. That the store just built around his food truck on blocks, with him welcoming the sudden influx of hungry construction workers as a boon to business. Had they moved him over a few feet to blacktop under him and moved him back? Was there plain dirt underneath him? Arty wasn’t telling. He did brag, though, that he owned the one-sixteenth of an acre upon which his thriving small business set.  

His stand was a hundred feet from the highway within clear view of the “Welcome to Kentucky” state sign. He was that close to the state line. In fact, a quick walk across the parking lot and into the A&P, and you were in Kentucky. His business was on the West Virginia side of things. 

A bunch of kids on spring break were bored one night and spray painted a nearly straight yellow dotted line across the asphalt with Kentucky graffitied on one side and West Virginia done up on the other. People would get their picture taken straddling that line like it was the biggest tourist trap around. He made sure to give out fifty-cent off coupons for hotdogs to the tourists when they came around.    

Cheyenne McCoy shopped for her family at that A&P. One afternoon she was just hungry enough for the smell of fresh boiled wieners from across the parking lot to entice her to take a chance on Arty’s Stop-N-Go. Cheyenne was a part-time kindergarten substitute at the time and full-time consignment picker for Amber’s Second Chance clothing store downtown. She’d picked the two Goodwills, a thrift store across the state line into West Virginia, hit a yard sale and an estate sale by that afternoon and she’d forgotten to eat. Cheyenne was bad for that. 

Cheyenne didn’t know Arty from Adam. Arty didn’t know Cheyenne from Eve. She was just a new customer that showed up late in the day hungry. It was almost four. Arty liked to close about then. Usually no earlier, but almost never later. Cheyenne ordered four hotdogs. 

“You want everything?” 

“What comes with everything?”

It was late in the day and Arty was ready for a beer. Or three. 

He laughed and said, “What usually comes with everything, honey?”

The way this stranger called her honey instantly sat wrong with her. It wasn’t a familiar honey, not even friendly sounding. It sounded more like he was calling her dumb. 

“Hmmm,” she thought out loud. “I know there ain’t no honey on a hotdog old man,” she sniped. “Now what’s on a fuckin hotdog with everything?” 

Arty’s eyes must have gotten as big as relish jar lids.  

“How about mustard, onions, chili, and an extra helping of day-old smart ass? How would that there taste, darling?” 

Cheyenne wasn’t about to back down at this rate.

“That sounds pretty good. Make it five then.” 

Arty must have thought the struggle of wills was over. He made the dogs up, wondering the whole time how a girl that pretty could be so mean at the same time. 

He placed them on the counter in front of her. 

“Here ya go. Five Arty specials with everything, honey.” 

Cheyenne sniffed. It wasn’t the sort of sniff where you sniff the air, it was more like that, I’m thinking something, or I’m about to say something I might regret, but I don’t give a shit sort of snuffle.   

“Well alright,” she said, reaching up. But rather than grabbing her food, she said to Arty, as she flipped him two birds, “Why don’t you shove these Arty specials right up your blame ass,” and walked off pretty satisfied with herself, though now she was even hungrier.  

Arty didn’t know what to say to all that, but he knew he had to manage something. 

“Fine! Who cares! Them wieners were old anyways!”  

He tossed the meal in his garbage can and closed up for the day, too aggravated to work any longer. He went home in one of the worst moods he could remember. 

Cheyenne arrived home in one of the best moods she could remember. She was hangry as hell, she informed her thirteen-year-old son, Eric, which he knew was a warning, but she was also feeling pretty good about how eloquently she hadn’t taken that man’s obvious disrespect. 

“I swear to God,” she muttered to herself, unpacking groceries in the kitchen, “I have to deal with those kids at school that hardly know they’re alive yet, I ain’t taken shit off no man that knows better how to act, how to treat people.” 

“Eric! Get ready for supper!” she called to her son. 

He yelled across the house, hungry, too. “What we having?”


“Mom, you make the best hotdogs,” Eric told his mother over supper. 

“Shoot, son, there ain’t much to hotdogs is there?”

“Must be,” he countered, “I’ve had some pretty bad day-afters caused by hotdogs I ate from Flash-Mart.” 

“Boy, that’s not even food!” she laughed. “You deserved to get sick if you were that hungry.”

“I guess.”

She smacked her lips. 

“My chili is awful good, ain’t it? And you have to use all beef wieners, not that junk some people pass off for meat.” She made quote / un-quote signs in the air. “And good fresh Vidalia onions, not chopped up too fine. And a little cracked pepper on top. Regular yellow mustard. Sweet relish.” 


“If you like.” 

“Yep. The best hotdogs, I say.” 

Cheyenne smiled at her son. That was nice of him to say. 

“You ever had any from that place in the A&P parking lot?”

“What? Old Hatfield’s food truck? The one up on blocks?”

“That’s the one.”

“Nope. Never.”

“Hmm.” Cheyenne got quiet. Chewed the rest of her hotdog up and took her time swallowing, tasting her own prepared food real good. 

“I tell you what, son,” she said. “I’m gonna to give you enough money to treat yourself to some hotdogs at that man’s stand a few times this coming week, okay?”

Eric was confused. He didn’t get any sort of allowance like that usually. He wasn’t about to argue with her. 

“Eat there for lunch. Maybe take a friend or two. Act all casual. Think of it like corporate espionage.”

“You want me to spy?”

“Kind of. Take mental notes on what his food’s like. His hotdogs. Order some with everything. I think it’s called the Arty Special. Try a few with only chili. Yeah, see what his chili’s like, if it’s homemade. Try some plain. See what the dogs taste like. But don’t go any more than three times in a week.”

“What if he wonders why I’m suddenly eating there so much?”

“Tell him you’re waiting for your sister to get off from work at the store, or something.”

“Good idea.” Eric liked the cat and mouse of it all. “What’s her name?” 


“My imaginary sister?” 

“Oh. You going that deep, huh? Okay. Suzanne.”

“Suzy, it is,” Eric said.  

“Since you’re into details, make sure you pay attention to that man’s attitude with people. Try and go over when there’s a few others. See what he’s like with other people.” 

Eric was really curious by now about what his mother was up to. 

“What’s all this about, mom?”

“We’ll see, honey. Eat your supper.” 

“Okay. Scale of one to ten, ten is best you’ve ever had, one is worse that the Flash-Mart blues.” 

Eric laughed loud at that. He’d been collecting his data for a week and a half and was ready to report at supper time. Cheyenne was a little anxious to hear the news. She’d been fantasizing on plans for a week. A lot rode on what Eric had to say. 

“Wieners,” she bulleted off her list.  

“Three. He boils them. Ugh. And they’re stale sometimes. Dried out and cracking. Tasteless.”

Cheyenne took a note. 


“Around a five. Maybe. I think he adds something to canned chili. It passes. Enhances the ass taste of the meat.” He made the quote signs in the air like his mother did. 


“Too watery. A four. He was out of relish.” 


“All his condiments were self-serve. They were nasty. All crusted up. I was afraid to try the mustard from the container. I used some from a pack.”

“Any slaw?”


“The Arty Special.”

“No better than a four, I’d say. Pretty weak. I’d say the best bet from this guy was a chili dog. Oh, and the buns were stale half the time.”

“How about his customer service?”

“He’s got a little black and white TV he watches in there. He acted like we were bothering him a few times. Other times he was fine. Friendly enough. Talked about the weather. Joked with us. He’s an okay guy probably.” 

Cheyenne grunted. 

“You don’t like him?”

“It’s not about him. I’m not a fan of the competition, honey.” 

The woman seemed like she was in charge of the set up. Didn’t she look familiar? 

Some woman’s stuff probably, he assured himself. Could be pretty fall wreaths. Long as it ain’t food, right? 

Arty wondered what was up. A truck was pulling into the parking lot toting a tiny house behind it looking suspiciously like a food stand. Maybe it was just passing through. Maybe they’d pulled off the highway headed somewhere else. But when they pulled around and backed in the opposite corner of the parking lot, pulling forward, backing up again, obviously situating the thing for some permanence, the two hotdogs Arty ate for breakfast started doing hard flops in his belly. 

Arty had binoculars in his building for when he got bored. They gave a better view of what was happening. It was two men and a woman. They unhooked and set the a-frame trailer on a block. The little house had a hinged lid out front for serving, like his. Whoever was doing this was setting up to stay. It wasn’t clear what, exactly, the place was for, but Arty didn’t like it. 

Could be anything, he thought. The end of the year’s coming up. It could be Christmas tree sales. Wreaths. 

The woman seemed like she was in charge of the set up. Didn’t she look familiar? 

Some woman’s stuff probably, he assured himself. Could be pretty fall wreaths. Long as it ain’t food, right? 

They took ladders from the back of the truck and leaned them on the little house. They went back to the truck. What they lifted from the bed of the truck almost caused Arty to puke up his breakfast. 

It was a six-foot 3-D rendering of a hotdog, with everything. They carried it back and carefully lifted it to the top of the structure and situated it down on metal holders and screwed it in all secured. Across the giant bun holding the giant wiener, gallons of chili, and a five-foot stripe of bright yellow mustard, was the one word: Cheyenne’s.  

“Holy shit!” he yelled out loud, glad no one was walking over to his stand at that moment. “What do they think they’re doing over there?” 

Arty didn’t bother to shut his stand down before heading that way. He wasn’t about to sit there all day watching someone set up what was obviously illegal competition in the same parking lot. He’d take care of this right quick. 

Cheyenne saw him coming. 

“Lord, Arty looks like someone lit a fire under his ass.” 

Eric started out toward Arty to head him off. “No, Eric. Let the man come on. Let’s get this out of the way,” she told her son. 

Arty stormed up ready for a fight. He was already talking before he got there. 

“Ain’t no way, nope, nope, nope. . . . What do you all think you’re doing over here?”

Cheyenne was squared off, arms crossed, feet firmly planted. Eric was securing a flag on the side of the building that read “Hotdogs and More.” The man was attaching a large menu to the outside wall. 

“Well, whatever do you mean, sir?” 

“Don’t tell me you don’t see that food stand right over there, honey!”

Oh, there he goes again with that stupid ass honey business, Cheyenne thought. He’d been better off keeping that tongue in check, that way he wouldn’t be feeling so put out right now.

“That one over there, sir?”

“That’s right! That’s my business and I’ve been in this lot for over twenty years. This is my parking lot for doing hotdog business, darling! Now didn’t the people in the store tell you that?” 

That did it. The gloves were off. He had this coming. 

“I don’t think you realize it, mister…honey, darling, baby, sweety…but you’re standing in Kentucky right now,” Cheyenne interrupted. “Another state from waaaaaaay over there in West Virginia. Another state. Another county. Another world, Mr. Arty Hatfield.” 

That hadn’t even crossed Arty’s mind. He turned and looked, noticing the fading painted “state line” he’d walked across on the way over. The girl was as right as a hard rain. And the way she’d mocked his words, honey and darling and all, reminded him of something. Someone. He knew her. This was that woman he’d had words with a few weeks back.

He eyed her hard. “Oh, I know you now,” he said, calming down. “I know you.”  

“Arty,” Cheyenne replied, smiling, “you don’t know nothing about me.” 

Arty couldn’t remember how long it had been since he’d put a new coat of paint on his stand. He’d spent all morning scrapping it down, watching at least three colors come through. He remembered putting on the current red with blue trim, and when it was all blue with red trim, but couldn’t remember ever applying a coat of green with yellow trim. Had that been the original color? Twenty years was a long time. This time it would be one wall blue, one wall red, one wall yellow, one wall green, trimmed in white. 

He’d been on eBay late searching for just the right “new thing” to grab people’s attention. He’d found it, but he’d have to sell quite a few dogs to offset the investment. A fifties diner out in Myrtle Beach had gone under and their vintage hotdog man, the sort standing six-foot tall squirting mustard and ketchup on his own head, was for sale for a steal. The shipping costs were expensive, but worth it. 

Good things were about to happen for Arty, he just knew it. 

Cheyenne had noticed Arty sprucing up his spot. When she could come up for air, that is. Arty had all the time he needed due to the business traffic she’d taken from him in those first weeks. He couldn’t remember the last time he had ten people lined up at once. Maybe early on, but not in the last ten years. It seemed like it was that way for her since she’d opened up and every day from 10 a.m. until she closed at five. She didn’t mind Arty’s improvements. There was a saying, right? “Letting out the dam raises the lake water for all the houseboats,” wasn’t that it? 

Cheyenne was sweeping up from another busy day when she saw the hotdog man rolling in for delivery. Literally. It was a man who was a hotdog, standing up tall in the bed of a truck and strapped down in four directions. 

It looked like it was leading a charge. 

This way to kick Cheyenne’s ass! Follow me! Buy my good ‘ole Arty’s hotdogs!

It would be a cool addition to his spot, she admitted. She regretted not finding one first. She wondered where he’d place the thing, but wasn’t sticking around to give her new nemesis the pleasure of knowing she was that curious. 

There was only one way to combat a six-foot tall jolly hotdog creature squirting mustard and ketchup on his own noggin and acting like he was fine and dandy with the prospects of being eaten: obnoxious neon. 

Arty was still setting the base anchors of his hotdog man in holes he’d chipped deep through the asphalt at the corner of his building when the K-Town Neon truck pulled up at Cheyenne’s and a guy got out and started taking measurements as he talked with her. That got Arty thinking. Neon, huh? Color. The hotdog man was a good idea and he was proud of his luck in finding the thing, but it looked sort of all alone there on the corner of his hut. He closed shop for the day and went shopping. 

Arty had most of his new sitting area set up by the next afternoon. Two wooden picnic tables close by the hotdog man. He was painting the second one when Cheyenne arrived to get her day started. She swung unnecessarily wide across the parking lot to get a better look, hoping Arty might miss her nosiness. The first table was red. He was painting the second one blue. He had a nice color scheme going to match the multi-colored sides of his hut. Very beachy. Would he be smart enough to put up umbrellas, she wondered? Better yet, could she beat him to the punch? She didn’t bother parking, but drove on out of the lot. She was back in an hour and opening up. Arty was serving up dogs by then and had wet paint signs on his tables. 

By noon, Gentry’s Garden & Lawn arrived with a delivery of three four-seater concrete tables. The sort with holes down the middle for umbrellas. Cheyenne set up three beach ball striped umbrellas. Arty could see the yellow, blue, and red from across the lot. 

But the day’s deliveries weren’t over for Cheyenne. K-Town Neon arrived around three.

They slid something carefully from a very long cardboard box. Arty heard the drills and hammers. He couldn’t make out what it said from that distance. They were connecting it vertically to the side of that woman’s building. Then they flung a sheet over it. 

He stayed open past his usual closing at five. She’d be waiting for the sun to be going down to turn that sign on.  

There was a crowd gathering up by seven-thirty, when the sun was down enough to make a difference. People were eating at the concrete tables. Kids were running around, laughing. Someone started counting down from ten like it was New Years or the Space Shuttle was taking off. He caught himself counting down along with the festive crowd. 




A switch was hit. Everyone oohed and ahhed. 

A pinkish-reddish glow flashed a few times then stayed lit. 

Arty saw it now: Cheyenne’s Oasis. With a single green palm tree up the side.

Within the palm tree outline was the vertical red flashing word, OPEN. 

Arty stared up at the lone 60-watt bulb barely lighting his area.

Pitiful. Just plain pitiful.        

Larry D. Thacker’s stories can be found in past issues of Pikeville Review, Fried Chicken and Coffee, Dime Show Review, Vandalia Journal, Grotesque Quarterly, and Story and Grit. His books of fiction include the short story collection, Working It Off in Labor County, from West Virginia University Press, and the forthcoming short story collection, Everyday Monsters, from Unsolicited Press, co-written with C.M. Chapman. His poetry is in over 170 publications. His poetry collections are Drifting in Awe, Grave Robber Confessional, Feasts of Evasion, and the forthcoming, Gateless Menagerie. His MFA in poetry and fiction is earned from West Virginia Wesleyan College. 

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