The Mystical Origins of the Death Valley Pizza Parlor, Home of the World-Famous Roadkill Pie

As told to the Grand Universal Scribe of All Creation During an All-Night Poker Game

Prologue, Of Sorts

The universe is not simply one plane of existence, but several separate, yet intertwined layers. For most of the inhabitants, they live their lives and afterlives in their designated layer, never leaving it for all eternity, and never realizing that there is anything different.

These beings exist in a state of blissful ignorance.

This story isn't about them. It wouldn't be very interesting if it was.

Chapter 1: In Which Otto von Schimmel Reflects On His Life

Otto lived about as normal an existence as could be expected. He was a normal, red, shorthair dachshund. He lived in a very flat town in central Illinois, surrounded by cornfields and big red mountains left over from when coal was mined. His hobbies, predictably, included sleeping and terrorizing the neighborhood cats.

Sometimes, if he concentrated really hard, he could do both at the same time.

Generally, he politely consumed the dry lamb and rice food Emily McRyan provided for him, although he was occasionally known to swipe pizza off the kitchen table if no one was paying him mind. In particular, he was fond of sausage. Pepperoni tended to give him heartburn.

He would have enjoyed continuing on that way, he reflected as he stretched on the fluffy bit of nothingness on which he was currently residing, if hadn't been for an avocado Cadillac and Freida Bachman.

It looked like Emily was giving Frieda a piece of her mind, he noted with some interest. Her bun only wobbled like that when she was extremely agitated. It was only natural, he supposed. Frieda was as blind as a bat, and had just killed Emily's dog.

Which would be him. He wondered why he was so detached his own demise. Really, mild regret was about as forceful as his emotions regarding it got.

"It's a sort of cosmic insurance policy. Keeps y'all from trying to jump back down. Not that it works, but it gets sort of annoying to haul the spirits back up."

Otto looked the figure up and down. Loud drawl, white suit, hair that filled the heavens.

In his experience, the appearance of Texans on any scene was never a sign of a smooth ride ahead.

Chapter 2: In Which Otto Hears the Gospel According to Jo Beth Lassiter, 2,875.2nd Assistant to He Who Is Known As "I Am."

As a rule, dachshunds, especially those of the pampered lap dog variety, do not like to run. In particular, they do not like to be hauled.

Otto was the very epitome of these rules. And at the moment he was being hauled about what he supposed was Heaven by a fast-talking blond Texas girl, who had probably honed her speaking skills on the televangelism circuit.

At the moment, she was blathering on about how God loved all creatures, even the inferior dachshund. Otto was pondering how hard he'd have to bite her ankle in order to make it through her industrial strength support hose when her sermon was interrupted by a booming and far more authoritative voice.

One not tainted by the Evil Texan Accent.

"Your duties do not involve judgement."

It was a simple sentence, of the type that automatically struck fear into the heart of the addressee. Kind of like, "I'm going to kill you at precisely 2:05p.m. Tuesday while you're having tea with your bridge club." It was delivered in a calm, cool, polite tone of voice that merely served to terrify further.

Otto noted with some satisfaction that Jo Beth was chalk-white beneath her heavy makeup, and her beehive was quivering. Served the stupid woman right. There was nothing inferior about the dachshund.

In fact, he'd always found that his was a species with a great deal more common sense than human beings. Dogs certainly never did strange and pointless things such as tip cows. And he'd observed that it was apparently a popular mating ritual among the young members of the species.

Once again focusing on the situation at hand, Otto watched with some interest as the possessor of the booming voice extended a hand towards Jo Beth and reduced her to a fluttering pile of white business cards.

One of them fluttered in front of Otto's nose. It read:

"We regret to inform you that Jo Beth Lassiter, 2,875.2nd Assistant to He Who Is Known As 'I Am,' has moved on to her just reward. All clients shall be contacted by another Assistant as soon as Time permits."

Otto had the feeling that he was in for a very strange trip.

Chapter 3: In Which Otto Follows Bob, The Guide of Destinies, to His Destiny

Otto looked up at the remaining personage left in.wherever they were. The personage looked back. For a few more moments, they continued on like that. Stare. Stare.

Then the personage tipped his hat at Otto and said, "Yo."

Otto said, "Woof."

The hat-tipping presence raised his eyebrows. "You can speak, you know."

Otto narrowed his eyes. Of course he could speak, he'd always been able to speak. He just didn't particularly have anything to say.

"I'm Bob," the other offered.

"Von Schimmel. Otto von Schimmel." Emily McRyan's daughter, now grown up with children of her own, had been quite fond of James Bond movies as a teenager. Otto had picked up a few things.

"I'm the Guide to Your Destiny," Bob stated as he pushed his shades further up on his nose. His voice was considerably less booming now, but no less authoritative. Clearly this was a man.angel.being of some sort who knew his business.

Bob picked up a knapsack that hadn't been there a moment before. It was labeled "Accoutrements Necessary for Otto von Schimmel's Afterlife."

"We'll be headed towards the Western Gate," explained Bob as he checked the contents of the bag for any missing items. Of which there were apparently none.

He started strolling towards the West. Otto, seeing no other option, followed him.
Chapter 4: In Which Otto von Schimmel Meets His Destiny and is Singularly Unimpressed.

Bob stopped at the Western Gate and started fumbling through his pockets. Otto could hear him mumbling to himself.

"Dammit, I know it's in here somewhere. Northern Gate, Eastern Gate, Celestial Broom Closet, Southern Gate.Ah-ha!" Bob proclaimed with a note of triumph. "Western Gate! I knew it was in here somewhere!"

Bob placed a rather large and ungainly key into the lock of the Gate, and turned it.

Otto was uncomfortably reminded of the time he'd stolen and consumed an entire box of Godiva chocolates. The world spun around him and noticed a lot of pretty colors.

Just as he felt he would either throw up or pass out, everything stopped, and he was somewhere else entirely.

When Otto had been a puppy, and not the restrained dog known by the citizens of sleepy Central Illinois, he'd had a rather deplorable habit of chewing up National Geographics. The ink in the pictures had been particularly tasty.

One couldn't help but notice the pictures as one munched on them, and Otto had seen this place in one of the myriad issues.

It was Death Valley, somewhere in the American West.

This particular corner hadn't been photographed. He was sure he would have remembered a clay hut emblazoned with a worn-out sign stating "Last Pizza Parlor Until Vegas."

Otto broke out of his horrified reverie at the sight of Bob preparing to leave, and spoke for the first time since Bob had asked his name.

"This is my Destiny?!"

Bob knelt down and patted Otto's furry shoulder. "Destiny is what you make of it. Don't worry, I'm sure you'll be fine." Then Bob disappeared as if he had never been there. There were other Destinies to be led to, after all.

Otto merely scowled at nothing in particular, and wondered what he had done to be relegated to Hell.

Chapter 5: In Which Otto von Schimmel Meets the World's Only Sarcastic Pizza Oven, and Backs Away, Slowly

After approximately fifteen minutes of sitting in the desert moaning, "Why Me?," it struck Otto that he was in Death Valley, and it was afternoon, and thus it was hot. Continuing to follow this logical train of thought, he decided that the clay hut would at least provide some shade. And probably would be safer, as well.

He was right about the first part. The second part, well, we're not so sure about that.

Upon entering the hut, Otto noted several things. One, there was more dust here than anywhere else he'd ever seen. (This is not surprising, as Emily McRyan regarded anything with even the outward appearance of dirt as a Sin Against Man.) The second thing he noticed was that the décor was not typical pizza parlor, meaning there was no bright colors or boldly tiled floors. The décor instead screamed "Hello? You're in the desert. You get terracotta and murals."

The third thing he noticed was a rather disturbing cackling coming from the kitchen.

Otto had lived a rather sheltered existence in Illinois, and didn't realize that one should never, ever, go investigate disturbing cackling. Ever. Really, it's usually just better to blow up the room the cackling's coming from. That way, you get rid of the noise, and you get to blow up something. Nothing but positives.

Otto had not yet gained this superior wisdom, and so he nudged open the kitchen door, and was confronted by the source of the evil laughter.

A large, black, wood-burning oven. Otto gulped. This was not good.

The Pizza Oven switched from laughing to snorting.

"Are you even going to be able to reach my door to put the pizzas in?"

At this, Otto decided there were even limits to what he could take in one day. The Pizza Oven had launched into a long monologue about his life and times. The Pizza Oven, which should not, in theory, even be able to speak.

Otto von Schimmel backed away, slowly. Maybe, he wouldn't be noticed, and.

"Hey! You! Where d'ya think your going?"

Nuts.
Chapter 6: In Which the Pizza Oven Speaks, and Otto Speaks Back

Otto froze where he stood, and gave the Pizza Oven the innocent, guileless, "Who Me?" expression all dog owners are familiar with.

And like dog owners around the universe, the Pizza Oven didn't fall for it.

There are some rules that cannot be ignored, y'know," stated the Pizza Oven fairly gently. "You can't run away from your Destiny, even if your Destiny is running down the most unlikely pizza joint that ever existed."

Otto looked around at the clearly disused kitchen. The main room hadn't been any better. Unlikely was certainly one word for it.

He wondered if there was any way to suicide in the Afterlife. Probably not. Otto sighed.

"What do we put on pizzas around here, anyway?"

The Pizza Oven thought for a moment. "Mainly cacti."

Otto stared at the Oven. "You've got to be kidding me."

The Oven shrugged, which was sort of interesting in and of itself. "We're in California. It's California-style pizza."

Clearly, Otto had a lot of work to do.

Chapter 7: In Which Otto Educates the Pizza Oven on Proper Pizza Cuisine

The Pizza Oven was unfamiliar with the sensation he was experiencing now. A more knowledgeable being would term it incredulity.

A logical reaction, really, to being lectured on the ingredients of a proper pizza. Especially if you were a pizza oven.

".Now, some people like pepperoni. Personally, it upsets my system. Sausage, mushrooms, olives, peppers, onions, and of course cheese. There's mozzarella, parmesan, ricotta." At this point, the Pizza Oven interrupted.

"Where are we getting these things, if I might ask?" The sarcasm had flowed back into its voice. "You might note that they don't grow on trees. Also, that we don't even have trees.

Otto got a distinctly evil glint in his dark eyes. "Oh, I have a few ideas."

Chapter 8: In Which Bob, Guide of Destinies, Is Summoned

All he asked for was fifteen minutes in between confused, recently dead things. Fifteen minutes. I mean, even an immortal got tired sometimes, right?

Bob opened his eyes, and in his shortest, most exasperated tone, asked, "What?"

Unfortunately, it was wasted on the person who had awakened him.

"Don't whine at me," his boss Ava retorted. ""You're the one who started this mess by assigning that Destiny. And before you ask, I'm talking about the Death Valley Pizza situation."

To Ava, everything was a "situation," something to be analyzed and worried over. It was probably why, Bob reflected, she was in the desk job, and he was hauling people this way and that. Even the Big Guys liked to have someone with that attention to detail in middle management.

"Free Spirits," like himself, were better left in the field.

"What's wrong with Otto?" mumbled Bob as he rubbed the sleep out of his eyes.

"I don't know, but he's been howling at the Western Gate for over ten hours now. And the guards are getting pissed. Deal with it." And with that, Ava stomped back to wherever she had been.

Bob stumbled out of his chamber, and towards the Gate.

Opening it, and mumbling an apology to the guards, who appeared to be twitching with a combination of rage and pain, he scowled down at the little red dog sitting placidly in front of him.

"What do you want, Otto?" he growled.

Otto smiled as only dogs can. "This," he said, passing Bob a long sheet of paper.

Bob stared down at it, blinked, and stared again.

It was.a grocery list. A very long grocery list.

Chapter 9: In Which Otto and the Pizza Oven Secure a Reliable Delivery Service

"There's no way in hell," stated Bob. "I do not have the time, or the inclination, to play delivery boy for you. You'll just have to figure out another way to work it out."

Otto shrugged. "I could howl at the door for another few days. I'm sure your guards would be quite willing to slaughter you if you didn't concede.

Bob crossed his arms. "I'll buy them earplugs."

And thus, Otto used the last defense known to the canine species. It is a defense that never fails, but must be used sparingly for fear of opponents becoming accustomed to its power.

Puppy Dog Eyes.

Bob was no better protected against them than anyone else, and he could not hold out against the power of throbbing, big, tear-filled, sad eyes.

"How're Wednesdays for you?"

Otto's apparent depression abruptly left him, and he wagged his head in affirmation. "Wednesdays should work out well."

As the dachshund trotted off towards his little clay hut in the middle of the desert, Bob had the sneaking suspicion he had committed himself to something that was going to take up more than a few hours in his week.

He was right.

Chapter 10: In Which Bob Brings the Groceries And Receives a "Gift."

"Otto!" bellowed the Immortal Guide, Bob, irritably. "I don't have all day here!"

A few moments later, the racket in the kitchen suddenly turned to silence, and Otto trotted out, a bullwhip caught between his teeth.

Bob stared at the dog. Otto gazed innocently back. Bob decided he didn't really want to know.

He dumped the exceptionally heavy bags onto the counter. "I think you'll find everything is as you ordered, sir," he drawled sarcastically. "Do I get a tip?"

Otto shook his head and slid a swath of white cloth down the counter at Bob. "No, you get a T-shirt."

"A T-shirt?" queried Bob as he picked it up. It was emblazoned on the front with a fairly basic logo and a picture of the Pizza Oven spitting out pizzas. "You actually expect me to wear this?"

"You will wear it," stated Otto menacingly. Bob gulped. He didn't like the looks of that whip.

"Uh.sure! See you next week!"

"Absolutely. You can try our pizza."

"I'll make a point of it," Bob called as he ran rather desperately out the door.

Chapter 11: In Which Otto and the Pizza Oven Have Their First Successful Collaboration

"We need pizza," stated Otto thoughtfully.

"An interesting conclusion, sir. I can't imagine where you got that idea."

Otto stared significantly at the large vat of sticky dough, and then at the Pizza Oven. The Oven got the point, and piped down.

"As I was saying. We need pizza. Specifically, pizza unlike any other pizza. Pizza that will make us famous."

The Pizza Oven started to zone out. Otto was clearly becoming rabidly ambitious, and such creatures bored him.

"Hey!" Otto tapped the vat. "Pay attention here. We need an original pizza idea here. What are some things that are unique to this area? And no cacti."

The Pizza Oven thought. He thought some more. He was drawing a blank, quite honestly. It was Death Valley, after all. There wasn't much around, except cacti, and.

Roadkill.

It was worth a shot, he supposed. "Well, there's roadkill."

"Roadkill?!" Otto looked like he was going to blow up for a moment, and then his eyes narrowed in thought. "Y'know, that might actually have some potential."

He turned around and went into what the Pizza Oven would eventually term Mad Scientist mode.

The Oven shrugged. He hoped the results were edible, at least.

Chapter 12: In Which Bob Becomes the First Being Ever to Eat Roadkill Pie

Bob squinted suspiciously at the slice of pizza steaming on a plate in front of him. He was back for his weekly grocery run, and Otto had generously offered him a taste of the end product. It had seemed like a good idea at the time.

He hadn't counted on being unable to recognize the main topping on the pizza. He shrugged. What was the worst that could happen? It wasn't like he could die or anything.

He took a bite.

It was surprisingly good, actually. Sort of spicy, and not really recognizable, but good. Bob took another bite.

"What is it?" he asked around a mouthful of pizza.

"I call it Roadkill Pie," explained Otto genially. He peered at Bob's half- finished slice. "I think that ones rabbit.

Bob stopped chewing, and swallowed, slowly.

The Afterlife was funny, he thought. Just when you figured you'd experienced everything, something jumped up and bit you in the unmentionables.

Otto just sat behind the counter and smiled, absently fingering the handle of his whip.

Perhaps this Destiny of his wasn't quite as horrifying as he had originally thought.