The Pepperoni Algorithm and Other Irrelevant Problems

Jules Alvarez

"You are dead - dead, d'you hear me –"

"Welcome back, Malcolm, glad to see you're alive," Brian said, sitting up from the uncomfortable rug, smirking at the tall, spindly boy entering the attic, one hand on the ladder, the other fumbling blindly at the zipper of his leather jacket, trying to pull it down. His hair was long, dark, and scraggly, accented by a bleached streak to the left of his neck, and his normally calm blue eyes glared at his two friends in loathing. His angular features were twisted into an expression of simultaneous fury and relief. He got up into the cramped attic and dropped his leather jacket on the floor, revealing a shirt with the words "I HATE PEOPLE" in giant black letters.

"I am not joking, Brian, I'm going to rip your goddamn head off and – "

"Mac, calm down, don't get your panties in a twist," Max joked. Brian snickered.

Malcolm gaped back and forth between the two boys sitting cross-legged on the wooden floor, one leaning on the wall, the other pressing buttons rapidly on an old game console. The room smelled of marijuana smoke, pizza, and Doritos. The floorboards creaked dangerously, and it seemed that at every moment someone was strumming softly on a guitar or playing some Pink Floyd at a soft volume on the CD player.

"I almost died. Died," he repeated emphatically when the first mention didn't arouse the proper respect. "And you idiots left me. Have you got any idea where I ended up? My house? No. Starbucks? No. Did you come looking for me? NO! You left me to the mercy of the cops! I ended up by Bellevere castle! Tied to a birdbath! Naked!"

"And you've lived to tell the tale," Brian said, but Malcolm missed the sarcasm.

"D'you know what the lady said when she found me? D'you know?"

"I bet you're going to tell us," Max muttered.

"She said I should cover my willie! My willie! She's completely deranged!

She looked like she wanted to take me inside to eat me – and I don't mean anything to do with putting me in the oven first! I've barely escaped. I'm lucky to have my life! If it weren't for the fact that I managed to slip out and do a bunk while she was still confused, I'd very likely be a – a love slave!"

"You poor thing," Brian mumbled. "It must've been so hard, escaping and running back to where you'd left your clothes so you could get dressed before you got back here. Must have been damn awful, sneaking around the park completely nude. God, I just feel terrible." he smiled in satisfaction. This was a daily routine since they were thirteen, the noted prank wars between the friends.

"You shut up!" Malcolm seethed, adjusting his collar. He plopped down on the floor, his black combat boots making a loud thunk sound, "Be happy I paid for that pizza. Dicks." He nodded his head to the box in the corner.

Max tapped his hand on the wall, "How's your love life coming along?" He asked in a feeble attempt to make small talk, forgetting about how much he and Brian hated talking about that one certain thing with Malcolm.

"No." Malcolm said, dismissing the question with a wave of his hand.

Quickly changing his mind, he then proceeded to stare pointedly at his bruised knuckles. "I lost him."

Max and Brian didn't say a word. They shuffled around, and grabbed the box of records to leaf through it, an activity usually reserved for awkward moments. They would go through the '70s punk records, oohing and aahing at things they'd seen many times before. It was an activity they reserved for when they wanted to ignore Malcolm.

Mac leaned back and picked the pepperoni pieces off of his pizza disdainfully, "It doesn't even matter, anyway. It's just a guy. You guys know. A guy, who just… I guess stopped liking me in the first place." He could feel the tension in the air.

"Who decided to put pepperoni on the pizza," Max mumbled awkwardly, pushing a particularly shredded record aside, "None of us like pepperoni."

"Don't ask me, I didn't order it." Malcolm said. He opened his mouth and closed it like a fish, "But can we seriously talk about this?"

Mac's query was ignored and cut off by Brian's audible groan, "I don't know who put the pepperoni on this thing but for the love of God someone remove these things, they're making me sick," he waved his pizza near Max's face, splashing grease all over him.

There was a moment of silence.

"Damn this pepperoni, it's throwing off my groove"

"You guys, honestly, I need someone to open up to,"

"I know, right? I can feel its satanic aura just taking me over"

They all spoke at the same time, and for a moment gazed at each other in confusion, as if speaking at the same exact time was a strange anomaly. There was a second where Malcolm wanted to chuckle, just to break the tension, but he kept a straight face.

"Well, you know what's really good on pizza?"

"What, pineapple? You're full of crap, last time you had that was fifth grade, like six years ago."

"Nah man, I was going to say that sliced bell peppers, but alright, nice to know you think of me as 'full of crap'. Fine. Fine. Fine."

"SHUT THE HELL UP!" Malcolm stared at the both of his friends.

Everything got hazy in the attic and then he stood up and then he sat back down. He forgot what he was going to say. At this point, he realized that saying it wouldn't have made much of a difference. He sighed, resigned.

"I hate pepperoni pizza so much."

Max shrugged, "Whatever. It's no big deal. Just pepperoni, it's not like we're going to die if we eat it." Brian nodded absentmindedly. He chewed unattractively, his mouth opening and closing rhythmically revealing then hiding the disgusting muck of pizza in his acne-surrounded mouth.