Well, cooking. Cooking, cooking, cooking. We sure did read about cooking. I’m never sad that I tried something, but this one didn’t inspire people on the level of, say, the casket challenge. Hopefully we’ve got some interesting ones left. If we don’t, though, it’s still been a fine season. Anyway, on we go.
Halfway between Sioux Falls and the Black Hills, a small trailer stands in the middle of a lot of nothing. The recent lack of rains did little to increase the locale’s charm; the only thing in motion was dust.
The inside of the trailer, by contrast, was abuzz with activity as the Brackenridge brothers were hard at work.
Dax, the eldest, was very carefully exacting the ephedrine from the rest of the cold tablets. The solvent was nasty business and not to be treated lightly.
James, the brains and braintrust of the operation was also focusing, though his efforts were expended hunched over a laptop towards massaging “profits” into the family scrap metal business.
Last and least, Jakey was also determined, though his contributions could be considered less strenuous. Atop the portable dual range stove, one pan was sautéing the cabbage and Spam which was to eventually be added to the pot on the other range, boiling away with three packs of instant ramen for his gastronome relations.
And over the clack of the beakers, key clicks, and sizzling, (recently deceased) Ornette Coleman’s “Lonely Woman” held sway.
“Boy sure can play,” Dax murmurs.
“Yup,” James agrees, “he’s cookin’ with gas.”
K: Do I love or hate that last line? It’s fine, but I wish we’d set up a more whimsical backdrop if it was going to end like that. At any rate, I certainly predicted we’d see a meth lab, so the question is whether it was a strong enough story. I don’t know. I know these guys are brothers cooking meth, but that’s a situation, and I’m not sure the situation ever really becomes a scene.
CW: Well this includes every version of cooking possible now doesn’t it? Very clever. I was curious what takes we’d get and getting them all in story one is amusing. – BRONZE
Ryan and Susan scampered down the street “The old legend in my home us of an old man who would take you cook you!” Ryan said eagerly
Susan rolled her eyes. “Yeah, right. Because that’s likely. More likely you hear too many horror stories.
When they reached the end of the street, they heard a murmur, like a song.
Click clack click clack.
All we hear. All we see. Darkness surrounds us.
Whispers in a darkened street. Click clack click clack
Rhythm of the flowing sea.
Wind blowing through the trees
Click clack click clack.
“What…what was that!” Susan cried, reaching for Ryan. “Ryan! Where are you!?!”
She heard only a faint cackling laugh. Terrified, she ran the way she’d come. “She’s going to cook me!” She screamed.
Morning dawned. A man walked to a Field. when he saw what he saw, he broke into a run. Laying in the field, dead, was Susan. The man knelt. Laughing, he cut the meat from her. “Oh, you will make a fine stew!” After a hearty supper, he went to his office.
“Now, Ryan, Susan, what shall we do?” He murmured, stroking the horse heads.
K: Was this written on a phone? The grammar, particularly at the beginning, is a disaster. It cut down any momentum this story could have gained. As a story, it’s fairly rushed, though the idea could probably work.
CW: The flow here was just all off and the errors didn’t help. I like the telling from the horse POV but this needed some editing.
Mother was a machine when chopping. Her chef’s blade created a THOCK THOCK THOCK that filled the shack. “See, Marcy? The knife does the work.”
Marcy slouched at the table, watching Mother go through her ritual. “Into the soup you go, zucchini,” she chirped. Steam burbled as she swiped the board surface with her hand. “Now forrrrr…basil! Remember how good that smells?” Adjusting her grip on the knife, Mother began a flurry of strokes. “This is called a chiffonade. Releases the aromatics!” A minute of fast chopping, then Mother released the knife. “Soup’s on!”
Marcy muttered, “You didn’t add the basil.”
“Oh! Right…there we are! Get your bowl ready; eyes closed. Try to really SMELL the ingredients!” Marcy squinted, still able to watch Mother ladle boiling fluid into the cracked porcelain bowl, then drop in the palmed half-a-bullion-cube. Mother returned the pot to the stove, and smiled as she sat.
“Smell it, Marcy? All the fresh veggies, like back on the farm with Daddy? Deep sniffs…you’ll taste it too.”
Marcy did not look up. She did not inhale deeply. She frowned and lifted a spoonful of the barely-diluted hot water to her lips.
K: Is Dad dead? I suppose it’s safe to say that’s what sent Mom off her nut. I like a story that asks me both to laugh with and at a character. Well, here it is. SILVER
CW: A touch of cooking and a touch of crazy. Perfect recipe for an entertaining story. I rather enjoyed the thought put into this and the detailed description of the pretend cooking. – GOLD
The August air is stifling even at 9 in the morning; it’s no day for baking. I pull out the recipe card written in my mother’s tiny script and begin gathering ingredients.
Sid walks unsteadily into the kitchen and squints.
“What’cha makin’ me, babe?”
“It’s for the funeral,” I reply.
“Your mom said you didn’t–”
He walks toward the bathroom, one hand scratching his pajama-pants-clad butt.
I measure the flour, yeast, water, and salt. As a shaggy dough forms beneath my hands, I think of my how my grandfather looked at the end. He lay in the bed, thinner than I’d ever known him, white hair blending with white pillow, mouth hanging open uselessly.
I place the dough in a clean, oiled bowl and cover it with a towel.
I couldn’t stop crying during my last visit. The hospice nurses pretended not to notice. One of them brought in homemade soup and gave some to Grandma. I cried at that too.
I could barely stand to hug him. I walked out, shut myself in my car, and wailed like a child. They had needed comfort, and I’d offered none.
Tonight I will give them bread.
K: A small gesture, sure, but one that the narrator is able to provide. They don’t all have to be big ideas; this may not pack an emotional wallop, but it’s still relatable and realistic. BRONZE
CW: Sometimes it’s the little things that help comfort those in grieving. This was an emotional little piece and I appreciate how cooking is therapeutic for some. That came across nicely here. – BRONZE
Darius bit deep into the turkey leg. Warm juice leaked from the corner of his mouth, dripping into his beard. He chewed slowly and meticulously before reaching for a decanter of wine.
A calloused hand covered the lip of the glass.
“Isn’t that enough, sire?”
Darius snorted, flecks of meat raining onto the table cloth.
“Let an old man drink his wine, Martin.”
Tight-lipped, Martin stepped away, resting his hands on the hilt of his sword. Darius sighed, slumping down into the padding of his oak chair. He grasped the decanter and tilted it into his mouth, quickly draining it of the dark liquid.
“Alright, let’s go,” he said, lightly thumping his chest.
They walked quietly to the far end of the hall. Holding tight to one of Darius’s elbows, Martin pushed open a pair of heavy wooden doors.
A deafening roar engulfed them. Darius limped to the balcony’s edge and looked down on the crowd, frenzied and undulating wildly around a makeshift gallows. He could see his son there, swaying gently from the ropes, jaw slack and eyes bulging. Darius smiled, the wine burning warmly in his throat, and held out his hands.
Martin unsheathed his sword.
K: Darius smiled? Did he see his son? Maybe he knows he’s going to be assassinated and is at peace with the revolution. Despite this lack of clarity, the vivid detail of Darius’s sloppy eating works and, no matter the reason, I find the payoff interesting. SILVER
CW: Assassination! And not with poisoned food! I’m impressed that you went there with this prompt without having to force it. And your detail was flawless. Good job. – GOLD
L’ortolan are not particularly engaging birds. Four inches long, olive and yellow, they were called “beccafico” by the ancient Romans, which means “fig pecker.” They flit about from the wheat fields of Morocco to the lavender plains of Provence, eating seeds and singing. I could not call myself a gourmand until I had prepared one in the traditional manner.
I began by catching one in the wild- much more difficult than it sounds. While trapped in the corner of the net I used a darning needle to put out both of its small black eyes. While this step seemed especially cruel, I did not deviate from tradition. It peeped helplessly thereafter- weeks spent in a cage scarcely large enough to allow it to turn around, feasting on figs and millet until it was too fat to fly.
I filled a goblet with fine Armagnac and in one swift motion, turned the blind, obese, helpless creature head first into the vessel, holding my hand atop to prevent escape. It beat its wings furiously for a moment until its lungs filled with liquor and died.
After searing it, I put the richly embroidered cloth over my face, per tradition, and bit down.
K: Jesus. I love how matter-of-fact this narrator is about a surprisingly cruel tradition. I didn’t have any clue that this tradition existed, but for anyone else who’s wondering, everything here is real. I suppose this is little more than a bit of research fit to a narrative, but dude, I really like this narrator’s voice. GOLD
CW: Is this really how this is prepared? That’s… Disturbing. But the detail was fantastic. It read like an instruction manual but with a story. – SILVER
Nov. 11, 2075
Helium, check. That’s abundant. Hydrogen, little less to come by, but palatable. We’ve got some other stuff floating around, but Dr. Lamel has yet to label anything, of course. I’ll check back when I finally get to make something.
Nov. 20, 2075
Vile, bitter, disgusting– all describe our meals so far. Lamel is no help. I’m on my own.
Nov. 25, 2075
Lamel’s laziness has gone way too far. He stuffed something inside something else and set it on fire. Voila, a meal fit for a queen. Too bad she vomited blood and flames.
Dec. 13, 2075
I’ve began to slip in my own ingredients. Lamel’s too drunk to notice what I do anymore. I had to do something. Tonight’s the captain’s dinner and everyone’s still reeling from the last big shindig.
Dec. 29, 2075
What a great success! If we’d waited for Lamel we’d all have starved or died of dysentery. Our next stop sounds promising. I can’t quite pronounce all the different delicacies there. On my list to get includes nitrogen, something called “oxygen,” and I’d love to create some concoctions with the carbon-based lifeforms we’ve just discovered. I think we hit the mother load. Finally!
K: “Mother lode,” you mean. I dig this crazy concept, though I always guard myself against journal stories, as they typically run at a breakneck pace. This time, if anything, the story kind of runs in place because the revelation that the meals are elements is squandered in the first paragraph, where it could have been the surprise ending.
CW: Sometimes this diary format works really well, see the Fibonacci stories, for example. But this time it didn’t work well for me. There was too little substance here and more information was necessary.
“No, Padre, you must!”
Daniel looked at Marta’s eager face, the basket expertly balanced on her head. He had so much left to do! But solidarity requires sacrifice.
“OK. But breakfast only! I cannot stay.”
He departed for their mud-walled house before dawn. The grey dirt road was a luminous ribbon winding through damp, dark stones, and he walked briskly, anticipating Marta’s fine cooking.
Stuffed chilis, pork adobo, corn cakes, pumpkin picarones…
He arrived with stomach growling.
Greeting his hosts, he looked to the table.
Jello. Nothing but bowls of J-E-L-L-O: blue, green and orange – echoing the colorful Quechua weavings the family wore.
They watched him expectantly.
Solidarity requires sacrifice. He smiled broadly. “Where did you find Jello?”
“Pedro went to Arequipa. American food for your journey home!”
Thanking them and the Lord, he dove in with compassion and gusto.
He spent his final hours in Peru juggling his to-do list and diarrhea.
In Arequipa, he stopped to get Pepto and spied Jello behind the counter. He squinted at the penciled price, his bowels cramping.
That could have bought boots for Pedro! Or so much real food. Why?!
His own words echoed in his mind. He knew why.
K: DID YOU KNOW? “Arequipa” was the name of my tribe when I played and won Survivor a month or two ago. Neat, huh? I love how excited the locals are to provide Jell-O and I equally like the narrator for deciding to go along with it. “Boots for Pedro” came out of nowhere to the point that it felt like an earlier line to establish may have been cut, but whatever…it was fun. SILVER
CW: Am I missing something? I want to know why too. I liked how this story was written but I feel like I got cheated in the end. Jello is expensive in Peru…?
I read a poll once in a magazine (Time? NewsWeek?) where they asked oncology nurses how they would prefer to die. Most of them agreed that cancer was the best way to go. Plenty of time to wrap up your affairs and the endgame drugs these days are pretty good. So, hurray! Of course, I got the turbo version, pancreatic.
Out of the fridge came the cooled and rested dough; a pound each of butter and cream cheese, sour cream, kosher salt, flour and sugar; decadent. I worked it until it softened, then rolled it out. I sprinkled it with decorator sugar; pink for my little girl. The filling was dried apricots, boiled in sugar and water until gooey. I spread this over the dough, then cut it into 16 pizza-type slices. I rolled them up and baked them until golden brown.
“Mom? God the house smells DIVINE. Just me and Hank so far, the boys will be along later.” Dorothy breezed into my kitchen, salt and pepper bob swaying. “Oh my GOD! Is that rugelach?” She bounced a little; stopped. “But your hands? Your arthritis . . . .” The bright in her eyes dimmed as I stroked her cheek with my throbbing knuckles.
“Oh no. Mom?”
K: The beginning of this story is so conversational that for a second I believed the gatherer had left in a note by the writer. That’s a good thing; if it sounds real, it’s working. The bit about endgame drugs neatly sets up the realization by the daughter when Mom’s hands don’t hurt, and the story avoids trying to cram sappiness into a small space. GOLD
CW: This had the ability to be a gold winner with some modifications. The jump from the Cancer stuff to the cooking was too sudden. And I’m not sure I believe that the daughter would know something was wrong with her mother simply because she was using her arthritic hands. Maybe she found a new arthritis medicine that was working! Good feels here though. – BRONZE
The front door is open, and Janel doesn’t hesitate.
The juju woman’s voice creaks from the back of the house.
Janel elbows me.
I don’t say anything.
“Come on back.”
We follow her voice to a sunlit kitchen, filled with vegetation too luxurious for West Philadelphia. Sammie’s skin glows a radiant chestnut and her eyes twinkle. I’m not sure what I expected. Darkness, maybe. Vials and beakers.
“Who we got here?”
“Keisha,” answers Janel, “She likes a boy, but she’s shy.”
Blushing, I nod.
“You need some pie.”
In a flash, she produces a plate.
“Sit, child. Eat.”
I do as I’m told. The pie is divine.
“What kind?” I ask hesitantly.
“Nah, child. Rhubarb. Now, eat and tell me more.”
I tell her my folks came from Macon when I was young. That my sister died. That I took classes for a stutter. All of it.
When I finish she smiles.
“Don’t seem shy no more to me.”
She nods at my empty plate.
“Souls that come to me is desperate enough. No sense in serving up juju that ain’t appetizing.”
K: Hmm. This one has a payoff where pie cures shyness, but the way it’s presented, I think it works best if the reader already knows that this pie can cure shyness. Instead we have a confusing payoff that requires another read, only to find out that nothing’s missing. This concept is probably pretty strong with some modification.
CW: I’m not sure exactly what I felt was missing here. Perhaps it didn’t feel real enough? Granted, my experience with juju women is limited (read none). The idea here, that a voodoo woman can cure shyness through pie is interesting though. And the manner in which it was done was seamless enough.
“Look how smoothly the five titanium-coated blades blend the tomatoes, Jan. Now I’ll just add onions through the easy-feeder slot, some jalapenos, garlic, cilantro, and voila… instant salsa the Suraisu way.”
The audience applauded as Jan marveled at the salsa.
“Wow, Greg.” Jan grabbed a chip and shoved it into the salsa a bit too forcefully, splashing it on the counter. “Yum!”
“Now Jan,” Greg said. “The Suraisu doesn’t just make salsa. It also-“
“Hold on, Greg,” blurted Jan. Greg crinkled his nose as her breath reached him.
“Instead of whatever you’re saying, let’s do something different. Would you like that, audience?”
The audience let loose a chorus of Yeahs. Greg glanced offstage at a PA flipping through the script, shaking his head.
“Let’s see how this piece of shit handles my wedding ring.”
Jan slipped the band from her finger and dropped it in, then wrestled through Greg’s attempted restraints and hit the liquefy button. The clatters and pings were deafening, but the ring was no match for the incredible power of the Suraisu Ultimate Food Processing System. A moment later the only sounds were Jan’s furious sobbing and five blades whirring through a sparkling cloud of gold powder.
K: The “Instead of whatever you’re saying” line is so hilarious and dismissive, I was a little disappointed that this ended up being a drama. I mean, I suppose it’s black humor in the end to some degree, but this situation practically begs for broad comedy, and we went about halfway there. I would have loved it if, as Jan was falling apart on camera and destroying her wedding ring, she maintained the useless banter that she and Greg had been employing. BRONZE
CW: That’s one hell of a machine! I want one too! But as someone who just finally sold his old wedding band, I’d argue that the $530 I got for it was way better than turning it into a cloud of gold dust. Anyway, this infomercial gone wrong was hilariously done. I approve. And how much is one of these things? – SILVER
I pushed on the door, displacing a slumped form in a chicken suit. Limbs and garbage sprawled before me. The coffee table was covered in white powder and pills; a pentagram was smeared on the flatscreen TV in deli mustard.
I stepped on a snoring girl in a bedazzled tube top. Next to her, a man was whispering in Spanish to a philodendron. Everything smelled like smoke and vomit, but there was something else – an evil smell, like a burned corpse.
I found Fitz – my roommate – on the back porch in full face paint. He was curled under a U-Haul blanket with the homeless guy who always begged for our smokes. I was careful not to wake them.
In the kitchen, the ceiling was charred and the fire alarm was shattered and dangling, a baseball bat nearby. The oven was set at 550, a turkey-shaped lump smoldering unhappily behind the glass. More powder was smeared on a box of stuffing. Cranberry jelly rings were piled inside my Ren Fest stein.
I was so angry that my face was going numb. I turned the oven off and left, but not before taking some pictures of Fitz and his friend.
K: Eh? This ending was quick. I didn’t realize the narrator was angry until the end. I wish that had been established earlier, and in the end we simply had the narrator snapping photos. That said, the prose here is tons of fun and achieves humor through the scenes being just so damned pathetic. The mustard pentagram kills me. GOLD
CW: So yeah, this is a fucked up roommate. Fitz I mean. The narrator is absolutely right to take photo evidence of this ridiculousness. The attention to detail was great. I could really envision myself walking into this place. – SILVER
The word used to have life. It meant earmuffs. It meant chicken noodle soup. Now it means everything. And nothing.
I can walk no further. I collapse in a grove. The trees provide no shelter, but their resilience is comforting. Sleep overcomes the pain.
I see a flash of white. I cannot feel my body, though I feel a surge of hope. Clarity returns and I realize it’s just snow. Hope is gone. Adrenaline remains.
I pull down some branches. Two of my fingers still have color. They strike my last match. Beautiful orange.
Fire almost out. I wish I could say I feel warmth. Just pain. I whisper a prayer. A squirrel falls into my lap, dead. An eagle flies off.
The squirrel warms by the fire until it doesn’t.
I manage to sink in my teeth. It’s the last time I feel pleasure.
It is night. The North Star shines.
K: The prose is fine, but this doesn’t really take us very far. There’s no hope (at least not more than a sentence’s worth) and no reason to stand behind this narrator’s struggle because it’s all so defeated. However, the “I manage to sink in my teeth. It’s the last time I feel pleasure” bit brings this forward a little bit, as I could really feel this particular passage. BRONZE
CW: Well there was fire. And an animal. But I don’t think there was much cooking involved. I’m trying to determine if my last meal being a squirrel would really be an answer to prayer or a smack in the face. Sounds like the elements still won over here in the end too. This told quite a bit in a short space. I’m impressed. – GOLD
There it is! Playoff implications, and such! A bunch of eight-point scorers! I’m skimping on this just to get it posted.
The last regular season challenge will be the Kelly Wells challenge because I can’t find the list of others at the moment and I know what this one is going to be. I’ll give you 1000 words and your task is to write a story that contains redemption. I also considered revenge and the victory of the exploited and downtrodden, but settled where I settled and maybe I’ll save the others for another season or something.
They’ll be due Thursday night at 9pm Central but you should not expect results until Friday or Saturday, the days where my family and I are driving to Minnesota. I’ll judge in the car and post when I can. The first playoff round will be due the following Thursday, and because I have plans all through my vacation, again, I’m likely to be posting the next day.
Thanks for another fun season, Prosers.