“A Dish Best Served” started simply with a desire to use an multi-course meal as the vehicle for a story. I started writing with the critic vs. chef theme, and the rest of the story came out of the pen on its own (or with the help of my favorite Poe story, “A Cask of Amontillado”, which has been floating in the back of my mind for most of my life.) I really didn’t know if Bonaventure was going to survive the meal until HE opened his mouth and complained at the end. Always a critic…
Here’s the blurb:
If you can’t say something nice… A self-aggrandizing intergalactic food critic runs afoul of a prideful chef, and gets an unexpected lesson in alien cuisine, living, and manners. If you enjoy a tale with some of the flavor of Edgar Alan Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado,” give “A Dish Best Served” a read.
And here’s this week’s excerpt:
I stood outside the airlock and checked my watch. Timing was important. The pursers had routine patrols on this deck every hour during the day, but in the wee hours of the morning they were spread much further apart. The next would be at 0300, which would give me two hours to complete our engagement. I waited.
He left me cooling my heels for ten minutes before he finally deigned to appear. He wore a brilliant blue shirt under a black bow tie and dinner jacket, with a turquoise-lined cape and formal top hat. He held the obligatory white gloves of the upper-class in his hands. I’m sure he thought himself impressive. To me he looked like the obese, puffed peacock that he was.
He sauntered along as though he had no particular place to be, glancing casually at the ironwork of the outer corridor as he made his way toward me.
“There you are, Monsieur,” I said, bowed, and then held that bow while he continued his nonchalant approach. “I hope that my directions didn’t cause you difficulty.”
“No, my good man, not at all,” he said, “although I do confess a lack of familiarity with the lower decks. It seems an odd place for a salon.”
“Actually,” I said, “I chose this location especially for this evening. It has a certain quality that lends itself to the undertaking I have planned for you.”
“Ahh,” he said, nodding, “a certain je ne sais quoi, perhaps?”
You certainly don’t know, I thought.
“In the early days, this chamber served as the docking point for one of the life pods kept on hand for evacuations. Since there have never been any such emergencies, the pods are no longer considered necessary and have been removed, and the chamber has since fallen into disuse.”
I took his gloves, hat and cape, and then gestured him across the threshold with a flourish. I followed him inside and closed the hatch.
“Is that really necessary?” he asked.
“We don’t want to be interrupted,” I said as I stowed his accessories in a compartment. “We are in a restricted area, but it is a silly rule that would needlessly deprive you of the experience of a lifetime. Please be seated.”
I had positioned the small table by the hatch at the far end of the chamber. He squeezed around to the chair with difficulty, sat, and studied the bare iron walls.
“It is a bit tight in here,” I said as I placed his poisoned aperitif before him, “but this is really the only place on the ship that has quite the effect I was seeking.”
I pointed above his head, and he looked up. Since the chamber protruded outward from the ship, he had an unobstructed view of space. He shrugged, then took a sip of his cocktail.
“Tonight you will be dining in five courses, the theme being Vestan Vengeance. Are you familiar with it?”
“I don’t believe so,” he said, shaking his head.
“Then you are in for a treat. Please drink up; it is an essential part of the experience.”
He continued sipping as I prepped the first course.
“The Vestans were a space-faring race. It is believed that they may have originated on Hestia, which is where many of the ingredients for tonight’s fare were procured.
“The Vestans became embroiled in an internecine conflict that took the lives of all but a few score of their people. They had been forced to abandon their home world, and each faction was left with one ship.”
He was not drinking quickly enough.
“Is there something wrong with the aperitif?”
“Oh, no,” he said, taking another sip, “I was just listening.”
“Very well. The first course will just need to wait until you have finished,” I said, as I stirred the soup.
“Prentiss and Remick, the leaders of the two factions, agreed to meet on Remick’s ship to negotiate an end to the conflict. Prentiss docked his craft and was taken to Remick’s quarters, where they hammered out an agreement to ensure the survival of their species. Remick walked Prentiss back to his craft so he could return to his ship with the good news. Before Prentiss disembarked, he handed Remick a container full of special acratzia leaves salvaged from their home world, to be used at their peace celebration. Prentiss left, saying he would return with his people shortly to join the feast. Good, you have finished.”
I set the cup of soup on the table in front of him. It bubbled and glowed a faint orange, which illuminated the steam rising from it.
“Why is it glowing?” he asked, looking down at it.
“This is Fuming Alnim Broth, I said, “made using seawater from Hestia, and although much life has returned to that world, there are still traces of radiation to this day.”
“I will not eat this,” he said, pushing the cup away.
“I assure you, the radiation is well below human tolerance levels, and it is essential for your health.”
“What do you mean?” he asked, eyeing me suspiciously.
“Tonight you will experience more than simply a meal. You will experience the thrill of being alive. The aperitif contained a particularly nasty poison, and each of the courses contains a partial antidote. They must be consumed in the proper sequence if you are to survive.”
He stared at me for a moment, then smiled back at me.
“You jest”, he said.
“No, I don’t. By now, the effects should be noticeable. Hold your hands out in front of you.”
He did so.
“See how your fingers are twitching? The muscle spasms will spread throughout your body within the hour.”
He dropped his hands to the table.
“You’re mad,” he said, and started tapping the communicator in his right ear.
“A little angry, yes, but I’ll get over that,” I said as I watched him continue tapping. “You can’t get a signal in here, and even if you could, I am the only one who can save you. What’s wrong with your eye?”
His left eyelid had started to twitch. He stopped tapping his communicator.
“The poison seems to be progressing faster than I thought it would,” I said. ”You will have more time if you remain calm.”
“Remain calm?” he said, his bulk quivering slightly. He looked down at the soup, took a deep breath, then exhaled every bit of air from his lungs slowly through his nose.
“I’m supposed to drink this?” he asked, indicating the still steaming cup.
“Yes,” I said, as he lifted it to his lips, “but you should probably use the spoon.”
He yelled as he seared his lower lip on the rim.
“The glow is from a heating element in the bottom of the cup. I’m sure it is quite hot.”
He glared at me, then picked up the spoon and started slurping.
I began prepping the next course.
“Now where was I?” I said. “Oh, yes. Remick returned to his quarters. Once he was notified that Prentiss had returned to his own ship, he detonated the nuclear device they had hidden on Prentiss’ craft, killing Prentiss and his entire faction. Then he went down to join the feast.”
“Finished!” said Bonaventure dropping his spoon. “Next?”
“Patience,” I said as I served the salad and removed the cup. “You’ll want to eat this while it’s still warm.”
As soon as he bit into the leaves, a red trickle ran down from the corner of his mouth. He caught it with his napkin and stared at it.
“That’s not blood,” I said, “it’s sap from the acratzia leaves. Of course, it will leave a nasty purple burn on your skin that can last for years, so I suggest you try to be a little neater.”
He treated his next fork full more gingerly.
“When Remick arrived at the feast, his people were heavily into their cups. They had already eaten all the acratzia leaves that Prentiss had brought them. A few days later, they became ill. Prentiss, it seems, had infected the sap with a virus.”
Bonaventure stopped eating and stared at what little salad was left on his plate.
“Oh, what are you worried about? That’s where the antidote is,” I said. “I already poisoned you, remember?”
He took a shuddering breath, then shoveled the last of the leaves into his mouth.
“Good,” I said, removing the bowl, and setting the chilled plate of ping-pong sized eggs on the table. “These are scorptail eggs. You’ll need to let them warm slightly.”
“How warm?” he asked, with his fork over the plate.
“You’ll know,” I said, “just wait until they start moving.”
What kind of review do you think Monsieur Bonaventure will give this culinary experience? Will he hear the end of the Vestan Vengeance tale? “A Dish Best Served” is a speculative fiction short story, and is available at several online retailers, including, but not limited to:
It’s also included with five other stories in my first collection, Things I Could Get OUT OF MY MIND:
“A Dish Best Served” is also included in collection The First Three ‘Things I Could Get OUT OF MY MIND’. (The next ten people who purchase the collection on Smashwords with coupon code XV84M will receive a 33% discount – that’s only $3.34 for EIGHTEEN stories – such a deal!):
Here’s the blurb for Swordsmaster – my first novel (which only took me forty-some years to write):
Fate is neither something to run away from, nor something to run towards.
The first bright-eye to be seen on the mountain in living memory, Sandrik didn’t want anyone to think of him as they did the ominous Aurae of legend, so he had worked hard to keep his special abilities hidden. But there was more to Sandrik than even he knew. Now that it was time for him to enter the ancient ruins of Taernfeld and be declared a man, what other changes might he be forced into?
Swordsmaster is available at several online retailers, including, but not limited to:
William Mangieri’s writing, including Cats of War II (a collection of his Herc Tom, Champion of the Empire series), can be found at several online retailers, including, but not limited to:
• Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/NoTimeToThink
• His Amazon Author page: http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B008O8CBDY
• Barnes & Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/william-mangieri?store=book&keyword=william+mangieri
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