As Halloween creeps up on us, all of October’s Fractured Fragment Fridays will promote stories from my themed collection WEIRD, But not TOO Scary Tales.
This Fractured Fragment Friday, I offer an Edgar Alan Poe inspired tale.
“A Dish Best Served” started simply with a desire to use an x-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
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 can’t say something nice… Have a taste for a tale of revenge, with some of the flavor of Edgar Alan Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado”? Give “A Dish Best Served” a read.
Here’s This Week’s Excerpt
He would pay for this insult. We would arrive at Hestia in two weeks; plenty of time to resolve this. Thirty years of honing and perfecting my skills and my status as first chef aboard the flag cruise ship of our entire star fleet gave me all the tools I needed to accomplish this. I would have revenge!
But first, the niceties would be observed. When all was prepared, I sent the invitation:
My Most Esteemed Monsieur Bonaventure,
I fear that your recent visit to our establishment did not find us at our best. Please accept this bottle of 1846 Spanish Amontillado from my private collection, as both an apology and a promise of things to come.
There are other items in my collection that I have set aside, waiting for someone with your discerning tastes, as no one else could truly appreciate them.
If you will please do me the ultimate kindness of arriving at my personal dining salon (directions enclosed) at 0100 hours tomorrow, I assure you that you will have an experience in fine dining that you will never forget.
Your humble servant,
The pompous fool accepted, as I knew he would. His reservation was set.
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.”
So – how do YOU think Monsieur Bonaventure will fare with this fare? “A Dish Best Served” is a speculative fiction short story (very light horror), and is available at several online retailers, including, but not limited to:
“A Dish Best Served” is also included in the seasonally appropriate WEIRD, But not TOO Scary Tales, a collection of 21 stories:
Smashwords (currently 50%-OFF with coupon code GE97X – 21 stories for $2.50): https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/1044795
Honest ratings and reviews are, as always, appreciated. Hope you enjoy it!
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William Mangieri’s writing has been published on Daily Science Fiction and The Arcanist. His ninety or so short stories and related collections can be found at several online retailers, including, but not limited to:
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