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THE STARVING ARTISTS http://ow.ly/iJc430jCrcW sci-fi
A REFUGE FROM THE STORM http://ow.ly/koKs30jF7yo – horror
King Mash was not just the premiere food critic of the known culinary universe. He was the food critic’s food critic, the critic every other critic aspired to be, but knew they could never become, and the best they could hope for was to take over the top spot once Mash had consumed his last supper (with all the suggestion of eternal life that implied), fully aware they could never, ever come close to reaching his Olympian heights.
Ah, Olympian Heights. What an apropos description of Mash, for he was not just a petty judge separating the good wheat from the bad chaff. No, he was a god. No, not just any god. He was Jehovah Almighty Himself thundering down his approval and disapproval from atop Mount Sinai. True, Mash may not have looked like Yaweh. His somewhat pudgy physic, hair in a top knot and Charlie Chan mustache was more likely to suggest Bacchus upon first meeting him, but who was going to tell him that?
And, yes, his name was unfortunate. But even here, when he had been given chopped liver, he made fois gras out of it. He incorporated it into his rating system: if he approved of the more than modest repast provided him, he would King the restaurant. But if he didn’t? Oh, cue the wailing and gnashing of teeth, because that meant he would Mash it. But unlike God, the public gleaned onto his every word. So no one was ever Mashed and lived to tell of it and his swath of destruction was as wide as it was deep.
And Mash looked around and said: “It is good to be God”.
But Mash forgot a truth most truthfully true: every god has a gotterdamarung. And Mash was about to be served his. His last supper was about to become his last meal.
The latest attempt at being the flavor of the month was a restaurant called The Good Bucharest, which, as its name suggested, was Romanian. It was opened by the son of parents who fled the country after Nicolai Ceausescu did, and who were very proud of their heritage, something they found much easier and more affordable to be in the US than in their home country.
Word of mouth had been good for The Good Bucharest and people were curious and tantalized by the possibility of succulent sarmale, mouthwatering mici, and delectable ciorba de burta.
Even Mash had to admit he was a tad excited. It had been quite a while since his tongue had tasted mama…mamoliga cu braza si, si, si…well, he couldn’t pronounce it, but his buds were blooming in anticipation.
Inside, the restaurant was relatively warm, simple and homey. That was a good start, Mash noted to himself. He hated it when the décor vied for attention with his meal. As far as he was concerned, his surroundings didn’t have to be in good taste, as long as the food was.
Mash paused and made a note of his last thought-Hm, yes, quite nice that. I can use it in a column some day.
Mash sat at a table with three of his friends. They would all order different dishes and then share them along with their opinions. He wanted everyone to see he was very democratic and hoi poloi in how he judged a restaurant, though, of course, it never entered his mind to actually pay any attention to what the others had to say. As with food and real life, the appearance of democracy often counted more than real democracy itself.
Oh, that was good, too, he thought, scribbling it down. I’m simply a treasure trove of bon mots today.
After a few appetizers and a fine wine, yes, an excellent choice, he thought, reality intervened and Mash made his way to the little boy’s room, or vomatorium, as he euphemistically liked to term it, which always got a laugh no matter how often he said it-must be the delivery, he thought to himself.
Once ensconced in his cozy cubicle, he relaxed and even sniffed. The air was fresh and fabreezy, he noticed. And then he took his time, calculating how long he could make his friends wait for the next course.
Suddenly the door banged open and someone barged in and rushed to the sink, turned on the cold water and started slapping it on his face. Mash could smell fear in the air, which was actually a good sign, he thought to himself.
This person was soon followed by another, which, Mash had to admit, followed a certain logic. Now he could also smell panic in the air, which combined with fear, was as strong an aphrodisiac as Mash could want.
The second person spoke, “What’s wrong? You can’t leave the kitchen now.”
Then the other responded, and Mash sighed in relief since he detested monologues, unless they were his. “I’m sorry. I’m a nervous wreck. I don’t know if I can go through with it.”
Mash noted a slight second generation accent in both men. The mystery was congealing.
“Why? Because Mash is here?”
Mash stiffened. Better and better.
“Yes. I’m terrified. I’m trembling. Look at my hands. They’re shaking as if I had palsy. I can’t control them.”
“You can’t let him get to you. He’s not that important.”
At this Mash froze. This was not the climactic direction he thought this conversation was going.
“But what if he hates everything?”
“Who cares? Mash is only a legend in his own stomach. He’s a douchebag and an asshole. Do this. Think of him naked and only wearing black socks.”
No, this was not the direction at all, Mash thought, his body going a bit limp. Even he didn’t like to see himself naked, much less in black socks.
The first man took a deep breath and after a moment started giggling. And then the second man stated giggling. And then they both giggled and giggled and giggled and they couldn’t seem to stop, which Mash thought highly out of proportion to the image.
Then the second man said, “And remember what we’re serving him tonight: pomona porcului.”
Mash waited. There was a pause and then the two men burst out in loud boisterous laughter.
The first man calmed down. “You’re right. He’s just a naked douchebag in black socks”.
“Exactly,” the second man said as they left the room.
Without a moment’s hesitation, Mash took out his phone and brought up Google. “Pomana porculi, pomano porculi, po…” and there the phrase was in translation.
Sacrifice of the pig.
After a moment Mash waddled his way back to his table. His mien had an angelic shade of serenity. His friends knew instantly that something was seriously amiss.
But Mash sat most calmly, more calmly than a statue of the Buddha. The soup was served and he most calmly dipped his spoon into the bowl, then he most calmly lifted the spoon to his lips, and then most calmly of all, slipped the liquid into his mouth. He took a moment to be sure that everyone’s eyes were focused on him. And so they were. They leaned in like the Tower of Pisa, quieter than a monastery of tranquil Trappist monks, and waited with the impatience of Job.
Mash languidly laid down his spoon, took a moment to compose himself…and then he said it.
“It tastes like shit.”
A few days later, Mash sat in his favorite café when someone sat across from him. He looked up from his specially made omelet which changed every day because he always asked for something different, whereupon the café was obliged to send someone out to buy the ingredients, and saw what everyone else would probably describe as a sweet little old lady, but who Mash suspected was something else entirely.
As usual, Mash was quite correct. Her eyes were grey and looked at him like a laser in a power point presentation. And though small in stature with that slight suggestion to her back of osteoporosis, she clearly was showing signs of the vicious tenacity of a pit-bull. Her mouth was as tight as the corset Mash wore on occasion (which actually meant every occasion, such as the present), her hair was in a bun that pulled on her face such that she seemed almost wrinkleless, and her jewelry was somewhat confrontational.
This is not going to be pleasant, he concluded.
“Might I help you?” Mash hesitantly proffered.
When she spoke, he thought he detected a strong and sturdy accent, one hailing from, from…Eastern Europe, something from…no, not there, anywhere but there.
“We have an acquaintance in common,” she said, with the dangerous purr of a Bengal tiger.
Excellent English, Mash thought, and then drooped in frustration since it meant he couldn’t pretend not to understand a single syllable she uttered.
“We do?” Mash responded.
“Yes. My son. He owned a restaurant you gave a somewhat negative review to. He had to close. No one came the next night, or the next. He had put all his hopes, his dreams, his money into it.”
In his early days a pronouncement such as this would have sent a thrill up his spine and down his, his, his…well, give it the name Mash did-his engorged eclair overflowing with cream. But such a pronouncement had happened so often over the years that now it barely registered at his bottom vertebrae or the bottom of his…eclair.
“Tell him I’m sorry,” he replied with all the sincerity of a jackal in heat. “But I had to tell the truth.”
“If only I could, but no one can tell him anything anymore.”
“And why is that?” he asked, with a slight tingling sensation beginning to grow both in his back and between his legs.
“He took his own life last night.”
And there it was, zooming up his posterior and down his groin. The ecstasy was almost too much to endure.
“I see,” Mash said, crossing his legs to hide his pleasure.
The old lady didn’t say anything more. She simply waited, and waited, and waited, and with such a cool and collected demeanor that Mash became concerned and more and more uncertain there was going to be a money shot.
Finally he proffered, “I’m not sure what you are doing here.”
She took a moment, looking him up and down, like a vampire, he thought-wait, is that politically incorrect? Then she said, “I come from a long line of gypsies and we are a proud and fierce race.”
“Hm,” Mash hmmmed. “You don’t look like a gypsy.”
“I left my babushka and hoop earrings at home. I’m not a stereotype, you know.”
“Of course not.”
“I am here to curse you.”
“Oh,” Mash said, relieved. “If you must. But I feel I should warn you, I’ve been in a kitchen with Gordon Ramsey, and the things he’d say. I so wanted to ask, Do you kiss your mother with that…”
“No, you imbecile. Not spout four letter words at you. I am going to put a curse on you.”
“Oh. I see…But I thought you weren’t a stereotype.”
The old lady hesitated, taking a pregnant pause any Shakespearian performer would be proud of and uttered, “Touché. Still…” and she waved her hand before his face and mumbled some words.
Mash leaned in. “I’m sorry, I didn’t quite get that.”
The old lady stood up to make her grand exit. “You are now cursed.”
“Really? Strange, I don’t feel cursed. Just what exactly does it entail?”
“My curse upon you is to eat shit and die.”
And with that she swept out of the door and left the café.
“Oh, and say hello to Anastasia for me,” he called out after her. Or should that be Bela Lugosi? Well, staircase wit was never his forte.
And he left the café as well.
That night was the grand opening of a new fusion restaurant, French meets Inuit. It was called Les Eskimo Tarte. Mash prayed this wouldn’t involve eating penguin…but then again.
He was with his usual set of stage props when the appetizer was brought. His prayers were unanswered: Penguin puffs in Gallic garlic. He carefully popped one upon his tongue, visions of Chilly Willy being bludgeoned to death like a baby whale dancing inside his head…so far so good, when…
Nausea. And not just nausea, but great waves of it, worse than being seasick on the Titanic.
He thrust his hand before his mouth, grabbed his stomach, barreled through a door marked gender neutral, bent over a toilet and let it go. After a moment, when fully vacuated, Mash slowly and steadily stood up. “What is making me so ill?” he asked himself, a certain vertigo still attached to his equilibrium.
And then he smelled it. Something delicious, an aroma deep and earthy, pungent and full of flavor. He had never encountered an odor so rapturous. Suddenly, his appetite returned.
The aroma wafted over from the next cubicle to his, so he gently pushed the door in and his eyes went wide. The toilet was clogged, stopped up by a bowel movement so large, only an elephant’s mother could be proud of it.
He couldn’t look away. It was drawing him to it. He had no power to resist, his stomach rumbling and mouth watering in anticipation. He didn’t want to. It was disgusting. It was wrong. It was…it was…tantalizingly irresistible. He had to have it.
So he did.
Mash ran out the restaurant through the kitchen so quickly no one saw him, though the staff did wonder what that odiferous odor was. His friends waited and waited. And when Mash didn’t return, they finally decide to go ahead without him, feasting on croissants with polar bear liver and arctic wolf head in orange sauce, noticing how much better the food tasted with Mash not there.
Mash attempted to eat out a few more times, but it was of no use. Again and again he would take sick and again and again he would find himself dining on tiled floors, with a porcelain bowl, and a mirror his only companion.
He sought out the old lady and found her at a Romanian tea room sitting next to a samovar. When she saw Mash she guiltily glanced at the samovar and said, “All right. Perhaps I’m more of a stereotype than I’d care to admit”.
Mash plunged to his knees and begged, “Please, you have to help me. You must remove the curse.”
The old lady straightened her slightly bent back and seemed to grow another foot.
“I will remove the curse when you bring my son back from the dead.”
“Couldn’t you make it something a bit simpler? Like a scholarship in his memory to Le Cordon Bleau? A desert named after him?”
The old lady stood and pointed to the door.
“Leave my presence immediately and never darken my door again.”
And that was that.
If Mash had stayed at home and lived like a movie star everyone thought was dead, but wasn’t, he perhaps would have simply been forgotten. But he couldn’t provide sustenance on his own because the more he devoured, the more he craved.
And the more he craved, the more the chefs and restaurant owners who use to cower before his mighty keyboard were delighted to drive him to the depths of dungeony despair. When they saw him coming, they forbad him entry to their establishments, teasingly saying bathrooms were for customers use only. And when he then offered to buy something, gleefully told him they reserved the right to refuse service to anyone.
He sought out prostitutes who provided certain specialties, but his money soon ran low and he could no longer afford that outlet.
And when the craving came at night, he would wander the dark and deserted streets, breaking into construction sites, seeking out their port-o-potties.
But one cold winter morning, he was caught by a night watchmen and two police officers he had called about a trespasser. They shined their flashlights on him as he haggardly huddled in a corner. He reached out the palm of his hand and covered his face and shrieked, “Don’t look at me. Don’t look at me,” and he ran off into the black noirish night never to be heard of again.
Some say he killed himself by jumping into a sewage treatment plant.
Some say he can still be seen staring in windows of new places to dine, looking longingly at the haute cuisine, brown around his mouth that at first appeared to be an unshaven beard, but on closer inspection certainly was not.
All anyone was certain of was that no restaurant review ever appeared under his byline again.