“Swallow something, canned, frozen,
Ungodly festering source.
Dragging and kicking and screaming for more,
That burns, burns, burns, burns.”
– Made Out Of Babies, “Cooker.”
“I’m not going to sleep well,” thought Olas to himself. He was sweating through his shirt to the point where peeling it off would take more effort than was worth the discomfort. He stumbled through the darkness of his warping apartment, arms alternating between leaning on the impossibly distorted walls for support and clutching his abdomen in pain. His skull felt like it was full of butterflies; his stomach filled with hornets. With every step towards his bedroom Olas became more and more delirious, until at last he fell face first into his mattress with only the vaguest of memory as to what had even occurred to make him feel so nauseous to begin with. Olas inhaled deeply, and in the vortex of his mind, the stupor got the best of him. A moment later, all thoughts faded.
It wasn’t the sound that woke him, but rather the smell. The scent of bile assaulting his olfactory nerves as the excess vomit climbed through his nasopharynx startled Olas awake before his own retching entered consciousness. He pushed himself to his knees, spitting gastric juices and wiping his sleeve across his mouth for maybe a full minute before he even noticed his new location. Olas blinked twice, not sure if he was hallucinating or if he was really even awake, but regardless, the sight was unsettling.
It looked almost if someone had attempted to decorate an abandoned subway maintenance tunnel with wallpaper and antique furniture, but never bothered to care about the issue of mold or termites. The tunnel seemed to continue like this infinitely in both directions, lit only by the periodic industrial bulbs and tacky lamps that blended with the steam leaking from a few of the copper pipes that lined the walls as far as the corridor would take them. Olas lifted himself to his feet cautiously and justifiably nervous given the circumstances. He began to walk, not sure as to where or what he was expecting to find. An exit perhaps? Or possibly a sign indicating what this strange place was supposed to be or where. “I’m still dreaming.” He told himself, only partially believing his own words.
Olas walked for what felt like an hour before he began to hear something besides the slow hiss of steam or the ambient hum of the lamps. A meaningless echo of something at first, becoming the distinct noise of a laugh, or what was ostensibly a laugh. Actually, more like two. One the soft giggle of a young woman, the other a deep metallic growl of a large animal. The sounds steadily increased in volume and clarity as Olas continued along his route until finally a door unexpectedly halted his progress. It was a wooden door, the kind found on the interior of a house and juxtaposed to the concrete exposed beneath the peeling wallpaper that had been a constant until now. At eye level, there was a sign that read “Café Eµclid”. The queasy feeling in Olas’s stomach returned, but he shrugged to himself before knocking. As soon as his knuckles connected to the wood, the giggles ceased.
The door creaked open, and Olas couldn’t stop himself from falling backwards in fright. The occupant was an odd sight to be sure, warranting a second glance from Olas. Standing on the precipice of the tunnel and the room behind, stood a small girl, no older than fourteen, with white-blonde hair and wearing a brown cardigan beneath a pine green apron. Unusual, but not inherently disturbing. What had caused Olas to stumble was the fact that this otherwise ordinary girl had eyes of pure black, wide and whiteless like two balls of polished obsidian. The second distinguishing feature was her number of limbs. There were eight in total; two legs, six arms. She smiled down on Olas, reaching out one of her numerous hands towards him.
“Hello there Nicholas!” She greeted in a two toned voice, a doubling effect of entirely separate individuals speaking in harmony. It became painfully clear to Olas that there was only one source for the noises heard earlier. “I’ve been expecting your company for quite a while. Please come in, we have much to prepare before the feast.”
Olas hesitated to respond, needing a moment to recite his mantra that this was all just a dream, a very lucid dream brought on by experimenting with far too many foreign ingredients, the thought of which brought some sense to his current situation. The memory returned suddenly of what had brought him to this nightmarish world. The “Novum Saporem” it was called, or more commonly “Strange Taste,” and to the few who have ever read its pages, it was the Necronomicon of cook books, containing ancient recipes of Egyptian barbeque, to special chemical notations seemingly written in the distant future, to preparation techniques for aquatic species unknown to Earth’s biosphere. Part alchemy, part el Celler de Can Roca, it was occultist cuisine at its finest. The ancient and mysterious grimoire itself was written in 2006 by Josh Wriggly, the mad fry cook of Dino’s Diner, during a state of hysterical vision brought on by huffing too much paint thinner. The resulting hallucination was of arcane glyphs ascending from a vat of chicken gravy.
Olas purchased it for seventy five cents at a Quaker book sale the previous Tuesday. The last recipe he had attempted translated from an alien language had called for a crystal of bismuth, a nine volt battery, a pentagram drawn in snake blood, and one liter of Dr. Pepper. The title of this particular cocktail translated to “A sleepless dream.”
“What are you waiting for silly?” The arachnoid girl asked Olas’s blank face lost in thought. Olas stood up on his own, rubbing his forehead in a futile attempt to relieve his throbbing headache.
“I’m sorry, who are you?” He asked, not sure what else to do.
“My apologies Nicholas, my name is Abigail Von Strudelherst, the demon guardian of esoteric foodstuffs and chief saucier of the Domain of Krivbeknih. You did summon me, did you not?”
“I guess so?” Olas didn’t know how else to respond, and figured it best to simply agree noncommittally until he knew for sure what was happening.
“Oh you guess so?” Abigail continued. “Nobody ionizes that much Dr. Pepper inside of the sigil of pagan nonsense by accident you know.”
Olas shrugged, and beginning to feel oddly relaxed in the demon’s presence, followed her into the atrium of yet an even larger chamber. The atrium itself resembled something between a hip downtown coffee house and a gothic cathedral; pillars of charcoal dark stone lined in gargoyle carvings and comfortable looking upholstery, as well as countless glass counters displaying exquisitely designed cakes and pastries. All of this was secondary however to the Escher esque geometries of the architecture itself, which oscillated with an emphasis on vertical development, the arches and stain glass windows set at angles too impossible to comprehend outside a realm of pure mind. The sheer force of cognitive vertigo elevated Olas to a state of irresoluble awe.
“This can’t all be in my head. Where am I really?” Olas asked in an involuntarily loud voice. Abigail turned to Olas with all six hands planted firmly on her hips and wearing an expression of discontentment. Her twin voices proceeded with an emphasis on the deeper variant.
“I know you’re not illiterate. The sign said Café Eµclid, so that’s where you are. If you mean temporally, then I suppose we’re somewhere outside of the central finite curvature of space. If you wanted an address, we’re just beneath the city of Dis.” The malevolence left her tone, shifting back to an equilibrium of sorts. She jumped excitedly. “We’re going to cook some food! It’ll be great, follow me!” One of her hands grabbed Olas’s right as she began to enthusiastically lead Olas through the labyrinth of tea shelves and altars. Together, they made their way to the double stainless steel doors, passing through into the kitchen of the immense structure.
For the most part, it was a kitchen, the kind found in most standard restaurants with a minimal degree of dimensional anomalies: There were racks of spices, meats, vegetables, and cookware. There were ovens and stoves, blenders and juicers and strainers and mixers, sacks of grains stacked high to the ceiling, sinks and pots and knives polished to a mirrors shine. Typical eatery goods, but also not lacking in the unusual items of interest, such as a device that may have been the product of a fever dream construction between a steam engine and a French press with the aesthetic influence of Nikola Tesla. Also some of the smoked meat appeared to be derived from primate. Olas barely had a moment to let it all sink in before Abigail clapped her hands in anticipation.
“Now, onto the formal introductions in the manner to which I am accustomed.” She began, handing Olas a spotless white toque. “Tradition dictates that the visitor prepares a meal for the host. I will observe your technique and return the gesture in kind.” She stated very matter-of-factly. “You are welcome to any and all resources available, and to a few which are not. Tick tock, I’ve grown quite famished since your… arrival.” She licked her lips and released a single hollow growl.
Olas worked at a hurried pace, tossing selected ingredients into a large brass cooking pot as they crossed his path. A head of cactus from the crisper, a brick of goat cheese, a dozen eggs, badger milk, a sack of flour, baking powder, olive oil, other oil, jalapeno peppers, tequila, bacon, a handful of live scorpions, and million other little things that caught his eye. Taking his supplies to a counter, he expertly began to mix a batter while scooping out the innards of the cactus before tossing it into a bowl of tequila. When the batter was good and thick, the next step was to heat the oil to a low boil while keeping time with which item needed chopping in what order. He started with the scorpions for the simple convenience of preventing them from crawling away, moving on to frying the bacon and peppers once the creature were fully immobilized. After perhaps an hour had passed, Olas wiped sweat from his brow and finally presented his culinary creation to the childish abomination.
“Wonderful,” She exclaimed, “I was beginning to grow impatient.” She inspected the meal briefly, sniffing the deep fried exterior before nodding approvingly. In one fluid motion, she devoured the fire stuffed cactus in a single jaw detaching bite, belching loudly immediately afterwards.
Abigail raised her arms abruptly, crossing them over into imaginary lines, symbols of chaos and magic. Like the director of a psychotic orchestra in the midst of a lynch mob, she conjured flames and sharpened blades to fulfill her unreal wishes. The kitchen exploded in mad energies around Olas, who fell to the tiled floor in an attempt to avoid the flying hazards that spun wildly through the air. Abigail cackled in her joyous lunacy, turning her attention towards the strange piston device, the very same whose purpose, until now, remained obscured.
“Behold my omnipotence!” She screamed, hands waving in every direction as floating nonsense arranged her prep work.
“Behold my boiler!” The steam gauge assembly groaned as Abigail revved its diesel engine. Pistons blasted heat, compartments and hoppers filled with grains and fruits while tubes pumped miscellaneous fluids past grinding gears and meats that roasted over open flames produced a gyrating prism.
“Behold my flavors!” She demanded, as the finished product was dressed and plated for Olas. It had been a mere twenty seconds since she had started her absurd performance, and the dish served would, under any other circumstance, require a dozen men and at least three months of elaborate planning.
“Frittata?” Olas inquired, hesitant to ingest a single bite after having witnessed the process firsthand. He was fairly certain that ectoplasm may have been used as a dairy substitute.
“Portabella lobster frittata with two ounces of silver-baked caviar, garnished with Phobian whitegrass, seasoned with quadsodiumthantrite and served with a driveling of sauce béchamel, which I altered with addition of basil and ectoplasm as the thickening agent. Also I threw in some leeks just for the hell of it.” Her gaze insisted on her own masterpiece.
Olas took a bite and nearly died of existential ecstasy.
“It’s like there’s a party in mouth and everyone’s a cannibal! This is the greatest thing I have or will ever taste if I live for a hundred billion years!” Olas realized that he was talking instead of eating and almost punched himself for his own stupidity. Abigail waited silently as Olas made alternating sounds of chewing, sobbing, and laughing. A few minutes later, Abigail snapped her fingers, sending the dinning wares off to autonomously cleanse themselves.
“Now that the customary pleasantries have come to pass, we may continue with plans of this fine evening.” The kitchen lights where suddenly darkened, replaced violently with stove flames, throwing shadows across the tiled walls. The mood shifted as abruptly as the lighting. Olas’s face began to crack a look of concern despite the remaining taste in his mouth, but just barely. “You have arrived at a very opportune time young Nicholas. A once in a millennium event actually; The Feast of Beast it is called in your peanut brained language.” She giggled coyly, before noticing the expression of apprehension on Olas’s face.
“Oh don’t give me that look mister. You knew what you were getting yourself into when you opened that dusty old tome. Apocryphal knowledge comes at a price obviously.” A disturbingly wide grin stretched across the little girl’s face. “Plus a twenty percent tip, if you’re classy that is.”
“What does this feast involve?” Asked Olas, quite sure that he wouldn’t enjoy the answer. Abigail maintained her smile.
“Oh, just a bit of garlic, a few chopped carrots, a mortal sacrifice, and a scalloped zucchini or two. You can handle that right?” Olas’s eyes widened, backing away, slowly at first as the image sunk into his mind’s eye, then turning for a run. Before he could even reach the kitchen doors he was caught; ensnared in a roll of cheesecloth in a way befitting Abigail’s arachnidan appearance. He was dragged screaming in fear across the floor back towards the meat locker.
“Stop, please don’t do this!” He cried. “You can take it back, the book. I don’t need it anymore!”
Abigail just laughed in her dueling sinister voice. In her eyes, Olas was nothing more than a slab of meat to be tenderized.
“I will rend your fat human. And it will be delicious.” She stripped Olas of cheesecloth and clothing, throwing him onto a hook as though he were weightless. Olas panted through a clenched jaw as the cold steel pierced his thorax. His breath was dampened by the strain of a collapsed lung.
“Good, very good.” Abigail said, poking at Olas’s abdomen. “Organs fresh as these will cover tonight’s dinner rush.” Olas coughed blood onto her face. She happily licked it from her chin.
“I promise… I promise I won’t cook anymore. For anyone, just let me go.” He begged.
“Ha! I’ll be getting that either way stupid. Now shut up and accept your slaughter little lamb. You’re dying for art. Or gluttony. Whatever.”
Becoming uninterested in the young chef’s pleas, she focused her attention on a rack of utensils.
“Hmm, cleaver…or mallet? Or perhaps something pronged. Serrated? Souffle torch maybe? Rakshasa does enjoy a crispy skin.” She paused a moment in thought. “Ah, of course, the melon baller! How could I forget? Those eyes aren’t going to scoop themselves…and yet…you know what, let’s try them all!” Selecting a different tool for each hand, she returned to face Olas, eager to resume the butchering. Olas knew it was useless to bargain, but tried his best anyway.
“Please, I… I can help you.” He stammered.
“Help me? It took your species two hundred and fifty thousand years just to figure out how to boil water. You’re not even good enough to stir the soup.” A serrated knife embedded itself just below Olas’s diaphragm, twisted, then extracted as quickly as it had entered. Olas’s body convulsed in agony.
“Hey look at that, frittata!” Abigail grabbed a handful of the acid soaked omelet from Olas’s open stomach, shoving it by the fist load into her mouth, unfazed by blood or enzymes.
“Bu… but…” Olas was experiencing such obscene feelings of burning pain that speaking was almost entirely out of the question. No choice but to abandon all hope.
Abigail twirled the melon baller between her fingers.
“Don’t blink now, wouldn’t want those eyelashes getting everywhere.” With a twitch, the blades darted towards Olas’s soft flesh.
“BUT YOU ATE IT!” He screamed as the metal tools approached his face in his final, labored effort to save himself. A knife froze midair, no more than a centimeter from his trachea.
“Y… you ate it. I made it and you swallowed.”
“Yes… and your point is what exactly?”
Olas caught what little breath he could.
“Did you like it?” He managed to ask, after a short respite.
Abigail furrowed her brow.
“Of course I liked it. I would have spat it out if I didn’t. In fact, it was probably the best tequila pepper bomb that I’ve had since Senor Diablo himself graced my kitchen with his cloven pezunas.” She paused once she realized the words she spoke. Olas had managed to prove himself useful, albeit in a small, easily disposable sort of way. She growled in resentment.
“Fine. I’ll grant you a favor. Make it count.”
Olas sighed painfully in relief, and made the obvious request to be returned home, back to a world he could be sure was not part of some elaborate nightmare or metaphysical plane of reality. He expressed his desire, and it was done. Abigail nodded in agreement, set aside the blades and torches, procuring a single onion it their place. She held it up to Olas’s nostrils.
“Peel the onion, and smell the ether. Layer by layer, to taste something deeper.” She chanted as she removed dry skin of pale violet. Olas’s eyes shuddered, his body numbed, and the meat locker faded to black.
Olas awoke in a gasp of terror, still sweating thick rolling beads that soaked his mattress. But it was his mattress, and his bedroom. He blinked once, twice, just be sure that everything was back to the way it should be. He checked his watch, and confirmed the hands by the first rays of dawn that passed through his window. Hardly believing it, Olas took his time standing to his feet, making his way to the bathroom to wash the sweat from his face.
Not knowing what to do after splashing cool water over his head and neck, Olas noticed how the pain in his stomach had been replaced with hunger. He walked to the kitchen.
The sight of cabinets and tile caused his heart to skip a beat, but after a moment of cautious inspection, Olas relaxed. There was no pentagram, or bismuth, or cheesecloth. There was no Novum Saporem: the only book to be found was a tattered copy of Yotam Ottolenghi’s “Plenty”. Nothing supernatural or horrible whatsoever. It was just a kitchen, a simple, familiar kitchen. Olas chuckled to himself in relief. Clearly it was all just a bad dream brought on by spoiled produce, nothing more. He could kick himself for letting it get to him so early in the day. Olas went along and opened his refrigerator to figure out what he should have for breakfast.
At first, Olas was confused. He was certain that he had stocked the shelves of his fridge the previous day, but it was almost entirely empty, save for a single…
His face froze, ice raced through his veins at the sight of a single, half peeled onion. To its side, a small florid note. “Welcome home.” It read. Olas realized his flaw, asking only to be returned back to his apartment, a request fulfilled to the letter. And to add insult to injury, she used the loophole to steal all of his groceries.
He didn’t even have time to scream before the hands grabbed him from behind.
Credit To – Stephan D. Harris