I’ve always been a fan of comic books. In high school; X-men, Spider-man and Conan the Barbarian were some of my favorites. It’s safe to say, Marvel super heroes, helped shape my love for science fiction and fantasy books. Books feed my imagination; they were a doorway to escape through, as soothing as a glass of fresh lemonade on a hot July afternoon. The act of reading is passive, quiet and deeply personal.
It’s the antithesis of working in a kitchen. In my apartment, one of my favorite places for reading is the bathroom. It’s a sanctuary compared to the noise and constant communication required to function effectively in a busy restaurant. So after a hard nights work, in my bathroom I’ll sit – my sanctuary – with a good book perched on my knees and no sense of urgency.
My moment of meditative reverie is snatched away as the elevator doors slowly ping open and I walk past the dish pit and into the main kitchen. The extremely bright twelve foot fluorescent lights, paint the space in an artificial sunlight, that brightens my chef whites but not my thoughts. The am shift is on their way out; nine pans filled with an assortment of mise en place lay on the stainless steel counter-top. There is an economy of movement as cooks cover each one with a thin film of plastic wrap, label and date, slot them into a hotel pan and place them onto a speed rack. Their day is done, and the pm crew barely speaks to them – a nod in greeting, a word or two – it’s our turn now.
There’s an eight hour stretch ahead of us and we use the down time, to gather around the expeditors table, for a quick meeting with the pm sous chef.In kitchen speak its called “line-up,” and it’s a daily meeting where the sous chef brings the crew up to date on reservations for the evening as well as other pertinent bits of information. It can be as short as five minutes or last as long as thirty, depending on the topics discussed.
Tonight, ten people will be enjoying a chefs tasting menu in the kitchen and he focuses most of the meeting on explaining the components of each dish and clarifying any questions the cooks may have.Our tasting menu comprises of seven small intricately constructed dishes, no more than five bites, each with its own wine pairing. garde manger gets the first course, sauté gets the next two, grill picks up three and four then back to garde manger for the cheese course and finally over to pastry for dessert.
We’re all busy scribbling notes on our copies of the menu; time is precious, better to get it right the first time. As the meeting continues my eyes drift to the clock on the wall. There is a palpable sense of tension as fingers start to twiddle and the clock ticks past 3:30pm. This is go time!
Sensing the mood swing, the sous chef brings the meeting to an end and heads to the office to finish paperwork. We all scatter into the coolers to our pm speed racks and update our prep lists for service. It’s a race against the clock, pure and simple. Dinner starts at 6pm, that’s the cutoff point, it’s a lot to do in a short period of time; for the next 2 ½ hours time is my enemy.The pressure is physical, it’s mental, to succeed I have to move in a blur.
I’m not polite. I push past other cooks, I’ve stopped smiling, and I’m already running through my mental checklist of things I need to accomplish.
Adrenaline, fear, and exhilaration, courses through my veins as I blend, dice, chop and assemble my mise en place for service. Time, measured in hours is whittled down to minutes, but tonight, I’m in a good place, all the pieces have come together and I stand still for a moment, to breathe.
Better to not dwell on the past. Its 6 am, and the alarm shatters the quiet with an ear splitting beep that pulses louder in intensity and jolts Cede awake. Sleepily he gropes for the snooze button, but changes his mind and stumbles out of bed. Yawning, he pushes his door open and shuffles down the hallway towards the bathroom. In the kitchen, the coffee machine begins to gurgle as Cede steps into the tiny shower and turns on the water faucet. Lathering himself with soap, he watches indifferently as rivulets of soap run down his chest to collect in little puddles at his feet. The water is tepid and smells slightly of sulfur but Cede has grown accustomed to the odor.
It’s a part of this old Victorian house, the corroded iron pipes, the pine flooring, the narrow windows with their gingerbread fretwork. The few beams of sunlight brave enough to make it through, barely make a dent in the perpetual gloom. Humming, he continues to scrub his back with a rag. He turns the faucet off, grabs a threadbare towel and begins to dry his scrawny frame. Cede needed his morning coffee. Moving barefoot around the kitchen, he reached up to the top shelf of the pantry searching with his fingers until they brushed against his mom’s favorite instant oatmeal. Each morning like clockwork, Cede would make a bowl of Uncle Roy’s blueberry oatmeal, butter two pieces of toast and pour a glass of orange juice. Then he would climb the stairway and leave the tray outside her door.
“Whittlesnap”, Cede muttered as he brushed away the cobwebs that clung to his shirt. He hated going up those stairs, spiders had made this stairwell their home and despite his determined swipes with a broom and a tin or two of insect spray from the hardware store, he could not get rid of them. It seemed as if they had infested the wood and were watching and waiting for him to leave – intruder. He remembered dreaming that the webs were actually strands of his mothers’ hair outgrowing her room and creeping down the stairway.
He chuckled out loud, “I’m just being foolish.” Pitching his voice to carry through the door, “Mom I made your breakfast, be back in an hour, do you want anything while I’m out.” He paused expectantly, hoping for an answer. As usual the silence was oppressive; he could feel the menace emanating through the door, even the spiders dared come no further than the top of the stairway. Stepping backwards and turning around, he spoke over his shoulder, “bye mom, I’ll be back for the tray in an hour”. Cedes’ arms were covered with goose bumps and he was eager to get out of the house.
Cede turns to the left and sets off down the sidewalk. He was a creature of habit, and as he passes the house next to his, he looks up at the right window on the second floor. Charlie Parker used to live here, his father was a railroad engineer, and his mother worked at the local grocery store. Charlie Palmer had been his best friend, a tad bit taller than Cede, with close cropped blond hair, nervous blue eyes and freckles that seemed to smile whenever he laughed too hard. Now the house was falling to ruin, the paint peeling and flaking like dandruff after a haircut.
Looking around, Cede felt the fingers of buried memories, brush the back of his neck. Shuddering, he continued down the empty street. He was glad Eve’s creeper vines covered everything; the streets were deserted as they had been for the past three years. Cars lined the middle of the street, there was Mrs. Allens blue chevy and the one behind it a Toyota corolla that was the pride and joy of Jessica Beelen. Cede had nurtured a secret crush on Jessica all through middle school, now her corpse was twisted by the pulsing roots and fluorescent green leaves milking her essence. Delicately, Cede ran his fingers over the bright purple blossoms covering her car. His fingernails were as coarse as charcoal as the spoor worked its way under his skin and into his bloodstream. “Eve 409” reacted with pleasure to his touch, crawling closer, as the deadly orange blooms, sent puffs of black spoor twirling around his hands and arms. His veins stood out against his pale skin, over time they had become greener and more luminescent, until they glowed just like the plants he loved so much. Eve was death to humans, but she needed a living host to survive past incubation. He was the chosen one.
As far as Cede knew, Charlie Parker and his family had made it out alive, but he had seen Charlie’s father vomiting before climbing into the Land Rover jeep. Mrs. Parkers face was covered in sores, he knew she would be dead soon. Five miles outside of Morlock, her husband collapsed around the steering wheel. Charlie Parker was the last one to die, he was fortunate that the crash had rendered him unconscious. He never heard the sounds of his dad, wheezing as he gasped for breath. He was oblivious to his mom’s crying, before she joined her husband in the last spasms of death, hands beating against the windows like battered chickens.
Charlie’s last clear thought, was the sight of Cede pulling at the vines wrapped around the plastic bucket and the funny noise they made, as if they were being hurt. He had seen Cede’s fingertips as he tried to wash them in the drain. They had been stained black and the inky sap had spread further and further up his hand as he tried to wash them. Then, Charlie felt bile rise up his throat; he fought to breathe but the fight had already left him.
Cede could guess at the cause of his mother’s insanity. The sight of her husband’s shrunken corpse sitting in his armchair, or the sight of Cede staring at his dead papa with smug satisfaction. She had gone to her room and not come out since. But Cede was getting tired of waiting. The voices were sending him on a journey, he needed to leave. For the past three years, he had been brushing a light fingertip across her food. Each day he would check to see if the food would stay uneaten. Whistling to himself Cede headed home. Whistling to himself Cede headed home. Maybe this evening I’ll double the dose; he smiled at the thought, as he saw the vines covering his house sway in greeting.
“And what if nature chose you to lead the attack?” Cede the Demon
With all the panic and worry about whose home, might be the next to go, the suicide rate jumped from zero to three in the first month. The local pharmacist Jim Belandy used his Ruger model 44 carbine to blow his brains out in the back his store, what with his wife and six kids to feed. The next day, his wife Molly, climbed over a concrete road divider and stepped in front of a semi-tractor trailer. As for the six kids, the county welfare agency bundled them up in the back of a Ford Explorer and no one has seen them since. The townsfolk in Morlock were accustomed to hardship; Reverend Judas knew this, he had lived here all his life. And as he preached in front of a packed congregation in the stifling July heat, he ended his Sunday sermon with the words, “living is as natural as dying, it is not for us to question the when or why.” His message was well received by Morlocks’ citizens and for the rest of that week, there was a sense of calm and hope as people went about their daily business.
But then, the rats began to die. Lester, the town drunk claimed “they jus climbing out the drains, frittering and shaking, running all crazy like.” By noon that day, cars going up and down the streets of Morlock , had pulverized the rotting flesh into a dark red stain of rodent hair and bones. The stench was so strong; the mayor was forced to call a town hall meeting that night to quell the growing fear of its citizens. Lester swore they were killed by evil, but no one took him seriously, until he stumbled into the Dancing Nail, frothing from the mouth, covered in canker sores, and keeled over dead.
Cede had wanted his mom and dad to leave too, but his mother broke down and confessed while he was helping her clear the dinner table – she had lost her lifesavings and her job as a ticket agent at the rail yard. His mother was a strong woman, but for the first time in his life, he saw tears run down her face. He hated her, his father didn’t work, he collected a pension and his mom was penniless. Whittle snap!
They were stuck in this dreary town forever, burying his anger; he finished clearing the table and started washing the dishes. Ever since his little encounter, soda had become his beverage of choice. His mom swore, “Cede you’ll be as fat as your father if you continue sucking down all that sugar.” Well who’s laughing now? Somewhere deep inside Cede had wanted this to happen. Maybe he was tired of his dad, beating on his mom and wanted to make it stop. Maybe if he stopped hitting her, he would stop hitting him too?
His mom had been in the kitchen when Cede had come home from the rail yard. He could still hear his father shouting “Cede bring my dinner and a glass of water, and tell your mother to put my boots upstairs in the closet. Cede! Did you hear me?” Without thought, he had taken a glass from the dish tray by the sink and poured water in it, and then brought it to his dad; along with dinner. He felt no sorrow when his father became ill. In fact, Cede had personally given him the glass of water that started it all. He had swirled his finger in the glass and watched the spoors gyrations until they dissolved in the liquid. He almost imagined, they winked at him before disappearing.
His reaction after drinking that glass was more pronounced than the other residents of Morlock. Such a large concentration of spoor collapsed his internal organs, causing him to gasp for air and clutch the sofa as his tongue lungs became purple and swollen. Lesions began to grow and boil all over his body. His bloated stomach stretched and tore the buttons of his corduroy shirt. Cede stood and watched. It took a good fifteen minutes for him to die as the spoor coursed through his veins. His mom had walked from the kitchen into the living room just as her husband’s body was beginning to stiffen from rigor mortis.