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Messy Kitchen by Ray Printer Friendly

Messy? Sure it is. You don't get into this business if you're scared of messy, though. Dangerous? More than a little.

But fuck it, ya know? There's dangerous everywhere, you live your life trying to hide from danger, you end up with a pretty fuckin wasted life, and you still die.

Does it get the bitches? Oh, it gets the bitches. They want to hate you, especially since that Meyer dildo wrote her bullshit and brainwashed them into lovesick morons. They want to hate you, they want to call you vile and horrible, and whatever. Maybe they're right.

But you play your cards right, they're droppin their panties as they tell you what an abomination you are, they're callin you a monster with a mouth full of your cock.

What do I do? I'm a chef.

Yeah, that kind of chef.

If I told you my name, you'd know it. I'm not the best in the world, but I'm in the top three. What most people don't know is that there's a lot more to the gig than simply cooking. The meat doesn't last long--you've heard the jokes, most of them recycled Chinese-food jokes, about how half an hour later, you're hungry again--so you have to serve it fresh.

Let me tell you a little about how it works: the collection, that's the easy part. Any inbred with an airtight box and some upper body strength can be a collector. Sure, it's scary going down into the pits, or into the basements, wherever the suckers are sleeping.

But that's the deal, man--they're sleeping. That's what they do when the sun's up. That's what they have to do, they can't help it. You can push a stake through their chest an inch at a time, they'll sleep right until it reaches their heart and kills them. Grab one, throw it into a box, whatever. Collecting's easy.

Sure, sometimes they have their protectors. Familiars, whatever you wanna call it. Some scrawny goth-lookin motherfucker, or a pile of hungry dogs. You know when that kind of shit was scary? Before Tasers, before pepper spray.

You walk in, you spray or zap anything that moves, you grab whatever doesn't. Don't give me any shit about it, all right? I did that for years, until I realized that there was no glory in it.

So I decided to go to culinary school. I walked in my first day, this big, bad, hillbilly sumbitch, I looked ridiculous in my whites, I knew it, and you know what? I didn't give a tinker's damn. Because all these skinny little dudes, they ain't gonna last a second, not in the kitchens I'm aimin for. Even the big dudes, they're fat, they get out of breath tryin to grab a spatula, there's no way they can hang in the big leagues.

I learned what I hadda learn: cookin ain't hard, once you understand what people want shit to taste like. They said that taste is something that can't be taught, but while they said that, they seemed to teach me just fine.

I wasn't anything special, not that first semester. Sure, I could do things in the kitchen that would leave your average Joe scratching his head, but so could everyone. I guess there were a couple of classmates who couldn't handle their shit, but I chalk that more up to them being brain-dead shitbirds than any real skill in the rest of us.

Then it was time to figure out where to go next. I was the only one who checked that last little box, the small one in the bottom right of the page. That afternoon, a guy in a serious suit came and asked if he could talk to me in his office. I followed him down the hall, and into his office, and when he spun and tried to jam the knife into my chest, I broke his arm in three places and tossed him across the room.

He was nobody, a messenger. The real guy, he was sitting behind the desk, waiting. Smiling.

"Very good. Arthur is usually fast enough to at least give the applicant a flesh wound."

I couldn't think of nothin to say, so I just stood there. My heart was beating hard, and it felt good. This was what had been missing in my life. I fought back a smile and stared at the man behind the desk.

"You realize that it's an art, don't you? All this nonsense-" he waved his hand around to indicate...well, the whole school, I guess. "All this is a joke. Anyone can do what you've done so far. It takes true skill to prepare vampire meat. It makes fugu look like a pack of gum. And even if you are able to learn to prepare it, you'll still die. Is that what you want, to die in a kitchen?"

I waited long enough to make sure it wasn't a rhetorical question, and then I said, "As long as I get to do some pretty fancy livin before that, sure."

When vampires were discovered, it was a pretty big deal. You know the story, obviously, but for those who have been living under a rock: some yokel found a hive of vampires, got it on the internet, then the national news. While the left-wings sat around discussing how we should protect the species, and the right-wings talked about how this was an abomination to God, and while politicians sat around discussing what laws applied, the vampires decided to play it safe. They went into overdrive, multiplying their numbers night after night after night, making an army. Draft of the Damned, the media called it.

You can sit on your ass discussing rights and laws and God and all that shit, but when you suddenly realize that your entire species is about to be wiped out, you hop up pretty quick. Nobody gave a shit about the vampires anymore, not about the conditions of living, or the way they would change property rights or how they would affect Sunday School. What people cared about was getting these things under control. These monsters. These creatures. These beasts.

And just like that, they were no longer people. They were animals.

And animals are okay to eat.

God bless the too-rich, that's what I say. They always gotta push the limits.

_______________

I don't like the new guy. Too twitchy, too jumpy. Fine if you need someone to count back your change, but not the kind of guy you want to trust in a life-or-death situation.

He got approved, though, which means he should be good to go at this gig. It's damn near impossible to make it to apprentice--believe me, I know--and once you do, your only concern is staying alive long enough to become master chef. And this place, it doesn't hire light-weights. It has a reputation for being one of the best in the world--hell, you can even taste the garlic in the meat, which is damn-near impossible--so if this kid made the cut, he's obviously got the talent.

He hasn't done anything to screw stuff up--in the two weeks he's been here, he's done everything fine. He's just a little too high-strung for me, I guess. There are guys like that. Tryin to prove something, maybe, which is the wrong reason to get into this business. You either do this for fun, or you die early.

It's not a job, really--it's a way to die. Just like life--the point is to squeeze in as much living before the end catches up with you.

This kid, he don't get that. He acts more like a soldier.

Saturday night, our busiest, even though the owner swears he doesn't over-book on the weekends. Fuckin dude's a liar, but I can barely blame him. You have the chance to pull this money train into the station twice as much on the weekends, you better jump on it.

We keep 'em in the freezer. I don't think the cold bothers them in the slightest, but the walls are all crazy strong steel, and soundproof, so you don't have to worry about listening to them shriek during your entire shift. There's a bank of stainless steel doors along the west wall, and these doors lead to rooms that are empty, except for a transport box.

How it works is, you have this store room full of boxes that the collectors brought. Coffins, we call em, but they aren't your typical coffin. Solid steel, they weigh a little over a ton. You take one into the freezer, you lock the door real good, and then you pop the coffin lock with a remote. They come out ragin', man. Just fuckin fangs and claws and death.

For a while, they tried a system where the chef tried to grab the beast as soon as the collection box was open--no freezer, just straight outta the coffin. But the things come outta there so fast, they kept winning, just rippin the absolute shit out of the chefs.

You give 'em a room, though, they shoot out of the collection box, they don't know what's where. They'll try to bite a metal wall for a moment, they don't care, they just wanna kill somethin. Anything.

You get about half a second to stake 'em. After that, they're oriented, and that's when you're pretty much fucked. If you miss your window, if you don't open the door fast enough, you know it. You don't even open the freezer door, then--just clamp a lock on it, flick the switch that turns on the red warning light, and leave the bastard in there till morning. Then someone goes in and throws the vampire back into the coffin and it gets served up the next night.

So you grab a box from the store room, dump it into the freezer, and then you pop the lock at the same time that you rush in.

This is where the art comes into play. You have a split second to drive the stake through the heart. After that, you get about two seconds to cut the heart out. You've seen it on the news, where the body bursts into flames or explodes or whatever.

What that is, is it's the heart flooding the body with some sort of chemical. Whatever keeps them alive, whatever keeps them needing blood, it turns into a body-wide self-destruct button once the heart goes.

So you get the heart out fast enough, you can preserve the meat. Not for long. But you don't have to drain it like you would with other game, either. The meat's already dry and tender, aged. You just carve it, season it, cook it, and serve it.

"On three," I tell him. Like I said, you get less than a second to make your move. The light blinds them for a moment, but they're already moving. They don't care, they'll attack whatever. The fuckin claw marks on the walls of the freezer, they'll freak your shit out if you look at 'em too long, I don't care who you are. Because they remind you that you aren't dealing with a human being, even a feral human being. You're dealing with something that was made to eat you.

A bobcat can eat mice or rabbit or deer. A rabbit can eat grass or lettuce or carrots. But a vampire? All a vampire can eat is a human. Thinking about that kind of thing can trip your shit pretty hard, if you let it.

"One," I do the mental check in my head, just like I do every time. Stake in the right hand, carving knife on my belt. Lots'a guys, they wear gloves and protective gear or whatever--shit that's supposed to keep them from getting their fangs in you if you fuck up. I don't do that. They don't need to get their fangs in you--they can just rip off your arms and drink from the spewing hole.

The safety gear, it just slows you down.

"Two," I say. And then I hear it. It's quiet, but it's a noise I hear in my sleep. In my nightmares. It's the sound of the remote button being pushed. Pushed too early. The kid jumped the gun.

I don't wait for three. I rip the door open and plow in, hoping that my reflexes were fast enough.

The thing's already attacking, just to its left. We never point the box at the door--that would be suicide. But aside from that direction, we change it up. Sometimes towards the west wall, sometimes towards the south. Sometimes towards the back wall. They never know which way they're gonna be facing when the lid pops.

It almost catches me with a claw, it's so fucking fast. I plant the stake into its chest, and even as the wood plunges through flesh, I know I've missed the heart.

Fuck.

The fingers around my neck almost send me into a panic. They're wrong, man, not alive, but not dead. Just wrong. It's like being submerged in crawly insects, or sticking your head in a shark's mouth. Just the feel is against every self-preservation instinct.

But it hasn't killed me yet. It's not completely feral like most of them when they come out of the box, and that's the only reason I'm alive.

It smiles at me and begins squeezing my throat. I feel my spine bending beneath its fingers. I jerk the stake out of its chest and try again. Before I can make another stab, I'm hurled out of the freezer and across the kitchen. I hit a giant pot of boiling water, and I feel my sleeve catch on fire, and I smile.

The thing's on me, then, faster than I can think, its hand back on my neck, the fingers unnaturally long, wrapping around the entire circumference. Its face is next to mine, I feel the hot, dead breath against the side of my throat.

"Stupid human. You'll become one of us now, and we will make you pay for your actions until eternity ends."

The knife, the one I was gonna use to carve the meat, I pull it out of its sheath. I reach out and cut a quarter-inch piece of twine, and me and the vampire, we're suddenly covered in about fifty pounds of garlic.

We hang the mesh bags up over in this corner for storage. You gotta have your garlic as a broth, that's the secret.

You try to dump raw garlic on vampire meat, the meat just burns and dissolves. Even garlic salt don't work. So you make it a broth, you cut the cloves into thin slices, so thin they're practically transparent, and then you drop the slices into a giant pot of boiling water, and you add other shit until you have a tasty broth.

That's what a lot of people don't know.

But that wasn't the point, not right then. You keep the bags of garlic hanging up over in that station, because some poor fuck, that's all he's got goin' on for the night, is pullin down a garlic, slicin it up, and droppin it into the water. After a certain number, he moves the pot to the main cooking area, grabs a new pot of water, then starts all over again.

It sucks, let me tell ya. I served my time.

The garlic sacks are lifted up with a rudimentary pulley system in our kitchen--my idea, by the way--so when I cut the twine, I knew the garlic would cover us.

And garlic is no good for vampire flesh.

It shrieks, and I grab a few cloves of falling garlic and cram them right in the motherfucker's mouth. Within seconds, it's a pile of burned ashes on the floor.

My blood's pumping, I gotta admit. Fuck. I mean...fuck. Been a long time since my adrenaline's been that stoked. If you would'a told me three years ago that this kinda cooking would ever become routine, I would have laughed in your face.

It has, a little, though. But tonight has broken that, given me a taste for life once again.

"I'm so sorry, sir! So sorry!"

I take off my chef jacket and drop it onto the floor, stomp out the flames. "No sweat, kid. Mistakes happen. That's why you start as an apprentice."

"I just...I fucked up, I know that, I feel so bad about it. That's not like me."

"Don't sweat it, like I said. I gotta take the remote away from you for the night and write you up--establishment rules"

"Of course." As scared as he is, he still looks relieved. He hands over the remote.

"And we still can't afford to be late on the order. What freezers are still loaded?"

"Holy shit! You're still gonna cook?"

"That's how this world rolls, kid."

"Oh. Um, yeah. Twelve, eight, and three are still loaded."

We're walking by freezer eight. I stop and open the door, peering in at the locked coffin inside. "Hunh," I say.

"What?"

"I think maybe this wasn't your fault, kid. These boxes, they haven't been properly maintained."

"What?"

"Look at the hinges on that box."

He steps forward to examine the hinges. I step out of the freezer, slam the door shut, and pop the box.

Even though it's sound-proof, it still seems like I can hear him scream.

I wash myself off using the dishwasher sprayer, and then employ one of the other guys to come help with the remote.

When the boss inquires about the new kid, I motion to freezer eight. "Accident."

He shrugs. That's how it goes. Accidents happen all the time, right?

Except that they don't. For the kid to get where he was, he had to be beyond accidents. This is a highly-skilled job. It's also highly coveted. The kid, he wanted too much too fast. Thought he could off me and blame it on stupidity. But you don't get this far being stupid. He should'a known that.

It can take years to get to the position of master chef. Unless maybe one night, one Saturday night, when everything's over-booked, anyway. And maybe your head chef gets careless, or something goes wrong, and suddenly you need someone to fill in.

So you grab the apprentice. In theory, they're able to do all of the work, but that doesn't mean they wouldn't have had years and years of bullshit to work through before the opportunity arose. But in an emergency, you'll use whoever, right?

I take a couple minutes to go out back and smoke a cigarette, to calm down just enough, and then I go back in and triple wash my hands so none of the smoke gets into the meat.

"All right," I tell the fill-in. "On three."

I count down, and wait to see if it's my time to die.


Comments:
Entered By Anonymous From Unknown
2010-10-22 18:43:48

This is great -- good writing, good characterization of the main guy, and a really fun concept/background. I think it would be even better if you fleshed it out -- more on the background, more room for the character to develop and flex its uniqueness, etc. This really should be serialized into a visual creation -- a graphic novel, an animated series, or a screen play. Humans eating vampires -- it is familiar and new at the same time.



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