by Stephen McQuiggan
Blake felt the contents of his stomach surge up his gullet in an elevator rush. He covered his mouth with a napkin as he swallowed them back down, wincing at the brackish aftermath. He looked around the table with a furtive, guilty glance but no one seemed to notice.
Sebastian was intent on his plate; his wife Magenta chopping her food into tiny little slivers (her knife clicking against the china like a death clock); their daughter, Cressida, delicately chewing, her eyes closed and her hands clasped as if what she had in her mouth was a divine delicacy and not an abomination.
Blake swallowed hard, took a deep breath, and then forced another forkful into his mouth. His eyes never left Cressida; her red hair and green eyes, her alabaster skin; a Basque flag made flesh. She was the reminder of the prize awaiting him if he could survive this ordeal. He had been pursuing her for months, attending every function and every ball where she could be expected to be found, and his dedication had paid off. He had already a few dates with her under his belt and now, the culmination of his perseverance, an invite to her parents’ house for one of their gourmet nights.
Cressida had banged on about how much of a “foodie” she was from the first time he’d plucked up the courage to speak to her, how her parents were adventurers on a par with Shackleton, and Columbus in the gastro world. So, she liked to eat weird things, Blake had thought, no big deal – one girl’s lunch was another girl’s face pack.”Daddy is something of a wine connoisseur, too,” she boasted. He took that as posh shorthand for boozehound.
Blake, whose palette could barely distinguish the difference between sweet and sour, naturally played himself up as a bon viveur. Now he was regretting his charade and he’d only had the starter. And what a starter it was – his stomach roiled at the thought of what this culinary atrocity might precede.
The evening had started so well; Cressida was wearing the red dress he had told her was his favourite, and the introduction to her parents had been easy and informal. Blake had anticipated the menu might be a test of sorts, but he hadn’t envisioned it as being one for his gag reflex. He had expected caviar, foie gras, some veal perhaps or the shelled ejaculate of oysters, but the opening salvo of the repast had been eggs.
Yet when the servant put the plate down before him the foul-smelling black sewage heaped in its centre bore no resemblance to any egg he had ever encountered before. Whatever laid that, Blake thought, must have curled up and died in a latrine.
“These are Century Eggs,” Sebastian informed him, in the manner of a doctor discussing a procedure he was about to perform, “buried for a hundred days in maggot-infested loam before being dug up and boiled in a virgin’s urine.”
Blake looked to Cressida to verify that her father was joking but she was already tucking in, an altogether more orgasmic expression on her face than he had witnessed on any of the three occasions he had gotten her into bed.
“You’ll find it the perfect precursor to the next entrée,” Magenta cooed, her skeletal neck vibrating with each syllable; for a woman so fond of pontificating on food, she looked as if she dined solely on air. “It has that unique rasp that brings your taste buds up to their optimal level.”
They certainly brought Blake’s gorge up to its optimal level. He swallowed the eggs as quickly as he could and with the minimum of chewing, knowing that to vomit would lose him any chance he had of snaring Cressida for good. As the vile eggs bubbled in his gut he wondered how many other suitors had met their Waterloo at this very table. He took another gulp of water, determined to stay the course.
“A very interesting texture,” he said, rubbing the perspiration from his upper lip, “but utterly delicious nonetheless.”
He was met by a phalanx of patronizing smiles. Cressida, her eyes sparkling like the Moet she sipped, rubbed her bare foot against his ankle underneath the table. Normally Blake would have found this unbearably erotic, but the smear of black yolk on her teeth and the stench of piss on her breath proved to be something of a passion killer.
“I knew you were a force to be reckoned with the moment I saw you,” Sebastian grinned. “I said to Magenta, ‘He’s not one of these lily-livered dilettantes, he’s a man’s man’.” He clapped his hands and the servants appeared to set the table for the next course.
Blake’s fears were in no way eased by the replacing of the cutlery with a wooden mallet, a small silver trident, and a particularly wicked-looking scalpel. Lobster, he reasoned, or crabs; something he could deal with at any rate. His relief was quickly shattered as soon as the dish was laid out before him.
Curled up on a bed of green leaves was what appeared to be, at first glance, some kind of alien phallus. Only on closer inspection could Blake begin to discern facial features.”What … What is this?” he managed to ask, his voice dissolving as rapidly as his backbone.
“A newborn piglet,” Magenta smiled. “Shaved and drugged and served in my own special sauce, the recipe of which I shall take to my grave.”
And mine too, Blake thought. “Drugged?”
“Yes,” Sebastian said, pressing the trident down lightly into the skin of the creature before him. “It’s merely sedated. You’re about to eat the freshest meat you’ve ever tasted – straight from the womb to the plate. The trick is to try and get to the heart before it stops beating. We call this heavenly repast L’Oink – it’s what Cressida named it as a child when what she meant to say was Little Oink.”
“Daddy!” Cressida pouted in mock anger.
“I’m not trying to embarrass you, my dear. Besides, it’s so cute.” In Sebastian’s voice, Blake heard the baying of hounds that perfectly complimented the tercelet tones of his wife.
“You mean it’s … still alive?” Blake didn’t really need confirmation; the piglet’s shallow breath was rippling the surface of the special sauce pooling around its wrinkled snout.”You eat it whilst it’s still alive?”
“Of course,” Sebastian said. “Everything mortal is edible, my boy. Hold back until the wine is poured – a Chateau ’56 is the perfect accompaniment, as I’m sure you’ll find.”
A syringe full of morphine would work just as well, Blake thought, wondering how the hell he was going to get through the next five minutes. Could he secrete the majority of it in his napkin and dispose of it later?
He regarded Cressida, glowing in her home surroundings, so beautiful, the very epitome of desire. Men had done far braver things than this to win a lover’s hand. He would wolf it down, excuse himself after a tolerable interlude, and then vomit the entire atrocity down their gold-handled toilet. Tomorrow he would laugh about the whole affair. The wine was poured and Blake took a swig to steady himself as the servants departed.
“Well, don’t stand on ceremony, people,” Sebastian crowed, proud as Lucifer, “dig in.”
Blake averted his eyes as his prospective father-in-law sliced into the piglet and a gush of blood seeped out over the greens.
“Careful of the spurt,” Magenta chided her husband.
Blake sampled the sauce first – an acrid puddle of harsh-smelling gloop that tasted like vinegary bird shit and brought tears to his eyes. He surreptitiously rubbed some under his nose, hoping to mask the flavour, as he sank his scalpel into the little pig and cut off a large chunk. He thought he heard a faint cry, but he couldn’t be sure if it emanated from his plate or from himself.
As he chewed he watched Cressida, never taking his eyes from her. The fouler the medicine, his mum used to say, the better it is for you. What are a few mouthfuls of offal, he reminded himself, compared to a lifetime with her? Blake was sure his future with her would be rosy. He was equally sure it would also be vegan.
Yet as he stared at Cressida her beauty faded. Perhaps it was how the veiny meat in his mouth seemed to complement her allure, or perhaps it was just the way she sucked up an errant intestine like it was wayward spaghetti, but her mien took on a sinister aspect. How could anyone revel in such cruelty, Blake wondered as he kept on mechanically moving his jaws, and not be tainted by it?
And if her tastes stretched to such wanton wickedness in dining, what depths would they descend to in other matters? He suddenly realized he had no idea of her politics, her ethics, her worldview – his entire concept of her was formulated around the swell of her breasts and the flow of her hair.
He watched as she lifted the mallet and cracked open the piglet’s skull, diving in for its brain like a magpie after a nut. Blake pushed his dish aside, pleased to see that the blood hid whatever remained – was he supposed to drink that, too? Nothing was beyond these people. He gave a sigh of relief when a servant swooped in and removed it, leaving some wet wipes and a warm towel in its place.
“So, my boy,” Sebastian said, as if in the throes of a post-coital stupor, “what did you make of L’Oink, eh?”
“Capital, Sir, just capital.”
Blake wiped the blood from his mouth and stifled a foul burp that threatened to turn him inside out. The worst was over and he had survived. Only dessert remained, and no matter what that turned out to be – vomit fruit or rancid milk pudding – it was still only fruit and dairy. He would eat whatever concoction they threw at him with a smile on his face.
Magenta let out a nervous little laugh and gave a girlish shiver of the shoulders as the table was cleared once more. “I’m sorry, Dear,” she said, as her husband patted her hand, “it’s just that I’m so excited.”
“Mummy has been looking forward to this for so long,” Cressida beamed at Blake, as the servants laid out fresh mallets and saws. Please tell me they’re for coconuts, Blake wanted to protest, but the words were trampled down by his triphammer heart.
“Aren’t we having pudding?” he managed.
“Cressida warned us you had a sweet tooth,” Sebastian said, “but we have one more course before we wheel out the caramelized testicles. A very special course indeed.”
Magenta let out that shrill little laugh once more, and the lights began to dim. In a few seconds, all Blake could discern were vague shadows seated around him, illuminated slightly by a candelabra burning on the great marble fireplace at the far side of the room.
“Forgive us our silly rituals,” Sebastian explained, his voice seeming to hover disembodied in the murk over the table. Blake suddenly felt he was at a séance rather than a dinner party. “We find that tradition adds to the flavour.”
“And there’s no harm in being superstitious,” Cressida added, “just in case.”
Laughter broke out around him, fading in and out like someone testing the stereo levels on their speakers.
“What we are about to partake of is one of the great delicacies of the world,” Sebastian began. “A meal so rich, so hedonistic, and decadent that the puritans of our species deemed it taboo; a veritable sin no less. So we are compelled to consume it in darkness so that God may not see our transgression and be filled with wrath.”
He clapped his hands and the servants entered, bearing a large silver salver that caught the candlelight and winked knowingly.
“Though if you ask me,” Sebastian smiled, “I truly believe we eat it in the dark so that the good Lord will not be envious. It’s such a rare delight it would be a shame to share it with any mere deity, no matter how all-powerful He claims to be.”
“You are incorrigible, Daddy,” Cressida exclaimed, as the salver took pride of place in the centre of the table. To Blake’s ears, she sounded like a six-year-old.
“Technically, what you are about to eat is illegal,” Magenta confided. “We had to go through a lot of channels to have this brought here tonight … We can trust in your silence, can’t we, Blake?” She regarded him with a clinical eye, filing his reaction; to her people came in types, just like diabetes.
Blake nodded unseen in the gloom. He squinted at the hooded salver, hypnotized by its intricate gleam, transfixed by the thought of what horror it might contain. Around him, the shadows, gargoyle silhouettes on the edge of his vision, lifted their mallets in anticipation. A servant removed the sparkling lid with a flourish that sent a soft breeze of wax-scented air to ruffle his napkin.
Blake leaned forward, his fingers digging into the polished wood. He could make out a small figure on a bed of garnish – a small round head, two thin arms with delicate hands and fingers, two bowed legs.
It couldn’t be, they wouldn’t dare…
His mind sped down a luge of denials but could find no purchase. As his vision grew accustomed to the murk he could discern two eyes, the imperceptible rise and fall of the chest, and a tiny mouth frozen in a rictus grin. No one would be that wicked, he thought, but then snippets of the evening’s small talk, replayed with mocking clarity, came back to him.
All things mortal are edible, he heard Sebastian smugly state; from the womb to the plate. And Magenta’s wheedling, What you are about to eat is illegal…we can trust in your silence, can’t we Blake?
No wonder the lights were dimmed – the lights in their very souls (if they possessed any) must be fused beyond the fixing. They were about to culminate their Satanic supper with the greatest abomination of all. They were preparing to feast on a child, on a live baby.
The disgust that ran through him manifested itself as a sudden desire to puke. He threw back his chair loud enough to wake the small, drugged figure from its stupor. His dinner companions still had their hammers raised; the candlelight flickering across expensive bridgework gave them the appearance of slavering wolves.
Fear flooded Blake – if they were capable of this there was no telling what those gourmet ghouls might stoop to. He fled, the last remnants of his bravery urging him to fire a parting shot, “You’re sick, you’re fucking sick the lot of you,” but it bottlenecked in his pinhole throat with only the words “Sick, sick’” escaping.
“Hurry man, hurry,” Sebastian said, his voice full of concern, “the bathroom is three doors on the left.”
Blake shot out of the dining room, barrelling past the servant who guarded the hallway and knocking him to the parquet floor, and out into the looping gravel drive and the cleansing chill night air. He ran so fast he thought he might never be able to stop.
The servant entered the dining room after dusting himself down and straightening his uniform. “I regret to inform you, Lord Cranshaw, that your guest has left in something of a hurry. He ran down the avenue in some distress, not even waiting for Simpson to bring his car around.”
Sebastian nodded gravely and dismissed the lackey with a flick of his fingers. “Another delicate flower, Cressida,” he said. “I’m sorry, my dear, I know you harboured such high hopes for him.”
Cressida gave her father a brave little smile as her mother reached out to massage her shoulder.
“Chin up, my girl,” Sebastian said, hefting his mallet once more.”There’ll always be suitors for one as pretty as you.”
“You’re forgetting something else,” Magenta piped in, licking her lips as her husband brought the mallet down hard to crack the monkey’s skull in two and let its brains seep out onto a bed of rocket. “It leaves all the more for us.”
Stephen McQuiggan was the original author of the bible; he vowed never to write again after the publishers removed the dinosaurs and the spectacular alien abduction ending from the final edit. His other, lesser-known, novels are A Pig’s View Of Heaven and Trip A Dwarf.