Hello readers. Anything I could say about this one would either ruin it or give it away.
He knew the consequences would be dire. But she was there. She with the floral sarong exposing perfect ankles above yellow flip-flops. She with the white cotton top that—in the proper light—revealed more than she probably meant to. She had her hair pulled back in a scrunchy that allowed it to bob and sway with every movement of her head. The smile on her face seemed to say it all.
He had noticed her earlier in the week at the snorkeling excursion and she was alone. Well, that wasn’t entirely true. The older woman must have been her mother. Mother and daughter on vacation; how…convenient. Convenient for him; the bachelor—visiting the island with two tickets, one unused. She was eye candy then, a few patches and some string. Returning to the boat, he waited in the water and watched her climb the ladder; not like a painter preparing and positioning, but deftly like an aerialist ascending to death defying heights. The brief look she gave him on the way back was filled with invitation.
A day after the snorkeling gig, he saw her up on deck. She was on a lounger, asleep and sunning next to mom who was reading. It was a different bathing suit she wore but he could still see the small star tattoo peeking from the waistband. A plan of introduction came to mind.
He picked a lounger-vantage-point, opened a book and promptly fell asleep reading a Patterson novel. His thumb was still in page five when the six-year-old with the foot-tall plastic dinosaur rawred him awake. It was three hours later. He had a painfully blotchy sunburn and the mother-daughter team was gone.
“Oh God, stop, please.”
The last stop of the cruise afforded him another opportunity. The quaint little seaside village was holding a chili cook-off. White cloths adorned tables along each side of the main street, and many had large umbrellas shading them. Visitors were encouraged to vote for their favorite and every table had free samples.
He stopped at one table with a sign claiming their chili was the hottest, made with something called the bhut jolokia. The girl seemed attracted to what he might be interested in, which made him all the more fascinated. Her mother was more concerned in window shopping; quite the inveterate tourist.
The display he and the girl were at included bowls filled with peppers, some green but most a rich red. All were the size of a thumb. A twin-burner stove was set up behind everything and the man stirring the pots was wearing a gas mask.
He questioned the mask and was told that it was necessary when downwind of the culinary concoction. The man lifted his mask and said, “It burns.” The woman—as a distraction—pointed to a placard on the table, smiling jovially.
Our hottest chili is
only for the brave.
One bowl for $5 US
Free if you finish it in fifteen minutes.
She was standing close and he looked at her. She had a spoonful, savored it, nodded in apparent delight while tossing the plastic spoon into the trash. He thought he saw some distortion in the spoon’s shape as it arced into the recepticle.
He made eye contact with the woman behind the table, pointed alternately between the sign and the bowl. At her raised eyebrows, he held a single digit in the air and smiled. She filled a bowl for him. It was an ornate ceramic homespun thing that looked able to hold a half gallon of liquid.
The girl stood closer and he was enamored. He knew the consequences would be dire, but he focused on his delusion of defeat with her at his side. Shoulders back, chest inflated; he began to eat. Nodding after the first spoonful seemed appropriate. He shoveled the second in energetically. By the third, he knew there would be problems.
A bit of escaping air and “ahhhHHH, Jeezusss.”
The inner surface of his mouth felt coated with something caustic and numbing, shards of glass shredded his throat. His scalp and face glistened in a cold sweat—beads running rivulets, and his sinuses ran uncontrollably. In spite of all the problematic signs he forged ahead, shoveling it in quickly before it could warn him further and before he could change his mind.
A sidelong view of the girl—who only moments before was full of support—showed him a person who was mostly concerned. In fact, she looked terrified as she took a step back. He kept wolfing the chili down, barely chewing. His stomach began its own revolt. It was as if he had swallowed a hand which was gathering up the lining of his stomach like so much curtain; clutching it in preparation to tear it from a window.
Something finally passes, carrying those shards of glass with it. “Arrrggh, ghhho.”
He finishes and there is applause, even from the girl. Holding bowl and spoon in the air as the proud victor his delusion appears complete. The act stretches his abdomen in a painful way and he passes out.
Waking several hours later in a fairly clean white room, he has a view of his ship leaving the little seaside village.
Without the girl.
His innards gurgled and churned and his own southern port signaled readiness to debark its passengers—as a fire drill.
He ran, directionless. That he found any porcelain was certainly a miracle.
A sudden rush of lumpy liquid splunges forcefully.
Let me know what your thinking now that you’ve read it. I have a fairly strong backbone and can handle even the most curt responses. I won’t hunt you down, honest.
Next week, I have something more allegorical in mind. The fermenting process should be complete by then.