It’s strange the places where you can find inspiration for stories. When I sat down tonight to write this week’s flash fiction, I had no idea of what I was going to write. I had no story, no idea, not even a spark. But I did have the TV on in the background for noise while J caught up with an old friend on the phone. The show that was playing inspired the story, though I may have taken one or two creative liberties. I hope you enjoy it.
Grahl tapped a button at his temple to retract his visor, and then he immediately regretted the decision. The harsh yellow sunlight burned his eyes, even through his nictitating membranes. His agent was right; he should have had them shaded before he left civilization. Of course, the truly mighty hangover he had worked so hard for the night before might bear some small responsibility for the pain.
He shook his head and restrained an urge to ruffle his feathers before stepping away from the limousine. “Kissel.”
Before Grahl could blink, his diminutive assistant popped up alongside, puffing and flapping his little wings like mad to keep up. “I know, I know, your contract includes a No-Terran clause, but you know Nab. I begged and pleaded and threatened, but she wouldn’t listen.”
“Does she not understand how many offers are being given to me? An agent should be making talent happy, not making happy nice-nice with a studio who does not appreciate.”
Kissel’s voice drifted away as he fell behind, but Grahl did not slow his pace. “You know her, Grahl. Ratings, ratings, and there’s lots of humans who might make bigger ratings if they make watching of the show, she says.”
The restaurant sign loomed over them as they approached. What in the seven galactic clusters did a bell have to do with cuisine? If these Terrans expected him to eat musical instruments for their amusement, he would walk. His hope was that it was instead some misguided effort at being clever. Perhaps for a Terran, it actually was the height of ingenuity, but Grahl was a distinguished gentleman, not some half-evolved backwater ape.
The inside of the establishment was even more garish. The glare of the flickering lights above drilled down into his brain, sending pulsing waves of agony through each and every bone in his body, from the tip of his beak to the talons on his feet, all the way down to his tail. It wasn’t long before he was forced to put the visor back on. That’s when they brought out what they expected him to eat.
As his gaze swept over the platter in front of him, he was grateful that he had consumed nothing but alcohol for the duration of his trip out to this cesspool of a planet. Had there been anything else in either of his stomachs, it would most certainly show itself once more as he took in what they expected him to eat.
Thin polygons of some sort of bread, fried crisp, salted, and spread out in a tray. That much was fine, but that was as far as fine went. Piled on top of the bread were chunks of some rancid brown substance. The producer assured him that it was meat, but it was unlike any meat Grahl had ever seen. Then came the legumes, stewed beyond all mercy until broken down into mush.
If only that were the end of it, he would still be able to say that he had seen worse, but it kept going. A cascade of assuredly petroleum-derived sludge in an unnatural shade of orange covered the mass, dripping and oozing its way over everything. Finally, scoops of mashed green something-or-other and soured cream topped the mass.
Truly, it was a spectacle of horror such as Grahl had never conceived outside his childhood nightmares. And they expected him to eat this. On camera. And make it seem delicious.
“Kissel, get Nab on the hololink.”
He tore his eyes away from the horror story in front of him and stalked off to wait for Kissel to establish the connection. In less than a minute, the air before him shimmered with a holographic projection of Nab sitting behind her desk, puffing on a smoke stick as an assistant preened her bright orange feathers with a platinum comb.
“Grahl, my dear boy,” she boomed. “How are you enjoying the Terrans, then?”
“I’m not doing it, Nab. What’s the worst the studio would do if I said no and refused to leave my trailer?”
Nab flicked her smoke stick and looked away for a moment. “Oh, I don’t know. Perhaps your return trip could be delayed. Indefinitely. Not to worry, though. These Terrans are a veritable font of cuisine. Just think of it. We could produce an entire season on Terra itself.
No. Absolutely not. Nothing, nobody, and no one would keep him here any longer than absolutely necessary. This one time. That’s all. He would give them this one victory, and then it would be back to business as usual. He signaled his defeat with a sigh. “…why did the network choose this dish? What makes these…these nachos so special?”
“Did you not know?” She chittered and swiveled back and forth in her chair, much to her assistant’s dismay as he hopped back and forth to follow her movements. “You should also know that there is a surprise to this Terran dish, by the way. It really is quite a specialty.”
He let the silence stretch out before asking the question. “…and what sort of surprise is that?”
“I do not know, but I imagine you will discover that for yourself not long after the shoot. Let me know when you’re done out there in the wilderness.”
The laughter that she had done so little to suppress during their conversation erupted just before she cut the connection. In the silence that followed, he was sure he could still hear it, and the image of her cackling visage lingered, seared onto his retinas. The feathers all along his spine rose of their own accord before he shook them out and smoothed them back down. There would be time to deal with Nab later, but Grahl would never give anyone cause to think he was unprofessional.
He turned toward the holocam and clicked his beak in practiced excitement. “Today on Galactic Grub, we are to be sampling a Terran cuisine from its semi-equatorial region. It would seem that for generations of human civilization, there has been fascination with a food they are calling nachos.”
As he and the human chef prepared what Grahl considered to be the single least appetizing food he had seen in seventeen seasons of shows, he imagined that the, well, he’ll agree for the moment to call it meat, was actually his agent.
He took a bite, and as the warm orange sludge smeared across his beak, he came to an astounding realization. Terran food actually wasn’t as terrible as he’d imagined.
The hardest part of writing this was to make nachos sound unappetizing. I love nachos, even though they’re strictly off the menu because of my diet. Can you tell what show I was watching as I wrote this week’s flash fiction piece? Let me know in the comments below, and thanks for reading!