I got my second assignment for the NYC Midnight flash fiction contest this past weekend. This time my group was assigned the ‘suspense’ genre, a ‘moving tuck’ for a setting, and a ‘goose’ as the object. What follows is my entry plus minor modifications post-submission. According to Google Docs the piece is 996 words. Many thanks to Juan, Rachel, Kellie (#1), Jason, Jessica, Kelly (#2), and Craig for taking time out of their weekend to give me feedback!
Cook or Be Cooked
Tune in for next week’s special episode when we present the governor her holiday feast. The heads of eight chefs are on the line!
“Ladies and gentlemen! Welcome to a special edition of Top Iron Food Truck Chef, where the best survive, and the rest get the Maiden!” Voluminous music swelled from ultra-thin viewing screens on the truck’s walls. Boos from the audience rumbled beneath regal horns and aristocratic strings.
“My name is Guy Wayback, your announcer for Truck #1. Our contestants are head-chef Susan and her long-time friend and sous-chef Rick, Say a few words to our lovely audience, Susan!”
“Hi Guy!” I said, after he shoved a microphone in my face. I injected as much confidence and excitement into my voice as I could muster. “Rick and I must cook the Christmas goose. The Governor and her family are going to love it. We’re gonna win!” My grin, shown in high-resolution was wide and obvious, but beads of sweat on my brow shared my truth.
“Well, we’re rooting for ya, Susie, ‘cause we all know what happens when you lose!” One wall-screen swept across the audience while the other displayed torture devices once only found in our museums.
I closed my eyes and visited a childhood memory on the beach when life still worked. Then, the sun was bright and hot, the water crystal blue. Then, the smiles were real and warm. Two years out of the academy I was running my own restaurant in the City. Two years after that all the world’s ice melted and everything went to shit.
A loud pop! from behind startled me. I checked the second screen, a monitor presenting views from security cameras positioned inside and outside the truck. Thick, black exhaust roiled across lenses already caked and grimy with soot. The weather outside Chicago was bleak and cloudy. Most buildings once filled with healthy people were now hollow and run-down.
Breathe, Susan. Beach. Water. Finally, Guy’s droning voice faded into the slow undulating waves of background noise, mixed in with the coughing and belching of the truck’s engine.
Rick and I spent the previous night preparing ingredients, including weeding out wormy produce—the apples were the worst—and strategizing how we’d get everything done in time. This morning the secret service took our preparation-space off lock-down and secreted us onto this moving kitchen. Now we had only five hours on shitty roads to roast the bird while driving to the Governor’s mansion. Sounds simple, but there are a lot of hungry people out there.
“Diane, how are things looking in your truck?” Guy asked.
The speakers crackled to life with the announcer from Truck #7. “Not so great, Guy. Our contestants are making figgy pudding, but I think they’ve cracked. Our lead chef and her assistant might be headed for the stocks!” Cheers rang out through the crowd.
“Chicken or beef?” Guy asked, a perfect smile plastered across his square jaw and bleached teeth. The audience roared with laughter.
To the closest camera he said, “And now a word from our sponsor!”
“Tick-tock, contestants!” Guy turned, sneering at us, his hand covering the microphone. “Don’t forget we win or lose together! I like my skin where it is!”
I used my apron to wipe the sweat from my forehead. Time to fill the goose with apple-stuffing. Rick had made the Cumberland sauce days ago. I tried it last night—totally against the rules—it was amazing, considering the poor ingredient quality in the urban desert surrounding us. I didn’t ask where he’d managed to get the shallots, or whether the broth was actually made from beef. The vinegar should have been easy enough though.
Two hours passed quickly with us basting the goose every few minutes.
“We’re now back live from our commercial break and the Top Iron Food Truck Chef has been hoppin’ and poppin’ since you left…”
Then four hours in, the truck hit a bump in the weather-worn, unmaintained road. Boiling oil sloshed outside the deep-fryer. Thankfully, I wore rubber boots up to my waist, below the table where the cameras couldn’t see. Why was the deep-fryer here anyway?
As if on cue, Guy shouted into his microphone, “Surprise twist!” the audience cheered, screamed manically. “Governor’s son’s sweet-tooth demands… apple fritters!”
“What?! The apples went into the goose!” I cried. More booing.
“Why are you just standing there?” Rick hissed from my left. “We’re running out of time!”
We only had 30 minutes left when the truck slowed and then stopped. Everyone got still and quiet.
Something hit the wall behind us with a loud bang. Rick’s eyes squeezed closed, his mouth moving but no sounds were coming out. Oh sweet baby Jesus, his lips said.
“Oh shit.” Guy said, looking at the security screen, his tanned face now pale, ”We’re fucked.”
“What’s that, Guy?” Diane’s voice spewed from the speaker. “We didn’t quite catch that.” I’d swear the bitch was choking back laughter.
A new voice broke in, “Guy, this is Don, your driver. Our road is blocked and people are swarming the truck.”
“How’d they know which roads we’d take?” Guy shrieked. His perfect face didn’t look so perfect anymore.
“How should I know?” Don screamed back.
“Back us up, you idiot! Run them over!”
The diesel engine roared back to life and the truck lurched backwards. More oil splashed out of the fryer and this time caught fire.
Rick screamed, slinging his arm back and forth, but his polyester uniform was already melting.
The truck bounced up and down, presumably over bodies outside.
The security camera switched to a front-facing view. The truck’s green emergency light revolved, alerting anyone nearby the poor and hungry gathered here. Its light bounced off gaunt faces. I saw several people jump onto the cab from the camera’s vantage. The doors were locked as a matter of policy, but no security measures were enough to keep these folks from their holiday dinner.
In the dim silence, before our doors were forced open, a small red light blinked.
Ding! the oven announced.
“Hey Guy,” Diane cackled, her voice shrill. “Your Christmas goose is cooked!”