May 05, 2015

The Living Food


Relatively quick, unfinished sketch of the old man. Picture him leaning on a cane. In other news, I have a person in mind for Riley's drawing (coming up in the fifth story of the series), so that's exciting.

Another tall tale, in which Riley and the old man return for the fourth riveting installment of the Globetrotter Stories. Their thrilling travels will draw to a close on the 12th -- spoiler alert, the fifth and final story is titled Riley and Death, and I'm in the middle of writing it -- so stay tuned!  [Update, December 18, 2015: I never finished it. I'm now working on a different story that should resolve Riley's storyline] Links to the other stories are at the end.

The Living Food

"Hello, and welcome to the Cafeteria Jungle!"

Riley nudged the old man, who was observing a small line of bacon bits marching by.

"What is this place?" she whispered.

"Th' Cafeteria Jungle," he whispered back, "din't ye listen?"

"We're just in some old, overgrown cafeteria!"

"Now then," the tour guide said, "to your left you will see Lardae incessu, or Marching Bacon Bits. Don't worry -- these little guys aren't dangerous, but they are a little salty." She paused. A few group members gave weak chuckles.

"The Bits tend to keep to themselves, and it's been observed that their behaviour has convergently evolved to be very similar to that of certain ants. They march around the jungle searching for bits of food, and have it timed so perfectly that they always return to their underground nests by sundown.

"Sir, please do not poke the line of Bits with the stick. They have a nasty defense mechanism that I'm certain you do not wish to experience."

"I thought you said they weren't dangerous," 'Sir' said. His voice was loud, arrogant. He was in his forties, obviously rich, in a pinstripe suit and a straw boater. Riley glanced at his shoes, raised her eyebrows, and nudged the old man again.

'Spats,' she mouthed. The old man shook his head at the state of dandies these days.

Spats Man caught her staring and leered at her. "Why hello there, beautiful."

"Er... Hi," she said.

He looked over her shoulder at the old man. "If you ever need anyone to show you a good time, ditch the geezer and come back to mine."

"Well, actually, he's my guide. I wanted to travel and visit destinations off the beaten track, see, and..." Riley caught herself. She did not owe this man anything, least of all an explanation. "I'm not interested in you, yeah?"

"I'm just saying," he said, "I could get it up better than --"

The tour guide cleared her throat. "If you're quite finished, please look to your right," she said, "where you'll see the Crustum tripudia, or Waltzing Pizza Slices, swinging from the vines."

"Let me guess," Spats Man said, "they aren't dangerous."

She stared at him for a moment. "No, they aren't, unless they're provoked, like the rest of this jungle."

"What's the fun in that?"

Resolutely ignoring him, she pushed on. "The Waltzing Pizza Slice is easily confused with the Crustum caseii, the Cheese Pizza Slices. There are two easy ways to distinguish between them. First, the cheese pizzas tend to be more sedentary, while the waltzing pizzas are more active."

As if to illustrate her point, a waltzing pizza slice swung into the tour group, prompting a slew of camera clicks.

The tour guide continued. "And the other way to tell them apart is by their toppings. Cheese pizzas have only cheese, while waltzing pizzas tend to have vegetables and mushrooms."

A Roast Chicken tottered past the group on the ends of its drumsticks. It flapped its pathetic, featherless wings at them. "Well aren't you a handsome fellow," the guide said. She tilted her head confidentially towards Riley. "Can't make a peep, like the rest of the poor bastards here. Cooked food, no heads. Stuff like that."

Riley felt a little nauseated as she realised that, other than the tour group, the jungle was quite silent.

"Although if it could talk," the guide continued, "I imagine it would sound rather like a chicken."

"Ah yes," the old man said, "that would make sense."

Riley shuddered. "God, that's sick."

Spats Man sidled up beside her. "I've got something that would make you feel better."

"You're repulsive," she said.

He chuckled. "You'll come 'round. Anyway, it's all just food. We eat things like this every day; it's just not moving on our plates is all. Look here --" and he grabbed a BLT sandwich that was walking by.

"Sir," the tour guide said, "please put that sandwich down. There is an entire ecosystem in there, and -"

He took a large bite out of the struggling sandwich. Its filling flew out of the other end, making its escape. The bread went limp. "Good sandwich," he said with his mouth full. "Has honey mustard and everything."

"Oh my God," Riley whispered. The old man shook his head and made noises of disapproval.

Spats Man chewed a few times, then suddenly stopped. His eyes grew wide and began to bulge. His face went red. Hands around his throat, he fell forward, hitting the ground with a heavy thump.

"He's choking!" Riley exclaimed. "We need to help him!"

The tour guide grabbed her arm. "Leave him. It's too late."

Riley tried to pull away, but the guide tightened her grip. "If you touch him, they'll get you too." She pointed at the overgrown sandwich counter, where a number of sandwiches waited, watching like vultures.

Spats Man was slowly turning purple.

"Alright ladies and gentlemen, please avert your eyes and remain calm. I'm afraid this tour will be cut short. You can get either 50% of the tour fee refunded or a full credit for another tour, by asking at the ticket counter."

Spats Man was an unpleasant shade of puce. The sandwiches at the counter had approached him and one was jamming itself into his gaping mouth, while the others surrounded him. Ignoring this, the tour guide continued calmly. "On behalf of Cafeteria Jungle Tours, I would like to apologise for the inconvenience, and I hope you have a pleasant day."

He had gone quite still by the time the old man gently turned Riley away. Later, on the coach bus, she was still in shock.

"We just let a man die," she said. "I mean, he was a creep, but that doesn't mean he deserved to asphyxiate."

"He had been warned," the tour guide said. "He'd signed the waivers."

"Shouldn't you have a plan or something in case stuff like that happens?"

"Prevention is the only way. Once the sandwiches get aggressive, there's nothing we can do."

Riley turned to the old man. "This is unbelievable."

"Sandwiches will be sandwiches," he said, shrugging. "Life goes on."

The end.

Fourth of the Globetrotter Stories. Firstsecond, and third installments.