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Rated: 13+ · Short Story · Contest Entry · #2175382
Four must choose a meal...
Mick woke with a start, jerking violently and immediately regretting it. The side of his head felt as if something was preparing to burst forth from the inside of his skull.

His eyes slowly focused revealing a mans face about twelve inches from his own. Startled he quickly sat up momentarily forgetting the pounding in his head only to be reminded quite viciously. He held his head with both hands and slowly turned away from the man only to find a woman on the other side. As his eyes adjusted to his state of awareness he found another female next to her.

Panicking he made his way to his feet and quickly scanned the room.

There were three people lying on pallets that were lined up against one wall. The wall to his right held a door about three quarters of the way down and nothing else. The wall opposite had some papers taped to it, the writing too small for him to read from where he stood. The wall to his left had been written on, big letters filled the entire wall. In the middle of the room sat a table and four chairs. The table appeared to be set for dinner with a big domed plate cover in front of each chair and four glasses with a pitcher of what looked like ice water sitting in the middle of the table.

Mick stumbled to the door grabbed the handle and pulled. Locked.

Mick turned and leaned against the door. Closely looking over his roommates he saw that they were all still breathing and one of the women had what looked like blood on the side of her head. He moved his hand gingerly along the right side of his face and found a rather large and spongy goose egg just past his ear. Explains the splitting headache.

As he straightened his back, preparing to walk to the table, hoping that was ice water in that pitcher, he tried to remember how he got there. The last thing he remembered was walking out the side door of his house preparing to take his dog for a walk. Going from the injury to his head he would guess somebody clocked him one and brought him here for reasons unknown.

Not very steady, but he managed to make it without falling. Relief flooded through him after a whiff and a tentative taste proved that it was indeed water in the pitcher. Pulling out a chair he turned it to face the wall with all of the writing, his aching head was not yet ready to tackle the wall with the small print articles taped to it, the big and sloppy writing being easier on the eyes.

Before he could start reading he heard a loud groan from the direction of the pallets. Looking in that direction he saw one of the women was moving about, he focused once more on the message on the wall.

It read –
You call yourselves food critics! Bah! The four of you have berated me and my work for the last time – it’s time for all of you to be taught a lesson – you need to learn to be nice to people. Chefs work very hard creating meals to please and you rip them to shreds and you enjoy it! You enjoy destroying other people’s lives. Squashing their careers on a whim. Now it’s your turn. I have prepared A MEAL YOU COULD DIE FOR, literally. There are four meals on the table, one of them is poisoned, you won’t know which one until the meal is finished. Once the plates are cleaned the door will open and you can all go home. Well, three of you can go home anyway. Or you can all just sit there and die of starvation. There is no way out except through the door. All of the food is eaten or the door stays closed. Bon Appetite!

Mick had no idea how long he had been sitting there with the glass of water halfway to his mouth. A female hand waving in front of his face brought him back to reality. He focused on her, she looked like crap. He doubted he looked any better. He raised his free hand and pointed at the wall he just read, words were not coming to him at the moment.

She turned and started to read. The other woman stepped up beside the first and started to read as well. Soon the fourth occupant of the room joined them.

Mick got shakily to his feet and wandered over to the wall with the printouts taped to it. Unfortunately it was exactly what he expected after reading the message on the other wall and seeing the second woman up close. He knew her. Well, to be precise, he knew OF her. The printouts were copies of critiques done by four food critics all regarding the same chef.

Susan Haynes’ critique was first. He perused it quickly. She basically called the Chef a hack and advised the public to stay far away from anything he labeled food. At the bottom of the printout was a picture of her, even though she looked much better in the photo it was obviously the first woman to wake up.

Mick Williams was the second critique. He didn’t have to reread it to know what he had said about this particular Chef. He had always remembered it fondly, until today, and considered it one of his better degradations. He had called the Chef in question a Dog Food Chef because that was all his concoctions were good for.

Ginger Grants was next. He had always wanted to meet her, but not this way. After scanning her article he smiled, he couldn’t help it, she was that good. She had compared the Chef’s food to excrement without mentioning the word even once. He always enjoyed her critiquing.

Paul Matheson was last. His critique, crass and volatile, called the Chef a useless piece of garbage that had no business in a kitchen. Real smooth.

He turned to go back to the table, he really needed to sit down, only to find the others had joined him. He went back to his chair.
Soon the others were arguing. Mick didn’t join in, he saw no point in wasting his energy. The way he saw it they had only a couple of things to ascertain and then choose an option.

The first being, is there a way out of this room besides the door?

Mick got up and started examining the room. Inch by inch he covered the space, he moved the pallets to check underneath, he even lifted the printouts to see what was behind them. Nothing. The room didn’t even have ventilation of any kind. It was one very solid square.

He saved the door for last. Mick grabbed a hold of the knob and turned it. Nothing. The door was indeed locked and the hinges were on the other side.

Mick went back to his chair.

Soon the others joined him around the table.

“Well my friends,” it being the first time Mick had spoken since waking up in the room, his voice was scratchy, he took another drink of the water, “It looks like we have two choices. We can eat the food Chef Wiggins prepared for us and hope he was lying about poisoning one of us and hope he was telling the truth about releasing us after we eat. Of course, we should keep in mind that he may have poisoned all of the food. Or option two, we could choose to starve to death, which is not pleasant and takes quite a while. But of course we would die of thirst first since I didn’t see any way to replenish our pitcher.”

He looked around at his roommates; they were all staring intently at the domed covers in front of them.

“As for me,” he continued, ”I choose to eat, seeing that a quick death is preferable to a long drawn out one, and I am inclined to believe he will release us once our plates are clean.”

Mick reached for the dome in front of him. Paul grabbed his and whipped it over his shoulder, everyone jumped when it smashed into the door. Susan grabbed hers and quickly dropped it at her feet. Ginger gave hers a toss over her shoulder, all before Mick could even finish reaching for his. Mick picked his up and quietly placed it on the floor next to him.

Beef stroganoff with a sprig of parsley in the center. Surprisingly it even looked appetizing. Mick was slightly relieved; it was difficult to completely ruin beef stroganoff, difficult, not impossible.

Mick saw there was a rolled napkin under the edge of his plate. He fished it out and found utensils wrapped inside. Carefully he laid the napkin across his lap. He arranged his eating utensils to the right of his plate. Taking one last look around the table he caught Ginger’s eye, giving him a small smile she held up a fork laden with a smidge of stroganoff.

It was time.

Ginger waited till the others were ready. No one talked, there was nothing left to say. When everyone had their first bite ready they waved their forks toward the center in a mock cheer and quickly put the food in their mouths. Forks hit the plates. Susan gripped the edge of the table, eyes closed as she chewed. Ginger had her water glass in hand, her eyes locked on Mick’s. Paul clenched his napkin to his chest as he stared at his plate. Mick’s hands lay in his lap as he chewed slowly, his eyes on Ginger.

They swallowed.

They waited.

Five minutes passed.

Ten minutes.

Suddenly Paul picked up his fork and dug in. They all followed suit. Relief steeled over the small group. They ate in quiet contemplation, just wanting to finish, leave this room, and return to their lives.

Susan finished first, dropping her fork onto her plate she took a healthy swig of water and sat back in her chair prepared to wait for the others. Paul was next, he carefully set his fork on his plate, grabbed his glass of water and got up from the table to pace while he waited. Mick and Ginger finished about the same time, each politely placing the fork on the plate, wiping their hands and face on their napkins and placing that on their respective plates.

While they waited all Mick could think about was how bad the food had been. He sure hoped Chef Wiggins didn’t expect better critiques. Judging by the looks on the faces of the others he was pretty sure it was a unanimous feeling, Chef Wiggins needed desperately to find a different line of work.

Susan Coughed.

All eyes turned to her. She waved us off, took another big drink of water and leaned back in her chair.

Mick stood up, he needed to move. As he stepped away from the table he heard a metallic click. Everyone looked at the door. Paul recovered first, walked quickly to the door and yanked it open. He almost fell over when it actually opened. Paul ran out the door, not even looking back to see if the others were following.

The door started to swing closed.

Mick grabbed his chair, ran to the door and jammed the chair between the door and frame. He turned back to Susan and Ginger. She lay with her face on the plate, her eyes open, staring into nothingness. Susan stood above her crying.

Ginger was dead.

Mick had no idea how long they stood there staring at Ginger it had to have been awhile, they could hear sirens in the distance. Paul had not run away, he had run for help.

They were too late.
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