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Rated: ASR · Short Story · Fantasy · #2184842
A man with a strange talent receives an intriguing proposition
Buzzing with excitement, a murmuring crowd surrounded the little stage. Red fabric shielded the celebrity from the gathering masses below. Everyone was gossiping about the man scheduled to appear, whether his talent was real or just a clever trick. A normal man would certainly die after attempting even one of those feats.

With a brief fanfare, the curtain parted.

"Please welcome Monsieur Mangetout!" Graciously, the announcer gestured towards an unassuming man who waved to the crowd.

He was fairly young, possibly in his early twenties. The brilliance of his smile was only matched by the twinkle in those eyes. Look closely; they seemed to say. You will witness true magic.

Modest applause greeted Monsieur Mangetout, for the silent hands felt cheated. A few bystanders began to whisper among themselves, wondering if they were being deceived. Surely someone like that couldn't possibly be the real thing.

He was practically a boy!

Seeing the crowd growing restless, the young man promptly started the presentation. Sitting at a table, he made a great show of tucking the cloth napkin into his shirt. Clapping twice, he called out. "Garcon!"

A waiter stepped on stage, bearing a metal serving platter. The shiny cover obscured the contents from the curious throng below. What was on the menu today? Monsieur Mangetout had eaten a great many strange things: dirt, plastic, supposedly even wood.

With a flourish, the waiter lifted the cover and revealed a large glass containing mineral oil.

The crowd fell silent.

That was it? What, was he going to drink the oil and eat the glass afterward? Everyone was unimpressed; they wanted the grand spectacle that was promised.

After placing the cover beside the platter, the server bowed. "Bon appetit, Monsieur." With that, he left the young man alone with his meal. Grinning at hundreds of watching eyes, the performer casually took a sip of oil.

Then he lifted the metal cover and sank his teeth into it.

Everyone gasped as Monsieur Mangetout consumed the entire lid. Pausing occasionally to wet his throat, he resumed munching on the bizarre dinner. Smacking his lips, the man winked at the congregation and then proceeded to eat the platter as well.

The metal squeaked, groaning with each bite. He was sure to chew with his mouth open, normally terrible manners but everyone found it fascinating. There was no illusion here, no deception. A little boy shouted that Monsieur Mangetout had a superpower.

Hearing this, the eccentric gourmand lifted the glass in the youth's direction and downed the rest of the oil. With a crunch, he ate the glass and wiped his mouth afterward.

Cheers and whistles filled the air as the incredible man slapped his stomach and smiled. The enthusiastic applause washed over Monsieur Mangetout as he bowed and left the stage.

One man in the crowd did nothing while bystanders heaped praise and accolades on the performer. In fact, he hadn't reacted once during the entire show. A stylish hat and sunglasses masked his features from prying eyes.

Walking away from the approving masses, he found a phone booth nearby. He dialed a number and spoke briefly. "It's me. I found a way that we can dispose of it."

Michel Lotito relaxed in his dressing room, surrounded by fan mail and gifts from admirers. He smiled at a letter written by a young girl. She had drawn him eating an entire car, asking which ones tasted the best.

Someone knocked on the door.

"Monsieur? You have a visitor here to discuss business. Shall I send him in?" The voice belonged to his assistant. Michel sighed and told him that was fine. Fame always came with a price; everyone was constantly trying to book him for events.

A well-dressed man entered, leaning on a cane. He wore decades of worry on his face, deep wrinkles furrowing a once handsome brow. Politely, he stood and greeted the entertainer. "Monsieur Lotito, a pleasure." A thick German accent clung to his words.

"Likewise Monsieur...?"

"Raziel. Kaspar Raziel."

Offering a seat to his visitor, Michel sat and clasped his hands. "So, Monsieur Raziel... Where would you like me to perform? For the right price, I'll eat anything. Except for hard boiled eggs, I can't seem to stomach those nasty things."

Examining the dressing room, Kaspar shook his greying head. "I'm not interested in a public performance." A silver lynx snarled atop his cane, emerald eyes glittering.

Frowning, Michel rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "A private show? That can certainly be arrang-"

Kaspar thumped the cane on the floor and glowered. "No, Monsieur. I am not here for any sort of performance. Your talent for consuming... indigestible material is why I'm sitting before you."

Sitting back in his chair, Michel chuckled. "Naturally. What sort of material do you propose I dine on?"

"A painting."

Raising an eyebrow, the performer considered this for a minute. Usually, people asked for something more interesting. He'd eaten bicycles, televisions, chandeliers... Once he consumed an entire casket, making it the first time a coffin had been inside a man!

But never had Michel feasted on a painting.

"Is it a famous one? I would hate to destroy something priceless..." He inquired more details from his mysterious visitor.

Kaspar barked a short laugh. "Famous indeed, but you would be doing the world a great service. This particular work happens to have a terrible curse placed upon it."

"Sacre bleu! Why on earth would I eat something like that?!" Michel exclaimed, incredulous at such an outlandish demand.

"The painting kills anyone who sees it in person. But there's a very simple solution... I would like you to eat it blindfolded." Kaspar stared intensely beneath his bushy eyebrows.

"Still... I don't know if I want to get involved with anything supernatural. What if it doesn't agree with me?" Biting his lip, Monsieur Mangetout felt uneasy about the request.

Expecting this answer, Kaspar removed a check from his pocket. "I believe that this will clear up any doubts."

Michel whistled appreciatively. "Are you serious? I swear if this bounces..."

Kaspar snorted. "Don't insult me. I'll only make this offer once."

"D'accord, we have an agreement."

Michel made a face as he removed the blindfold. Swallowing the last of the worm-eaten frame felt like an achievement. The painting itself was dry and bitter, whatever pigment the artist used was quite foul. "It certainly tasted cursed." He muttered before washing the acrid flavor away with a glass of water.

"Excellent, Monsieur Mangetout! You certainly live up to your name." Kaspar entered the room and shared a rare smile.

"Not that it's any of my business, but why couldn't you have just burned it? Matches would have been quite inexpensive." Michel asked as he dotted his mouth with a napkin.

Kaspar sighed heavily. "We tried everything. Acid, fire, you name it. You've been a tremendous help to us."

"What was it made of? I hope I don't get any indigestion..." Michel grimaced and looked down at his bulging abdomen.

Kaspar paused before showing his new employee a photograph entitled 'The Hands Resist Him'.  

It depicted a little boy standing beside a girl. Behind the children, a glass paneled door held back the ravenous void. Disembodied hands reached out from the darkness, pressing against the windows. The little girl looked like a porcelain doll, empty eyes and hinged mouth gaping expressionlessly. Next to her, the boy's narrowed eyes stared accusingly at the viewer.

Michel felt as though he was intruding, a forbidden participant viewing something that shouldn't exist.

"Is it... safe to be seeing this?" He asked tentatively.

Kaspar nodded and coughed. "Pictures and replicas are harmless. Although, people that try to recreate the work never finish before falling ill and passing away. More hands appear in the windows with each body."

Michel shivered at the thought of those fingers extending towards him.

"Is that all then? If it's alright with you, I'd like to go home and not think about this whole affair." He rubbed his stomach nervously.

"Of course. Your fee has already been deposited in your account. If you are interested in more work, I have an elaborate music box with a terrible history..."

Despite having qualms about his new job, Michel discovered that Kaspar was more than willing to pay handsomely for every cursed object. No matter what unfortunate past they possessed, the relics never affected the infamous Monsieur Mangetout. Although he did suffer from a few occasional nightmares...

"The world is safer without these around," Kaspar would say, growing more pleased with every article destroyed. Michel eventually agreed to an examination of his stomach. The doctors were perplexed by the readouts.

"What's wrong with these scans? There's something obscuring the X-rays." Puzzling over the film, the medical experts eventually came to the conclusion that Michel had a hole in his abdomen. Not a conventional one, more like... a tear in reality.

Whatever he consumed would vanish into the breach, never to return.

Kaspar paid the doctors to keep this anomaly quiet. They decided to tell the public that not only did Monsieur Mangetout have a thick lining in his stomach and intestines, but he also had extremely acidic bile.

It was a perfectly reasonable explanation.

When the last of his collection was destroyed, Kaspar passed away in his sleep. On the bedside table, he had inscribed a note. "At last I can rest, for my work is done." Michel mourned his departure, for the unlikely pair had become close friends.

Years came and went.

Michel grew older but never stopped eating strange things to the amusement of everyone around him. "How long can he keep this up?" People would ask themselves as they marveled at his unique ability.

On top of the cursed objects, Monsieur Mangetout managed to consume an entire plane during one of his famous stunts. It is estimated that he consumed nine tons of metal when he decided to end his strange career.

His stomach gave him slight pains; perhaps it was old age. He was in his late fifties, after all.

One morning, he told his wife that he wanted to sleep-in. "I'm not feeling very well... I think it might be the weather."

She smiled and said that some tea would perk him up.

While she was busy putting the kettle on, a massive crash shook the house. Rushing upstairs, she threw open the door and stood aghast. The trembling woman stared around the room in shock.

Wherever those meals of his went, they had all returned at once.

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