Salt mixed with her saliva, circling around the fibrous mass between her teeth as she chomped hard, accidentally slamming her teeth together. She had to take care chewing the bite of what they called “steak.” Little grains of seasoning rolled around on her tongue, each one leaving a bright streak of flavor that covered up the base taste well. Still, it was there, and it reminded her of the time she’d licked the metal wall in one of the store rooms on a dare when she was a young girl. Though the odd metal taste of the meat brought back such nostalgia, it was not exactly a memory she cherished.
The lump would not disintegrate though tiny strings of it made their way down her gullet, bits of the flesh sticking between her teeth as well. For a moment, she thought she would choke on her own spittle. She was far too old to die in such an undignified manner.
Next to her, their host, a portly old man who was clearly close to her age though his hair was unnaturally dark in comparison to her own mottled gray mess, somehow managed to prattle on between bites with hardly a pause.
“I hope you like it. This meal’s been prepared by one of the best chefs in the area. We have so much to celebrate!”
He lifted a glass, some awful tinted stuff that she’d hated because it tasted like disinfectant (another dare once). He held it aloft in her direction and then gulped it down as she choked down the meat chunk. One of the seasoning granules stuck on her uvula and she coughed. She gulped down half a glass of water. That at least was familiar, but it still tasted of steel from the odd minerals inside it.
Her jaw ached. Eating should not be so difficult. She did not want to attempt another bite, and yet she also felt hopeful that something on the plate would be palatable enough that she could fill her belly on it. A glance around the room told her that she was not the only one having difficulty. Her entire crew sat forlornly prodding at their foods.
The host continued chatting with her as he swallowed pieces practically whole. “We’ve been waiting such a long time for this. My grandfather’s grandfather built the original ship that took the first colonists to Mars. It’s been the pride of my family. That is exactly why I had to host this dinner. My grandfather so wanted to meet you and your crew. Unfortunately, he passed away just before you arrived on Earth.”
She cut up one of the tiny green trees on her plate. It at least looked similar to the food they grew in the hydroponics lab on the ship. The thing was soft on her tongue but snapped when she crushed it with her molars. Juices came pouring out of squishy top, and then it broke apart in her mouth the way the meat had refused to do. Its true essence settled deeply on the back of her tongue, a horrible bitterness she attempted to swipe away by swallowing. She frowned as she forced her body to swallow the unholy offering and then drank the last of her water. A server rushed to her side with a fresh pitcher of water before racing off to fill one of her crewman’s cups.
The pungent taste of the vegetable lingered and she had to drink more of the water. She shook her head and cut their host off before he launched into any more stories about his family and the original ship.
She dabbed at her mouth with the cloth napkin as she turned to face him. “Did you do any research on us at all?”
His eyes shot wide. He stammered. She cut him off again.
“We can’t eat this. We were born on a ship between planets, and the only food we’ve ever eaten has been yeast based with manufactured supplements and a few vegetables that only grew out in space after some genetic modification. Nothing on this plate is palatable to us. If you don’t mind, I’m going to take my crew back to their ship so that we can have a decent home cooked meal.”
This is also a semi-personal experience. Texture is super important to me when I eat, and squishy things like tender meat I just can’t do. So unless I know how a place prepares their meat, I won’t order things like steak or chicken. Ground beef is the only safe bet which is probably why I adore hamburgers. I’m guessing that this might have to do with my lack of smelling ability. I’ve met others who are selective about food texture, but the ones who were most vehement about it were the people who’d never been able to smell. They’d have lists of things they wouldn’t touch.
So, yes, if you invite me over to your house, please have hamburgers. Also, please don’t have vanilla pudding (slimy, but chocolate pudding is fine) or Jello boxed flan (unnaturally smooth) or anything with whip cream (foamy). Or better yet, how about I invite you over to my house?
This is all for the Senseless Challenge. Here’s the roundup for smell from last week.
Every few paces a different speaker blared the cheerful daytime music that made the hairs in her inner ear quake. She tried to resist putting her hands over her ears to stop the intrusion of the bright melodies as she made her way back to her apartment building from the doctor’s office. He had completely dismissed her complaints about the headaches caused by the noise. She couldn’t think, and he didn’t seem to care.
She had wanted to really press him about it. Her hope was that she could possibly qualify for some noise cancelling headphones that had become so incredibly expensive since all the changes. The tech used to create them was in such high demand to keep the city covered in music that to get a pair would cost an entire year of her salary. She would never be able to afford them on her own.
But the doctor had his own music piped into his office. Each examination room had a speaker that played classical music meant to soothe. To her, it only had the effect of covering up the doctors deep voice. When she’d asked about how it was that he could play a different tune from that on the street, he answered without looking from her charts. She thoughts he said, “I have special permission to play something different for the benefit of my patients. Don’t worry, it’s still regulation and will keep the nasties away.”
Then he’d given her a smile too wide. One laced with barely contained condescension. She was sure he took her for one of those hyper sensitive and paranoid ladies who feared what would come without the music and could never have it loud enough.
She rubbed her head to relieve the pounding. At her building, she practically dived into the lobby to strip away the additional layer of noise from the people and cars on the street. The speaker near the elevators of her apartment had always been wonky and they’d never been able to properly fix it although she’d seen them try. It still worked within the regulation frequencies; it just played the music slightly muffled which fired a feeling of nostalgia in her brain that actually hurt. Oh the memories of sitting quietly and reading a book or just staring into space. God, how she missed it!
The same music played in her hall as that in the elevator. She entered her apartment to the exact same playing inside her living room. There was no escape from it. Not even in her bathroom.
As she always did upon first entering her apartment, she slammed her hands over her ears and pressed them together as if she were attempting to crush her own skull. She rubbed at her face as she considered doing something she knew she shouldn’t. If her neighbors found out, they could report her.
Sharp objects such as knives and forks, and even pointy things like screwdrivers, had been banned after several of the incidents. The only tool she possessed happened to be a plastic spoon. She took it to one of the screws of the speaker. She needed to be able to put it back together after she was done, so some care was needed though being so close to the infernal noise she wanted to do nothing more than rip it out of the wall. Slowly, she worked until the screw came out, and then, she pulled the speaker right off the wall. The noise stopped.
She shut the doors to the bathroom and the bedroom and sat on the couch. It was not the perfect silence of the old days, but it was enough to allow her to sit back, shut her eyes, and remember. Inhaled air traveled through her nasal passages, and she listened to it pass under her eyes. All the tension drifted out of her body.
They are lying to you.
She bolted upwards.
There is no danger. They want to control you.
It had been so long since she was alone with her thoughts. Had the thoughts always come on their own like this, unbidden? The thoughts continued, whispering, warning her of disaster if she didn’t act. She had been thinking it for so long, but she just hadn’t been able to focus enough to gather her thoughts this way. They had built up, and now, in a moment of complete relaxed quiet, they came.
You must tell others. You must make the music stop. There are no nasties in the quiet. There is no one here but your own thoughts.
She stood up and walked into the hall. There had to be others who felt the same as her. She had to find them.