“We can’t kill humans on the show!” Mr. Zeero said.
“Your ratings are in the toilet and you know it. This would give us a huge boost, the allure of cooking something that has been forbidden. It doesn’t really matter what you make, as long as it is with the humans, they will watch.” Maleria, the Vice President of the network said.
“But, humans? Gross. No one cooks with them anymore. We are past that and it just feels like a gimmick.” Mr. Zeero said.
“Exactly, it’s a gimmick. Your show has bombed the last three seasons and the investors are looking for a change. Your audience has grown tired of your same old routine. They want something new. If you show them something shocking, they’ll eat it up.” Maleria said.
“I’ve never cooked with humans before. And the only recipes I’ve ever seen were in museums and on those terrible horror movies. Do we even have real humans?”
“Yes. Neen, was so gracious as to scrounge up some humans on short notice. And you better come up with a good meal, you are cooking them tonight.” Maleria said.
Mr. Zeero sat at the table as the others left the meeting room. Tapping a claw on the table, he racked his brain for an idea on how to cook the humans. Most of the recipes he remembered were basic, skewer a human through their mouth and out their rump then stick them over the fire. That was how their ancestors did it, before their eventual evolution to more advanced creatures. Now, they cooked animals, plants, and grains. Mr. Zeero was at a loss, until a producer came in with some sheets of hand scribbled paper.
“Mr. Zeero, I want to say, I am really excited about what you are going to do. I think it’s great that you are going to do something completely different than what anyone has done before. Cooking humans. It’s amazing.” Neen said.
Mr. Zeero looked at the young producer standing in front of him. “It’s amazing? More like barbaric. We are way past eating humans. I don’t think it’s good at all. I think it is going to backfire on all of us.”
“I don’t know. I think it might just be the thing we need.” Neen said.
“How long have you worked here?”
“Just a couple of months. This is my first job. Well, not first job, but first real job. I’ve been watching you since I was kid.” Neen said.
“So, you’ve seen my work. That’s nice.” Mr. Zeero pegged the producer at around twenty. Have I been on the air that long, he thought. “But, you are new. So you don’t understand how the TV business works. This is going to be suicide. It’ll be bad for me and bad for the studio.”
“I think you’ll be surprised Mr. Zeero. I’ve gotta go, but before I do, here is a recipe for tonight’s show. It’s going to be killer.” Neen said before he left the room.
The paper’s blue lines and frayed edges suggested it came from a notebook. Mr. Zeero looked it over, trying to determine how the producer had a recipe ready for the show. The ingredients distracted him from following that line of thinking. His mouth watered while he imagined the pieces mixed together into an amazing rustic soup, it was going to be delicious.
It had him cooking them in a soup with lots of herbs and vegetables, it also asked for a few cups of rice. The ingredients would mask the gaminess of the human meat. He would still have to cube the humans, which would be nasty business, but it could work. I can’t believe that we are actually going to do this.
Neen watched Mr. Zeero looking over the recipe. The recipe was meant to replicate what their ancestors had eaten before moving into houses with kitchens. While at school, Neen and the other children had been taught that they had eaten humans. Eventually they had evolved past it and moved on to eating in a more humane way. They had pushed out their old habits, even looking down at them as a cruel way to do things. The humans receded into the Wasteland, far away from their society. But, something was going to happen. Something tonight and Neen had passed the first key on to Mr. Zeero.
Blue and green skinned co-workers fretted about, pretending to work. Neen walked past their offices, break rooms, and recording studios and could see they were focused elsewhere. Their focus was on what was in the TV studio kitchen: two humans.
Protesters had begun to line up on the sidewalks outside of the building. Neen had passed them this morning on his way into the studio. Before Mr. Zeero had entered the meeting, the studio heads and producers, including Neen, had been discussing the protesters.
“Some how, the word got out that we were going to cook humans. We’ll deal with that leak later,” Maleria said.
Everyone in the room eyed each other as the leak to the press. Neen shifted his green eyes back and forth, looking down anytime someone eyed “the new guy” as the one that talked to reporters. When Neen had started at the studio a couple of weeks ago, another producer had made it clear to him that as the new guy, all things would be blamed on him. So, of course everyone was going to assume it was him. Which it was.
On Neen’s first day at the studio he had been given a tour of the building, and that was when he entered the biggest set in the studio, the kitchen. After handing Mr. Zeero the recipe, he went back into the kitchen. He walked through the studio and seemed to transport to a demon’s home kitchen. The granite countertop on the island was cool to the touch as he dragged his finger across it. He could almost see Mr. Zeero behind the counter talking to the camera as he delivered a delectable treat and his usual homey wisdom. Behind the island, Neen found two cast iron ovens, taller than he was. A couple of years ago, these same ovens were used to cook a whole horse. A counter behind the island was stacked with the TV chef’s kitchen tools, Neen couldn’t resist touching them. His circuit of the studio brought him face to face to the humans, shackled to a wooden stockade.
Yellow and black tape circled the stockade, providing an invisible barrier between the studio crew and the humans. Neen stood within that circle and stared at them. An ancient feeling stirred in him, instincts that had been buried deep fought to come out. He resisted the urge by observing the workers who were doing their best to avoid the circle and the humans.
The studio crew was quiet and worked quickly. He watched as they snuck peeks at the stockade before they turned back to their work. A ladder had been set near the stockade, an electrician was fiddling with some cables in the rafters. He wasn’t paying attention to what he was doing, his eyes focused on Neen, and the cable came loose falling into the circle. He cursed and banged his wrench on the ladder, than asked another electrician to bring him a new cable. Neen picked up the one that fell and tried to hand it to the creature on the ladder. “I don’t want to touch that. It probably has their germs all over it.” The electrician said. Neen dropped it and left the uneasy studio.
On his way out he passed two assistants pushing a large item hidden under a white sheet. He stepped aside to let them pass. “What’s under the sheet?” he asked.
“We’re not sure.” one of them said.
“We were told not to lift the sheet, that it was something special for tonight.” Another said.
“And you guys didn’t look? I mean, I’m curious. You guys have got to be too.” Neen said.
“Well, we were told not to.” The first said.
“But, I think it is some sort of cauldron, at least that’s what it sorta looked like from the bottom.” The other said. The first one shot him a look that said he was going to smack him when the producer went away.
“Some sort of cauldron, eh? But, where did it come from?” Neen asked.
“Who knows? We were just told to put it in the studio and that the fabulous Mr. Zeero would be doing something with it.”
Neen nodded, satisfied that it would stay secret. “Mr. Zeero is fabulous. Just you wait and see.”
Protestors outside of the studio held signs that called the studio and Mr. Zeero monsters. Mr. Zeero watched them heckle the early audience members as they tried to squeeze past them and head into the studio. Mr. Zeero turned from the window and went to his desk. On the edges of his desk stood stacks of haphazard papers, acting as a barrier between him and a reporter. In the middle of the desk laid the recipe that Neen had given him. He sat down and took a sip from his coffee mug, grimacing at the lukewarm bitterness inside. The reporter coughed and tapped his notebook, waiting for Mr. Zeero to comment on the night’s show.
“I think that we are just trying to introduce something new to the audience. Something they haven’t seen before. Of course there will be protesters, there are always protesters for something. We just can’t let them control everything we are doing.” Mr. Zeero said.
“Yes, but you have to admit that this seems to be a ploy. An easy way for you to get views.” The reporter said.
Mr. Zeero tapped his coffee mug. Damnit, that’s exactly what I said. I knew I shouldn’t have done this.
“That is true. We will get more viewers. They all want to see humans. I can’t help that. And yes, I know all about the stories about what happens to us when we taste their blood. I also know about the religious views when it comes to eating a human. But, I’m a chef and I like to explore the more exotic tastes. You’ve seen my show, you know what I do. Well, now it is time to taste the one thing that I haven’t tasted, a human.” Mr. Zeero said.
“So, you are really going to do it then? I’ve heard from a source that you were against it. But, have you changed your mind?”
I guess so. I guess I am kind of intrigued by it all, he thought.
“You might say it is for ratings. You might say it is for shock value. But, we have two live humans in the studio right now, and I’m going to do it.” he said.
The reporter nodded. He threw the notebook to the ground and jumped from his seat, holding his pen like a knife. The papers on Mr. Zeero’s desk splashed to the floor as the monster flew over it and landed on top of the chef. They fell back into his chair, breaking one of the legs, before they toppled to the floor. Mr. Zeero tried to fight the monster off of him, but he was too strong. A large pendant fell out of the reporter’s shirt as he put the tip of the pen into Mr. Zeero’s neck. An odd thought popped into Mr. Zeero’s head while he grabbed at the pen wielding arm. A religious nut, of course. The pen broke through blue skin.
Blood trickled down Mr. Zeero’s neck while he thrashed uselessly under the monster’s weight. An arm appeared around the reporter’s neck and lifted him off of Mr. Zeero. One of his security guards held the reporter in the air, while another one came to chef’s aide. Mr. Zeero pressed his hand against his neck and looked at the reporter.
“We heard a noise and came in as soon as we could Mr. Zeero.” the beefy security guard holding the reporter said.
“He’s some religious fanatic. How’d he get in here?” Mr. Zeero asked.
“He had legit credentials. We assumed he was working with the paper.” An assistant said. Outside of Mr. Zeero’s office he could see the wide eyes and shocked looks of all of his co-workers. He recognized some of the faces, even the new producer was among the crowd.
“I am a reporter.” The reporter said. “But, I am also one of those religious fanatics that thinks what you are doing is wrong. When I heard you were going to do this, I knew what I had to do.”
“Why? Why is it okay to kill me, but not a human?” Mr. Zeero said.
“You don’t know what this is going to do, what is going to happen if you kill the humans in front of us. It is going to put our whole society into a tailspin of destruction. Where did you even get a human? Who put you up to this?” The reporter said.
“I don’t know.” Mr. Zeero said.
“Think about it. Something is going to happen and you are going to be the cause of it all. Someone is setting you up. You have no idea what you are going to do.”
“Alright, that’s enough. Get him out of here.” Maleria said. “I heard there was something going on and I had to check on you. Are you okay?”
Mr. Zeero pulled his hand away from his neck and looked at the blood on his palm. He dabbed at the wound again, the wound burned. “How am I going to look on camera with a pen wound in my neck? It’s going to look like I don’t know how to shave.”
“So, I guess you are okay then?” Maleria asked. She bent down and righted the toppled chair in front of the desk, then she picked up the notebook and sat down. “Maybe we can use this. We can tell the new stations how you were attacked and fought back against the tyranny of a religious order. Maybe say something about how we all have the rights to do what we want.”
“Or we could just cancel the show and move on with our lives. You see these papers all over the floor? They are new ideas. New ways to cook things. New ways to do things. Maybe we could do more stories out in the world?”
Mr. Zeero went to sit down, then saw the broken leg. He went around his desk and sank into the torn leather sofa that was along a wall in his office.
“I think we had a good idea, but this is too much. What if there is a nut in the audience? Is it really worth risking all of these lives for one show?”
“We have it all figured out, don’t worry your pretty little head. It’s too late to cancel, too much has already been set to back out. The security guards are frisking everyone and putting them through metal detectors. Besides, we already have the humans. We can’t back out now.”
Mr. Zeero wiped his face, leaving a streak of blood on his blue skin. “Where did the humans even come from? It’s not like you can just get them from a farm. I didn’t think we could go into the forbidden zones.”
“One of the producers got them for us. Said that you had told him where to go. We didn’t ask, assuming that if you got them that you must have been on board.” Maleria said.
She got up and tossed the notebook into the trash. She went to the door, then turned back, “You have half an hour to get ready before the show starts. I’d clean up, put on your chef coat, and get downstairs. And smile, this is going to put you back in the big time.” She smiled, revealing sharp pointed teeth.
“Did you know the reporter was crazy?”
Maleria shook her head, “Why would I do that? Just get ready for the show.”
After she was gone, Mr. Zeero went to the trash can and picked up the notebook. Scribbled on the pages in angry black marks were crosses, stars, and the seeing eye of the brood mother. Scripture regarding the sin of shedding human blood, of tasting human blood, were sprinkled with the insane drawings. Mr. Zeero shivered and dropped the notebook as if it burned his skin.
Neen knocked on the door, causing Mr. Zeero to jump. “Sir, they are ready for you in makeup. Oh, and the cauldron is in the studio kitchen ready for your show.”
“Thanks Neen. I’ll be right there.”
Cauldron? Did I ask for a cauldron? Jeez, Maleria is really playing this up.
Audience members buzzed at the prospect of seeing something perverse. Many had watched his show when they were younger, but now found themselves changing the channel anytime they saw it was on. But, this was new.
Some hoped that the legends were true and that they would be there live to see armageddon. Some wanted this to finally prove that the religion so many followed was a lie. Yet, hidden deep within all of them was the strange primal urge of their ancestors calling out for real human blood.
Neen was supposed to be in the studio control room, helping produce the show. However, he wanted to be on the floor, close to the action. He needed to be on the floor when the human’s blood was finally spilled. His life had been built for this moment. The moment when the monsters finally were released from their shackles of living like the humans. He was on the crest of the wave that would crash onto the world and wash away the past. The control room might be where the magic happened every night, but this night, the magic was going to be in the kitchen.
Lights dimmed, a hush fell over the crowd, the studio lights sparked to life, and Mr. Zeero entered the kitchen. From where Neen stood he could see Mr. Zeero’s nervousness. The overflowing audience hollered and cheered. Neen felt the excitement and clapped with the audience as Mr. Zeero smiled. He watched Mr. Zeero avoid the humans and walk to his mark behind the island. A director spoke up through the crew headsets; Neen listened as the cameras pointed at Mr. Zeero. The show was now live.
“Welcome to the show everyone! Tonight we have a special treat for you all. That’s right, we are going to make a rustic human soup with the meat of humans.” Mr. Zeero said.
He paused for a moment and directed everyone’s attention toward the two humans on the stockade. Another stage direction came through the headset, a spotlight fell onto the humans. They were mostly skin and bones. When Neen received the two from an old shaman deep in the Wasteland, he hadn’t examined them. And when he shackled them to the stockades the night before, the dark studio and his nerves kept him distracted from getting a good look at the humans. This afternoon was his first chance to look at them, but they didn’t look the same as they did under the bright lights. The one with the long hair shuddered under the light and began to scream. The other one just hung its head. The audience gasped at the sight of them.
“Now, I want to take a moment to discuss with you, the audience, and those watching live at home. I know that there has been a lot of discussion regarding the killing of humans. It is against the religious believes of a lot of you. And others might wonder why cook something we can’t have. But, I believe that on this show we have a duty to explore the natural or unnatural. I...” Mr. Zeero stopped.
The ear piercing scream from the long haired human interrupted Mr. Zeero’s speech. As much as Mr. Zeero was conflicted about killing the humans, Neen knew that Mr. Zeero was a celebrity, and the screaming woman was taking the spotlight off of him. Neen was impressed at how Mr. Zeero seemed to keep his composure through the interruption.
“Excuse me folks. If you have worked in a kitchen as long as I have, you have no doubt worked with live animals. Usually, they are quiet. But, every once in awhile you get one that makes an awful racket. In this case, I recommend you get out your trusty meat tenderizer.”
Mr. Zeero pulled out a large shiny hammer. One side had rounded spikes, the other side flat. “And what you do with this is bop the creature on the head. I suggest one strong wack to the top of their skull. It should kill them or at least knock them unconscious.”
Neen’s eyes went large as he watched the TV chef walk up to the human. The studio was silent except for the screams of the human and the whirl of the camera. Mr. Zeero lifted up the hammer and brought it down hard on the top of the human’s head. A large crack went through the kitchen. The human’s leg spasmed uncontrollably. The smell of blood filled the studio as blood began to drip down the human’s face. Mr. Zeero smiled at the camera and audience. Then he dropped the hammer with a thud on the counter.
“Where was I? Ah yes, killing humans. On my show, I want to share with you recipes that you might know, and some that you do not. I’ve done a lot of shows and cooked a lot of dishes. But, this is a new dish for a new era.”
Mr. Zeero walked back to his mark.
“My producers have told me that my show has run its course. That my loyal fans and audience are tired of the same old stuff. So, I’m here to turn the page and give you something new. Something that you haven’t tried before. Because I think that is what my show is all about, giving you something new.” Mr. Zeero paused again, this time he looked down at the counter.
Wow, this is such bullshit. Neen thought as he watched Mr. Zeero pause for dramatic effect. I guess it doesn’t matter, as long as he kills them, I don’t care what he says.
“Finally, the religious aspect of this isn’t lost on me. My audience is filled with those that believe in the religion and those that don’t. I can’t discriminate against one without making the other angry. But, I want to open up the world to you, show you something new. If that means I break a religious vow, than so be it. I’m foremost a chef, and a chef does things that might seem weird, or terrible, but if it is what a patron requested, then who am I to judge?”
Applause ripped through the studio. Neen’s headset shook at the cheers from the control room. He could hear Maleria say this is going to be an award winning episode. Neen could imagine Maleria already practicing her emmy speech. Neen prayed that after this night, there wouldn’t be any award shows; they were too much an aspect of the monsters trying to act like humans. The audience quieted down as Mr. Zeero began to talk through the recipe.
Mr. Zeero began the long process of prep before he had to cook the humans. Neen paced back and forth. He checked his watch. He picked his teeth. He did everything he could to distract himself from the fact that Mr. Zeero hadn’t touched the humans yet. The show was almost half over, and Mr. Zeero hadn’t prepped the main protein. I gave him that recipe, I know that the humans need to be skinned, they need to be quartered, they need to be tenderized, and they need to be put in that cauldron! Is he chickening out? Then it dawned on him. He’s delaying. He is going to drag the show out and not cook them at all!
The minutes ticked by, and Neen’s chance to bring about a new world began to slip away. Mr. Zeero began to discuss the significance of the cauldron, how they would have cooked the meal before they had kitchens. The audience seemed restless, Neen watched them as they looked around stifling yawns and talking. The control booth was silent, yet Neen could feel the anger emanating through the headset. Their anger almost matched his. If he didn’t do something soon, he knew that Mr. Zeero was going to have someone let those humans free and there was going to be no death, no release of the father beast.
“Well, folks, we are almost out of time. I know you wanted to see the humans get cooked, and even get a taste of this delicious soup. A soup like this takes time, and sometimes, with a live show, that’s just the way it goes. I still have a little prep work to do, but you’ll have to comeback next week for the results.” Mr. Zeero said.
Neen had it. Live show be damned, the humans were going to be cooked on the show tonight, and it didn’t matter who did it. Neen walked onto the set. Mr. Zeero dropped the knife he was using to chop onions. “You need to cook those humans. Now.” Neen said.
“What are you doing?” Mr. Zeero whispered. Then he faced the camera, “Folks, we have our young producer here. Neen wave to the monsters at home.”
The disturbance caught the attention of the bored audience, Neen could feel their eyes on him. His headset hissed at him, “What the hell are you doing, Neen? You are fired!” Neen threw the headset down. He picked up the hammer that Mr. Zeero had left on the counter. “If you are not going to cook them, I am.”
“Neen, my boy. I don’t think you realize what you are doing. We can’t cook the humans. We don’t do that anymore, we’ve evolved. We are better than what we were. We’ve done great things. If we cook the humans, what’s next? Do we start killing each other? Do we go back to being the playthings of a wicked god? I’m doing the will of our new god. She expressly forbid the taste of humans because she knew it would send us on a tailspin of destruction.”
“No! You lie! You’ve been lying and delaying this whole time. You are exactly like what the humans were, two-faced! Clearly we haven’t evolved, we’ve become some sort of strange copies of what they were. We were better than that. Now I’m going to prove it and kill them!” He said, pointing the hammer at the two humans.
“I’m not going to let you.” Mr. Zeero said. He moved between Neen and the humans.
Neen, filled with the primal rage of his ancestors, pounced on Mr. Zeero. The audience began to whoop and holler. Neen lifted up the hammer and crashed it down on Mr. Zeero’s skull. The blue skin around Mr. Zeero’s face sunk in around the hammer. Mr. Zeero began to twitch. Neen brought the hammer down again, and again.
An evil shape in the center of Neen’s brain tore at the pieces that made Neen act like a human. The shape inside of him ripped and gnashed until all that was left was an urge to kill and offer up human blood to the ancient beings.
The sound of the audience screaming was a distant noise to Neen. He ignored the shouts from the crew. In the corner of his eye he could see the giant security guards running toward him. He knew he didn’t have much time. He reached up to the human with long hair. With a loud rip and pop, the human, now missing an arm, was free from the stockade. A security guard was in Neen’s sight, pointing a gun at him. The mission was too important for Neen to worry about what was going to happen to him. He dumped the human into the boiling cauldron as a shot rang out.
Hissing steam bellowed out of the cauldron. The studio filled with the fragrant smell of cooking meat mixing with vegetables. Neen sunk to the floor clutching his shoulder. Two security guards stood over him. Neen waited for something to happen.
He had imagined this night for years. He imagined the cauldron shaking. A loud boom as the thunder cracked in the studio, green and orange smoke filling the room. He imagined snake like beast slithering out of the cauldron and everyone dropping to their knees worshipping it. Instead, the cauldron continued to bubble, the human simmering in the soup and nothing happened.
Tears filled his eyes and realized that he had been a fool. His life had been a big lie. He curled up on the ground, sobbing and holding his wounded shoulder. A large foot crashed down on top of him. Why are they beating me, he thought. Neen lifted his head up to see the two security guards fighting. He looked past the island and saw the studio had become a bloodbath; the monsters were attacking and killing each other.
Neen stood up and watched the horrorshow in front of him. Teeth, torn clothes, howls, and blood filled the stands. Monsters tore into their family members, friends, or strangers. He watched one eat another whole, swallowing it like it was a piece of pie. A claw grabbed his head and forced him over to the cauldron. Before it could dunk him into the boiling pot his mind cracked as he realized he had gotten exactly what he wanted, they had reverted back to being monsters.
Thanks for reading! I can't believe I'm almost to number 10. This has been a fun ride and I want to thank you for sticking around through it all. I think I'm getting better with each one, but if you notice something, please let me know. I would love some feedback. Please comment below and let me know what you think!
Stick around, number 10 is going to be a good one.