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One More Bite

Michelle Muenzler, also known at local conventions as "The Cookie Lady," writes fiction both dark and strange to counterbalance the sweetness of her baking. Her fiction and poetry have been published in magazines such as Crossed Genres, Apex Magazine, and Flash Fiction Online. She takes immense joy in crinkling words like little foil puppets.

"The bread is good," our latest guest says, nearly choking on the words as she tries to force the lump down her throat. I don't know her name--names are considered impolite at the giant's table.
Our host gestures at an iron bowl. "And the soup? What do you think of the soup?"
The bulge of bread pauses its passage. With a hard swallow, she thrusts it from further view. "The soup. I'm sure the soup is... delightful. But I don't think--"
"Eat the soup." He pushes the bowl, tiny as a thimble against his massive thumb, closer to her.
Bits of broth slosh over the rim, and her mouth tightens, caught between a grimace and a smile. Tiny bones bob delicately in the liquid.
"Truly," she says, "if I eat another bite, I'll burst." Her skin flutters as though already on the verge of spilling forth its contents. Her hands grip the table ledge.
Our host's face darkens, and the air grows heavy with nascent sparks. "You will eat, thief, or I will strip the flesh from your bones and--"
"Esteemed host."
His head snaps in my direction.
"I would be most pleased to try the soup."
The words take a moment to burrow their way into comprehension, and the room grows darker still. "It is not your soup to eat. Your nightly sup is done, much to my satisfaction."
I ignore him and drag the bowl toward me with arms thickened by hundreds of such meals. "Ah," I say, "but I am hungry still and your table yet brims with delights."
Our host chews on his desire for propriety versus his desire for punishment, but I know from experience not to wait on his answer. Instead, I raise the bowl to my lips, bits of bone tapping at my teeth, and drink. The woman tries to hide her gag as the softened bones, sponge-like from their long simmer, slide worm-like down my throat.
I finish the soup, dab my napkin against my lips, then gesture to the woman. "Would you pass me the mince pies? They smell exquisite tonight. Our host has outdone himself, as usual."
She stares at me with a mix of gratefulness and disgust. Our host clears his throat loud enough to shake dust from the great hall's ceiling, and with a tremble, the woman passes me the plate.
My stomach groans from the pressure within, but still I wrap my face in a polite expression as I carve a pie into ladylike portions. The woman watches me eat, minuscule bite after minuscule bite. Hands me the dishes I request, sets aside those I state I do not fancy. The giant also watches, enthralled by the dance of knife and fork in my hands. There is an art to eating at the giant's table, to knowing what can be declined and what must be consumed. How best to drain each dreg to maximum effect.
Eventually, though, even I can eat no more. I lean back in my chair, my plate picked clean down to the whites of every bone. The chains dangling from my ankles ring chime-like as I adjust my seat.
Ever so gently, I pat my distended stomach. "I fear, esteemed host, that I can not do justice to your gracious table. But perhaps our latest guest might please you with a renewed appetite?"
The woman startles, ankle chains clanking discordantly. She'd thought herself forgotten, but none are forgotten at the giant's table. And none leave without consuming their fair share or being equally consumed in turn.
With sudden understanding, she straightens in her chair. Her hand drifts out--so thin, so thin!--and skims a number of small bites. Finally, it pauses over a silvered tray layered with pickled cock's combs. An excellent choice for one yet new to the table. I allow the smallest sliver of a smile to touch my lips.
Assured, her hand settles more firmly on the tray. "Yes," she says, "I do believe my appetite has quite returned, thank you. And it would be an absolute crime to let such delicacies as these go uneaten."
The giant laughs, a tremendous guffaw, and if not for my stomach I'd join him. A crime, indeed. She's a sharp one, this guest, sharper than the other recent thieves who've been caught trip-trapping through the giant's halls with their sticky dreams and stickier fingers. Perhaps she'll even outlast her first meal.
So few of us do.
A small bulge rises in my throat. Before our host can notice, I swallow it down and focus on the empty plate before me and the small act of breathing. Across from me, fork and knife clink in a new dance beneath still uncertain hands, and for those that remain, the feast continues.
The End
This story was first published on Thursday, June 9th, 2016

Author Comments

My fascination with food often worms its way into my writing, and this story is no exception. It was born of that image of the vast table, laden with dishes both familiar and strange, growing only stranger still with each revision. It is also possible a few of my friend's faces turned somewhat green at the delights within....

- Michelle Muenzler
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