Vincent cut into the meat, grimacing at the effort needed to saw through the stringy, pink flesh. He sliced off a portion, speared the chunk with his fork, and skated it through the fatty au jus pooled on his plate. He lifted the morsel to his nose and sniffed. The coppery tang told him the meat was quite rare, as he’d ordered, but beneath that pleasant smell a gamey odor reminded him, of all things, dirty laundry. He shrugged, popped the piece into his mouth, and chewed.
The meat was firm, juicy, and the coppery smell was reflected in the flavor. It tasted a bit like wild boar, an animal whose flesh he’d enjoyed in the past. He swallowed and frowned. The gaminess was stronger on his tongue than it had been beneath his nose. It lingered on his palate like an unwelcome guest.
The waiter, who stood behind him, stepped to the side of his table. “Is everything to your liking, sir?” He was tall, gaunt, and his skin had a yellow-orange tone that reminded Vincent of the antiseptic stuff surgeons swabbed on a patient before the incision.
Vincent cleared his throat, set his knife and fork on the table, and dabbed his lips with his napkin. “Well, I’m not a picky eater, but this has an odd taste.”
The waiter stared down at Vincent and nodded. His eyes were jaundiced orange as his skin. “Of course, sir,” he said, his voice low, acquiescent. “If I may make a suggestion, I believe one should try new flesh twice before deciding if it is to one’s liking. Wouldn’t you agree?”
Vincent had traveled the world sampling the rarest and the strangest meats he could find. It was his hobby, his passion. Some people collected coins or stamps; he collected unusual flavors and hard-to-obtain culinary experiences. He’d eaten komodo dragon on the small island of Gili Montang, dined on black rhino in Cameroon, and he’d even travelled to Papua New Guinea only to find, to his immense disappointment, that the islanders’ most infamous dish was more myth than reality.
Vincent glanced around the small windowless restaurant, in which he was the only diner. The color red dominated the tiny space. Four tables with red tablecloths, soft crimson rugs, and magenta walls all made it feel as if he was eating some prized beast from the inside out. He’d first heard mention of the place from a Canadian couple as they dined on omelets from bald eagle eggs. Later, another connoisseur whom he’d crossed paths with from time to time mentioned the restaurant when he was in France eating elephant tongue. There had been others, too, gastronomic pioneers who shared his passion for unique eating experiences. They had all assured him that here he would find everything he was looking for. When he’d finally found the nameless eatery in a part of town he’d never visited, he’d been unimpressed. Then he’d viewed their menu and spoke with the waiter and chefs, and his hope and excitement soared.
“I think that’s sound advice,” he said to the waiter. “I mean, what are the chances I’ll have the opportunity to eat something like this again?”
The waiter patted Vincent’s arm with one long, bony hand. His fingernails were long and jagged, like talons. “Exactly right, sir.”
Vincent picked up his knife and fork and regarded the slab of rare meat on his plate. There were definitely more bones than he liked; he could see their whitish outline beneath the slightly translucent flesh. He cut off another small piece, forked it, and put it into his mouth. It was a better this time. The blood had congealed, and the texture was firmer, which he liked. He chewed and swallowed and then waited for the aftertaste. It wasn’t overwhelming, but it was there, a dirty, musty flavor that cancelled out any of the meat’s better qualities.
“No,” Vincent said and set down knife and fork again. “I just don’t like this.”
The waiter appeared at his side. “I understand, and I am so very sorry our cooks could not prepare this dish to your satisfaction.
Vincent held up his hands. “No, no. That’s not the problem. It’s cooked to perfection. I just don’t like this meat.”
The waiter nodded and rubbed his slightly pointed chin with thumb and forefinger. “Perhaps you’d like to try another cut, then? In my experience meat from different parts of the same beast can have wildly different flavors.”
“That is a fine idea,” Vincent said, pulled the chair next to him out from under the table, and propped up his left leg up on it. He reached down and rolled his pant leg up and over the expertly sutured stump at the end of his ankle, exposing plump white flesh. He picked up his fork and poked at the thick calf muscle. He smiled up at the waiter. “Right about here should be good, I think.”
The waiter smiled back, exposing pointed teeth, cracked and yellowed like old ivory. “One of my personal favorites,” he said. “I’ll inform the butchers at once.”
[First published by Evil Girlfriend Media, 2015]
Aeryn Rudel is a writer from Seattle, Washington. His second novel, Aftershock, was recently published by Privateer Press, and his short fiction has appeared in The Arcanist, Factor Four Magazine, and Pseudopod, among others. He occasionally offers dubious advice on writing and rejection (mostly rejection) at www.rejectomancy.com or on Twitter @Aeryn_Rudel.