It’s been a while since I’ve put anything up here, mainly because of the focus on NaNoWriMo, however to make up for it, here is a free story. The Last Supper was first published in KnightWatch Press’ The Last Diner. It is one of my earliest horror stories and retains a special place in my heart. Some of the dishes described in the story are real – Casu Marzu and Sannakji are both on YouTube amongst other more exotic offerings.
The Last Supper
Nobody paid him much attention as they hurried by. Just another down-and-out huddled in the doorway with the obligatory mangy dog. They would draw a glance, nothing more, before their presence was swiftly and conveniently forgotten. If anyone did notice them it was more out of pity for the dog than compassion for its owner. They were a grey pair, dirty, unkempt, unwanted – except by each other. There but for the Grace of God … thought many as they passed. They didn’t realise however, that God had nothing to do with it.
A man in uniform approached the vagrant; a stark contrast that was all shiny shoes and cleanliness. A cup steamed in one hand whilst the other clutched an open tin of dog food.
“Something a bit stronger would’ve been appreciated, Major,” said the man as he accepted the coffee with some distaste and put the tin in front of his dog.
“That stuff’ll be the death of you if you’re not careful,” said the Major. “It’s about time you got off the street. We’ve got a room down at the hostel.”
“Persistent bugger aren’t you,” said the tramp. “Told you. This life suits me. I’ve got the perfect spot here. It’s all in the location.”
The Major looked up and down the precinct. It seemed busy enough but the recession had closed many of the shops and there was a growing air of neglect and despair about the place. This had been reflected in the numbers that now queued up at his Salvation Army hostel for either food or a bed. Apart from Jack that is. The man had inhabited the doorway of The Last Supper since it had opened three years ago. The owners never seemed to bother him. They were closed during the day so he was left in peace whilst at night, when it was open, he would appear to move elsewhere. The Major had never come across him when he walked the streets at night, he had no idea where he went; only that he returned once the customers had vanished.
The Major peered in at the tinted windows. As usual he could see nothing. Even the menu had been taken down. Occasionally the thought crossed his mind it was about time he tried the food there but every time he had neared the place something had happened to distract him and he found himself walking away – even as others went through its doors.
“Don’t think it’s to your taste,” said Jack as the Major gazed up at the restaurant sign.
“Oh, why not?”
“I think you’d find it a bit too hot and spicy … and I’m not just talking about the food if you know what I mean.”
“Ah,” said the Major tugging uncomfortably at his collar. “Perhaps I might just give it a miss.” But he turned away rather regretfully, his curiosity piqued. He felt he might return at some point, after all there could be some lost souls to save.
Jack watched the Major walk away, a smile hovering on his lips. His way was now clear to eye up the night’s clientele and to plan the menu that would be offered. He was certain it would be to die for. A fragment of conversation reached his ears.
“… get to school. You don’t say nothing. Do you hear?”
Jack turned his head in the direction of the man’s voice. He saw someone not much cleaner than himself, thickset and shaven-headed. A meaty fist was grasping the arm of a young lad who wore the uniform of the local secondary school. The boy’s face was sullen but even from this distance he could sense the youth’s fear.
The man moved his face closer to the boy’s. “And if you say anything to your mum, you’ll get more of this.” He raised his other fist to reinforce the message. “Understood?”
The boy nodded and headed off towards the school, head down to hide the black eye he sported.
Jack knew questions would be asked but nothing would be done. The social workers were terrified of Michael Reeves, choosing to accept his assurances all was well and young David had merely walked into a door.
A flyer brushed Reeves arm and landed at his feet. Michael bent down and picked it up. “Free meal, eh? All you can eat.” He looked at the advert for The Last Supper and then across at the restaurant itself. He did not see the tramp in the doorway. “Why not?” he thought and tucked the flyer in his pocket.
Jack grinned. The first invitation had been issued, one seat filled. He scanned the road for the next customer. He had a table for six to fill, three of them in fact.
A middle-aged woman, scowl-faced, was going into the supermarket opposite. Her purchases, fags and booze, were paid for with a debit card in the name of Mrs Lilian Wilson. He knew Mrs Wilson, now 80 years old and requiring round-the-clock care, remembered her when she was younger, a kindly district nurse who had time for everyone, even a man like him. This woman was not her; Lilian had been a teetotaller and non-smoker all her life, these purchases were not for her.
In his mind’s eye he could see Lilian, bruised, lying in her bed, waiting in terror for the woman who was supposed to care for her. He sent a flyer dancing along the street, floated it into the hand of the false Mrs Wilson who glanced at it absently, not registering that she had not picked it up. Mrs Jennifer Borden was stressed, she had a long shift ahead of her with old Mrs Wilson. She did not relish the thought, all that dribble, all that … frailty. She had to find her perks where she could and lord knows she deserved them she thought, but still it would be nice to have the day off. Her mobile vibrated. Scanning through the messages – so many missed calls from her husband – or rather avoided – she found the last one was a voicemail from the office. Apologising for the short notice they had given her the day off. Someone else had volunteered to look after Mrs Wilson. A big grin appeared on her face, she glanced happily at the advert. Free drinks with every meal. That would do nicely.
Two seats had been filled.
From the opposite direction came two businessmen, sharp-suited sharks, partners in crime.
“We need to send Garvey in,” said the thinner of the sharks.
The other laughed. “Yeah, he’ll get results all right. Although I think we need to remind him to show some restraint.”
“What, no broken teeth and hit them where the marks won’t show?”
“Something like that. Should get our cash flow moving again.”
“Perhaps we should review our interest rates,” said the thin shark. “I could do with a holiday, I think a nice long cruise would go down a treat. The missus has been banging on about it for a while, given me the proverbial earache.”
“Same here. What do you reckon? 1%?”
His partner nodded his agreement. They needed to celebrate he thought, his eyes registering the restaurant for the first time.
“Hey, look over there. They’ve got an offer on tonight, two-for-one. Up for it? We could take the wives, keep ’em sweet.”
The men continued on their way. That was one table filled. The first six. The next table was easier still. Like flies to a corpse they came, clustered together, bleary-eyed, foul in breath and mind. The cream of the nation’s girlhood. Their night had only just finished, now they were planning the next.
One of the girls charmingly vomited into the gutter and wiped the specks away with a flyer that had dropped to the pavement beside her. A fitting use thought Jack, you could even call it the perfect analogy to his own plans for them. He allowed another leaflet to find its way to the group.
“Hey, look at this,” said the bottle blonde. “It’s for that posh restaurant over there. Really exclusive it is.”
“’Cos it’s so bleedin’ expensive, that’s why,” said an orange-skinned girl, tugging at her sagging boob tube.
“There’s a special discount for groups of 6 tonight and a Happy Hour on their cocktails. I’m well up for it. Anyone else?”
The girls eyed the restaurant hungrily. It was rumoured some of the top footballers dined there. It would make a good hunting ground. Current boyfriends could be dumped, a disposable commodity in their climb to the top. The girls were easily bought, For Sale signs glittered in their kohl-caked eyes.
That was the second table filled. The second six. Perhaps he should make sure that the other table did indeed contain the lusted-after footballers, that would really make their night – but no, that would be too easy. He would save the footballers for another time.
The customers he had in mind would not be walking this way that morning; however, there was always the good old postman. He’d ensured that flyers had been delivered with the morning’s post. He also knew they would come – there was no choice really, not once they’d been selected.
On the guest list was a politician, wasn’t there always one? Pedlar of lies, dealer of deceit. He would make good company with the author, plagiarist of the works of others. Then there was the vicar who was betraying his wife, the spy who was betraying his country, the judge who betrayed justice. That left one seat and it was already taken, by him. He always took part in the festivities. He had his third table filled. The third six. Coincidence? Not really, he was just a sucker for a good allegory. A subtle touch that went over the heads of his clientele but he was pleased with his own sense of the theatrical. He stood up and stretched although making sure he remained in the shadow of the porch and out of the reach of the morning sun. It really did nothing for his complexion. He cracked his knuckles and gave a low whistle.
“Come on boy,” he said to his dog. “We’ve got a menu to prepare.”
The animal bared its teeth in response, forming a curiously malicious grin that sent an unwary child who came over to pet it, scuttling back to its mother.
The woman looked angrily at the vagrant and his dog, ready to do battle with whatever had upset her little angel but when she caught the man’s eye she merely smiled and waved. The thought crossed her mind it’d probably been her son who’d upset the animal. Children really should not torment defenceless creatures. He needed to be punished. The smack echoed down the street, attracting the attention of a passing policeman who in turn noticed the fingermarks forming on the child’s face.
Dog and master turned their back on the scene, opened the door to the restaurant and stepped into the gloom. They walked through to the kitchen where spotless stainless steel surfaces gleamed, carving knives glinted. A certificate from Environmental Health hung proudly in its frame. It was a showcase of a kitchen. You’d think no one ever cooked there … and you’d be right. Service was carried out at the table side to ensure the customer knew exactly what was coming and so far there had been no complaints. He picked up his chef’s whites and moved to the back of the restaurant. The air trembled around him, he could almost taste the anticipation.
“Only a few more hours,” he said aloud, watching in mild amusement as his dog sniffed at one of the chairs and then cocked its leg, marking his territory. “Now, now old fellow. You know you mustn’t show any favouritism.”
The dog wagged his tail in agreement before meting out the same treatment to all the other chairs. The puddles of urine slowly seeped into the carpet, the colour of which could not be described, soaked as it had been with all manner of bodily fluids since the restaurant had first opened. Today was its third anniversary and the tramp-now-chef thought that warranted a celebration of some kind.
He started to chalk up the day’s special on the board. It was certainly an eye-watering dish for any discerning customer. The menu cards were laid out by the till. He scanned the bill of fare, chuckling at his little jokes. Whores d’oeuvre for starters, Taste of Pain for the mains and Just Desserts for afters. A bit lame, a touch cliché but then again wasn’t the whole evening one big cliché?
The clock struck 6.00 pm. One more hour. Time to fire up the ovens. The diners were on their way.
The girls were already tipsy when they arrived, falling over each other as they crashed through the door. Without a word he led them to their table where he had already placed complimentary cocktails. He could feel six pairs of hungry eyes fixed on him as he walked away.
“He’s a bit of alright,” said one.
“Mmm,” said another, her eyes dreamily following the receding figure.
Jack glanced in the mirror as he made towards the door whose jangle had announced further rivals. His skin was cracked and ravaged, streaked with dirt, grey with age. Greasy hair hung down the sides of his face, framing bloodshot eyes. His whites were still white but they clothed an unwashed body over which an army of lice marched whilst his shoes had split at the toe to reveal yellowing nails. His fingernails weren’t much better. None of this however was visible to his customers. They would see what he wanted them to see, free will was left at the door.
He fixed a smile on his face and prepared to meet the new arrivals. Jennifer Borden, Michael Reeves, the loan sharks and their wives.
“May I take your coats, ladies?” he asked.
They handed them over without a murmur. Jack briefly disappeared through the door marked Cloakroom and chucked the coats into the furnace.
“This place has class,” said Shark Wife No.1.
“Nothing’s too much for you sweetheart,” said her husband.
Jennifer Borden eyed Jack appreciatively; salt-and-pepper hair, firm-jawed, trim, everything Mr Borden was not. Michael Reeves also eyed him approvingly, wondering if he could indulge in some mild flirtation.
Jack left them happily sipping their complimentary champagne. Politician, author, vicar, spy, judge. The last five had arrived. He seated them personally before taking his own seat. The glasses on this table were filled with a blood-red vintage. He raised his glass, admiring the depth of colour as it absorbed the glow of the candles which flickered around them. It was at moments like this, when his sense of anticipation was at its highest, that he felt most happy. He cast a beneficent smile on his gathered guests who all gazed quite contentedly back at him. When the scales eventually fell from their eyes, he knew they would not be as happy. He stood up, ignoring the flies that now buzzed around his head.
“Welcome, my friends,” he said. “Tonight you will participate in a gastronomical event unique in both content and delivery. A dining sensation I can guarantee no other living soul has experienced. Of course should our service disappoint in anyway, we will do everything in our power to put things right.”
His audience, in their unknowing self-conceit, applauded his speech, ignoring the globs of liquid that fell from his glass as he swung his arms wide in greeting. The scarlet stain crept slowly across the tablecloth. The flies dropped lower.
It was time for the first course. Small slivers of burnt toast appeared on empty plates.
“We pride ourselves on the freshness of our products,” he said. “Permit me to prepare these personally.”
He walked over to the table of girls who were still positively drooling at the sight of him.
“The Whores d’Oeuvres,” he announced dramatically. “Ladies Fingers.” A razor-sharp cleaver materialized in his hand. Still they smiled, eyes empty and vacant. Much like their brains, he thought.
“It is a custom,” he continued, “hands be inspected for cleanliness before their owner is allowed to dine. Personal hygiene is something that this establishment naturally takes very seriously. My dears …”
At this command, the girls obediently held out their hands in front of them. He took them gently, caressing their soft skin then raised the hand holding the cleaver. The steel shimmered above his head. Another mirror reflected this heroic pose. God he was good, he thought admiringly. Such poise, such finesse. He dropped his arm, watching it arc down, steel slicing through fingers as if they were butter. Six from each woman. Six mouths open in noiseless screams. He put a finger to his lips to hush them. He did not want any sense of pain to disturb the current ambience – just yet. He placed two fingers on each diner’s toast. But something wasn’t quite right. He gazed at the plate thoughtfully, it was lacking a certain je ne sais quoi. Aah, how could he forget? He threw a small piece of limp lettuce and a cherry tomato, only slightly mouldy, on each. There. It was all in the garnish.
“Please, enjoy.” His prompt made hands, mutilated or whole, reach for the canapés, crush them into mouths that had not yet registered what they would be ingesting. “Food needs to be experienced by all the senses,” he expounded as he circulated between the tables. “You must fully engage with your eyes, your ears, your nose, your touch … your taste. Chew long and hard. Allow the juices to dance across your palate.”
Obediently they all bit down, two of the tables still oblivious to what they were eating whilst at the girls’ table they gagged and choked as they repeatedly attempted to spit out fingers that had begun to crawl down their throats. Spear-like fingernails, painted in killing colours for the occasion, ripped at gullets, clawed at stomach walls. Jack grinned with satisfaction … bleeding to death, internally or externally, asphyxiation, shock, he had all his options covered. Life – no, death would be more accurate – was good, and the evening had only just begun. He noticed there were still two fingers left. He threw them to his dog who swiftly wolfed them down. One of the tables was now silent. Would they be missed? Probably not.
It was time for the main course. He had to admit that for this he had stolen his ideas from South-East Asian cuisine. Dammit, but they were creative devils. Such inventiveness was to be admired.
The dirty plates had been replaced by equally filthy plates across which maggots now crawled. He was slightly annoyed. The wriggling larvae were not supposed to appear until the end. He shrugged his shoulders, maintaining perfection was not always possible.
The sushi was placed in front of the diners. Multi-coloured, multi-textured, a real appetite sharpener.
“Please help yourselves. Choose whatever you wish.” The guests did not realise his comments were not directed at them. Sushi for loan sharks, little fish eating big fish. Very appropriate. Slowly the lobsters and crabs righted themselves and crawled towards their chosen diners. Gasping fish leapt and gulped across the table, sannakji – octopus tentacles – writhed and wriggled up chopsticks. Human mouths opened automatically to allow ingress to the moving banquet.
Jennifer Borden put down her empty cocktail glass, expecting another instant refill but none was forthcoming. She looked around for a waiter. There was none. The table in the corner was strangely quiet but a shadow hung over it so she was unable to make out what the girls were up to. Perhaps they were getting better service than herself. The thought made her angry and she stabbed her knife forcefully into the food in front of her. It reacted violently. Pincers flew at her face, cutting through flesh so that rivulets of blood ran down to mix with the marinade.
Michael Reeves was faring no better. Suckers from the octopus had clamped themselves to his tongue, pushing, rolling it back so that his airway was covered.
The loan shark party in turn had received their meal plus interest, although the wives looked distinctly less than satisfied. But as Jack had said, all the senses needed to be engaged to fully appreciate the meal. He allowed their eyes to see, really see, touch to really feel. Now they were awake, albeit only for a brief moment. They would be allowed to taste life and pain to their full before they were sated.
That left one table. Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die. Scratch that. Eat, drink and be merry for today we die. They had come so willingly, these pillars of society, it seemed almost a shame.
He resumed his seat, giving his companions a fatherly smile as he did so. They grinned idiotically back. Around them the candles on the other tables had gone out making their own an oasis of light in the encroaching darkness. They had dined on human flesh and not noticed, they had choked on the living and not noticed. The final dish would only reinforce this metaphor for their own lives. Its pungent smell announced its arrival.
“Ah, the cheeseboard, ladies and gentlemen. Today we have a rare Sicilian delicacy, Casu Marzu.”
He flung stale crackers at them. The time for careful presentation had long since passed. It was he who was getting hungry now. The cheese knife hacked out mounds of the roiling yellow substance which he tossed after the crackers.
“Eat, eat, my friends. You must eat your fill. I insist.”
Obedient fingers raised the cheese to mouth, to teeth, to tongue. He watched with satisfaction as the light of realisation dawned in their eyes, the horror as they registered the maggots squirming inside it, on top, all over, the desperation as they tried to spit out the intruders but couldn’t. More and more larvae exploded from the cheese until the whole table was one writhing surface, spreading towards each guest, covering them, filling them up. They could not scream. He would not allow that. Such bad manners to speak with your mouth full. His stomach rumbled, his dog drooled. It was their turn.
Outside, the Major noticed the last lights going out. He had come back to see if Jack needed a bed for the night. The doorway however, was empty. That was a good sign. He hoped the man had been able to get a meal as well, perhaps the restaurant had taken pity and given him some leftovers. Comforted by the thought he turned and walked away, back into a night inhabited by so many suffering souls.
At the far end of the precinct a nightclub disgorged a group of pumped-up, primped-up, boozed-up footballers. One of them noticed a flyer at his feet. He picked it up.