The Holy Land
One of the aliens bit off Julianne's little toe. Bit it off and ate it. The waitresses aren't supposed to come into the kitchen, but Julianne slipped back through the big swinging door to try to convince Bennie Palmer, our head pastry cook, to do a no-sugar whipped topping for some fat lady's coconut cream pie. Small favors to the customers make for bigger tips, and Julianne with two kids and a drug-addled husband needed every penny should could get her hands on.
She'd worked the game before. A cook's small favors to the waitresses could, conceivable, get a guy laid. In Bennie's dreams, in the case of Julianne, but a man always holds out hope, no matter how slim the chances.
Julianne spied him on the other side of the salad room, in the baker's corner beside the butcher's shop. She tip-toed into the ongoing chaos of the kitchen, dodged a prep cook scurrying by with a tub of chopped onions, and stepped around to the baker's table, waving away a cloud a flour dust rising from a forty-pound glob of yeast dough that Bennie had just dumped on the powdered metal surface. She sidled up next to the cook with a full complement of toes at this point and bumped her breast against his arm and smiled as he turned to her. Those dimples, those flashing teeth, the warm twinkle in her chocolate-brown eyes Bennie Palmer would have crawled across the greasy floor for her. Getting a no-sugar whipped topping was going to be a piece of cake.
Or it would have been, if not for Toby Koenig, the butcher. He was, at the time of the breast bump and smile, slicing up a slab of London broil for the evening meal's Beef Wellington on a table next to Bennie's. Toby had a thing for Julianne, and his jealousy welled at the sight of her bestowing her attention on the unworthy pastry cook, so he flipped a chunk of raw meat at the couple off his knife blade, hoping to hit his competition in the forehead. He missed; the meat splatted instead on the side of Julianne's boob. It stuck. She looked down, frowned, brushed it off and called the meat-flinging butcher an asshole. The beef chunk landed on the floor beside her foot, which was clad in Jesus-era Holy Land sandals and Mary (her Holy Land name), one of our extra-terrestrial kitchen helpers, dove away from the mop she wielded and struck like a snake, face first at the red morsel, snapping it up, along with Julianne's little toe.
The waitress screamed in pain; the mop handle, which had stood briefly at attention when the alien abandoned it, clattered to the floor, as the bit of meat, mixed with Julianne's toe, rode down into the alien gullet.
"They sounded like scissors," a blanch-faced prep cook, Megan, sniffled later, referring to the noise of the otherworldly chewing action. "You know, like metal scraping metal."
The Tyn have claimed from the get-go in this interspecies guest worker program that their dronette class are strictly vegetarian; but I'd seen even before the Julianne incident evidence to the contrary. An untended prime rib a fifteen-pound slab of untended medium rare beef disappeared a week previously, leaving behind a splotch of blood on the wooden work table where it had lain. Two minutes after the discovery of this disappearance, Haraldo, the line cook in charge, went into a hissy, swinging a wire whip over his head and accusing his fellow cooks of thievery. But he stopped cold, like a frozen pork chop, when three of our Tyn helpers emerged from the walk-in refer with their normally meek expressions replaced by unmistakable looks of carnivorous satiation, like a pack of little bi-ped jackals waddling, big-bellied, away from a stripped carcass. One of the three sported, I'm told, a small dab of blood on the corner of her mouth, sparkling like a ruby in the fluorescent lighting.
I didn't witness this. I didn't see the toe incident, either. I was, at toe time, leaned at my computer screen, composing a letter of reprimand aimed at a perpetually tardy bus girl. Julianne's pained screams, Toby the butcher's bellowed curses, Mary's extra-terrestrial squeal the split second before Toby beheaded her this is what jerked me from my chair.
I leaped across my office, slammed the door aside and burst into the tiled hallway, skidding as I tried to make the ninety-degree turn toward the kitchen. I hit the wall, bounced and stopped dead at the sight of Mary's disembodied head rolling, chin over forehead, chin over forehead, my way.
Its journey ended when the roll stopped atop the flat plane of the clean quick cut of the butcher's knife, maroon blood draining out onto the white tiles, as Mary's eyelids and lips twitched with fading neural impulses, the face freezing after five of the longest seconds of my life into a horrid grimace, her sharp silver teeth bared at me in the nastiest mad dog snarl I'd ever seen.
Published September 2007