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||You are on Week 558
Every week we will be starting a new Story Telling competition - with great prizes! The current prize is 2000 NP, plus a rare item!!! This is how it works...
We start a story and you have to write the next few paragraphs. We will select the best submissions every day and put it on the site, and then you have to write the next one, all the way until the story finishes. Got it? Well, submit your paragraphs below!
Story Five Hundred Fifty Eight Ends Friday, June 1
|Alfred more than loved his job. He lived it.
The yellow Shoyru had been picky eater even as a young child, and he could tell if a meal needed more seasoning or to be cooked longer even before he could accurately form the words. Some mothers would have been exasperated, but his marveled at his talent and encouraged it. In Neoschool, the cafeteria workers learned quickly that he was quick and accurate with his criticisms, and tried their best to meet his expectations. It was rumored that the quality of the food had shown remarkable improvement during the years he was in school.
Therefore, no one was surprised when he grew up and took a job with The Neopian Times as a food critic. It was the perfect job for him. There was something about the power of being able to walk into any restaurant and ordering anything he wanted while the chefs scrambled to serve him their absolutely best dishes. His columns were recognized all over Neopia, so he was a bit of a low level celebrity. On more than one occasion, he had been asked to sign an autograph while being offered a piece of the chef's finest dessert. He couldn't imagine another life.
One day, Alfred was simply strolling through Neopian Central when he saw a new restaurant that he had never previously noticed. Its name was "Mystical Offerings," and he wouldn't have even noticed that it was a place to eat unless he had spotted a sign in the window stating that it was open for lunch. Frowning, he examined the dark exterior as he wondered how long it had been there. Since he hadn't heard of it, he doubted that the food could be of very much quality, but since he was feeling a bit hungry he decided to give it a chance.
Opening the door, he found the interior to be dark (although it wasn't gloomy). The furniture was simple and sparse, and there was a candle burning upon each wooden table. The windows had all been covered up by thick cloths, which explained the darkness, and only a few patrons were sitting quietly at the tables. An unusual odor hung in the air. It wasn't particularly appetizing, but it was oddly alluring. Alfred sniffed hard in an attempt to recognize the scent, but found it impossible.
A young Kacheek -- obviously the waitress -- approached him. He could tell by her smile that he had been recognized. "Mr. Alfred," she squealed, "I didn't expect to see you here."
He allowed himself to return a small portion of her sunny smile. "Your best table," he said.
"Of course," she replied as she turned and led him to a small table in the corner. He couldn't tell if it was actually the best table or not because each one looked the same, but he trusted the waitress's decision. She started to hand him a menu.
He waved off the menu immediately. "Just have the chef prepare what he feels is his best dish," he instructed.
She nodded. "Anything to drink?" she asked.
"Just a glass of water. I don't want to have anything interfere with the taste of the food," he said, smiling knowingly.
She again nodded as she started to turn away. The waitress paused, however, and she looked back at him with a strange look upon her face. "I should warn you," she began in a tone barely above a whisper, "Our food is a bit... unusual."
Alfred groaned inwardly. It was never a good sign when a waiter or waitress tried to make apologies for the food even before it had been served. "Just serve me the chef's best," he reiterated, "and I'll take it from there."
With the odd look still upon her face, the waitress left to take his order to the kitchen. Left alone, Alfred continued to examine his surroundings as he began to compose his latest review in his head.
He didn't have to wait long before the waitress brought out a large covered dish and his glass of water. He was more than a little surprised by the speed of the service here, but it gave him more reason to doubt the quality of the food. The waitress placed the dish in front of him and said "Enjoy!" as she whipped off the cover.
Date: May 29th
...Sitting upon the platter was another glass of water.
"Well, that's an odd way to serve a beverage," he scoffed. "Besides, miss, you've already brought me my water."
The Kacheek waitress wrung her paws nervously.
"No, Mr. Alfred, that's your main course."
The Shoyru's eyes widened momentarily, then his brow knitted in annoyance.
"Is this some kind of a joke, miss?" he huffed. "I don't appreciate this kind of tomfoolery among a restaurant's staff. This will reflect quite negatively in the rev--"
"No, please, Mr. Alfred!" the Kacheek begged. "Just have a sip. I promise you won't be disappointed!"
Alfred surveyed the room. He hadn't noticed it before, but none of the restaurant's other few customers were eating off of plates. Like him, they merely had what appeared to be a glass of water before them. One Skeith held his glass under his nose and inhaled deeply, a look of pure ecstasy on his face. In fact, every single customer seemed to be thoroughly enjoying the beverage.
Alfred lifted one eyebrow at the waitress.
"My name is Hilda, by the way," she said softly.
A bit reluctantly, Alfred grabbed the glass from her. Taking his example from the Skeith, he sniffed the liquid, then gave Hilda a shocked stare. She grinned sheepishly.
"No, it can't be," he whispered, almost inaudibly. After a moment's hesitation, the critic took a huge gulp of the water. It tasted just like... just like his mother's Chokato Pie!
In his youth, Alfred's mother had always tried to come up with the most interesting and delicious recipes for her son to try. He'd always been able to recreate the recipe down to the teaspoon, with one exception -- Chokato Pie. No matter how hard he tried, he'd never been able to put his finger on the ingredient that gave such a seemingly simple pie that certain je ne sais quoi. After every frustrating attempt to figure out the recipe, his mother would just grin mischievously at him.
Even in his adulthood, Alfred would occasionally try to recreate the pie from his childhood, always unsuccessfully. Since he'd lost his mother at a relatively young age, the Shoyru hadn't tasted the alluring desert in over twenty years... and yet, here he was, in a strange, dark restaurant, drinking water that tasted exactly like it.
He gave a baffled look in the direction of the Skeith that he had spotted earlier and caught his eye. The Skeith lifted his glass to him and winked.
"Chestnut Shortcake, just like Mom used to make," he said, then went back to drinking his water.
Alfred turned back to Hilda.
"Miss, you must let me speak to the chef at once. This is uncanny!"
For the first time, the Kacheek's face darkened.
"Oh no, Mr. Alfred. The chef doesn't see anyone..."
Date: May 29th
..."What?" Alfred said. "Please! I insist! This is amazing! I have to know more about this water! It could change dining in Neopia forever!"
"I'm sorry Mr. Alfred," Hilda replied, "but like I said, the chef doesn't see anyone."
"Okay, okay," Alfred said. "If you let me meet the chef, then I will give this establishment the best review I've ever given any restaurant before. You'll be even bigger than kelp! You won't be able to keep the customers out of here!"
"I'm sorry Mr. Alfred," Hilda repeated, "but the chef doesn't see anyone."
Alfred wasn't getting anywhere like this. He had to try once more, though. "Is there anything I can say or do that will allow me to meet the chef? Any amount of Neopoints I can pay?"
"I'm sorry Mr. Alfred," she said once again, "but the chef doesn't see anyone."
Alfred sighed. It was now obvious that he wasn't going to get anywhere with Hilda... but he still had to meet the chef! He had to know how he or she was able to get the taste so perfect! "Well, thank you Hilda," he said. "I'll be sure to give your establishment an honest review. May I have my check now, please?"
"Yes sir," she said, and quickly scribbled a check for the meal. Alfred paid his bill and left a nice tip for Hilda, and then exited the establishment.
He then quickly rushed into the alleyway next to the restaurant. He had to meet the chef! He had to know the secret! If the direct way wouldn't work, then he would just have to sneak in the back and through the kitchen.
Alfred made his way over the wooden fence and into the back lot of the restaurant. Much to his surprise, there was no trash or dump for garbage, like most restaurants had in the back. Strange, but not what he was concerned with.
Soon he found his goal, the kitchen door to the restaurant. Without any hesitation, Alfred pulled open the door to the kitchen and saw...
Date: May 30th
...an empty room. Well, it wasn't empty, but it most certainly wasn't a kitchen. It was just a barren storage room with a few dusty boxes here and there.
"My word, this just keeps getting stranger," Alfred muttered.
The Shoyru curiously entered the room and closed the door behind him. If he hadn't known any better, then he would've thought that he was just in an abandoned warehouse.
Alfred opened his mouth, ready to call out, but a part of him thought it best to stay silent. After all, he wasn't supposed to be here.
That's foolish, he thought to himself. It's just a restaurant; what's the worst that could happen?
He carefully explored the room, looking for some door that he had missed or a hidden kitchen. Nothing caught his attention. Eventually, however, part of the wall started to creak open like a door. Instinctively he ducked behind a box.
It was the Kacheek, Hilda, who entered the room. She glanced around for a moment, but didn't spot Alfred.
There's something mighty fishy here, indeed, Alfred thought. It looks like that girl is the only staff they have. What kind of secret could she be hiding?
Almost on cue, he got his answer. Hilda leaned down toward the ground and seemed to press some hidden button. Alfred didn't have time to wonder what she was doing, because instantly the ground began to tremble lightly. Alfred held his breath as something began to form in the center of the room.
When the shaking stopped he peeked out and saw a perfectly circular pool full of crystal water. The rich smell of Chokato Pie filled the room. He could barely keep himself from drooling.
Hilda held out one of the glasses and scooped up some of the water. She then backed away and the pool vanished into the ground. The Kacheek turned away and exited the way that she'd come.
Once he was sure that she was gone, Alfred came out to investigate.
"So, that's the secret," he whispered to himself. "Well, I've come this far, I might as well go further."
He got down on the ground and began his search for the hidden button...
Date: May 31st
...While scrambling around on his knees, Alfred rubbed his hand over the dusky wood until he found a knot, then pressed it to cunningly expose a hidden door in the floor. It shrank away revealing the pool of liquid.
Alfred’s mouth soon began to water and he swallowed instinctively. The smell of Chokato Pie was so thick in the air that he felt as if he'd be able to taste it if he stuck out his tongue.
Glancing nervously over his shoulder, he realized that he wasn’t quite sure what his intended plans were, but there was no denying that this definitely wasn’t like any restaurant he’d ever attended.
He felt like he should almost report this to the Neopian authorities. Surely there was some clause against serving patrons water from a potentially unsanitary fountain of... what was this?
The Shoyru inhaled deeply and bent down so that his nose was an inch from the water’s surface.
His reflection looked confused, yet content, as the smell of pie again conjured images of his youth and the way that his mother would always have a slice waiting for him after school.
He suddenly felt extremely thirsty. He looked around for a sink before mentally smacking himself.
Glancing nervously toward the place where Hilda had entered, he reached down and cupped a small amount of water in his hands. The liquid felt cool, and tingled his palm.
He took a small gulp and tasted the familiar heavenly dessert.
Before he knew what he was doing, he’d reached down again and grabbed another handful.
That's when the water began to change...
Date: May 31st
...As Alfred drank, and without the Shoryu even noticing, the water began to first grow cloudy, then dark, changing from crystalline clear to something muddy and brackish.
Alfred, however, was blind to the changes, consumed by the taste of the liquid and the irresistible craving for more. He gulped down handful after handful of the increasingly murky water, enough to fill a hundred glasses, until the taste, scent, and savory texture of Chokato Pie had overwhelmed his senses. And yet, it still wasn't enough to quench the critic's thirst.
He was on his knees by the pool, in it up to his elbows -- the sleeves of his shirt were drenched and his face dripped with the now-black water, but still he needed more. He barely tasted the pie anymore. All he knew was that, if he stopped, he'd die of thirst.
In desperation, Alfred took a breath and plunged his head under the water, gulping it down with no thought for breathing or anything else. It was getting harder to swallow, though. The water was getting thicker, nearly gelatinous.
As Alfred drank down the water, his lungs screaming for breath, he saw something through the murk, something small and bright at the bottom of the pool, nearly obscured by the growing darkness of the water. Though his mouth never stopped working, swallowing till his stomach bulged and his shirt buttons strained, his eyes struggled to make out the shape of the object even as the water grew dimmer to hide it. Was it a cup? A ring? He thought he saw gold...
It was hard to focus in the darkness, however, and hard to think when he hadn't breathed in so long. His chest ached and his head swam, but all he could do was continue to drink. With sudden fearful clarity, the water congealing into a black sludge around him, Alfred realized he was going to drown.
Date: May 31st
...as his world began to go dark, darker than the sludge around him, something squeezed his right shoulder, hard. Hard enough to bruise, he thought dimly -- the pain registered, but it almost seemed disconnected from him, as if he were reading about it in a book.
Drowning didn't seem so bad -- he was starting to feel calm, just tired. Distantly, though, he realised the squeeze on his shoulder was getting tighter and tighter, which was funny, because he'd never read that drowning made your shoulder hurt. Then again, he mused, if someone drowned then he supposed that they wouldn't exactly be in a position to talk about it...
With a great sucking squelch, the world was suddenly extremely bright, and Alfred thumped to the floor with a dull thud. Dazed, he stared up in shock and felt someone pumping his chest with rhythmic beats.
"By Fyora, spit it out!" someone cried. He thought they sounded vaguely familiar, but he didn't understand. Spit... what out?
Shortly thereafter, he found his answer when the thudding pressure on his chest resulted in torrents of Chokato-flavoured liquid pouring from his mouth. He coughed in great gasps, his eyes stinging and watering, and continued to cough out the sweet liquid. He tried to fend off his assailant, still thumping his chest despite his cough, but as he drew a great, shuddering gasp to beg them to stop, he set off another coughing fit, and yet more liquid choked him as his lungs forced the unwelcome fluid out.
How long the coughing fit lasted, he couldn't say -- it seemed as if it continued forever, but eventually, dazed, he realised he was breathing (raggedly, to be sure) but breathing normally. Blinking upward, he recognized who had been thumping his chest -- Hilda.
She stared down worriedly at him, her hands fluttering uncertainly above his chest as if she was no longer sure of what to do with them. Staring dumbly up at her, his brain slowly made another connection. She hadn't been assaulting him -- she had been making him breathe... saving his life, he realised.
His mouth opened to thank her, but only a hoarse sound came out. Weakly, he cleared his throat and tried again.
"Thank you..." he whispered, his voice harsh but with gratitude plainly apparent.
Hilda smiled, looking relieved, and abruptly scowled and poked him in the chest.
Ouch! he thought; her fingers were remarkably bony. The pressure set off a small coughing fit, but no more Chokato-flavoured fluid erupted.
When the coughing fit passed, Hilda spoke. "I told you, Mr. Alfred. No one sees the chef!" she said, accusingly.
He was silent for a moment. "No," he finally told her, his voice the barest whisper, "You said that the chef sees no one."
Her scowl deepened. "Same thing!"
He shook his head weakly. "It's not."
Hilda glared, but helped him sit up. When he was sitting, he could only gape in shock.
The fountain, when he first saw it, hadn't been extraordinarily beautiful; perhaps even a little plain, considering it was clearly magical. It had been pure looking, however.
Now, though... now he barely recognised it. It looked polluted, sludgy. The water barely moved, it was so thick, and it was blackened. The fountain looked... ill, he decided. Had he done that?
Beside him, Hilda stared sadly at it. "Yes, you did," she answered softly. Alfred started; he hadn't even realized he had spoken aloud until he heard her reply.
He was aghast. He couldn't explain what had happened, what had come over him -- but to think he had polluted something so amazing...
"How do I... how do I fix it?" he asked, shock making his voice toneless.
Her eyes glistened, but tears didn't fall. "We can't," she replied simply. Her voice was toneless, too.
He shook his head. "No, there has to be a way!" he implored, clutching her hand.
Her eyes widened as she stared at him. "Well, there might be one way..."
Date: Jun 1st
..."Tell me, I'll do anything!" Alfred said as he bent down and practically begged. He then realized that he was kneeling in a pile of his own bile mixed with the precious Chokato-flavored liquid. Well, maybe not anything, the Shoyru told himself. After all, hadn't he claimed earlier that he would do anything to meet the chef? Look where that had gotten him.
"Well, almost anything..." he trailed while managing a weak smile.
Hilda laughed slightly at the Shoyru's overconfident attitude resolving into that of an uncertain one. Her face then possessed a look of dread. "Alright, I suppose I can tell you what you can do that MAY fix the fountain, but it'll be the biggest challenge of your life." She spoke sternly, with little doubt to Alfred that this so-called "biggest challenge" would, indeed, be a difficult venture.
"Yes, will it?" he replied hesitantly.
"You need to make a Chokato Pie." That was it. That was all Hilda said, and a long silence filled the room.
After what seemed like about a minute, Alfred decided to relieve the tension in the air and break it. "You mean, like my mother did?"
"Precisely," the Kacheek confirmed. Navigating over to the fountain, she dipped her hand in the swamp-like liquid and recovered a small gem. Alfred recognized it as the shiny gleam at the bottom of the pool.
"This is a very rare stone, with... very rare, magical powers," Hilda continued, not smiling. "It soaks the water with a special blend of minerals, unlocking one's subconscious center of the brain. Thereafter, a chemical is released in the brain, tricking itself into thinking that it has just tasted whatever it feels is the best-tasting food in the world. In short, it's what makes the water taste like, for you, Chokato Pie."
"So, how will making Chokato Pie help, then?"
"You've abused its powers, plain and simple, with your mass 'dosage.' Now, it will not work properly until whatever caused it to turn the water murky in the first place is thrown into the fountain. It's a magical object -- magic does not like when it is abused." Hilda smiled semi-sarcastically.
"Alright... I'll try my best to replicate mom's Chokato Pie." In reality, Alfred really had no clue what he was going to do. He'd tried many times during his youth, but always failed, prompting a smirk from his mother -- bless her soul. The frequency with which he'd tried replicating it had increased as he grew older and more adept to tasting -- why, even last week he had tried to recreate the recipe.
Of course, "last week" was still many, many years after the last time he had tasted it, save today. Having recently tasted such a large amount of the liquid, he was almost sure he could do it.
"Alright," he repeated. "But, I need a kitchen and some ingredients, don't I?"
Hilda smiled. "Yes, I supposed you would... we do have an actual kitchen further down the hallway here; it came with the place when I bought it, this being a restaurant and all. I'll lead you to it."
Alfred sat in front of a stove, watching the pie bake. "Fyora, I hope this works," he said to himself as he stared at through the oven window at the rising pie.
I hope this works, too, Hilda replied mentally. After about half an hour of contemplation by the Shoyru, he had given her a list of ingredients to buy, claiming he had narrowed down the "secret ingredients" to only a few choices. They weren't cheap, either; she ended up spending about half a month's gross income. They had gone through two pies already.
Sensing Hilda's apprehension, Alfred said, "Third time's the charm," trying to sound comforting. It just made him slightly more uneasy about it, though. He pictured his mother laughing at him on his other two fails -- he really didn't want her to do it on a third.
The ding! of the oven signified that the pie was done. A few minutes later, it was cool. Alfred cut it and gave a slice to Hilda, then took one for himself. Immediately, the Shoyru's eyes lit up. "This is it," he said. "This is mom's Chokato Pie!" he reiterated.
Hilda gave a sigh of relief. All the pies had tasted the same to her -- she apparently did not possess his awesome tasting ability -- but if he had discovered "his" pie, then everything would be alright. "Let's head back to the fountain," she said after Alfred had finished jotting down exactly what he had put in the pie.
The two stood back outside the fountain.
"Here goes nothing," Alfred said before he threw a slice of the pie in. Just before it hit the water, to the Shoyru's surprise, Hilda grabbed it. "Hey!" he said.
"Look, Alfred," she said in a very melancholy tone. "There's something I neglected to tell you. The crystal... it, well..." She shook herself. "If you toss the pie in there, the crystal will make it so that you will never be able to taste your mother's Chokato Pie again. It will forever make the food, and this liquid, tasteless for you."
Alfred stared at her. There was another awkward silence. "Well," he finally said, "I'm going to do it anyway. I've conquered mom's pie -- the exact recipe had plagued me for decades. Now... I can find some closure, both in my curiosity and for her." He took the pie from her hands and threw it in. The water bubbled and quickly became transparent again. Dipping his hand in, he took some liquid and drank it; it tasted like water. He tried to comfort himself by thinking optimistically. "Also, imagine all of the others who would lose the chance to taste their favorite meals from long ago."
"You've done a noble thing, Alfred."
Another pause. "You realize that, after all that's happened today, I can't write you a proper review."
"I'll still review this place, though, and I'll mix my mother's cooking into the review as well... to honor her." Alfred smiled.
Hilda smiled back. "Er... can I buy you lunch, or something, to make up for this ordeal? What's you're second favorite food?"
"My mother's tigersquash pie," the Shoyru replied, grinning. "Which, thankfully, I figured out how to make a long time ago."
"Let's go buy the ingredients," Hilda responded with a gleam in her eye. It seemed she had made a friend -- and in the restaurant industry, having a friend as a food critic definitely wasn't a bad thing.
Date: Jun 1st
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