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Category: Short Stories (Page 2 of 2)

The Naked Cannibal

First draft, notes written immediately after meal…

Recipe: Roast loin of stomach with peaches

Stomach flesh, peaches, butter and thyme is simply one of the most gorgeous cannibal dishes I’ve ever had the pleasure of feasting upon. Great for one, even better to share with your fellow meatheads. You’ve got to try it.

Serves 6

1 x loin of stomach flesh, preferably not too fatty

1 bunch of fresh thyme, leaves picked and chopped

200g or 7oz butter

salt and freshly ground pepper

8 fresh peaches, halved and stoned

Preheat the oven to 220C/Gas 7. Score the victim’s skin about 1 cm apart through the fat nearly to the flesh. With a knife carefully part the stomach flesh from your victim’s lower intestines. Don’t throw those intestines away! See my recipe for Intestinal Spaghetti Carbonara, page 37. Use a fork to carefully remove any tapeworms. Pop them in your bathroom cabinet because they’re dead handy for flossing. Scrunch your chopped thyme into the butter with the seasoning and rub a little of the butter…

…I must stop there. A serious issue has come to light. This may be the last recipe to feature in The Naked Cannibal, the world’s first and only cookbook for all you budding Hannibal Lecters out there. The problem is, I’ve gone and broken the first rule of cannibalism, and I’m already feeling the effects. Maybe this is a fitting way in which to end this groundbreaking compendium as it will serve as a reminder of the dangers of eating complete strangers.

Let me take you through the story of this meal from the beginning.

I identified my main course as a single white male, supermaket checkout operative, living alone in a dingy flat in the East End of London. In other words, he met all the criteria of a person better off served on a plate with peaches. I gained entry and used a baseball bat as one of the approved methods to prepare the meat (See Sharp object or blunt instrument? – it’s a matter of taste, page 12). My victim was rather obliging, spotting me long before I struck the first blow. In these instances more often than not the main course moves its head at the last moment, thus requiring repeated blows and resulting in considerable, unnecessary suffering. As it turned out here, one hefty blow was sufficient.

Once I was certain life had been extinguished, I allowed time for the blood to stop circulating – I didn’t want a repeat of the arterial spray from Thighs and Dumpling Stew (page 26). I carefully removed the stomach flesh using a scalpel and a sharp pizza cutter and took it to the kitchen for preparation along with the other ingredients of this tasty meal.

And here was my error – I never checked if the meat was ok. I was so hungry I just cut it, cooked it and ate it. Remember the Seared Carpaccio of Buttock all puckered-up and rancid with piles? Or the Spinach and Testicular Meatballs, totally barnacled with genital warts? You would think I would have learned my lesson after those near misses, but unfortunately, no. ALWAYS make sure the person you are eating is fit for human consumption. And check the medicine cabinet to ensure they’re not taking anything that could taint your food, as verruca cream might for Fillet of Sole with Creamy Toe Salad (page 42).

Back to the recipe. I pushed the seasoned butter and the peaches into the cut I’d made in the stomach flesh. I tied the whole up and popped it into the oven with a few extra veggies I found in the victim’s kitchen. I had about an hour to kill – figuratively speaking – so I found a Jamie Oliver book and worked on a few more cannibalistic recipe variations. When I finally sat down to eat my Roast Loin of Stomach with Peaches I discovered that the meat wasn’t right, but not so bad that it caused any particular alarm bells to ring. I was ravenous and ate the lot, washing it down with an agreeable bottle of Merlot. Immediately after, and knowing it was highly unlikely that my pleasant evening was going to be disturbed in any way, I sat down at the kitchen table, and started to write this recipe. And that’s when I realised something was wrong.

I started to feel drowsy. At first I put it down to fatigue, but given the kill required so little effort, and having dined on easy-cook Granny steaks the previous three evenings, I couldn’t think why I was tired. So then I thought, maybe it’s the wine. But it’s not a pleasant, alcoholic drowsy. I went back to the bedroom where I first discovered my victim, lying on his bed. He looked a little worse for wear now of course, but I cast my mind back to when I clubbed him with the bat, and remembered how he didn’t try to defend himself. At all.

And that’s when I saw the piece of paper on the bedside table. I picked it up and saw handwriting. It was a little shaky and scruffy, with truly appalling spelling and grammar, but legible enough for me to read out loud.

Dear Samantha, it said. I no you wont leave Tom for me and I am gutted because I cant believe you dont believe hes twotiming you even though I gave you them fotos of him and your sister. I love you so much and have even got a job yet you dont care about me and you just want to shag Tom and I cant take it any more. I’m going to proove to you how much I love you. Yours, Nick, Kiss kiss kiss

It came very close to making me sick, but sadly, not close enough. When I put the note back down on the table I saw that a pill had been hiding beneath it. It was a 20mg dose of something, of what I had no idea. Then I saw a small box on the floor beneath the table and I stooped to pick it up. Alpramax, it said on one side, flunitrazepam underneath, and on the reverse I began reading about a maximum strength sleeping pill and warnings galore about taking too many.

The box was empty.

Then I saw a second box on the floor, hiding behind a bedside table leg. I reached for it. Same drug, same thing. Empty.

Cannibals have an unfair reputation for not being particularly picky about their culinary expectations. I hope this cookbook has eloquently demonstrated that nothing could be further from the truth. I was truly horrified to discover that my roast loin of stomach had been tainted by a potentially lethal intake of sleeping pills. I ran to the bathroom and shoved fingers down my throat to make myself sick. In doing so, I found the very thought of a finger buffet quite appealing and in an instant my attempts to throw-up were rendered useless. By now my legs were feeling weak and I stumbled around the flat trying to clear up the mess. Eventually I gave it up as a bad idea, resigned myself to falling asleep – or worse – and I decided to sit down and finish this tale. Because I’m really not sure what’s happening to me.

So this is where I am now. Sitting in a strange man’s flat, a man with a hole in his stomach, and the missing part of his stomach somewhere in mine. I’m going to have a nap now. Perhaps I’ll just sleep off my meal. Or maybe the stupor I’m sliding into will be a little more permanent. Can you overdose on someone else’s overdose? I don’t know. It’s too late for me to worry about it now. But not for you, my fellow meatheads. Just remember the rules and you will be fine.

I ought to end this cautionary tale with something pithy or tongue-in-cheek, like Bon Appetit! but I don’t think I will. Tongue-in-cheek is sooo over-rated.

  • Copyright Phil Thomas. All rights reserved


AlmyridaThere were children everywhere, and parents of children, and the Cretan sea was filled with bobbing heads and splashing infants. His attention was drawn to the man closest to him, European but not Greek perhaps, lying stomach-down in the gentle Mediterranean surf. He was scooping up sand to make a castle at the water’s edge, while his son smoothed the sides of the growing mound with the back of his little plastic spade. The man wore a frown of concentration and yet one leg waved excitedly in the air, like a happy toddler playing with a favourite toy. He watched the man from the sanctuary of his lounger and parasol and wondered, before he could catch himself, how it might feel to be the father of a child on a beach.

“We could eat here tonight,” Jade suggested to him. “Can’t be much in a taxi. Then at least we can both have a drink.”

He glanced at her, tanned and slimmed down into the slightest of swimsuits, and a sudden terror churned in his stomach. She’d worked so hard at the gym to lose weight, and had run so many miles in the streets around their home. Long, hard runs after long, drawn-out days at work. She asked him to go to the gym with her, and then to jog with her. For a while she begged him. Finally she stopped asking him at all. Instead she made suggestions, popping them into the air where they floated, looking for someone to take notice.

Now she returned his gaze for a moment until he could look no longer, unable to bear the deadness in her eyes. He quickly turned away again, a practiced move now, and sought some detail in the sea on which to focus different thoughts. He saw an anchored oil tanker. He wondered where it would be heading, where it had come from, what it was like to be on board.

“Or we could stay round the village,” she tailed off. “I don’t mind.”

The man helping his son build a sandcastle had swivelled round so he faced the sea. Still lying on his belly, he was collecting seawater in a bucket while his son created a moat around the castle.

“Whatever you want to do,” he heard Jade say finally. The lounger squeaked as she lay back down. He watched her again then, confident he wouldn’t have to look into her eyes. She could have been the girl he’d fallen in love with, the nightclub brunette who winked at him before slowly sliding her lips over the top of her drinking straw. He never knew then, nor even at their wedding, that one day she would blossom and become the most beautiful thing in the world. She made him so happy that he would suddenly burst into tears. “What’s wrong?” she would ask, shocked. “Absolutely nothing,” he would say, the tears becoming laughter, his hand resting on her swollen belly. They laughed and tickled and touched each other.

Now he looked at her on the sun lounger, at his new gym-sized wife. The hollow in her belly rose and fell like the Mediterranean waves, and he imagined his head resting there, his ear to her warm flesh. He closed his eyes and listened. He could hear the sea, a game of bat and ball, children playing.

One child’s voice rose above the others – it was the toddler building the sandcastle with his dad. He opened his eyes again and saw the man had poured seawater into the moat. He was crawling further into the sea to get more water in the bucket. The boy was building a wall around the castle, so the moat would hold more water. The father was waving his legs in the air again, relishing his task. Then he noticed something – he was an amputee. Where his right foot should have been there was a pale-coloured stump, and above it was what looked like shaved bone, as though the end of the ankle bone had been sliced away.

“Or we could stay in,” Jade said to him. “We could call at the supermarket on the way back, pick up a few things. What do you think?”

He couldn’t take his eyes from the amputee. It looked like skin had been grafted onto the stump, or had been stretched over it, because he could see different layers and where there had been stitches. He wondered how it had happened. Perhaps the man had been a soldier. Perhaps he’d stepped on a mine. Iraq? Afghanistan? The Balkan conflict? He could have been fighting for any cause almost anywhere in the world. And his wife and son – assuming that’s who they were – left behind, waiting for a call, dreading the call, and then getting one. And mum relaying the news to their son: Daddy’s coming home. But he’s been hurt. His life will be different from now on. Our lives will be different. But that’s all it is. He’s still Dad. And he still loves you very much.

Up from the water’s edge where the man and his son played were two loungers and a parasol. A woman lay on one, her hands behind her head, fingers knitted together, as she watched the man and his son at play. On the second lounger was a towel, and on the towel was a hollow plastic foot. It was comically simple. Near the top of the ankle it was black, looking for all the world like insulation tape had been wrapped around it. The rest of the foot was flesh-coloured, but so obviously fake. It was hard to imagine wearing such a thing without anyone realising it wasn’t real. Looking at it made him think that something so primitive made a mockery of whatever ordeal this man and his family had been through. And yet there it was, lying on the towel, for all the world to see.

“There’s live Cretan music in that taverna we went to, the one from the first night,” Jade said without moving from her lounger. “But I really don’t mind what we do.”

He had to stop himself from answering sharply. She didn’t mind anything anymore. Whatever you want to do, she said. Whatever you feel like doing. What do you think? What would you like to do? She tiptoed and twittered around him like a little bird, the obedient wife, the housemaid. It maddened him. It maddened him because he knew: he’d destroyed her. Hours spent with doctors and counsellors and her life ebbed away. It leeched into walls papered with help agency posters; there it was consumed by their tragic headlines. “You’re broken. We can put you back together.” But they did as they were told and booked a holiday, and here they were, in a resort called Almyrida on the island of Crete, sunbathing on a beach, surrounded by happy families and splashing, giggling children, with their cheeky smiles, their brightly coloured buckets and their tiny armbands.

“I think I’ve had enough sun for one day,” he told Jade, propelling himself from his lounger. He reached for his T-shirt and saw she was already moving too, brushing the sand from her carefully manicured toes.

“We can have a siesta, like the locals,” she suggested hurriedly. “I’m happy doing that.”

He was quickly folding the towels to put them back in the beach bag when he heard adult giggling. It sounded odd amongst all the younger voices he could hear. He looked. The amputee was lying on his back, the shallow surf foaming around his body. His wife knelt above him and had pinned his arms above his head, while the son straddled a leg. He was tickling the stump. The man giggled and writhed in the sand, so the son tickled all the more, laughing furiously. When he finally stopped squirming, the woman let go of his hands and the boy, sensing victory, hugged the man’s leg. Dad lay there, apparently exhausted. He reached up and cupped the woman’s face in his hands, drew her head to his and kissed her smile.

“Shall we eat in or out?” Jade asked him. “We need to decide before we get to the supermarket.”

They passed beneath the shade of the tamarisk trees and when they reached the dusty promenade he turned to look at the family again. He could no longer see them for all the other people enjoying the beach.

“Let’s find out how much a taxi is,” he suggested. She turned to look at him, only this time he didn’t look away.

On the way back to the hire car they stopped for an ice cream, and under the shade of a straw-filled parasol they talked about where they might eat that evening.

  • Copyright Phil Thomas. All rights reserved

Stripey Coffee Cup

I STARE and see circles and in their centre the reflection of me. My nose is magnified. My eyes watery. Warm air against my lips and the taste of salt dripping there. Take the cup away and I see its concentric circles. Round and round they go, held together by design and beautifully separate. Black and emerald and ochre and black, my stripey coffee cup.

Moments follow and more, counted out by the clock’s final ruling. Photos of me and you, my dear, grabbed and smashed, the clatter of compact discs into piles of yours and piles of mine. The holder grows black and empty. Take the plates. Take the cups. I stare at the circles and see the photos you destroy, a lounge of long ago, the smiles of promise folded into a dinner jacket and cocktail dress. Hands held on an island, somewhere warm, somewhere else. Was the sea really that blue? Balls of ice cream through a freckled grin, I look at the table and trace the blurry blue line of an island’s coast. Windmill shadows melt in a Flemish canal where ripples of you fold away. But now we’re counted out and I look down still, staring at my stripey coffee cup.

I see things in that circular reflection. And the images gather around other sensations. I see snaffled bedsheets and my foot feels cold. The wind belts our window and your shadow moves. I see bunched pillows and rub the tickle of your hair on my cheek. Giggles past midnight. That ever-present glass of water by your bedside. Little notes with silly names – where did those names come from, my dear? The catcalls of children, not affection. All that laughter, you made liars of us. Fools in the cinema dark we were. Put my face down now and find that darkness again. And wonder, did we ever belong here? I wonder, in the small shadowed bowl of my stripey coffee cup.

Now I no longer see, I hear things. And like the images they bring old acquaintances. A trudge on a rutted beach, sniff-scrunch my nose at the seaweed smell you so hate. The chink of cutlery, the clink of ladles in bowls. More salt, my dear? Perfect toenails, painted nails, you clutch my hand as the plane’s engines die. The bell chimes of toasts, dry white wine for madam. So many tables and waiters and bathroom tears. Restaurants, tavernas, cafes, separated by tables and decorum we are safe. Costa del Somewhere, October surf around our feet. Pueblo Blanco whitewash blazing a path to an invader’s castle. Lemons on a tree as cicadas sing. So hot it feels, and I blow into my coffee. Lift my wet face from my stripey coffee cup.

They carried paper lanterns along the street in Ambleside. I looked up and let the rain patter my face. I blinked it from my eyes and when I looked at you again you were out of focus. Someone was stealing your milk and I wrote news about you. What’s wrong with your picture? Don’t stand so close with the camera, you say, and you run away, you’re a dot in the background. It was funny and curious and then painful. You read so many books so I wrote for you. But you only like chick-lit. You liked holidays and so I took you there, but you hate being warm. The moray eel swam past our hut as the fruit bats gathered and the reef swallowed our sun, but you were never there. Fruit bats shrieking. Remember that out-of-control scream in the kitchen? Was that you or me, my dear? You pat the sofa we toiled to buy and my trepidation rises. You laugh at the TV with foody teeth and I cannot bear to look. The reflection of me gathers when I choose instead to stare into my stripey coffee cup.

I want to laugh. I want to talk to someone. I long to walk somewhere else and climb a new mountain. I want the fear of not knowing. Taste something different and hear a stranger’s voice. You have nothing to hide and nothing to be ashamed of. We have no quarrel, you and I, but all I want to do is laugh again.

It’s all I can do as you reach for blame. It’s all I can manage as you cry. When I next move my feet I feel I may stumble, and I yearn to go. But for now the clock counts us out, and I stare and wait. I see concentric circles. Round and round they go, held together by design and beautifully separate. Black and emerald and ochre and black, my stripey coffee cup.

  • Copyright Phil Thomas, all rights reserved
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