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20/07/2018 / hbrowne4

Trying New Things! by Stephen Brady

Brigid and Michael had gone out to dinner for their thirtieth anniversary. When it came to food, Michael had always been conservative – a meat-and-spuds man. Brigid blamed his rural background. But she was determined: tonight, of all nights, her fuddy-duddy husband was going to try Something Different.
She decided not to book anywhere, and just go where the fancy took them. Dressed in their finest, they trawled a slightly shady part of town. She’d heard that all the best ethnic restaurants could be found here. They wandered the dimly-lit streets, where neon signs blinked in language incomprehensible.
“I’m not so sure about this,” said Michael, donning his glasses. He squinted at the signs, and then looked sidelong at his wife. “Are you sure we can’t go for a bit o’steak or the like?”
“Give over.” Brigid took his elbow. “Don’t be such an oul stick-in-the-mud. You’re having something different tonight, Michael Finnegan. If it’s the last thing you do!”
They found a place down a dark side-street. A sign flickered green, with strange pictograms. A number of posters in different languages were tacked to the alley wall below. Only one was in English, and it read: “FOR ALL PEOPLES. FINEST FOOD OF MACAO.”
“This is it!” she said, and snapped the entrance with her phone.
“I don’t know,” said Michael. “It doesn’t look the cleanest, Bridge.”
“It’s the real thing. That’s what we want.”
“Are you sure…”
“Get in there, before I give you a clout.”
She shoved him through the door.
Inside was a gloomy antechamber. It was lit with a weak, greenish light. It made the bare counter and naked fixtures look slightly ill. Smells were coming from somewhere, faintly redolent of a distant sea.
“Hello?” Brigid yelled, as loudly as she thought polite. “Is anyone home? A table for two, please!”
An Oriental appeared. He was small and slim, his hair and beard braided in a style neither of them had ever seen before. Not even on the National Geographic, of which Michael was so fond.
The host ushered them through a curtained partition. Beyond was a dim, tiny room with perhaps half a dozen tables. They were the only customers. The piquant sea-smell was stronger here. Brigid felt a surge of excitement. This was the real thing, alright.
They were led to a table in the corner. It was covered in an old pink tablecloth, but was otherwise bare.
Michael took the host by the shoulder.
“Listen to me now, chum. This here is my wife, and it’s our anniversary. Thirty years and we’re still talkin. So give us the dearest thing on the menu. I don’t care what it is. D’you get me?”
The Oriental bowed, inscrutably.
“Good man. And two Smithwicks, as well.”
The fellow hurried away. Brigid and Michael sat at the table. She took his hand in both of hers.
“I’m proud of you, love. Trying something different, for the once.”
“Ah, sure.” He was pleased, abashed. “Might as well. Special occasion, what?”
It took a long time for their food to arrive, and when it did, it wasn’t quite what Brigid was expecting.
They were given a plate each. No cutlery, no side dishes, no drinks. On each plate was a… creature. They had never seen the like before.
They were sort of like crabs, and sort of like lobsters. But they also had tentacles, like those of an octopus. Their bodies were strangely jointed, almost insectoid. It was like something you’d see in a nightmare. They were covered in thin, greenish sauce that gave off an odour which reminded Brigid of a harbour at low tide.
“Jesus,” she whispered. “What in the name of God is this?”
“Looks alright to me,” said Michael.
“For God’s sake. Put your glasses back on.”
“Sure feck it,” he shrugged. “You’re right, what you’re always sayin. You only live once. I’m goin to give it a go!”
He picked up the strange creature and bit into it.
At the moment he did, the creature on Brigid’s plate moved.
Startled, she looked down. The thing on her plate had rolled over. In the middle of it’s stomach, a single eye opened and stared into her own.
“Don’t, Michael!” She pushed back from the table. “Jesus, they’re still alive!”
“It’s grand,” said her husband. He bit off a part of the creature’s midsection that had a limb attached. Brigid saw, with mounting horror, that the appendage protruding from her husband’s mouth was kicking weakly at the air.
“Michael!” She clapped a hand over her mouth. “Oh, God. This was a mistake. Let’s go to Supermac’s!”
“Naw, naw.” He was chewing with relish. “It’s not bad at all. Bit different is all. Do you know, I actually think I-”
He froze. His face went blank. He had a lump in his throat, and it was moving.
He collapsed on the floor and began to scream. Brigid staggered back, numb with horror. A piece of flesh spilled from her husband’s mouth, and wriggled across the restaurant floor.
Some time later, she was in the alley speaking to a policeman. An ambulance was parked nearby, and she could hear him in the back, crying out: “I shouldn’t have eaten it! Oh Jesus God, I shouldn’t have eaten it!”
“Tell me again,” the policeman said. He was very young, and very bored. “There was a man in there, you said?”
“I told you already.” She dabbed her eyes. “A man brought us in. I described him to you. I want him arrested. He’s after poisoning my husband with some class of a… mutant sea creature. On our anniversary!”
“OK,” the copper sighed. “We looked in there and we couldn’t find anybody. Take me through it again.”
Just then, a blood-curdling scream came from the back of the ambulance. One of the paramedics yelled, “Oh fuck! Get back, get back!”
A sound of tearing flesh, and a splash as some sort of liquid hit the inside wall of the ambulance. The cop looked over, prodded by a mild concern.
“Trying new things,” Bridgid sobbed, as she collapsed against the wall of the alleyway. “Trying new things!”


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