external image large_24898.jpg
It was so late. The sun was beginning to disappear behind the horizon and Doug knew he had to get back to the restaurant soon. Despite the vigilante patrols, wandering around in District 5 after dark wasn’t the best place to be. Luckily he was almost out. The containers of water were beginning to make his muscles burn. If he was any further away, he might have had to hide them until tomorrow. As he rounded the corner he could see the tired old sign hanging over the sidewalk. He was almost there.

The idea had struck him earlier in the day, before the first customer came in. He had been preparing the day’s meal, a blend of spice he had managed to trade for at the market and some rats that he bought from a boatman. One of his more questionable recipes, but people enjoyed it well enough. He stirred the stew slowly, allowing the flavors to blend and mix together. His mind began to imagine the stew swirling in his head, the rat and spice dancing in unison. Out of what seemed to be nowhere, another color joined the dance. It was a light green circle that spun around the stew. Then it jumped in and the picture in his head was completely new. The sudden excitement he experienced knocked him out of his trance. He knew exactly what the stew needed. Cucumbers. From the Overgrowth. The idea consumed him. In no time, Doug shut down his restaurant for the day. He packed up a few necessities, including his trusty sickle, threw on his boots and was out the door.

The Overgrowth was muggy under the warm mid-day sun. It’s sick made Doug’s nostrils sting. He spent most of the afternoon gathering all the cucumbers he could carry, being careful to avoid any hidden pumpkins along the way. When he was finally able to return to the shop, it was late afternoon. Only then did he realize that he was supposed to pick up his ration of water. He cursed himself as he dropped his cucumbers on the counter and ran to the distribution center. he managed to arrive just as they were about to close. Now, at the front door of his restaurant once again, he was finally ready to make his stew.

Doug put one of the jugs down. He reached into his pocket to grab his keys. As he slid it into the lock, he looked up just in time to see a shadow flicker inside the building. He stopped and squinted his eyes to see inside. The key was still in the lock. Doug let it go. He took his hand and applied pressure to the door. It began to open. A familiar feeling of caution began to rise from Doug’s gut. He lowered the other water jug to the ground. From where he stood, he could see the bag that held his sickle on the counter. He took a moment, then opened the door all the way.

The restaurant still looked the same as when he had left it, but the stone in his gut remained. Doug glanced around, then made his way to his bag. He opened it up and took out all of the cucumbers. The sickle wasn’t in the bag.

“I wouldn’t be tryin to move if I was you.”

Whoever she was, she was quick. At least it sounded like a she, although the words came out gruff and hard to fully decipher. Doug didn’t really think about it too long. He couldn’t see her behind him, but he had found his sickle. It was resting flat underneath his chin. The cool, rusted metal pricked at his skin sending a shiver down his spine. He was shoved in the back and forced around the other side of the counter. One more push threw him into the corner. The sickle was no longer under his chin.

“Turn round fer me.”

Doug did as he was told. In the early evening light, the woman was covered in shadow. The only part of her Doug could really see was her half shaven head. Her clothes looked a bit rugged as well. She definitely wasn’t from the upper districts.

“What you got in them cabinets?” Her voice was hard and steady.

“Who are you?” Doug asked, eyeing the sickle that was now hanging by her side.

“That ain’t really an answer. You loaded?”

“No, I just wanted to know who broke into my restaurant.”

“We’ll keep names out of it, right? Now open them cabinets.” The woman brought the sickle back up and tapped it against her chest. Doug sighed. He opened one of the cabinet doors. The woman took a few steps forward and looked in. After a moment, she tossed her satchel to Doug.

“Gimme them plates there and the hammer on the top shelf.” Doug did as he was told. They moved to the next one and kept going. At the last one, the woman pulled out a bottle of pills Doug was hoping she wouldn’t see.

“Do you really need to take those?” he asked, not really knowing what else to say.

“I ain’t takin this shit, no point to them. You don’t need them either.” The woman unscrewed the top of the bottle and dumped the pills onto the floor. Doug could just make out a smile on her face as she did it.

“Well that’s it.” he said, hoping she would just leave.

“Not quite,” she said, pointing behind him, “What’s in the pot?”

Doug turned around and saw the small orange light on the front of the his crockpot. He had forgotten to turn it off and it was still warming the stew he had made earlier in the day.

“Just one of the stews I sell here. Why?”

“Haven’t had a good meal in sometime. I’ll take the batch too.”

Doug grabbed an old plastic container he had lying around and filled it up with the stew. the woman grabbed a spoon and tried a taste before he locked the top into place.

“Mmm… that’s some great stuff you got there. Shame not everyone can enjoy it,” Doug handed her the container.

“Anyone who wants to can have it whenever they feel like it. The shop's open everyday.”

“There are plenty of them who want it and can’t have it. Believe me. You should get out and share it more.” The woman put the satchel on her shoulder.

“Couldn’t make a living like that.” Doug said, relieved she seemed to be ready to leave.

“You think them forced to go to the Fount are worried about making a living. They’re lucky they’re living anyway. Don’t worry, I’ll be sharing with them for you. Life be better off that way.” She tossed the sickle into the corner of the room. Doug flinched.

“So that’s it then?” he said. The woman smiled.

“That’s always how it was gunna be.” she turned towards the door. Doug looked at the outline of the sickle on the floor. It's dark shape was blunt against it.

“It doesn’t always work out you know," he said, "Doing everything for everyone else.” The woman stopped halfway out the door. She looked back.

“I never said it did.”

The door shut. Doug was alone. He put his hands on his head and ran them through his graying hair. He picked up the sickle off the floor and turned it in his hand. He smiled. He knew what to call his new recipe.