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Apr 27

Susan Shiney

Short Story: The Royal Palate

This is a fun little story I worked on for the NYC Midnight Short Story contest several years ago. I ended up completely changing the story after this draft and submitting that version, but there was a cookyness I have always appreciated in this one. My prompt was : Genre: Suspense, Subject: Going into hiding, Character: A line cook. Enjoy!

            The roof of the Grand Palace of Bhutolia came to a point so sharp it seemed like it could stab the sky. Traditional stories state that the Gods themselves poured gold over its surface. The palace was so vast, servants would often lose their way. A leopard, new to the royal complex, roamed the complex freely. When he was five feet away from the cockatoo his collar released a surge of electricity. He moved closer and this time the shock caused him to lose consciousness at the foot of the grand entrance. There were 1,000 rooms in the palace, and only five of them were filled with youtuber prisoners.

Prince Ram Dorji always wore his traditional dress from Bhutolia, bright colors that flattered his clear pale skin. He came out of his morning locust pose with his toned abs constricting as he brought his legs down from over his head and he looked up at the ceiling with a smile.

            His attendants brought out a shaking blonde haired and blue-eyed woman who looked dazed and lightly resisted the men that held each of her arms. 

            "Show me the new product." Prince Ram said as he took a seat on his throne.

            "I just got it this morning." She said as she avoided making eye contact with him and stared at his well-manicured toenails.

            "I don't care. I want to see it on your lips..... Do it slowly."

            "Can I have a mirror?" She said and stared at the Buddha statue next to the throne.

            "Instead of a mirror, you can look at my reaction, if I approve or disapprove that is all the information you need."  The prince said as he lifted his Taser and slid his fingers up and down its side.

            "Get started now."  

            The young woman's hand was shaking as she took a tube of lipstick to her lips and tried to put it on evenly searching the prince's eyes for approval.

            "The amount of time you are wasting is unacceptable, I have seen all of your videos and you never just stare into the camera after trying a new product."

             The woman clenched back as if she already had felt the surge of the Taser.   "I don't know what to say..."

            She blotted her lips together.  Her voice quivered, "The cherry berry flavor of Maxima's lipstick goes on softly and has a slightly...." And then her throat let out a squeak and the tears she was fighting back came out with a vengeance. 

            "I just want to go home, why are you doing this, please."  Her voice raised several octaves.

            "We haven't been able to make a single video because you ruin each take with your crying. It is not professional."

            He looked at both of his attendants.  "Take her away."

***

             Lara chopped her vegetables to the beat of Iron Butterfly's "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida". She felt like her knives were an extension of her well-toned body.  As a child she always wanted to watch the cooks at the best sushi restaurants in Los Angeles perform their magic.            

            "Are you coming with us to O'Donnelly's tonight after work?" Jose asked her.

            "You know I can't, its Tuesday and I have to get my next video out by Thursday."

            "Or what, what is going to happen?  Your vegan cooking empire will come tumbling down? You are obsessed. You are way too young to spend every night at home."

            "When you are building an audience, stability is everything.  I have 3,000 hard earned You Tube subscribers and they expect a new video every Thursday and they are going to get it."

            Gillian came over and said,  "Oh, Lara the Line Cook is famous now, didn't you know Jose, she heard last week that a prince wants to meet her and have her cook at his royal banquet."

            "Are you serious?" Jose asked.

            "Yep, the Prince of Burma, right?" Gillian asked.

            "Bhutolia.  It is close to Burma, near India too." Lara replied.

            "The prince is loaded, I looked it up; the visa for a traveller trying to get into Bhutolia is like 250 dollars a day. He is a big fan of my work." Lara said as she put her nose up in mock pride.

             "Are you going to do it?" Jose asked.  "Kanye did that 16-year-old's party in Dubai right, for like 6 million."

            "They offered me a little bit less than that." Lara said.

            "How much?" Jose asked. 

            "Enough to seriously consider it.  I told him no though. I need to take care of my Mom." Lara said and felt her heart ache at the mention of her mother's illness. 

            "When is her next treatment?" Gillian asked that as oppose to the usual "How is she doing?" It had been so bad for a while now, that question didn't seem right anymore. 

            "She will start another round of chemo on Thursday.  I already asked Bob for the day off."  

***

            Prince Ram was in his office watching one of Lara's videos on his diamond-studded computer.

            He hit a couple of keys on his keyboard and the screen changed from one of Lara's videos to a split screen displaying six rooms within the palace. One was moving to change her clothes and he immediately, turned the camera off to that room. "I'm getting bored with these women. If they don't get to work soon, we will have to dispose of them." He looked over to his underling, Puran, who bowed and shook his head.

            If you removed the front wall of the palace, it would resemble a dollhouse of specialty Barbies.  Make-up Barbie, DIY Barbie for natural household cleaning products, home decoration Barbie, musical instrument Barbie, and a designer Barbie specializing in green home construction. One room was empty for his special cooking Barbie.

             "The banquets is in two weeks Puran, everyone must do their part. When will the cook arrive?"

            "She refuse. Mother to be sick, sir." Puran answered.

            "Take care of it. Fix it. Or your mother will be the one you have to worry about. Do you understand me."

            "Yes, sir." He said as he backed out of the room.

***

            Lara took a set of three knives and tucked them in her backpack.

            She scanned her phone one last time before she walked home.  She saw another twenty-six emails from the Prince of Bhutolia. What the hell?

She read the last line of the most recent email: We think you will like Bhutolia so much that you will not want to leave. 

            "What a freak." Lara snickered and marked the messages as spam.

            Then she felt a hand pull at her shoulder.

            "What do you want?" She yelled and flipped herself around like she knew karate.

            "Hey calm down, I wanted to ask why you are stealing our knives?" It was her boss, Bob.      

            "Oh."  She put her hand to her chest to try and calm her thumping heart. "I asked you yesterday, I am working on a new video making cucumber figurines."

            "It's fine, I am just giving you a hard time. Are you alright?"

            "Sorry, it's nothing. See you tomorrow." 

            She headed down Raymond Ave and gave her mom a call. "Hi Mom, how are you feeling today?"

            Her mom answered, "I'm fine, honey. What is this I hear about you going to Bhutolia next week?"

            Lara froze. "What?"

            "I got a call from some nice man telling me you refused to go because of your poor old Mom. I will be fine, go, you need to live a little."

            Her phone battery was dying from all of the email notifications. "I will call you later Mom, let me know if someone else calls you."

            She felt like she was being watched and looked around the intersection.

            She told herself she was just being paranoid.

            She turned onto Acacia Avenue and a black car with darkened windows pulled up next to her slowly, like it was a shadow in the corner of her eye, it took a moment for her to see it.

            "Excuse me? I am lost, can you help me? "said a man with a kind smile.

            Lara moved in closer because his voice was so soft she could barely hear him.

            "I'm sorry, what did you...." And the next thing she knew, she was pulled into the car and the driver had taken off.

            "The prince was disappointed by your refusal of his request." He said and the yellow of his teeth was all Lara could focus on, like he drank six cups of coffee a day and never brushed his teeth. 

            "I said no." And Lara moved to open the door, it was locked and she couldn't find were to unlock it. Shit. The man didn't try to restrain her.

            Her backpack poked her side and instantly she remembered. Knives.

            She moved her backpack slowly in front of her and watched the man's response. He didn't seem to mind her movements.

            She began speaking in order to distract him, "I would consider going, if the prince agreed to double his price. Let me pull out my calculator." She fished into her bag and unwrapped the cloth around the knives.

            "I am sure that can be arranged.  We aim to please." And then his smile consumed his face.

            She ripped out the first knife she came across. 

            "You are going to stop this car right now, or I am going to have to hurt you."

            His face went pale. "We are just having a negotiation here."

            "Negotiation is over.  Let me out, now."

            The man started speaking with the driver in a foreign language. The only thing Lara picked up on was the fact that the car was still moving.

            She screamed "Now" and sliced the front of his jacket pocket, she surprised herself at how expertly she had moved. I know my knives.    

            He yelled something out to the driver and the car stopped. She bolted out the door and stabbed the front tire.  She began running so fast her lungs and feet burned.

            She took out her phone and the battery was dead.  She ran the whole way to the police station without stopping once, she hadn't gone on a run for three years, but her high school track days had trained her body to keep moving.

***

            She sat at the police station with a blanket wrapped around her in an interrogation room. She had already given her statement to the police. 

            A tall man with dark rugged good looks entered the room and took a seat, he beamed confidence.

            "Hello, Lara. I'm special agent Herb Fox with the F.B.I. I heard you had a close call today."

            "I really don't understand why they would come after me."

            "Did you ever cover a recipe using Bhutolian food on your You Tube channel?"

            Lara searched her mind for the foods she had discussed for the last year, then, she remembered, "Vegan Eka Ekachi, I used almond milk as a substitute. Is that how he found me?"

            "Possibly. We need to put you into protective custody while we do some more investigating."

            "What about my mom?

            "We will keep watch over her and have found a place for you off the grid." He smiled as he said the last part.

            "Off the grid?" She asked and her blanket fell off her shoulders.

***

            Welcome to Slab City was the on the sign as they drove up. Lara had fallen asleep in the car on the way to her new hide out. She saw the sign as she rubbed the sleep from her eyes.

            "Slab City? You have got to be kidding me, a hippie commune?" Lara said.

            Agent Fox laughed, "We have to get you off the grid, no email, no cell phone, we have reason to believe they may be able to monitor everything." 

            There was a couple walking in the nude and holding hands far off in the distance. "I'm not taking my clothes off."

            "You don't have to do anything you don't want to."

            "Just because I am into green living doesn't mean I am a hippie. I don't like nudity."

            "It will be just for a few days."

            A woman came forward with frazzled hair and a flowing tie dyed mumu.  "Welcome, I'm Moonchild." and she gave Lara a big hug. Agent Fox laughed and waved as Moonchild led Lara into the commune.

            "Here is your trailer. We will be having a bonfire later on you can come by and meet everyone." Moonchild said as she began dancing.

            "Actually, I just want to be alone and get some rest.  Do you have anything to eat, I am starving."

            "Yes, we don't have running water or electricity out here, but we have some supplies. A group of us are going to go pick up some food tomorrow. We have plenty of beef jerky and yogurt."

            Lara's stomach lurched in pain. "No chance you have anything vegan?"

            "I don't think so, maybe you just want the yogurt then?"

            "Okay. I have to eat something."

***

            Puran looked in the jewel-covered mirror and wiped the tears from his face.  He felt the responsibility of his mother's murder weigh heavily on his shoulders. Now, he had to tell the prince that Lara had gone invisible with no activity online.  They were pretty sure the general region she was in, but couldn't find anything concrete.

             He entered the room where they were shooting a video for making natural floor cleaners from lemon and vinegar.

            The frail brunette woman was sitting on the floor crying. 

            The prince hands Puran the Taser.

            Puran looks at the girl crying on the floor, closes his eyes and hits the Taser over and over.  The woman flails herself over the floor like a fish out of water and screams so loud the prince cover his ears and smiles like a child watching fireworks.

***

            After two days at the commune Lara had started to get more settled into the routine.  Morning yoga followed by sitting meditation and mindful eating.

            Lara was outside in the field drawing pictures.  A quarter of the people were naked and Lara just averted her eyes. She was distracted by the high-pitched whispers surrounding her. 

            "Lara, look." Sunbeam said as she pointed to the sky.

            Lara looked up and saw a plane flying low with a message attached to its back, "Lara: We have your mother. Contact us now."  Her breath got caught in her throat and her stomach constricted. Sheran to Moonchild and said, "I can’t run anymore, they have my mom."

            Moonchild opened her mouth to protest and Lara said, "Now."

***

            Lara exited the jet and was led directly to the helicopter that took her to the Royal Palace of Prince Ram. The attendants kept staring at her, she wondered if they ever blinked.   

            She was led to her room that had shelves full of spices, cooking utensils, pots and pans.  As she surveyed the space she noticed a robotic sound and caught the camera following her.   

            Puran entered and said, "Don't worry. We turn off when you naked." 

            Then, he stood up straight and announced, "His great majesty Prince Ram."

            "Thank you Puran, my dear friend. Hello Lara, we are so happy to have you join us here."        

            "Where is my mom?" Lara asked.

            "She is in California, safe and sound. What do you think? We've got every cooking appliance in the Best Cooking catalogue."

            Lara let out a sigh of relief, then said, "So, the banquet is tomorrow. I want to get started now, a practice meal for tonight so everything will be settled for the big day tomorrow."

            "Now, that is the spirit,” The prince said with glee.

            An hour later she was in full cooking mode.  It did bring her enjoyment. She scratched the top of the shitake mushrooms and mixed in the turmeric, she researched the recipe while preparing a video a year ago, but never got to discuss its dangers. 

            Puran came into the room and stared at her for a minute. Lara didn't notice him and jumped when she saw him. He said,  "Don't mind miss.  I need to see you eat the food, you be new here."

            "Of course" she said and put a spoonful in her mouth and smiled.

            Puran bowed and left the room.

            Lara took a deep breath and removed her clothes.  She saw the light on the camera click off.  She went to the trashcan and spit out the food and washed her mouth out with soap. Then, she moved to the kitchen and stuffed an assortment of knives into her backpack. She caught her naked reflection in one of the knives and sighed.    

***

            Prince Ram and twenty of his dignitaries met around the table to sample Lara's cooking.  She made her specialty Eka Ekachi with almond milk.  Prince Rama told his guests, "It is vegan and Bhutolian."  

            The ingredients set in immediately and people began falling asleep at the table. Prince Ram was doing one of his long lectures on the merits of daily meditation and the dignitaries were propping their heads up on their arms unsuccessfully. 

            "It helps your focus, it aides digestion, it must be.... All of you should, I feel..." And Prince Ram collapsed in his chair.   

            Lara immediately collected the other YouTube personalities. They had all refused to eat that night, a common occurrence. Their enslavement had worn on them and they were groggy.  

            "Let's go. Take each other's hands, follow me."

            She kept a knife in her hand and gave one to each woman. "Just in case." As Lara traced back her steps to exit the palace, she was shocked by all of the sleeping bodies they stepped over. 

            The auxiliary servants had all stolen some of her soup from the kitchen. They had heard nothing but the level of this cook's abilities for the last couple of weeks, their curiosity overwhelmed them.      

            They all made it to the entrance of the palace together and Lara said, "Now, we need to walk to..."

            Lara stopped because all of the women cowered together in fear. "What is it?" and Lara turned around and found the object of their gaze.

            The leopard was walking back and forth across the entrance gate roaring, sizing the women up and licking its lips.

            "Maybe it will be afraid of us." Lara said as she moved closer.

            The leopard went into an attack stance as she advanced.

            "Come on girls, we have to go now, they might wake... " Lara made the mistake of turning her back to the leopard and it lurched toward her, she instinctively stabbed it in the neck. The girls behind her muffled their screams with their hands.

            Lara put her foot on the leopard's head and pulled out her knife slowly. "I'm sorry." She whispered to it.

            She grabbed the woman's hands and said, "Keep your knives up, we don't know what other animals he has out there, stay together."

            They jogged for a mile, jumping at each rifling in the bushes.     

            At the border of the complex, Lara saw Agent Fox motioning them to come to the hummers that were waiting with their engines on.

            "Are you hurt?" He said as the woman moved into the hummers.

            "No, I had to kill a leopard on the way out. I just want to get out of here." Lara said.

            "You saved a lot of lives tonight with this plan of yours, Lara. If our forces had raided the building to get you out of there a lot of people would have been hurt." Agent Fox said.     

            "You need some more cruelty free thinking in Washington." Lara said.

***

            Lara watched the news, "Prince Ram Dorji of Bhutolia has been prosecuted and will be expected to stay on house arrest indefinitely.  There has also been a travel advisory and embargo upheld against Bhutolia. The prince reportedly kidnapped and..."

            Lara switched off the TV and went on her computer.  Lara selected, delete, on all of her social media accounts, "Are you sure?" each one asked, "Absolutely" she answered.

She felt light and free.

Do you ever feel too exposed with social media? Please leave a comment below.

If you are interested in some of my other flash fiction and short stories, you can check these out. I write one each month on my blog:

Sailboat Swans

Story Synopsis: Caredwyn is at the beach with her mother processing her new life after divorce. She finds her elixir in the sea.

Pheromone Folly: When Magazine Cologne Man Asks You Out

Story Synopsis: Mimi VanHopkins is distracted by her magazine on her way to take a bubble bath and is met with a very real dilemma.

Weavering's Path of Whispering Pleas

A short story I wrote for the NYC Midnight Short Story contest with the prompts Suspense/ A beekeeper / A path.

Jellyfish Graveyard

Story Synopsis: It was metal head grandma's 150th birthday and she damn well was going to build a jellyfish graveyard in her apartment if she wanted to.

An Origin Myth of Magical Mist or Whatever

Story Synopsis: A young woman goes on her first camping trip and is greeted by an unexpected visitor.

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