Ambrosia

Ambrosia

Having written the first half of this story (I only ever write the first halves :) I finished it off and submitted it to the Borderlands convention’s short story competition. It got shortlisted and I won $50, the first time I’ve ever been paid for a story! I even have a photocopy of the cheque :)

They’ve had me here for five months now. It’s agonising, spending time here. They sedate me. They tie me down.
They Feed me.
And the worst part of it is they can keep me here for the rest of my life if they want to.
They treat me like any other of their patients. Or at least they pretend to. But some of them know I am perhaps the most dangerous patient in this or any hospital like it.
That’s really why I’m here in the first place. Because I like to Eat.

It originated through the research of unwitting scientists in many fields. They discovered the ultimate dietary substitute, Food.
It had many names, many re-brandings, repackagings and marketing campaigns. It had movie tie-ins. Sports and rock stars ate it.
Food was a wonderfully subtle blend of ingredients, compiled after many computer hours of research.
It was non-fattening, good for one’s cholesterol level and blood pressure, it was high in fibre and all the right sorts of starches, low allergenic, and acceptable for consumption by diabetics and phenylketonurics.
It contained no meat or animal products, and was tested entirely by a combination of advanced computer simulations of protein folding and a battery of volunteer guinea pigs.
It didn’t cause cancer in laboratory rats (the FDA had to run those tests), and through a miracle of food technology, it had been matched to the most primitive taste preferences of the human species, and tasted good to pretty much everyone.
Research also managed to show it statistically lengthened the life span of a significant proportion of the experimental group who consumed Food over an extended period of time.
And so, everyone wanted it. The rich wanted it because it was good for you. The middle class wanted it because the rich wanted it. The poor would eat anything.
Sales of Food soon outstripped everything else in the marketplace.
There were Food riots. Eventually the government and Food Technologies Inc. made a combined effort to rid the country of starvation and malnutrition. Despite the best attempts of rival companies, Food Technologies Inc. soon shot to the number one position on the Fortune 500.
But that was only the beginning.
In a startling deal with the United Nations, Food Technologies Inc. signed a deal to supply the third world. Free of charge, provided they had a monopoly of supply to these countries.
And no matter how you prepared, coloured or adjusted it, it was still Food.

I was discovered by accident 5 months ago. They had had me under surveillance for two weeks before they finally caught me.
It had been the neighbour’s roses.
I had picked one on my way home from work. It smelled wonderful. I drove my nose deep into its heart and inhaled its lifeblood scent.
And then the hunger struck.
I cautiously bit into one of the petals, tasting its soft coolness on my tongue. Before I knew it, the whole flower was gone.
I burped perfume.
It was an exhilarating experience.

They got me later that evening. They found everything I had been growing, the hydroponics, and the potato peels.
They even got me for sale of illegal substances.
My lawyer got me off on the grounds of mental instability due to a marked dietary imbalance. But that meant coming here.

The asylum used to be populated with mad people. But most of them would eat what they were told, and they were rehabilitated into society (or re-released onto the streets, depending on your viewpoint). In their place the government and the Dietician General decided to round up everyone whose suicidal tendencies were causing them to not eat Food. After all , it was so good for you that (as the slogan goes) “You’d be mad not to eat it!”

They strapped me down the first night I was here. The straps around my wrists tasted salty in my mouth. But I could just sit there and chew them, savouring the excess sodium.
They tried to Feed me by force, but I resisted. One of the orderlies paid dearly for that one. Several stitches in the side of his hand where I bit him. There was the taste of warm, protein and iron rich blood. I enjoyed that.
They restrained me again, this time ensuring I couldn’t reach the straps. I had eaten everything except the buckles on the last pair, and had just got to the bedside flowers when they caught me. They put a drip in my arm. I didn’t even bother to read what was on the bag. I knew what it would say. Food Technologies Inc., Intravenous Food.
I could almost taste it as they pumped it into me.
At least until I bit through the tasteless plastic of the drip line. I nearly threw up when I got a mouthful of liquid food.

Tonight is my last night here, I think. One of the guards (I can’t bring myself to call them orderlies) was distracted while tying down my restraint. Something about the big game on TV tonight. Probably planning to kick back in the couch with a bucket full of hot buttered food and a brewski (dilute liquid Food with added beer flavouring).
It’s quite easy to get my arm out of the strap. After all, it’s not like I’ve been enthusiastic about eating much! From there the other straps aren’t a problem.

The room next door houses Karie, she’s in for bulimia. Down the hall are a few more anorexics and bulimics, and the odd homebrewer. I slip the bolts on all their doors. As I look behind me I see some of them emerging from their cells like flowers on the first day of spring.

Down the corridor is the nurse’s station. The TV is on, as always, the sound of distant cheering as two teams backed by different flavours of Food attempt to beat each other senseless chasing a pigskin (Yum!) around the field.

But soon my captive gourmand friends will be raising a ruckus, and it’s not likely that they’ll actually manage to make it past the nurse and the guards at the front door. Around the corner in the hallway is a ventilation duct. It’s quite easy to get into, after all, I’m much more suited for crawling down narrow ductwork now. A quick sniff in either direction tells me the way to the kitchen. I can smell the cloying odour of Food. But there’s something else in the air.
The asylum has been around long before Food. In its time the kitchen has fried, boiled and baked all sorts of meats, vegetables and unmentionable other substances. Years of neglected maintenance and poor ventilation have left deposits of all sorts of exotic flavours on the walls of the duct. A veritable feast! Slowly, tentatively anticipating the explosion of flavour, I lick the inside of the duct.
At first there is the taste of dust. Random particles trapped on their way to the outside world, as I am trapped by the flavour. Underneath the furry outer layer, there is the inner juices to be savoured, like some exotic fruit.
Eventually, I have tasted enough. Roast dinners, desserts, go spinning through my head. Beneath me, there is a clean patch of bare metal to mark my passing.

Further down the duct there is a grating. I look down and see the ‘pantry’ below me. Once it would have held spices, herbs, spiced meats, fruits, vegetables, real butter and cheese! Now, there are just the huge vats of Food concentrate, waiting to be pumped out in the kitchen, ‘activated’ and diluted to taste, or lack thereof.
I unhinge the grating and lower myself down to the top of one of the vats. After a few tries I manage to get the grating to shut behind me. No one must know where I’ve been or, more importantly, where I’m going.
The vat’s stainless steel shines in the moonlight sneaking in through the windows high above. Their tops of the vats are sealed, to ensure that the Food concentrate maintains its ‘optimum quality’ and ‘peak taste properties’.
The inspection hatch isn’t locked however. After all, who would want to steal Food when it’s freely available to all?
In the inside wall of the vat there’s a ladder. I slowly climb down it until I feel the cool touch of the Food as it envelops my ankles. I squish it through my toes. Well, it can only improve the flavour!
The smell is overpowering. I reach up above me and close the hatch. Another rung, and the concentrated Food is halfway up my chest, I can feel it eating at my skin now. Soon my escape will be complete.
Moving down another rung, it burns away at my body.
I draw in a deep breath, let go of the ladder, and kick back until I’m floating in it.
I push my head under the surface, until I can hold my breath no more. Its taste is exciting, and almost spicy as it burns its way down my oesophagus, and starts to eat away at my stomach. The lingering spices from the ventilation duct are replaced with the overwhelming taste of Food. My lungs fill with it, as it replaces even the air I breathe.
But then the last hint of the disappears, and as the cloying taste claims me, I think of my legacy.
Maybe, just maybe, someone sitting down to breakfast, lunch or dinner will notice that the Food tastes a fraction better than usual.

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