Deanna’s soup arrived. Everything looked normal. It was hot. Bits of meat bobbed up and down in the yellow broth. There was a full layer of sunken barley on the bottom, like pale river stones. She couldn’t stop herself from breathing deeply and craving the food. She threw her hands over her mouth and leaned backward, nearly falling off the bar stool.
The other patrons turned and scowled in her direction. They were enjoying their soup very much. Giles’ Bubbling Pot had quickly become the number one eatery in town. Even in the middle of this blazing yet rainy bayou summer, folks came from everywhere for a bowl of the turtle soup. It was one of those recipes good enough to pass through generations, and they were lucky enough to taste its first form before reincarnation. Deanna could show a little respect.
She had spent her thirty years up north, rarely venturing lower than Virginia. She hated the swamp air. She hated the way she always heard flies buzzing even when there were none there. She hated the way people sucked on the heads of crayfish around her, pretending they weren’t eating mud-filled stony-shelled spiders.
Yet the soup was so enticing. That was why she had come. She’d heard about it, even so many states away. It wasn’t a star-based online review and it wasn’t the recollections of a friend of a friend; it was much worse than that. Deanna had received a call for help, like someone screaming as they drowned in a pot of boiling soup, hands outstretched with nothing to grab but the scalding rim.
The message had been week at first, coming only in a nightmare, so she ignored it. All it did was steal a little sleep. The next time however, it came at work, as she was filing some things away. She dropped the papers and everyone stared as they did now in the eatery. Her work didn’t matter. It was work: paper, desks, and clothing with too many buttons. It was her free time that mattered, because Deanna had a talent.
That was what her grandmother called it anyway. Deanna could hear people even when they weren’t speaking. Not all people, just the ones with the same talent. In fact, they called themselves ‘the talented’. They had a network, a support group, and secrecy. Their minds could reach across the globe and converse, convince, and console.
They had parties on some weekends. She tried not to imagine how silly they all looked, sitting along in their apartments, their yards, and their huts staring at walls. In their heads it was a swinging scene, souls spiraling around in waltzes and sharing the most intimate details. She had mentally married someone living in Peru. He passed away though, his talent now just a depression in her mind, like the spot where someone sleeps, and she had filled the hole with new friendships.
One of those friends had called to her in agony. Then the screaming stopped. Fully drowned, fully cooked. It had come from here, from this restaurant. She just knew it. She had taken her vacation and flown down to try and see what happened to Max.
On the way down she had parsed some of the information encoded in his dying scream. There was a monster. It was killing people and serving them up in soup. How Max had found this out she had no idea, but she knew it was true. He had no history of hallucination. That was one thing about being ‘talented’, everyone knew it was separate from mental illness.
Deanna couldn’t just scream. Nobody would believe her. She couldn’t bare to smell the soup anymore, so she pretended to head toward the bathroom. Her focus was split, because she kept wondering whose name had been chopped up and served to her in broth.
She darted to the side and pushed through the kitchen door. She knew where this monstrous chef was. According to the scream he never left the kitchen, but what she found shocked and paralyzed her. There were employees running back and forth, making soup. Their eyes were dead and their mouths hung open. They all turned to look at her.
They’d all been skirting around the metal table at the center. Atop it sat a plastic children’s pool, brightly decorated with fish and coral. Old blood stains encircled its rim. Inside, in a few inches of water, was a massive snapping turtle. She guessed it was over 300 pounds. Its dragon-like scales and stony beak insisted it was an actual monster. Its mouth hung open as well. A purple worm-like tongue, soft and moist, wriggled in two directions.
Whoooo aaarreee yoooouuu? The turtle spoke to her. Deanna couldn’t believe it, but she had no choice. It was either speak to the turtle or stare at the severed leg bubbling in one of the pots. She didn’t know if it had been cooked to a golden-brown or if that was just their skin tone.
What are you? She asked with her talent. That was how the turtle was speaking. Its voice was deep, primordial, and without nuance, but it was definitely the same channel she’d always used. The turtle’s tiny eyes, like contact lenses with black slits in the shape of an X, looked her up and down. She tried not to think about the turtle dropping a Deanna steak onto a butcher’s scale.
Iiiiiii aaaaammmm Ruuuuustguuuuut
How do you speak with the talent? I’ve never heard an animal before.
Iiiiii liiiive on laaaake beeed. Iiiii eeeaaat yooouur traaaash. Hoooks. Fiiishiiing hooooks. Theeeey maaaakeee meee bleeed iiinsiiideee
The talent beast! Where did you get it?
Maaaaan. Fiiiisheeeer. Heee faaaaall iiiin. Iiiii fiiiind hiiiim. I eeeeaaaat. Theeen, Iiiii haaaveee taaaleeeent
There it was. Max. The fool. Deanna knew he’d probably had one too many beers on his boat. Even during their parties his mind couldn’t dance straight. This creature, this old hateful thing, had eaten part of him. The evidence of his talent was everywhere. Rustgut was using it to control the staff. Their minds were not their own, pushed to the back of their own identities like old coats. He could not touch her though. Her talent was as strong as his.
You’re killing people? Serving them? What is this? Your dumb animal revenge for a bloody gut?
You will stop now. You will give these people back their minds.
Because I’m up against the door. I can fling it open and show everybody. You can’t control them all. I doubt you’ve gotten any better at running since taking that talent.
Iiiiif Iiiii stoooop, yooouuu kiiiill meeee
No. I will let you go. A talented mind is a strange thing… we’ve all done things we regret. If you kill more though… I will find you.
Iiiii dooooon’t beeeeliiieeeveeee Rustgut ordered his slaves to hold their hands out over every hot surface. He threatened to scar them permanently. One of them held a long polished knife to their wrist.
Have them take you out back and dump you in the swamp. I don’t care if you hurt them. If they knew what I was they might kill me too. You’ve had your fun. Now go.
Biiiitteeer yoouuu aaarrreee The turtle sounded pleased. It silently closed its nasty maw. Cheeeweeed hooooks yooouuu haaaveee. Swaaaaallooooweeed bloooood.
And I wont’ swallow anymore. Get out.
Rustgut’s servants gathered around the pool, lifted the turtle, and carried him out the back door. Deanna collapsed in relief against the wall. She hated part of herself for letting him go, but the people she partied with every week had done similar things. One of the best ways Deanna could atone would’ve been tossing herself in the nearest pot and screaming at all of them.
You can misuse a talent!
Author’s Note: This flash fiction story was written based on a prompt provided by ThePineLord during a livestream. I hereby transfer all story rights to them, with the caveat that it remain posted on this blog. If you would like your own story, stop bytwitch.tv/blainearcade during one of my streams and I’ll write it for you live!