Prompt: A child adopted by a drug dealer, and the drug dealer actually uses a kebab shop as a front company for selling drugs.
Some complained that the shop smelled terrible. Others said it was wonderful to wake up to. Both groups stopped vocalizing their opinions about one week after the kebab shop moved in. That was the way of its smells, its private recipes. They quickly became part of the air, a warmth in it rather than a scent, and nobody who lived there even remembered it had ever been a point of argument. Their neighborhood smelled of it, and only visitors cared.
It was Veli’s only atmosphere from birth until his first days at school, a school that was just downwind of his family’s shop. He stopped in front of its stairs on his first day of class and took a deep breath. He wasn’t sure if he liked that air more or less than the steam issuing from the kitchen at home. One thing was certain; his family didn’t have the same pull at school as they had on their street. His teachers were never as nice to him as his neighbors. These things always perplexed Veli, until one fateful summer day when the shop was closed but they had a customer anyway.
It was his last day of school for a week; they were getting an unscheduled break due to a ruptured water pipe that turned many classroom ceilings into nasty brown swirls. The day had been cut in half thanks to one collapse drenching several of his friends. He was lucky enough to return home dry as a bone. He thought his parents would be happy to see him. He could help with the rest of the day’s cooking. Instead, they were mortified.
“What are you doing home?” his father asked, running his fingers through his short beard and then over his bald head as if trying to transfer the hair. He wore his finest clothes under his colorful apron and he smelled like cologne, even though it was barely detectable under the smell of their delectables. He came out from behind the counter, grabbed his ten year old son by the shoulders, and examined him as if he’d just come from a gym class with lynxes as his peers.
“Half-day,” he answered simply, unsettled by the wild look in his father’s eyes. “Pipe burst. I was lucky to get out…. alive.” He smirked.
“That’s not funny,” his mother said from behind the counter. She went to his side as well and sighed. “We need you to go up to your room for the rest of the afternoon.” Her face was very serious. She only had that expression when doctor’s visits were coming up, or when their elderly cat made a new unpleasant sound.
“Okay…” Veli did not argue. Why would he? There were video games in his room. He was essentially being told to have fun rather than work the rest of the day. Surely they had their reasons. He wasn’t allowed to go up the stairs in the back of the restaurant by himself. Both his parents followed him the whole way, each with a hand on his back. They closed his door. He put his ear up against it and listened to the sounds of them rushing back down the stairs. A chair squealed across the floor.
The boy was torn. On the one hand was his newly-acquired copy of Rat-murai’s Vengeance, the latest and greatest rodent warrior online video game. His character was rapidly approaching level thirty-four. One the other, his parents were acting beyond strange. Their restaurant was always a family place. They catered for all kinds of diametrically opposed groups and clubs, sometimes all at once with no conflict. What could possibly have them so skittish?
Veli’s curiosity got the better of him. He twisted the door’s knob and tiptoed into the hallway and back down the stairs. Something else wasn’t right. They had two cooks that were almost always working. They almost always argued as well. They were on different ends of the political spectrum and Veli had noticed that whenever they shouted at each other the food they worked on turned out particularly delicious. Silence in the kitchen couldn’t be good for anybody. He needed to investigate further.
They had a curtain up to separate the restaurant from their private home, so Veli remained mostly obscured behind it as he watched with one eye. They’d already set up a table right where he’d been standing when he entered. He’d never seen it before. The wood was dark, purple, and fancy, like something out of a turn-of-the-century hotel. There was room only for one man, and so they put out one matching chair.
Next, wordlessly, his parents hung purple curtains in the windows and flipped the sign in the door to closed. Whoever they prepared for, they weren’t a regular customer. Veli was young, but he still saw the strange dichotomy of the table and what it bore. His parents put out one of their regular kebabs. It was good, the meat cooked up tender and moist, the onions fresh, but it was just the comfort food they sold to everyone else. It didn’t go with the wine glass or the silk napkin flanking it.
They brought out something else: a bottle on a silver tray. Okay. They definitely didn’t own any silver. The bottle was purple glass with all sorts of perfect imperfections. The stopper had the swollen face of the moon blown into it. A jeweled horseman with a scimitar rode around the celestial body. His father held the tray while his mother pulled out the stopper and dressed the kebab with one thin line of the purple liquid within. They each uttered a silent prayer.
As soon as they were finished, as if on cue, the bell tinkled and a man entered, flanked by two guards. Their clothes were modern, but they wore gold and silver belts that looked positively ancient. Each man had a long beard expertly braided. The central figure, bearing a ring with a deep violet geode stone, sat at the table without introducing himself. He picked up a knife and fork and slowly disassembled the food, savoring each bite.
He ate for fifteen minutes, and drank deeply of the water his guards poured for him from a bottle they’d brought along. Apparently his family’s food was good enough, but their beverages were not. Something about the seated man really upset Veli. He seemed so full of himself, like all the pride his family had from their years of cooking and neighborly behavior was now his simply because he contained some of that food. The man stood. His parents bowed.
“The meat was quite tough this time. I expect better,” he said. “Our families expect better. You will improve for next year, yes?” His parents nodded so hard their foreheads nearly hit the floor. “Good. You wouldn’t want your son to see you like this.” Veli was done. Nobody spoke to his parents that way. He flung the curtain aside and marched forward. He was full of questions and bubbling rage, never the best combination. He shouted all the wrong parts of his tirade.
“Who are you? My parents make the best food this side of whatever ocean. Okay? Jerk. Who are you anyway? I already… but who? What was that purple garbage? Maybe that’s why it wasn’t as good. Were those your vitamins? You old sack of… old man!” His mother threw her hand over his mouth, but the man waved her away. She bowed again and backed up to the counter.
“You are Veli, yes?” he asked. His voice sounded like it whistled through a skull long buried in the world’s largest and most inhospitable desert. The boy nodded. “My vitamins are a drug. You know what drugs are?”
“Not this one. It is made from an ancient recipe, one passed down through your family. It has no effect on most, but my line can feel it. Intelligence. Empathy. Strength. Things humans normally lack I have in incredible amounts after consuming it. My family has looked out for yours since time immemorial. You prepare the drug and we consume it. We make sure your family is safe, always out of harm’s way. You’ve never been caught up in war or strife. You’ve always had your bright little businesses because we’ve always had our vitamins.”
“But you think something should change, little boy?”
“Yes! You can’t treat my parents that way. It doesn’t matter who you are.”
“Very well. Perhaps it’s time to change things up. Let’s see what you can do.” He took up the bottle, removed the stopper, grabbed Veli’s chin, and squeezed. The boy opened his mouth involuntarily and the man with the ring poured in a generous helping and forced him to swallow. “Who knows what’ll happen outside my line, but you think you have it handled. Lovely boy you have. Perhaps I’ll see you next year.”
With that he left and his guards followed. Veli’s parents hugged him. His stomach felt very strange, like an ocean of dreams. The sensation moved up his spine and started to flood his mind.
Author’s Note: This flash fiction story was written based on a prompt provided by Alpiasker 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 by twitch.tv/blainearcade during one of my streams and I’ll write it for you live!