The Palate Cleanser

“Do You Want Strings With That?”

by Tim Bodicoat

 

It felt like the Klugs would never leave. They had ruined me. Once a revered concert violinist, reduced to a meagre cook. For them music was not the food of love—it was just food—and only a masochist refused to play on. We prayed for the tone-deaf—the Klugs had no use for them. And if you couldn’t feed them alive, you’d feed them dead. The horror stories spread like the clap through a brothel. Tales of skulls carved into ocarinas, thighbones hollowed into oboes, lute-strings made of gizzards, and the particularly harrowing ribcage xylophones.

I couldn’t decide which Klugs were worse. There were the fast-food addicts with their “I’ll take a dance hit to go and don’t go easy on the bass!” and “That sitar solo from yesterday’s gone right through me. I think I can only handle a folk ballad tonight—no drums.”

Then there were the vanity cases watching their weight, asking for “Anything without brass—it goes straight to my hips.” How a two-ton Klug watches her weight I don’t know, but I guess it makes a difference in their circles. You’d see them scouring the score for what to order before inevitably choosing whatever had the least substance. “I’ll have the hotel-lounge number,” I heard one say, “only the middle eight though—I had a jingle at lunch.”

And not forgetting the snobs, who’d order a Vivaldi, have it served by the best musicians around, and then describe in obsessive detail what was wrong with it. “Garçon! There’s too much bassoon in my concerto. It’s overpowering the flute and this is quite unacceptable.” I despised the others from a distance but the snobs were the bane of my existence. From playing grade eight to serving table eight—oh, how I’ve fallen.

They had destroyed my appreciation of music, as they digested even the sweetest melody into utter discord. Just like our waste is so much fouler and more pungent than what we dine on, their excretions are as far removed from music as possible, and come rasping out with much greater volume. And just as the shark can sniff a drop of blood in a busy ocean, the Klugs could find and consume a tune amidst the blare of a space launch—so there was no escape. Adding to their offenses—since they had no sense of smell—they naturally reeked.

Something had to be done about them, so my quartet and I formed a plan. We were risking horrific torture, as the Klugs were merely tyrannical on a good day, sadistically creative on a bad one. But knowing that arthritis would eventually force the violin out of my hand for good, and I would die a gruesome death just to have my colon turned into a kazoo, I had to at least try.

One evening a particularly pretentious group of them arrived to feast on our harmonies, the gluttonous alpha-male leading them in, boasting, “I’m starved, I could hear a symphony!” Later on the same creature beckoned me over with a face full of contempt and his great ugly hands clamped around his ears.

“I’m sorry but there’s been a mistake,” he said. “I ordered this in B-flat and this is in A. I only ever have my Wagner in B-flat.”

“I bet you do, you overgrown Fascist,” I muttered.

“I heard that! If you’re going to have that attitude perhaps you’d rather I fashion a set out of panpipes out of your pelvis and feed myself?” he said, glaring at me.

“Of course not, I’m sorry sir. I’ll have that fixed right away. And everything is on the house.” I felt like a swine sucking up to the brute but I was quite fond of my pelvis and had to remain intact if I wanted to see the plan through. I found my cellist immediately.

“We have to do it now. I don’t think I’ll be able to get through dessert without wrapping my violin round one of their heads.

Towards the end of their meals, the room’s air changed. The same supercilious monsters that had been gleefully devouring sonatas, enjoying palate-cleansing arpeggios, and getting drunk off the baritone at the bar, now twitched and fidgeted uncomfortably. One by one it got them, until they were all writhing in their seats and wiggling fingers in their ears.

“Hit them with a C-sharp now,” I whispered to the second violinist. “That will make them sweat.” And that it did. Half the Klugs in the room were now on the floor clutching their ears in agony, and oblivious to the cause—for although they had immense sensitivity, their range was finite. And just as salmonella can slip into our bodies without being tasted, our supersonic notes of dissonance could wreak havoc in theirs without being heard.

“Throw in a low one now to really mess them up,” I whispered again. “And make it loud.” She twisted one knob left, another right, and pressed a button. A great rumble was felt, but not heard, and the Klugs went wild. Eyes bulged from sockets, stomachs undulated violently, and their ears throbbed then withered. This was better than we had ever imagined. We only ever hoped to poison them temporarily, but we had hit the fatal resonance.

And so began the Subsonic Plague. Those not initially present soon picked up the noise as it echoed about the Klugs, resonating in their guts and spilling out of every orifice. The Plague spread quickly, causing an excruciating death for all the infected. The few survivors were driven out of the cities to feed off didgeridoos whittled from tree-trunks and the occasional goat-horn cornet.

They still live in fear of the Plague, but if you happen to venture into the woods on a dark night, you better hope you can sing, or they’ll turn you into bagpipes.

 

 

“Licorice”

By Matt Yeager

 

Ludwig’s was the most popular candy shop in town.  It was also the only candy shop in town.  Even so, people came in daily to see what confectionary creations he had cooked up.  Ludwig made candy: truffles and bonbons, gummies and wafers.  He could make a living on his sales of chocolates alone.  But it was his licorice which his customers most enjoyed.

Ludwig’s licorice was pristine, exquisite.  He sold more of it than any other item.  At first he sold it by the piece, then by the bundle, and eventually sales dictated that he sell it by the bag.  He made several pounds each evening for the following day.  Each night when the shop closed he had no remaining.

But there was a secret to Ludwig’s licorice.  It had a particular ingredient, one which added not only the ideal consistency to each piece, but also a bitterness to sweetness ratio that could not be found in any other licorice in the kingdom.  This particular ingredient was not advertised; on the contrary, it was purposefully hidden.  Only Ludwig himself knew the truth of it.

Once a week, Ludwig would receive a shipment, outside of regular business hours and well after nightfall.  It would arrive at his backdoor, wrapped in a nondescript burlap sack cinched with twine.  Ludwig would wait until his shop, as well as the streets, were empty before retrieving the delivery from the back.  In its place he would leave several gold coins.

You see, the adults in the town and Ludwig had an arrangement.  As Ludwig had discovered one day quite by accident, children’s teeth, when added to the mixture, makes for the ideal consistency, as well as a bitterness to sweetness ratio that cannot be found in any other licorice in the kingdom.  The adults didn’t know what Ludwig did with their children’s errant teeth; they only knew that he paid handsomely for them.  One representative of a group of families would collect all the teeth that had fallen out the previous week, and deliver them to the candy shop.  Ludwig was a tooth fairy, of sorts.

And so this system of secret deliveries and secret payments went on unhindered for years.  Ludwig continued to make his prized licorice and the children of town were well rewarded for their wayward teeth.

Eventually, word of Ludwig’s wonderful candy reached the throne.  The King had an affinity for sweets, especially licorice.  So when he received numerous recommendations for Ludwig’s shop, he certainly could not resist.

The king’s birthday quickly approached, the age of 25 to his subjects, though his true age was unknown.  He could think of no better centerpiece for the grand birthday dinner than licorice.  Mountains of it.  He dispatched a courier with his order, three hundred pounds of licorice, 1,200 bags worth.

Initially, after the courier had delivered his orders and returned to the castle, Ludwig was overjoyed.  Never had he had such a large order, and from the King, no less.  If he was able to fulfill such a request, it would surely mean future business from the throne.  He could even charge twice his normal rates, as per the message from the courier.

But as he thought on it, thought on the logistics of it all, he began to dread.  So much licorice.  And such an impending deadline, four days hence.  He rushed about his shop, taking stock of necessary ingredients.  Fortunately he had just received a large shipment of sugar and gelatin in anticipation of the forthcoming holiday season.  Additionally, he had more than enough licorice extract to meet demand.

What he lacked, however, were teeth.  He received no more than one delivery each week, and even then the amounts in each burlap sack yielded only some thirty pounds of licorice.  He needed ten times that amount.

Ludwig considered for hours how to fulfill his commitment.  He couldn’t fail to meet the King’s request; he would be barred from any future requests and may even have his shop reclaimed.  He couldn’t set about the town advertising for more teeth, the arrangement he and the populace had was purposefully clandestine, and would be reviled if made known.  He tried other things as substitutes: animal bones, flagstone, even a tooth taken from his own mouth, but none of the batches turned out right.  He came to understand, after trial and error, that there was in fact no substitute.

And so he was left with one option remaining.  Ludwig equipped himself with hammers, pliers, wrenches, binding.  He dressed as dark as he could and slipped through the night like a mist.  He started with houses he was acquainted with, houses where he knew children lived.  After those had been exhausted, he continued to others.

He didn’t kill the children; he was no monster.  He only needed their teeth.  They were children’s teeth, after all; they would be replaced eventually.  Ludwig was only hastening the process.  Who were they, the children, to say he couldn’t?  That he wasn’t justified?  He needed the teeth more than they.  He had an order to fill.

As it turns out, Ludwig did collect enough teeth to make licorice for the King’s birthday.  The candy was made, delivered, and the King sang Ludwig’s praises to every guest at the party.  Ludwig himself was in attendance, and danced and drank like royalty, until the Royal Guard interrupted the festivities.

It wasn’t hard to uncover the identity of the serial child attacker in the town.  The few adults who knew about Ludwig’s special arrangement quickly deduced that he had gone mad and had taken to acquiring his prizes by force.  It didn’t help that the tools of his dark deed lay strewn about his candy shop, still wet with blood.

Ludwig was put to death by hanging the following day, charged and sentenced for the crime of forcibly removing teeth from the mouths of 14 children.  When the king learned just what the teeth had been used for, Ludwig’s candy shop was closed and repurposed into a bakery.  His son now runs the shop.  People say he bakes the most wonderful Danishes in the kingdom.

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