America's Most Critical Journal (since 1999)
The Abominable Kitchen
Though the events contained in these pages may seem fantastical beyond belief, I must confidently state that I am in complete possession of my wits. No, would that I were mad, my tale would not be so horrific as this. These bizarre and terrifying happenings may seem too ghastly to be true, but I must assure you that my tale unfolded exactly as I will relate it.
As I departed from my university upon the completion of my studies, I found myself in dire need of lodging. After many a failed attempt at finding a suitable homestead, I chanced upon a house owned by an elderly widow. Atop a hill the edifice stood, on a gloomy stretch of lawn that opposed the cheery yellow home entirely. Stepping inside, I found the house quite to my liking. My fellow denizens seemed of a likable sort, being several elderly gentlemen and not a few recent graduates such as myself.
The proprietor was a crone with silvered hair that hung in long hanks down her hunched back. The face of the woman was formless, so overcome with deep crags and wrinkles as to give no suggestion of what it may have looked like in the woman's youth. I looked upon that visage with intense, visceral dislike, and yet the voice emanating from the hag was so inviting as to put me at ease once more. Upon receiving the key to my room, I found my lodging to be more than sufficient, being both comfortable and spacious. That evening, I slumbered peacefully, and awoke refreshed, to the scent of some delicacy wafting up from downstairs where the kitchen stood.
Descending the staircase, I found the odor grew stronger, and indeed I began to salivate, much to my own surprise. Whatever strange concoction being created in the kitchen of the old home had permeated the space and drawn all the tenants towards it uncontrollably. What a sight we must have looked, gathered outside the door of the kitchen! The crone emerged, boasting trays of unidentifiable foodstuffs, piled high so as to obscure her stooped figure entirely. At her invitation, we all feasted upon the delightful sustenance she had provided. When questioned about the dishes at hand, the woman cited secret family recipes and refused to divulge her methods. Oh, such heavenly food! Such a glorious bounty it was!
Within hours, I found myself famished once more. This was strange to me, owing to my previous gorging that had left me feeling quite satisfied only a brief while ago. Why, then, should such hunger pull at me after such a little amount of the day had passed? Not to worry, I told myself. It is simply the skillfulness of the cook in question that has brought me back for more so soon.
For days this continued, with my cycle of feasting and unprompted hunger pangs plaguing me and defining my time. All my thoughts centered around the old woman and her delightful cooking, and so I began to look upon these ritualistic meals with a sense of foreboding. Once more I would descend the staircase and be transported to heights of ecstasy by the sumptuous flavors of her exotic cuisine, and yet never would I feel satisfied for more than an hour or so. It was all most curious. Before an hour passed, I would feel the stirrings of ravenousness within my person, and in the space of another hour I would be nothing short of voracious. But still, the woman waited, always a plate in hand, always willing to satisfy my cravings.
After days spent this way, every hour heatedly waiting for the next meal, I began to loathe the woman and her apparent culinary enchantments. Perhaps there was something sinister to be found in those feasts. Why else might she prepare them alone, never allowing even a glimpse or hint of what transpired in that vast, cavernous kitchen? Why else might she never leave the oven's side, perching always beside it to prepare yet more dishes, more delicacies with which to tempt her tenants?
The weeks pressed on as an endless stretch of food and terror, and after nearly a month I could stand no more the old woman's power. I began to suspect, nay, to realize, that the woman's food must contain some ghoulish substance borne of no good intent. Perhaps it was her intent to poison me, and the sheer deliciousness would tempt me back for yet more helpings of that which worked its evil upon my body. Yes, it had to be poison! Why else would the haggard proprietor insist upon feeding me so heartily? Upon waking one morning, I found her hovering by my bedside in a ghastly manner, a tray of sumptuous confections balanced on one withered hand.
I sat up sharply, horrified by the crone's intrusion into my bed chambers. Set before me was surely the most delightful feast she had yet produced, with aromatic spices piquing my sudden hunger. Truly the hag had created a banquet fit for the highest lord, and yet I could not bring myself to taste it. I looked upon the spread with a mixture of revulsion and desire, wanting desperately to sample the delicacies she had set forth beside my bed.
That pagan face smiled at the complexities within my expression, and I was overcome. Truly she had revealed herself! Why else would such a perverse look overtake that craggy visage, if not as the result of some demonic glee? The crone would not hold me in thrall any longer!
What happened next may seem a crime of impulse, but I can assure you with complete mental clarity that my actions were motivated entirely by the consideration of my own self-preservation. With a sudden movement, I ground the wrinkled face into the very plate of foodstuffs she had presented to me. The silvery hair shook as the body shook, and the cries emanating from the woman were muffled by the meats and bread she had meant for me. Little had she known that her own dark poisons would eventually quench her life! It seemed impossible to me that her lungs could fail so quickly, give way and cease to draw in life-giving air. It took but a few moments before her life was gone, thus proving that the feast she so delicately prepared had been sprinkled with some ghastly poison.
The lifeless body fit neatly in a disused shed in the gloomy recesses of the back garden. It had spent many years untouched, the hinges on the door rusted beyond hope of future use. Once deceased, the crone's face seemed somehow less ghoulish, and I was comforted quite well by the innate deadness of the eyes. My terror having fled for a time, I retreated to my bed chambers, undisturbed for many days.
In time, the house was sold, after the crone's disappearance had yielded no answers. Given her age, she had been ruled deceased, and her property was now owned by a far younger widow. The tenants within the estate had placed many a complaint towards no particular audience at all, talking amongst themselves of how dearly they missed the old woman's kindness, her conversation, and her meals. Despite early reservations, one and all took quickly to the new landlady. Still, I could not help but be troubled by any sentimentality displayed towards the previous owner.
Had they all been mad? Blind? Could they not see the inherent evil within those delectable dishes? What kindness was it of which they spoke? I had seen beyond the hag's demure countenance and witnessed the horrors behind that craggy face! I had rid the world of the wicked old woman, and it was all the better for it.
My new landlady, it seemed, possessed of herself culinary talents with which to rival the skill of her haggard predecessor. Oh, to describe the ecstasy evoked by those pies is beyond mortal ability! The sheer sumptuousness of the meats and cheeses set out at the table each night was almost too much to bear.
It began to plague me once more, an innate desire to gorge upon the delicious feasts coming from the kitchen below my room. The scents wafted up through my room and sent my other senses into regression, focusing my attention entirely on my desire to eat. I no longer felt in control of my own person, and for this I was troubled, yet tried in vain to stifle my unease.
Within months, I felt the change overtake me once more. How could this be? How could it be that the same delirious, food-induced fevers overtook me at night? Hadn't the old hag been exterminated? How, then, could such terror creep into my psyche again, sated only by the filling of my stomach upon those pagan treats?
One night upon the full moon's rising, I crept silently to the kitchen once more, tempted away from my slumber by the smell of something unfamiliar tantalizing my breath. But, oh, what a gruesome sight greeted me as I approached the kitchen! The room had become an inferno, engulfed in flame! The proprietor of the home sat slumped at the kitchen table, dead, poor thing. Though I felt sure she had perished of the flames or the smoke, I reached forward to touch her body as if to rouse her, and such a ghastly thing occurred that I am nearly unable to speak it.
As I overturned the corpse, I saw not the pleasant face of the young woman I had known as my new landlady, but rather the face that grinned up at me, no doubt freshly dead despite all this time that had passed, was the hideous face of the dead crone!
23 May 2015
Anna B. Wilkes is a current MFA student in poetry at Rutgers-Newark University, where she teaches composition and co-hosts the MFA student reading series. Her work has been featured in Regardless of Authority and Apogee.