In the Service of Love and Chicken
by Hamish Rickett
She asked Hades—she called him Harold in public, he hated that—to concoct her another rub—#9 she’d call it—for line cutters. He obliged her, happy to be needed, to have a project, having been lonely for an eternity prior to her abduction. Of course he got on her nerves like an itch, but he was happy for her company and so humored her with favors of this sort. It hadn’t always been so.
Swept off her feet was the euphemism he called her abduction. All couples did it—invent stories he meant—retelling the tale of their meeting so often that the facts slipped in the making of truth, wearing down the sharp edges of inconvenience. Perhaps, but she wouldn’t forget.
He viewed her now as his common-law wife, joking, “Who would officiate Hades’ wedding? In Hell no less?” But she wasn’t stupid, there were still his little scamps on the side, those he took under his wings. He was particularly fond of the young pierced ones. His shish kebabs, she called them. Indeed, piercing her nose with a fine gold ring had been her first step out of victimhood. Drove him wild. She fingered it idly. Drove her nuts.
Pulled over at a roadside cherry stand, spitting pits into the weeds, Persephone pondered their next move.
“Your rub’s ready, you know,” Hades said, looking up from texting his repeat customers, red cherry flesh caught in his lousy teeth.
“Is it now?” she smiled, spitting a pit towards him.
He batted it away and wiped his palms on his ridiculous sailcloth trousers, streaking them red. Her goddamned partner found it entertaining to hand out his number—Beelzebub on speed dial. Got to stay current on technology, he insisted; tweeted and texted damnation, except the keys were too small.
And so, she found herself pointing their rig towards Portland while Hades dozed in the passenger seat. She smiled to herself, let him tinker with his rubs and ovens. More and more, he left the bigger stuff to her. She might visit Olympia to see her folks for a few days every year, but she was no longer anyone’s victim.
They crossed the state line and drifted inland to Portland. It would be the perfect place to unveil her new line of kebabs and her special rub #9 for line cutters. Portlanders after all, were always standing in line. She would give the cutters a little death, just a taste of what would follow in the great hereafter. She hummed along to the radio as she swung the big diesel rig off the interstate.
In Portland they had lots of competition, but nobody looked to be in their class.
With their rubs, the organ shish kebabs and chicken, killed. People mobbed them. They crafted unique kebabs to match each customer’s burning secret. They did away with the menu, their food-cart now fixed price, and on their third day she spied her first line cutter (Portlanders were so polite). She watched as a heavy-set white guy joined the middle of the line; he looked elsewhere as he sidled up next to a large group. Busy with their laughter and youth, they didn’t notice him, but the couple behind did but were too polite to say anything. Persie laughed as she flipped the sign to Hades, indicating a special kebab with rub #9. Hades grinned and gave her a thumbs up as he twitched aside his apron to reveal his erect beelze-bulb. The god was insufferable. She waggled her unprintable answer as she stood at the counter.
Persie looked out over the long line. There were over a hundred now, and as the crowd waited on her pleasure, she found that she could see each of their burdens, the sins and afflictions that followed them, dogging their heels. And so she chose their meal, maybe not their last but one befitting their misdeeds.
Finally, after nearly an hour, the snaking line brought him to her, her line cutter.
“It’s about time,” he complained. “Where’s the menu?” looking side to side.
“We make each kebab a unique masterpiece, custom-crafted just for you.” She beamed her best smile. “It’ll be twenty dollars.”
“Twenty? The previous people paid ten!”
“Yours is extra special.”
He looked behind him at the glaring couple he’d cut in front of and laughed nervously. He passed her a twenty after she declined his credit card.
She reached behind her and Hades handed her a smoking hot spit, a complete rack of bull elephant testicles. “There you are. Enjoy.”
The line cutter winced at the hot spit. She watched as he found a table nearby. He snapped a photo with his phone before taking a bite.
There was a delay, long enough to eat the lot before there started an itching—close cousin to pain—the itching crept along the nerve endings, backed up the nerve firings; stopped up, the nerves relayed their confusion, begging for release, for scratching; but with scratching and then gouging, the relief was only momentary. The itching gave way to tingling and then burning. The rub coated the cells from one to the next, as it slipped down the mouth, throat, gullet, stomach and duodenum; it lit up the biliary tree: the hepatic beast and pancreas; the flames traveled the jejunum, the ileum, and then roared down the colon after the exquisite appendiceal burn; the scorching of the rectum and anus wrapped around the buttocks up over the thighs, belly, chest, straight-jacketing him in a sous vide packet, cooking him in his juices; and the searing skin started a wildfire rash, each pore humping up welts, becoming hives, becoming tumors, and as each hair stood erect, like porcupines darting quills, like volcanoes ejecting lava, they released their sea-urchin spiny spew of agony.
A crowd gathered and someone called 911, but as they dared approach closer, he lifted his head up and gave a shaky thumbs up—after all this was to be only a little death, a death étude in a minor key, not the big hereafter but a sampler pack, a bad weekend. Perhaps he wouldn’t cut the line next time, because of course he’d be back. They always came back.
She gave Hades a greasy high-five hand-slap. But something wasn’t right. Hades, his leer was lopsided, had a hundred-yard stare rather than his laser beam focus. He stumbled, put his hand on the grill to steady himself. There was a sickening hiss of searing flesh and down he went. His eyes rolled up, he bit his tongue, and shook a little.
“Harold? Harold, what’s wrong?”
She smiled, and calmly turned their “Open” sign to “Be right back!” and walked around to the grill. He lay on his back, twisted awkwardly in the narrow space. A thin line of drool trickled down the side of his mouth. He grunted as she stood above him, begging for help. She planted her feet on either side of him. Even now his eyes bulged with that unmistakable leer at his view up her short-short skirt.
“Well now. Looks like you could do with a hand.” She grabbed a skewer of bull testicles and rolled them in the special rub. She squatted over him—giving him a last look—and ran those huevos down the spit into his sputtering mouth. With some persuasion, they just fit. His nostrils flared, breathing now through only his nose.
“Well, that won’t do, Harold. Will it?” Hmm. “What to do?” She looked around their kitchen. Out front the line had reformed. Time was a-wasting.
“I know. You don’t have a piercing!” And with that ran the skewer sideways through his nose, sealing it shut. He struggled a little and she sat back against him, and for the first time, enjoyed his rigoring mortis.
Stockholm Syndrome? Bull. Shit. Shame not to have it on video, shoot it out to his followers. Let them know, the times, they were a-changing.