The earthen smell of potatoes greets her as Clarissa slowly comes to. She feels around in the darkness, finding only coarse dirty sacks. A sudden wave of nausea ripples through her stomach and she rolls back and forth in an attempt to settle the vomit now burning its way up her chest. Her long hair catches on the fabric. Reaching back, she finds it caked with crusted vomit that she had not been able to fight down. Clarissa tries to call out for help, but her throat is raw and swollen. All she is able to manage is a guttural, scratchy bleat.
What happened to me last night? Her memories are all fuzzy and clouded, a jumbled mix of dresses and soft piano music, laughter and clinking glasses that sparkle in the golden light of a chandelier, room service for the first time in her life, Aaron’s arms tight around her in bed. She focuses on his face: his blue eyes, how his messy blond hair felt when she ran her hands through it. Bit by bit the night comes back into focus.
It had been their engagement party. He had brought the ring back from a trip to Mexico, where he had volunteered at a clinic for three months in a place the locals called “The Hills of the Rooster.” One of his elderly patients had put it up for auction. The woman had told him it would bring the wearer a great fortune. Absently Clarissa stroked the thin band of metal with her thumb as she pieced together what happened next. They had danced after the dinner. He had moved so gracefully around the ballroom, but eventually the wine from their announcement toast caught up with them and they went back to their room, calling down for crème brulée and coffee. After that there is only darkness.
A scuttling across from her causes her heart to pound. Already her eyes have begun to adjust, though through the shadows she can see no movement from that end of the room. Looking around, she can make out the dark shapes of hanging roots and other vegetables. Right next to the sacks she is laying on are shelves of jars and small boxes. The scuttling stops and a crunching grind replaces it, low and mechanical. Slowly, crawling an inch every heart beat, Clarissa makes her way toward the noise. Her arms and legs numbly go along with the movement, but her head spins in protest along with her stomach. As the shadows recede further, the room comes into greater and more disturbing detail. The roots that hang down are larger than any vegetable she has ever seen, fat on one end and long and wide all the way up to the darkest shadows along the ceiling. Under each of them and all along the floor are wet patches that she is forced to crawl through.
Gone is the smell of the potatoes and dry dirt, the stale air closer to the noise is filled with fragrant spices; Hints of orange, soft wafts of lemon pepper and anise, the sharp bites of chilies.
All of these and more try to cover up the faint smell of raw meat and cold blood. Another inch and she can make out hinges, lines of darker darkness that outline the doorframe and a large knob. All thoughts of what could be making that horrible noise, of what could lay in wait for her on the other side of this door are banished by the hope that this knob fills her with. The frantic energy of a bird that sees its cage door open fills her as she fumbles with the cold metal. With a click and a twist she flings the door aside and tumbles out into the blinding white light.
Blinking furiously Clarissa lurches blindly forward, tripping over her self and flying head over heels into something wet and mushy that flips along with her. With a squeal and a whine the grinding comes to an abrupt halt. She whips at the warm, sticky bits that cling to her face and looks straight into the baby blue eyes of her fiancé. His severed head sits half in, half out of a silver bowl along with some of his blood, the rest coats her from head to toe. She rolls away screaming and backs into a table laden down with red hunks of meat, causing Aaron’s left hand to fall into her trembling lap. His engagement ring glitters in the kitchen’s florescent light. Horrified, Clarissa grabs it to fling away when she notices the man standing a scant ten feet in front of her by the stove. He is tall and stocky, dressed in a bloody apron that playfully reads “I Kiss Cooks!”
“Hotel Brutalité for dinner! Oh Derrick I knew you wouldn’t let me down on our anniversary. Not after what happened last year anyway.” Sarah beams at her husband of thirty years, though her smile thins as the jacket he had insisted on wearing reared its ugly brown at her.
“Oh honey I had this planned for a long time now.” He plants a soft kiss on her head before addressing the well-dressed Maitre ‘D behind the podium. “Donner, party of two.”
“Right this way.” He snaps up a menu and leads them to their table by window, which overlooks a moon drenched river. “I am Lorenzo, your Maitre’D. What my I serve you this evening?” Derrick looks over the menu, squinting at the names.
“Well what would you like honey?” He grins sheepishly at his wife.
“Well this Aaron a l’Orange sounds good. Is that anything like duck?” Lorenzo smiles softly.
“No miss, the meat is a house cut, but I assure you it is every bit as tasty.” Not a fan of duck, Derrick crinkles his nose.
“Well sir there is also the house special stew, Potée Clarissa.“
“Any good?” Derrick sounds hopeful.
“Sir it is to die for.”