“Each day teaches something to the next day”
An old saying from the people of Planet Lymann
Tell me frankly dear reader: have you ever had the unpleasant feeling of being in the wrong place at the wrong time?
Because that’s how I felt when, completely horrified, I witnessed that disgusting human waiter stick a metal spike in a tender vermok calf (steel deliciously bleeding) and without any ceremony or special prayer, put the animal inside a wide open oven, flanked by red flames as hot as the mouth of a dragon, and begin roasting it mercilessly, invoking the name of the Homo Sap Gastronomic School. I immediately pressed the hairy arm of my female and said quietly:
– They are definitely savages. Let’s get out of here!
– Are you crazy, Gon-Son-of-Haak? We cannot do this! It’s a great offense to refuse food from the host. And don’t forget that YOU are the Ambassador of our species! – It was her dry grunt that I received in response, followed by a quick warning bite.
I pulled my aching hand, howling some unprintable curse. I emptied a glass of sangria, and kept there snorting, resigned, upset…
Eating roasted meat. What a blasphemy!
According to the sacred commandments of the carnivores in the world of Van Dörf, that I received from my father, and my father received from his father, and his father received from his father, the flesh integrity was an absolute and sacred dogma, and like any dogma, absolute inviolable.
– Baking meat on fire is a barbarian thing! – We have always been taught by the Temple’s Oracle, since we were nothing more than furless larvae inside a marsupial pouch.
The new pack leaders are completely wrong if they think that because the Gods are not fashionable, then everything is allowed. Quite the contrary! In this increasingly pagan world, we have to stick to our little piece of absolute in order not to lose our sanity. I used to believe in the carnivorous orthodoxy: a vermok calf was to be tasted whole and raw, far from any fire, and at most seasoned with a few drops of beylafrè, a concession to modernity. And that was it.
– Eating fruits and vegetables also corrupts the purity of our race and is something for degenerates! Those doing that should be whipped publicly, and if recidivist, should be punished by the extraction of canines and expulsion from the Pack! – Told us the Temple’s Oracle.
These and another two or three were simple precepts, which, if not granting our entrance into heaven next to Betrok, the Great Hunter, at least a little reduced a bit the anguish of knowing we were finite and insignificant, in a complex, endless and expanding Universe, regardless of our fears, dreams and opinions on mundane and unimportant things, as the latest results of the Sun Tournament games or the preparations for the upcoming Hunting Festival.
– Our world needs to open up its trade with foreign countries. We need to know other races and other costumes – argued the younger Pack members, with willful and reckless enthusiasm so typical of this phase.
OK, OK, living is an adventure, I thought. But was it necessary to watch that sacrilege – a real torture – seeing a delicious vermok calf being roasted on the flames of a furnace?
– My will was to jump straight on the heretic’s jugular and suck it up to the last drop of blood! – I growled threateningly, showing my pointed fangs toward the human waiter.
– Control yourself Gon-Son-of-Haak! It’s OK that a servant is worth less than a good set of fur rugs, but what will they think of our people should you devour their slave? – Argued my female, strongly striking my snout, visibly irritated with my lack of manners at the table.
My ears bent down and I moaned sadly because I knew that deep inside she was right. The voice of a female was always considerate and wise. During these protocol meetings, any gaffe could be fatal to the business as well as to a diplomatic career (furthermore, the human meat seemed quite spongy, not tasty, and could cause a tremendous indigestion). I drank another glass of Sangria … I gazed vaguely across the crowd toward the entrance hall; sighed nervously… Deep, deep, deep inside, I wanted run out of there, away from that degenerate group of hairless aliens.
Eating roasted meat! This thought tormented me endlessly.
I had never eaten that impure food in my life, and the civilized reader, who certainly never tasted such poison, can easily imagine the state of despair that took over all my being. The smell coming out of the infernal oven bothered my nostrils and turned my stomach upside down. I honestly wasn’t sure if I would be prepared to endure such a terrifying experience…
What would happen to me? The tales and stories spoke of terrible transformations to those who tasted such forbidden food! The smoke in the room irritated my eyes. My throat was dry and my hands were covered by cold sweat. I walked down an unknown path, where the road never ended…
The table in front of us was filled with fruits and vegetables of all shapes and colors, which were totally unknown to me. The humans ate them in large quantities and amazing ease, while my people didn’t touch any of it. I wondered what kind of stomach the humans had to be able to eat such toxic things as vegetables and baked meat without falling dead. I concluded that the only possible scientific explanation was that they would have two stomachs, each suitable to a different kind of food digestion. Looking at their anatomy I speculated that such organs would be located near their buttocks: one side to digest vegetables, and the other for meat.
Living beings with two stomachs housed in their rear. That was awesome! Certainly this evolution occurred because their world must have had very little wildlife, hunting areas were scarce, which forced these poor beings to eat all types of leaves and grass to survive.
To be true, I barely paid attention to the conversations around me, and answered only with vague monosyllables to those who questioned me. My claws danced on the table producing an audible toc, toc, toc… That was a really uncomfortable environment! Why did my Pack chose specifically me for a diplomatic career? There were so many other worthy, honorable and safer occupations in life, such as being a warrior, a tax collector or wild beast hunter in the Dark Forest.
What would be my fate? My stomach would swell and burst releasing toxic fumes from the hot food? Would I die intoxicated by the indigestion? Would I fall drooling on the table? Would I have seizures or hallucinations? Would my brain melt and flow thru my ears? Would I go mad and start howling nonsenses? Would my teeth get soft and fall useless? Would I become sterile and impotent? Would the females then avoid me? Would my offspring be born degenerated? Could I survive in order to share these events with others? These and other atrocious questions hammered endlessly my little shiny ivory horn at the top of my fuzzy head.
A bell rang and the dishes started to be served to the crowd in a macabre parade of big steaming skewers. I looked around the tables and saw, astonished, that humans attacked the meat without the slightest respect or etiquette: each one took the portion they wanted and mixed all in one dish, without any logical or hierarchical order…
How utterly shocking!
That was an obvious absurdity, because when one sits at a table, a certain natural order must be followed. First, according to the customs, one must not mix meat from land animals, with meat from flying animals, or sea animals, just to mention a good example. Nor can one ever mix meat from herbivorous animals with meat from carnivorous animals: this is a total nonsense. And third, and most important, you need to make an equitable and balanced division according to the guests’ hierarchy. Tradition suggests that the banquet host should offer the noble parts – like the heart, eyes, tongue and brain – initially to the most important guest among those present or else, to whom gave the “coup de grace” and killed the prey. The intermediate parts – such as the thighs, ribs and back – go to the other guests. The lower parts – such as the liver, intestines and paws – go to the old, the females and cubs.
But there, in that ambient full of mad people, I realized in terror, the lack of minimum standards of education or formalities to follow. It was a total anarchy and everyone was by himself. They ate many kinds of animals and their cuts all at the same time. Human females ate noble pieces, while males ate inferior parts! For my nose, it was as if the world had suddenly been turned upside down, and everything was happening backwards.
Shake your head, lift your tail, raise your ears, and howl loudly, dear reader; do all the amazement gestures coming to your mind! Should you want, get rid of the horror words, if you can’t stand so much torture anymore, all will be forgiven to you. However, if you haven’t done this before and want to do it now, thinking I’m inventing things, I assure you the veracity of all that I’m telling you, in the name of my own offsprings. Everything went as described. It was in this terrifying way that they acted with their behaviors and manners.
– Bon appétit Monsieur – hissed like a snake the hateful human waiter as he served me, once again without any etiquette or special prayer.
I swear I had to hold the table not to attack him. I longed to have at hand a sword, spear, arrow or dagger. The look that I darted at him – if it could fire bullets – would have killed the human instantly. One of the Gods mistakes had been not to leave us equipped with attack weapons, but only with claws, fangs and horns, and as a defense or escape, our legs. During the first part, our eyes would have been far more efficient. A quick blink, and voila! The enemies would fall; they would intimidate a rival male during the mating season, or repair some injustice made, and also being able to cast an innocent look at the end, as a disguise. I looked at the table. That’s when my world collapsed altogether.
I gulped. My problems multiplied. Indeed, the mental torture I was subjected to, exceeded all possible imagination. I think that no one will ever endure moments so difficult in their lives. Fear, uncertainty, doubt, engulfed me like a huge wave rising from the sea.
Slices of a roasted vermok leg were placed in front of me, complemented by various colorful vegetables. The invisible spirit of the forest descended there, and showed me in a whispered voice, another terrible conclusion: “for God sake! They served meat and vegetables together: that is most obscene.”
– They are used to do this – said the female at my side.
I turned to her and asked amazed: – Did you hear it also?
– Hear what?
– A voice saying that they mixed meat and vegetables?
– How’s that! It was you who said that…
Even now I can swear that it was the voice of the Spirit of the Forest. Many things often happen, these beings expelled from legends and myths, influence our souls and speak through our own mouth, as I had finished to hear clearly… Trying to put myself together again for a time I not able to know, I kept watching the forbidden dish with my eyes wide open, and no reaction. I leaned myself over and quickly sniffed it, and immediately leaned back again, suspicious and wary.
I mumbled a prayer for the vermok: rest in peace, oh great and venerable animal, go with your powerful animals, to relive the memories you keep. Of all the travelers, you went farther. This shredded body of yours, here on the table, was vigorous and powerful, and walked to the end of the world. Where names and ancient people are lost, and countless memories and hopes fade, where in your death field, this great hunting ground, the world revives every day over the bones of the millions of devoured, there, in that awful country of impenetrable forests there lies your usual home. You have been where not even the sound of guns or hunters ever arrived; you slept beside the grave of many brave unknown, where their sleepless female companions would give their lives to rest. You saw embraced couples jump from the burning airship; united by their hearts, being engulfed by the waves of the triumphant jungle, faithful to each other, when the sky refused to help them. You saw the murdered companion when thieves threw him from the steep and rocky cliff, his body rolling down to the bottom of the deepest abyss, and his assassins continued their way. O mighty animal! You saw enough to bend the world and turn the Gods mad, and we will honor your memories!
Just in case, I lowered my ears, closed my eyes, and also prayed a brief forgiveness prayer to the Gods, when I explained them that if we were close to perpetrate that big heresy, was seeking a larger strategic objective of signing an important preferential trade with the humans, which would benefit our Pack. I mentally relayed to them the projections and statistics of the interplanetary trade flow that would be obtained with the agreement. In an attempt to attenuate the predictable (and fair) wrath, I promised them to double the daily prayers for one year, and the triple of prisoners to be sacrificed in the next war. After this was done, and with a calmer spirit, I went to render my patriotic duty: handling the metal cutlery, I placed the hated vegetables aside (ugh!), and then I tasted a small piece of that disgusting thing.
It was pure fire, and I almost burnt my tongue… As hot as the mouth of a dragon.
I chewed slowly…
Interesting … The texture was firmer and the taste, more … subtle, in the absence of a better expression. Intrigued, I noticed that the inside portion was not roasted as the outside, showing a lighter brownish-color… The flavor was unlike anything I had tasted and difficult to explain.
I tried another piece.
Hum… It’s not bad at all!
Fascinating … To my surprise, although being hot as an ember and its exotic taste, it was soft and even… good? I’m Gon-Son-of-Haak! I’m Gon-Son-of-Haak! I’m Gon-Son-of-Haak! – I was mentally repeating my name like a mantra, to avoid forgetting who I was. The generous smoking slices were laying on a white plate. Cautiously, I tried a few more pieces.
Well… Apparently all was running well, my brain wasn’t melting and I wasn’t having seizures… Just in case, I tasted the whole dish, handling with some difficulty, the cumbersome metal cutlery, another strange custom of these humans, the dear reader must agree.
I was getting astonished… Maybe their Gods were more powerful than ours, or had a more tasteful and refined gourmet. After all, there were so many mysteries and unexplainable things in this infinite Universe… But one doubt struck me: would I be endangered of becoming sterile if I continued to eat? For a moment I hesitated, but, then I realized that I had never been a model progenitor. It was also necessary to consider that times were changing and in the absence of our own progeny, we could always solve the problem by adopting some unfortunate orphans instead eating them, I reasoned. I decided to ask a slice of spike-gnu to the human waiter.
Intriguing … It was a moment of crisis, I confess, but I have not lost my mind, I kept my posture and tasted other (generous) portions of marine mesossaurius’ fin and a pilgrim’s mastodon tongue (w/ garlic)… Just to be sure of what I was feeling, the understanding reader must understand my reasons: for different things, no comparison is possible.
Unbelievable … It was better than the raw meat that my Pack had been eating since the dawn of time! To my relief, I found that my fangs were steady and my sexual organ was still in place … I tried portions of saber tooth bear loin (well done).
Incredible … Maybe we had been wrong, I finally thought, with a humility that filled me of pride. I was still lucid, remembered who I was, and to which Pack I belonged. My female by my side, was having a ball, digging her beautiful fangs into a large hillside camel thigh (undercooked). Her face was happy, frightened and fierce, all strangely mixed, but seemed visibly pleased … I kept tasting different roasts and grills of various animals of our fauna.
After the endless feasting, I took a deep breath and touched my belly looking for any symptoms, however, everything was normal: I felt no pain, no twinges and wasn’t drooling or howling incoherently at the table… I drank another glass of sangria and devoured a last generous bit of a stuffed jumper moose head that I was served by the helpful and nice waiter. The head – the animal’s noble part – was reserved for the one who had killed the hunt, or to some notable guest. Needless to say I felt much honored with this small gesture of respect and courtesy from the humans, with my person.
Finally, considering myself conquered, I left the table quietly and went to the kitchen, to talk to the chef.
I left there astonished, with my bewildered long tail curled between my legs, my belly full, and the book Handbook for a Good Barbecue under my hairy arm.
I secretly studied the Handbook for a few days, with the voluptuousness of someone browsing a subversive material. I thought and pondered long enough. The doubts haunted me, and I don’t quote them here to avoid extending this narrative too much. The dear reader should imagine how difficult it is to change much incorporated habits that we believed as true as the day and night. I had restless dreams and night sweats, but after the reading and having experienced various kinds of baked meat, secretly made on an illegal broiler of my hut (which I assembled with smuggled parts), with the company of only my female harem, I had to admit that:
The human cooking was wonderful.
Roasted meat … Hum!
I still had no courage to tell my Pack, but next month I’ll visit my native village. A perfect occasion. When everyone is gathered, I will assemble my grill and prepare a surprise crenissáurus barbecue, a giant herbivore whose meat is highly appreciated in our region.
I’ll implement everything I learned from the human Chef and the Handbook: first, in order to choose the best piece at Central Market, I’ll stick my finger in to the meat to feel its firmness / softness (this is the best way to check if the meat is “grillable”). It’s color should be pinkish red and I have to avoid the dark red meat (spoiled by too much refrigeration); There are lighter and darker cuts, depending on animal region that is more or less irrigated with blood ( the rump and the ??? are the most irrigated, tender and juicy) In the specific case of the prime rib, I should pay special attention to the bone transversal section: large and flat bones are certainly from an old animal, while small and rounded bones are from a calf; also, the fat must not be dark yellow – synonymous of an old animal – it should be of a light sand color; after this step, the thick and generous steaks shall be sealed on both sides with plenty of coarse salt, (gaucho style), and then placed on the fire; And finally, the ideal is that the meat be grilled at about 30 cm to 40 cm from the coal, a distance enough to receive the heat without roasting, in order to cook inside and softer.
I don’t even want to imagine what will be their reaction.
Well .. If the gods don’t make the sky fall or rain fire and sulfur on my head, I’ll be relieved. If the Oracle priests do not condemn me for heresy thru whipping, hanging or stoning in a public square, I’ll be in the winning side. Should I also escape from being lynched, dismembered, impaled, scalped, banned or having my canines extracted by my own Pack brothers, there’s no doubt that this will be an interesting gastronomic test.
By the way, the human waiter is always after me, proposing a business society. He showed me some amazing figures and said that a network of steakhouses in this world would be ten times more profitable than when McDonalds arrived in China… I didn’t get it right, but I asked some time to think about it.
Should I survive to all this, then maybe I will start mating with only one female at a time, start painting my long and sharp claws, or start bathing regularly.
After all, if raw meat is no longer sacred, then everything is permitted … (Just don’t ask me to eat a cabbage salad, for God’s sake!).
About the author: Celso P. Santos, 44, is a Brazilian writer of f & sf. He was elected in 2009 by ‘Scarium magazine’, one of the ten masters of modern Brazilian sf. Stories published: ‘The Flowers Antarctic’, ‘Russian Roulette on Mars’, ‘The Immortal’, among others.