The February 1000 word challenge proved to be a tricky one. The working title I was given was “Noodle Camp” which meant absolutely nothing to me, and suggested no ideas at all! I looked it up on the internet and found it was the name of a rather nice South Coast restaurant, and at last the germ of an idea presented itself:
Noodles and Nuts
His fingers were going numb. His whole body shook with the effort of simply staying balanced in this place. His head buzzed and his vision seemed to pulsate. A long way away he thought he could hear a crowd stamping and voices shouting; “Jump! Jump! Jump! Jump!” Why? Where to?
There was a white doorway just a few feet ahead. It swayed in and out of focus. Light scintillated around its edges. There was nothing else to do, and nowhere else to go. He jumped.
Aeons passed. Light drifted and coalesced into swirling shapes around him. He closed his eyes. It made no difference. The lights and clouds swarmed through his eyelids. He clung on and swung, aware of his dead weight on the thing that supported him. He felt like a shuttle on a giant loom: to and fro, to and fro, to and fro – – – – – – –
Just as he had drifted to the furthest point of the universe, the clouds parted. A spinning black hole shrank, doubled, and became a pair of eyes looking at him. The eyes spoke.
The word reverberated and span away, pink and hot and wriggling. With a sigh, he followed, falling upwards into darkness.
He could still hear the crowd far below, rumbling and muttering, and somehow he was right at the top of a mountain now. Inky black sky above him, and a trembling through his feet. Earthquake. The whole world was swaying and creaking. Why was it creaking? Then the creak began to fade, and he was upright, rigid, blind, deaf and dumb: lost in a miasma of white sparkling light.
Just as he began to float upwards again, away from the pounding rock, that felt as unsteady as a ship in a hurricane, something gripped his hand. He felt his own hand fasten around it like a vice. There was nothing he could do. His body’s self-defence system had its own agenda, and it hung on hard.
The voice spoke again, cutting through the spiky buzz that filled his mind.
“AAAAAARRGH!” It said.
His mouth framed an answer. He could not hear it, but knew he had said “Sorry. Can’t let go.”
He wanted to explain about the earthquake, the creaking, the blindness, the deafness, and the constant swaying all around him, but couldn’t frame the sentence in his head.
He could feel his fingers being prised and bent, but his body was as rigid as stone and would not – could not budge.
“Nuts?” asked the voice? A tepid whiff of exasperation blew across the images in his head. This was no time for self-analysis.
“Noodles?” enquired the voice? “In Szechuan sauce?” Not now, he thought desperately, feeling like a wooden marionette tethered to the blades of a fan. Just let me alone. Let me fly.
“What have you eaten?” persisted the voice. “How much have you drunk?” Why did it matter? There was a reason – something important.
There was a word, a big word he must remember. It was a huge, spinning word that would put everything back to the beginning. It was at the epicentre of everything.
His head began to feel heavy, and he wondered how far down the ground was. If he could just get his knees to bend – – – –
With a crash, the clouds released him. His limbs twitched in an ecstasy of freedom, and his head bounced like a rubber ball.
The word he was missing formed lazily in his mind. “Epipen.” He said.
“Not on the menu,” the voice responded, reprovingly. But someone must have realised what it meant because he felt a sharp prick, and the universe deflated around him.
He gazed around at feet, overturned chairs, broken crockery and traumatised diners. He felt as limp as a jellyfish: as sweetly content as an astronaut back on Mother Earth. How could he explain how very far he had travelled?
He paid for the wine. He apologised for the crockery and the inconvenience. He asked why there had been peanuts in his meal, which could have killed him? The waiter in the noodle bar massaged his bruised wrist, remembered the man’s superhumanly strong grip, and decided not to press the issue of the breakages and the delicate dishes of food, which were currently decorating the walls of the tasteful restaurant booth.
However, the menu was altered the following day. “May Contain Nuts” was translated into several languages and neatly pinned to the front page. A certain illiterate chef was carefully questioned about how he could confuse Szechuan with Satay. But the man with the allergy walked a little more lightly on the earth. He had, in a few glorious moments, seen the universe in his head and it was wonderful. He had shot away from the earth into infinite space, seen galaxies swirling, felt the rhythm of the planets, and then come safely to land. He laughed, and ate his lunch – which did not contain nuts.