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Dulilm looked out at The Smiling Serpent's main room, frowning. The room was giant-height, of course, so the tourists wouldn't bash their heads on the ceiling supports if they got drunk. The new sea-serpent mural gleamed, its sharp-toothed smile well above her head. Author's Notes
It was dinner rush, on a tenend, and half the tables in the premier seafood restaurant on Dorersh Duurl Atya were empty. She frowned. That person from Affanumuur was drawing away almost all of her tourist business. Who would have thought eating seafood while watching Duurludirj erotic dancers would be so popular? The Serpent's food was better, but tourists were rarely around long enough to realize that.
With an effort, she smiled, and headed out into the dining room to make sure the guests she did have were pleased. Maybe they would recommend The Smiling Serpent to their friends. She gave all of the new customers coupons for free appetizers; it cut into profits, but not as much as an empty table. But she'd be lucky if half the coupons were redeemed.
As she walked, it became clear from the conversations she overheard that the customers mostly had decided the Jiggling Sea-Jelly's lines were too long; they'd come here only after making reservations there for the next day.
She was in a fine mood when she returned to the kitchen. "I can't believe this! We're the best restaurant on Dorersh Duurl Atya. We've been in business for decades. And that - that foreigner - comes here and in two months, steals all our business.
"The jiggling thing is a novelty. Our customers will return." Tagliim smiled reassuringly as he poured shrimp into a pan, shaking it to settle them evenly across the hot surface.
"Our local customers never left. But they don't fill the tables on a tenend. For that, we need tourists."
"It'll get better." He added cut green onions and stirred.
"Sex never loses its appeal." She crossed her arms, and tapped her toes against the floor. "We need something new. We need something sexier than sex!"
Tagliim's eyes widened. "I thought they were just dancing."
She frowned harder. "You know what I mean."
"Oh." He looked down. "Much as I like food," he patted his round belly, "it's not better than sex." She glared at him, and he stepped back a foot. Then he sniffed the air above the pan, stirred the shrimp one last time, and poured them onto a plate which already held rice, vegetables, and their signature carrot carved into a sea serpent. "I guess I could work up a new dessert."
She nodded. "It's a start."
* * *
The next day, she paced along the beach. There were two giant teenagers, Ariloish and Yorloish, tending one of the growing ponds. The twins had heavy leather boots on their giant-long legs and were walking back and forth, skimming the infant dreamskates out of the pool before they ate the young tuna. They greeted her politely, then returned to talking about girls. They were speculating which of their classmates would be most likely to become dancers at the Jiggling Sea-Jelly. They didn't notice that their topic of conversation was irritating her, but then they had to pay attention to the water they were wading in. Even an immature dreamskate's sting could raise painful welts.
Yorloish caught one of the skates, and tossed it into a dry rock pit, where their catch flopped and leapt until it suffocated. They would remain there, rotting until sea-gulls could pull them apart; the remains would then be raked into the growing pool to feed the tuna, readying the pit for the next batch of dreamskates.
Dulilm crouched down and stared at the creature, two wide, flat fins joined by a tough, bony body, with a long stinging tail and a huge mouth. It opened its mouth, showing the tiny bumps along its jaw where the teeth would soon erupt. It was hard to believe that if it survived, the thing would eventually grow big as a house.
The one she was watching made a heroic leap, and landed at her feet. She grabbed a rock and crushed its skull, then stepped back to wait for it to stop flopping. So much for growing to house-size.
When it had been still for a few minutes, she picked it up thoughtfully, then pulled out her gutting knife and sliced it open, looking to see how much meat was on it, and sniffing it.
This caught the boys' attention, but they carefully declined to comment. Dulilm was their employer, after all, and even teenagers knew that questioning the sanity of their employer would bring them no good.
Carefully, one at a time, she grabbed a double-handful of carcasses. She severed the tails with their poison glands intact, and tossed the tails back into the pit. She wasn't about to risk an accusation that she was fermenting the immature poison to make unlicenseable dreamers' liquor. Then she stacked up the dead little monsters and carried them back to the restaurant.
* * *
"Are you crazy?" Tagliim looked at his chopping board in disbelief.
"Last night I asked you what was sexier than sex." Dulilm pointed at the limp dreamskates.
"Those things are not sexy."
"But it's one-upmanship on a grand scale. What tourist will be able to resist eating monsters?"
He looked thoughtful. "You might have something there." He grimaced. "But even baby dreamskate is as tough as a new shoe."
"You've tried it before?" Dulilm grinned.
He blushed. "I was a teenager, and always hungry." Then he grinned, "And I couldn't resist the chance to eat a monster." He frowned again. "But I didn't finish it. How do you expect me to make them edible?"
"I hired you because you're the best chef in all the islands." She considered, "Maybe a stew?"
He shook his head. "They'd be tasteless before they got tender!"
She gazed at him until he picked up his filleting knife and started cleaning the meat. "I'll try some different marinades. At least there's more where these came from!"
* * *
Two tendays later the twins were setting up extra tables out on the beach, to open new slots for reservations, while Dulilm herself was posting the evening's special - Deathfin Stew. The marinated Dreamskate with Pineapple, Papaya, and Lemon was a great success, and was now at the top of the list of Chef's Special Creations on the regular menu, right above Trapjaw Egg Soup and Snagtooth Steak. And she had a request in with the warsailors to get her some sea serpent for next tenend's special.
When the woman from Affanumuur walked by, Dulilm smiled and waved, adding a flourish to the last letter. The slender giant woman did her best to stand even taller, stalking away with a sour look on her face.
The Jiggling Sea-Jelly was running after-dinner specials now, but that was fine with Dulilm. Alcohol was a high mark-up item, but broken furniture could eat that profit like a dreamskate eating tuna. The Sea-Jelly could have the rowdiest of her after-dinner customers, with her blessing.
This story was written in response to the "Deathfin Stew" prompt in the third Torn World Muse Fusion.