Happy Winter Solstice!
This holiday season I am participating, for the first time, in Rhonda Parrish’s blog tour to benefit the Edmonton Food Bank. It’s an advent calendar style tour this year, so every day for the first 24 days of December, you can follow along and read a new story donated by a writer on their blog. On day 25 a top secret surprise will be revealed!
The goal amount for the food bank donations was $750, which would provide 2,250 meals and that goal has already been surpassed! As of this writing, the fundraiser is at $922. Awesome!!
You can contribute to the awesome by donating to the food bank HERE.
What do you get? Besides 24 fantastic stories (which will be compiled into an anthology in case you want to collect them all)?
You can enter the rafflecopter drawing for tons of cool prizes HERE.
You can read all about said prizes on Rhonda’s original Giftmas Post HERE.
Are you just hearing about this fantastic tour? You can start at the beginning of the month, with S.G. Wong’s story “The Fix” and follow the links like a scavenger hunt all the way through. They’re all good stories, so I recommend this option.
Okay! That’s all the housekeeping. On to today’s story! It’s weird. It’s cute. It’s got a happy ending.
Really, I’m in it for the food puns. Hope you are too. Happy Holidays!
Frankie saw the flyer advertising the auditions on her way home from work. She’d spent another long day in the sweltering, grease filled kitchen of her local Grim Horton’s and all she wanted to do was go home, shower the smell of French fries and donut grease out of her hair and her bolts, and collapse into bed. She barely noticed the paper taped to the wall of the bus stop but a sudden gust of wind sent it flapping and brought it to her attention.
HOME COOKS WANTED
“Do you love to cook? Do you think you have what it takes to be a champion? Show us what you’ve got, and you could be the next winner of the wildly popular Monstrously Delicious! Bring your best dish to audition: July 1, 10am. Community Center West.”
Frankie’s heart skipped a beat in excitement. Monstrously Delicious was her favorite TV show and she’d recorded every episode to watch over and over. She’d taught herself to cook watching the early seasons when she was home from school and her mother had to work late. Frankie would have dinner on the table for her mother and her little brother every night. It was never quite what they made on the show, because Frankie didn’t have access to all those fancy ingredients. She did her best though, and her family never complained. Her grandmother had even once told her that she had a knack for cooking. It was the equivalent of a Boo York Times restaurant review for Frankie.
The bus roared to a stop next to Frankie and she didn’t hesitate; she ripped the flyer off the wall and took it with her as she boarded the bus toward home. Her tiny apartment was dark when she arrived, except for the light over the stove, which she left on for herself when she worked late. It called to her like a shining beacon as she toed off her boots and left her uniform vest and her bag in a pile by the door. Her cat, Igor, wandered over to rub against her ankles, demanding food.
Frankie glanced at the calendar hanging on the wall beside the stove and then at her watch. It was after midnight, which meant that it was already July 1st. She didn’t work until the following evening, on the late shift for the third time that week, but if she was going to make something for the audition, she had less than ten hours in which to prepare.
“What do you think, Igor?” she asked. “Should I try to get on TV?”
Igor meowed loudly. Frankie put his food bowl down and decided that she would take it as an affirmative response, not just a desire for dinner.
Fifteen hours later, Frankie was waiting in a long line of potential contestants. She still smelled of fast food grease and had only just remembered to change out of her uniform from the night before. She carried a covered tray in one hand, and the largest serving of caffeine that she could find in the other. The line shuffled forward slowly.
“Next,” a woman called from the doorway, and Frankie realized that it was her turn. It had taken hours to move to the front of the line. She was now in danger of being late to work, but since she’d made it this far, Frankie gathered up her tray and followed the woman.
Inside, she could hear the judges taking bets on what the bake was going to be.
“Cake. It’s definitely going to be another cake, and I’m not sure I can eat another bite.”
“My mouth might wither and die in disappointment if it’s another loaf of under proved bread.”
“Good morning!” The third judge was the only one who spoke to Frankie as she put her tray on the table in front of them. “What Monstrously Delicious thing did you bring us?” There was only the slightest hint that the judge was beyond tired of saying the ridiculous line; she was a professional, after all.
“I just saw the flyer about the auditions last night,” Frankie began, “so I didn’t have the time to get to the store for anything fancy.” Her face burned with nerves, and the fact that she was sure the judges could tell that even if she’d had time, she hadn’t the money.
“What’s your name, dear?” The friendly judge asked Frankie, trying to put her at ease. It was always a nightmare when the contestant’s hands shook so much that they spilled something, and she was fresh out of clean shirts.
“Frankie Stein,” Frankie said.
“And what have you made for us, Frankie?”
“Devil eggs.” Frankie lifted the lid off the tray to reveal a dozen perfectly bisected hard boiled eggs. The yellow centers had been professionally piped that morning, but now they were leaning in every direction and looking pathetically soupy to boot. The paprika dusted devil horns were uneven. Frankie stifled a cry of disappointment. “They’re my specialty. They looked better when I put them in there…”
“They’re a mess,” the first judge said.
“It’s been very hot, and she’s been waiting a long time,” the third judge said gently. “We will factor that in to our decision,” she assured Frankie. Frankie nodded, but it didn’t do anything to reduce her misery.
The first judge lifted one of the eggs into his mouth in one bite. Frankie reached out with one hand as if to stop him, but he was too quick. A moment later his eyes went wide in surprise and Frankie was sure that she could see just a hint of steam coming out of his ears. It was the secret ingredient that did that; a blend of spices passed down in her family, supposedly from the devil himself generations back.
The other two judges looked on in alarm, but knew that they were required to try the eggs too. Frankie felt her heart sink into her shoes. There was no way that she was going to get on the show now. The judge who’d eaten a whole egg coughed and sputtered and reached for the glass of water on the table in front of him. The other two picked up their eggs with trepidation. Frankie gripped the edge of the table to keep from fleeing the room in embarrassment. Perhaps she had overdone the spices; it had been seven in the morning and she’d been running on only 3 hours of the sleep when she’d made them.
The other two judges took small, tentative bites, and Frankie closed her eyes for a moment, preparing for the worst. The first judge had finally stopped coughing and he watched his colleagues’ faces for their reactions. The friendly judge, who had been so kind to Frankie sucked in a breath at the initial taste, which set her to coughing as well. The man in the middle was clearly the most accustomed to the spice, or he took the smallest bite. He chewed carefully and swallowed, a small smirk on his face.
“I’m sorry,” Frankie said at last. She picked up her tray. “I’ll just go. You don’t have to tell me how badly I did. Something must have happened with the spice. It was so early…” She was babbling, but she couldn’t stop it, just like she couldn’t stop the tears that were about to spill over onto her cheeks.
“Wait a minute,” the first judge said. “We haven’t dismissed you.”
“Look, I’m going to be late for work, and now I really need to keep this job,” Frankie said miserably. “Is it really necessary to go through the formality of telling me that I failed, or can I just go?”
“You didn’t fail,” the middle judge said.
“Bombed, then,” Frankie argued. “Laid a big Devil Egg, if you’re looking for the pun.”
The judges chuckled. “I like you,” the kind one said. “You’ll do well on the show.”
“Excuse me?” Frankie asked.
“I haven’t had a true Devil Egg in years,” the first judge said. “I underestimated you, which was why I put the whole thing in my mouth. I didn’t think it could possibly be the correct balance. Everyone always shorts the spice. More fool, me, I guess. It was a delicious surprise.”
“Are you serious?” Frankie said. “I thought it was going to kill you.”
“I learned from his mistake, but I still wasn’t expecting how good it was,” the third judge said. “You have a real talent, Frankie.”
“Your flavors are spot on,” the middle judge said. “I was delighted that you did something other than cake or bread. You showed us that you can work with limited ingredients and turn out something amazing. They looked sloppy, but I’ll chalk that up to the heat and I don’t think you’ll disappoint me in the future.”
Frankie gaped at the three people in front of her. She didn’t dare hope what their praise meant for her. She didn’t have to wait long to find out. The middle judge stuck out his hand.
“Congratulations,” he said. “Welcome to the nineteenth season of Monstrously Delicious, Frankie. I know you’re going to do well.”
Frankie shook his hand in a daze. She’d done it. She was going to be on the next season of Monstrously Delicious. And if she had anything to say about it, she was going to win. The bolts in her neck buzzed in excitement as a grin split her face and Frankie let out a shriek of glee. The judges smiled indulgently at her.
“Thank you so much!” Frankie cried. “This is an absolute dream come true.” The judges congratulated her again, and then she looked at her watch.
“I’m going to be late to work,” Frankie said. “I have to go.”
“Yes, go on,” the kind judge said. “You’ll be sent the information on the first bake and where to show up for the taping in the next week or so. I look forward to seeing your fabulous creations, Frankie.”
Frankie thanked them once more and headed for the door. She was halfway there before she realized that she’d left her tray of eggs on the table and rushed back for them with an embarrassed smile. She was led away by the woman who’d called her into the room. When she reached the door to leave the voice of the middle judge, who had been so hard to read, stopped her.
“Frankie,” he said.
She turned to face him.
“Congratulations, again. Your dish is fantastic. Eggscellent, if you’re looking for the pun.”