Goblin Stories XVIII

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Humor  |  House: Booksie Classic
Goblins can cook. Be afraid.

Submitted: August 12, 2015

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Submitted: August 12, 2015

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“The key to a good stew is slow cooking, a low fire and as many rats as you can catch,” Dumple told his fellow cooks.  “Some goblins think you can overdo rats in a stew.  They’re wrong.  You can skimp on wood chips, clam shells, shoe leather and even old bones, but leave out the rats and they’ll never let you live it down.”

“We may have a problem there,” Mask told him.  Dumple’s fellow cook held up an old pewter tray and said, “There are only five rats on hand, cause of death unknown.  Personally I suspect it was malnutrition.”

Dumple looked over the meager offering and frowned.  “Two hours foraging and that’s all you could find?”

The third and final cook looked up from chopping up an old boot.  It was hard to read his expression with his gas mask on, but somehow Fumes always sounded disapproving.  “We’re miles from a city and you expect quality rats?”

Dumple folded his arms across his ample belly.  The goblin cook was plump from eating well for many years, and his apron was stained with unbelievable foulness.  He’d sewn a biohazard symbol onto his apron (fair warnings and all that) and owned the cast iron pot they were currently cooking in.

His fellow cooks weren’t much better off.  Mask’s apron was so stained with offensive substances that it might spontaneously combust.  The red skinned goblin was the newest of the trio and the most experimental in his cooking.  He wore a cloth mask over his eyes, and at Dumple’s suggestion last week he’d cut eyeholes in it.  Fumes had a plastic radiation symbol on his apron and gas mask over his face, both items accidentally warped in by other goblins.  Fumes swore the gas mask was for his allergies and not for holding out the unbearable stench of goblin cooking.

Goblins ate almost anything, and in a pinch could eat dirt.  But even among such slovenly hordes there was a need for fine dining.  Goblin cooks filled that void by making goblin stew, a hideous concoction of random bits of trash boiled into a thick sludge.  Connoisseurs could tell exactly what went into a given stew, where it came from and how long ago it had died.  Goblins considered this the height of their culinary skill.  The rest of the civilized races on Other Place called it a crime against nature.  Both sides were right.

“Here now, this won’t do,” Dimple told the other cooks.  He pointed a wood spoon into the growing darkness to the west and said, “We’re mere days from reaching High Ridge and need all the practice we can get.  A thousand hungry goblins live there, and they’ll want out best effort.  They won’t accept us into their happy homes if we only offer stale recipes and stale rats.  We have to maintain standards!”

“We can work around this,” Mask promised.  He grabbed a bag and pulled out a handful of mushrooms.  “The rat supply is pretty low, but mushrooms are in season.  I’ve got red ones, blue ones, and green ones that glow in the dark.  A couple of them had eyes and ran away when I came close, so I let those be.”

“You showed restraint?” Fumes asked.  “Will wonders never cease?”

“No bickering,” Dumple told them.  He looked over the mushrooms and picked out the ten best.  “This will stretch out the rats and boot leather, and no one will notice if we cook it long enough.  We have enough time to try a second batch if the taste is off or it explodes like last night.”

“I liked that one,” Fumes said.  “No aftertaste, and a well defined blast radius.”

Dumple dumped in the mushrooms and stirred the pot.  The truth was he was worried.  Large communities of goblins generally had their own cooks.  If Dumple and his friends were going to be accepted either their stew had to be the best or the goblins of High Ridge had to be short of cooks.  That could happen if the community grew fast, or if their cooks were chased into the wilderness because their stew exploded before it could be eaten.

For that reason Dumple had delayed their arrival at High Ridge.  They would walk for half a day and spend the rest of their time foraging for ingredients and cooking.  This slowed them down and caused some property damage, goblin stew being highly unstable, but their weeks in the wilderness was necessary.  They’d ironed out most of their problems and were nearly ready to introduce themselves.

Mask looked out into the growing darkness.  They’d made camp just off a rural road with trees and fields around them.  He stuck a finger in his mouth and held it up.  “Wind’s coming from the west.  We might get goblins coming over to sample the stew again if they can smell it.”

“Smell what?” Fumes asked.

Dumple stirred the pot and watched the mushrooms dissolve into the unwholesome goo.  He tasted in and scrunched up his face.  “It’s not working.  Add the boot leather and pine cones.”

The stew gurgled as more ingredients went in.  It changed color several times and gave off a smell that could strip paint off a wall.  Dumple added the few rats they had and tasted it again.  “We’ll give it an hour and see how it works.  I want to make it clear that this is not our best work.  A shortage of ingredients is going to be our biggest challenge, followed by that whole detonating thing.”

“The local humans chase us off when we gather supplies in their settlements,” Mask said.

“Philistines,” Fumes scoffed.  “I’d think they’d appreciate a change in diet.  Salt pork, oatmeal, boiled eggs, wild greens and peas, they have the most boring diet imaginable.  It says something terrible about humans that they smother everything they eat in salt.”

Mask frowned.  “It can’t do their blood pressure any good.”

“Criminal,” Dumple said.  “Cooking is a sacred duty.  When I was young I once went hungry, the worst four hours of my life.  Oh how I longed for a full stomach that day!  That convinced me to dedicate my life to preparing food.  Give people good food with second helpings guaranteed, and you’ll do more to help the world than any king.”

Looking nervous, Mask said, “I once met a balding human with a mustache, as mad as they come.  He said food isn’t love.”

Fumes jumped up and struck a fist against his chest.  “Blasphemy!”

“Monstrous!” Dimple thundered.  “If you love someone you make sure they’re fed.  You scrounge and forage until you have enough for them.  You make sure that when they come back from a long day they have a hot meal waiting for them, no exceptions.”

“It shows how messed up humans are,” Mask said.  “It’s not their fault, but there’s no reasoning with them.”

Dumple took out a pair of heavy leather gloves and adjusted the pot’s position on the low fire.  “What do you expect?  Do you know how they decide who is in charge?  The man who kills the most people gets the job, and it passes to his sons and grandsons.  I would think that would be grounds for disqualifying candidates.”

“Sometimes the guy with the most shiny rocks is in charge,” Fumes said.  He scratched his head and added, “Assuming somebody doesn’t knock him over the head and steal his stuff.  I hear that happens a lot.”

Dumple stirred the pot and tried to taste the stew.  Unfortunately the pot’s vile contents ate through his wood spoon before even a drop reached his lips.  He took another spoon from his apron to replace it.  “I’ll never understand them.  You’re right, Mask, it’s not their fault, and we shouldn’t hold it against them.  Humans get hungry the same as we do.  I wonder if that’s why they’re always in such a bad mood.”

Mask went through his belongings and came up with a slender, leather bound book.  “I almost forgot, I found a human cookbook in the last town we visited.”

“Well done, old boy!”  Dumple patted Mask on the back and gestured to the pot.  “Toss it in and we’ll save this meal yet.”

The book dissolved just like the wood spoon had, which had the odd effect of both turning the stew red and giving it a smoky flavor like charred road kill.  Dumple nodded in approval and gave his fellow cooks a taste.  “Almost done.”

“This could win contests,” Fumes said, “or eat through rust.”

Mask rubbed his chin and asked, “Is it just me or is it trying to get out of the pot?”

“That’s how you know you did the job right,” Dumple told him.  “We’ll get a good meal from this and have leftovers for the morning if it stays stable.  Oh, look, it’s changing color again.  Purple, that’s a new one!”

Fumes grabbed Dumple by the arm and pointed west.  “I hear voices.  I think we’ve got volunteer diners coming.”

“But that’s upwind of here,” Mask told him.  “They shouldn’t be able to smell our cooking.”

Dumple smiled from ear to ear at the news.  “The whys don’t matter when people are hungry.  They must be famished if they’re out foraging so late.  You two make sure it doesn’t burn and I’ll see who it is.”

It took a few minutes, but Dumple found the source of the noise.  To his surprise it was coming from a human farmhouse.  He hadn’t known they were close to one, and this house was busy even so late at night.  There were twenty people outside, all human men and rather scruffy looking ones at that.  They carried lit torches and drawn swords, and one man had a flag with a crown dripping something red, possibly beet juice or meat drippings.  Two of the men were pounding on the farmhouse door with their fists while a few more tried to pry open a window.

“Please, leave us alone!” a muffled voice called from inside the house.  “We’ve done no wrong!”

“Open this door right now!” the man with the flag shouted.  He scowled and asked, “Can’t you knuckleheads get it open?”

A man raised his sword in reply.  “Hey, this door is oak.  You got an ax or a hammer, I can break in, but swords are only good for cutting up people.Somebody get a thick log and we’ll batter it down.”

“We could set the building on fire,” one of them suggested.

“Yeah, and burn everything inside,” the man with the flag said sarcastically.  “We keep getting to these places after the rest of the army has picked them clean.  I want something better than what those gluttons turned down.”

“Two days of marching with nothing to eat,” a swordsman grumbled.  “I want that door open and their pantry emptied out!”

“Two days without food,” Dumple whispered in horror.  It was unthinkable!  Crazy or not, humans deserved better than that.  He hurried back to his fellow cooks and grabbed the pot with his leather gloves.  Straining his arms and legs, he lifted the full pot and headed back to those poor, hungry men.

“What are you doing?” Fumes demanded.

“Come, we’re needed,” Dumple told him.  He struggled under the pot’s weight as he headed for the farmhouse.  “There are desperately hungry humans.”

Fumes looked up and shook his head in dismay.  “Then invite them back to our camp.  There’s no need to bring the food to them.”

It was a valid suggestion, but Dumple was panicking.  He’d devoted his life to preparing food for the hungry.  Their distress was his distress, and painful memories from his youth overwhelmed him.  To have so many people in need was more than he could bear.  He had to help them, and now.

Fumes and Mask followed him into the darkness.  Dumple couldn’t move fast carrying so much weight.  It took a while to reach the farmhouse, but to his delight the hungry men were still there.  They’d gotten a fallen tree from the woods and were lifting it in front of the door.

“We swing it in on three,” a swordsman said.  “One, two, th—”

“I’m here!” Dumple shouted, a smile on his face.  The men were so surprised that they dropped the log and it landed on two men’s feet.  They yelped and jumped about while the rest of the men grabbed their swords.  The log rolled away and hit Dumple, knocking him to the ground and sending his pot flying into the air, where it dumped its contents onto the men.

Their reviews were brutal.

“Ah!  It’s eating into my boots!”

“The smell!  The smell!”

“Get it off!”

Fumes and Mask helped Dumple up.  The poor goblin was beside himself.  These men had needed help and he’d failed them.  Not only hadn’t they gotten so much as a mouthful, but all twenty of them were rolling around on the ground in a vain effort to wipe the stew off.  Many of them added to the mess and foul stench by becoming violently ill.  Desperate to make amends, Dumple shouted, “Wait, I can make more!”

The men looked at him, their faced united in expressions of horror.  They ran off into the night, pushing down anyone in their way and slipping on the remaining stew.  Dumbfounded, Dumple watched them flee, many leaving so fast that they left their weapons behind.

“Hello?” a voice called out from inside the farmhouse.  “What happened?”

The door opened a fraction of an inch and the owner peeked out.  He opened his mouth to say something when the stench of the spilled stew hit him.  He slammed the door closed, screaming, “Dear God!”

Dumple stood as still as a statue.  He eventually turned to his friends and said, “It needed more rats.”


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