If you are new to the SDS Challenge, a little background.
Three writers will each write one story a month going down the list of deadly sins. The stories can be anywhere from 666 words to 6,666 words in length, although those numbers are not set in stone. If ambitious, the writers will provide accompanying graphics. These stories will not be anonymous because some writers may want to use the same characters for each story and write a series — or book — encompassing all seven sins. Finally, interpretation of the titular sin is up to the writer. Meaning, each ‘sin’ can take multiple forms.
The second set of stories cover the sin of Gluttony. This is the offering by Gary Broxson.
Disclaimer: The writing challenge has no restrictions and the stories will likely span a wide gamut of genres. The majority of the stories fall in the PG-rating range with a few perhaps pushing into the soft R-rating. Some readers might find a few of the stories disturbing because of the topics, language, and/or plot points, and if so, stop reading and move on.
Copyright 2021 — R. G. Broxson
(5,680 words – approx. reading time: about 22 minutes based on 265 WPM)
“10… 9… 8…”
With only seconds remaining, Jonah began chipmonking, the art of stuffing one’s cheeks with food well beyond their intended limits. The rules allowed this at some contests, as long as the stored mass was completely swallowed within two minutes following the final bell. Jonah nearly snapped off his own fingertip while poking hotdogs into the puckered sphincter of his lips. He danced unrhythmically from foot to foot like a kid in hot sand, using gravity to tamp down his meal.
“7… 6… 5…”
Jonah chewed and breathed and swallowed; chewed, breathed, swallowed; chewedbreathedswallowed. Until he stopped breathing.
“4… 3… 2…”
Jonah’s eyes bulged; he clawed at his throat and he tried to spit out the food but his pipes were clogged. He reached for the glass of water on the table in front of him. It was nearly empty and contained mostly brown globs of bread residue.
“One… and stop!” Ding! Ding! Ding! The bell rang and the crowd cheered. Contestants placed their hands on the tables as confetti shot high into the sky, seeming to celebrate the death throes of a part-time professional eater. At the far end of the table, a judge in a straw flat-brim hat raised the saliva-slick hand of Peter-Peter, the Hotdog Eater who in turn raised the coveted Mustard Belt with relish.
Jonah’s air and time had run out; he slid bonelessly down under the stained table cloth and lay flat on the sticky floor. It was here that Jonah relived his short, stunted life: He watched as toddler Jonah scooped up and swallowed all the change in his father’s coin jar. The surgeon had removed $7.32, and left a small scar just above Jonah’s naval. In junior high, Jonah saw himself noshing on milk cartons in the school cafeteria, charging onlookers a quarter each, banana peels for a nickel. As a geeky kid in junior college, where he had dropped out in his freshman year, Jonah witnessed himself hunched over a raft of greasy cardboard boxes; here he had marveled his roommates by devouring three large pizzas in less than ten minutes. Johan had won that bet; the prize was ‘free’ pizza.
And now as the brief highlight reel started to skip and melt like the trail clippings of old 35 mm film, an unimaginably bright light filled his mind. Jonah felt no pain from the searing light; it was more akin to a lighthouse shining a reassuring beacon to a drifting vessel, a guiding, gravitational light. From out of the pure light emerged a vague figure, angelic and serene. Jonah felt himself drawn to it. Not an unpleasant feeling. The light grew even brighter as he neared its epicenter. The amorphic Entity began to speak in a sonorous voice that seemed to come from nowhere and everywhere.
Filing out after the contest, Abram “The Tank” Lipowitz sidled his way along the 60 foot table toward the exit. He had lost, again. But a free meal is a free meal, he consoled himself. He wouldn’t need to eat again for three, maybe four days. As The Tank was considering his loss and gains, he stepped hard onto something soft. He stumbled and put his entire weight on the squishy mass just under the edge of the contest table, hoping it wasn’t a full puke sack that contestants sometimes used during unexpected reversals.
As Jonah’s chest was compressed under The Tank’s boot, the lodged hotdog launched from Jonah’s mouth like a meat missile. In rushed oxygen. The comforting light dimmed; the figure receded and the voice faded. The tape reel in his vision spooled back up. Jonah felt himself gasping, coughing, vomiting, and living. The voice, now merely an echo of its former gravitas, spoke a singular comment: You can do better. The words seared into Jonah’s psyche. He sat up, a new man, and wiped clumps of hot dog stew from his chin and shirt.
“Jonah, are you alright?” The serene angel was replaced by a worried face, as wrinkled as a pecan, smacking a minty wad of chewing gum. She slapped him, hard.
The voice was familiar and so was the sting of the slap. Jonah had once made the mistake of asking this lady how she got her nickname. The woman before him was small, wiry, and Asian. Her hair was chopped short and was an icy shade of blue; her pupils were dark chocolate and adorned with bat-wing tips of eye liner. Her teeth were crowded and crooked and her lips were as red and plump as cherries. Kneeling beside him, she chomped constantly on a jaw full of bubblegum.
“Linda, is that you?” Jonah croaked. “You are an angel.”
She slapped him again.
“You delirious,” she replied. She cocked her arm and prepared for another strike. This time Jonah was ready. He grabbed her wrist and looked her in the eyes.
“Stop it! Linda. Jeeze. Can you just help me up, please?”
Linda “Lovelace” Catapang helped Jonah to his feet. The crowd and contestants had dispersed long ago; Jonah had no real sense of the time he had spent on a higher celestial plane.
“Jonah, we thought you left after the eat…You not show up for after party…It is a good thing I doubled back to get wiener scraps my dachshund…Cripes, you look like shit.” Her English was good, not perfect. Jonah got the gist.
Jonah stood, wobbly. He smoothed his soiled shirt that barely covered his distended belly. In an attempt to regain some small level of dignity, he used an untucked shirttail from his best button-up to dab at the corners of his mouth. “How’d I do?” he asked absently.
Both their eyes swung to the wall-size tote board. At the top was the usual name: Peter-Peter, the Hotdog Eater. This name was nebulous at best; it changed in accordance with the dominant food item served at each eating event. It was rumored in eating circles that Peter-Peter had a dedicated lawyer submit the paperwork necessary to legally change his appellation as many as 20 times a year. The last time Jonah had met Peter-Peter his full name was Peter-Peter, the Oyster Eater. He had won that event too, and had thrilled the crowd by crunching an oyster shell in his powerful jaws and swallowing the entire mussel as he gloated on the top tier of the winner’s podium, while hoisting the Crustacean Belt.
There were others on the tote board that Jonah recognized: Ron “Busta” Gutfeld—64 dogs; Roy “Kilroy” Jones—62 dogs; and Benny “Black Hole” Jimmerson—59 ½ dogs. There at the bottom of the list was Jonah’s name with a red-lettered DQ beside it. You can do better, he mumbled to himself again and again as he stalked away from the empty venue, from Linda, who still chomped on her gum all the while managing to look worried.
You can do better; Jonah murmured this new mantra as he loaded his laundry. He did his best thinking as he watched the tumble dry cycle of kaleidoscope clothing at Linda’s Laundry. This vision, no, condemnation, he corrected, was obviously a divine mandate. Jonah considered his pork-induced dream from the hardwood bench facing the 30” glass portal of an industrial dryer. Flump, flump, flump, it grumbled and growled. How could he interpret this vision as anything less than profound or prophetic, or even life-changing?
Jonah remembered the Nathan’s position board. He had been last—not the first time. Surely, that is what the enlightened entity had been referring too. He needed this sign as a jumpstart—a purpose. Providence, in all its peculiarities, implied that Jonah could be the best eater, the best of all time, the GOAT. This goal, Jonah thought, was like any other. It would take a spark or perhaps a slap in the face to get started: he’d had both. Then it would take a Rocky Balboa-like commitment level to succeed. He loved all the iterations of Rocky and always came out of the theater looking for someone to punch. Jonah looked down at his belly, his money maker, and realized he couldn’t do it alone; he needed a coach, he needed a Mick.
“Feeling better?” Linda asked from behind. His lizard brain instantly recognized the voice; Jonah flinched. He instinctively fanned his hands in front of his face. “I not going to smack you.” Linda laughed at his overly defensive reaction. She was just a five-foot flat lady. “Unless you forget to clean the dryer lint filters,” she snapped.
“Linda, be my coach,” Jonah blurted out.
“Coach? Coach for what?”
“I had a dream, Linda. A vision; a near-death experience. I need to make some sense of it. I need to make some changes, big changes. But I don’t know how. I’ve known all my life that my talent, my gift, is eating. But I don’t know how to take it to the next level. How to train. You were great, the best, until…” he trailed off. “You can help me, train me, to be the best. I know I can do better.”
“No! No! And No! Eating is stupid. Eating for pigs. It almost kill me. Chicken bone perforated esophagus, almost die.” She ran a superbly lacquered red-nailed finger across her throat in a cutting gesture. “I retired.”
“But you once ate 140 chicken wings in 10 minutes. A record that’s never been broken, not even in the men’s division. Don’t you miss it? The crowds, the competition, the countdown…the…the hunger?” Jonah smiled at his last remark, feeling it might be the right word at the right time.
“No. I miss nothing. I invest my winnings into Linda’s Laundry. This is me now. I no longer Linda Lovelace. I not even choose that silly nickname; MLE pick it for me. I was fresh off bus from the Kentucky. I know nothing about this Deepthroat lady. I come to America hungry. They need me and I need them.”
“So that’s why you slapped me the first time we met, when I asked you how you got your nickname?” Jonah looked away from the spinning laundry and into her face.
“No. Not because you ask me; reporters always ask; no big deal. It was way you ask.” She raised her hand again and narrowed her eyes; again, Jonah flinched. Again, she smiled and folded a fresh stick of gum into her mouth and chewed like a wolverine. They froze this way for several seconds and then Linda lowered her perfectly manicured hand.
Linda began to blow. The gum bubble grew out of her pursed lips, her eyes squinted. It swelled to the size of her round face as Jonah watched in jaw-dropping awe. Finally, as large as a grapefruit, it popped like a pink, fleshy balloon. Linda instantly sucked up the sticky shreds in one quick breath and continued chewing—a wet, smacking sound. She then scooped the huge, pink gob of gum from inside her cheek like a naked snail from its shell and jammed it into Jonah’s half open mouth. “Chew it,” she commanded.
Jonah did not flinch this time. This was eating. He looked at the woman and began to slowly chew the massive wad of gum. “Whatever you say, Coach,” he managed, never dropping his gaze from her cat eyes.
“You got weak jaws. I watch you last match. You not even chew that last dog. That why you choke. Gum, that the answer. Chew it every day, all day, and jaws grow strong like shark.” Linda bared her jagged teeth. Jonah was well aware of her backstory, and that she was an icon in the eating business.
Linda, born Lailah, was the product of a GI’s wallet rubber and a teenage hooker mother. What could possibly go wrong? As a toddler in Manila, Linda’s mother had decided to send her little Amerasian cockblocker to the United States, to the military base in Kentucky her sperm donor dad had mentioned he was returning to after his stint in this ‘shithole.’ All this was learned, and perhaps embellished upon, when Linda became a famous eater and a helluva interview on Oprah, who had teared up and shared her own bout with eating disorders.
Linda had one-upped Oprah by idly mentioning that her mother had shipped her to America in a cardboard box, with postage due. It had taken nine days by sea, air, and truck. Linda’s mother had supplied her with only three cans of Vienna Sausages in the 3rd class carton and a liter of water. In the Lexington warehouse, a mail handler had inadvertently inserted a finger into a punched out air hole. Little Linda had famously snapped at the dangling digit and skinned it to the bone with her baby teeth. The howling handler had ripped open the box and the rest was history.
“You lose this,” Linda plunged her small fist into Jonah’s exposed navel. He doubled up and almost reversed the remainder of his last meal. “And this,” she tugged at the signature soul patch on his double chin.
“But I’m Jonah ‘The Belly’ Wells,” Jonah chirped. “This is my shtick.” He cradled his huge belly and shook it like a sad Santa.
“No, if you work with me, you no more belly boy. He dead; choke on hotdog. You get new chance, fresh start.” She thought for a minute and then smiled. “You like Jesus, resurrected. You now Jonah LOL.”
Jonah looked confused. “You want to change my name to Jonah Laugh-out-loud? I don’t get it.”
“Because you stupid,” Linda replied. “Not laugh out loud—that stupid. You Jonah, Lord-of-Lords, like bible guy.”
Jonah considered this and chewed the gum.
There was never any official contract between trainer and trainee, written or verbal, just an understanding between two eaters, rare breeds indeed. The relationship was simple: Linda gave directions, Jonah followed orders. If he was indeed Lord of Lords, she was Lord of Lord of Lords. She supervised his training as she perched upon a wooden stool while holding her squirming dachshund, Oscar. The dog licked constantly at her face and mouth, she licked back.
Jonah had dropped out of every competition on the eating circuit to focus on his training. He chewed gum constantly and he worked in Linda’s Laundry, lifting wet baskets of clothes, ironing and dry-cleaning, sweating like a Hebrew slave. She kept a basic gym in the basement with assorted dumbbells, a rowing machine, and a stationary bike. When Jonah wasn’t working, he was working out. He quickly got fitter and slimmer, and hungrier every day.
Jonah was also on a strict diet as mandated by Linda. Each morning, he swallowed a carefully measured bowl of dried rice. He then chased the grain with a full gallon of water. The mixture swelled in his stomach, distending his abdomen to its former Jonah ‘The Belly’ Wells size. He could actually feel it moving and growing inside his body. He joked with Linda about an alien popping out of his stomach; she didn’t seem to understand the reference. She explained that excess fat takes up space in the body cavity, space that can be used to store more food during competition. It was also important to stretch the stomach beyond its usual capacity. She did this by adding a few grains of rice each day. These are some of the training tricks Linda had employed during her own eating reign.
Soon, Jonah cast only half the shadow of his former frame. Lean, athletic, and hungry, he longed to compete, to eat. He begged Linda to sign him up for an event; he knew he was ready. After weeks of Jonah’s badgering, Linda came to him in the basement where he had just finished a load of dry cleaning.
“Come with me.”
Linda drove in silence, barely peering over the steering wheel. Jonah’s stomach rumbled with hunger as they chased the cheese in the crazy maze of the metropolis. She parked the car in an alley and they entered a backdoor bookended with flaming garbage cans and the standard compliment of hand-warming hobos. “What’s for dinner?” Jonah joked, as they made their way inside. Linda clenched her jaws and said nothing.
Two large men in track suits took Jonah by the elbows as he walked in. With a nod from Linda, they escorted him to a lone bar stool pushed up to a kidney-shaped table. Above the table was a pair of tin troughs. They spun slowly like a miner’s mobile, suspended from a single cable leading up to a central pulley mounted to oak beams crosshatching the ceiling.
This was not like any eating contest that Jonah had ever entered, but he was hungry and he trusted Linda to help him become the better version of himself, the one that his spirit-guide seemed to believe he could attain. The phrase You can do better opened a void in him that only food and first place could fill.
Jonah heard the jangle of chains from behind a dark wall followed by an odd chuffing sound. “Grub,” Linda said. She sat beside the table and the suspended trough contraption.
“Ok, bar food,” Jonah smiled. “The Lord loves him some pub grub. Are we talking wings, burgers, dogs?” Jonah asked, still adjusting to the darkened room. A shiny-suited man behind him pinned his elbows together like a pinched butterfly and Jonah felt handcuffs ratcheting on his wrists.
“Grubs is grubs,” a large, sweaty man in a leather apron interjected. He walked in carrying a huge bronze bucket over his shoulder heaped high with macaroni. He meticulously poured and dipped into the two suspended troughs, filling them equally. When the tin troughs became exactly level, he backed away slowly and admired his handiwork, signifying an OK sign with his thumb and forefinger.
Jonah was a big fan of mac-and-cheese and was excited about the prospect of over-indulging in such a comfort treat; then he noticed movement. Jonah’s brain immediately clicked to recalculate the quantity and quality of the meal. As focused as he was, he heard the aproned man laughing at his hesitation. The ‘macaroni’ was not macaroni; it was, as advertised, grubs. They were white and plump and squirming in the huge dangling troughs.
“Go!” was all the only warning that was given, and a trap door dropped across the table. A huge, hairy piebald face lunged into existence. Its rancid breath arrived before its vulpine snout. Instantly the tin trough on Jonah’s side swung and bounced as the animal began devouring the plump worms on its tray. The two troughs were connected by the cable and Jonah suddenly realized that he was the opposite eater in this competition. He heard the woof, woof, huff, of the imprisoned bear as it inhaled its favorite grub—grubs.
Jonah’s professional eating instinct instantly overpowered his disgust of the young bugs. He plunged his face into the writhing mass and began the Eat. He slurped, he chewed, and he swallowed. The taste or texture of the meal was not a factor. Jonah became intent on moving as much product from A—the trough, to B—his gut. He nestled his chin on the edge of the tin trough to stabilize it and the grubs grudgingly slid down into his open mouth.
Linda watched with anticipation and awe. Jonah was a natural eater and they had shared so much together in the course of his training. But his adversary, the bear, was winning. The grizzled old bear had devoured nearly half its trough of fat maggots in the first two minutes. Its long, thick tongue searched and scooped and reeled in fist-fulls of white worms every second. Its tin trough was getting lighter and was rising higher like the scales of justice when the blind lady starts to lean towards a leader.
The two contestants ate and ate and ate for what seemed an eternity. Jonah’s technique was to quickly crunch the black, helmeted heads of the squirming grubs, and then swallow the larval lumps as hastily as possible. The quick killing crunch stopped most of the wriggling, a reactionary impulse that might lead to a reversal and a DQ.
Jonah used a trick from Linda’s playbook and imagined the squishy white larva as Easter Peeps. He had always loved the confectionary treats and believed he could eat every Peep on the planet. Jonah also used the rhythmic huffs of the bear as an eating cadence. Bite, swallow, breathe. Bite, swallow, breathe.
“Time’s up!” the man in the leather apron announced.
Jonah swallowed a half-chewed lump of bug. The bear shook its massive head like a wet Labrador, as if arguing with the aproned man. Grub parts flew in all directions. A singularly large larva was launched straight up to the ceiling; it hit the beam and clung to the wood with its tiny black claws.
Jonah heard a click and realized his hands were now free. He wiped maggot paste from his face and hair. The man in the leather apron caught the swinging troughs in equally leathery hands and held them steady. He carefully released his pinch and they all watched narrowly as they bobbed up and down ever so slightly. First, Jonah’s dipped, then the bear’s trough reciprocated.
Plop! The fat grub clinging to the ceiling could hold on no longer. It fell like a nightmare raindrop onto the tin trough closest to the bear. The trough dipped decidedly.
The man in the leather apron lifted Jonah’s hand. “You beat the bear!” he announced. “Nobody beats the bear.”
The old bear roared. Linda laughed and clapped her small hands. Jonah groaned and smiled through a face that seemed to be matted with mashed potatoes.
“You now ready,” Linda whispered into Jonah’s ear. Then she kissed him on the cheek.
A July 4th tradition, conceived from Father Freedom and his gal Gluttony, Nathan’s Hotdog Eating Contest was getting under way. Many of the regulars, and a few newcomers, lined up behind the waist-high table. Mountains of steaming hotdogs nestled in buns were positioned every five feet, allowing for exuberant elbows and the dramatic dunking of dogs.
Word had leaked out from the underground eaters that Jonah had somehow defeated the bear. This feat earned him a return seat back to the exclusive table, the same seat he had died at just two years and two thousand hotdogs ago. In that brief time, Peter-Peter’s fame had rocketed as he continued to break his own gastronomic records. No one else was even close to Peter-Peter’s 76 hotdogs from last summer’s victory. Eaters World Magazine reported that Peter-Peter was poised to surpass his own record yet again this Independence Day in front of thousands at the Coney Island contest.
Too late to change lanes now, Jonah had indeed billed himself as Lord of Lords as Linda had suggested; nothing is sacred in eating she had assured him. To accentuate the transition, he wore a loose fitting bathrobe and a pair of strappy leather sandals. The beard was back, but now it was trimmed to appear more Jesusly. But the almighty Jonah, Lord of Lords, was frightened.
The Underground Eaters Mafia had placed big-time bets, huge sums of money on Jonah. Vegas odds had Jonah, aka Lord of Lords, at 20 to 1 odds—favoring Peter-Peter, the-whatever-eater. Vegas didn’t know about Jonah’s new trainer and the grub bout with the bear. But the underground eating mafia didn’t just wager and hope for the best; they hedged their bets with hostages.
The morning of the 4th, Jonah received an edited video message from Linda’s phone. He had at first assumed it would be some last minute advice or well wishes as they had become very close over the last few months. But when Jonah clicked on the link, he gasped. It was the bear, his bear, eating what could only be Oscar, Linda’s beloved dachshund. Just as the brute gulped down the wagging tail end of the dog, the camera panned to Linda. She was tied to a straight chair wrapped in a coil of ropes. She was screaming silently as there was no audio. The video, like the dying reel of his lifetime accomplishments, ended abruptly.
Jonah could not believe what he had just witnessed and was about to replay the video when the phone in his hand vibrated violently—he dropped it. Cheeseburger in Paradise was the theme song. It was again, from Linda’s phone. Jonah had no choice but to push the green button. He heard a distant yet somewhat familiar voice. The leather apron man?
“It’s dog day,” the man chuckled. “You got lucky with the bear. And we know, and you know, you can do even better.”
Those few words froze Jonah: You can do better. He could not speak.
“Now that I have your attention, I’ll explain: it’s simple, really. We want what you want. We want you to win. And to do that you’ve got to beat Peter-Peter. Unlike the bear, he’s never been beaten.”
“Wait, no…,” Jonah interjected. “What have you done to Linda?”
Ah, ah, ah. It’s not nice to interrupt a hostage negotiation.” There was a short pause and then a shrill scream that could only be Linda.
Jonah closed his eyes tightly. “Ok, Ok, I’m sorry. Please continue.”
“Nice,” the voice replied. “Now, where was I… yes, you will win the silly hot dog eating contest today or else.” Another long pause.
Jonah didn’t want to interrupt again, but he finally whispered the obvious question he didn’t really want an answer to. “Or else what?”
The leather apron man laughed. “The bear has had an appetizer. If you don’t come through for us, he’ll get some Chinese food.” He laughed again.
She’s Filipino, Jonah wanted to scream, but dared not.
“And if I win,” he struggled to control his voice, “you’ll let her go—unharmed?”
“Right. Now you’ve got the idea.”
Jonah took a deep breath. “Okay, I’ll beat Peter-Peter in exchange for Linda’s safe return. Deal?”
“It’s a deal,” the leather apron man replied and then paused again. “Oh, but there is just one other teeny tiny thing we need. We need you to eat exactly ten more hotdogs than Peter-Peter. My, uh, accountant, informs me that this little pork perk will double our winnings. Again, you win, we win.” Followed by a click and a buzz.
Jonah’s eyes widened, his mouth hung open and his belly growled.
All this went tumbling through Jonah’s mind as he prepared for the biggest eating contest of them all. Nathan’s was the Olympics of eating, internationally televised on America’s favorite day of fun and food. He thought of Linda, his friend, his coach, his… was she more?
Jonah tried to focus, to visualize the heaping mound of hotdogs already inside his rice-swollen belly. Ten minutes and all would be consumed.
The hype was over and the starter bell clanged. The gluttony games had begun. Peter-Peter was, as always, off to a great start. Jonah watched him from the corner of his eye as Peter’s flipboard changed numbers every 6.8 seconds. The man was a machine, Jonah thought, and he was on pace to break his own record.
Jonah, now ludicrously billed as Lord of Lords, was keeping pace and was starting to get the attention of the fickle, flittering media. Cameras raced between the two top competitors; their grotesque faces were plastered on the Jumbo Tron. The crowd began an undercurrent murmur that Peter-Peter might finally have a real challenger this time.
Linda had taught Jonah the art of Zen; he muted out the crowd cacophony and concentrated on breaking, dunking, and eating hot dogs, faster than he ever had. He and Peter-Peter were tied at 40 dogs after 5 minutes. The man in the straw hat was ecstatic. At 7 minutes, Peter-Peter had devoured 62 hot dogs. Jonah had just eaten his personal best of 60, but he knew he could do better even as porcine pressure was building in his abdomen.
Linda had also explained to Jonah that a hyper-extended stomach displaced other organs in the torso as it filled with food. Shortness of breath was due to the stomach pushing up on the lungs. Linda had taught him so much, had given him a second chance to be better, to be the best. And more, she had given him a new reason to live, a reason to love. He could not let her down.
With only two minutes remaining, Peter-Peter and Jonah had matched at 70 hot dogs each. The man in the straw hat assured the crowd that records were about to be shattered. The two leading contestants slowed, but continued to fold and stuff hotdogs down their throats.
Jonah understood that simply beating Peter-Peter would not be enough; he had to win by 10 hot dogs to save Linda. Jonah would have to gear up to a new level. It was time to be better. He was Rocky and Perter-Peter was his Clubber Lang.
Jonah choked down hotdog number 75 with no more space available for 76. With one hand he opened up his robe, exposing his bare chest and swollen belly, with the other he picked up a pair of stainless steel tongs. He bent back one side of the tool turning it into a spear. As the cameras rolled, Jonah grimaced and jabbed the sharp edge of the utensil under his ribs.
Inserted, Jonah angled the tong upward and plunged it deeper into his chest cavity. Blood showered the table cloth and Tad Lowe, the eater beside him. With another push, the pressure in Jonah’s abdomen instantly subsided. The tong had hit its mark; Jonah’s left lung collapsed like a deflated balloon. His stomach creeped into the new space. He had made more room for food.
With the tong handle protruding from his chest, Jonah re-focused on the task of simply eating. Only one minute remained. Jonah broke, dunked, and ate like a new man—a hungry man. His breathing was shallow and blood bubbles formed and popped in his nostrils. Jonah was in a Zen zone and seemed to be breathing, not eating, hotdogs. Oxygen was no longer important.
10… the crowd counted. 9… Jonah crammed meat and bread in to the vacuum left in his chest. He dared not spare a second to look at the score, but he heard his flipboard clack with each downed dog. 5, 4…It was time to chipmunk. Jonah grabbed and crammed three hotdogs into his face and cheeks. 3…2…1!
“Food down!” The man in the straw hat bellowed.
Jonah placed his splayed hands on the table. He breathed, he bled, and he swallowed the huge gooey lumps. His flipboard clacked three more times. Jonah looked across the aisle at Peter-Peter’s board. It was a new world record, 77 hotdogs. Jonah thought about Linda; what would they do to her? Then he saw her threading her way through the crowd toward him, screaming his name.
Jonah realized he must be imagining this scene; blood loss was making him delirious. His knees folded and he passed out.
The images on this new highlight reel were different. Jonah saw himself talking, laughing, and training with Linda. He watched himself go from The Belly to the Lord of Lords. Then the light returned, even brighter than he remembered. The figure emerged as before. This time Jonah almost made out a form, a face. It was not as he had expected. From out of the light the visage of a goat head appeared. It suddenly dawned on Jonah that this horned and bearded specter was the greatest of all eaters, a goat, known to eat beer cans and chew through barbed wire.
“Welcome back, Jonah…” the goat spoke. Its picket-fence teeth were an off-shade of caramel. Its horizontal pupils gleamed with alien malevolence. “You’re just in time for dinner,” it finished with a bizarre bleating sound. The goat’s mouth opened wide, then wider. Its jaw unhinged like a boa and Jonah was being drawn into its maw. He had only a moment to reflect on his predicament. An eater, perhaps the best of the best, was being devoured by the god of all eaters—the greatest of all time. Jonah could think of no greater honor. But then Jonah remembered Linda and their time together and the time they would never share.
The blinding light flickered. The goat’s flat-bar eyes broke from Jonah’s gaze and swirled in their sockets. Now the light dimmed. As before, the after-life apparition began to fade.
The slap was audible and effective. Jonah sucked in and was suddenly able to retain oxygen. He instinctively reached up and grabbed Linda’s arm as she raised it for another blow. “Linda, are you okay?” Jonah rasped.
“Me? I fine,” she laughed. “You dead again.”
“But how did you get away from…” he trailed off.
“No ropes hold me,” she made a biting sound like clacking pool balls. “Those guys not bother us again. I burn down the place—even Smoky Bear.”
Jonah smiled weakly, and then reached for the hole he knew to be in his chest. He felt something sticky. “What’s this?” he asked.
“I seal your sucking chest wound with bubble gum. No worry, medics on the way.”
A team of EMTs burst through the worried ring of onlookers. In balladic tandem they lifted Jonah’s shoulders and feet and scooched him onto a stretcher. They hauled him up, eye level with Linda.
“Wait!” he told them. The medics paused midstep.
“Linda,” he whispered. She leaned over to listen. “I knew I could do better, but I could never have become better without you.”
“You shut up now, go with medics.”
“Linda, I love you and that’s the best I can do.”
Teary, her cat-eye mascara smearing, she kissed him and smiled.
The paramedics carried Jonah past a silver tray of scattered hotdog parts and his official flipboard. He never looked at the number, only at Linda.
Here are the links to the other two stories:
Writer: E. J. D’Alise
Word count: 2,010 words – approx. reading time: about 8 minutes based on 265 WPM
Punishment for Glutton <<link
Writer: Perry Broxson
Word count: 7,610 words – approx. reading time: about 29 minutes based on 265 WPM
If you’ve read all the stories and care to cast a vote, here’s the link to the Poll:
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