“No, Emilie, you can’t make me eat Cthulhu tentacles! It’s barbaric!”
Mark couldn’t stop the sweat pouring out from his temples as steam rose out of the pots and the grills surrounding them. Each wooden table had a round grill indented in the center, barbecuing tentacles and thinly sliced meat, in addition to a personal steel pot boiling in front of each restaurant patron.
“For once, can you shut the hell up about how I’m barbaric if I don’t eat like you?” Emilie glowered at Mark, her frown and the furrow between her immaculate brows doing nothing to spoil the smoothness of her porcelain BB cream and tinted cherry blossom lips. “You lost the bet with me. You’re going to eat some Cthulhu tentacles.”
“I can’t believe people of your culture eat this crap. It’s cruel! You eat dead animals and call yourselves civilized?”
Emilie’s brows rose while her dark eyes narrowed. Her long lashes stayed still, like frigid snow-frozen branches. “You’re calling me barbaric again?”
“No, Emilie, not you! You’re...you’re not like the others!”
“And how am I not like the others, Mark?” Emilie rested her pointed chin in a slender hand. “Explain that to me.”
“Well...uh…” Mark sweated, no longer sure if it was because of the heat and steam that permeated the restaurant, or if it was because of Emilie’s sharp glare. “You’re beautiful, I’m...I’m dating you--”
“And so because I have a white boyfriend, that puts me above others of my background?” snapped Emilie. “Is that it?”
“That’s not what I’m saying!”
“Then prove it!” Emilie pushed a plate of takoyaki balls to Mark, the golden dough glistening like freshly glazed donuts swept out of an oven.
Emilie’s stare bore into Mark like knives. Eat them. Eat them, Mark. Eat them, and shove your white supremacy down your throat.
Mark picked up one skewered ball, clamped a hand over his eyes, and poked out his tongue as he teetered the takoyaki ball closer. The scent of hot, sweet batter submerged his entire head.
The dough shell bloomed on the tip of his tongue, warm and savory and crispy, like a hushpuppy. He sank in his teeth.
The slight crunch of the golden skin gave way to the umami flavor and chewiness of the chopped tentacles enveloped in the soft, moist dough, tinged with the tang of seaweed and green onions. A new hunger surged from within him, a tidal wave of appetites flooding his nerves. He stabbed each takoyaki ball, one by one, and chewed on each impaled delicacy with the vigor of a man discovering a new obsession.
All the while, Emilie watched him as she cradled her pointed chin in her scarlet-manicured fingers, her eyes fixed on him like a vulture never leaving its stare from its prize.
Once Mark licked the plate clean of sharp mustard and worcester sauce, he met his girlfriend’s gaze for approval. Her eyes remained stony.
“Now eat this.” Emilie pushed him a plate of live Cthulhu tentacles wriggling on the plate. Each glistening tentacle resembled living threads of oscillating jewels, marbled in a harmony of emerald green and vibrant violets.
As Mark’s stomach felt as though it flipped inside-out, Emilie plucked a leg from the plate. She slurped on it like a noodle, gnawing on the thick flesh between each small suck as she stared at him. Her eyes remained unblinking.
He followed her lead. He dunked one of the long appendages into a generous heaping of sesame oil before clenching his teeth around the rubbery flesh. The suctions sucked at his tongue and teeth, sticking to him, thrashing with a willingness to live. It was alive, it was fresh.
He chewed and chewed, the slightly sweet sesame oil lubricating his teeth with each bite. When he swallowed, the Cthulhu tentacle slithered down his throat. He expected to choke, or even be rushed to the emergency room, as he had heard stories of grisly deaths met by those who did not take their time to thoroughly chew on Cthulhu tentacles.
He took a pause to sip on iced water.
Emilie plucked another swirling tendril from the plate and brought it to his lips, like a mother bird feeding its chick. Her red lips stretched into a smile as Mark chomped down on the offering.
After swallowing that one, he dunked another, then two, then four Cthulhu tentacles into the glass bowl of sesame oil that Emilie kept refilling for him. He gorged on them as if sacrificing himself to drown in an ocean of steaming noodles. Each oscillating extremity filled him with warmth and gusto that he had never been raised to appreciate. Years of nibbling on limp leaves and ungarnished salads had left his taste buds barren.
But here, here was life. The thrashing and squirming of Cthulhu tentacles swarming his tongue like fresh ramen, the scent of grilled meat and salted ocean flesh tingling from his nose and all the way down his spine, the warmth of steam submerging the entire restaurant, they all rang bells within his body. Bells that rang like a ceremony to welcome the resurrection of joy, of taste, of life.
When he engulfed the last of the Cthulhu tentacles, he coughed. Grabbing his glass of ice water, he gulped down the cold refreshment.
His jaw hung as he slammed down his drained cup. For once, Emilie bore a wide grin, her straight white teeth scintillating like knives framed by her red lips.
She bit into a fresh order of takoyaki that a waiter set down in front of her, fluttering her lashes. “Not so barbaric, am I?”
Jo Wu was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she studied Biology and Creative Writing at UC Berkeley. When writing, she can be found typing away in her Google Docs, accompanied by a Poisoned Apple mug that is constantly refilled with green tea, while blasting a mix of metal and orchestral scores. When she is not writing, she will be sewing her next costume or deadlifting her next powerlifting goal.