The Inktober prompts that inspired this piece were trap, dizzy, coral, sleep, chef, rip and dig.
Frustrated with incompetent workers and suffocating in the heat of the kitchen, the chef stormed out of the restaurant’s backdoor and marched down to the beach. The stretch of sand was largely vacant on that chilly October afternoon. The water lapped lazily at the shore under the chef’s watchful, judgmental gaze. Slowly, his raging heartbeat began to slow toward contentment.
He had moved to the coast because he specialized in seafood. The calming effects of the ocean were simply a happy byproduct. One his workers should be thankful for, he thought. Imagine his mood swings without this nearby place of peace.
Yet suddenly, the peace was rudely interrupted by a high-pitched cry for help. Conscience forced the chef to scan the surrounding area for the owner of the voice. He followed the sound to a large pit dug into the sand, presumably by some strange act of the sea. In it, a young woman struggled under a labyrinth of netting.
When she caught sight of the chef, she cried, “I’m trapped! Please! Help me!”
His fingers twitched helplessly at his sides. The pit was deep, and its sandy edges looked anything but stable. He could jump down to her, but how would he get her back up?
“Can you toss up a corner of the net?” he shouted.
Setting her face with determination, the girl struggled to do as he asked. After several minutes of work, a clump of wet woven flax landed at his feet. The chef quickly picked it up and told the girl to hang onto the other end. He then steadily dragged his corner farther and farther from the edge of the pit, the threads beginning to rip from the strain as he steadily raised the girl up to freedom.
“I’m free!” she squealed, and he turned around to face her. At the sight of her, the wind was immediately knocked out of him. The girl had skin the color of wet sand and hair that flowed like falling autumn leaves down her shoulders and back. Coral was stuck in her hair in various places, adding bursts of delicate yellow, pink and blue to the fiery red strands. But most striking of all was the long cerise tail that grew downward from her torso.
The chef grew dizzy at the sight. Possibilities swam through his mind, coming at him from all sides. Perhaps he was sleeping? Perhaps this was all a dream? Maybe it was an effect of his temper? How long had it been since he had eaten anything? And, at the darkest recesses of his mind, the culinary possibilities of that deep reddish-pink tail tantalized him. The coral warped into a sort of garish. Imagine the acclaim that would be afforded to the first chef to create a dish with such magical origins! And with such limited supply, oh what exorbitant prices he could charge! He’d make enough money to leave all those idiots in the kitchen behind him for good!
All of this and more flashed through his mind as he took in the sight of the mysterious, wondrous creature. She smiled at him with unknowing gratitude and then plucked a piece of the coral from her hair. Without a sound, she blew into it like a whistle. The chef could not hear its music, but the ocean did. It reached out a gentle hand and carried her away, back to her watery home.
And the chef trudged back to his unfulfilling life at the seaside restaurant, still uncertain whether he could believe his eyes. At the very least, it had not been a dream, he thought as he laid down to sleep that night. Not unless all of this was a dream.