Last Meal
rating: +16+x

The Journal of the Walk, Tuesday, November 17th

My travels are, by their nature and the circumstances of the world, spent unevenly. I might find myself adrift among the grasses and trees for weeks. In these times, my only companions are the breeze, the birdsong, and my own thoughts. The ideas which fill my head in such solitude are, though of great value to me, so expressly personal and ephemeral that I rarely find cause to commit them to the page. The flavors of the journey in these times are simple, yet perfectly balanced. The taste of comfort.

At other times, my journey is punctuated by the experience of interaction. Each of us, as a thinking creature, journeys in our own way through time and space. When others' journeys happen to intersect with mine, we collaborate to create something entirely new. These crossings are the seasoning, the spice of my journey, the perfect accompaniment to the meal of my own mind's creation.

I was deep in the first sort of meal, wandering amongst lightly wooded hills and valleys rich with autumn color, when I spied the smoke of a chimney over the next crest. I was intrigued. It had been several days since I saw or spoke with another person out there in the wilderness, and even that meeting had been brief, though cordial. Reasoning that I was in no particular hurry, since the odds of the residence over the hill vanishing into thin air or spontaneously exploding before my arrival seemed fairly slim, I made my way around the base of the hill, admiring the turning of the leaves as I went.

In due course, the home responsible for the column of smoke came into view. It was a large cottage, with a curiously large, curiously round door and a sloping roof, and adjacent to it was built a sizeable chicken coop. I could hear the hens clucking even at a distance. Inside the coop, perhaps two dozen chickens were scratching and pecking at seed and insects on the dirt floor within, surrounding a wooden hutch. They were beautiful birds; their feathers were glossy and vibrant, their black-and-white barred plumage standing out brilliantly against the backdrop of straw and soil. As I watched their complex social interactions play out before me, a hen in the hutch languidly stretched her legs and stepped down the slope to the soil, and behind her rolled a single perfect egg, which must have been caught on her foot. The egg rolled off the small balcony extending past the door of the hutch and shattered on the floor of the coop. Immediately, the highest chickens in the pecking order gathered around the broken egg and began to devour it. Their beaks snapped and pecked at the bits of shell, the yolk spattering messily across the floor of the coop. In short order, there was no trace of the egg at all.

It was in this moment I heard a mournful wailing coming from inside the cottage. As I am not one to shy away from someone in need, I approached the door. I thought that, despite the obvious duress of the occupant, it would still be rude to enter unannounced, and so I knocked on the great round door and waited a moment. The wailing and sobbing stopped short.

"Oh, a guest, oh my!" said a voice from inside, crackling with phlegm. "I'm afraid my home is not ready to receive at the moment."

I assured the inhabitant that I was not one to judge on the cleanliness of a home, and then inquired as to whether I might be able to be of assistance.

The voice sniffed. Then there was a click at the lock and the door opened slightly. "Do come in, I suppose," the voice said.

I gently opened the door and stepped inside. The interior of the home was lit only by a pair of small, grimy windows and a flickering wood stove in the tiny kitchen, but it was enough to see that the house was in disarray. Bottles, jars, and sachets of all sizes, shapes, and contents were strewn about the floor. Half a dozen well-loved, dog-eared cookbooks were propped open along the kitchen counter, and there were more than a few dishes piled in the sink. Everything glistened. Not because the surfaces were clean though — because everything was coated in a thin layer of slime.

The slime was dripping off of the occupant of the home, being that it was a titanic snail. Its shell, which was a whorling, twisting dome and speckled in all the hues of the rainbow, peaked several inches above my head, and I got the sense that if the creature were still able to fit through the front door of its cottage, it might not be for long. The body of the snail lurched out of the front of the shell, as drab as its shell was scintillating, and it spilled out on the floor despondently. As I watched, it lifted up its body so that its eyestalks looked down upon me.

"Welcome to my abode, humble though it is," the snail said. "Can I offer you some tea? Or perhaps some truffle and saffron risotto or caviar from my icebox?"

It would have been inhospitable of me to refuse, so before I knew it, I was seated at the snail's small wooden table. It sat across from me as I looked down at the plate of food it had prepared for me. It was bereft of the slime which coated every other surface, and despite my reservations about the general cleanliness of the kitchen, I took some grateful bites. Quickly, I forgot about the dishes in the sink, the jars and bottles on the floor, and almost everything else. It was perhaps the most delicious food I had ever tasted in my life. The flavors were intense yet balanced, each ingredient a highlight, and every bite was seasoned to perfection. I expressed my pleasure with the food to the snail.


"Thank you," the snail replied graciously. "I take the pursuit of culinary art very seriously."

"It shows," I said, as I took a sip of tea. "But I heard you in distress, before. What's the matter?"

The snail's eyestalks looked out the filthy window next to the table. "I take the pursuit of culinary art very seriously," it said.

I waited a moment for the creature to elaborate.

"I have lived a long time," it finally went on, "and in that time, I have been driven by my love of true cuisine above all else. I have eaten the finest meals in this and any other land. Bornay steak. Lobster with thoughtgrass reduction. Stir-fried fleeting sense of disquiet at the thought that you are merely pretending to be who others believe you are, paired with 121-year-aged Perfect Squares whisky."

It was hard to believe that there could possibly be meals more delicious than the truffle and saffron risotto I was currently enjoying cold from the icebox.

"In fact," the snail went on, "I believe I have eaten every meal there is to eat."

I paused, loaded fork halfway to my mouth. I gently cleared my throat — I am not one to start an argument, but this claim of the snail's was a bold one indeed — but the snail seemed to know what I wanted to say before I managed it.

"Yes, every meal," it sighed pitifully. "As I said, I have lived a long time. A long, long time. And I know how to prepare them all, and have ingredients for many of the best. Every meal but one."

Of course, my curiosity got the better of me, and I asked about the missing meal.

"I have never eaten me," the snail said.

I waited another moment. In times like these, when others make statements such as this, I have found that rarely are they finished speaking, no matter how much finality they impart to their words.

"Certainly I have eaten other snails," the snail went on, "prepared in many ways. But to consume myself, entire, prepared perfectly — why, if I could simply eat myself, I will have tried absolutely everything there is to eat, and I could die happily."

I normally make it a point not to advocate for self-cannibalism, but the snail was so earnest and emphatic in its life's purpose, I could not help but wonder. "Why haven't you done so?" I asked.

"Because," wailed the snail, "I can't figure out what should accompany me!" It reached out and picked up various bottles from the floor, reading the labels as it lifted and discarded each. "Violet vinegar? Tears of a lost child? Distilled awkwardness of arriving at a party when the people who invited you haven't yet appeared and you know the hosts only adjacently? Parsley?"

"Perhaps you will be delicious enough to stand on your own," I suggested.

The snail was despondent. "It will be my last meal," it sobbed. "What if I'm not? Then what will I do? Exit this world dissatisfied with my last bites of all time? Please! Help me!" It lurched forward, its mantle tugging at the hem of my clothes. "Please! Surely you have something, the perfect pairing for me! A seasoning, a fine wine, a sauce, anything! I can tell by your shoes and your clothes you've been on a journey. In your travels, surely you've eaten me! How was I prepared?"

I hadn't ever eaten the snail, of course. Though I have been many places, this creature was the only one of itself I had ever seen. "I'm sorry," was all I could manage.

The snail let go of my clothing and shrank almost all the way back into its shell. "Please, if you find something out there, the perfect thing to complete me, promise me you'll send it to me."

I said that I would try. The snail searched me up and down with its eyestalks, then disappeared into its shell, quietly sniffling.

I cleared and washed my plate. In the interest of leaving things better than I found them (something which I always try to do), I washed a few more dishes and picked up the bottles, cans, and sachets, and then I took my leave, following the winding trail up through the hills away from the cottage, until even the curls of smoke from the stove were out of my sight.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License