Another month, another writing prompt. I’m challenging myself to do one a month throughout 2021. This month’s prompt caught my attention because I love going to hibachi restaurants and watch the hibachi chef throw the food up in the air.
What’s Cooking? As your character watches the hibachi chef prepare their meal, something seems … off. What is it?
Hibachi Chef Heaven
Tobi was looking forward to checking out the new hibachi restaurant in town. He’d heard such wonderful things about it. So that night, he picked up his girlfriend, Tricia, and off they went.
Tricia was in good spirits and as they walked into Hibachi Heaven, she squeezed his hand in delight.
The waiter seated them at a table with two other couples. The couple to the right were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. They were so cute. It was obvious why their marriage had lasted so long. The couple on the left were clearly on a first date. They seemed nervous and coy with each other but were also on their best behavior.
The waiter took their orders and soon brought them their appetizers and beverages. And then the Hibachi chef came in. He was tall and lanky, with hair a bit too black (or perhaps that was the lighting) and eyes a darker shade of brown than Tobi had ever seen.
Tobi could feel his muscles tighten ever so slightly, like a cat preparing to leap at you from behind the curtain, but then relaxing just as quickly when you don’t pass by close enough.
He looked at Tricia. She was taking a sip of her Tequila Sunrise through a red straw. She smiled at him with that delightful full-faced smile that had won his heart when he first met her.
The Hibachi chef launched into his pre-meal routine, preparing ingredients, and telling jokes. His voice was a bit deeper and gravellier than Tobi expected. Again, that feeling of fight or flight passed swiftly through his body.
He looked at the others seated there, and everyone seemed happy. They were laughing at the chef’s jokes and enjoying each other’s company. Even Tricia seemed wrapped up in the frivolity of the chef’s antics.
But Tobi couldn’t shake the feeling that something was wrong.
The chef confirmed everyone’s orders and then started to prepare the main courses. He flipped the chicken high. He flipped the shrimp low. He tossed bits of beef into the mouth of the elderly husband seated to their right. Everyone was having a fun time.
Except for Tobi.
He looked around him and felt like he had just entered the Twilight Zone. The young couple to the left were sharing an oversized cocktail through red straws and making googly eyes at each other. The anniversary couple on the right clinked their glasses of bourbon on ice and took a sip staring lovingly into each other’s eyes. Tricia hiccoughed cutely after taking a sip of her drink.
Tobi jumped as the waiter leaned over and said, “Is there a problem with your drink, sir? I can get you a different one at no charge.”
Tobi looked at his untouched glass of lemon-lime soda and then at the waiter. “No, thank you. I’m fine.”
“Perhaps you need more ice, sir?” the waiter responded.
“No, thank you,” Tobi said. “I’m good.”
“Well, you let me know if there is anything I can do to make your dining experience better.” The waiter turned on his toes and headed back toward the kitchen.
Suddenly, Tobi felt like someone was staring at his back. He turned to look and saw the waiter talking to another waiter and pointing in his direction.
The oohs and ahs at his table leaped up as if they were trying to catch the mushroom the Hibachi chef had just tossed into the air. Tobi turned his attention back to the table and saw the chef twirl around and catch the mushroom on its way down with his spatula.
That’s when Tobi saw something he could barely believe. The chef was looking at him, and as Tobi returned the look, he saw a nictitating membrane dart across the chef’s eyes. It was so fast, Tobi almost doubted what he had seen.
Tricia leaned over onto Tobi’s shoulder. She seemed somewhat out of sorts. That’s when Tobi noticed that the other couples at his table started to hunch over onto the table in front of them.
That’s when he noticed a strange sound that was slowly getting louder, an almost slurping sound. He looked over at the next table. All the guests were hunched over asleep at their table and their chef, along with a couple of waiters were doing something very strange to them.
A long, narrow, straw-like tongue protruded from their forehead and attached the other end to the back of the guests’ necks. Tobi got the impression they were eating.
“It doesn’t cause much meaningful harm,” said the chef. Tobi turned back to look at him. A slow, cold, wave of horror worked its way through his body as the tongue began to grow out of the chef’s forehead. “We consume some small, inconsequential bit of memory. They won’t even notice it’s gone.”
As he spoke, the tongue grew longer and then he applied it to the back of the elderly woman’s neck. The slurping sound made Tobi’s stomach turn. He could feel a scream forming at the back of this throat. With his left hand, never taking his eyes off the chef, he jostled the now slumbering form of Tricia.
“Tricia, wake up. We need to get out of here.”
“She won’t wake up for an hour or two,” said the chef. “The drugs we put in the beverages are pretty reliable that way.” He shifted his long tongue over to the elderly man. “It is unfortunate that you did not drink yours. It would have been much easier for you.”
Suddenly, Tobi felt a sharp pain at the base of his neck. He instinctively reached back to swat whatever it was away. He felt a muscular rope attached to his neck, and as he turned out of his seat, he saw the waiter. The waiter’s tongue extended from his forehead and toward the back of Tobi’s head.
Time seemed to slow down and then stand still as he floated down to the floor and passed out.
The next morning, he called Tricia on the phone.
“Thank you for a wonderful dinner last night,” she said. “I had so much fun!”
“I know, right? The chef was such a talented entertainer,” Tobi replied. “We’ll have to go back there again!”