Oil and fire and flesh.
Like a silent incantation these words were laced throughout my every day. The oil in the cast iron fed an eruption of greasy fire, searing the sinews of dripping flesh. Yes, there was the neon-licked mist of the city, the chefs who worked under me, and the solitude of my apartment, but these three words were the operators of my limbs. The workers of my mind. The motivators of my smile.
Oil and fire and flesh.
I had red wine most nights. It swirled about in my glass as I sat in that engulfing leather arm-chair that occupied the living room. Most of the time a book rested in my opposite hand, taking my attention. Distracting me. But this evening only had the glass of red wine in its makeup. No book. But the longer I sat in total darkness, the only light spilling from the slit between the drawn curtains, that wine appeared thicker and thicker. The red hue glistened in the light that slit created like a morbid lantern. No book could satisfy me. Not like this urge that had been ripping at my insides. This hunger that ebbed and flowed.
Each filet I seared in the pan teased.
Served as a reminder.
A reminder that this hunger wasn’t going away—not unless I did something about it.
And that was when the phone rang. When its piercing blare cut through the thoughts and urges and hunger, beckoning. The tone unearthed a certain nostalgia, as it seldom rang, especially at this hour. I rose from the embrace of the arm-chair and made my way through the darkness. I stared at the handset as it shrieked. And once I held it to my ear, a familiar hunger spoke to me through the static of the landline, “Good evening.”
The call led me into the hills beyond the city. I had to leave my very own restaurant in the hands of one of my subordinate chefs. But I didn’t care. For, the way this man spoke over the phone dripped with a necessity to give it attention.
On the train ride over, I had wanted to catch up on the reading I had missed, but nothing of the sort was accomplished. I sat and stared at the words on the page, thinking only about the phone call.
About what it elicited
“Good evening,” I had said back.
“This is Ian, I imagine?”
“Offers like these don’t concern people in your position. You have a very successful grill there in town. You get to cook whatever dishes you want.” He let the hissing landline get a word in. “For an ordinary man there is no incentive to leave.”
Was this the call I had been awaiting?
“You don’t love to cook, Ian. What you desire does not contain love. It is empty.”
“What are you—”
“I’ve faxed over an address. A train for you to take. Once you get off, there will be a black car waiting for you.” Before hanging up, he ended with, “I can fill this emptiness.”
And after approximately two hours of sitting and staring and thinking, the train reached its station. I stepped off into the desolate autumn—which whispered winter down my neck—and into the backseat of a glossy black sedan. It was remarkably warm inside, almost shockingly so; the driver must’ve waited for the better part of an hour.
He wore a suit of some kind—one I couldn’t parse from the deep backseat. But based on his stiff demeanor, formal silence, and unenthused glances, I doubted this was the man I spoke to last night.
He drove me further into the hills. The houses—small like huts—at our sides were thinning and the trees—bare and twirling—were growing more plentiful. They shrouded us in their embrace until becoming an engulfing tunnel. The road wound and wound on a continual grade, our sedan following suit. Despite the car’s heat, the air’s growing chill oozed out of the sights.
In a crescendo, in accordance with our altitude, a greater accumulation of frost clung to the dead grass and rotted leaves. The wind started presumably as a breeze but picked up into a mighty sigh. It toyed with trunks like toothpicks.
We never eclipsed the desolate wood. Our vehicle only plodded through a stretch of gravel path before braking amongst several other—nearly identical—black sedans. As the driver put it in park, I froze at the sight of a massive building. It had that ancient look of a castle but channeled the wind like a pair of lungs, to give off this sense that it lived.
I stepped out onto the gravel…
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Zachary Toombs is a writer and artist from a small town in upstate New York. His work has been published in numerous venues, including The Dark Sire, Bez & Co., Freedom Fiction, and others. His novel, Night’s Grasp, was released this past September. Want to connect with Zachary? Find him on Twitter: (@ZacharyToombs8), Instagram: (toombszachary), and his website: zacharytoombs.com.
This story was a perfect fit for The Dark Sire. We loved the dark tone and the disturbing depiction of obsession. We needed to know more about the inspiration and creative process behind this story.
TDS: What was your inspiration for writing this piece?
Zachary Toombs: Inspiration is hard to nail for me. If I had to point to a specific source for this story’s premise, it was the swathes of metal music I have been listening to as of late. The artists that I have been listening to–Deafheaven, Paysage D’hiver, and ColdWorld just to name a few–bleed this sort of mood that I had to write about in reflection. It started with hunger, a sense of longing, and eventually a character formed, bringing with it a sequence of events and dreary setting.
TDS: What creative process did you use?
Zachary Toombs: I knew what I wanted to cover thematically, but I needed to get these feelings out. So, in a sort of catharsis, I wrote a handful of poems that reflected the way this music and my own ideas made me feel. Then I funneled some of this ambiguous language into the frame of a story. Filling in the gaps was easy.
TDS: What authors have influenced your work?
Zachary Toombs: For this piece I can point to Agustina Bazterrica’s Tender is the Flesh as a loose source. However, the narrator tells that story woodenly–to the story’s benefit–but I didn’t want to give off this stark detachedness in this piece. And so, regarding the language and narrator, I looked to Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair as a foundational inspiration.
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