A photograph by Ian Sternthal, 1999.
The telephone rang. I picked it up. A shiver rushed down my spine. I knew it was the Commandant. “Hello Commandant,” I said. My voice bounced off the far wall, and echoed in my ears. I was so caught up in my thoughts that I mistook it for the voice of another, and gasped.
“Why did you just gasp?” the Commandant asked coolly.
“Because I mistook my voice for the voice of another,” I responded.
I couldn’t lie to the Commandant. I had attempted it in the past – had attempted it once in Vienna – and he had recognized it at once for what it was: a big fat lie! He could see right through me. I was a piece of tissue paper.
“Are you ready?” The Commandant asked. He was always direct.
“Of course,” I responded. But I wasn’t – wasn’t in the least bit ready. “Spice the chicken!” he cried, “and then place it in the oven.” And then the phone went dead, and I looked across the barren room at the oven located at its opposite end. It was a menacing silver machine, and it gleamed in the sparse light.
The chicken! That fat vile bird! It was sitting on top of the oven. I shuddered again. How could I spice such a filthy carcass? I would have to rub spice all over its body. I would have to stick my hand through the hole that had once contained its head. I would have to inject it with gravy!
The phone rang again. I picked it up. “Have you spiced it?” The Commandant asked sternly.
“I am in the process of spicing it, Commandant,” I responded.
“Liar!” He shouted. “It’s sitting on top of the oven!”
“I am sorry, Commandant,” I responded. “I am in the process of preparing myself mentally.”
“You have five minutes. Don’t make me call you back.”
His voice triggered a primal, visceral fear. I put myself in autopilot, and without even willing my body to move, floated across the room towards the chicken. The carcass grew larger as I made my approach. The chicken grew in size. It grew and grew and grew until it dwarfed my own body. It was massive. As I drew closer I noticed a set of steps that had been obscured by the distance. They led up the front of the oven to the chicken.
The phone rang. I picked it up.
“Walk up the steps!” The Commandant shouted.
I walked up the steps. When I arrived at the top, I stood face to face with the chicken. It was ten times larger than my body. The hole that had contained its head was as large as a massive door. The stench was astonishing. It was unbelievably foul. It was the stench of salmonella. It was the horrible stench of death.
The phone rang. I picked it up.
“Enter the chicken!” The Commandant roared.
My body refused to move. I turned around and looked behind me. The oven was more than a hundred feet off the ground.
“I can’t Commandant!” I wailed. “I can’t enter it. It’s too horrible!”
“Hundred’s of others have done it before you!”
“I can’t die this way, Commandant! I’ll die in the chicken!”
“Everyone dies, Cousteau!” the Commandant screamed. “Fulfill your mission. Spice the Chicken!”
“I can’t!” I screamed. And I couldn’t. And I knew that I couldn’t – that I didn’t have what it took. I felt an awful aching shame in the pit of my stomach – a violent painful shame that I couldn’t tolerate or bear. I had failed horribly, and I knew it in my heart. And what I wanted more than anything was for the pain to come to an end. So I hung up the phone, and launched myself off the oven, and plummeted to my death.
Adam Sternthal is a Montreal based writer in his second year of law school.