Story-A-Day May #31: A Cut Above

The final prompt of the month! Wow, this was a great challenge by storyaday.org, and I’m thrilled to have completed it while also reaching my goal of writing a 1,000 word minimum story each day.

It’s been a tremendous learning experience for me. Too often, I get caught up in small details, or stuck between branching paths a story might take, which brings my writing to a screeching halt. But for the challenge, I’ve had to quickly settle on an idea, plan it out (or improvise!), and get it done in a single night. Hopefully I’ll be able to continue using that decisive, first draft approach in the future.

Fittingly, the last prompt is to write a story about someone who’s just completed a huge challenge. Mine features a contestant on an extreme cooking show.

***

A Cut Above

“Knives down!”

Miranda slashed one last wedge of brie, placed it atop her elaborate arrangement of meats, fruits, and cheeses, and laid her knife upon the counter. She exhaled. After one final, grueling sprint, the marathon was over.

The judges descended from their lofty podium in flawless evening wear: tuxedos, sparkling black sequin dresses, even a grim reaper-style robe. None of them would be caught dead wearing actual colors, or smiling. They eyed every contestant, and every charcuterie board, with utmost disdain. As a long-time fan of the show, Miranda knew the judges used to act friendly and encouraging back in Season One. Ratings had been abysmal; they didn’t even show those episodes in re-runs.


From her throne, the Kitchen Mistress announced, “On the day you first arrived in the Ultimate-Extreme Cooking Compound, your final challenge began. Over the past several months, when you weren’t preoccupied with other challenges, you’ve made your own cheeses. Butchered and cooked your own cold cuts. Lastly, we sent you out to hand-select the freshest fruits for your charcuterie boards. All too predictably, a few contestants lost their nerve and took the opportunity to flee in disgrace.”

At the next counter over, Logan whispered, “I can’t believe Edmond quit like that.”

“I know,” said Elena, from behind Miranda’s back. “I thought the pig was a lock to win.”

If so, she’d underestimated Miranda. They all had. But her confidence was absolute. She’d prepared her whole life to compete on Ultimate-Extreme Cooking, and she just knew her talents were going to win the crown.

The Mistress continued, “This was not only a test of your mastery of every step, from farm to table. But also a test of artistry, of presentation. Now, bring me the charcuterie boards!” She cracked a leather whip.

Muscular, bare-chested attendants emerged from backstage to march between the kitchen counters, collecting the contestants’ arrangements. They used to wear shirts, but then the Mega-Gladiator Bake Off started to overtake the show in ratings. They followed in the judges’ wake as they returned to their podium, and the long table prepared for their feast.

“While the judges decide your fates, let’s review some of the highlights from this season… of the Ultimate-Extreme Cooking Competition!”

Exhausted, Miranda leaned heavily on the counter as a massive video screen lit up the kitchen arena. Of course the contestants weren’t allowed stools; it would ruin the dramatic action shots.

A disembodied voice intoned, “Sparks flew immediately between these fierce competitors…” Scenes of the contestants’ first meeting appeared on the screen. Naturally, Edmond had made himself the center of attention, talking over everyone. Meanwhile, Miranda had quietly befriended a number of other contestants, anticipating that this season might feature the show’s first team cooking challenges — an increasingly popular format on Mega-Gladiator.

She’d been right, and her hunch paid off. Miranda managed to not only win the challenge, but backstab her teammates in such a subtle way, that it left them apologizing to her, even as they were booted off the show. The cameras loved her sympathetic tears as she bid them well.

But Edmond had fared well, also. For every contestant he repulsed with his arrogance, he recruited another sheep-like follower, who thought that made him some kind of “leader”.

“Rivalries emerged, and insults flew…”

On-screen, brawls broke out, noses were bloodied, even Miranda had got dragged into a hair-pulling contest despite her cool, calculated strategic approach to the show. Sometimes, a person just needed to have a fistful of their hair yanked out.

The origin of cruel and juvenile nicknames was revealed, like Butterfinger Betty, Gap-toothed Gary, Burnt-water Greta, and plain old Edmond the Pig, who, in a rapid-fire series of edits, got slapped by half the women in the Compound, and a few of the men as well.

“Not every chef was tough enough to survive the dangerous gauntlets that stood in their way…”

A montage of the most exciting, and gruesome, eliminations flashed across the screen:

The blowfish race, where chefs had to safely prepare an unending series of fugu dishes as fast as possible… and then eat them, personally. Miranda felt her lips tingle a few times, but she survived. Several rushed and careless chefs needed to receive injections directly into their hearts of the Ultimate-Extreme Brand Antidote, available in stores nationwide.

The dodge-knife game, which had seen butcher’s knives flying back and forth across the kitchen arena. Despite minimal safety gear, a few chefs had wound up in the hospital after that one. Miranda still had a scar on her arm.

“But through it all they persevered…”

Now a heart-warming montage followed, accompanied by sickeningly sappy music. The chefs leaked blood, sweat, and tears. Miranda saw herself, all smiles, exchanging hugs with her soon-to-be vanquished foes. They even managed to make Edmond look almost-sympathetic. But not quite.

“Here’s to the chefs!”

The screen faded out. From her throne, the Mistress announced, “Ladies, gentlemen, and chefs. Our judges have made their decision. The winner of Season 43 of the Ultimate-Extreme Cooking Competition is…” A piped-in drumroll rattled everyone’s nerves. “Miranda!”

Miranda performed her version of Munch’s Scream, just like she’d practiced a thousand times in the mirror, until it gave way to a big, freshly-bleached smile. On her way to the podium, she gave sympathetic looks and hand squeezes to all those total losers who had doubted her.

Black-and-white confetti fluttered down from the rafters. Triumphant music swelled. The judge’s, still stone-faced, each gave Miranda a single, firm shake of the hand. She knelt before the Kitchen Mistress and received the champion’s crown, plus a knighting from her giant spoon scepter, tapping each of Miranda’s shoulders. It was just as she’d always dreamed.

The music abruptly cut off and bright lights snapped on around the studio.

“Did we get everything we need?” asked the Kitchen Mistress, touching her earpiece. “Alright, we can shoot some B-roll later.” She wearily smiled at Miranda and gestured to an empty seat on the podium. “Please, join us for a spell. Enjoy your handiwork.”

“Really marvelous,” said Judge X, removing his porcelain mask as he gobbled up food without the usual on-camera restraint.

The Judge of Thorns shrugged off her spiky shoulder pads and dug in, too. “Absolutely. Your presentation is so elaborate, I can’t even tell what this cut of meat originally was. But it’s delicious.”

“…Ham.” Miranda smiled, picked up one of the salty slices, and nibbled.

It tasted like victory.

***

Thanks for reading! Even though the challenge has ended, I’ll be back again soon with more stories.

2 thoughts on “Story-A-Day May #31: A Cut Above

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