This time around, we feature a short story by James Gabel.
Enjoy his work!
The warm New Orleans sun felt good against their skin as Mike and Steven walked along Bourbon Street, anticipating a night of beer soaked fun that was sure to come after the sun fell to the west. They had traveled all the way from Lafayette Indiana where they were part of the nerd herd that ruled the physics lab of Purdue University. During the first five years of college life, they had never been to Spring Break in Pensacola, so they set off for the beaches of Florida with a night in New Orleans on the way.
They walked to the water’s edge, expecting the surf to slam relentlessly against the shoreline, but to their surprise, the water was as calm as the farm ponds back home in Indiana where their fathers forced them to fish rather than spend a summer day on their laptop, figuring the elasticity of bubble gum as it correlates to temperature and humidity. They stopped to have a couple beers before they set out to finish their sightseeing tour of what many considered the city of debauchery. They didn’t have to walk far before finding a small storefront with a giant red chili pepper hung over the door. On the sign was the name “Pepper Palace.” Without hesitation, they walked through the door, to sample what might be on display. They had learned early in their college life that places like this that specialized in a type of food or snack usually had samples. It was a way for a hungry teenager to eat when they had spent their food money for the month within the first two weeks.
What was usually a loud ding that sounded to alert the workers inside was barely audible over the throng of young men that were gathered around a large square display, where containers of salsa and baskets of chips were there for the taking. There were all types of salsa from hot to mild. Some were made from fruit grown the islands, making the salsa sweet, with a hint of heat on your tongue, and some were made from peppers that must have been grown in the bowels of Hell and married into tomatoes by demons who spent eternity standing in fire while they stirred the caldron that boiled the evil elixir into a tooth melting brown sludge. As the boys entered they knew that they had made a mistake. The gigantic young men in the Pepper Palace were all wearing Ohio State t-shirts that accentuated their muscular bodies. And there they were, standing at the door with their mayo white legs protruding like pencils from their light colored shorts, and arms that had the muscular definition of the average earth worm, poking helplessly out of their Purdue Polo shirts.
“Come on in,” Said the biggest of the group. “Try some salsa.” The group all laughed as two of the monstrous men put their arm around Mike and Steven, gently pulling them up to the bar like a long lost friend. “We’ve all tasted each of the salsas and we think the one right in front of you is the best. Have a taste, for the pride of the Purdue chess team, or whatever team you are on.” The boys knew better than to say no. That would result in atomic wedgies or a head first dunk into a flushing toilet. It wasn’t their first rodeo after all. They knew what they had to do. They had to taste the salsa that was labeled. “Reaper Salsa, the Hottest Salsa on Earth.” Mike and Steven each grabbed a chip, scooped up some salsa and stuck it in their mouths. The first two seconds weren’t too bad, there was a sweet taste, giving them a false sense of security. Then it hit, the heat was like nothing they had experienced. They turned toward each other, watching as they turned a bright red color. Sweat began running down their faces as they chewed the chip quickly, trying to break it down so they could swallow. Breathing had started to become a problem as their throat closed instinctively to protect the lungs from fire. It was the first time they actually wanted a swirly, anything that would cool the burn. There were two men that had left when the boys took the challenge that ran back, each carrying two tall red colored drinks in fancy vase shaped containers, with long straws sticking out the top. They handed one to each of the Purdue nerds. “Have a rum runner. Alcohol cools the burn.” Mike and Steven took the drinks without question, at this point they would drink monkey urine of it would extinguish the fire. They were beer drinkers though. They had no idea that the drinks were almost completely made up of different types of rum, with a splash of punch and juice to dull the edge. Mike and Steven finished both drinks in record time, the fire was gone in their mouth but there was a rumbling from somewhere deep inside. It didn’t take long before the alcohol hit them. It was becoming hard to stand as the world seemed to start making abrupt changes in its rotation.
“You boys need to hit the public washroom in that building across the street and let the salsa make its exit wound. Then you’re with us tonight. We are going to party all night. And that’s exactly what happened. The boys partied with the Buckeye jocks that made their every dream of spring break come true. It was just a shame that they had no memory of it, just some incriminating photos on their phone.