The Last Meal Chef by Nicole Rivas
The serial killer requests a last meal of foraged mushrooms simmered in butter and seasoned with chives. Because I’m the prison’s newest office assistant, the others send me to the forest to find the mushrooms, even though I hate mushrooms and have never eaten any variety other than button mushrooms in my entire life. I tell them this as they toss me fatigues and a rucksack—Listen, I couldn’t tell you the difference between a Portobello and a Porcini!—but they only shake their heads and hand me a helmet with claw marks and blood stains on it. This is your job, they say, this is the integrity of our prison, and if you don’t want to do this, then you don’t want a paycheck.
Once I’m in the forest, I spot a series of growths on a dead tree that look like they might be edible. Though I’m covered head-to-toe in a fake moss that makes it difficult to see, I manage to grab ahold of these growths and place them in my rucksack. Moving deeper into the forest, I try not to think about the claw marks and blood stains on my helmet. I try to ignore the smell of wet fur and the guttural growls that leak from the forest’s foliage like hot breath. I find two more growths and collect them before running back to the prison grounds.
The Last Meal Chef is waiting for me when I return. On the prison kitchen table he has a stick of butter and blades of grass tied together with a rubber band.
Those aren’t chives, I say. You cut that grass from the prison’s cemetery.
They are what I say they are, the Last Meal Chef says, And I say they’re chives.
I don’t feel like fighting, so I remove the maybe-mushrooms from my rucksack and spread them out before him. This is all I could find, I say.
This is moss, the chef says, tossing the first maybe-mushroom into the trash. And this is bear scat, he says of the second maybe-mushrooms. When he sees the last maybe-mushrooms, he smiles. Now, these are mushrooms! By God! They’re Chanterelles!
Though I don’t know what a Chanterelle looks like, I suspect that the Last Meal Chef could be wrong. The yellow-brown mushrooms that he’s holding in his hands smell like rubbing alcohol. But I know how the Last Meal Chef is, so I don’t bother arguing. My shift is almost over and I just want to go home.
The next day when I clock in, the serial killer is dead. Two guards are dead and the Last Meal Chef is nearly dead. Anyone who tried the foraged mushrooms is dead, even a little mouse who found his way into the serial killer’s cell. I’m told that because all these people have died, I’m being promoted and that now I will be the Last Meal Chef. I can’t believe it. I’ve never been promoted in my life. There’s this little recognition ceremony and everything wherein I’m holding back tears because I feel so grateful but also because of all the people I’ve inadvertently killed. Then the warden shakes my hand, and pretty soon I really am the Last Meal Chef, and then all I have to do is stand around and wait.
Nicole Rivas lives, writes, and teaches in Savannah, Georgia. She can be found at www.nicolemrivas.com.