Hope everyone’s had a pleasant holiday season.
In celebration of the still relatively new year, I thought I’d bring out something festive from a book I’m working on. Background: Imagine that everyone on Earth suddenly developed magical powers. Now imagine that a really large number of them all decide to descend upon the same snooty Restaurant. Things get interesting quite quickly.
…In this moment Charlie Cox is suddenly beset by the problems of reserving a table in a restaurant at the end of reality. Not because he wants to––he only senses that Gwyn is trying to transport them to the restaurant, to will an empty seat into existence. But in doing so she is not alone. Any number of people from across New York, across the world, have also hit upon the idea of going out on the town, celebrating in the fanciest restaurant they can think of. And this restaurant in particular, which might seat a few hundred patrons in a normal night, is suddenly set upon by multitudes––everyone from hedge fund managers to a tribal bushman from the obscure depths of Tanzania––tens of thousands of would be celebrants, all of them unaware of each other’s existence, and all of them metaphysically jockeying to get their asses into seats that have already been filled, occasionally even by people who booked reservations months in advance. Senses little burst of sudden frustration from people who mere moments before were laboring under the heady assumption that they could now do anything but did not reckon that everyone else might have the same idea… And Charlie Cox is beset by the same vague, uncomfortable feeling that overcame him atop the Empire State Building, far, far less severe, but still undeniably there––the sense of the universe straining, ripping under mindless assault from too many people who wish to assault it with causal impossibilities. A sigh here from Charlie Cox––lost to some obscure upper bound of reality, and certainly unheard by Gwyn––and he goes to work, as he now realizes that he must. Presses and cajoles and tugs a little, and suddenly the restaurant is exponentially larger than it once was. Tables open, diners arrive, any number of cocksure people grin at dates and assure them that yes they really just did that. Charlie finds himself teleported directly into a candlelit table by Gwyn who beams and comments upon the ease of what’s just happened. Charlie Cox smiles, momentarily toys with the notion of relating to who just exactly what happened, what he had to do in order to ensure that they could be seated, but he comes to his senses before blurting out anything. Inserts a necessary complement, and then realizes that the pit in his stomach is still there, what he will eventually come to describe as the Empire feeling. And after a moments reflection he comes to realize that there is more than one 3 star Michelin rated restaurant in the world, more than one pool of would be diners butting metaphysical heads for scarce seats at restaurants, clubs, places of limited access and high appeal the world over. And no one of these hotspots is large enough or coveted enough to be troublesome in and of itself, but taken collectively…
But, Charlie thinks, the world won’t end in the next half hour if I don’t attend to the problem. Turns to Gwyn and smiles and tries to ignore the Empire feeling. And relax. They chit chat a little, they laugh, they don’t entirely realize the magnitude of what they’ve gotten themselves into until the waiter, after a very unusually long interval, finally shows up. In the grand scheme of things this tardiness is hardly surprising. The waitstaff has, after all, been decimated by the most understandable of factors––principally that, staff members, given the choice between yet another night waiting tables and a giddy evening playing with suddenly discovered supernatural powers, have, not quite to a body, chosen not to show up. While those who have come are the most diligent of the bunch (and also the least imaginative) they don’t have a prayer of handling the crowd, especially after the size of the venue unexpectedly octuples. There is, worryingly, only a single chef. But, in a brave new world, this need not be an unsurmountable obstacle, and the staff have risen to the occasion. Largely by cloning themselves. Or at least the first couple of ‘emergency hires’ are clones, at the sous chef’s insistence, of the waiter most widely reviled as an office kiss ass, but it is quickly realized that a single clone is inadequate, and that having multiple versions of this waiter wandering around is asking for trouble and confusion and angered patrons. And so… Odd things happen. Waiters the likes of which have never been seen before, who strike the fancy of some member of the staff are conjured, trundle out to uniformly startled patrons. A dead ringer for Luke Skywalker stands in for a very nice thirty-seven year old single mother of two who is currently leading both of her kids on an impromptu after hours expedition through the Musee d’Orsay. Across the restaurant a group of patrons, offhandedly betraying arch-conservative political sentiments to the restaurant hostess, are more than a little shocked when they are set upon by a team of singing waiters, each member of which bears a striking resemblance to one of the last four Democratic Presidents of the United States. (They will be even more discomfited when it turns out that Al Gore is their sommelier). However this is not to be a permanent state of affairs. Luke Skywalker vanishes, presumably alighting to a galaxy far far away, or at least a place where he isn’t obliged to suffer the sudden pretensions of the nouveau puissant. Al Gore is summarily fired when he starts lecturing a patron about the dangers of global warming. The Presidents of the United States, who actually never were and never will be Presidents of anything, are found huddled in a supply room closely scrutinizing a copy of the United States Constitution and arguing heatedly amongst themselves. They will be replaced, in an ever ascending order of improbability, by more actors, athletes, infamous celebutants, the 1983 New York Knicks, several of the more overtly erotic characters in children’s literature, and, perhaps inevitably, the incredible hulk. A few short days before this might have been considered unbearably strange, especially in the rarefied confines of a fine restaurant, but in this place and time the patrons lap up the strangeness and very rapidly begin deviating from the menu to order the most fanciful and ill conceived choices they can dream up (“Caviar and macaroni and cheese madam?” The Hulk is heard oversaying, “An excellent choice…”) This is quite all right with the cooking staff who, after an especially implausible half hour, stumble suddenly upon the idea of turning the kitchen over to an adorable horde of talking rats and then make straight for the wine cellar in order to get rip roaring drunk. When the identity of the ‘chef’ leaks out to the dining room a handful of patrons will quit the place in disgust, but the great bulk of the diners present will simply respond by ordering ratatouille by the truckload.
Charlie Cox is among them. He accords himself and X a very fine table in the center of the dining room: (X) teleporting them both directly into their seats, napkins softly pressed directly over their laps as they materialize. A waiter is immediately by their table-side, a colossus of a creature who looks like he has just escaped from the set of a science fiction television show Charlie can’t put his finger up, but who speaks with perfect grace and diction, enough to make a professional voice coach weep for joy. (X) is a little confused by this, but clearly tickled as well. Without the slightest hesitation she orders a bottle of wine that costs rather more than the per capita gross domestic product of the United States. Under former circumstances this request, coming from a seventeen year old, might have been deeply problematic, but here the towering beast-man only complements the lady on her excellent taste and departs after covering their menu options. Charlie only half pays attention to this: rather his attention is drawn to the relatively greater assortment of oddities that criss cross the interior of the restaurant. Not so much the waiters––Charlie Cox somehow finds it natural, in perfect keeping with the nature of things, that pop chanteuses, linebackers, fairytale monsters and Al Gore are serving dinner at a restaurant past the end of the universe (Mr Gore, not to be confused with the actual Mr Gore, having decided in a moment of pique to reclaim his job). Instead Charlie finds the patrons themselves far more interesting. Two tables over a somewhat fatigued seventy two year old woman is having dinner with what would appear to be an exceedingly energetic twenty two year old man, who will spend the better part of the entire evening quite literally talking the age of his date down until it more or less matches his own. This process is accompanied by an ever greater chorus of giggling. Farther afield a party of four are more or less mixing and matching body-parts, swapping limbs, acceding or receding hairlines, artificially inflating one of their number to roughly the size of a human zeppelin, momentarily transmogrifying one particularly comely woman at the table into a sasquatch. The relatively boring ubiquity of men’s formal dress clothing––suit, jacket, tie––gives way to all manner of stranger things: astronaut uniforms, togas––both collegial and roman––the vetments of an 18th century french monarch, simple nudity, an amazing technicolor dreamcoat, pelts. One man, for exactly one minute, shods himself in serpents to discomfit his significant other. Women’s attire undergoes changes that beggar the imagination, and also tend to accentuate already expanded bosoms. Things, moreover, tend to get stranger as time progresses, as more alcohol is consumed––it being a general truism that magical powers will not be used to prevent or curtail drunkenness, though they will be universally used to end hangovers, leading to even more drunkenness. Charlie Cox, for his part, nurses a glass of some red wine or other––he vaguely suspects that it’s fabulously expensive, though he doesn’t know nearly enough about red wines to tell––allows a certain intoxication to flow over him. Enjoys the simple fact that X is so clearly enjoying herself. When the main course is bought out––large stakes, medium rare––she levitates it, spinning and just a little wobbly, then with nothing more than the power of her mind she cubes the lump of charred meat––perfectly bite sized, unnaturally Euclidian boxes of meat come raining down onto her plate, and she can’t help but giggle. “You know I have to say that I really love having magical powers.”
“It is sort of awesome,” Charlie finds himself giggling as well. He pulls his glass up to his lips, tilts it, and is surprised after a moment when wine does not pour into his mouth but instead sloshes away from it, moving down the glass, and then, in an overt violation of the laws of physics, back up the other side of the glass. Charlie by way of experiment upends the glass completely and watches as the wine sticks obediently to the onetime bottom of the glass. More giggling. And then to X’s great surprise the laws of physics suddenly reassert themselves and the wine comes tumbling out of the glass, a rain of it, a burgundy bombshell that ought to explode on the pure white linen table cloth. But this doesn’t happen. The globule stays itself just above the table then rises back into the air, somehow slips obediently back into the wineglass, which uprights itself in mid air and comes to rest back in Charlie’s hand. He sips from the glass, normally, to mask an impish grin as much as anything else, and tries to ignore a sudden, throbbing pain in the back of his head.