On that day I had ripened the Sky Fire Oranges to perfection. I hadn’t dared peel nor taste one myself so I was brimming with anticipation. I had absolute confidence in my experiment, and when I delivered my speech to the Imam and his small group of venerable guests they each listened to the Vizier’s translation of my words with a stunned silence. I told them that I would serve lemon water as a palette cleanser and then I would serve a single item which they had all tasted before. They all looked at me like I was insane, knowing full well that the Imam had made a considerable investment in my new offering. They had expected untold magnificence, so their disappointment was palpable. Unshaken, the Vizier’s tone wooed them enough to trust in my temporary madness and so I closed my speech by thanking them, and insisting that when they finished their meal they must thank the Imam for the pleasure, not I. The plates came to the Imam’s table with a cloth covering each of them. I set them down in front of the diners one by one and watched as their faces dropped and the eyebrows furled with contempt. It was obvious that they were hungry but I was unfazed. I knew that they were about to take a journey to a place that no living human being had even been. They were going to heaven.
As the cloths were lifted a sweet wafting scent stabbed the diners minds and their eyes narrowed into slits of engrossed anxiety. I feared that I had made a terrible mistake as they all sat motionless and silent. I could hear my heart pumping in my chest, begging me to speak, but I too was transfixed, I couldn’t move. I watched the Imam. He was the head man and the wisest person there and it was he would first grabbed at the orange before him and bit into it without even peeling it. At once they all bit a mouthful out of their oranges and then collapsed back in their chairs some rubbing their faces and groaning, eyes leering in front of them, some reaching their arms out and clutching at air. After one bite they didn’t even chew. Drool just streamed from their gaping mouths and slithered down their chests. Their hands went limp at their sides as the Sky Fire seeped into their blood. It was a shocking sight. Though they appeared to be enjoying a numbing pleasure their outward appearance was of people who were far away from themselves. They had entered some insanity that had taken full control over them. It was mesmerising, but terrifying too. What if they didn’t come back before the serum finished them? What if it was a terrifying experience for them and I was only moments away from being killed for poisoning the Imam? All I could do was wait. And wait.
Watching them garble like drunkards in their seats I forced down the rising panic that begged to choke me where I stood. After almost an hour they continued chewing again. I sighed with relief but at the rate at which they were moving they would never get through their meals before the serum killed them all. There was nothing for it, I had to take back their left overs. They knew and had accepted the time limit. And once they had slumped back into their adventure I cleared the table. One or two half opened eyes leered at me with contented joy, but I rushed their food away and didn’t waste any time in providing the second serum. It was far too close, but once the guests had come around again I put tea into their hands and raised it to their lips. The look in their eyes was glassy. The overloading of emotion had drained all of their energy, leaving them as little more than bodies slung into. The attendants all stared at me as their master and his guests remained in a glowing silence, humming out the last of their groaned pleasure.
Again, it was the Imam who was first to regain himself. He flopped his head to the side, facing me, and smiled a wide childish smile. He didn’t speak, per se, but he grumbled as his words returned to him. The Vizier translated for me and what came from the Imam’s mouth folded my mind into itself.
“I should have you killed, Chef. Such beauty should not exist for it is greater than God himself.”
Awed that a leader and such a pious man would slur his own beloved God over an orange, I bowed and removed myself from his sight to spy him from the kitchen. Stood leering with fear and the grotesque need to eat an orange myself, I pressed my nose against a crack in the door to the dining room and watched as the Imam flailing in his chair. I could see his guests return to themselves too, and as they did a conversation began. Of course I couldn’t understand it, but they became loud and appeared to be praising the Imam, who beamed with joy. He waved his arm towards the kitchen door, behind which I froze stiff with anticipation. The Vizier opened the door and I stepped forward, half expecting to be praised and half expecting to be executed for drugging the Imam and his guests. Instead, the Imam stood and hugged me. The shock of if must have been written all over me, I can remember my face scrunching up with the awkward appreciation of his gesture. He was sluggish, but he nattered on and on about how his experience had changed his vision of life and how he had seen beyond time. I was embarrassed listening to him, but my ego relished the praise. It was everything I had worked towards for so long. I had delivered the unfathomable in one single bite.
The Imam boasted to his guests and refused vast payments and bribes to lease me to them, and then he excused me. At that point I still hadn’t tasted the Sky Fire Oranges and I was gasping with want to know their secrets. I knew from that first meal that I would have to taste a small amount or I would run the risk of staying under the influence and passing the time limit.
The instant that I got back to my shack on the farm I prepared a single segment of orange and arranged my humble bedding that I might be comfortable as I visited the heavens. After imbibing the first serum I set the antidote down on the ground in front of me in a cup and then lay back. As I slipped the segment into my mouth I could feel my body reacting to it, almost resisting it, but not. It pulled me apart from within and then it climbed inside the cracks it had created. I could feel the force of it as it rose up inside my body and pooled in my mind. While I lay there it washed through me, rumbling my thoughts and emotions, unnerving me to a fluid point of intangibility. And then, once it made me into a churning soup of being, it burst open inside my body and my mind, and my soul. Rupturing itself, and me, the Sky Fire and I joined. I wasn’t that I went somewhere, but rather became something from another place altogether. Opening my eyes I could see the night sky through the roof of my shack. I could smell the stars, sweet yet bitter too, lonely almost. The smell of the oranges in their pots around me was smothered by the vast blinking beauty of the night. All of me was removed from where I lay and made a part of all that hung above. I shimmered as the points of light before me shimmered, and I trembled in the awesome brutal truth of how small I was. There was no time, no bodily sensations, no clear thoughts, only me and the endlessness of everything. I was dead and alive and neither. I was all things and all people, and none. I was never. I was always.
Coming back to myself after what felt like weeks, I grabbed the second serum and gulped it, fearing I was close to the time limit. As I sat up to regain my senses I mourned the loss of that state of being. The horrifying absence of the absolute changed me in that moment, making me into someone else, someone wiser and stronger, yet more humble. Someone free, but forever trapped by the weight of knowing.
To be continued…
© Stephen Fahey