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Chocolate by Margaret Karmazin

Three hundred and two trade route planets in the known universe, and I’m stuck on the one that doesn’t have chocolate. Well, it lacks a lot more than that, but chocolate is my concern.

We landed the first of Earth April, a bad month for landing anywhere due to tax rate changeover, and I should have known that bad luck arrives in threes. The second strike was that my partner who was supposed to meet me was glaringly absent.

“He’s been delayed a small bit,” the six armed atrocity checking me in told me. “A mere formality,” he added.

The mere formality turned out to be two Earth weeks in the Fregorian jail with their variety of rats disturbing his sleep by chewing on his digits. “It was mythological in its hellish attributes,” Gerry later told me, missing as he now was, a finger and a toe.

Fortunately, Gerry possesses good brain chemicals. If that had been me in there with the “rats”, the entire galaxy would never have heard the end of it.

Gerry and I were there to facilitate a commercial deal. We work for CamChoc, Inc, the largest conglomerate in United Africa, which includes sidelines of coffee, bananas, processed foods and ethnic arts. Our chocolate, famous for its creamy consistency and strong cocoa content was now shipped to every known trade planet in the galaxy except for this one. The hunger for the product was now expressed not just by humanoid inhabited worlds but reptilian and insectoid. (The latter ordered the liquid varieties.) It was not unusual to see the most backwoods individual on Vardoon, Rosirion, Kreetme or Haan carrying a bar or two of CamChoc in his or her back pocket. The one holdout was Fregor.

On seventeen occasions, agents had gone there to no avail. The Fregorians, it seemed, had no taste for the creamy stuff. While everyone else in the our end of the galaxy salivated for it, these people viewed it as one would a piece of wood. In fact, they would probably enjoy a wood salad more than a square of the candy. So Gerry and I knew we were wasting our time, but orders were orders. Our employers seemed to us, at the moment, a bunch of stone heads to insist on sending us here once again.

The next few days, I holed up in the Fregorian idea of a fancy hotel, which consisted of walls that looked like the inside of a beehive, each hole being a tubal chamber for sleeping and “entertainment.” A moving cherry picker type cart raised and lowered customers from their rooms. God forbid you should get drunk and step out in the middle of the night. Fortunately, you don’t need to do this to relieve yourself as funnels and holes in the tube’s walls take care of that problem. They suck a bit hard for an Earther’s use, but I wasn’t in a position to be finicky. Being that I am a long and lanky Bassa, fitting into that fetid hole built to house squat little Fregorians made me about as comfortable as an elephant in a sensory tank.

Once Gerry had been treated (and how well by Fregorian doctors, he wasn’t sure) for his missing digits, we delved into the piles of red tape one had to navigate before being allowed to see the proper business representatives. In the meantime, we were encouraged to sightsee with the guide they provided. Our guide’s name was Splind. He was, he told us, fifteen Fregorian years (about twenty-three earth years) old. I will describe him for you.

He stood 1.3 meters tall and was about .8 meters wide. Like most Fregorians, his head was small in comparison to his body and was the usual short cone shape ending in a black topknot of shiny hair. His six arms were of different lengths, the top two pairs longer than the bottom one. The top pairs ended in six fingered hands, the bottom pairs three fingered and thumbless. As on his compatriots, all of these tended to flail about and wiggle a lot, giving the appearance of worms performing an endless dance. His feet were wide and spread toed and his overall color a mottled brown purple with the occasional yellow spot. My wife Talisa would undoubtedly find him “adorable.” She has a soft spot for short aliens.

As the Fregorian sun rose in the sky, accompanied by two of the planet’s colorful moons, Splind greeted us outside the hole-in-the-wall hotel.

“Good morning, my friends!” he shouted. “Today we’re off to see the Dring people at work in the wet fields. A pleasant lunch will be served midday. You will enjoy this. Everyone does.”

Gerry, not quite recovered from his ordeal, muttered, “I could do with a long vacation to Nemore, light-years away from here!” and Splind pretended not to hear.

“How will we get there?” I asked.

“This is where the adventure begins,” Splind chuckled, which sounded like baby birds chirping. “We’re traveling by winador.”

“What is a winador?” I asked.

“That,” he said, pointing behind us at the scariest looking animal I had ever seen.

I grew up in Africa and was used to roving gangs of pissed off elephants, hungry crocodiles, and stinking hyenas, all not too pretty when viewed up close, and Gerry and I had personally traveled to twenty-nine planets where we’d met such creatures as the oozing limpeers of Haidor, the honking Cruzes of Janis IV and the hairy Myets of Klidor. But I can say honestly that this winador was the damned ugliest moving, breathing being I’d ever laid eyes on.

“Holy crap,” I said. “We’re getting on top of that?”

Chirp, chirp. “Not on top, friend, we’re being pulled by her. She is a female.”

“I see,” I said. Gerry was gawking, mouth hanging open.

The thing before us stood, at a conservative estimate three meters tall and was covered in a metallic gray/black skin studded with scaly warts. It’s head, tiny in proportion to its immense body ended in a rubbery lipped mouth that drooled greenish saliva. I could smell the stench of its breath from where I stood.

“She looks mean,” said Gerry.

“Not much,” said Splind. “Sometimes.”

“Well, what does she do when she’s sometimes being mean?” I asked.

“Oh….” The little Fregorian hesitated. “She-she can kick up some. Maybe bite once in a while. Sometimes she evacuates on me.”

“What?” I blurted. “Are we going to be sitting in a position to be evacuated on?”

He pointed to the chariot attached to the animal. “We’ll be sitting in there,” he said. “I can raise the roof on it.”

“Please do,” I said, dripping sarcasm, but Fregorians seemed immune to that.

“Where we are going, there are other winadors,” Splind said happily. “You will see.”

“How utterly splendid,” Gerry said.

We all got into the flimsy looking chariot and took off with a yell from our guide and a snap of his long, snaky whip.

Our trip, though hot and sweaty, was uneventful. We rode out of the town and on raised grassy paths through endless wet fields resembling rice paddies, finally coming to a stop outside a low, rambling building. Two Fregorians stepped out into the blazing sun, protected by disc shaped, leather hats.

“How is it going?” asked Splind who seemed overjoyed to see them. “Getting much done? The sun is intense today, is it not?”

“Indeed, it is,” said the taller Fregorian.

“You guys,” said Splind to us, “these are Dormane and Vlu.” He indicated us and said, “These are Aristide and Gerry.”

We swiped hands in the Fregorian manner.

Vlu immediately burst into a rant, wiggling his numerous arms and fingers. “Major annoyances this day, Splind. The #@$%&@ (Fregorian cursing was not included in our translators, but it wasn’t hard to get Vlu’s meaning) winadors are behaving even more badly than usual. Everything is slowed down though we need to have fifteen more levras of sprout harvested by evening. At this rate, we will be here until midnight and that, as you know, is not a good idea.”

“Yes, indeed not a good idea,” repeated Splind.

“Why not?” Gerry wanted to know. “Something dangerous out there?” But everyone ignored him.

“What do you think is riling up the winadors?” asked our guide.

“Maybe early mating? They should not be at it for several more days. We always finish the harvesting before that starts.”

The three Fregorians stood and thought silently for some time, something Fregorians were in a habit of doing, while Gerry and I sweated in the ruthless sun, mumbling under our breaths. After what seemed an eternity, Dormane said, “Could be that new fertilizer. Maybe it affects their hormones or something?”

“I did hear something about that from up north,” said Vlu. “Yes, I did.”

As soon as the words were out of his fishy looking mouth, a terrible noise erupted somewhere to our right and we turned to see a huge, insane looking winador galloping our way, apparently planning to mow us down. Following it were two smaller ones, both also looking demented.

“My God!” I screamed. Gerry darted, stumbling and falling, into the building, his arms waving frantically.

“Mating has begun!” yelled Dormane.

I looked to the Fregorians for help, but they all turned and wobbled after Gerry, leaving me to follow. The building did not look strong enough to withstand an angry hyena, let alone three monstrous, maniacal winadors.

I soared through the air before I knew what hit me, landing with a tremendous splash in the field, the two feet of water and soft mud covering it helping to break my fall. But now the second of the two smaller monsters was using it’s ugly snout to roll me about in the muck as if I were a child’s doll. For certain I was a goner. Here I’d be, dead and buried or cremated, whatever they did here, on this annoying planet umpteen light years from my dear home, from Cameroon and Talisa, oh please help me, God!

It occurred to me, weirdly, that this must be the third strike of bad luck.

My brain showed signs of fogging out as my heart hammered. While the other two beasts had apparently thudded off into the distance, this detestable brute snorted hotly as it pushed at me, any second about to crush or bite me, and soon was concentrating on my side pocket, going at it relentlessly. Suddenly, it stopped. Just like that, total silence except for the sound of crackling, then munching, then…nothing.

I dared to turn my head. The animal, in all its ugliness, was looking serene, dare I say happy? It’s huge eyes glazed over, the lids slowly descending; the mouth went slack with it’s long black tongue lolling. Slowly, the creature sunk to its knees in the watery muck, all the while making a low pitched, contented purr.

I didn’t know whether to move or stay put. There was a racket to my left as the Fregorians and Gerry emerged from their hiding place and soon Splind and Dormane were helping me up and wiping me off, while Vlu led the now placid winador off to I knew not where. The Fregorians sounded awfully happy about something.

“This is amazing!” they screeched. “Did you see how it calmed him right down? Like some sort of drug, just amazing!”

I was examining my body for signs of fatal injury, not yet finding any other then a bloody slash in my leg. “What are you talking about?” I asked.

“That substance you had in your pocket, inside that wrapping of shiny metal! What was it, what was it?”

I caught Gerry’s eye and smiled.

“That substance, my friend, is chocolate. Best stuff in the universe and I can get it for you wholesale.”

Of course the Fregorians, loving their red tape as they do, took their sweet time making the arrangements, during which Gerry and I were shown just about all over the damn planet, but eventually we rocketed out of there with a juicy contract in hand.

At the moment, Talisa and Gerry and I are lounging on Nemore by one of its glossy turquoise ponds and sipping our drinks of blooge fruit and rum. We both received promotions and generous bonuses and Talisa is sporting a shiny new ruby ring. CamChoc is king!

———————

Margaret Karmazin’s credits include over one hundred stories published in literary and national magazines, including Rosebud, Chrysalis Reader, North Atlantic Review, Confrontation, Mobius, Absent Willow Review, Pennsylvania Review and Wild Violet. Her stories in The MacGuffin, Eureka Literary Magazine, Licking River Review and Words of Wisdom were nominated for Pushcart awards and Piper’s Ash, Ltd. published a chapbook of her sci-fi, COSMIC WOMEN. Her story, “The Manly Thing,” was nominated for the 2010 Million Writers Award. She has stories included in STILL GOING STRONG, TEN TWISTED TALES, MOTA 9, ZERO GRAVITY and CIRCLING URANUS and a novel, REPLACING FIONA, published by etreasurespublishing.com.

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