The Pot of Stew

TROY MORASH

Once upon a time, though not too long ago, and in a land not too far away, there was a village of civilized men and the most respected of them was the cook.

Once a week this wise old cook cooked up a pot of stew, each time adding something different. One day he would make it with fish, on another with beans or jellyfish, all the while adding all the usual vegetables; the ones that one never tires of. But what made the stew especially tasty was the secret spice. The wise old cook said he had traveled far and wide to find it and had spent many years studying to perfect it. Not one of the civilized men had ever tasted this spice before. Not one knew what it was made of or where it could possibly have come from.

The village of men always had their meals together and after dinner they spent hours gossiping about the stew and making up tales as to the spice's origins. A few fervently believed that the spice had always existed while others argued that it was the cook's own invention but most believed that it simply grew out of his head. In fact, many books were later written on the subject. But needless to say, one thing was for certain — the spice was magical, quite yielding and tingly, yet ever so subtle and very, very tasty! This is why the cook loved to cook this stew — he knew it was the meal that pleased everyone the most. They always begged for fourths!

As time passed, and after many hearty meals had been devoured, the civilized men had an idea. They petitioned the cook demanding he serve them this wonderful stew for dinner every night of the week. The cook was flattered to be sure but warned them that they might get sick of the stew and never want to eat it again. The men however just laughed. The cook saw that it was pointless to waste his time arguing with the men and so he did as they wished. But he didn't mind as the stew was easy to make and it gave him time to do other things, which pleased him more.

As time passed, and with it many, many hearty meals, the men believed they had an even better idea than the idea before. Such a good thought it was, that they were mystified as to why they hadn't thought it up before. And if only they had! This time they did not even bother to petition the cook, they instead nailed an order to his door: Serve us our delicious stew for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day of the week!

The cook once again tried to warn the men that they would get sick of the stew and the spice or even worse — forget about all the other wonderful dishes that he enjoyed cooking for them. But the men refused to listen to such nonsense. The stew was so good that civilized men had to have it all the time. The cook sighed and agreed to do as they wished.

As usual, time passed and after many, many, many hearty meals had been devoured, the men were convinced the stew was so good that they wrote poems and songs in honor of the spicy stew. Legends of the stew and of the spice began to appear as well as heroes prepared to defend the stew to the end of their lives.

Then one sunny morning, some of the men stumbled upon what they considered to be the greatest of all thoughts, the decisive thought, the eternal thought, the ultimate notion, the indestructible concept. (Later these men were christened “the philosophers” because of discovering what later became known as simply “The Great Thought.”)

Late one night the quietest of the civilized men crept into the cook's kitchen and stole the recipe for the stew with the secret spice and as much of the spice as he could carry. Then in accordance with the Great Thought, they built a pot. A pot so big that I dare say it was as big as our earth, since their world was much bigger than ours is now. Once the cast iron pot was finished they placed it on a huge fire that was truly frightening to look upon. In fact anyone who refused to work on the stew was thrown into the fire. It was the only way to keep it going.

The task of filling this gigantic pot took many years. They emptied rivers to fill it with water. They greedily bought all the tomatoes and potatoes in the world. They hunted down every last carrot and pea they could find. Everything that was edible was thrown into this pot. They chopped up tons of beef and massacred whole breeds of chickens into extinction. This is why there are no longer any chickens which can cross their legs and shake their fingers and bat their eyelashes.

The village spent months emptying the entire ocean of its fish. Even the women and the children and the children's pets worked. They all worked, day and night, seven days a week to fill the pot with all the ingredients necessary for a tasty meal, for they were anxious to finish as soon as possible. The Philosophers were given the special task of preparing the secret spice because the people trusted only them to be smart enough to do it perfectly.

Weeks turned into months and months into years, but finally the day came — the stew was ready. A ceremony was held and there was music and speeches. They danced around the big black pot, beating drums and hollering out rituals, jumping into the air and kissing the ground, since this was after all a grand occasion. Then beginning with The Philosophers, they all jumped into the huge pot of stew. Everyone was so happy. It was bliss! It was wonderful to bathe in the hot stew eating whenever they wanted without having to move.

Some had rafts, others had planned ahead a little and had built riverboats to live in, but most just floated on giant pumpkins or big pieces of meat because that was the easiest thing to do. And so they ate and ate, day and night, week after week, months turned into years and so on and so forth. And as there were no dishes to do everyone enjoyed themselves immensely.

In this way the village of civilized men lived happily for many years inside the huge pot of stew. Of course there were some who did not spend all their time in the pot. These renegades sometimes complained that this stew wasn't as tasty as the cook's stew and anyway they felt there must be more to life than just eating. But there weren't many who thought like that. It was considered blasphemous.

However after some time, the few who did like to climb out soon began to notice that the stew was becoming less and less and that the top of the pot was getting farther and farther away. However ninety-nine percent of all the civilized men did not notice this, in fact they had actually forgotten they were even in a pot. The pot was the sky they said. But for the few who did like to climb out, it was becoming harder and harder to do so. They tried to warn others of the danger but no one listened. They wrote songs and stories about the bottom of the pot, of how hot it would be and of rumored soup sharks that ate people but not one civilized man believed them. Everyone said that this “bottom of the pot theory” was just a silly fairy tale or nasty propaganda to scare people into losing their appetite so others could have all the more stew for themselves.

This arguing went on for quite some time before the few who did see the rim of the pot getting farther and farther away and the shadows getting bigger and bigger decided it best to climb out once and for all. There was no time to waste. An emergency escape plan was drawn up. And because they had waited so long they were forced to build a human ladder each helping the one below him. But again, these people were few. The vast majority simply floated about with bulging bellies, laughing at the sight of those few dangling from each other on the inside of the pot wall. They simply said, “Good, all the more for me!” The civilized men had become so greedy that it was just too hard for them to leave and see someone else eating all the stew they had worked so hard to make.

However after a few more years the worst happened. They came to the bottom of the pot. There was no more stew left and all the stupid men were trapped at the bottom of the big black ugly pot. And it was hot at the bottom, too hot as the fire underneath the pot continued to rage. They screamed for help but no one heard them. They cried for the cook to feed them but he had left to do other things, which pleased him more. It was just too late. And their sizzling even to this day echoes throughout the whole universe.

Troy Morash comes from Canada but has lived and traveled all over the world and is now living in Odessa, Ukraine, where he teaches English and runs an art cafe. His stories have been published in Fables, The Rose and Thorn, C/Oasis, The Summerset Review, Eclectica, Bewildering Stories, Multiverse, The Writer's Hood, Gothic Fairy Tales, Ken*Again, and others.

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