Ah, the clinging of glasses, the hum of background conversation, the steaming of stir fry, those wonderful sounds along with the nose tickling spicy aromas was sure to all help make that night a memorable one for Craig. His friends had decided the perfect place for his going-away party was his favorite Thai restaurant, The Gaiyang Kitchen. He had accepted a transfer to his company's new Shanghai location to help manage and nurture its blossoming development. He was one of the only two employees at the company who could speak Chinese and the only one who'd studied the Wu dialect. It was a big raise in pay, but that want the only incentive for him to get out of town.
"So Craig," said his bearded colleague James as he teased his cup of tea, "what about Larry?"
Well what about Larry? thought Craig. He's a crazy asshole who I'll be glad to be away from.
"Yeah, ever since you ratted on him he's been all kinds of trash-talking," another colleage, Yeesin, before sipping her wine. There was playful concern in her dark eyes.
"I'm not worried about him," Craig said. "He's a nutcase who got into the occult and decided to embezzle money from his sister's children's charity. Crazy and an asshole. I'm glad he's going to prison. And what's with this 'ratted on' business, this isn't The Sopranos for fuck's sake. Are you guys afraid he's gonna whack me?"
Everybody chuckled. A few of them sung a few bars of the song "Don't Stop Believing" but when nobody else joined in they quickly trailed off.
"I can't believe I used to be best friends with that motherfucker," Craig said. "Good riddance."
"I'd like to be best friends with that curry fried rice I ordered!" James said. "When did we order? Twenty minutes ago?"
It actually wasn't long before Larry got his food, same went for everybody else... except Craig.
"Where's mine?" he said as everybody else began digging into their steaming, delicious-smelling dinners. The girl that had delivered them told Craig that since he was the man of the night the chef was personally delivering his food to the table.
"Well, that must be some special Special!" Craig said. In a few moments out came a tall, stocky man with a chef's hat on, sporting a soul patch atop his chin. As he approached he removed the lid off of Craig's steaming sea food special.
"For you, sir, specially prepared," said the man in his deep voice.
"Wow, nice," said Craig. He thanked the man and then dug in. He noticed some odd-looking pods in his dish. They almost looked like peas, but...
"Hey, dude!" Craig said, getting the chef's attention before he got too far away. "What are these?" He pointed to the pods with his fork.
"Special peas imported from southern India," the chef said after turning back around. "Finest quality."
"Oh, OK, I thought they were peas," Craig said. He shrugged and continued eating the sweet-and-spicy tasting dish.
After about a half-hour of lively conversation, the food gone and only drinks being consumed, Craig's stomach gurgled. Suddenly he had to go to the bathroom.
"Aw damn, looks like these specially imported peas want to get back to India!" Craig said, smiling, as he stood up. Everybody chuckled.
"TMI, Craig!" Yeesin yelled, raising her glass of champagne to him.
"You're surprised after that one day he announced his morning wood?!" James said. Everybody laughed heartily.
Craig suddenly stopped laughing. His stomach gurgled again and his colon started burning and the pressure started building. He had to move fast.
Relief visited him after he got to the bathroom just in time and unloaded. He sighed. But the relief was brief.
While Craig washed his hands he suddenly got a violent and overwhelming urge to vomit. It was as if the nausea ran out of room and went past his stomach to his head. He quickly scrambled over to the toilet and puked harder than he had ever puked before. It felt like his head was going to explode. It took several hurls before it passed.
Trembling, icky liquids dripping and sliming from his mouth and nose, he looked down in the toilet. There was his dinner. But, through his bleary, teary eyes he saw something else. Something in it was moving.
"What the fuck?" he gasped. "Was there fucking insects in there? No fucking wonder!" His throat burned with stomach acid.
Craig flushed and then went over to the sink and washed himself off.
He sputtered and cursed a few times and hoped the whole horrible experience was over. But it wasn't.
Soon it felt like his entire digestion tract was burning. Now there would be no going back to the going-away party. Now it was time for the hospital. With trembling legs he stumbled out of the bathroom.
"I need help!" he gasped. "Ate something bad... real bad!"
This stunned most of the patrons, who promptly stopped eating and examined their own meals.
The chef appeared, looking concerned.
"Has my specially-prepared meal caused you discomfort?" he asked, approaching Craig.
"Understatement of the year!" Craig exclaimed. "I need a fucking ambulance!"
"Oh my god!" James said. He pushed himself away from his table. "I'll drive you to the hospital dude!"
"No, I will!" the chef said. "I feel responsible for this. I'll do it."
"Sure you won't SCREW THAT UP, TOO?!" Craig exclaimed. His insides burned. He felt like if he threw up again his entire digestive tract would come spewing out with it.
"It'll be fine, I'm a good driver, I know a short cut!" the chef said. He walked Craig out to the parking lot.
Once in the car and going, Craig started feeling new, horrible sensations. It felt like little needles started sticking into various spots of his innards.
"Oh god!" Craig yelled, doubling over. "Can you drive any faster?!"
"I'm going as fast as I can," the chef said, putting a reassuring hand on Craig's shoulder, "we'll be there soon."
"What the fuck did you do to me!" Craig yelled. "What's in that shit you made?!"
"Do you really want to know?"
And then, the chef's tone of voice was radically changed. The concern was gone. It was cold and knowing.
"Well, yes!" Craig sputtered. He looked up and realized they were passing the hospital.
"What the FUCK?!" Craig said. "You passed the fucking hospital! You IDIOT!"
"They won't be able to help you," the chef said.
"WHAT?!" Craig screamed.
"You see, my name is Burner Potts. I used to be Hell's head chef. Ever since I was fired in 2002 for reasons I'd rather not go into, I've been sort of a, um, demon chef for hire."
"WHAT?! WHAT THE FUCK?!"
Burner chuckled. "See, you don't eat my meals. They eat you."
It's then that Craig noticed another new, exponentially more horrible sensation. It felt as though critters were crawling and sliding around in his belly.
"OH MY FUCKING GOD!!" Craig screamed.
"By the way, your old pal Larry sends his regards," said Burner before he chuckled some more.
"LARRY!" gasped Craig.
"Remember that time when you guys were eleven and you made him eat a dragon fly? He was sort of thinking of that when he thought of how he wanted to take you out."
"TAKE ME... OUT?!" Craig squealed. It was at that point that the graveness of the situation hit him. "OH FUCK!"
"You know, if you'd fully considered the potential price for squealing before you might not be literally squealing now," Burner said between evil, evil chuckles. "Isn't it an exquisite feeling, critters inside you, moving, eating away?" He sighed. "I am an artist, if I do say so myself."
Craig's innards started burning even hotter. He could feel whatever foul creatures were inside him ripping, biting, tearing. A horrific cooling, tingling overtook him as he felt his blood, and his life force, spilling out into his body cavity.
"OH MY FUGGIN GAWD!" Tears spewed from his eyes. Then he began spewing from his mouth. He sent blood, tissue, and nasty-looking creepy-crawlies of all sorts of different shapes and colors onto the passenger side floorboard.
"You know how they say in some cultures that when you belch loudly, it's actually considered a compliment to the chef?" Burner said. "Well, hearing and seeing that, that does it for me. My only disappointment is that I won't be seeing you in Hell when you get there. That's when the real fun begins!"
The last thing Craig heard was Burner laughing, cackling, as he continued driving down the lonely street.
For The Nodegel from Yuggoth: The 2011 Halloween Horrorquest