BREAKFAST • by James Hartley

Johnny entered the dining hall for breakfast with his usual shudder. He sat down and the waitress handed him the native-food menu. He glanced at it, knowing perfectly well what was on it, and his stomach churned. Fried planchworms. Targleweed omelet. Yuck!

A couple came in and sat at a nearby table. Johnny could see they were wearing tourist badges, and of course the waitress handed them Earth-food menus. The waitress hovered near them while they decided — she knew tourists tipped far better than a contract worker like Johnny — and took down their order. The man asked for pancakes and sausage, while the woman went for Eggs Benedict. Johnny felt a real pang of envy; their breakfast would cost over two weeks’ worth of his salary.

Having taken care of the rich tourists, the waitress swung by Johnny’s table. “I’ll have the native-wheatoid toast with algae jam. And a cup of burgleberry tea.” He watched the waitress write it down, then said, “Isn’t there any way you could sneak me some of that Earth food?”

She looked at his contract labor badge and laughed. “Good luck, pal. That would be as much as my job is worth. Hell, we can’t even pinch Earth food for ourselves!”

As the waitress headed for the kitchen, he sat back and wished, for the millionth time, that there was somewhere else to eat. There wasn’t, of course. The colony’s official dining hall had a strict monopoly on the small amount of imported food, and on the processed native food. Everything on the planet — plants, animals — was deadly poison, until it was processed by the colony’s food plant. The processing made it edible, but didn’t do a damn thing for the taste, which was uniformly awful.

When the waitress brought his food, Johnny struggled to choke it down. Getting a contract job here on the colony had sounded like a great idea, high salary and benefits. But the recruiters had never mentioned the food situation. Johnny had always been a picky eater, ever since he was a kid, and he wouldn’t have taken the job if he had known about the food.

Suddenly, as he took one more bite of his toast, he snapped. He went over to the table where the tourists were sitting and grabbed their food. He stuffed a syrupy pancake into his mouth with one bare hand and followed it with a greasy sausage in the other hand. He didn’t even hear the alarm go off, or notice the two proctors until they grabbed hold of him and pulled him away from the table.

The manager of the dining hall rushed over. “Apologies for this,” he said to the tourists. “We will, of course, replace your breakfasts at no charge. And we will deal appropriately with this man.”

Johnny realized as he was dragged out by the proctors how much trouble he was in. His employment would be terminated, and he would be shipped back to Earth at his own expense… the interstellar fare would probably bankrupt him.

Was one pancake and one sausage worth it? He thought briefly of the wheatoid toast and algae jam. “Yes, damn it,” he told himself, “yes!”

James Hartley is a former computer programmer. Originally from northern New Jersey, he now lives in sunny central Florida. He has published a fantasy novel, Teen Angel, and stories in Illusion’s Transmitter, Written Word Online, Clonepod, Every Day Fiction, Lorelei Signal, KidVisions, Raygun Revival, and the Desolate Places, Strange Mysteries, Book of Exodi and A Time To… v3 anthologies. He is currently working on a second novel, The Ghost of Grover’s Ridge. He is a member of IWOFA and the Dark Fiction Guild.

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Every Day Fiction

  • Weird.

  • Bob

    No, science fiction.

  • I also see a metaphor … the distribution of food on planet earth. A good story on both levels – I’m craving sausage now.

    I would have liked to see a bit more around this line: “Johnny realized as he was dragged out by the proctors how much trouble he was in.” It jarred slightly in summing up too fast.

  • Bob

    I’m having a hard time with the idea that they have technology to make poisonous substances nutritious, but they can’t make it taste good. I know it’s the premise around which the story is built, but it’s too thin a thread for me.

    Also, Johnny orders “the native-wheatoid toast with algae jam.” If native approximations are his only option for food, wouldn’t he just be ordering “toast with jam” by now?

  • Robins Fury

    I was hoping for a twisted, mind-blowing ending since the plot wasn’t a total grabber. Sorry.

  • Elin B.

    “I’m having a hard time with the idea that they have technology to make poisonous substances nutritious, but they can’t make it taste good.” This doesn’t strike me as odd, since much of the packaged “food” sold in the US is actually comprised of pretty nasty byproducts, not to speak of pet food. Anyway, I enjoyed this story, sympathized quite a bit with Johnny. I agree, it’d be worth it.

  • Paul A. Freeman

    As a contract worker, I can sympathise with the MC

  • Sharon

    I expected more from this wheatoid tale.

  • Thanks for the comments. I was getting worried about whether it was posted, since it didn’t show up in my e-mail today.

  • Annie

    Fine fare, pun intended.

  • Jen

    A cute little story.

  • Christopher Floyd

    Not bad, but you lost me at suddenly. Flash must be flash, but it happened too abruptly, in my opinion. I do think it deserved a higher rating than it got.

  • I also think it deserved a higher rating …

  • Debra

    Odd, but very good. Nice to see another central Floridian writer.

  • Restaurant Rage 🙂 It’s like in those roadside places where you get ignored and they serve someone who came in after you or bring you the wrong meal. Definitely worth it! I loved the names of the foods 😉

  • Gaurav G

    Nice little story… I liked the way you managed to get the tension built up in a few words to make for a very believable “snap”!