“Erde-DAMNIT!” yelled the noodle shop proprietor yet again.
“What is it this time Blake?” called one of the regular customers from the front bar. “Is it the Trice again?”
“They’re all outta sorts, Mac,” said Blake scratching his pudge and his head at the same time as he looked at the sight. “They keep petrif’n one another. I dunno what’s gotten into them.”
“Maybe it’s rats,” said Mac’s friend Jim. “Though, they say if you have Trice you can’t have rats. Maybe they’re getting spooked because… they THINK there’s rats?”
Blake turned back toward the front, looking at Mac and Jim’s faces, and the foot traffic that proceeded along the damp street behind them. His face warped into one of disbelief, and he held up his arms in exasperation before shaking his head and heading back to the pots.
He quickly spooned out two bowls, noodles and broth sloshing into wide brimmed bowls. He realized he’d gotten a few drops on his irredeemable shirt as he slapped the bowls down in front of his two customers. He threw two sets of chopsticks into the bowls as if they were miniature javelins and then leaned against the bar with both hands.
“Now Jim,” Blake said. “Try and tell me that don’t sound like some of the dumbest shit you’ve ever heard. Cockatrice THINKIN there are rats when there aint. Hell.”
“You don’t know!” cried Jim. “You think people enjoy this slop you make… but they don’t!”
Mac’s eyes widened and he picked up his bowl and turned away from his friend, holding his bowl in his hands close to his face as if he wanted to slurp his ramen in private.
“Now Jim,” said Blake. “You know that aint true. YOU love this slop. Best in the district, maybe the whole city. I’ll freely admit what I don’t know. But I know I know these noodles, and you two have been comin here long enough that I’m pretty sure I can say I know you two too.”
Jim shrugged his shoulders and chopsticked noodles into his mouth, relenting. “Okay okay. You’re right Blake. I dunno. It’s just, this city… things are so messed up, I feel like I can’t be sure what I know and what I don’t anymore.”
Blake gave the young man a hearty bearded grin. “Eat up Jim.”
He was loath to do it, but he turned away from the cool, rain-touched air he felt near the front of the shop and back into the heavy steam of the kitchen. He looked near the back where he kept his Cockatrice, and saw one of them in a panic, looking down and lifting its feet as if something were scurrying around down there.