Chapter 25: Top Chef

Not the final version. Book version may vary.


“Most of the media report no information on potential suitors, you know,” Alden said. “Some suggest the princess isn’t interested, while others say she’s waiting for the right person.”

“Uh-huh,” Ropak muttered.

“Serani probably has her pick out of almost anyone in the kingdom. I read that long ago royalty would marry among other royalty, but that practice subsided in recent centuries.”

“Uh-huh.”

“Still, there’s no precedent for marriage outside of Derantu. She must get love letters all the time, too. They probably screen them, or maybe they just throw them all out from how many there–”

“Alden!” Ropak screamed. “Look, we’re here. Shut up now. Stop making me regret finding out your crush.”

They walked to a brick building along the street, squat and shrouded compared to the surrounding buildings but painted in scattered red, yellow, and blue. A window across the front showed chairs and tables with tablecloths inside.

“So this is the building Top wanted us to meet them at?” Alden asked.

Ropak checked his phone. “Looks like it. I don’t see Top any–”

“Good day, friends!” Top stood atop the building. “I’m so glad you’re here. Today’s the big day! I’ve spent weeks preparing for this moment. It’s time to open. It’s time . . . for my destiny!” The ball jumped to the street and pulled down a curtain that revealed a Comic Sans sign above the front door that read, “Top’s Pizza”.

“Top’s Pizza?” Alden asked. “This is what you’ve been doing the past few weeks?”

“That’s right,” said Top. “I’m opening my own pizza place. It’ll be the hit of the land, or at least the glancing blow of the land. Come inside!”

Top ran into the restaurant, the floor tiled stone and walls wooded paneling—old, but sturdy. Rustic—that was the word for it. Rustic, and definitely not “not up to code”. Pizza permeated the air from the wafting scent of pizza candles—well, pizza-scented candles. Top’s original plan to set up actual pizzas curled into tubes and light them on fire was declared by the fire department to be both a fire hazard and stupid.

The ball entered the kitchen, visible in the main area over a walled counter, and they placed atop their head a toque blanche, or a chef hat as those not obsessed with hats like Top might call it.

“Did you just do this so you could wear that hat?” Ropak asked, leaning on the walled counter.

Top lifted a hand. “Please. I could wear this hat anyway. No, this came to me in a dream.”

“Right,” said Ropak. “And what kind of pizza are you serving?”

“Well, I have the classics,” Top said. “Toppings include pepperoni, sausage, mushrooms, peppers, apples of the pined variety, gapples of the bird variety, whole croaspers, and, of course, smaller pizzas.”

“And you cook this,” Ropak said.

“It’s all me.”

“Since when do you know how to make food instead of eat it?”

“I’ve been practicing,” Top said. “I was inspired by that dream. It was an otherworldly dream, where I met strange people who gave me new and unique ideas for pizzas.”

The ball hopped through the kitchen window, holding a pizza. “Behold! The Super-Sweet Sugar Pizza. With at least a whole cup of sugar on every pie.” Top placed it on a table, each slice sparkling with sugar over the tomato sauce, a smell like tomato-dipped cookies wafting from it.

Ropak peered at the pizza. “That does not look like it goes good together.”

“Wrong!” said Top. “It’s so good that you’ll start to fight over it. Either that or it’s hyperactivity from the sugar.”

“Actually, recent studies show sugar doesn’t cause hyperactivity,” Alden said, “though other studies are inconclusive.”

Ropak shook his head. “Just got some weird déjà vu there.”

“Next is the Dessert Pizza,” Top said, placing another pizza—this one had a crust of cookie dough and cheese-looking frosting. Every movement cast a cloud of powdered sugar that left Alden and Ropak coughing. “With your choice of toppings like marshmallows or sugar cubes.”

“I have to say, these pizzas all sound rather oversweet,” Alden said.

“Not a problem, I’ve got other pizzas.” Top dumped another on the table. A single spiky fruit almost as wide as the pie squashed it. “This one is bitter. I don’t know its backstory, but I assume it was edgy.”

Alden poked the fruit. “This thing feels as hard as a rock. Are you sure it’s edible?”

“I had no problem eating it,” said Top.

“Yeah, but you can also bite through solid steel,” Ropak said. Top placed the Super Pizza on the table, loaded with toppings.

“Well, at least the mushrooms look normal,” Alden said.

“The flowers not so much,” said Ropak.

“Are those leaves?” Alden asked.

“That one looks like a feather.”

“And that looks like a bell.”

“I got a lot of ideas for this one,” Top said. “I just threw them all together.”

“Are you making anything edible?” Ropak asked.

“Of course!” Top said. The kitchen exploded and the ball screamed. “I forgot I was cooking one!” Top ran into the kitchen, which was choked with smoke from the oven. They opened it and fire erupted out, casting the kitchen in a smoldering red glow. The ball screamed and coughed a fire extinguisher at the oven, which clattered against it.

Gaddfern it, I really thought that would explode out suds and douse the fire.

“Out of the way!” Alden ran into the kitchen with another fire extinguisher and doused the fire with suds. Top shut the oven off. The charred kitchen now smelled and looked like a fireworks aftermath.

Alden looked back. “Where’d Ropak go?”

“I’m okay!” Ropak said from the dining area. “Ow!” Top and Alden found Ropak under a table.

“What are you doing down there?” Alden helped the wrallot up.

“Hey, I thought we were under bombardment or something,” Ropak said, rubbing his head. He glared at Top. “What caused that boom?”

Top rummaged through the smoky suds. “I think this pizza is ruined. The oven probably is, too. At least I bought an extra in case this happened.” They tossed the charred, soggy pizza on the counter. “It’s a really finicky pizza to make. It’s the Spicy Explosive Pizza!”

“It’s the what?” Alden asked.

“Spicy Explosive Pizza!” Top grinned. “A pepper-loaded pizza with crasters, a rare pepper that, when lit, have a tendency to explode.”

“And you put that in the oven,” Ropak said.

“How else am I supposed to cook the pizza?” Top asked.

“Is this legal?” Alden asked.

Top looked away, hurt that their friends would think they would do anything illegal that didn’t involve their own eating habits. “Hey, I have a license.”

“An explosives license?” Alden asked.

“No, a food license.” Top jumped onto the counter. “Besides, it’s not supposed to explode until it enters your mouth.” They grinned. “An explosion of flavor! It’s like eating a firecracker.”

“I hope you mean a cracker that’s on fire,” Ropak said.

“Doesn’t sound much better than the explosive kind,” said Alden.

“A tasty firecracker,” Top said. “Anyway, help me swap this oven out for the backup. I’m sure to have customers any minute now.”

* * *

Duth_Olec

That minute wouldn’t come at that hour or even that day, but Top stayed persistent, and a week passed.

Wally_Plotch

I don’t know whether to root for them or hope for their safety.

* * *

Top chewed on the toe of a dragon. “This tastes just like cheese!”

A bell rang, and Top woke in a puddle of drool on the front counter of their pizza place. “Wait a minute, I don’t have saliva.” Top poked the liquid, wondering if they’d spilled something.

“Hey! Anybody in this place?”

Top jumped up. “What? Who said that? I’m sorry for chewing on your toe, Mx Dragon. You were just so cheesy.”

“Eh? You all right there, fella?”

For the first time someone (other than their friends) had entered Top’s Pizza. Staring at Top with wide, intent eyes was a wrinkled scalago, his gray hair thin but sunny-yellow skin bright. A loose jacket hung over his thick frame—rather toned for the scalago’s apparent age—and the end of a tie hung out the jacket’s pocket.

“A customer!” Top screamed, leaping into the air. They bounced off the wood ceiling and landed in front of the elderly scalago feet-first, a cloth draped over their arm in the poshest manner they could muster. “How may I help you, good sir?”

The scalago clapped his hands together. “Hah! An excited fellow, eh? Is this place new? I don’t remember seeing it before.”

“We just opened this week,” Top said. “Business is slow, but I hope for it to pick up.”

“All right, sir, I’ll help you out.” The scalago grinned well-polished teeth. “Got anything with some kick in it?”

“You bet,” Top said. “Just sit on down and I’ll get you a kicking pizza that’ll leave you kicking.”

Once the scalago took a seat Top burst into the kitchen. “Business is booming!”

Alden woke up in the corner. “Booming? Ropak. Wake up.”

“Sorry,” Ropak muttered, lying next to him. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry!” Ropak flailed and screamed before he opened his eyes. “What? Huh?”

Alden pulled Ropak up. “Top has a customer.”

“Well, good for them, although I’m not sure I can say the same for the customer,” Ropak said.

“Right. I think Top’s gonna make that exploding pizza.”

“Oh. That’s not good.” Ropak looked into the dining area. “What, is that the customer? Yeah, Top’s probably gonna kill him with that.”

“We have to keep them from making that pizza,” Alden said. “I’d never get to meet Serani if Top is arrested for killing someone.”

“Plus we don’t want Top to go to jail,” Ropak said. “Right? That’s our actual concern here?”

Alden stared at Ropak then shook his head. “Er, right, yeah. Keep Top out of jail. You grab Top’s bag of those exploding peppers, I’ll–”

“Wait, why do I have to do that?” Ropak asked. “I don’t want to carry explosives.”

“Fine, I’ll do that, you get rid of Top’s matches.” Alden walked to the kitchen cabinets.

“Matches?” Ropak asked. He followed Alden. “How the hex does Top make that pizza?”

* * *

Like most pizzas, Top first spread out dough for the crust. They filled a bowl of tomato sauce with spices and peppers and pounded the contents with a mallet until they forgot what they were doing.

Top stared at the red pulp and round dough in front of them. “Oh yeah!” They were making pizza! Top opened a cabinet but found no matches. Huh. I thought I put them there. Top searched the other cabinets but found nothing.

“Maybe if I talk out loud to myself, I’ll remember where the matches are.” No luck.

Oh well, at least I have a backup. Top dumped the sauce into a tungsten bowl and blasted it with a welding torch while laughing maniacally. After spreading the glowing sauce over the dough Top sprinkled on cheese, which melted.

“Hey, Alden,” the ball said. The scalago stumbled back. “I never got from the guy what toppings he wanted. Could you go ask him?”

“Oh, yeah, sure,” Alden said.

Top tossed peppers onto the pizza then reached for the container of crasters, but it was also missing. The ball opened a cabinet crammed with containers, each stuffed to the brim with the explosive peppers. After they lugged one out they saw Alden, who stared at the ball mouth agape.

“Good, you’re back. What’s he want?”

Alden shook his head. “He—Peppers and onions.”

“Bleah. Tell him we don’t have onions here.”

The scalago changed his order to mushrooms. Top tossed them onto the pizza then placed the explosive peppers, tossing it into the oven soon after. “Mamma mia! This pizza will-a-be my-a-greatest-a-so far. The mushrooms I-a-put-a-on there are-a-truly-a-super. Open salami!”

Alden and Ropak looked at each other.

“Alden,” said Top. They waved to their friends. “Or Ropak. I dunno, one of you, I feel kinda bad asking you to do this stuff since I’m not paying you, but could you let the guy out there know the pizza is cooking now so it should be about ten minutes.”

“Of course!” Alden hurried out to the dining area. The ten minutes passed without his return.

“I hope he’s engaging the customer in pleasant and engaging conversation,” Top said.

“Yeah, and definitely not trying to convince him to not eat the pizza,” Ropak said, looking out the window to the dining area.

“Of course not, that would be silly,” said Top.

The ball removed the pizza and examined it. Their skin tightened from the heat as the peppers sparked on the pizza. “Hmm, what do you think, Ropak, another few minutes?”

“I’m not going near that thing,” Ropak yelled.

“Ah, I’m sure it’s good.” They cut the pizza into slices then swallowed the searing-hot pizza cutter. With a fuzzy hot pad under the pan they carried it out to the scalago, who seemed to be in a spirited conversation with Alden. “Your pizza is ready!” Top said. “It’s hot and–” The ball stumbled. “Whoa!”

“Top!” Alden shouted.

The ball staggered as their center of gravity shifted. At the current trajectory the pizza would smack right into the customer. Top lurched forward, their grip on the pan slipping. They halted next to the table, slid the pizza on it with ease, and then fell flat on their face.

The old scalago smiled. “Hah! What was that? Dinner and a show?”

Top climbed onto the table. “Be careful, it’s hot.”

The scalago struck a fist on the table and scoffed. “I was telling your friend here that nothing is too hot for me.” He grabbed a slice but pulled his hand back. “Well. My hand, it seems, begs to differ. Perhaps I’ll let it cool a moment.”

“Don’t wait too long,” Top said.

Soon the scalago picked up a slice. He took the first bite as Top grinned expectantly and Alden ducked behind a chair. The customer chewed, and his face scrunched as it shifted from yellow to a magma red. His eyes watered, his nose watered, but his mouth steamed. The scalago whined and wheezed and with a bang toppled backwards to the floor.

Another satisfied customer! Top thought. Well, the first, anyway.

“Oh dear,” Alden said, hands fidgeting. “Top, you didn’t store any first aid kits in this place, did you?”

“Do mushrooms count?” Top asked.

The scalago stood up laughing and wheezing. “Hot damn! I’ll tell you, I haven’t had a kick like that in years.” He kneeled to Top. “I would like to shake your hand, sir. What is your name, if I may?”

“Top, as it says out on top,” Top said, their hand in the scalago’s tight grip. “That is, outside. On the sign. Top’s Pizza.”

“Randolph,” said the scalago. “Former general of the Salenth Kingdom army. Let me tell you, I have not had a kick like that since my younger army days. It’s a shame your place isn’t better well-known.”

“Well, we advertise by word-of-mouth,” Top said. “Pizza goes in your mouth, praise comes out.”

“You’ve got yourself a deal, then,” said Randolph. “I’ll make sure you’re the most popular place on this street. Everyone could use a spicy buzz once in a while, and if your other pizzas are half as good as this you should be on the map.”

“I could do that,” Top said. “Just get me a marker.”

 

Duth_Olec

And so, like Randolph said, he spread word about Top’s Pizza and before long business—and the pizza—was booming.


Chapter 26: Sea Spectrum | Table of Contents

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