That Harold Higgins remained consumed, veritably enraptured, by the female body amazed and renewed him.
Wasn’t there a time when the passion and delight, the sure fervor of anticipation and discovery would lessen and simply vanish, to be replaced by a less urgent—more than likely—impersonal vapor of longing?
And, wasn’t there refuge from the ripe dreams and perfumed visions that appeared on his computer or sauntered casually in the street and paused in every shop and gallery and withered his resistance, flooding his imagination with a torrent of possibilities most of course, he reluctantly admitted, were out of reach?
“Double frosted chocolate chip muffin with fresh roasted caramelized macadamia nuts, Mr. Higgins?”
“Yes, Carmen. If you please.”
He made his way to the corner table with the morning newspaper warning on the front page in distressingly alarming headlines of the invasion by aliens that almost every reliable astrologer in Britain had been predicting for months. Harold considered the possibility of aliens preferring double frosted chocolate chip muffin with fresh roasted caramelized macadamia and, for the first time, genuinely felt threatened.
The first bite of the warm muffin oozing veins of rich dark chocolate reminded him of the girl that had so taken his attention in his early morning foray over the Internet. The coffee was still too hot to consider, but not refining his fantasy to teleport these vixens to his cluttered Brighton rooms overlooking the Channel coast.
The pastry shop filled with transients scurrying to work to those who sauntered in to relax and settle into their morning remittances and misgivings. The temptation to pick up his newspaper and begin the day with yet another hysterical prediction of invaders from another planet was strong, however his mind was elsewhere, as it had been lately. He had become easily distracted, constantly caught in a prolonged absent reverie.
The reverie of instilling life into the women of his desire was interrupted—rudely at that—by a horde—and horde would be the most appropriate term—of ruffians pretending to be invading aliens.
There were a dozen of them and they wore red silk robes and others green robes and still fewer were cloaked in bright yellow robes that billowed around their modest frames and fell over their naked feet. They were all the same height and complexion and about the same age, and all were wielding fearsome medieval weapons.
“Stay where you are!” one bellowed.
“Don’t move!” another demanded.
“We will not hurt you,” a third added, in a somewhat squeaky, unthreatening voice.
“Don’t be frightened.”
The heavy sleeves of their robes were rolled up and strange symbols were woven across their backs. They reminded Harold of the robes boxers wore into the ring. But invading spacemen? He’d seen better pretenders on TV this last month as rumors spread of that inevitability.
Douglas Bennet, a rather large man with a thick and most enviable head of hair who in a past life had been a drug dealer, a fisherman, a fireman, an aspiring artist, and finally, in a twist of fate, trained children in the British public school system about the ills of drug addiction, was the first to rise up against the rabble.
“Up now, and be still,” he scolded, his fist clenched white overhead.
The group of young men, broadswords, pickaxes and truncheons in hand, stood in silence then glanced sheepishly around at each other. The head of the gang, or the one you might have assumed to hold that honored position, lowered his weapon and responded.
“I—we—apologize. We meant no harm. We get out so infrequently; we have no meaningful interaction with people. This just seemed an interesting idea to provoke dialogue between complete strangers. You see what I mean, don’t you? It’s not that we meant any harm. Our social skills merely lack nuance and sophistication.”
“I hope the aliens aren’t as stupid or pathetic as you,” a woman offered between bites of her dessert.
“Then we would really have something to fear,” her companion suggested causing a wave of nervous laughter.
Carmen and her husband Ramone shook their heads in disgust. Ramone, whose culinary skills had already made him a celebrity, was grievously offended.
There was a sign clearly posted on the window in bold chartreuse lettering condemning any harsh verbal outbursts, acts of aggressive behavior, discord, and wanton discourtesy by local residents, as well as by alien life forms.
“I’m having my breakfast. Now go away,” Bennet added indignantly and flipped his newspaper at the mob in abject disgust.
“Get out, and take those hideous robes with you,” Ramone growled.
The dozen or so boys shared words of disillusionment and despair to their comrades, and one by one shuffled out of the tiny pastry shop, weapons clanking along the ground behind them.
“Bit of a mess,” Carmen said, righting a fallen chair.
Harold continued reviewing the problem of how to transmute women from his computer screen through the ethers without raising terror in their hearts when a woman in her mid-thirties, clad in well-worn blue jeans and turtleneck sweater, came into the shop and ordered the same cup of coffee and muffin he had. She had tassels of long chestnut hair, and a generous smile that made Carmen instantly uneasy. Ramone, under the right circumstances, could be persuaded to demonstrate his appreciation in the most unpredictable ways.
She sat at a table next to Harold and offered a respectful nod. Unable to spare his attention from the tasteful roll of flesh pinched between the bottom of her short sweater and the top of her jeans, he didn’t respond.
Doug Bennet turned and took note of her. An instant spark of jealousy bubbled up from Harold’s center. “Don’t get yourself excited,” he had been warned by his physician, a thin, aesthetic man with a halo of dandruff on his shoulders.
And what was it Doug’s business anyway? His back was to her. Harold had seen her first.
And obviously, she had chosen to sit next to him when she could have taken any of the dozen other empty tables. Doug and his damn wavy white hair. It should catch on fire, Harold secretly wished.
“I’ll protect you if there is an invasion. I mean, from space. They’re predicting it,” he practiced in his head. “Everyone knows it’s going to happen, maybe not on a day as nice as this, but soon.” That’s a wonderful opening line, he admitted to himself.
The girl sitting next to him turned and, tastefully dabbing a bit of smeared bitter sweet chocolate from the corner of her mouth, asked, “So, which one would you choose?”
He considered the question, the urgent shapes pushing against the inside of her sweater, the curve of her hips, the deep ruby stain of her lipstick and unkempt hair and answered,
“The chocolate chip muffin with fresh roasted caramelized macadamia nuts.”
“Yes, and quite delicious, but I meant between Superman and the Invisible Man?”
How did she know what he was thinking? That meant she was aware of his silent offer to protect her from the aliens by assuming the super powers of super heroes.
She raised her cup toward him, then to her lips and repeated her question. Her manicured nails were smartly polished, unusual, for the unpretentious Southeast seaside resort in the off-season. Two fine gold brackets clung to one wrist. A chain of coral was wrapped loosely around the other.
“I assure you that,” Harold said with the confidence only total rapture can sustain, “you are the only reason I would consider becoming the Invisible Man over having super powers.”
“And apparently a mind reader.”
She inched her chair closer. “Sometimes.”
“Seems I should be more careful what I’m up to around you.”
“No, please, I think it’s every man’s fantasy to have a woman read his mind.
“I can barely read my own, though I wish I could yours,” Harold chuckled, taking a quick glance toward the street, and the sky beyond. He was going to a birthday party over the weekend. If only the aliens could put off their invasion for a few more days.
Ramone and Carmen were in the middle of an excited discussion in the back while customers queued up to the counter. Two women walked in from the street, money in hand.
Their order was quickly filled.
The more Harold tried to conceal what was on his mind, the more he thought of images of this woman naked. What did it matter who she was or where she was from? Her company and unnatural talents were a welcome relief from his tired routine.
“My name is Lorraine. I can read your mind.”
Harold was impressed, by her frankness, the innocence of her charm, and her recognition of the strength and clarity of his desire. He still had it. Impressive, he concluded.
“If you reached over and slipped your hand under my sweater no one would take notice. I can make all that possible. I can’t tell you how, but I can. As long as you are with me here today, right now, you will be an Invisible Man, just as you wanted. But only for the moment.”
Harold believed her. It was impossible not to.
She got up and unbuckled her pants. “Go ahead. Pull them down.”
Harold glanced around the shop. Coffee and teas were poured. Muffins of all flavors and exotic pastries were served. Tables were cleared, cleaned, and made ready. The earth continued to spin on its axis, and surprises would be limited to the imagination of children and foolish old men. And, was he going to wind up in jail, not get to Edward’s 80th birthday celebration over the weekend and, worse, not fully enjoy the spectacle of an alien invasion?
“There, it’s done. Finished,” Ramone announced loudly from the kitchen with a grin on his face as gigantic as the blueberry muffin on the silver tray.
Everybody in the pastry shop turned, struck dumb by the enormity of the fabrication. Steam poured out of the two feet high mountain of buttery dough that was riddled with fresh blueberries. “This, ladies and gentlemen, is the largest blueberry muffin in the world,” he added, holding it high overhead.
Carmen stood proudly by her husband. A small white smudge of flour stained her hairline. She was a beautiful woman from Mediterranean stock with strong dark features who had lost her heart to this smaller man with great talent and heart.
“Strictly speaking,” Ramone solemnly recounted, “it is a miracle. I have accomplished the impossible. Beyond the impossible. Beyond improbable. Beyond anything any of you have ever seen. You are all witness to a phenomenal feat of engineering, physics, chemistry, imagination, and culinary creativity.”
Patrons broke out in raucous applause, including Harold and Lorraine. Douglas speculated openly that Ramone might receive a knighthood for such an achievement.
“Before today, the largest baked blueberry muffin was no more than ten inches in diameter. Made by an irrelevant bakery on the northern outskirts of Paris which was of no consequence long before they unveiled their tasteless pastiche last year.”
Several patrons got to their feet and pressed forward for a closer look.
“My masterpiece is over twice that size and contains three times the blueberries which, unlike the French potpourri, are perfectly and evenly distributed throughout the dough. It is perfectly formed, beautifully symmetrical, fabulously fragrant, sweet, lush, succulent, and utterly delicious. You are free to refer to me in your articles as a genius.”
“Here, here,” Douglas noted, in his most pretentious British accent.
Harold hooked his thumbs over her belt and pulled at the sides of her jeans. Her midriff expanded, revealing more creamy perfection that was the revelation of her fully rounded ripeness of her buttocks.
Ramone pandered on to the crowd about secret ingredients from exotic places and perfect timing and a special oven he had designed and so on and so on. Carmen looked on with genuine pride as people crowded in from the street to inquire about the commotion.
Harold was now more aware than ever how firm he had become. Not stiff solid as in his youth, though clearly firm enough to, if you will, make an impression.
“There is no better, no bigger, no greater, or grander blueberry muffin in the world. And no muffin so texturally consistent through and through despite its enormous size. That, ladies, gentlemen and journalists, is at the heart of my brilliance. I was able to create consistency and continuity of texture and flavor. I can also create this amazing delight in chocolate chip, banana walnut, and raisin nut. There is no end to the breadth of my genius.”
Wild applause filled the shop. Two police cruisers pulled up to the curb outside. Carmen whispered to Ramone that they would get in trouble for causing a disturbance.
Harold pulled her jeans down around her ankles. Her white panties remained askew across the bottom of her cheeks. Harold felt vital, reconnected to a world he long considered lost.
Darker, more sinister, questions from the crowd now, about how much Ramone expected to make from his creation and if he had been plotting all along to challenge the powerful Western European blueberry muffin cartel. The crowd became delirious when he began to cut up his creation and started handing out samples.
The fresh aroma that had been so intense, rich, and aromatic was now overpowering. With each slice of his knife into the skin of the blueberry beast, a fresh gust of intoxicating flavor filled the shop and seeped out into the street.
Frantic applause, cheers, and words of the highest praise were quickly followed by pleas for seconds all around. Several of the young men in their brightly colored robes returned and were clamoring loudly for samples, as were the police officers once they had gotten a whiff of what had turned a curious crowd into an irrational pack of pastry hounds.
“There’s plenty more for everyone,” Ramone chided with some irritation. He knew it was untrue because of the sizable samples he was handing out. He didn’t care. He had created the impossible. The unthinkable. Let the pastry market and the madness of the crowd fend for itself. If anything, his only concern was Carmen.
He knew how important a role she had played in furthering his formula. He would apologize to her later. Now, it was his time to bathe in the spotlight of his celebrity in spite of the fact that he had been able to create this masterpiece only once after several hundred attempts.
“Time is up.”
Harold could hear himself gasp. “What? No, I’m not ready.”
“Can’t be helped,” Lorraine offered, softly.
No, please, he pleaded in silence, as the pounding in his chest increased, and a stitch of pain, a faint foreboding tingling, raced up his neck.
A man burst into the bakery and frantically announced, “Flying saucers are attacking Washington and London.”
Carmen quickly turned on a small radio. A few patrons continued savoring what remained of their samples. Others saw this distraction as an opportunity to get a better position and moved closer to the counter.
Carmen adjusted the radio dial, “…a pair of gigantic silver and black flying saucers simultaneously attacked the White House and the Parliament building in London with what could only be described as incredibly powerful death rays. Bursts of purple light destroyed everything they struck. Hundreds are reported dead and possibly as many as a thousand injured in London alone. The White House was evacuated after a squadron of stealth interceptors were unable to fight off the saucers.
“British fighters met the same fate. We are now getting confirmation that similar attacks occurred against seats of government in Paris, Tokyo, and Rome and in several capital cities in China. None of the saucers has landed. An announcement from the President of
the United States is expected momentarily.”
“Is there any of the muffin left?” a woman in the rear of the shop asked.
“Yeah, I’d like seconds too,” a man standing right next to her announced.
“Hey, I never got a first piece,” she said.
“Sure you did,” a woman to the side declared.
One of the young men in a yellow silk robe said, “No she didn’t.”
“You didn’t see it because she swallowed it in a gulp.”
“…it was reported that the British War Office was tracking twenty-eight saucers worldwide.”
Several others, including one of the police officers chided the woman for not appreciating the piece of warm muffin she had been given. A fat man standing near Lorraine suggested to one of the officers that Ramone might have somehow broken the law by causing such a disturbance.
“Do you think they have a giant chocolate chip muffin back there?” someone asked.
The mention that such pastries were available turned the mob into frenzy, drawing more spectators from the street. Douglas chimed in, noting that the piece he had been given was unfairly small, and too insignificant to be considered a meaningful experience.
The fat man plunked himself down at the table directly behind Lorraine, turned up the volume on his pocket radio while keeping an eye on Ramone who was again bemoaning how his creation was more a work of art than fodder for the masses.
When one patron claimed she spotted movement in the rear of the shop, a surge sent a dozen people careening forward over the counter. The fat man jumped up and disappeared into the melee while his radio remained behind detailing a sobering picture of civilization’s demise.
Harold’s heart pounded relentlessly, distracting him from the moment. What would become of Edward’s party?
“Dear, dear Harold,” Lorraine said, ‘It’s gone, I couldn’t hold the image any longer.”
Harold’s pants were crumpled around his ankles. His shirt and sweater totally disheveled.
Maybe an ambulance would be a good idea, he finally considered.
Lorraine pinned back her hair, tightened her belt, threw on her jacket and offered a parting,
“Thanks for believing.”
“Please, just a few more minutes.”
“There is a time and place and both are now lost forever.”
“Take care of yourself, kind Harold,” she said, pushing through the crowd.
“But, where can I…,” he began, as she slipped out the door.
Suddenly women were screaming and running out of the bakery at the sight of a half naked man. Overcome and increasingly unsteady, Harold fell between the tables.
An ambulance was called, but not at first. Ramone would have normally been more alert, more attentive to an ailing customer. However, on this day of all days; a day in which he unveiled his masterwork and the earth was invaded and, from all accounts, was quickly falling into the grip of aliens, what difference did it make if one more victim failed to get timely medical attention?
Ramone got people settled and found the pulse of this bewildered, nearly ashen cadaver.
Ramone recognized Harold as a regular customer as did Douglas take note of his old friend, but neither was sympathetic considering Harold’s inexcusable appearance.
Carmen stood in the back of the shop, held fast in perverse fascination at the depraved spectacle before her.
It would have been obvious to anybody, as it was on the last breath of this dying man, that it’s always better to choose the time of your departure than to have circumstances, alien or not, choose it for you.
Harold’s final thought, on the other hand, was why hadn’t he thought to ask the girl for a blowjob as a terrible roar, followed quickly by an intense burst of purple light consumed the city block, the famous pastry shop, muffins, Harold, and all.
Arthur Davis writes from New York City. More of his fiction will appear in DM 96 ~ Maskezug, coming on 15 March.