Fat Chance, by Ken Goldman
Thundra carried the dripping hot fudge sundae into her granddaughter’s room and held the large dessert tub in front of her, silently awaiting Meganna’s delighted grin. The child leaned forward to study it as she sat up in her bed. Thundra carefully placed the tub into the girl’s outstretched hands, smiling between the great fleshy folds of her cheeks.
“Meganna, be careful not to get any ice cream on the sheets. I just changed them today,” she said, stroking the girl’s hair with her thick fingers. Sure enough, the grin came.
According to the child’s mother Meganna’s weight had been excellent, and Thundra took the credit for that. Tomorrow she would be ten years old and already Meganna exceeded eighty pounds. These nightly chocolate sundaes had certainly helped to tip the scale.
“Is this double Dutch chocolate tonight?” the girl asked, her eyes wide. “I love double Dutch chocolate! Thank you, Grandma!” She immediately attacked the sundae with a fervor only a child with a spoon could display.
“Finish quickly, Meganna,” Thundra said, pleased with her granddaughter’s enthusiasm. “It’s almost past your bedtime and your mother and father have made plans for your birthday party tomorrow. Drink your milk. I’ve put some chocolate into it for you. If you finish everything, we may even have time for a story. But just a short one.”
Meganna’s eyes widened with excitement as she shoved into her mouth another spoonful of dripping double Dutch chocolate soaked in fudge.
The old woman kissed the child’s cheek and sat carefully on the edge of the bed beside her. The bed springs creaked beneath her great weight. With one look into her granddaughter’s eyes she already knew the story Meganna wanted to hear.
“The Beforetime!” the girl said without hesitation. “Tell about the Beforetime and the Great Wars again.” Thundra smiled. From the day her granddaughter had learned to speak this had always been Meganna’s favorite story. It was Thundra’s favorite as well.
“All right, the Beforetime. But not until I see one of those brownies disappear.” The child quickly reached for the plate on the nightstand and stuffed a large fudge brownie into her mouth. Thundra took a napkin from her pocket and wiped away some fudge that streaked her granddaughter’s chin. “Very well, then. Which part would you like to hear?”
Meganna took only a moment to chew and swallow, as if her words could not wait. “Girthon the Warrior, Grandma! Tell about my grandfather Girthon who fought in the Great Wars against the Other Ones in the Beforetime!”
“Girthon. Of course.” Thundra said the name aloud, and for a moment she closed her eyes remembering the man who had been her husband. She pictured him standing before her so many years ago in his crisp uniform and polished boots, as imposing a man as he was huge. In the Beforetime the Other Ones might have called him fat, but Thundra never spoke that word anymore. She never even thought it. Few did. It smacked of Beforetime dogma and bigotry.
But she remembered the last night Girthon spoke the word to her.
“I was a young girl with a belly that was as round as a melon,” she began, rubbing the smaller of her two chins. “I was already large from carrying your mother inside me on the day I kissed Girthon goodbye for the last time. He held me close to him and looked at me with fire in his eyes, and do you know what he said?”
Of course Meganna knew. She had heard the story more times than Thundra could remember. Still she shook her head and whispered, “Tell me!” The old woman draped her arm around the child and drew her close. “I had cooked your grandfather his favorite meal. As he finished the last morsel he spoke words that went directly to my soul.
“ ‘ … Among the Other Ones there always has been an enemy. Sometimes he has been an enemy of a different color, sometimes an enemy of a different belief. He has many faces, but the Other Ones will have their adversary even if they must create him, and there is one such enemy that will always remain when all the others are forgotten. Thundra, we are that enemy. Who among the Other Ones would choose to be fat if they might be slender? Even we fear to speak the word because it fills us with self-loathing and shame . And so we hate ourselves because we are not like the Other Ones.’
“Your grandfather slammed his fist upon the table, then took my hand. ‘ Don’ t you see? Goliath has fallen too often at David’s feet and now the giant has become the dwarf. But Goliath must never be content to remain a dwarf! If the Other ones must have their opponent, they shall have a worthy one!”
The words Thundra spoke belonged to Girthon, but their passion belonged to the woman who had been his wife. For a moment the old woman seemed lost in her thoughts. Meganna’s eyes grew wide as she waited for her grandmother to continue. The old woman’s emotions always betrayed her when she told this part.
Thundra closed her eyes as she searched her memory for truths she had left unspoken. “The Other Ones had this word–forbidden now, but occasionally spoken in whispers. A word they would speak to incite our anger and our fears, because in the Beforetime it would have meant our destruction. An evil word that promised everything to us but that gave us nothing, because it was a lie.” The old woman leaned forward, as if to whisper the word into the child’s ear. But Meganna spoke first.
“ ‘Di–Diet?’ ” the child answered.
Thundra’s mouth hung open.
“It means you’ re not allowed to eat everything you want — or even anything you want. It made many people go crazy, right, Grandma? It made them run and jump and walk for miles for no reason at all.”
Thundra studied her granddaughter’s face in amazement. “Yes, but how did you-?”
“Oh, Grandmother,” she replied. “I know all the Beforetime words … ‘ High fiber’ , ‘low-fat,’ ‘non-cholesterol.’ All the kids know about them. That creepy Rolly Arbuckle has them written all over his books at school. And yesterday he called my friend Robertha an Obamabutt because she lost ten pounds!”
Children. They always were one up on you, Thundra thought. “Meganna, those words are no longer spoken, and you would be wise to keep them to yourself.”
Thundra wiped another smear of fudge from the girl’s chin. “And now, young lady, it’s time for you to go to sleep. You have a birthday party to attend tomorrow, and your parents will be very angry if I keep you awake one minute longer.”
“No, Grandma, not yet! You left out the best part! About the Other Ones and what happened to them!”
Thundra knew her granddaughter would get no sleep until she had completed her story. She reached for a brownie and put it into Meganna’s mouth, then held the child very close to her as she spoke.
“Well, about that ‘ diet’ word… you were right, Meganna. There had been a time we could not eat whatever we pleased. But that time was long ago, long before we discovered just how tasty the Other Ones could be. Especially when ground into fine powders and smothered in chocolate…”
Ken Goldman, former Philadelphia teacher of English and Film Studies, is an affiliate member of the Horror Writers Association. He has homes on the Main Line in Pennsylvania and at the Jersey shore. His stories have appeared in over 765 independent press publications in the U.S., Canada, the UK, and Australia with over thirty due for publication in 2015. Since 1993 Ken’s tales have received seven honorable mentions in The Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror. He has written five books : three anthologies of short stories, You Had Me At ARRGH!! (Sam’s Dot Publishers), Donny Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (A/A Productions) and Star-Crossed (Vampires 2); and a novella, Desiree (Damnation Books). His first novel, Of A Feather (Horrific Tales Publishing) was released in January 2014.
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